‘This the season, and I won’t deny it. Have you seen this Sceptred Isle from above, when covered in snow like this? Quite, quite, forgiving. Snow like the cover you put over important furniture in rooms you don’t expect to be in for a while. Evoking not the memory itself, but the expectation of a memory. Look at me, all misty eyed. Continuing our theme of the uses of books: keeping silly old ninnies like us from all too serious bouts of nostalgia. Never entirely successfull, is it?
Christmases still serve that function of the memory magnet: Christmases are made for memories in a way not even (other) birthdays are. They evoke other christmases, mostly. No matter how determined we are that it’s just another random period of time, not special in any way. Well, it does matter. Because we treat it like it matters, no matter what we believe. Not celebrating (and oh yes, I’ve tried a few of those) becomes a statement, confirming that it matters in a much stronger fashion than celebrating as usual would have.
I used to be this way with churches. Being a non-believer, I was still forced by relatives, and then by common courtesy, to attend mind numbingly dull services. I used to sit there refusing to let anything sink in. Mentally challenging every statement made from the pulpit, deconstructing the psalms and pointing out their absurdity and regret that this quite beauful music had to be put to such vapid use. And then I realised that I didn’t have to. That the best thing was to treat church as a novel, and to suspend disbelief, to let it sink in and be carried away. I guess one could say that this became possible only when I became confident in my disbelief. I don’t see organized religion as the enemy any longer. There are much worse things, and even the evil committed in the name of religion would probably have been committed in the name by whatever would have replaced religion in history. It might have been better, and it might have been worse, depending on what replaced it. So many of the louder, more obnoxious, atheists today seem to me to suffer from an inability to think counterfactually.
Books for Christmas! I ought to have a whole list of recommendations, but your standards are so exacting. Long and (potentially) a classic, you say. Fiction, I presume. And I seem to recall you being no friend of Dickens? And the post-modern is all very fine, but not really for Christmas, is it? How about Doris Lessing? I’ve yet to read her Golden Notebook but most definitelly intend to, maybe you would like to beat me to it? I think she is one of our greatest writers, in fact, and she thinks very well to.
I promised to deliver a verdict on ”the Finkler question”. It’s alright. It’s mildly amusing and quite perceptive. It reads like sections from a Bellow or Roth novel, only those (much superior) authors never left it at that, and usually provides more than just this monomaniacal rant on aspects of being jewish.
I’ll leave you with these further news from my reading front. The Son ill-advisedly (believing that I’m Meryl Streep) gave me a novel by an actor, would you believe it? And a comedian at that. Steve Martin, you may remember him from the old Saturday Night Live crowd. He has recently taken to wearing glasses and being unfunny in interviews. But the New York Times (yes, they have one of those as well) seemed to like it, and my son thought I would to. It’s called ”an Object of Beauty” and it’s abut the Manhattan art-trading scene of the 1990. Mr Martin did his research and he want us to know that he did. The plot is thinner than the macbook air on which I write you this letter, and the rest is filled with names and undergraduate-level essays. The protagonists is more or less precisely the type you critized in an earlier letter: a young, female go-getter who use her sexuality to get ahead but ”not in a bad way, you see, she’s in control, honestly.” Beautiful, crafty and greedy, she starts at Sootheby’s and then work (i.e. Sleep and bargain) her way around the artscene, developing a taste and being somehow both obessed and laconic about it. I’m reading it so I can build up the rage required to throw it at my son’s head the next time he dares to show it.
I think I’ll stick mostly to non-fiction for the holidays. The occasional slim novel, perhaps, something that fits in a pocket and can be devoured during a train ride or two. And the New York and London Reviews, to decide what to read next year.
Should we make it a New Years resolution to finish at least the first volume in the Parade during 2011?
Expanded Holiday Greetings Debbie