July 30, 2008

You Call THAT Summer Reading?

Although four days ago I escaped the urban circus of Budapest for the idyllic peace of a farm house in southeastern Hungary, far, far from TV cables and internet connections and subway trains and all the other features of my harried life (which I love, but gets a bit much after a while), through the miracles of online technology this posting is being published on my appointed publishing day, thereby keeping my promise to grace the world with another dose of my prose every Wednesday. (Note to self: I should suggest to Google that they develop an application called iStiff, which sends an indistinguishable virtual image of a nine-to-five employee to the office through the internet every weekday morning, while the real employee stays home and putters around the house, blogs, meets friends at cafes, etc. Sounds like the Next Big Thing, huh?)

As this digital missive is being released into cyberspace, its flesh-and-blood author will have already spent days breathing fresh air, taking walks in the woods, watching his kids play with farm animals, cooking meals for ten (we'll be there with another family with children), watching the stars in a clear sky free of city lights, and... READING!

Now, being a corporate editor, reading on vacation is a bit like a busman's holiday, but as any professional reader (or college student) will tell you, there's a world of difference between reading what you have to, and reading what you want to.

Admittedly, being on vacation with that many children doesn't really allow for that much reading time, which is why I have to make every minute of it count. So... no mental-chewing-gum potboilers for me. Why waste that quality time away from the frenetic life, while my blood pressure is down and my brain waves smoothed out to gentle curves? No, I'm going to bring along two books that are definitely not what most folks would consider light beach reading.

The first is a novel. I don't read many novels anymore. First of all, I don't have time for them. I recall when I was younger, being very disdainful of people who say they don't have time to read. But, now I'm in that position. A full-time job, four kids and a commitment to spiritual exercises doesn't leave much time for other things. And the truth is, I do read. But shorter stuff I can squeeze in while commuting or eating lunch: articles on subjects I'm interested in, short stories (especially from my favorite speculative fiction site Strange Horizons). I read chapters from e-books on subjects I'm researching. But novels, no. You have to have long stretches of time to read novels. Reading a three-hundred page novel at a rate of four pages a day is very frustrating.

So, there's this six-hundred-page book I started,...uh,... a year ago on a bus ride to a company outing. I got one or two chapters read on the bus. Then I struggled for a few weeks at three or four pages a day and gave up. Around Christmas I took the time to plow through half of the book, and gave up when vacation was over. At this point I still have 170 pages of Gustav Meyrink's The Angel of the Western Window left.

Many of you will know the name Meyrink as the author of The Golem, but far fewer people know that Meyrink was actually an initiate of the western esoteric tradition, and that he wrote a number of esoterically significant novels. The plot of Angel takes place in two different time periods. One is the lifetime of Dr John Dee (1527-1608), and the other is the lifetime of the first-person narrator, a bachelor gentleman in Vienna in the early twentieth century. We slip into John Dee's time whenever the narrator reads Dee's diaries. I won't spoil the story for you (because you really should read it), but suffice it to say that the interaction between these two times and personalities becomes very bizarre and intricate.

Dr Dee was the Renaissance man's Renaissance man. There's hardly an art or science this man didn't dabble in, if not excel at or pioneer, including magic. And this novel is very much about the magical side of Dee. And the sweep of the novel is incredible: England and Wales, Emperor Rudolf's Prague (including Rudolf himself), Vienna, and more.

I've really worked myself up! I can't wait to get back to it.

The other book I'm taking along is a very thin, but very dense volume by Dr John Dee himself: The Hieroglyphic Monad. I've been wanting to delve into this book for some time now, but just haven't felt the time was right. This is the type of book Georg Kuhlewind would designate a "contemplative book". That means that, unlike a light novel, or an instruction book, or a magazine article, it is meant to be absorbed a few sentences at a time. The prime example of such a book, according to Kuhlewind, is the Gospel of John. One should, he says, read a sentence or two, and then deeply meditate on them to see what they evoke from deeper levels of consciousness. I'm certain this is how the Monad is meant to be read. It is divided up into 24 short theorems, each short enough to read in a few minutes. So, in the afternoons, after lunch has been served and the children are playing in the yard, or in the barn, I plan to drag a comfortable lawn chair out under a tree in the yard, sample a theorem, and then slowly sip my tea and contemplate.

Slowly. Patiently.


Anonymous said...

Oh, good gravy! Another book to add to my list.

John Dee and anything in fin-de-siecle Vienna really peak my interest. Must be all the John Crowley I've been reading.

I must admit, I find anything by Kuhlewind pretty hard going, so if he calls Dee's book "contemplative," I may have to put that one off until another life!

Enjoy your time away, and all the light reading :)

Eve said...

Your surroundings sound idyllic, and the reading just right. I'm with you on vacation reading: what better time to read something that requires real attention?

I think the iStiff program is a winner; let us know when you have the prototype ready. ;o)

NoƩmi said...

Szeretettel kuldom ezt:

Theo Huffman said...

Anthromama: Just to set things straight; I didn't Kuhlewind say called it a contemplative book, I said it was the kind of book he would designate as such. If it makes you feel any better, I also find Kuhlewind to be pretty impenetrable.

eve: Isn't that the point of vacation? To spend time focusing your mind on the things that matter to you, rather than on the things that make money for someone?

Noemi: I'm very please to have made it onto the list of bloggers to be paid honours on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, I did indeed infer that incorrectly.

I even got to hear Kuhlewind lecture in person once, and it still didn't help :)

I assume you know the Lievegoed book Battle for the Soul? I must be in a different stream than Mr. Contemplative.