Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Alice Munro and the Know-It-All

I've been in a reading slowdown. I won't call it a slump; slumps are for aging first basemen. I know exactly what has caused my slowdown: slow moving or long books.

And I've been enjoying every turtle-paced moment of it.

Right around the beginning of April, I began reading Alice Munro's collection of stories Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Each of these stories is exquisitely paced and developed; every character has depth and meaning. I could read it again three times and discover new traits in everyone at each passing. This Munro dame knows how to scribble. A book like that should not be consumed with a deadline in mind (Must read a book a week. Must read a book a weeek...) No, if I were to teach a course on writing, I'd want to invest lots of time in the works of Munro exploring how she animates these characters so well.

Perhaps it's because it was the last story, but "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" is especially memorable, and I say that not to be ironic; it involves a woman who becomes demented. (I don't think they specifically say it's Alzheimer's disease, but it sounds like it.) And "Floating Bridge" provides some fairly obvious symbolism, but remains a poignant story of a woman dealing with cancer.

Once I completed that book, I dove into A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, and have been pleasantly suprised. This is essentially a memoir by a journalist who fears he's begun to lose the mental sharpness he had when he was younger, so he decides to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. His quest, he claims, is to become the "smartest" person on earth. Of course, within the first twenty-five pages there begins the inevitable discussion of the difference between knowledge and intelligence. Indeed, it is a theme that continues throughout the book.

That was one of the most surprising aspects of this book, actually: there are themes. It is as much a description of a middle-aged man who desperately wants to become a father and to pass along a legacy of a love for knowledge -- which he received from his father -- as it is a recitation of what he's learned. And the book is quite amusing at times. I've had several instances where I've chuckled loudly on the train. You don't get too many of those moments with Alice Munro.

I expect I'll finish The Know-It-All this week, and I've not decided what's next. I may return to John Connelly or pick up something else. I have a Peter Carey novel waiting to be cracked. But Munro and Jacobs have reminded me why I love reading in the first place: Books take me away from the mundane and can make me laugh. I don't need an iPod.


Kata124 said...

good job dude.

i love reading.

and i love reading your blog.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks very much, kata. And I'm pleased to see that a love of reading isn't just for people as old as me. (Or even as middle-aged as I am.)

I hope you continue to love reading (and reading my blog!), and if you're a writer too, I'm even more on your side.

Feel free to share your favorite books or what you're reading these days.