The other night when I came to the last page of The Fountain Overflows, I turned right back to the beginning and started it all over again. I couldn’t bear to leave the Aubrey Family, or Rebecca West’s lovely writing. I kept my pen in hand so that I could note even more phrases or passages that were notable examples of her masterful style, or of the psychology of children. And this time through I mean to circle words I don’t know from the very start, to look up in the dictionary sometime — maybe. Most of the time I forget to do that.
I don’t research those words as I go along because I am usually lying in bed and can’t handle something as heavy as a dictionary; most books I buy these days I get in paperback so that I can read them while curled up or generally horizontal under the blankets. Sometimes, though, I fail to notice that a particular book in the catalog has 800 or 1000 pages between its paper covers, and when it arrives at my door I realize that it can’t be accommodated at bedtime.
Vacations don’t seem to include the long afternoons I’d require to enjoy the big books in a lawn chair next to a lake or under a tree. That’s what I thought I would need if I were ever going to start The Cypresses Believe in God: Spain on the Eve of the Civil War (806 pages), by Jose Maria Gironella.
But last week, after leaving the library, of all places, my foot folded over at a curb and my ankle was sprained — voilà! Here was my chance! — and for three days I’ve been living in the world of Spanish culture and politics in the 1930’s, at the same time I am lying in the recliner with my foot up.
I was going to tell also about the paperback copy of The Brothers Karamozov, and Stephen Lawhead’s Hood (first book in the King Raven Trilogy about Robin Hood), who are both waiting on the shelf, but as I look at them more closely I notice that they are not at all in the same weight category as Cypresses. They are smaller in cubic inches, nearly the same size as each other, though Hood is under 500 pages and Brothers K about 700. Dostoyevsky is much heavier physically — the book, I’m talking about now — and I am confident in other ways, too. No taking that one to bed.
But maybe when I finish Fountain I could manage to heft Hood or at least have it lying next to my pillow. Unless I feel the need to read Rebecca West’s The Birds Fall Down again. When I came to the end of that novel I also had that urge to read it again soon, for somewhat different reasons.
The first time I heard of this author it was for her book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. That title captivated me right off, but I thought the subject of her famous book would be helpful to me in understanding Balkan history and culture.
I borrowed it from the library, a hardback and huge book with small print, when I still had plenty of teaching and childraising to do, and I don’t think I ever got through one chapter. But now that I’ve read two other compelling books by her, and see that these three I’ve encountered are completely different from one another….I wonder if I can get Black Lamb and Grey Falcon in paperback?
[Update: more posts have been written about The Fountain Overflows,