Monday, September 27, 2010

My Books My Place

Kenneth Oppel plays the library card
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 24, 2010

I don’t actually spend much time here, but I really should. The book-lined room has an incredibly comfortable chair that I picked myself, a scholarly refectory table, beautiful ceiling mouldings and even an antique globe. Any self-respecting writer should be permanently ensconced here with a pipe and a glass of port.

The truth is, I read mostly on my bed, where I can sprawl out and easily go unconscious. But I hereby resolve to spend more time in my library and finish the last pages of my current read, John Updike’s Rabbit, Run.

As a teenager, I read Updike’s first short-story collection, The Same Door. A Hemingway devotee, I’d marvelled at his crystalline prose and the authenticity of his characters and scenes. Wanting more, I got a second-hand copy of Rabbit Redux, not realizing it had a predecessor (and later would have a successor). It didn’t matter: Although Updike’s prose had become more jewelled and a bit less lithe, my 16-year-old self still loved reading about Rabbit Angstrom and his incredibly weird and smutty life.

But for some reason, though I’ve read and admired many of Updike’s other works, I never got around to reading the first Rabbit until now. Just before this, I devoured Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz – another grievous omission in my reading life. Like Rabbit, Run, it was written in the late fifties, by a writer in his mid-20s – but the heroes, though both careening, are polar opposites. Duddy is all manic action; Rabbit, a study in passivity. Richler’s novel bursts with energy; Updike’s offers a more sedate, penetrating character study.

I love Updike, but I’ve got to say, Duddy Kravitz wins my vote: I like heroes with restless hearts and big passions, who make things happen.

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