I rarely, if ever, read fiction during my formative and working years. My college degree was in economics and my personal interests revolved around European history. The one exception was my fascination as a youth with the Iliad, which I was introduced to by our local librarian, bless her heart,
During my working years I read business magazines, economic reports and articles concerning the political situations in the countries which I traveled – Latin America first, then the Middle East and Sub-Continent.
There was no time or interest in reading pulp fiction, detective novels or for that matter, 20th century literature which is now considered classic. I was successful in providing for my family but in many ways was a relatively uneducated man when it came to letters.
While in retirement I made a conscious decision to correct the situation. I made a list of books I wanted to read. Books I should have read a long time ago.
My problem at first was my vision. I had a stroke in 2004 which took away my left peripheral vision in both eyes. The condition is called left homonymous hemianopsia and it makes reading a book somewhat difficult. As I reach the end of a line I can no longer see the beginning of the next line peripherally. While scanning across the page it is easy to lose my place.
Enter Kindle. Several Christmases ago my daughter bought me one. It’s compact “pages” takes away the need to scan back and forth and makes reading a breeze.
So I diligently began reading literature I should have read a long time ago.
And for me, it has opened up a new world.
I started with Steinbeck; Grapes and Of mice and Men.
Moved on to Hemingway; A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell tolls.
And I formed an opinion; I liked Steinbeck’s writing better than I liked Ernest Hemingway.
Next I read Dalton Trumbo’s great anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun and I knew why it was withdrawn from publication during World War II.
I read Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Matterhorn: A novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes, written in the tradition of Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line.
Next was Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken; read the book before I saw the movie.
Not that I gave up history entirely. I read Mussolini’s Italy: Life under the Fascist Dictatorship and Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider by Peter Gay just to quench a thirst. And Ellie Wiesel’s Night.
This year I have been reading Russian novels.
Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don. Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, a novel of the Russian civil war in the Ukraine.
Vasily Grossman’s staggering Life and Fate, a novel of Stalingrad and life under Stalin, written by one who was actually there. The novel was banned in the Soviet Union and not published until well after Stalin and Grossman’s death.
A month or so ago I decided I really should read War and Peace from cover to cover. I am, according to Kindle, 92% of the way through!
I am beginning to feel like a moderately educated man. And it takes my mind off of the Trump years.
“Failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow . . . . And the smell of rot fills the country . . . . There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success . . . . And, in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is the growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath