Friday, January 29, 2010

Avanti II: Night of the Living Avanti

I began the Avanti Book Review a year ago with the stated intention of reviewing every book I read. This I did without fail for 10 months, with the one exception of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, for which I wrote a compelling 2500-word review which was promptly lost in a power outage. I reviewed 74 books, totalling 23,737 pages. Then in late October I stopped. I stopped not because the workload of getting a master’s degree was too much, but because undertaking a degree at the London School of Economics is the opposite of thinking. My mind had grown fat and disgusting, and I was ceasing to have interesting things to say about the books I was reading. I was also finding that I read too many books which elicited too little response: I neither loved them nor hated them, and while reading them may have enhanced my cultural and intellectual capital, they left my life no richer. The first book I read and did not review was G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. When I finished it, I took a long walk to mentally compose the review, as is my habit. Despite walking for some time, I found I could only generate a paragraph, and that bland at best. Following that was The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford, sometimes considered a fine bit of modernism. I discovered I lacked the energy to sift through its levels of irony and unreliable narration. I found most of my reactions to the books I was reading could be expressed with a shrug. What did I think of John Banville’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Sea? I thought it was predictable. What about Witold Gombrowicz’s long-suppressed modernist fable Ferdydurke? I didn’t get it. If you want greater detail, you are welcome to ask me sometime, over a dram of single malt. The point is that I sort of lost interest.

Since then I have read 38 books: 23 fiction and 15 nonfiction. I have also read approximately 85 scholarly journal articles, which average 25 pages each, which is an additional 2500-odd pages of dense nonfiction that should be taken into consideration. For my dissertation I have read large pieces, running into many hundreds of pages, of a further 19 books, but since I did not read them cover-to-cover, I leave them off my official tally. At the time of this writing, I am 900 pages into Ulysses, about 500 into Infinite Jest, and am reading a handful of other books besides. So there’s been a lot of reading going on à chez moi. I estimate I’ve processed well over 12,000 pages since the last review. Since the previous year’s reviewing covered 74 books, to catch you guys up would entail about half a year’s work, and let’s face it, that time would be better spent reading.

But! I have nevertheless revived the moribund corpse of the Avanti Book Review. I do this mainly for the pleasure of reading, and I do it not with the purpose of reviewing every book I read, but instead the ones I want to review. Mainly these will be positive reviews, of books I am enthusiastic about but which I think for some reason you are unlikely to read. Perhaps they are too long. Perhaps the genre is too obscure. Perhaps they are unfairly neglected or utterly unknown. Therefore these reviews should probably be taken less in the sense of a reasoned critical opinion, but instead in the sense of a friend urging you to check out this good book.

Those aficionados of my invective-studded evisceration of some books should not lose heart. I will continue to angrily review books which either a) I expect to like and then don’t, or b) are so pungent with scrofulous moral decrepitude that I feel it an intellectual duty to demolish them. Instead of two or three reviews a week, there will probably be more like three or four a month. I shall write not as a theorist but as a connoisseur. I hope that these new reviews may cause in some reader a few moments of happy contemplation.

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