Okay, so much for the “blog about every section as I read it” plan. Er…whoops, I guess? It’s cool. It’s 2018. I have a job and a kid and I’m not very good at much of any of this. Though, I did do a entire post about the Dalmatia section; I’m pretty sure I didn’t much like what I said. So that got stuck in the drafts folder. And then the next thing I knew, a month had gone by, and, well, here I am. Story of my life: I was too busy reading the book to write about it.
Yet: yes, I’m still reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and I’m still enjoying it, I’m overall engaged with it, wrapped up in it, even as I’ve shifted back and forth on how intensely I’ve been reading it over the last few weeks. I ebb and flow with how deeply I try to read and how much I let it wash over me, without being fully convinced that either mode is superior to the other. I’m already a slow reader, and then to slow myself down even more on something so dense (but so smooth!) is to court levels of devotional frustration I haven’t partaken in in quite some time. It’s amazingly easy to grow blind to the amount of amazing writing I’m consuming as I work my way through this book, particularly on those days when I just need to get through some pages my god am I still reading this?
It’s weird. It’s fun.
It’s fair to say I’m at that odd point where I’m starting to get a little bit impatient. But really just a little bit. It’s like, I can hear the other books on the TBR pile calling to me, but, muffled, as if from under a blanket in a different room on the other side of an aquarium. I mean, I knew at the outset it was likely to take me about two months to get through the entire book, and unless I bonked out in the first week, I anticipated that I was going to be cool with that, that this was the time of the year to get wrapped up in a behemoth like this, that I intend for this to be my one gigantic read of the year and then I can spend the rest of the year reading the backs of cereal boxes or whatever. And by and large, the devotion has paid off. Even as that impatience starts sending half-lost telegrams, I know when I finally put this book down it’s going to feel really uncool to not have it active in my life. I’ve got about 400 pages to go and I as much wish that number could gain or lose a zero at the end of it and that my brain would scale accordingly.
There remains that worry that my ignorance about the region and its history and the period in which West is writing is blinding me to the nuance of her opinions that may be masquerading as observations or her biases that may be cloaked in omittance; I sample essays that discuss whether she’s pro-this or anti-that and I feel a bit dumb for generally thinking she’s mainly interested in the experience of traveling through this region and putting its history and politics to paper. Of course then I remind myself that if I were A True Student of History trying to gain the deepest possible understanding of all this stuff I wouldn’t be stopping with a single source, anyway. (And obviously I know West is smarter than me several times over, and that she herself spent five years, at least, writing this book, so I can be forgiven for not being perfect.) This all reminds me that there’s often books I like to imagine re-reading sometime in the future, a theoretical (and very tall) pile on which I’d definitely place this one; it would be interesting to see what additional insight would come after some follow-up study.
And yet for all that when I tune into it and notice how much I notice, I still come back to why I’m most engaged with this book, right now: the quality of the writing is exquisite. Whether she’s describing a scene or a meal or laying out a stretch of history or throwing shade at Gerda (Gerda!), it’s hard to imagine many other writers I’d want to spend this much time with at this point in my life about these particular subjects (or maybe any subject). If for nothing else this is why I feel comfortable saying, two-thirds through, that, yes, it’s worth reading this book, if you’re curious, interested, ready and willing. And that I wish I could go back in time and read along with you, hypothetical smarter-than-me reader, so we could point out to each other what we’re pointing out to ourselves, every couple pages. This is a literary buffet that deserves to be shared.