Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reading Dorian Gray

Picutre of Dorian Gray,

I read a lot. But I tend not to give myself credit for it. I imagine that people who are dedicated to being writers, like I am (even going to school for it) make reading their priority form of entertainment—the most common way they spend extra time. But it’s not that with me, I read some, probably more than most, but I watch TV far more than I read, I play video games, and I read about sports far more than I read literature. But, keep in mind that I’ve so far avoided having a traditional job, so this gives me more time than most.

I have a friend who is a painter who keeps disciplined hours in a studio. His painting is his singular goal. Its not that way with me. I write and I translate. I travel with USANA, I’ve spent a week of June in Mexico city working with my USANA group there. One week in June I spent in San Diego fleshing out the outline of a financial book I am co-writing with my father. I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies, and frankly its hard not to envy my friend and his singular focus. But rather than loathe my multi-tasking—the way ADD makes me wander, I’ve decided to try and embrace it, to see if I can transfer any of the “qualities of disjointed thinking” over to my writing.

On that note I’ve been reading many books at the same time, looking for convergences in the disparate things I am reading, and letting my attention span wander where it will. Currently I am reading 5 books:

Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

North of Boston by Robert Frost (his second book of poems)

The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

Fablehaven book V by Brandon Mull

And an indie guide book to New York called: Eat. Shop. NYC.

I just finished reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold my Marquez, so I guess you can add that to the mix as well.

Interesting things happen when you jump around in reading. Convergences. You read about the perfect, flawless youthful picture of Dorian Gray and then you put the book down and pick up the guide book to read about the hyperbolically described flawless charcuterie of an underground Brooklyn eatery and you realize that both, in reality, are ultimately unsustainable and tragically impossible ideals.

Or you find a quote like this in the INCREDIBLE author’s dedication from the Hour of The Star, talking about art: “and we must never forget that if the atom’s structure is invisible, it is none the less real. I am aware of the existence of many things I have never seen. And you too. One cannot prove the existence of what is most real but the essential thing is to believe. To weep and believe...amen for all of us.” And you contrast that with Wilde’s own introduction to Dorian Gray: “No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style....all art is quite useless.” Two different writers, expressing the polar opposite belief about art, yet ironically I find Wilde’s book to be the ethically sympathetic, from the gut, humanistic one, and Lispector’s to be the most “crafted” and “artistic”. But it just occurred to me that maybe Wilde was being ironic himself. He has a habit of swinging both ways....ZING!

Anyway, you find these sorts of things when you read concurrently. And I find them all to be beneficial for me as a human being. In fact, the more you read the more you realize that the experience of humanity is a shared one. There’s a Wilde like aphorism for you. I was in Mexico City last week, and like everyone should if/when they go, I went to the National Anthropological Museum, probably the finest museum in the world for Maya and Aztec (and Toltec and Olmec) artifacts. The wall you see as you leave the museum, huge and imposing, has a poem carved on it, whose basic message is “pay attention, you who leave here, for you are no different than them”. It is the same message as John Donne’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. I find it to be a very true message, and not in the nostalgic sense of mourning their lives as a way of fearing your own death, but in the sense that I can see their motives for action, or at least the best conjectures of their motives, and I can contrast that with my motives for action. Another convergence, and in this case, not a divergence. That gives me a great sense of community. And, if you have a belief system like mine that holds to an afterlife, a great hope at being able to realize that community one day.

But I have just finished Dorian Gray and I think it is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I wanted to blog an exegesis on how I read a book like that, on what parts effect me as a human and then on what I take away as a writer, like a mechanic would if he were pulling apart an engine piece by piece to see exactly how it worked. But I’ve been long winded enough with this blog already. I’ll just say that Dorian Gray worked for me on all the levels. It made me want to be a better person, AND the quality of its technical craftsmanship, especially on the character development and allegory level, made my jaw drop in places as I read it as a writer. Everyone talks about Wilde’s wit and his dialogue, which is great, but I was amazed at the descriptive lyricism of his prose, of how he matches his metaphors with the scene to set the mood....but now I’m rambling and promised I would stop. Read it if you haven’t and notice how effortlessly he seems to set up the characters in the first 100 pages. When I realized the allegory I was amazed at how smoothly I had been brought there. I had to go back and read it again. And finally, I’ll say that critics are foolish, which Wilde often said. They absolutely panned this book, mostly for moralizing reasons, while anyone who reads this book with half a brain, even if they wholly disagree with its message, has to give credit to its technical ability. Bummer that it was his only novel.

Also, do you ever do this? but I love to match music to books. I was thinking that Dorian Gray would match perfectly with Rufus Wainwright, for his "baroqueness", but then I tried it and it didn't fit. What fit perfectly was Andrew Bird. So next time you read it try to have some Andrew Bird on in the background and see if it enhances your experience. It did for me.

1 comment:

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