Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Glass Room

I am an avid reader. I am always reading something. I am also a nerd, and I write down the name and author of every book I read. Partly this is just to keep track of how many books I read (nerd!), but also it is to make sure I don't read books twice (which in itself is kind of weird - what's wrong with reading books twice?). I did that with Alan Hollinghurst's In The Line Of Beauty - I got about half way through before I realised that it was all very familiar...sure enough, it was on last year's list. This point serves to illustrate how I read the same way that some people watch television - I just passively absorb it. Sure, if it's a ripper of a story then I gulp it down, but that doesn't stop me from often forgetting what I've just read as soon as I pick up the next book. And it bothers me. I consider myself quite well-read. I have read loads of what are traditionally considered classics, both new and old. So when people bring up a book title I can confidently say "oh yeah, I've read that"...but does it count if you have no recollection of ever doing so?

Just last week I chose to re-read The Catcher in the Rye (I hardly ever re-read books) and it was like I seriously hadn't ever laid eyes on it before, nothing was familiar at all. It's a great book! So it got me thinking that I need to start processing what I read a bit more, instead of treating it like "in-one-ear-and-out-the-other reality tv".

Anyway, that was a really long winded way to say that I am going to start writing a few words from time to time about some of the books I read, starting right now.

Last week while ill I read Simon Mawer's The Glass Room. I can't remember why - it may have been on a best books of 2009 list or something. In simple terms it's about a couple who build this amazing modern house during the lead up to WWII, their love affairs and what happens when war breaks out (yes, at least a few of the characters are Jewish). All of the character's stories are tied in some way to this mental house (it has huge glass windows which mechanically retract into the floor, and a whole partitioning wall made of onyx - nuts!), but other than that it is your basic harrowing WWII story. And as a rule I don't like these books - I know it all happened and we shouldn't forget, but it is just so depressing. And there wasn't anything special about the story of these people either, however the thing that really got me with this book is that although the story itself was entirely fictional, the building it is centred around is based on a real house - the Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic.

If it wasn't for this fact, I don't think I would have found this book nearly as good - after discovering this early on, I spent quite some time searching Google images and therefore creating an accurate image of the setting, including the onyx wall and the custom made furniture.

It got me a bit interested in the Czech republic too - I never really understood how crazy it would have been living there in the first half of last century - peeps kept coming and changing the borders and renaming it and generally muddling everyone around.

I also don't know how much I would have enjoyed this book without my relatively new found interest in modern architecture, courtesy of Matt. The continual references to simplicity, smoothness and lack of ornamentation is so much more appealing to me these days.

Now I'm reading Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer...hopefully something a little lighter.


Jo Blair said...

Ok. So on the day after the final Book Club - this is how you respond? Verbal Diohrea?

Lil and Matt said...

Yes indeed, and it was actually that very night, not the next day!