March 2012

What the Swedes Read

A Reader Makes His Way Through
One Book By Each Nobel Laureate

by Daniel Handler
  • LAUREATE: Rabindranath Tagore (Bengal, 1913)
  • BOOK READ: The Gardener (translated by the author)

Right now I’m OK with weddings. First they were very boring because I was a child, then I came to see them as heterosexist constructs to be scorned, then I got married, and then I sat through my friends’ weddings feeling false in fancy clothes and rented ballrooms, and soon enough I’ll be going to my friends’ children’s weddings, grumbling about the price of a ticket to Baltimore just to sit amongst strangers and give a large vase to a woman I’ll best remember as a toddler who broke my clock. But right now weddings feel golden. The people who invite me to them seem to be making sensible decisions. They pay for their own parties, so the food’s better. I sit and sip prosecco and bask in love, and I like it. I like it so much that I don’t mind anymore when perfectly sensible and intelligent people turn into gooey sops when they come to choose what will be read aloud at the ceremony.

Weddings are happy occasions, and literature doesn’t do a lot of happy. I sympathize with people searching for something that doesn’t cloy and yet contains the requisite amount of joy for the occasion, only to find love poetry with a sudden grim stanza about how fleeting everything is, or a few lines too filthy for the in-laws. So I suppose it’s inevitable that we in the folding chairs sit through the same old stuff, those Song of Songs lines about how we feedeth among the lilies now that, lo, winter is past, or the sacred fires and gentle caresses of Khalil Gibran. I don’t mind. The word caress is hilarious, but everybody deserves to get a little.

This is the feeling I experienced in reading the work of Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali writer and a central figure in bringing certain Eastern literary and aesthetic traditions to the West. It doesn’t seem to be much of an exaggeration to say that without Tagore, there’d be no Revolver, and as with a sitar ladled over rock music, an effect I’ve always loved, there’s a fusion here of things that actually can’t be fused.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Daniel Handler writes books under his own name and as Lemony Snicket.

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