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.]
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