I admit it. I’ve spent all too much time lately reading media news, or, most often, social media news. My longest time away from the Internet was Saturday when I joined the Women’s March in Northampton, MA, which was great exercise for body and soul, but still firmly planted in the world of politics and protest.
Books were not on my mind at all, except—a fairly big except—when I was driving. I try to always have a book on CD from the library on hand in my car. Lately I’ve been going back and forth between two that could scarcely be more different.
One is After the Quake by Haruki Murakami. Yes, I was inspired by Lisabet’s post last week, and luckily the Amherst library had a copy on CD of his short story collection. I’m only halfway through the book, which means three stories out of six, but I can understand perfectly why the blurb on Amazon includes the term “mesmerizing.” The prose draws me into the kind of state I find from some music. It holds my attention without drama, keeps me at a distance and involves me, both at the same time. I can’t tell how much is due to the original writing, the translation, or the very good narration, but the combination somehow works.
The stories are theoretically inspired by the earthquake in Kobe, Japan in 1995. The connection is tenuous ,and sometimes just a fleeting thought about mortality, but each main character in the stories I’ve read so far feels that something is lacking, that he or she is empty inside, which surely involves at least a subconscious preoccupation with mortality. The endings are ambiguous, as I expected; one seems slightly tilted toward the positive, one toward the tragic, and one doesn’t need to point in any direction. If I were reading this description of the book I wouldn’t expect to enjoy it, yet the writing, its cadences, complex simplicity, glimpses of deep feeling in those who don’t think themselves capable of feeling, really hooks me and keeps me listening.
I do need a change from it now and then, though, so I switch to something worlds away, Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam from his Discworld series. I’ve read this one before, but Pratchett is worth re-reading, and it saddens me that he won’t be writing any more books, having died last year.
The series is at once a fantasy with intricate world-building, a sharp satire on earthly politics, culture, and human foibles, a treatise on social justice, and among the funniest things I’ve ever read. Proceeding from a more or less medieval condition and rapidly evolving technologically (after a fashion) to the point where steam engines are being perfected in the current book, the society progresses bit by bit. All the various sentient species, humans, dwarves, trolls (made mostly of stone,) vampires (converted to drinking coffee,) werewolves, and eventually even the previously despised goblins (who turn out to be the cleverest of all when given the chance,) take their equal places in the overall population, and in the Watch as well, the police force of the largest city, Ank-Morpork. Diversity is at its peak. All the vanities, bigotries, stupidities, absurdities, of our own civilization are still there, being skewered by Pratchett’s wit, but so are heroism, compassion, fellowship, and all the comparative virtues we possess, and we can bond with appealing characters as complex and often confused as we are ourselves. I tried to think of a quotation to use here, but no single one will do it, so I’ll just resort to the one most often cited by Pratchett fans. The people of Discworld believe it to be mounted on the backs of four elephants who are standing on the back of a giant turtle cruising through space. When a lady at a social gathering is asked what she thinks is under the turtle, she replies confidently, “It’s turtles, all the way down.”
Well, maybe you have to be there. Or rather, read there.
Uh-oh, I’ve got to go now. Somebody may be wrong on the Internet! Or there may be some new scandal or outrage that I need to know about! I can never catch up, though, because there are always outrages and scandals, all the way down.