I don't know when to quit

{ Tuesday, January 22, 2008 }

There's so much to read. Every day there's more. I'll never have time to read it all, yet feel I must or be a charlatan when I write.

I visit the library, or I sit here at my desk amid piles of books waiting to be read, and feel small and ignorant and at the same time the richest woman in the world. I am the richest woman in the world. I can read whatever I choose.

Yet, surrounded by untouched treasures and severely limited by an unknown lifespan, I can't bring myself to quit reading a book that is one of the longest slogs I've ever gone through. I've been working on this book for two years now, seeing as how I read ten pages, groan, and go read other books and then forget for a while to come back. It's The Plumed Serpent, by D. H. Lawrence (Boots to you and me).

Boots, please, what are you doing to me. I've never had a reading experience like this, and maybe that's why I can't just go ahead and put it in the giveaway bag. This read is a long, slow sinking into a sloe of blackstrap molasses.

Boots is having me spy on this woman, Kate, who is in Mexico on what starts as superficial sightseeing and turns into first an excursion, then a bizarre residence in a remote village. I am promised that she is going to be drawn into a cult. Maybe that's why I can't quit.

And the writing is like nothing else I've ever read and like nothing else in the Big Chain Bookstore. It's vivid in the particulars but in no hurry to get to a point. Yet it's so purposeful - it has an economy that I'm not used to. It's not the free-market economy of, say, Elizabeth Berg or Diane Setterfield, who are well aware that they compete for the reader's attention. Boots's writing here is more like a socialist economy with a huge black market seething underneath. I know it makes sense - I feel I have to see it through to the end to understand how it makes sense. I can't figure out why this rambling story doesn't make me say, "Boots, get an editor." I feel it's all required. I just can't say why. Maybe that's why I can't quit.

No matter how long I am away, I sink right back into this woman's world and her high opinion of her place in the world and how vulnerable this makes her in the foreign world she thinks she understands. No matter how long I am away I don't forget. I feel an obligation to this.

I've quit others, all right. Henry James. Hemingway. And I sharply feel as character flaws my deficiency of attention and my absence of regret.

Boots, I'm still going. Reading you is like listening to a great-uncle telling a long and vividly remembered story, so winding and detailed that it must be broken into episodes that are told over a period of years. I want to hurry you up. But I also want to keep listening to you as long as you'll keep talking.

1 comment:

DebraSY said...

I'm doing the same thing with William Trevor's Collected Stories. It's over 1200 words, and I'm in the 200s. It'll be two years, but I just love his character studies!

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