Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Through the Membrane: In Praise of Ondaatje

I'm really getting a kick out of this temping gig.

Having just finished Italo Calvino's If On A Winter Night A Traveler (which is the book I marginalized for S., and which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who likes a good postmodern, wickedly recursive narrative), I am now two-thirds through The English Patient.

S. bought me this book during the NYC trip, as an introduction to Ondaatje, whom I had never read. We saw it first sitting on the sidewalk as part of a street book sale, but he didn't buy that copy; he wanted my first taste of Ondaatje to be hardbound, solid, permanent. So we wandered through a few used bookstores until we found one that was worthy of reading.

Anyway. The novel surprised me. Not by its clarity or detail or poetry -- I was expecting all of that -- but by the way it drew me into the story.

Some books, like the Calvino, one has to read with a half-detached mind, one side reading while the other working busily to put together the puzzles the author has set forward. Some books, like The Sari Shop, are entertaining but constantly invite the awareness that one is reading "a story." Some books, like our friend Suitable Boy (and Equal Music, for that matter -- I would guess Golden Gate as well though I've not yet read it) require parsing, rereading, pondering, savoring.

And some books seem to push you through a membrane where you find yourself not reading, really; not being aware of putting one word in front of the other but instead experiencing the book as a series of images coming at you as fast as life. Sometimes reading is an experience akin to dreaming.

And The English Patient is like that, which surprised me, because I hadn't "fallen into" a book quite like that for a few years. It reminds me of how I used to read as a child, which perhaps is because this temp experience (and the experience of finishing a task quickly so that one can return, breathlessly, to a group of characters held underneath one's desk) is so reminiscent of being in elementary school.

To my readers: which books have pushed you "through the membrane?" Which made you forget that there was any other world besides the one in the pages?

7 comments:

neha vish said...

Of late, Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie. Such a fascinating read. I know very little about Nigeria in the 60s, but the book doesn't really require any prior knowledge. Just some compassion.

tinkertoon said...

there's been one too many... started with "Journey to the center of the earth"... then came "Fountainhead"... and then the twin classics "100 yrs of solitude" and "love in the time of cholera" (though i read these years apart in that order)... "interpreter of maladies" had pretty thought-provoking stories too... but the list is endless... each one shapes your thinking a bit...

btw, don't you think your supervisor at work is taking you for a ride asking you to manually add the figures on an excel? next time he asks you sth so stupid (or perverse), tell him the figures donot match.. and make him do it to cross verify...

tinkertoon said...

sorry for an additional comment... i only parsed through your blog earlier... and picked the first para and last question earlier..

don't you think trying to put "suitable boy" in the same league as "golden gate" is blasphemy? even if it comes from the same author? couldn't resist voicing my dissent... (improve your taste ;)

tinkertoon said...

i meant skimmed when i said parsed... (ok 2 beers down stupidity starts showing ;0)

Blue said...

Tinkertoon -- couldn't say if it were blasphemous to compare Golden Gate and Suitable Boy. Somewhere in your skimming and parsing you missed that I hadn't yet read Golden Gate. ;)

Daniel said...

Uh...Harry Potter?

Really, whenever I read a book...and I mean _really_ read it, I get lost in the story. It doesn't matter if it's a short story or a play or a long Austin-esque novel...

Blue said...

Daniel, I would argue that the experience of reading Harry Potter is no longer an experience of "getting lost in the story." It's more like sitting down with a mental "guess list" and going "yeah, that happened; yep, it was Regulus; OMG there were TWO Snapes?"

Which makes the experience just a bit... mathematical, perhaps. Yes or no?