Wow. Getting my geeky summer reading list promoted to Freshly Pressed this week made me feel positively giddy. The outpouring of comments has left me wearing a bewildered grin ever since. Thank you one and all for not only reading my blog post but also taking the time to participate in the book discussion. I feel blessed and humbled. Now of course I’ve got to keep this party going with some more decent content. But then we all know I like a good challenge.
I started reading The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin this week. I am only in the second chapter so all I have are some first impressions. There is a lot more scientific minutiae than I expected. Still, Darwin’s writing is quite readable. I appreciate his expressions of honest wonder and delight as he is first introduced to plants and animals and attempts to describe them for the reader. I can just picture him crawling around on rocky tide pools and getting squirted by angry cuttlefish. I’ve done my own share of crawling through muck in the name of science–I can appreciate both the work and the thrill. I can recognize some of what he is attempting to describe which I find exciting. I look forward to pottering along with Darwin round the world while I finish The Once and Future King by T.H. White.
Yesterday I checked the Tale of Genji by Lady Musaki out of the library. The book is ~1000 pages in length, this copy was originally printed in 1960 ($4.95!?!?!), and judging by the old-school library checkout card pouch it has not seen a lot of the world past its bookshelf. The librarian picked it up to scan the barcode and said, “Wow! This is an undertaking.”
Feeling both scared and highly amused I could only reply, “Well, I’m always an optimist.”
Criminy though it is big! I marvel that a human being wrote every single word of all six volumes using scrolls, brushes, and ink over a millennium ago. And that it survived the interim! Talk about the power of the written word, the force of a dynamic story that the Tale of Genji survived all these many years and is still very relevant to modern Japanese culture. I have only just begun to read–only through page 16 and the introduction to the author. I confess the introduction about Lady Musaki intrigues me more than the start of her novel. She seems like a real character from her diary excerpts–filled with passion and contradictions and rudeness and grace. I suspect that one day I would like to read her diary. The court life seems singularly dramatic and stressful–I can’t imagine having to produce a poem on the spot that would be both witty and well-written. Heck, I couldn’t produce more than passably decent poems for my high school English class to complete a poetry assignment which we had weeks to finish.
Of the sixteen pages I have little to say other than to reiterate how tragic and awful court life in ancient Japan seems to have been. It would seem the story is going out of its way to set up how deeply tragic Genji’s childhood was. Still, I have made a beginning on the book and that is where all good things must start.