by J J Cohen
[illustration: would you trust this guy's taste in literature?]
A recent post at the blog Caught in the Snide caught my attention: in Outside of a Dog (alluding to a famous Groucho Marx aphorism, which I have emblazoned on a favorite orange T shirt from a favorite DC bookstore), Prof. de Breeze laments the decline in his leisure reading.
Those who know me well know that I also lament with similar lamentations. My decline in pleasure reading coincides with two major life events: having young spawn, and being chair of my department. My mad time management skillz have demanded of me that most of the reading I do be oriented towards publication or administrative commitments. Neither of these obligations kill the pleasure of reading, of course, since in general I publish on topics I enjoy, and great pleasure comes to me in reading the work of colleagues. Still, the empty spaces that I could fill with random works of literature don't bubble up as much as they once did.
Still, it is not as if I never open a book except out of a sense of scholarly obligation. Lately I've been reading through the adolescent-themed fantasy in which my son Alex is so expert: the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix, for example, is so dark and so well imagined that the volumes have proved impossible to put down. A few weeks ago I finished Philip Reeve's marvelously conceptualized Mortal Engines, a novel set in a post-apocalyptic future (all futures are post-apocalyptic in speculative fiction) in which cities move around the devastated earth on great traction devices, ingesting those settlements smaller or slower than themselves, a practice called Municipal Darwinism. Though the city that this book centers upon is London, longtime readers of this blog will remember that I purchased the volume two years ago in Kilkenny as a souvenir. Not only was I taken by the cover illustration, the literary title, and the blurb, I also realized that the book was written by an illustrator beloved by my son (Reeve did the snarky pictures in many of the Horrible Histories volumes).
Much of my reading, then, comes from an eleven year old who sometimes wears jester caps (I snapped that picture today). That's OK, because he has good taste. So, I must admit, does my daughter Katherine: the Disney Fairy series is actually not as bad as you might think, and right now she and I are reading a simplified (but still murder-filled) version of Treasure Island to satisfy her hunger for pirate stories. Also, a tip for Prof. de Breeze: your kids may not be old enough yet, but one thing the Cohens like to do is a communal read-in-bed before the oldest three of us turn in for the night. This nightly ritual ensures that everyone gets some pleasure reading accomplished while enjoying the pleasure of each other's company (the only downside being that sometimes you'll be engrossed in your book when Alex's Cold Toe of Death comes over and plants itself on the part of your body that will make you both jump and drop your volume).
Not all of my reading is adolescent. Right now I am halfway through Edward P. Jones's The Known World. Being a medievalist obsessed by time, I'm entranced by the temporal whorls that cluster around each character (particles of their past and future spin away from their narrative present; this effect is so artfully done that I am truly in awe of Jones's craft). I've always wanted to read this book, but I do have an objective in reading it now: I and four of my colleagues are meeting with him for lunch today to explore the possibility of his spending a semester at GW. Wish us luck.
So what about you? What pleasure reading have you done lately? What's on your list for this summer?