Interstices of my reading

There was a time when I always had to be reading a novel. I had to have at least one novel I was currently reading, and often, as soon as I finished one, I would literally take up another and start it. At the very least, I would have a shelf of novels ready for reading as soon as an opportunity opened. This even involved some “emergency” trips to the library to be sure to have a book ready. There were also times when I had three and four novels underway at once.

I’ve mellowed a bit since those heady days. I do think a day without some fiction reading is a bit of a disappointment, and I do generally always have some novel I’m reading close by, but if I finish one and find that I don’t have a new one ready to begin, I don’t panic. Several whole days may pass before I begin reading a new novel. I allow some interstices between my novels.

This little observation occurred to me because of the novel I am currently reading: The Philosopher’s Pupil by Iris Murdoch. I’ve been reading Murdoch for years. At some point I decided I needed to read her novels in sequence from the first to the last. I’m now among the final third of her fiction output, but I tend to let six months or so pass between her novels lest I be overwhelmed.

This is a big novel — nearly 600 pages — and each page has some treasure of observation, wordplay, or wit that I like to savor. This novel will be my companion for a long time (if the local library allows it). Early on Murdoch is describing the interior of the house of one of the characters and how this character had to use up all of the free space in the house, including putting things in the “interstices” between the furniture. That’s not an everyday word for me, but I knew its meaning from having seen it before (and probably from its context).

I like reading novels that use words like interstices. English is such a rich and vast language that we can never hope to taste all of it, but the effort of trying to will make it worthwhile and enrich us. It’s hard to imagine any editor of commercial or genre fiction (much less any agent) who would allow a word like “interstices” to remain in a novel submitted today. (The Philosopher’s Pupil was published in the 1980s — not so long ago.) We seem to live in an age where most fiction is dumbed down by things like The Elements of Style and every popular writer’s list of rules for writing.

I suppose there is far more sanctuary for good writing than I imagine, and I suppose that plenty of it is still being produced. And I’m grateful for it.

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