Saturday, December 31, 2005

58. An Affair with the Moon by David Gilmour (and end of year summary!)

[note: end of year summary follows this write-up so that I can keep my book count consistent with my blog posting count.]

Affair with the Moon pictureI probably should have waited a little while longer before picking up my second novel by Gilmour, (Here's the first) but I was looking for a quick and entertaining train read. Affair is about the up and down friendship between the protagonist, who is a semi-slacker upper class Torontonian and his wild, charismatic friend. In an interview, Gilmour said that his books are all about his search for true love. Until his most recent publication, where, according to him, he realized he discovered the most pure love in the form of his son, all his books are about the failure of that search. An Affair with the Moon tracks his friendship with Harrow Winncup, beginning in their fancy private school and onwards through adult life where Harrow gets involved in music, drugs and eventually a scandalous murder.

The love theme comes to the surface of the narrative from time to time, sometimes even explicitly. Gilmour is toying with the notion of two good male friends being like lovers. I didn't buy it. It felt forced to me, overly psychological. The story is strong, but the stronger emotional theme, to my mind, was the protaganist's relationship with X's mother, who for various class reasons, hated him and forced him out socially. The narrator's anger seemed much more real when expressing the resentment created when a woman (mother in this case) separates male friendship. Those homoerotic overtones seem false, created to appeal to the female and/or post-modern reader, especially coming from such an overtly heterosexual writer. Gay is gay and that kind of homosexual romantic love and the love between two men who are friends are two very different things.

The book moves along nicely, with the similar witty and dark asides that Gilmour is so good at. It isn't quite as funny as Sparrow Nights, but it gets into slightly darker territory. I'm curious to see how Gilmour continues with his study, but judging by the two books of his that he's read, he expresses the love of a man for a woman better than that between friends.

End of the year summary

I close this 50 books meme with a great deal of personal satisfaction. I'm not into memes particularily, but when Hannibal Chew passed this along to me, it caught my attention. I can't remember exactly why, perhaps my subconscious recognized that it would be a helpful tool for me. I'm one of those people who considers himself a reader. I read a lot when I was young and I read fast. I got into books. This died down considerably in college, where I lost the desire to just read (too much forced reading, too much bullshit surrounding reading). I was aware of it at the time and it wasn't until 3 or 4 years after graduation that I started reading books again. So I was still considering myself a reader in the decade since. But I actually wasn't reading all that much. I always had a book going, but sometimes it would stay closed for weeks. The increasing power of the internet distracted me far worse than television had ever done. I think I implicitly realised that 50 books in a year (about a book a week), would be the path of fire through which I must cross in order to actually merit the title of "reader".

I have crossed that path and what I have learned is that for me to continue to be a reader, it is going to take the same kind of vigilance, discipline and constant self-awareness that an alchoholic uses to stay off the bottle. One day at a time.

If you look at a chart of my reading rate throughout 2005, you'll see a good start in January, a slow drop-off into spring, near cessation in summer with only a strong burst in August (thanks to a couple of weekends and a trip to the Gaspésie) to keep me alive. When autumn came, I got so busy with school that I only read 2 books each in the months of September and October. Something spurred me at the end of November, made me realize that I had to start busting it soon or I wouldn't make it. Again, I have to give a lot of credit to the Mount Benson Report, whose consistent, steady progress kept me focused on the passage of time. I had caught up to him very briefly at the end of the summer (at 32 books, I think), but then he quite quickly moved by me and I saw the truth of the parable of the tortoise and the hare.

Furthermore, the books that I had read had mostly been really good. They triggered long-dormant interests in genres, authors and specific books that I'd always been curious about. The Ballards, the Phillip K. Dicks re-opened a love for science fiction and all the ways the world can go in the future and thus got me interested in good new sci-fi. Just like physical training, I found my reading skills increasing. I could read faster, for longer periods and was retaining more. During the last part of the year, I was just tearing through books, driven by the tight schedule, but more importantly, riding the momentum of great stories and crazy ideas.

Coming out at the end of the year, having read 56 books, I feel I have learned a lot. The total of all this reading is more than the sum of its parts. As for the parts, I can now honestly say I have some understanding of Ballard, Philip K. Dick, a taste for the tone of Russian literature, a solid introductory foundation into contemporary science fiction, a good survey and starting point of modern english-Canadian authors and many important literary puzzle pieces that were previously missing in my picture of the world.

As for the total, well I'm not sure yet. I think the dividends are still calculating themselves in my mind and soul. Practically speaking, I know this has been a huge boon in my writing, both in motivation and in a realization of how much learning I still have to do. To consume such a range of imagination and craft is humbling. I may have some smidgen of talent, a good education, a bit of life experience and an open enough mind. Not a bad start, but I need training. If I'm lucky (and this is really pushing things) I could be considered the Toshiro Mifune character in the Seven Samurai, strong and loud, wearing the stolen armour and weapons but I've just run into a bunch of guys who could cut my topknot off while mending their kimonos.

Because, Damn, there are some writers out there! I won't even address the sheer quantity of good material these authors produce (which you don't want to think about too much anyways). I was forced to pause several times at the ability of a good writer to capture something (a moment, a feeling, an action, a description, a behaviour, a character) with a combination of words and just re-read that sentence or phrase. It's almost magical. If you look at the writing closely enough, you can build up arguments about the choice of words, the structure, the order, the rhythm that makes it so effective, but there is some invisible power going on that connects the words to your brain and makes them take off there. That is a miracle, that we have such a power in our consciousness, to be able to look at some words on a page and derive a profound sensation from that, so profound that it can be as exciting as the action itself. We are lucky creatures indeed.

So I'm going to push forth again this year, resetting the counter to zero and shooting for another 50 books. Aside from the manifold benefits I have listed above (which I hope will continue to develop in new, interesting ways) I also just have tons of more books that I want to read! Thanks for your support everyone (and all the great suggestions) and congrats to all of you who participated. I see that beyond me and Hannibal, most of you get around 20 to 30 which is still no joke, especially considering your burdens of fulltime employment. I hope you all keep posting write-ups whether you shoot for 50 or not. They were very helpful and enjoyable to me.


WeSailFurther said...

Nice work, Olman! Amazing.

I left this on my blog, but thought I'd add it here too, in response:

Inspired by Olman's review of his 50 book drive (ultimately reaching a whopping 58 books), I thought I would recap my experience trying to read 50 books in 2005. I think it was a great goal, and I'm glad I tried it. This year I am going to compromise and try to read 35 books. 50 was tough going, and I may have really read a little more than the 23 I actually got. I didn't log books that I had read before, like Macbeth, nor did I log books I read for grad school (assassins lurking in smoking holes).

I'm not disappointed about the 23 I read. All of them were great books, and I am richer for the experience. Only one, by CS Forester, is unrecommendable. 6 of the 23 books were nautical and 9 nonfiction.

Like Olman, I consider myself a reader. Mostly I read magazines, newspapers, and journals. After college, where I read so many books – I was the fool trying to actually read the books on the reading list – I took a break from capital-L literature. I was sick of deconstructing books, not just from school, but at work, too, as a literature/history teacher. (And maybe that's why I enjoy the D&D so much, putting something together for a change.) And I had always read nonfiction, and especially books about sailing. Probably the book I have read the most is Joshua Slocum's Sailing Around the World Alone. As I look over the list I can see that I read two books in July while waiting for the boat to heal itself, and none in August when I went sailing as much as possible, and was living the outdoor life.

As for the magazines, journals, and newspapers, I am going to log them more often, but not every article I read for teaching or learning. People would stop coming to the blog. This is the kind of reading that keeps me current, informs my shallow understanding of the world, while the lit and nonfiction help make the deep furrows. I think both are necessary for a thinking mind.

Anyway, as I look to 2006 I am going to try to read more nonfiction, more biographies, and more scifi/fantasy. The goal will be 35 books, and this year I am going to keep a page count, just to see.

Mustapha Mond said...


The fact that you have a graph of your reading habits is absolutely killer. You are a king among nerds. I bow to you.