Less Chance Than Choice

My custom when deciding what to read next is to follow fiction with non-fiction. That way, characters stay where they’re supposed to. If I read two novels back-to-back, Beckett’s Celia from Murphy is liable to slip into the inn in Bernhard’s Frost.

That custom aside, serendipity and randomness determine my reading. A reference in Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory will resolve Thomas Bernhard’s Frost as my next fictional encounter. Meeting both a surgeon and an artist called Strauch in Frost may suggest Kennedy’s A Brief History of Disease Science and Medicine¬†or Flux’s Matisse biography as subsequent non-fiction.

Frequently when viewed from a distance, a structure emerges within the apparent serendipity. Thomas Bernhard is an obvious choice after Beckett. The dark humour and repetition; the soaring, beautiful use of language make them seem natural bedfellows. More deliberate choice comes from sweeping, passionate obsessions that follow a new discovery. Discovering Philip Roth, Nabokov and Flaubert for the first time concentrated my reading for months to a single author. This compulsion to read everything by a much loved writer is still present but I am able to pace myself differently.

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