A person gains attention on the internet mainly by talking about themselves. To that end: here are the books I read this week, and how I feel about them. Why would you be interested in this? I have absolutely no idea.
This Week I Read:
Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge: So after last week's debacle, after I laid that goose egg, after the rare route in the lifelong battle against ignorance, I had hoped to return this week at double-speed. Alas. I only read the one book, and even then only barely. Part of this is because I'm under the gun with Those Below, and I'm moving out of my apartment, and I'm going traveling at the end of the month, and also for other reasons that don't need to be entered in on. But mostly because Unforgiving Years is not a page turner, not something to skim while defecating or half-read in a bar while eying a pretty girl. Simultaneously complex in language, structure, and thought, Unforgiving Years chronicles the terrible brutality of the years leading up to an immediately after WWII. It is loosely the story of Daria, a Soviet revolutionary struggling against the onslaught of Fascism while trying to survive Stalin's savage series of purges, although really this is to simplify the matter immensely.
It is a fantastic book. It is a minor masterpiece. It is very, very hard to read. The complexity of Serge's language and thought, the curious shifts in perspective—he has a habit of slipping seamlessly from one character to another so that you barely notice he has done so—are not easily comprehended, not even to a relatively capable reader. Moreover, the subject matter itself, which, though despairing, is not nihilistic, is similarly something of a challenge. The third portion of the novel in particular, which chronicles Daria's mission in war-ravaged Germany, is ferocious and disturbing, the imagery horrifying, the prose chaotic. Serge's perspective as true witness to war—he fought for the Red Army during the Russian revolution—offers an authentically tragic perspective on what is one of the darkest periods of human history, when the full potential of the industrial age has been turned towards the eradication of all that is decent and noble and innocent in humankind.
It took me a while, but it was worth it. And it got me thinking some about difficult literature, and of the things that books ask of us. Books can serve different purposes—to educate, to entertain, to enlighten, although the last I think it ultimately the most important. But revelation is not something which can be easily granted—it requires struggle, it requires sacrifice. The best books, in my opinion, are usually not the easy ones, not the downhill sprints (though they can be fun also). They're the rough ones, the ones that force us to stretch ourselves, the ones that stare back at us from our bedside tables contemptuously, challenging our attention. Unforgiving Years is one of these books, though a reader who makes the attempt will find not only a profound meditation on the nature of man, and on the foolish, formless optimism which is a requirement to avoid the weight of nihilism, but also a work of immense lyrical and aesthetic excellence. Highly recommended.
Were There Sword Fights: No, but there was some action. Although I mean, obviously, from the above you shouldn't expect a whiz-banger. Anyway.
Right Now I Am Reading: A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and just loving it.