Sunday, October 16, 2005


It has been a great weekend. All I did was read and mess around with books. Last week I finally finished the list of books for 1949. (See post entitled "My Big Fat Reading Project" in the July archives.) This is a milestone in the project because I have now completed a decade. Soon I will post my summary of 1949 and then a summary of the decade 1940-1949.

This morning I read the NYT Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review, as I do every Sunday morning. In the LA Times is a review of Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel for which she read 100 novels. She was in the middle of writing Good Faith when 9/11 happened and she got blocked. She read the 100 novels to get herself going again on fiction. I have read Good Faith, which was really good and I saw her speak at the Los Angeles Festival of Books last spring. Smiley is a professor of literature somewhere and all I could wish was that I had had her as a professor when I was in college. She is so smart and articulate, with a great sense of humor. Then I met her later in the ladies' room and discovered that she is about 6'5". I love tall women.

Anyway, in the Calendar section of the LA Times, David Ulin (who is the brand new editor of the LA Times Book Review and doing a great job) had an article entitled "Literature, now more than ever", in which he talks about the vital importance of novels to the culture and about Jane Smiley's book and another book by Anne Fadiman (whose Confessions of a Common Reader I loved.) Her new volume is a collection of essays which she edited entitled Rereadings. The essays are by writers giving their experiences on rereading favorite novels.

It is all good: about how novels connect readers with the writer's interior world, share viewpoints, create empathy between people and how that is something the world needs right now. It occurs to me that in the 21st century, we are on the verge of true globalization-the family of man predicted by us hippies in the 60s. We are in the last gasp of those who profit by creating conflicts, using the differences between individuals, nationalities and religions to precipitate violence by keeping the fear of the different or unknown stirred up in a consciously created dangerous environment.

Tonight I am revitalized in my deep-seated belief that communication and understanding can overcome factors that alienate human beings from each other. The almost instantaneous speed of communication allowed by today's technology, of both words and images, while also used by the merchants of chaos for their own ends, cannot be completely subverted but can eventually bring about the increased global understanding that mankind needs.

But to assimilate and digest the information that leads to understanding, we need the kind of solitary moments of reflection that people experience while reading fiction. I would like to know what other readers experience in terms of understanding different peoples, cultures, faiths and outlooks on life through reading fiction.

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