Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon: In my head

The Sunday

The front page of the New York Times Book Review has a really nice review of Alice Munro's new story collection, Too Much Happiness. It's a book that I covet. And now that my birthday has come and gone, I have a couple of book store gift certificates that I can use to buy it!

The review, by Leah Hager Cohen, starts out saying something that I often talk about in relation to my favorite books--that sense that the author is speaking words you might speak, or at least is writing about things you've thought about. It's a wonderful feeling when it happens, and it happened to this reviewer when she read this book of Munro's. Cohen writes, "...the sensation, when reading, that your own mind is giving birth to the words as they appear on the page. Such is the ego that in these rare instances you wonder, 'How could the author have known what I was thinking?' Of course, what has happened isn't this at all, though it's no less astonishing. Rather, you've been drawn so deftly into another world that you're breathing with someone else's rhythms, seeing someone else's visions as your own."

I love when this happens. It doesn't happen for me with many authors, but with some. For me, it happens with Lorrie Moore, and Laurie Colwin, and Alice Munro. Raymond Carver, every once in awhile. Less so with authors who wrote before the 20th century, because their language is so different than that which I use myself, even though I may get caught up in the poetry of it.

Which, if any, authors do that to you?

I'm in the middle of Nicholson Baker's novel The Anthologist, which I'm really liking. There is a similar sensation reading this book. I think it's because it's a stream-of-consciousness novel to begin with, and Baker has been able to really draw me into his main character's head. He doesn't think exactly the way I do, but I like the way he thinks, and it makes the reading experience very enjoyable.

I would imagine that being inside the head of a character you don't like or relate to would be excruciating. I can't remember any reading experiences like that. Do you have any painful stream-of-consciousness reading experiences?


litlove said...

I'd love to read both the Nicholson Baker and the Alice Munroe! I can't think of a book that has unfolded as if from my own mind, but then I'm usually holding myself at a bit of a distance to think about what's happening all of the time (old habits die hard!). But I've been inside the heads of some pretty vile characters in my university teaching days - murderers, paedophiles and tramps have all featured!

Pour of Tor said...

Oh... Alice Munro is so brilliant (in a way I find very hard to pin down). My favorite of hers is "Open Secrets," but it has been too long since I have read one of her books. Now that I am newly a resident of Canada, there is all the more reason to return to her work (and Margaret Atwood's and Mavis Gallant's).

Dorothy W. said...

I've felt that way about Baker and also about Virginia Woolf -- at times. I don't know about being in the mind of characters I don't like -- I don't remember it ever bothering me. I think I stay distanced from them, as Litlove describes.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--the feeling I'm describing doesn't usually last very long--sometimes it's only a sentence or a paragraph that does it, but I'm in communion with the writer in that moment, and it's weird and wonderful at the same time. It's like an intersection of art and deja vu, a little bit strange!

Pour of Tor--I love Munro and Atwood, and Gallant, too. Reminds me I have a copy of Paris Stories that I must read!

Dorothy--I guess I usually distance myself from characters I don't like, too, though I'm not sure it's me or the authors who do it for me...

Hector Macdonald said...

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Gentle Reader said...

Hector--thanks for the info, I'll visit your site :)

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