April 17, 2014 by Reader's Connection
Oh, no! Wendy Lesser really likes Richard Ford, and recommends that I read all the Bascombe novels. I didn’t even get far in The Sportswriter, the first in the series; and I’ve read a half-dozen stories by Ford without believing a word of them. His male characters seem like models put together in somebody’s basement, glued with a hardware-store-brand testosterone putty.
And Ms. Lesser doesn’t think much of Ulysses. What are we going to do with this woman?
She loves Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer mysteries.
And in her list of 100 books that gave her pleasure, she includes the Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels. I wonder if, like me, she now enjoys the later Nachman stories more than those jagged works that I liked so much when I was younger.
Okay, I’m warming up, now. And since when do you read a book like this expecting to agree with everything the author says?
Why I Read : The Serious Pleasure of Books is a serious pleasure. Lesser focuses on a few central themes, such as: The importance of suspense in a story, even when we all know what’s going to happen. An extreme case is John Milton’s Paradise Lost, written, or so Milton claimed, to “justify the ways of God to men.”
Later in the book, she writes about Victor Klemperer’s World War II diaries, which have been translated into English as I Will Bear Witness. Klemperer was a scholar and a Jew who didn’t want to leave Dresden.
Klemperer is not a brilliant writer, and in any case this is a diary, not necessarily meant for other eyes. His style is plodding; his concerns are often petty. But his story is gripping, in part because of the plodding and the pettiness. This is normal life, gradually becoming less normal as each year passes . . . For anyone who recalls the salient fact about Dresden’s twentieth-century history–the firebombing of 1945–the diary is like two competing stories racing toward each other at different speeds . . . Peering through the lens of history, we are enabled to be two sizes at once: the antlike creature blindly moving forward on the ground, and the godlike overseer waiting for the inevitable explosion. It is a remarkable experience, and I have rarely in my reading life felt such suspense.
As one of the dust jacket blurbs says, Wendy Lesser seems to have read everything. When I set down Why I Read, there are several books that I wanted to get my hands on. And even though I’ve read just a fraction of what she has, I imagine myself having the nerve to spray her with my own observations.
When she’s writing about grandeur vs. intimacy, for example–another of her themes–I collar her and squeal, “What about that party at the beginning of War and Peace? I remember that author John Jakes thought it was boring, a terrible way to start the novel. I thought he was nuts. The party was thrilling! Grandeur and intimacy in one yank of the tablecloth! In no way isolated from the rest of the epic.”
I haven’t gotten around to imagining Ms. Lesser’s reaction.