Oz – Gogol – Greene – Darwin

One of the most important things to be packed before a trip is a book, of course. The difficult question is which one. It can't be too heavy – your carry-on weighs a ton already.
It can't be too engrossing – you don't want to be so absorbed in the hero's shenanigans that you miss out on the view. My son once pointed out that judging from my trip journal, I spent most of a certain trip abroad totally involved in the adventures of Frodo and Sam and sighing over Strider rather than over the wonders of a new land.

The natural thing to do is probably to take the book you're in the middle of reading. Which is not a good idea if the book is 593 pages long and weighs 708 grams (including my bookmark and the weight of the lead – sorry, graphite – of my pencil markings in the margins.) Which is why the book in question, A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz, was not taken on any of my recent trips. Took me a long time to finish that book, and not for lack of interest –I loved it. For one thing, I discovered that Oz has a sense of humor – something that had never struck me before in earlier novels. Also, it brought back childhood memories, captured to perfection. For example, the Special Event of going to the pharmacy in the center of town in order to make a phone call.

When I at last finished A Tale of, I was sorry it ended and immediately picked up Oz's nonfiction, The Story Begins. I leafed through and chose the chapter describing the opening paragraphs of Gogol's The Nose. It was so intriguing, that I dropped the slim volume and picked up Gogol's Petersburg Tales (see my posts of November 29, 2008 and December 25, 2008). What a treat! Unlike my reaction to The Overcoat, The Nose was quite funny, in a lunatic sort of way.

But I digress. Oz and Gogol were both ruled out as travel companions.

Another book on my shelf is Ian McEwan's Atonement weighing in at 480 pages and 253 grams. I stopped at page 130. At the risk of sounding superficial, un-literary, unrefined and unappreciative, I'll say that I found the novel hard going. Each description in itself is a gem of insight: hits the nail on the head, touches a nerve, zeroes in on the essentials that make people tick, or work. But strung together as they are, interspersed between the "lowly" plot-propelling chapters, they slow down the story excruciatingly, while I believe in E.M. Forster's wistful "Oh dear, yes, the novel tells a story." I want a story to unfold smoothly, whereas this story (and I know it's a good one – I've seen the movie) lurches painfully – one step forward, two steps back, one in place.

Which leaves me with two books. Seeing as I'm leaving early tomorrow morning, I had better make up my mind.

I'm opting for Charles Darwin and Graham Greene.

Greene has for years been one of my favorite writers. In case I haven't mentioned it (and "Search Blog" says I haven't), I was reading A Burnt-Out Case, (208 p., 122 gr. including the Scotch tape holding it together) and stopped – can you believe it – on page 189! I could see how Querry, the well-meaning protagonist, was getting himself into a pickle, and I just couldn't stand it. As if, if I didn't read on, everything would be alright, and the story would have a happy end. So, no Burnt-Out Case, I'm not going to schlep 122 gr. for the sake of 19 heart-rending pages. If you know from your own acquaintance with the novel, that I can safely read on without crying my eyes out, do let me know, and perhaps I'll finish it tonight after packing and before calling for a taxi.

Instead of Burnt, I shall take my chances with The Honorary Consul-- 268 p., 151 gr., no Scotch tape – better condition, won't fall apart in transit. And yes, I know I'm taking a chance with regard to the fate awaiting the protagonist. I can tell from the cover: a Michael Caine type chappie, blindfolded, and two machine-gun toting revolutionaries behind him.

Which brings us to the book I am currently reading: The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin. I thought I should read it before The Origin of Species. You know – as background. It is heavyish and thickish – 480 pages, 324 gr. I'm currently on page 50. The margins are littered with my question marks – petioles? mytilus? ampullariae? infusoria? confervae? I don't even know what pelagic animals are, and I'll have you know that "Scoresby remarks that green water abounding with pelagic animals is invariably found in a certain part of the Arctic Sea." (p. 20) But in the margins are also exclamation marks, smileys and "ha!", indicating, of course, that I was amused. True, I do get a bit glassy-eyes when various beetles are described. But on the other hand there are plenty of adventures and astute, insightful observations about foreign cultures, social mores, Life, the Universe and Everything.

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Yam Erez said...

OhMyGod. You write in the margins? That's compassionate. I mark up the text right on top of it. Those darned writers don't know how to write! They should've consulted me!

Nina Rimon Davis said...

My comments in the margins generally refer to content, not language or style issues. I try to avoid "those darned writers" who "don't know how to write"...

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