Monday, January 26, 2004

No work today; we've been invaded by the kind of mini-ice storm that shuts down South Carolina once or (if we're lucky) twice a year, usually around now. The car won't start either -- not that there's any real place to go -- so we're all pretty much stuck inside today. Tomorrow, too, if I'm lucky. Can't do much more than blog or read Absalom, Absalom! or, maybe, watch one of several movies I have laying around. At the top of the list is an old Stephen Frears movie called The Hit, which I saw years ago -- after reading where Jim Jarmusch listed it as one of the ten best films of the 1980s --and quite impressed me, although I've forgotten everything about it except that it stars Tim Roth and Terence Stamp.

I've been reading Absalom for a little over a week. It's one of my favorite books; a contentious favorite, you might say, as it's alternately frustratingly hard to understand, ponderous, and brilliant. Like The Sound and the Fury it starts out very dense and complex and then gets easier, although not actually until you're well over half way through. This is the sixth time I've read it in twenty-some years, so all the crazy chronology is no longer a problem; now all the snags come in the sentences, which are these hyper-abstract rambles that can go on for for well over a page or two; there's something very Proustian about Faulkner's sentences, the way he'll get some thought or idea between his teeth and just can't let it go until he's squeezed the last drop of life out of it, until he's gotten to the absolute utter core. I always think of him as a farmer who has to get several acres plowed before dusk; he works his sentences like dray-horses, whipping them further and further on as the evening sun goes down.

Some years ago, Carlos Fuentes was on television talking about Don Quixote. It is a book, he said, which he reads annually, and without it he can't function -- can't eat, sleep, make love. It may be you have to be either a high school girl or have a certain strain of swoony Hispanic romanticism in your blood to make that kind of statement, and I remember both admiring and rejecting the idea at the same time. I live like I need art to live, but I like to think I could get along just fine without it, at least I do until I start thinking of all the books I want to read yet, and how sad I'd be not to be able to read a number of them over again. I liked the idea of settling on one book to re-read every year of life until I die, and many came to mind; maybe all of January and February should be reserved for Shakespeare. But I suppose such a book would choose you, wouldn't it, as it probably did Fuentes. Is there a book I need to live?

I don't know if it's this one, although it's as good a contender as any. Absalom, Absalom! is a torture and a pleasure, and if I tallied up all the hours I've spent with it I'm not sure which extreme would win.

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