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July 14, 2009

De-constricting Fictions

I tried to read Fielding's Tom Jones once and decided, after about fifty pages, that I really should not read books that don't like their readers. And vice versa. I find much of the enjoyment of reading good books is that they can propel you forward, can trigger something formerly unseen or unknown in your mind. But it can be enlightening to take oneself through reading a book again after a long lapse, precisely because the experience can take you back to places you have already visited. Odd places, sometimes.

This summer I'm re-reading books I first encountered years ago, and am going backwards with each page. On the list: Godel, Escher, Bach; The Lady or the Tiger?; Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind; all of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse mysteries; Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy; and anything I can find that explains what the frak Foucault meant by 'episteme', which I have lamely interpreted for years as meaning the dog whistle of an era.

(Every now and then I pause in this furious re-examination of logic and fiction and cultural history, see Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's blank stare of empty blankness in some photo on the web, and am reminded that there is balance in the universe. But I digress.)

Godel, Escher, Bach is a great read, now, but it reminds me of college and of boring hours spent sublimating lust and discussing irrelevant theories of everything. The Jaynes opus is also a really engaging read, but holding the book in my hands reminds me that the ferociously pretentious therapist my first husband and I met with as our marriage sputtered out had this very same book prominently displayed on the shelf in her waiting room. And Davies' work, which is pure pleasure, old-fashioned, fully crafted fiction, reminds me of watching my brilliant Mom relax into the welcoming weird world of a Davies novel while she sat in her favored reading chair in the living room back home. But all those real world associations -- college life, a starter marriage, a mother, and a girlhood home -- are now long gone.

I'll be glad to get beyond this current reading phase, which is also historical re-engagement, which is also brain twisting, when it expires. Or my head explodes. Whichever.

But I guess I do recognize that, as with anything that catches and really seizes hold of one's attention for a span, there is a purpose. This is mental fuel, and a distraction, and possibly an antidote to Palin fatigue. And perhaps it is also this reader's quiet little hurrah that anti-intellectualism no longer holds the sway -- at least in the executive branch -- that it did during the last decade. Which means some of us can revisit the pleasures of the percolating brain pan, and (at least in the privacy of our...bookshelves) let our freak flags fly again.

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