In Break Up rehearsals, we've taken to huddling up after each "burst" and chanting "WE. ARE. ACTING! THIS. ISN'T REAL! WE. ARE. ACTING!" It's a joke but also kind of not.
I think we have a magic bookshelf at my flat. It's not big, but it seems like every time I need something to read, an amazing novel turns up- usually on the fourth pass when I've basically given up. There's something weird about reading a great book that's been on your shelf for a year, right under your nose. You think about all the times you've been bored, and there it was, waiting, trying in vain to call out to you, “read me! Get off of Facebook!” For months on end. Recent own-backyard discoveries include Into Thin Air, which is about the 1996 Everest disaster and is the most gripping horror I've ever read (seriously, try putting that one down- then, try and sleep) and Perfume: The story of a murder, which was magical and revolting. These had been moldering on the shelves for over a year, and I would like to formally apologise to them for wasting so much of their time.
Right now it's The Princess Bride, which is just the weirdest, most entertaining thing. I've seen the movie, which came out the year I was born- the book is from the early '70s. In a long and surprisingly adult pre-amble (including an extended encounter with a starlet by a pool in LA), the (unhappily married) author reveals that the text you are about to read is basically his fan edit of a much longer and more boring book. He realised recently that when his grandfather read him The Princess Bride, he took out all the pointless satire and luggage packing scenes, which made it a far better read. Whole chapters get breezily summarised and skipped. It's pretty mind-bending stuff for a children's book (maybe its not a children's book), especially when he starts telling lies about his own career and family, such as describing a son who can “roll faster than he can walk”- the author as cheerfully unreliable bullshitting Uncle Narrator. If you don't like the parentheses, he taunts, don't read them. Impossible for me.
What's interesting to me is that when K found this on our bookshelf and gave it to me to read, she told me that when she read it as a kid, she ignored all the interpolations and self referential clever stuff that the author puts around the story. Which is kind of hilarious- ten year old K editing out the fake stuff about editing out the boring stuff... Luckily at its heart The Princess Bride its a great adventure story, like the movie, so all is forgiven.
Sort of related- the other book I found recently (on my parents' bookshelf this time) is Sarah Bakewells' wonderful biography of Montaigne, the 16th century father of the personal essay, called How to Live. It's really good (my answer to this question, by the way, is "porridge"). In it, she points out that each generation has taken what ideas and morals they wanted from Montaigne's writing and ignored the rest, making the same essays mean entirely different and contradictory things through the eras. Seems like the that's way we always read, sort of sifting for what want to find. Which is why its nice to re read books, you bring a different sieve.
[Yes this is a blog post. We'll see how long it lasts.]
The genius came from a family of merchants with social aspirations, who had built their fortunes up over three generations without formal educations. The genius was never worried about where his next meal was coming from and so his mind was free to consider worthier concerns. The genius lived in a very small room with a triangular roof at the top of a building in a busy city, with a circular window and no television. The genius was educated at a young age in languages besides his native tongue. The genius did not excel at school work, not exactly, but was certainly diligent, perhaps he was simply biding his time. Surviving school reports show that that the genius's headmaster did not have high hopes for the genius's future. The genius had distinctive hair, poor eyesight, and inexpensive trousers. The genius married in his early thirties, blissfully unaware that his best work was now, not incidentally, behind him. The genius only really had his most profound insights in the twilight of his old age, his world thrown into stark relief by the inevitability of death. The genius was effortlessly prolific throughout the course of his short life. The genius had no close friends and his burial site is unknown. The genius's birthplace has a profitable gift shop, and the hourly guided tours are popular with tourists. The genius wrote in a language of his own devising, which you need a prism and mirror to read. The genius kept every single item in his house logged in a giant manifest or ledger- each teaspoon and toothpick had its own serial number and entry in the book, which he updated daily, driving his household to distraction. The genius often left personal belongings behind in taxis and on people's sofas. The genius was mortally afraid of public speaking and indeed of social interaction of any kind, sabotaging his chances at success and advancement. The genius would often sit and gaze enraptured at everyday objects, such as knots and dust balls, for many hours, and could only be roused with a loud noise like a dog's bark or a large book dropped on the table. The genius was always forgetting his own phone number, his own niece's name, his online bank details. The genius never stopped asking questions, often naive ones, like a child, which made strangers think him almost an imbecile. The genius had a fondness for dogs, an aversion to cats and a mortal fear of snails, the latter fact which he confided only to his diary.
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