Old and New Books

When I left my previous employer, I received a fairly sizeable Amazon gift-card to feed my then-imminent Kindle-habit on my train-ride to my new-job.

I have been making some steady progress through the list of classics that I had never read before. Some, little curious time capsules (“A Passage To India”), others quaint in their stilted morals (“The Age Of Innocence”). But so far most disappointing is the third of “On The Road” that I have read so far. For a book that gets praised so much it doesn’t really stand out to me. Maybe I am reading it at the wrong time though; perhaps it is just old enough not to be directly relevant, but not so old that it is a glimpse into the past. Or maybe I’m just missing the point of it completely.

As I struggle to reduce my reading list, David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) has succeeded in lengthening it significantly.

I went to see him speak during the Sydney Writers Festival with my friend Ken. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I only knew him from the one book through his writing. He walked onto the stage a little huddled in on himself, and I was fearful of disappointment.

The first question from the interviewer was a clear lead-in to his current book. It sounded like the back-cover-summary rephrased as a pointless question. He repeated what sounded like a fairly rehearsed answer, probably from months of promoting. He apologised for being seriously jet-lagged.

And then he unfurled into what I can only describe as somewhat of a modern-day philosopher, with a slight lanky Cumberbatch-alike appearance, and a British humble shy-ness, with the most thoughtful and poignant answers rolling out of his brain like he was on a script that only he was privy to.

Earlier that day I had attended a session with Alan Cummings on the subject of domestic violence growing up, to promote his new book around that subject. At the end the audience was invited to ask questions, culminating in an aspiring actress making me cringe inwards as she proceeded to solicit acting tips from Alan.

I was braced for the worst when the floor opened for questions to David Mitchell. But I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtful questions on the meaning of his works, and humanity, and the symbolism of birds. And he’d take a few moments of silence and then again produce an answer that’d fill script-writers with envy. Maybe everyone in the audience was a plant? And I feel confident that even faced with the dullest imaginable questions he’d have found a deeper or more humorous way to look at them and keep us entertained.

So, now I have The Bone Clocks to look forward to reading next.

I’m almost ready to ditch “On The Road” for it, if not for the fact that I only once before abandoned a book without finishing it. I am too stubborn to give up.