Friday, May 22, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies
translated by the author
published in French, 1951
published in English, 1958
published by John Calder, 1958, and by Penguin in 1962

It is always a relief to read a book like this one and be reminded that life seems this way to someone else, and not just to me.  Otherwise I start to think that other people feel, I dunno, like people in beer commercials, pretty much chipper all the time.  This is a bleak and hilarious book.  I was on board the moment the narrator announced, in the first section, “For starters, I forgive nobody.”

Of Beckett’s three short novels, Molloy has the reputation of being the most important.  My personal belief is that that’s because most people buy the 3 novels in an omnibus edition and only get as far as the first one.  To me, Malone Dies is every bit as interesting and readable -- and even more funny.  That or my sense of humor is becoming more bleak as I age.  Which is certainly possible.

It is a wicked book, such a true one and funny in the blackest way.  It is the sort of book that would be perfect to read if you were dying in hospice from cancer and your life had not gone particularly well, to read aloud to your roommate, also dying, also not such a great life, and together you would laugh helplessly until someone had to push the ‘nurse call’ button.  But seriously, don’t wait that long to read Malone Dies.  It’s a great book.  And you don’t have to wait until your life is worse to enjoy this book.  Your life is already bad enough.

Addendum: Advice on reading Malone Dies.

I understand that many people coming to this book will be academics, for whom it will be only one infinitesimal step in their accreditation and career path.  But for the sake of other people who are, like me, reading in hopes of pleasure and truth, and who don’t have academic training in literary theory and whatnot, I’ve found a way of reading this and other apparently “dense” texts that really helps me.

With my notebook and too much caffeine, I sit and read ten pages.  I read with attention, but without trying too hard.  After the first ten pages I say, “Yeah, whatever!” and go back to the beginning and reread.  I read approximately 20 pages.  After that, I take a break.  A little later, or perhaps the next day, I read another 20 pages -- starting not where I left off but 10 pages back.

Thus, by the time I’ve read a book, I’ve actually read it twice.  But this doesn’t feel laborious.  In fact it’s much easier.  Rereading gives me a chance to read with something like ease, with appreciation, and with questions in my head besides, “What the hell is happening now?”  This gives me confidence and when I finish a book I’m more likely to feel that I actually READ it and didn’t just, you know, look at all the words.  I apologize if this is obvious and dull-headed.  I hazard it here just in case it might prove useful.

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