I am so bad at reading books promptly. Care sent me a copy of A Single Man, like, ten thousand years ago. Okay, not ten thousand. Only two. But still! Two years ago! That’s ridiculous! I’m sorry, Care. You were so kind to send me this book and I took two years to read it, like a jerk.
A Single Man is about a British literature professor called George, who recently lost his partner, Jim. George is lonely and isolated, his primary source of company a British woman called Charlotte whose husband left her for another woman. He thinks a lot and drinks and talks to his students at the California university where he teaches, and at the end (spoilers!) he dies.
If this synopsis sounds somewhat tart, it’s because I wanted Christopher Isherwood to blow my mind, and he did not. He has such a cool name! I judge last names by whether I would change my last name to it if I were engaged to a guy with that last name; and I would totally be willing to be Jenny Isherwood. Isherwood! It’s fun to say. And Christopher is one of my favorite names for a boy (St. Christopher was not real, but I still sometimes say a prayer to him for safe travels). Plus, you know, Christopher Isherwood, pioneering gay writer! I wanted to be on board that train.
Alas, I am not on board the train. The writing in A Single Man felt fussy, and although I liked George, I wasn’t interested in anything he was doing (with one exception, about which more in a second). If I’m honest, I do not care for slice-of-life stories. Stories are good for the way they impose order on the disorder of real life! Down with slice-of-life stories! Down with them I say! (I know, right, I have such a future as a demagogue like Demosthenes or similar.)
The one section of the book that leapt vividly off the page for me — weirdly! — was the sequence where George is teaching his class. I loved the way Isherwood described the dynamic between George and his students, the way he feels about individual students, the conversations they have, the answers they offer. I could have read an entire book about George teaching his English class.
Identifying this as my favorite scene reminded me of what a fan I am of seeing things in process. I like watching people work things out and come to a better understanding of what they’re working with. Something like the documentary Discovering Hamlet, where you see Derek Jacobi directing Branagh in Hamlet, is fascinating to me, I’d watch a hundred documentaries of that sort. Ditto every discussion scene in Reading Lolita in Tehran. The conclusions don’t have to be groundbreaking (they don’t even have to reach a conclusion!) but I like watching people on their way to discovering something about a text.
Apropos of that, Al Pacino is making a documentary about putting on a play of Salome. I am stupid excited about this and cannot wait for it to show up in New York at Film Forum or BAM or whatever. One of the everyday benefits of New York that I did not expect to enjoy so much is that all the movies come here. All the movies. If I see a preview of a movie that looks interesting, I don’t have to fret over whether I’ll be able to see it. It’s definitely coming here and I can definitely see it if I want to. That is rather great.
Any huge fans of Christopher Isherwood who’d like to tell me what to read that might make me love him after all?