Reading

by Shihang

Reading takes up most of my free time now, although I have limply resolved to write more, since reading can be so passive. I have began keeping lists of books I have read: I have catalogued the books I have in my house (over 200 of them!) and am on goodreads (username alvinenator) and I am keeping this notebook which I update every time I finish something.

Just a note here about a book I have really enjoyed about a theme close to my heart: W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants which is so another brilliant entry in the line of books with unbearably precise and incisive prose and unflinching realism. The parted nature of this book reminded me of the equally brilliant Dubliners by James Joyce (although the fragments are longer). In it, Sebald writes as an unnamed emigre narrator who at points in his life is caught up with the story of four emigrants from Germany or Germanic lands. Every single one of them is brilliant. Particularly, I love the sense of being alien that I think is fundamental to all emigrant experiences. This works both ways: towards the home country where you no longer belong and towards the host country where you can never truly belong.

This I think is the central conflict of being an emigrant: the lingering concept of your nationality that remains to be resolved. There is no pretending that there can ever be a clean cleavage. If so, why do you maintain such an interest in the homeland? Why are you affected by the feeling that the country has changed and no longer fits you? The emigrant experience naturally is one tinged with a little sadness, and I think this is what makes it quite poignant.

Another theme that has been haunting me since the death of Christopher Hitchens is the relationship between essay and essayist. I think Hitchens is a pretty good essayist, not a brilliant one, but one who is consistently good and incisive and astute. But what is the point of so impermanent a form. What is the essayist trying to accomplish? Is it possible to write so many of these short pieces without Ozymandias repeatedly coming to mind?

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