I have more confidence in the dead than in the living.
William Hazlitt was a contemporary of William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge, not to mention Jane Austen. He was considered one of the most important critics and essayists of the English language, although he is little read today (see Wikipedia).
I love his sentiments on reading old books, for I feel similarly. He comments that with contemporary authors, we’re distracted by their life and opinions, and they can be either for good or ill. With dead authors, if you want to know about them “you have only to look into their works.” When I read, I don’t want to interview an author and learn about their inspiration. Normally, I just want to read their books.
I also take issue with much modern literature, simply because I don’t like read about sex in books. It has to be really tastefully done for me not be annoyed. The sex in The Masterpiece was thus tastefully done. The sex in (the abandoned) Norwegian Wood – not so much.
At any rate, this quote from Hazlitt rang true to me this week:
The dust and smoke and noise of modern literature have nothing in common with the pure, silent air of immortality.
Does a modern author’s life influence your read of their books? What about a dead author’s life? Which do you prefer: the old or the new? I do like modern books, I’m just picky about which ones.
(The above quote is from “On Reading Old Books” by William Hazlitt, written in the early 1820s, quoted page 7 of Reading in Bed, edited by Steven Gilbar. Read it online here. Part of the essay is also about rereading old favorites, but that will have to be a subject for another time.)
Reading Journal (31 March)
In the last two weeks, I went nine days without finishing a book (I was reading but the books were longer) and then I finished a number of things in the last few days! Some were short, and others I’d been working on for a while. I also abandoned a number of books for various reasons. Some I want to return to. Others I wish I’d never attempted.
- The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson (140 pages; fiction).
- The Book of Mormon (530 pages; religious/scripture). This was my project book this month. As it is a reread and this blog is not a religious one, I won’t be” reviewing” it.
- Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller (190 pages; nonfiction, graphic novel).
- King Lear by William Shakespeare (170 pages; drama). Love love love this!
- The Masterpiece by Emile Zola (425 pages; fiction). For the April Classics Circuit. I am not a huge fan of Zola, I’ve decided.
- Japan: A Concise History by Milton Walter Meyer (87 read of 300; nonfiction). I didn’t have time to dedicate to it.
- A History of Japanese Literature: From the Manyoshu to Modern Times by Shuichi Kato, abridged by Don Sanderson. (ISBN: 1873410484) (30 pages read of 320 pages; nonfiction). This is a great abridgement of Kato’s three-volume tome. I may request this again and read more in a few months.
- Genome by Matt Ridley. For my genetics themed month, but I just didn’t have time to get to it.
- Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami (about 140 read of 290; fiction). This book had too much sex, an example of the typical modern fiction I don’t want to read. I only read so much because it is a well-written book in general. Are any other Murakami books less full of sex? Sensuality doesn’t bother me.
- A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (25 read of 40 pages; fiction). I wanted to read this out loud to my son but he is apparently not interested. I’m pondering different chapter books I can try.
Each week, I list my progress so I can see how my reading compares week to week.
- Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and Their Messages by Karen Lynn Davidson (140 read of 455 pages; nonfiction). I really do enjoy reading this and singing the hymns as I go; I just go slowly, so it’s still here on the list!
- Reading in Bed edited by Steven Gilbar (nonfiction/essays). A collection of essays about our favorite topic: reading. Occasionally, I’ll post some thoughts about an essay for the Reading Reflections feature. (See above, for example!)
- Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki (65 read of 230 pages; fiction). My next Japanese novel since the Murakami I picked up was a no-go for me.
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, P&V translation. I have not yet begun.
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I haven’t begun yet.
New Library Loot
None! I’ve been trying to reign in my out-of-control library use, and also read books off of my shelf.
- Governess: The Life and Times of Real Jane Eyres by Ruth Braddon. Chris at book-a-rama. Perfect for the Our Mutual Read challenge.
- The Evolution of Language by W. Tecumseh Fitch. Mentioned by Aarti in a comment.
- The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. Stefanie and Emily in a comment.
- Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers. Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot. Perfect for Women Unbound Challenge, except I can’t find it in my library!!
- Emma by Kaoru Mori. A manga novel?! On my list? See Jason’s awesome post about this (Called “Responsible Escapism in Literature”)