Recently I worked out how to stream Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra, although I can’t use my ipad for anything else if I am streaming the radio. However I can hit record if I’m about to head out the door, which is pretty cool! Anyway, yesterday I was happy enough to hear a reading of Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome — Three Men in a Boat has to be an all-time favourite of mine, and I hadn’t succeeded in finding the Bummel one in bookshops, although I’d heard of it. I’m delighted to report it is FREE on Kindle! So I’m reading that right now (in Hugh Laurie’s voice, which is the ONLY way to read JKJ).

My previous Kindle read was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I had hoped to snap out of my obsession with Lang’s Fairy Tales (they are so delicious though! I have no regrets!). I did remember attempting to read TTOTS when I was maybe 8 or 9 (I used to storm Mummy’s bookshelves for things that looked interesting, as I had no real concept of what might be suitable for children. Fortunately this generally worked OK, although I did have a few traumatic reads… The Liar by Stephen Fry comes to mind!). Ghost story featuring young children, in a grown-up-looking yet short volume? I thought I would love it, but I never got anywhere with it.

Reading The Turn of The Screw now, I finally understand why I abandoned it in my tender years. I was a strong reader and had read several classics already at that point, and I am not exactly a weak reader now despite my tendency to indulge in children’s literature on the Kindle, but for the life of me, I could NOT read Henry James. I have never read anything as convoluted and painfully structured in my life! I don’t understand how this style of writing can become a classic when it is SO. HARD. TO. READ. In fact yesterday when I was finishing it, I highlighted a typical sentence which made my brain hurt:

Steadying myself with it there as I had repeatedly done at those moments of torment that I have described as the moments of my knowing the children to be given to something from which I was barred, I sufficiently obeyed my habit of being prepared for the worst.

Normally when I read, my eyes drop across the paragraph diagonally and I sort of photograph the content and read the entire thing at once. I don’t know how to explain it very clearly, but obviously this does NOT work with Henry James. It’s like taking a photograph of a huge knotted tangle and it literally makes my head hurt. It happens occasionally with other books, that a paragraph is written with a higher degree of complexity and I need to go back and re-read it word by word. But even this method leaves me looking like this:

Am I that much of an idiot? Has my reading comprehension been that severely taxed? I have never found anything this hard to read in my life — not even classical Chinese (although were I to read a whole book of it, perhaps not)! Confession: in the end, I only got through it by reading the summary on Wikipedia, so that I knew what the hell was going on. Like subtitles! That said I would love to see a film or a play of the book… because the story was awesome.

A little too easy to read was Ben Elton’s Past Mortem, which I read from 2am to 6am and then complained about on Facebook. It was so totally transparent and yet I couldn’t put it down — I was hoping for a twist? Instead everything went exactly as I expected and all I ended up with were several extremely graphic descriptions of several very nasty murders… I think I’m done with Crime Fiction for the next few months. I picked the Ben Elton of the shelf here in my house (yes! a paper book!) as I thought it would be a fun relaxing read… I guess not.


2 thoughts on “authors

  1. I get that reading style – it’s how I read too. I’m not a big fan of “literature” overall though – I like story, plot, etc. rather than flower descriptive gunk. My mum did her MA in creative writing and one of the pieces her classmate wrote – which was raved about by the rest of the group (except for my mum) – was a 3 page description of salami in a window. It made me want to track the woman who wrote it down and slap her with a sausage.

    Books are better than films because I supply the detail – I don’t want clever analogies of the universe around me, I’m capable of doing that by myself, I want entertainment and that Henry James paragraph has convinced me never to read him.

    • That salami thing is just bullshit! Even Sartre wouldn’t descend to such levels.
      I am not a genre snob, but I am normally fine with literature — I dislike bad writing, and I think a sign of a great writer is that the writing should flow without the work put into crafting each sentence being noticeable, which is generally the case with most classics. I definitely am greedy for the story-telling and plot rather than the style in which a book is written; I can generally appreciate it, and probably more so in French (urgh this sounds so #humblebrag, please forgive me!) because that is the language I was educated in, but it shouldn’t distract from the actual content.
      By the way, your latest report from China about the luxury apartment they set up for you with such care and attention to detail made me cringe so badly…


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