Saturday, July 18, 2009

Consider the Library

I always anticipate going to the bookstore, the pleasure of acquiring new books: that whole adventure. It is especially great going with Beth, because she looks at everything, whereas I tend to have a limited focus, whatever bee or two happens to inhabit my bonnet at the time, and too impatient to look further. She found what is considered a classic work on memory by Frances Yates. It is unlikely that I would have stumbled on that. Fascinating book about how the Greeks imagined a house, and placed memories within rooms in that house, as a way to organize their memory

Anyway, I notice that I get a similar buzz going to the library. Last week I was wandering thru the local library, which is new to me (just moved). We moved only a few miles but we're in a new library network. New vista. Recently, I made a quick reconnaissance pass and grabbed without planning to grab anything, a scifi novel by Ben Bova, Orion Among the Stars. I liked it, despite it being part of a series, which I have learned to hate.

That attitude of cranking out another one deflates the genre (and fantasy, as well) terribly. All these trilogies that are simply outsized novels, or sequels and prequels that serve to attenuate and destroy whatever was developed early on.

Looking thru the stacks and seeing ugh how many Dune novels, sad. Frank Herbert wrote a classic, the original Dune, and successive excursions have proven less inspiring, at least among the 5 (ugh!) that I read. I can see going back to characters and settings that work, but eventually the thing that tickled the author to make this novel gets lost.

And then there is this obnoxious deal of someone joining the original author to exploit the franchise further. This happened with Herbert, his son took over, maybe after Frank's death. Arthur C Clarke had another writer come in. It may be that the 2nd writer approached Clark, wanting to wring the thing dry, which Clarke ok'd, or maybe Clarke needed a collaborator. Whatever.

I adventured around in the library a little more the other evening. Got essays by David Foster Wallace. Soon I will try Infinite Jest. I remember vaguely when it came out, probably read reviews in The New Yorker or the Times Book Review. Wallace's death brought it to mind again.

The Ben Bova worked for me because it was the right length, a crisp 300 pages or so. Few novels are too short but many are too long, tho I love the successful long ones (Proust, Joyce, etc). I once read 11 Stephen King novels one summer. I will not deny King's skill but found a lot of of the books were plain overlong. Not bad writing but a paid-by-the-word feeling. A lack of concentration. Facile.

So, the last trip to the library, along with the Wallace (which, so far, is entertaining, but, you know, Edward Dorn's occasional pieces, which these by Wallace resemble, are more zesty to me). Got a collection by John Dewey, a plain and sensible man. Also got a scifi by someone. David Brin blurbed "Seldom does a storytelling talent come along as potent and fully mature as Mike Brotherton." That was enough for me to dip in, tho Brin is a dullish writer from my experience, but on the off chance. I once got the buzz to collect books from the used bookstore that adverted hilarity. However many of these treasures that I bought I found next to none that satisfied my sense of hilarity, as in laugh out loud. Usually these so called comic novels are just situational comedies, with the situations overplayed. Terry Ptatchett, Douglas Adams: they are certifiably funny. And Laurence Sterne for a different taste. One of Hemingway's' posthumously-published novels was supposed to be Benchleyesque, so I read it. Nothing of the kind. Selah.

I was impressed at the lengthy shelf of sci (which comprises fantasy, as well) offered by the library. There were a goodly slumload of Part 7 of the Excessiad stuff but still, I could be entertained by this and that. In high school, I know that I read a lot. I remember using those spare moments, like the 3 minutes from getting to class and when the bell rings, to get back to my reading. I cannot read like that anymore. I read little poetry then. Read a lot of whatnot that I got because of the covers, breathtaking space vistas being one thing that might grab me.

I have not even found the poetry shelf yet at this library. Not that it will impress me when I do. That musty smell of books that do not get enough airing. I once made a smart remark here, concerning a David Shapiro book I saw at B&N. From a big time publisher, with over many blank pages and that kind of denatured thingness that poetry books are contorted to. I could imagine finding a copy all musty from sitting in a library and decided not to buy it. This was not a criticism of Shapiro's work, but of the attitude that encases poetry in dust. The poetry shelf is where few deign to tread.