Tuesday 27 October 2009

Reading and Reviewing and Rereading and Transparent Things

I see that tomorrow - or probably, by the time you're reading this, today - this bizarre project reaches its triumphant end: Nina Sankovich will have read and reviewed 365 books in 365 days. What the? you may well ask, followed by Why the? Is there a book of anything like book length that can be truly read in one day, let alone sufficiently assimilated to be usefully reviewed? Me, I've just spent a week's reading time on Nabokov's Transparent Things - a novella of little more than 100 pages. I suppose, if I'd had nothing else occupying me and my eyes weren't in their permanent state of screen-strain, I could have read it in a day, conceivably even 'reviewed' it on the same day, but to little effect. 'Let us now illustrate our difficulties.' Transparent Things is one of those books I return to again and again, am never disappointed and always find new wonders, new beauties and new mysteries. I first read it in the pages of - Playboy was it? Or Esquire? - and have been rereading it at intervals ever since. It seems a perfect condensate of Nabokov's genius, his late masterpiece, containing a hint at least of everything that makes him great, while striking out in what seems a novel and strange direction. On the face of it (those who know it, forgive the rehearsal), it is an account of four visits to Switzerland, separated by 20 years or so, by a sullen, gawky misfit of a publisher, in the course of which his father dies, he (himself) has a professional encounter with the immensely distinguished and morally derelict writer R, falls in love with the icily promiscuous Armande, marries her, and, on the last visit, returns self-widowed to meet his own end ('This is, I believe, it; not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being into another.'). Along the way... Along the way, what? Transparent Things is an agile, beady-eyed, seriocomic meditation on time and memory and dreamlife and loss, and on the 'transparent things, though which the past shines'. It's a tale told by whom? Even such a basic question is not easily answered... But this is not a review. Even this slim volume was not read, reread, rereread, in a day. 'Easy, you know, does it, son.'


  1. There's a whole subgenre of blogs (largely female, as far as I can tell), devoted to competitively rapid reading and (therefore inevitably shallow) reviewing. They have great big lists of the books they've read that week, totted up like facebook friends or twitter followers.

  2. Weird isn't it? I wonder why, and why it's such a female thing...

  3. That's all I was to you....Just another notch on the bookshelf...

  4. Must have a quick word with Seb, I'm sure he would want to include power book reading in the 2012.
    There could be the 4 shelves of Jodi Picoult (for sprinters) and the 50 kilo's of Anya Seton, womens events obviously.
    At some point a Russian competitor will be caught cheating, found with a Kindle in her pants.
    Saving cash, the events can be held in Waterstones.