My undisturbed copy of Henry James’s The Ambassadors survived my last few apartment moves, and now sits in the front of the reading queue on my bedstand. I am afraid, however, that Clive James appropriately summed up its chances of ever being read:
If you’ve spent a couple of years being unable to get past the opening chapter of one of the later novels of Henry James, it’s hard to resist the idea that there might be a more easily enjoyable version of literature: a crime novel, for example. After all, quite a few literary masterpieces spend much of their turgid wordage being almost as contrived as any crime novel you’ve ever raced through. On page 13 of my edition of “The Wings of the Dove,” Kate Croy is waiting for her father to appear: “He had not at present come down from his room, which she knew to be above the one they were in.” But of course she knew that, knew it so well that she wouldn’t have to think about it; she is thinking about it only so that she can tell us. If a narrative is going to be as clumsy as that, can’t it have some guns?
And while I have not picked up crime novels, in three days, I finished Oprah’s “oddball” book club selection, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Actually, I don’t think that it’s such a left field choice. It’s short. The style is very spare and comprehensible (while a 4th grader would not appreciate the intricacies of some of McCarthy’s diction, a 4th grader could easily digest it). And it has a broad human theme involving love. It has Oprah written all over it. I think its dark, post-apocalyptic setting and spectre of cannibalism and brutality that pervades the book are what made it seem like an odd choice at first.
With the closing of the Cody’s in SF, I felt compelled to pick this up at Stacey’s, where I paid 10% off the cover price, with my Stacey’s literary license discount. Even with this discount, the cost was $4.50 more than over at Amazon. Ah, the price of supporting local jobs, the local tax base, and a public/private space for books.