Viv and I have been casting about, unsuccessfully, for the next read-aloud book to share in bed, after this past years successful journey through The Lord of the Rings . We tried some of my favorite literary SF and fantasy, which was an utter bomb – instead of trusting the book to provide the visualization of the alternate world, Viv would constantly ask me questions which I couldn’t answer about the props and settings of the specific book. By setting the story otherwhen, the authors of the genre left Viv behind. The (to me) overhwelming, not very interesting detail that is so beloved in Lord of the Rings, and which has been so lamentably imitated by countless lesser creators, appears to have provided her with a sense of place, a grounding for the fantasy epic that I largely prefer not to encounter.
Let me boil that down; in SF and fantasy, if I like it, Viv probably won’t.
Therefore, we’ve searched for material that Viv has enjoyed that I haven’t read and might enjoy. There’s been no luck there either, I think largely because of my omnivorous reading. We were taking a stab at Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, a followup to the same author’s brilliant Wicked. In Stepsister, he reimagines the Cinderella story, locating the events of the story in Reformation Holland. Wicked is the story of the Wizard of Oz, retold from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire’s a witty writer, but the nature of the projects is such that they are confections – I read Wicked in one sitting – and the bite-size nature of bedtime read-alouds is perfectly unsuited to a book that I know I can read in about three hours. Rather than enjoying the tale, I become grouchily impatient, and my heart rate rises as I realize how disinterested I am in the characters and literary devices of the narrative.
I had begun a 1938 prose translation of The Iliad, (by W. H. Rouse – I suspect the edition I had in had may have been an abridgement) optimistically describing itself as free of flowery language (If only Steinbeck had finished his Arthur!). In the event, it has not proved free of flowery language, and the antique paperback edition I was reading it in robbed me of whatever pleasure was left. Having very much enjoyed a brilliant, moving stage adaptation of The Odyssey a few years ago here in Seattle, and vaguely recalling that the production drew its’ language from a recent translation of the book, I learned that both The Iliad and The Odyssey version I’d seen used as the basis of a play were available by the translator, Robert Fagles, and that the versions had indeed been at the center of some adulatory hoo-hah when originally released.
So I marched on down to Bailey/Coy and picked ’em up. Viv, on seeing this, remarked, “Let’s read these books out loud!”
I was taken a back for a minute, as I’d been greedily looking forward to reading the books myself. However, woman’s wisdom here, as in so many things, proves superior. Are not these compositions intended to be read aloud?
I can’t wait.