Reading pile-up and Reality exhibition

My reading has reached crisis proportions. Middlemarch, which I started months ago, has been cruelly and endlessly sidelined, though each time I pick it up, I am right back in there, the characters are old friends and I am in happy awe of Eliot’s every, exact word. Grabbing a volume slim enough for handbags and waiting rooms, I also started Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, the story source of an opera. For iPad reading on trains, I have Carol Balawyder’s Mourning has Broken, a very moving and fascinating set of essays. Also downloaded months ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which I foolishly started… just to see what it was like. Sandwiched between these, but finished, have been a list of nine books both light and heavyweight and ahead are another five books to read ‘immediately’.

So, I made a resolution, NO NEW BOOKS until all the above are finished, and I MUST  carve out some real writing time.

I have just started a ten-afternoon writing course at the wonderful Sainsbury CentreScreen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.35.40    Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.39.35             at the University of East Anglia (UEA). I signed up for this at a low moment when re-reading the final, supposedly fully edited, manuscript of Border Line, and having concluded that I still had everything to learn about writing.

The course tutor is Patricia Mullin, so I downloaded Patricia’s novel, Gene Genie, and have been reading that on the train.

The writing course is attached to the current exhibition of modern and contemporary British painting, Reality. This is a stunning exhibition (no photography allowed), but we have a free run of the exhibition for the ten days of the course. Many paintings have intrigued me, but one by John Keane (website screen grab), has set a story going in my head.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.19.51

His other work is fascinating too and on his website he says:

I am interested in the process of painting, and I am interested in why 
human beings want to kill one another for political ends. These two 
apparently diverse preoccupations I attempt to reconcile by smearing 
pigment around on canvas in an effort to achieve a result whose success 
can be measured by how well it disguises the sheer absurdity 
of the attempt.

And what is the writing course homework? Trawling for great opening lines and writing our own story first lines. I spent a happy and feverish week reading old favourites: Kipling stories (The Maltese Cat, Without Benefit of Clergy, Little Tobrah, The Head of the District etc), and Salinger (For Esmé With Love and Squalor etc), Saint Exupéry (The Little Prince) etc, etc, etc I also opened all my most-loved books, only to find that the majority had nothing dramatic about the opening lines. They were often quite conversational. Though one of my favourites is Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine which opens:

When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.

Is it just me, or are others caught in the same reading maelstrom? How does one extract oneself, brain intact, from such a reading pile-up? (sorry about mixed metaphors.)

I shall go and sweep some leaves and pretend that my list of tricky phone calls to promote Border Line can just as well be tackled next week… I read this and then made myself ring a local newspaper.

20 thoughts on “Reading pile-up and Reality exhibition

  1. Well done on signing up for the writing course – I’ve always found that commitment to external things (deadlines etc) will make me do more stuff. And I love that painting – fantastic. …And I have the same reading issue as you, especially as I am already being asked to read other people’s books by Penguin. Which is lovely (lots of free books!), but just makes my reading pile enormous.
    Good luck with the phone calls!

  2. I now prefer to read books that have pictures. At the moment I am reading and looking at pictures of a great book ‘ Graham Greene Country visited by Paul Hogarth. I can’t get enough of this book.

  3. Hilary, I can only wish you a whole lot more luck than I ever had with promotion. And I suspect you will achieve that, through your own elegant persona.

  4. I know the backlog feeling well. As for best first lines, it has to be Kafka and Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis). Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

    • Yes, and it sounds even better in the original, through my German would have been tested beyond its limits if I didn’t already know the lines (though I confess, I’ve not read the book… but I can’t add it to my list just yet).

  5. [off topic – Hilliary, have you ever read “Surviving the Sword” ? I just started reading it, about the prisoners of the Far East, with diaries and interviews. Published in both the US and UK 2005.]

    • Yes, If you look at the column on the right on my home page, I list stuff I have read recently and that’s one of them. I had many books from my father’s bookshelf and then I read and obtained many more, but about a year ago I bought another 24 books from the library of a researcher, so I still have many to get through. I find it really useful to read a variety of accounts and different points of view.

      • Sorry, I didn’t even look at the right side. I started reading the book and instantly thought of you! You’re lucky to have acquired those books from a researcher – any tips on how to do the same or books you would recommend I acquire?

      • There’s no reason why you should have checked that side panel, my general reading is somewhat random. Gosh, books to recommend. Clifford Kinvig’s River Kwai Railway is highly regarded and more impartial and a better overview than most. Rod Suddaby (sadly missed expert from the Imperial War Museum) told me to read C F Blackater’s Gods Without Reason, and my father told me that John Coast’s book Railroad of Death is all true. This was published in 1946 and he used pseudonyms for all the people he named and never wrote about the worst atrocities. My godfather, Pat Stephenson, is the man called Stevie Leicester in this book. I’d better stop there, I have shelves full of these books – some are inaccurate, others very biased.

  6. I always have several books going at the same time, so I know the feeling, Hilary. I try to maintain a balance between fiction and nonfiction. My wife volunteers for Friends of the Library at our local library and yesterday it had its annual book sale. It was very dangerous for anyone trying to cut back. 🙂 –Curt

  7. I too found myself overwhelmed by my reading list. And so now i just handle one or two books at a time until I finish them and go on to another two. Thanks for mentioning my book in your post. 🙂

  8. Can you watch a TV show called “Criminal Minds” where you are? There is this character called Dr. Spencer Reid… He is a geeky genius – that can speed read and remember everything he read. Don’t you wish??!!

    • Indeed I wish – actually I’m learning to speed read but remembering, um that’s a step beyond me. And no, we don’t have Criminal Minds… or not as far as I know (it’s blog or TV for me and blog mostly wins).

  9. Pingback: Marketing, a necessary pain? | Green Writing Room

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