A writer, of course, also must read. This post is the first in what will be a series of occasional posts letting you know some of the things I have been reading recently, why I read them, and what I think of them. Eventually I will have news on what I am writing next, but for today I have three books you might (or might not) want to look at.
Two Gentlemen of Verona: I am slowly reading through Shakespeare’s complete works. This is the play I read most recently. It is one of Shakespeare’s early plays, and although it is written cleverly and well, it is not the classic that some of Shakespeare’s other works are. The two gentlemen in question are Proteus and Valentine; it should not surprise anyone who pays attention to their names to learn that Valentine falls in love, and Proteus changes his affections, during the course of the play. Unfortunately, the character developments and plot turns are not always convincing.
When I Was a Child I Read Books: This new collection of essays is by the well-respected author Marilynne Robinson, whose work I have unfortunately not read before now. I had heard the name of this collection somewhere, and saw it at the library, so I picked it up. I have read about half of it now, and I am very much enjoying it. She likes John Calvin, it turns out, and has actually read his writing, rather than caricatures of it; that’s always nice. All the essays I have read so far are intelligent and thought-provoking.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version: This is a selection of fairy tales retold by Philip Pullman. I did not read the entire book, but the author’s name made me take a look at it. He is the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a sort of anti-Narnia fantasy that begins in a wardrobe and ends in eternal separation. (Did I mention Pullman hates C. S. Lewis?) I wondered if Pullman would ruin the fairy tales, but surprisingly, for most of the tales I read, he does a rather excellent job. He tells them mostly straight, makes occasional improvements, and of course makes use of his excellent stylistic abilities to give them a sort of transparency that I do not always achieve in my own writing. He also has interesting commentary on the stories. But there are a few problems. In “The Girl Without Hands,” for example, his commentary condemns it as overly pious, yet also immoral in certain ways. I rather like that story, and I suspect it is for some of the same reasons he hates it.