What I’ve Been Reading – July 2008

Let’s get used to one thing. I will probably only be writing about one book per month.

If I’m lucky.

Books Purchased:

Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

On Beauty – Zadie White

Books Read:

Divided Kingdom – Rupert Thomson

A full twelve-months after bringing Sierra into the world, I find that my reading hasn’t been able to pick up. That’s okay – frankly, it’s not like I’ve been wasting away doing other things. For months she wouldn’t sleep well, so reading at night wasn’t as appetizing as, say, watching television, which could be stopped and started without any loss of momentum. And as she began sleeping a little better, playoff basketball reminded me how fun sports can be, especially when your team is winning.

However, I haven’t been able to embrace the idea of reading magazines instead of books. As I’ve mentioned before, magazines seen so forgettable; so fleeting. Instead, I need the heft of a book, the knowledge that what I just read wasn’t just published, but published VERY THICKLY.

Now that basketball is over, and re-runs have sent me running from the television, I’ve found two more distractions to the natural reading cycle: photography and summer. Most of my post-production work is done at night, during the time I’d otherwise be reading. And summer hits me every night, an urge to sit on the patio with a beer, to watch cars drive by, or to stare into the fire.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from being overly ambitious. I know I’ve been reading less and less, but for some reason I was driven to not only buy more books, but to select the longest books possible to read. We purchased Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (hardcover remainder at the right price) and Three Cups of Tea (Kerrie will be reading this for a book club, and the author is coming to Sioux Falls). Two books, two reasons, add more to the ever growing stack.

Then, in a fit of stupidity, I selected Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, 624 pages of supposedly brilliant literature. I haven’t started reading it yet. If I start now, I would only need to read 23 pages per night to finish it by the end of the month. It seems very doable, but that’s counting on the fact that I’d actually muster up enough energy to actually read every night.

Let’s just assume it’s going to take about 50-75 pages per session.

Divided KingdomThat’s the future, though. For this past month, let’s talk about the book I actually DID read: Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom, a dystopian novel about the ultimate experience in “separate but equal” laws, set in England, based on the four humours.

The four humours. Yes. I’m spelling that the U.K. way, because that’s how it works.

To begin the book, England is being split apart by violence, apathy and consumerism. To an older wave of people, England has been ruined; to the younger, there’s little to no difference. A special interest group is devised, meetings take place, and it’s determined that the best thing to do would be separate all of the ill will by classifying four separate sections of the country and moving those with similar dispositions into each section.

The separations are based on the four humours – blood, yellow bile, black bile and mucus. Red, Yellow, Blue and Green. Confident and strong, angry and vindictive, melancholic and sad, worried and weak.

Naturally, the separations cause rifts, with entire nations developing differently, relations becoming strained and suspicions heightening. Life for the red area is clean and clear and privileged, while that in the yellow is dangerous and poverty-stricken. Only officials are allowed to cross, and even then it’s rare. But the urge is always there, and one top official, torn away from his family at a young age and raised in the Red Quarter, uses a convenient distraction to break away and discover the world he’s been sheltered from.

It’s an interesting premise, to say the least – an instantly memorable plot, one that nearly forced the book into my hands. Of course, as with any story as far fetched as this, the plausibility is thin, like a bubble. If this kind of extreme gentrification was attempted in real life, you’d find yourself in the midst of riots, with even the privileged fighting for their right to keep their Yellow-leaning son or daughter.

It’s one of the problems I have as a reader. At times, I have trouble suspending reality, allowing the story to take over, enjoying the product instead of focusing on the How. If a teenager doesn’t talk like he’s supposed to, I have a problem with that. If a concept seems flawed from the beginning, I have a hard time focusing on what’s working.

So I spent a good deal at the beginning wondering how this relocation would have even worked. The logistics seem impossible, the methods incorrigible.

And then it all seemed okay. I was caught up in the run from quarter to quarter, from VIP to convict and, eventually, nomad.

It all ended a little too cleanly, a little to Deus Ex Machina. And it began too flimsily, without the proper set up. But in the middle, you’ve got a case study in how different personalities interact, and how each of us have a little bit of each humour, and how keeping differing personalities apart does just as much to foster hatred and suspicion as mixing them together.

It’s a story about the roots of discrimination, but it’s also an interesting novel about a man on the run.

On the run. Like what I could be facing next month. The first month in the 3+ years of What I’ve Been Reading that comes and goes without a book, without a column, without even a peep about reading or literature or whatever it is.

If you’re missing me, you know where I’ll be. Huddled in a corner, with the covers up over my head, a flashlight beamed at my book, frantically trying to get something read.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 5th, 2008