Ageing and death are of course classic subjects for our contemplation. But I don’t think I’m specially contemplating them at the moment.
It’s just that I was struck by yesterday’s quote about dying and reading
– then this afternoon by a Jacques Brel song about ageing that came up at random on my laptop
– and now by an interesting set of remarks, by Linda Grant in today’s Guardian, about ageing and reading.
In later life some people, including novelists themselves, stop reading fiction. Aged 78, Philip Roth said he’d “wised up” and was now only reading books that told him how the world worked… Other writers have said that as they grow older they have less patience with the novel. Is that being aged 70 and older, we no longer want to experience the world, but need to have it explained to us before it’s too late? When your friends are dying, when you’re sick. when the big dreams of your youth have come to not much, you may feel you have enough on your plate without the trials and tribulations of people who don’t even exist. You don’t want to escape from the world you know into the lives of others, but to hang on to the one you now fully understand you have for only a limited period… One might expect old age to be more introspective, but that seems to be the preserve of the young and uncertain. Once identity is solidified, perhaps the attention turns to what you don’t know about the world you’re shortly leaving, such as the sudden realisation that you really must go to India before it’s too late instead of lounging around in your pyjamas reading Amitav Ghosh.
(I’ve just finished Sea of Poppies, by the way. I like the language, but found it more schematic than River of Smoke. Like I did when I was young with Lord of the Rings, I’ve read the volumes in the wrong order. I never really liked the first volume of Lord of the Rings either.)
(Bookworm café, Beijing, 2012)