Many evenings, sometime after ten, a skein of geese fly over our house, on their way home from their daylight feeding grounds. I've never seen them clearly - too high, too dark - but I hear them, calling out to each other as they fly their regular route. And then, my other half (his name is Phil) insists that our bedroom is also on the migratory path of a herd of medium size wildebeest, who, it seems, pass through between 1 and 3 a.m., on they way (I can only imagine) from one side to the other of the Serengeti. (This pattern has, you must understand, nothing whatsoever to do with the nocturnal habits of cats, and in particular nothing whatsoever to do with our two rambunctious neutered male cats and their habit of holding play fights on the bed.)
It often seems to me that the house - and my desk in particular - is on the migratory route of thousands and thousands of schools of books. At any given time, alongside all those who regularly make their homes on shelves, my desk-top and bedside table hold several who are, I can only imagine, resting in transit. There's a cartoon doing the rounds at present on facebook about the dangers of inviting books into your homes (they breed, they annoy the neighbours and they can never, ever, be persuaded to leave). It reminds me of my life. Right now, there are something in the order of ten books transiting past me. I can count 14 scattered on my desk. Most of these are books that have been lent to me, and are waiting to be returned. But in addition to these, there's a biography of Dumas, which I'm using for an article I'm writing on him, a Welsh grammar, a slim and entirely bogus volume on Celtic magic (research for the novel-in-progress, which riffs off various fake theories) and a novel I'm supposed to be reviewing. I'm not exactly reading any of these - they're more for dipping into (apart from the review copy) but they're currently in use.
The bedside table is a lot worse. I have developed, it seems, the habit of reading more than one book at once. I'm really not sure how this happened. It just crept up on me, I swear. The books made me do it. I am not, not, not, incurably butterfly-minded. Right now, that table holds a book on anarchism (research for Worldcon programme), a book on the psychology of creative writing, a book on the novels of Chinese writer Jin Yong (Louis Cha), a book on the origins of the scientific revolution, a book about grimoires, a how-to-write book, a book on the history of British cinema, and my e-book reader. Oh, and Dion Fortune's book on training in ritual magic.
I'm part-way through all of them. The books on magic and on the scientific revolution are research, again for that novel-in-progress. (It's not steampunk. It's also not urban fantasy, or gaslight romance, though it may in some ways turn out to be Gothick. It does have a spaceship. And aether. And a cat who isn't. As a writer, I am hopeless at fixing on a subgenre and staying within it. This is probably a character flaw. That dilettante tendency, yet again. ) They are all fascinating: well-written, detailed, well-researched, thoughtful. The past, as ever, is filled with extraordinary corners, with depths and twists and ideas that never cease to amaze and inspire and awe me. The two writing books are the fringes of a long-standing habit I have of reading about writing. The how-to one was recommended to me by someone as a useful and supportive books for mid-career writers, but I am clearly the Wrong Writer for it, as I'm finding it very annoying, and prescriptive and full of Campbellian clichés. (I am not a fan of Joseph Campbell. I studied social anthropology as part of my first degree, and, well... If I want to read about myth, I can think of better places to start.) The one on psychology is varied: it's a collection of papers and some of them are interesting, but my overall word for it would probably be naïve. There's a lot of counting and assumptions, but the samples are small and, to my mind, anomalous, and it has told me anything that doesn't seem obvious. I think, for how writer-brain functions, I'm still sticking with Jung and Dennis Palumbo. The other two - the book on Jin Yong and the book on cinema - are there because I just want to read them. I've loved the works of Jin Yong since I first met them via the lens of film adaptation, and I've sought and read all of them that are available in translation (which is only three, which is unsatisfactory). He writes what looks on the surface to be adventure novels - tales of wandering swordsmen and martial artists, political manoeuvrings and strange abilities, of mysteries and escapes and plots and revenge. He has a lot in common with Alexandre Dumas, in some ways. And like Dumas, there is far more under the surface, a deep engagement with social order and the nature of power, with ethics and human ambitions, with the use and abuse we make of legend and ability, history and expectation. I recommend him highly. I recommend the book on him, too (Paper Swordsman, John Christopher Hamm), though it's very frustrating, because most of the works it discusses by Jin Yong have not been translated.) And the cinema book - Mark Sweet, Shepperton Babylon? I don't know, except that my mother brought me up with a love of film, and I have been watching them and reading about them as long as I can remember. And this book looks at those we have forgotten, those writers and directors, producers and actors who works are lost or forgotten, to whose faces we can seldom now put names, but who were once lionised. It's an interesting book, and, despite its title, more elegiac than scandalous. I'm enjoying it.
So: what are you all reading, today, and why? What do you think of it?
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