I fully believe that timing can be everything when it comes to books. Read at the wrong time an otherwise fine book might end up an awful slog. Conversely some books come along at just the right moment and they are truly magical. Of course, that said, when it comes to Amos Oz, I knew I was already in the presence of an greatness and I don't think I am being overly effusive. I was looking forward all along to reading more of his work. I could kick myself now for not having written about his novel, My Michael which I read last year for my class. It's just another reason to pull the book out to reread (which I think of often actually and keep on a bedside pile) sooner than later so I can write about it more fully and properly as it deserves. There were a number of books I read in my class that I never got around to writing about unfortunately.
While we read excerpts from Oz's award-winning memoir a Tale of Love and Darkness, I had every intention of reading it in its entirety later. Only it has taken me a while to get back to it. If I was in a nonfiction reading slump recently I am out of it now. As a matter of fact, I find A Tale of Love and Darkness is in my hands more than almost any other book I have on the go (including the ones I am so near to completion). Don't get me wrong, I am in the middle of a number of really great reads, but this one is special. I'm not sure I can put it into words--other than you pick it up to read and feel like you are in perfect company. The sort of company you don't want to leave.
Aside from being exceedingly well written, and for me anyway, intensely interesting, having spent a year studying and reading Israeli literature taught by an instructor who is a contemporary Israeli author, I feel like what I am reading is really meaningful. It is familiar to me. There are little details that remind me of subjects discussed in class. It's like looking at an old photo, but this one is is vibrant colors and I recognize the people or the place. It's certainly not essential to know a subject or person or place intimately to appreciate a book, but knowing something more just gives it a little extra zing.
And you needn't know anything about the history of Israel to appreciate the book, so no worries there. I read this today and I know any other reader and lover of books will be able to relate to this:
"The one thing we had plenty of was books. They were everywhere: from wall to laden wall, in the passage and the kitchen and the entrance and on every windowsill. Thousands of books, in every corner of the apartment. I had the feeling that people might come and go, be born and die, but books went on forever. When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf life in some corner of an out-of-the-way library somewhere, in Reykjavik, Vallodolid, or Vancouver."
* * *
"My father had a sensual relationship with his books. He loved feeling them, stroking them, sniffing them. He took a physical pleasure in books: he could not stop himself, he had to reach out and touch them, even other people's books. And books then really were sexier than books today: they were good to sniff and stroke and fondle. There were books with gold lettering on fragrant, slightly rough leather bindings, that gave you gooseflesh when you touched them, as though you were groping something private and inaccessible, something that seemed to tremble at your touch. And there were other books that were bound in cloth-covered cardboard, stuck with glue that had a wonderful smell. Every book had its own private, provocative scent. Sometimes the cloth came away from the cardboard, like a saucy skirt, and it was hard to resist the temptation to peep into the dark space between body and clothing and sniff those dizzying smells."
Any other time I might waver at the sight of a five-hundred-plus page book, but this time I see the pleasure in those five-hundred-plus pages. It feels good to be getting back to my Israeli literature. I have a list of books and authors to read, many that were mentioned in class. I suspect I will be soon setting off down that reading path next.