I feel like this has become a common opener in emails in recent times. Hello, hope you’ve been well… Usually it’s work emails to/from other companies, and usually it’s a supplier that I need to ask about something, and I haven’t corresponded with them in a while. Sometimes the supplier is interstate, in a state that has recently had severe weather or a wave of virus, or some other event that has made the headlines.
It just seems polite to show some concern. My usual contacts also use it when starting a new correspondence with me, so it goes two ways. But I’m pretty sure people didn’t always do this. Or maybe they did, but it didn’t mean as much as it does now. Maybe the pandemic made people more compassionate or something.
For the record, yes, I have been well. I have been very absent from this blog, and I’ve been keeping busy with other things, but I always intended to come back.
I believe The Cider House Rules is the third John Irving novel I have read, and although the story is quite different to what I remember of The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire, there is something about it that is still very classically Irving. I think the best word for it is “unapologetic”. He really lays the story out — guts and all — and doesn’t sugarcoat or censor anything.
The other very Irving thing about TCHR and the other novels is that although the events seem rather bizarre and absurd at times, the characters feel so real, and so the events surrounding and involving them also feel real. I think it also has something to do with how fluid his writing is. The story flows effortlessly so that I’m turning the page before I have time to question the plausibility of what is happening. All I want is to keep reading.
[Spoilers ahead — you have been warned]
It’s been about a month since I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (by Stieg Larsson), and I still don’t really feel like writing or saying much about it. It wasn’t a bad book — I went in with zero expectations because I’d heard various mixed reviews about it back when it was super popular, so it couldn’t really disappoint — but it wasn’t amazing either.
It had some very strong (and graphic) points about sexual abuse and domestic violence, and it did well to highlight these issues, but it sort of left me wondering whether it actually had any significant impact on reducing the incidence of this kind of abuse. I’m generalising here, but I don’t think perpetrators are going to read this book and think, “This is wrong. I should stop doing this and get help.”
***Spoiler ahead*** [Do not proceed unless you don’t care about spoilers]
In high school English class, we learnt about the idea of a “classic” novel, and discussed what made something a “classic”. One characteristic that might not have stood out for me back then, but certainly stands out for me now, is the notion of “timelessness” — that a novel becomes a classic because it is timeless in its themes, ideas and moral messages.
Part of me thinks that it was probably a bit pointless for the teachers to discuss timelessness with teenagers. I mean, we weren’t daft, but we were young, and as much as we probably believed we knew everything about the world, there was undoubtedly a lot that we didn’t know the half of. Besides, even back then, there was a quick succession of crazes and fads and fashions — there’s not much appreciation of “timelessness” when one day everyone’s watching this show, and playing this game, and then next month these things are barely a memory.
Even so, I’d like to think that I had some grasp of this idea of “timelessness”. In high school, I began reading a lot of “classics”, particularly Charles Dickens. It was also during high school that I discovered I really like Jane Austen’s writing. To my younger self, these books were classics because they were beautifully written, the stories and characters were exquisitely constructed, and they were simply captivating. Then there is all the usual stuff about love and friendship and family — the things that people throughout history have always valued.
I finished reading War and Peace on Tuesday (that’s more or less an entire year spent reading it). I then spent Tuesday night and the greater part of Wednesday alternately wondering how I was going to blog about it, and procrastinating from thinking about how to blog about it.
I typed out some notes and ideas on Tuesday that I could use as a starting point, or perhaps form into some sort of outline. But the more I thought about it on Wednesday, the more I felt like there was no real point in writing anything about something for which so much has already been written.
Yet, at the same time, I felt like there was so much that I wanted to write about.
Usually when I finish reading a book, and I’m considering how much I liked it, I ask myself if I’d read it again. If a book has a profound impact on me, I’ll say with certainty that I want to reread it one day. (Whether or not I actually get around to rereading it is another matter altogether.)
There are a lot of books that I want to reread, but I never reread a book immediately after finishing it. At most, I might flick back through the book to revisit certain parts, but I know I must move on to another book before restarting the journey. The idea is to leave enough time between readings to allow some forgetting of events so that it can be experienced anew.