I have a propensity for reading mere portions of a book, sometimes because I’ve grown bored with it, other times because I’m just lazy. I’ll often find nearly any excuse to not read, even when I want to. One more Twitter refresh to see what horrifying news story just broke. I don’t understand, and generally once I’m reading, I always regret not starting earlier. Such is life. I for one, relish the right of passage of looking back with regret; it’s one of those things I know I’ll be great at.
With that in mind, we received an advance reader’s copy of Jerusalem months ago, and I immediately snatched it up, as the leading BookBar staff expert on Alan Moore. “Leading expert” in this case entails being able to name at least 3 of his works, and having read one of them. I think also that I better appreciate Alan Moore as a crazy genius that’s going to be uniquely inclined to write something worth reading even if it is a fucking 1300 page slog of novel-length sentences and arcane language that requires some strange balance between careful, plodding immersion, and half-aware scanning to preserve one’s own sanity. A few pages of Jerusalem has one at once contemplating the oppressive burden of genius, and the insufferable meandering of a genius without a strict editor. Even in so short a reading of this book, I was amazed at the number of times I groaned through a sentence. You know how sometimes you look ahead to find out when a chapter ends so you can gauge how many pages are left and how sleep deprived you want to be? Now you get to do it with sentences! I looked ahead to see when a sentence was going to end more than a handful of times. Of course, half the time my complaint wasn’t length, but construction which created an artificial feeling of length:
“Listening to her spooling out impractical and transcendental picture-concepts like a hyperventilating tickertape he felt the weight lift from him, floating in a sweet and putrid lager fart to dissipate beneath the starry, vast obsidian pudding bowl of closing time, inverted and set down upon the Boroughs as though keeping flies away.”
Now listen, I was an english major, and have obviously run into far worse, but times are different today. I’m not paying someone to let me read a book and then to be told why what I think about it is wrong anymore. I’m an ostensibly grown adult and there’s just some literature I don’t want to suffer these days. How many asides like this can you stomach? Just because you can write something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
But in opposition to that, I’m inclined to think that moments like this are integral to Moore’s creation, that this enormous tapestry is told in the tiniest details and moments as much as it is in the grand narrative. This is the sort of writing that one must live in and be engulfed by, and I frankly, can’t find it in myself to read a book that way that’s this long. I think I decided that if I couldn’t find the patience to read it the way that would be, in my opinion, “proper”, then I just shouldn’t bother at all. This is probably wrong and dumb, so let’s just say I chickened out on the task. Coward is as coward does.
There’s a commitment level that I inexorably flout, and yet keep butting into again and again. Something about these epics appeals to me–maybe I just want to feel smart. Maybe I want to convince myself that I have what it takes to engage with these giants. Maybe I’m trying to discover if they’re just really not all they’re cracked up to be. I think I lack, not the intelligence, but the confidence to explore the best more ambitious(?) literature. Maybe I just think too much; I’m a master of the excuse.
In the spirit of honesty, while I read 50 pages of this novel, those 50 pages entail exclusively the prelude. I didn’t read a single word of the main novel, but what I did read was baffling, wondrous, infuriating, exhausting, and amazing. And at the end of it all, I wasn’t sure if I had any desire to read one more page of it ever again.
I read fifty pages of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, and if you asked me what it was about, the best I could do is pour us both some whiskey, wait for it to settle in and launch into a tirade about how I have no fucking clue what it’s about, but boy do I have some ideas. And sometimes that’s enough for me. Maybe a portion of a book that sparks curiosity and exploration can be as valuable as a story fully experienced and ingested.
I’ll read more of this book eventually, but not in the near future. And even having said that, I think that I would heartily recommend this novel, with nearly a thousand asterisks attached to the recommendation, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll leave it at, “the perfect novel for your sabbatical”.