There are a few ways I can tell I'm depressed if I'm not on-the-surface aware of it - you know how things just become the new normal and it seems like it's always been this way: I can't make decisions - trying to decide what to buy or cook for the week sends me into a tailspin, I don't try to watch tv because I know the list of shows on the pvr will just blur into an inchoate mass, and if I listen to music while I'm working out I can't pick a playlist, I just listen to songs alphabetically; I find myself sobbing while lifting weights and listening to The Song of Bernadette; and some of the joy goes out of reading.
It gets really hard to review books in this state, because I kind of feel like I have to concurrently review my mood, or I'm not being fair to the book (I realize no one's FORCING me to review books, or PAYING me to review books, or really even ASKING me to review books, so this is a matter of no urgency. Nevertheless.) There are still books that I feel like I should reread because they seemed so much like something I would like or people I generally agree with liked them, so it seems likely that my mental state was a factor - Zone One, Salamander, The Diagnosis, Open Secrets - and yet the very thought of them generates a kind of psychic nausea and revulsion.
So I got sick and didn't read for four days. I'm not sure there has been that long a string of non-reading days since I learned to read. No, wait - when we go on vacation sometimes I don't read. After I had Angus and was in a state of post-general-anaesthetic delirium, it was difficult to focus on reading, but I did it, because everything else in my world felt so suddenly strange and dislocated that I couldn't bear to lose that too. But the flu erased even my need to read. Or eat. Or sit upright. Or do anything except sleep and watch Netflix on my ipad.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I had been about a fifth of the way through when I got sick. I have to start using the "recommended by" feature on Goodreads because I know something spurred me to finally request this from the library, but I can't remember what it was. The copy I got was paper, and not encased in plastic, and starting to wear away - the 'Y' in 'Brooklyn' is totally gone. I like this - it made it easier to imagine that I was reading a beloved tome from someone's collection. What an amazing book. It makes it hard to say anything, because it seems like anything I say will be trite and inadequate, and even if I did come up with something good, it would certainly already have been mentioned somewhere in the years of scholarship. And yet something must be said. It was such an effective, visceral rendering of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn that it's like - no, it's not even like watching a movie about it, it's like BEING THERE, so you feel slightly begrimed with turn-of-the-century Brooklyn street dust when you put the book down. And at the same time, the interior lives of the characters are so vivid that it's like the reader has been atomized and floated gently down over the entire city and into all the characters. And the push-pull conflicting intense relationships between parents and children, particularly when poverty and struggle and alcoholism are involved, and how romantic love thrives even in the absence of the necessities of life, and how someone can sometimes say the absolute right thing at the absolute right time that will change your life - or the wrong thing, and it changes in a whole different way.
Yup, I was right. Sounds dorky. Anyway, if you happen to be the person whose comment or blog post or review made me read this book now, profuse thanks.
So now I was doubly screwed - coming off being sick AND reading something brain-smashing. I took the easy out - reading the next book due back at the library, which was Jo Nesbo's The Bat (for some reason Goodreads doesn't give an English title although this entry seems to be for the English version, but it's kind of fun to try saying Flaggermusmannen, so there's that). I've read some of this series all out of order, and it's generally pretty good. For the first half of this book, I was wondering if I was totally wrong about the other books, or if Nesbo was just a slow starter who learned on the job. It may have been a bad translation or just things lost in translation - chapters kept ending with people making remarks that seemed like they were perceived as clever or witty, but to my ears they were baseless and nonsensical ("One should never drink chocolate milk while driving a tractor" - that kind of thing). I was trying to decide whether I should give up, when suddenly things started to pick up, and then simultaneously things got train-wreck depressing and almost everybody died. Is that an illustration of 'be careful what you wish for'?
And now I'm between books again. And still not sure where I'm going next. Maybe here. Although if that doesn't cheer me up I might feel like things really are beyond hope.