It was very encouraging to receive comments from “new” people to my New Yorker post. Do call again!
Despite working with intelligent people, it seems that very few of them actually “read”. So when a colleague mentioned “La Peste” yesterday I was quite wrong-footed and asked him if he had read much Camus. “Eh? Err… it’s the title of a song actually…” Oh.
I studied literature at University. I was a very serious student and I did very well. But my working life has been mostly spent in low-pay, low-status clerical / admin posts where I have been “the invisible hands” behind the managers / policy-makers / researchers. And it used to shock my younger self that most of them went home at night to collapse in front of the TV. But how easy it is to do! Nowadays, I can quite often be found on the sofa with my knitting, a portion of insubstantial chic lit propped open by the ball of yarn on my knee… and “Masterchef” on TV!
Last night was slightly different. In between rows of my Gentleman’s sock (and no TV!) I was mulling over sentences of “The Literary Underground”. This is a book I have wanted to read for many years, because its author was one of my tutors at University: the one who taught me how to think. I found every seminar a struggle, because no matter how well-prepared I thought I was, Prof. Hoyles caught me out with a reference to a philosopher or literary giant which was apparently, obviously, the key to greater understanding. Now here I am, with a brain of mush, trying to decipher a book which is based on the very course I studied all those years ago. I am viewing this as “revision”, an intellectual training regime before I embark on the Reading List.
The List? I need to fill in the gaps: all those “Greats” I never got round to in my quest for a trendy curriculum! So I never read any of the Romantics or the Metaphysicals or suchlike. But this is not supposed to be sado-masochism so I am not going to tie myself in knots over it. I can get all the classics from the library and I will. But my first bookshop order is for Manil Suri’s “The Age of Shiva” and Peter Carey’s “His Illegal Self”. Both have been reviewed in the New Yorker (and elsewhere) recently. I loved Suri’s first novel “The Death of Vishnu” (and even wrote to the London Review of Books about it!) and have been waiting for the second book to appear. The Peter Carey is on the strength of the New Yorker review.
By the way, I just located the current course offerings at my old University – wow! Can I go back?! Seriously, if you know any young people who are thinking of studying English – send them to Hull! Look at those Second-Year modules! (link to pdf brochure) Wow!