Sunday, October 28, 2007

Back to Mrs Dalloway

Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks of Harley Street nibbled at the June day...

It is images like that that give me a feeling of exhilaration as I read Mrs Dalloway.

Finally I've picked this up again. My re-reading of Mrs Dalloway has been progressing painfully slowly but it's partly because the writing is so intense; a little bit goes a long way. Today I picked it up again after a hiatus of several months. The afternoon was warm and rainy and Mrs Dalloway was the perfect book to read on the balcony in between the batches of biscuits I was baking.

I'm beginning to realise what a socially aware novel this is. Woolf works important social and political changes such as the fall of the British Empire and the fall-out from the First World War into what is also an intensely psychological and internal narrative. That's probably not news to anyone else but I don't remember noticing this political aspect the first time I read the novel when I was an undergraduate.

Anyway, time now to head off to bed, listen to the rain fall on the roof and let a little more of Woolf's writing wash over me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

One year on

I have just realised that I started this blog a year ago this week. Wow, that time has flown. Part of me is surprised that I've managed to keep this thing going on a semi-regular basis for a whole year. I suppose it was always an experiment, being my first attempt at blogging. It's been reasonably easy to stick with though. I decided early on not to write if I didn't feel like it and not to set myself too tough a schedule. While I love reading other bloggers who write daily, I can't make that level of commitment myself. I know it would just turn me off the whole thing. Now I've settled into writing once or twice a week, an amount that seems realistic for me.

Writing about books has been a rewarding experience. I think more about what I read as I read it now, even sometimes taking notes or marking interesting passages. While that might sound terrible to some people, like being an undergrad again, I find that it has deepened my reading. I have to think more carefully about what I read so that I can write about it. As a result, I think the books I have read in the last year have had a more lasting impact on me.

The other part of this process that I love is the interaction with others who have the same interests. I have so loved reading other people's blogs and have gotten lots of my reading ideas from them. And I still get a bit of a thrill whenever someone comments on my posts. It's nice to know that someone is reading at least some of what I write, although I think I would probably blog regardless, as a way of recording my reading experiences.

A big part of me is still a little embarrassed about blogging. I don't tell many people in the 'real' world about this site. It's not that I think blogging itself is embarrassing, I just still feel a bit cringey about my own contribution to the blogosphere. I also feel that a degree of anonymity helps me to write more freely.

Anyway, enough about me. I've spent a year trying not to get too personal here so now is probably not the time to start. Thanks to all of you who have supported my little corner of cyberspace over the last year. With a bit of luck there'll be a few more years to come.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

On caring passionately...

The last few weeks have been a little crazy and this blog has been sadly neglected. Suffice to say that you should never trust a tradesman who says they can fix your bathroom in a week.

But while I haven't been able to post anything, I have, luckily, had a bit of time to read. At the moment I am totally enthralled by The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I love this book and it continues my recent enjoyment of non-fiction, something I don't usually read much of.

Orlean's book began as an article she wrote for the New Yorker on John Laroche, a Florida man charged with stealing orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand. It quickly becomes obvious that Laroche is a fantastic subject- fascinating, infuriating, eccentric and unpredictable- and that the world of orchid collecting is awash with such characters. Hence Orlean extended her article into this book which loosely follows the trial of Laroche with many detours into the wider world of orchid cultivation, natural history, Florida, Native American culture and, well, almost everything really.

Before I began reading this book I had no interest in orchids. I picked up the book because I had seen Adaptation, the crazy Spike Jonze/ Charlie Kaufmann attempt to film it. The film was about much more than the the book, although I'm beginning to realise it was quite true to the spirit of Orlean's writing. Orlean herself approaches her subject from the perspective of an outsider. She knows little about the orchid world but is fascinated by the passion that these plants inspire in others. She explains her desire to see the elusive and rare ghost orchid:
The reason was not that I love orchids. I don't even especially like orchids. What I wanted was to see this thing that people were drawn to in such a singular and powerful way.

It seems that The Orchid Thief is really about the nature of obsession:
I wanted to want something as much as people wanted these plants, but it isn't part of my constitution. I think people my age are embarrassed by too much enthusiasm and believe that too much passion about anything is naive. I suppose I do have one un-embarrassing passion- I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.

Orlean is so successful at conveying the passion that others feel for orchids that I have found myself going as far as checking out the orchids in my local nursery and actually considering buying one. Apparently this passion is contagious. In the meantime I'll try to hold off from being swept up in the world of orchids and instead be content with being swept up in The Orchid Thief.