Sunday, May 09, 2010

Persephone Books reading week

"Let's talk of something more worth talking of." ...from Susan Miles' Lettice Delmer.

My sister forwarded a link to me earlier this week because she knew that I have a new passion for reading the booklist of Persephone Books. Although I probably do not qualify for having fulfilled the criteria for reading a book this week (because I haven't actually finished either of the two that I began), I did want to post my over all thoughts.

Let me begin by stating that much of thrill I get from reading these books comes from knowing that so few other people are reading exactly what I am. I've been on many flights over the last month and realized that most people are simply lemmings when it comes to selecting a book to read. Fine, Oprah's book club did seem to get people to read again, but it is as if no one has a brain for themselves to select reading material. Seems that everyone wants to read the same story about a girl and a dragon and a tattoo.

My second observation is that I clearly need to improve my vocabulary list if I intend to read any more of the Persephone Books. My eighth grade English teacher told us that we should always read a book with a dictionary at hand and that has never been truer for me than since I began to read this booklist. Sadly I do not lug my dictionary with me on my flights so I have resorted to keeping a slip of paper from the last hotel and a pencil handy so that I can jot down the words which I either truly do not know or for which I think I know their definition but am not really sure if I might just be making it up. The lists for each book are actually much longer than you would imagine. Some of them have words that have gone out of common day usage, such as 'polyglot', while others are simply words that I have seen but to which I have never really paid much attention.

My last observation is that I understand why readers think they want to avoid reading Susan Miles' book Lettice Delmer. During our school years, books written in verse were drudgery to read as we stumbled across both meanings of words and implications of meanings. We read and re-read Shakespeare, trying to understand with our modern English minds what he was really trying to say. We spent hours poring over Shelley's Prometheus Unbound trying to decipher who was who and what was really going on (with the supposed help of a multitude of footnotes and volumes of writings on the meaning of the story) only to still be completely lost when we reached the end.

Lettice Delmer is nothing like that and if you haven't selected it for your reading list, please reconsider. There is no stumbling over the pronunciation of the names of the characters, nor confusion on what that individual represents (take Flora Tort, the flower wronged by being an unwed mother). The language needs no interpretation (I actually didn't need the dictionary for this one!) and the story is engaging. Reading a novel in verse is refreshingly challenging: it causes your mind to pay more attention to the writing than it would reading a novel in prose because the sentence structures are not predictable. While this might seem simply challenging, it is actually refreshing in that I found a much greater appreciation for the actual writing skills of the author than I usually assume in prose novels.

So while I may not have completed the Persephone Book reading week challenge (the book I selected for this week is An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum which at 430 pages is a bit more than I can accomplish in a week with no flights and a full time life), and while a challenge such as this does push us all closer to that girl with her dragon body-etching in terms of our reading selections, I was glad to virtually be part of a reading book kind where I can simply discuss my book with myself!

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