Yes, I rode my bike yesterday. No, it wasn’t a good idea. I thought I’d try, just to see what it felt like, particularly since I’ve felt the tiniest bit better because of the medication I’m on. But it will take longer than a week on medication to feel well enough to ride, I’m seeing. I was able to ride for 45 minutes or so, but my heart rate was high the whole time and I felt achy and sore. I’m sure I’ll try again in the next few weeks — I’m always curious to see whether I’ve improved or not and I don’t feel like I’ll know unless I try to ride — but no, I’m sure it’s not a good idea. I don’t see my endocrinologist until August 23rd, though, and does anybody really think I’m going to wait that long to try riding again?
But what I really want to write about are two books I’ve recently finished. The first is Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way, a book of criticism on In Search of Lost Time. I recommend this if you are looking for an overview of the novel. I don’t recommend it if you don’t want plot spoilers, because he talks about the book as a whole, including much discussion of the ending and plot developments in the middle. But plot spoilers aside, it’s got background information on Proust; an overview of the plot, characters, and setting; chapters covering Proust’s main themes, as Shattuck sees them; and a number of cool charts and diagrams.
Some parts of this book are rather odd (I give another example in this post); toward the end of the book, he includes a fictional element — a made-up dialogue between a radio journalist and producer, a Proust scholar, and a grad student in French. These people are supposedly putting together a radio program on Proust. Shattuck says he included this section because he believes that usual expository prose can’t say everything. I rather like this idea — that some things are better said in fictional form — but I can’t quite see that this is true in Shattuck’s case. Instead, the dialogue struck me as so highly improbable that I almost laughed my way through it. Shattuck should stick to his expository prose. But still, the book is worth picking up to start to get a handle on In Search of Lost Time.
The other book I wanted to mention is Geraldine Brooks’ novel The Year of Wonders, which turned out to be a fascinating and enjoyable read. I say it’s fascinating because it takes place in a small town in England in 1666 that gets hit hard with the plague — and I find the plague fascinating. It’s not a book to read at the dinner table, let me make clear.
The story is about Anna Frith, a young servant girl who grows and matures as she deals with the ravages the plague brings to her village. She has been fortunate enough to learn how to read and write, and she has a sensitivity and openness perhaps unusual to one in her station in that time period. She’s an interesting narrator (it’s told in the first person); she admires the intelligent, knowledgeable women in her town but fears them also as they are always in danger of being branded witches. As well as telling about the plague, the novel tells how old customs — midwives who presided at the birth of babies, women who possessed ancient folk remedies and healing powers — were both enjoyed and feared. When times were good, the townspeople would welcome women’s knowledge and powers, but when times turn bad, they lash out at these women and destroy them — at their peril.
The ending is a bit odd, but otherwise, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book — it’s great history and a good story all in one.