Between working on The Underground Sun's 2nd draft, working (for actual money), and waiting for a whole Imelda Marcos's closet full of shoes to drop — which really can't happen fast enough, let me tell you — I have been making that much more of an attempt to read. Not newspapers, not blogs; books. The books I stuck on my shelf and told myself I would read someday, and which sat there and let their spines get sunned.
I finally got sick of stalling, and so I pulled out the first and fattest book of the bunch, figuring I could jump-start a reading habit by taking big bites and keeping the momentum going. It worked, I think: in the past couple of days I've made it some 450 pages into the 1200+ of the new Robin Buss translation of The Count of Monte Cristo. The experience of reading, and getting lost in, a book like that is a reminder of how reading creates spaces in the imagination that other things simply do not.
I've read the book at least twice before: once as a kid, when my parents had a "Classics of World Literature" library; and once more as an adult when the Gutenberg Project uploaded a public domain English translation. They were different texts, and from what I understood later on they had both been cut down from the original version. (I even ended up reading a severely abridged edition of the original in high-school French.) I've always had an aversion to reading anything in an abridged form; if I was going to add this book to my collection, it was going to be as complete a version as I could find.
The Buss version is not just complete; it's readable in a way that reminds me how many of our current classics I originally read in older, stodgier translations. Crime and Punishment was like that: the translation I read in college came off the page with all the grace of oatmeal falling out of a baby's mouth. Then I bumped into a newer one (Pevar/Volokhonsky), and read it in something like two single sittings — one of them being on a plane ride back from the other coast. It was no longer a struggle to see why greatness had been ascribed to it. The same thing happened with Monte Cristo; its newfound readability made it that much easier to get lost in.
I wonder now how many books in my life have been like this. I know Natsume Soseki's Botchan had been retranslated (after two previous attempts). Re-reading it in that new incarnation made it all the easier for me to recommend it to people without cautioning them about the translation itself. But I think now about all the stuff I read before which just seemed terribly stodgy — Rabelais, Moliere — the impact of which was lost on me at the time, and which I originally ascribed to me being young and impatient. Maybe it wasn't just me.
No discussion of Monte Cristo would be complete — at least from my end — without mentioning Gankutsuou, the anime adaptation which retells the story in the far future and from the point of view of one of the secondary characters. I loved it and hope FUNimation sees fit to release a Blu-ray edition; if any show in their current catalog would benefit from an HD presentation, it is this one.
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Other Lives Of The Mind