The Books of My Numberless Dreams

February recap

Posted on: February 28, 2007

As expected my novel reading in February slowed down after January’s bounties. I turned my head away from novel length fiction to sample shorter but no less richer journal delights. Authors such as Alessandro Baricco, Damon Galgut and Daniel Kehlmann, and poets Deborah Greger, Jesse Ball and Emily Moore are the ones who’ve made a deep enough impression. I enjoyed most of the authors interviews but only one (Javier Marias) spurred me to grab more books, partly because I already own a few (Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie) or was simply not interested (everyone else).

Shorter delights was the theme for this month. For books my reading highlight was A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. Much of it was nostalgic delight, but I gained a new appreciation for Milne’s very clever, intelligent and insightful poems. He captures the insights and perspective of children so perfectly, recreating, for me, the sheer joy of imagination and adventurous pleasures of my first reading years. I look forward to returning to this collection as I grow older, able to look at things from a different perspective.

The Italian and Black Lightning (oh dear, I should get around to posting on that, shouldn’t I) were good reads as well, with several excellent moments but they could not quite compare.

I’ve started Artemisia and am finding it a very intriguing read so far. An odd one, actually. Banti starts in the first person, writing directly of her circumstances: it is WW II, her house has been bombed into rubble, her first manuscript of Artemisia destroyed, and she is left to seek shelter with other civilians. To her Artemisia appears as an actual figure, imaginary yes, but sentient, someone with whom she interacts, who annoys her or arouses sympathy. Artemisia may have tantrums if Banti writes a scene of her life in a certain way but when Banti has her way, she is subdued. Her story is told in the third person, but sometimes the first person shifts to her voice.

The narrative isn’t strictly linear either. We jump in and out of Artemisia and Banti’s life, and the former’s story does not specifically pick up at the point where it left off. Banti does not write expansively on the artist’s life, or at least her childhood, but chooses specific moments in which to delve and flesh out. The connections strengthen as the story continues.

For this I am pathetically grateful. I am generally not a fan of historical novels or, worse yet, biographical fictions. I do not care for conventional descriptive passages of the exotic wonder of early modern Italy, excessive, utilitarian descriptions of men’s caps and women’s skirts and the careful inclusion of architectural blockbusters. Less do I care for conventional re-imaginings of so and so’s momentous life span. So I may find the whole affair a bit odd, and my reaction equivocal because I’m not sure if I enjoy picking through the complexities, but I appreciate the fact that I have these particular kinds of complexities. At the risk of contradiction I enjoy the more straight forward passages on Artemisia’s life, but I don’t think I would like them so much if the whole book were like them. Then it would be decent enough but nothing notable.

And I’m ending the post here, goddamnit, and starting another for my Handbook in the sidebar because the bloody browser crashed and I LOST ALL I WROTE FOR IT.

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4 Responses to "February recap"

Artemisia sounds quite interesing. And Milne is always a nostalgic treat!

I think it is and though I read it in fits and starts, each occasion is absorbing. Too true on Milne. It had been years since I’d read his poems. Too long.

Which Barrico did you read? I am curious about his Iliad book! Artemisia sounds interesting!

It wasn’t any of his books but a piece of his short fiction that appeared in The Paris Review. It may very well have been an excerpt from his novels or short stories, but it didn’t say. I’ve heard about his Iliad, I think Dark Orpheus was planning to try it.

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