Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Free thinkers

I just finished tearing my way ravenously through A.S. Byatt’s latest novel, The Children’s Book. There was so much stuff in it that I’m still thinking about a lot of it and how it fits together. It’s about Victorian and Edwardian England, artists and how what they do affects other people, the idea of “having” children and what that means, and the whole idea of progressiveness and free thinking –the way it sometimes leads to absolutely nothing, its unintended effects. Take “free love” in an era without widespread access to birth control. Guess who bears most of those consequences? (I’ll take “women” for $400, Alex.) Anyway, I raced through the end, as I often do, and was disappointed (as I often am; see my last post). Part of that disappointment, though, I think, comes from how realistic Byatt’s characters are. They make decisions based on circumstances, whim, pragmatism; they die suddenly; they don’t think about how their actions affect others.

Well, I’m done reading it now. It’s received a lot of critical praise, and I think that’s warranted. Now, however, I’m ready for something completely different. This is how I tend to read. I don’t go on “kicks” where I read a lot of the same kind of thing. I just finished an exhaustively researched and detailed historical novel by a British woman, so what’s next? Eldridge Cleaver’s 1968 memoir Soul on Ice (sure to be unsettling in many ways), alternated with Molly Peacock’s book of poems Take Heart. Then on, perhaps, to my long list of “Books to Check Out”....