I’m not the best at reading non-fiction. It’s not that I have anything against facts; rumor has it facts are great. I’m just a novel reader by habit and novels are what I pour into my limited reading time.
Still, once in a while, after a while, fiction can start to feel too airy, too groundless, and it’s nice to go read something that deals with actual people doing real things. Still then it’s a strange choice for my latest foray into non-fiction to pick up To the Finland Station, a seventy-five year old history of revolutionary thought and activity between the French and Russian revolutions. Written by an American, none the less. But it’s a book I picked up at a Borders going-out-of-business sale (R.I.P.) in a buy-on-sight worthy New York Review Books edition a while back and with last year’s partial forced reduction of the TBR pile it started rising to the top of the stacks.
I’ve been dipping in and out of it much of this year. It was slow going at first, what with it being a dark winter and the fact that reading much of anything felt like a desperate chore, but over the last month the rhythm and flow of it have really caught me and I’m actually right now letting it distract me for another couple chapters from A True Novel.
I remain a total style addict even in nonfiction I guess and the book rewards reading with an appreciation for the art of story telling. Less a strict history of facts it’s more a series of character studies of influential thinkers in the realm of revolutionary histories and thought, leading up to the current extended focus on Marx and Engels, who are rather popping off the page with energy, coming off as cranky, moody geniuses situated against those who came before them.
Wilson isn’t afraid to give voice and color to these historical figures, to quietly reveal his own potential fascinations and sympathies and raised eyebrows throughout. Of course, it was 1940, and as he admits in an introduction added in 1971, he wasn’t exactly predicting the future when it comes to the Soviet Union. Which adds a certain additional layer of historical/modern awareness for readers today, reading this history of history as, itself, history.
I’m a bit under half-way through and as it’s the midway point of the year I’ll feel pretty content if, chapter by chapter, I finish the book sometime before the end of the year. Though that said I might have to speed up the timeline a bit to start working in at least a little more non-fiction into my reading diet.