LITERATURE’S LIGHT SWITCH
In an airport recently, I spied a man reading Cold Mountain, a novel I loved at a time when I had all but given up on contemporary fiction. It got me thinking about why I was so taken with that title. What was going on in my life? Moreover, why do only a few books stick out after all the great novels I’ve read over the past twenty years?
I’m thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores, for example, and its unforgettable opening line: The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin. Or, The Road, Cormac Mccarthy’s postapocalyptic traumatizer. Or, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, about a Londoner’s descent into solitary madness after he retires to a beach house. These novels loom huge in my memory, but why? Something existential must have been going on that made me extra receptive. I’d give my right ring finger to recapture it.
I know this isn’t an original line of thinking, but suddenly the notion of a pre-reading warm-up ceremony appeals to me, along the lines of saying grace before dinner, or the simple routines that settle the mind prior to meditation. Some mindful act to whet the reading muscles. Dare I say, foreplay?
Like closing the eyes and reciting a few favorite lines of poetry, or picturing the mug of Victor Hugo or Ernest Hemingway. Maybe that’s what Nabokov was offering readers when he composed the pervy sound-play mantra at the beginning of Lolita : Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
So it’s May, and we’re all headed to a beach soon for some summer reading. Will a bathing suit and the smell of sunscreen be a favorable mood setter for the beach reads on your list?
You may have noticed that we’re coming around more often—that’s your takeaway from our decision to go from quarterly to bimonthly, along with genre-specific special-interest products (SIPS) sandwiched in between. This year, our output will be twelve issues plump with reviews. The extra workload is landing on the shoulders of my mates Howard Lovy and Michelle Schingler, executive editor and managing editor, respectively. All the features and reviews in Foreword benefit from their edits and input. In addition, Michelle has been a great help selecting many of the books that earn reviews. Not to forget our ever-growing team of talented reviewers. I’m damned lucky to be a part of this operation.