Choose Your Own Adventure

There is not much going on right now except for being attached to a computer and writing Very Dull Papers (and attendant deadline-related panics).  You can guess at my state of mind by looking at the state of the couch:  when it’s cluttered, my mind is as well.

However, I have nothing to discuss, unless LIS papers are of great interest to you.  Therefore, I’m giving you what’s sitting by me.  You’re welcome to create a story from there.


 

Many notes to myself on many odd pieces of paper.  Things I thought significant enough to note:  New York Dolls, pentangle?, Romans 1:26, The Light of the World, The Killing of Sister George, Lee Miller, Ballard-Crash, Brother David Gardner?, The Killing of Sister George (1968) [sic], Venus & the Razorblades, Dontavious.

New Yorker, last week’s, still open to the page where I fell asleep.  It’s a very interesting article about schizophrenia and genetic inheritance.  I should finish that.

A band demo CD.

The following books:  How Poetry Saved My Life (Amber Dawn), I Am Not Myself These Days (Josh Kilmer-Purcell), There but for the (Ali Smith), 1928 version Book of Common Prayer.

Empty soda* bottle

*Repeated misunderstandings of the word “soda” abound in this area.

Two cat pictures


I would suggest that I am a genetic researcher who is studying the effects of semi-obscure 70s music on cats.  When I am rolling in cash as a result of my findings, I intend to furnish this apartment with The Light of the World (or multiple pentangles/pentagrams); I will gave at it reflectively while listening to metal (or possibly Pentangle).  Other publications-in-process include a critical analysis wherein I compare Brother David Gardner to J.G. Ballard and generally rant about both, defending my position with excepts from the BCP and reference to The Killing of Sister George.  Dontavious is co-writing this masterpiece.  The two memoirs are clearly there as I seek inspiration in writing my forthcoming one, which will be based on schizophrenic music-listening cat genomes.  None of this would be happening if I were not overcaffeinated.

I’m just reading the Ali Smith because I like the novels, of course, and even genetic researchers need a break.


 

Featured image:  The last page the previous owner  of this novel dog-eared (blasphemy).  I am left to wonder what prompted this person to throw in the towel on page 75– but that’s another story.

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And No, I’m Not Sorry

This is not a thinkpiece about not needing to apologize, excessive apologizing, etc.  There are lots of those.  Google should have your back.  This is about the stages of talking about what you love:  here, specifically, literature.  And, specifically, embracing what books you love, unapologetically.


 

I saw a tweet recently that said the person was so mad that Infinite Jest was trending, she couldn’t even think of something funny to say.  I’m not sure of her specific complaint about the book, but, yes, it has plenty of flaws, and it’s one of the most polarizing novels I can think of.  Is anyone lukewarm about that one?

My response:  I love that a book can make someone have such a charged reaction.  And I love that it’s trending!  Not that I had anything to say about it in 140 characters.


 

The three stages of loving a book that I’ve come up with are:  1)  Exuberant like/dislike, often forged with some sort of specific identity as a factor.  2)  Increased awareness of what it’s “acceptable” to like/dislike, and mumbling over specifics when quizzed about things not en vogue.  3)  Saying forget it and just liking what you like, no apologies.


Which isn’t to say be offensive:  your favorite book will not and cannot be someone else’s favorite.  You really can’t convert everyone to a book or author, and it can get very annoying if you try.  There’s a difference between recommending something (if someone asked, if you know the person and think they’d like it) and beaning people on the head with a particular book.

It also doesn’t mean that you should insult other people’s taste in books (of course, if you know them well and do this facetiously, it can be a great deal of fun . . .).  I had my second conversation with someone I don’t know at all (have only met in passing) who is working his way through all of Sherlock Holmes, which sounds dreadful to me.  I don’t know this guy, but I can tell he’s extremely enthusiastic– extremely unapologetic.

However, I talked to someone Sunday (another stranger) who asked what I was reading (Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?— rereading, and if you have my original proof copy, I want it back).  After some discussion, we arrived at the point that she would be interested in that one, and she took down the title and author.  I was pleased, because I would certainly love to bean people with that book.  (cough, cough, recommendation)


Back to apologizing and Infinite Jest.  The book has to be something to have sprawled one of the most comprehensive sites on the internet.  And a considerable number of venomous sites.  Does the book have a considerable number of problems?  Yes.  Do I like it anyway?  Yep.

I’m reading Artful right now and came across this passage written by Katherine Mansfield, inside Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence:  “There are certain things in this book I do not like.  But they are not important, or really part of it.  They are trivial, encrusted, they cling to it as snails to the underside of a of a leaf– no more,– and perhaps they leave a little silvery trail, a smear, that one shrinks from as a kind of silliness.  But apart from these things is the leaf, is the tree, firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig.  All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me.”  (p. 87)

There are certain things in IJ (or any book) I do not like.  They may or may not be important/part of it (I’m suspicious of that particular claim, along with the triviality, frankly).  I do love the idea that the book is the leaf, the tree, that nourishes the reader.  That, for awhile, readers are able to suspend some qualms (in a moment) and be nourished, though I’d argue that engaging the problematic parts of a text is part of the nourishing process.


No text is conceived and born without faults.  There is no Ur-Text with no flaws to critique.  There is also the simple progression of time:  time moves on, and texts very frequently don’t age well (or become encumbered with new critiques).  Frequently, there is a manner of degree involved here, but save that for you and your friends to debate over coffee.  That’s a separate post.

I only want to say that there is no such thing as a perfect text, something inherently polished and perfect.  Some flaws are celebrated, some need to be discussed.  This keeps book reviewers in business, and this makes literature interesting.  It’s also why you can say “A really means a lot to me, because of XYZ,” and agree when someone shrieks (or tweets) in protest.

It also means that you can dislike something but have a civil (if superficial) conversation with a stranger.  I’m venting now, after all.  And things will balance when you have a somewhat deeper conversation with yet another stranger.

If books are a language we can share, don’t shout each other down in that language, and don’t just mumble apologies about what you love and drift into the corner.  Keep talking, keep sharing.


UNNECESSARY APPENDIX 

Redundant?

These are the books that are lying on the sofa that really, really needs cleaning up, because it looks like a bookmobile exploded.  Recommendations?  Things to avoid?  Up to you:

  • Artful, Ali Smith
  • The World Is on Fire, Joni Tevis [recommended to me]
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson
  • modern American poetry anthology, because my complete Wallace Stevens is AWOL
  • Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh [recommended to me]

 

 

 

Mockingbirds, Gödel, and Chopping Broccoli


Caveat:  This one is brought to you by insomnia, after Gödel, Escher, Bach (cheaper than sleeping pills) failed to knock me out.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Title image:  from Empathy by Sarah Schulman.


 

Is this common among introvert-type, bookworm children (now nominally adults): a mockingbird tendency to steal the song of others, rather than using our own voices?

I know I’m guilty, and I know that probably needs some explanation.  When I feel like I’m on stable ground or in familiar/safe territory, I’m more free with my own speech.  When pressured to speak about something that makes me uncomfortable or upset, I’ll back into the pages of a book.  It’s how I retreat.

There’s a certain amount of learning everything and learning nothing involving in reading, which is where this defense mechanism becomes complicated.  You can quote pages of relevant material, but those pages are not lived experience.  If you’re like me, you sometimes use fiction as a stand-in for discussing lived experience, because talking about what is or was is too acutely painful and difficult.

It’s not quite the same as looking for a 1:1 parallel to your own situation in a novel (though I’d love to see the search algorithm online booksellers would have to devise for that one).  I certainly did that more as a child:  see my requisite Harriet the Spy stage (I also wanted to be Sport; it was very complex).

As characters, often through internal monologue, reveal (only to the reader) what is unsaid, it does feel powerful that someone did not so much find the words (though that’s a feat– but a book review, not for this post) as put them on paper, in the public eye.  When I’m on the spot, I may sputter a bit before commencing my ongoing Jane Goodall-level study of carpet fibers.  It’s not the same creative process, and it’s not nearly as articulate.


 

In case I’ve painted myself as a quoting automaton, that’s not quite the case.  This is what happens when I’m acutely, unusually uncomfortable.  If I can’t (or don’t want to) use my own words, I’ll use someone else’s.

To be clear, it’s not the same thing as posting a mystery, you figure-it-out song lyric on Facebook; I am trying to make myself understood.  It’s a literary defense mechanism.

Of course, a bon mot, well-placed, can be a lot of fun.  Having “a way with words” often involves coopting other people’s.  If I can’t quote Dorothy Parker, I’m taking my toys and going home.

And I just assume that everyone ELSE also sings “Choppin’ Broccoli” (hey, that’s a classic!) while chopping broccoli . . . .


APPENDIX, AND QUITE UNNECESSARY

I didn’t let myself quote anything while writing this one.  That was hard.  This is getting into vaguebooking territory, but I can’t resist tacking on a reading list of books that, at various times, I’ve torn chunks out of for personal use.  Consider them reading recommendations.  Or reasons to avoid me.

My only real (facetious) attempt at vaguebooking to date has been to declare that my mood was “whatever Peter Wolf says at the beginning of ‘Whammer Jammer.'”  I’m working on it.

DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU

I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish

Sorry about the title.  The song lyrics don’t apply; I just picked it because of the title (and because the devil made me do it).

It’s the end of the year (or the world as we know it . . . sorry).  I don’t have any profound musings, so you can move along if you’re looking for those.  All I have are my now-customary non-resolutions:  as in, I’m not going to have any New Years’ resolutions.  I’m not going to start anything I can’t finish.


 

An anecdote:  the first book I didn’t finish was Little Women.  I can’t remember how old I was, but I was pretty young– so young that I didn’t realize it wasn’t okay not to finish a book.  I remember getting to some part about a glove (I think?) and being utterly fed up with every single person in the book.  I somehow knew that Beth died (probably the back of the book mentioned it), and I flipped ahead to that, hoping for something really good and gory (being a bloodthirsty monster, like so many children).  I haven’t picked up that book since, but I remember it being terrifically dull and involving the valley of the shadow of death.

I finally asked my mother if I could stop reading the book; I think she was probably surprised that I didn’t realize it was an option.  It’s only been in the past year or so, though, that I’ve really started to stick to the rule of fifty and just drop a book if I don’t like it.


 

Quitting everything doesn’t improve your quality of life.  However, quitting things that make your life really miserable does.


 

I could make some resolutions about Life Improvement at the New Year, but I don’t have any concrete ideas.  I’ve done some small things all during the past year, none of which I’d planned on as of January 1st:  they were all unexpected.

January 1st is a moment, but there’s also a year full of moments.  You can decide what to do, to be, or to change in any one of them.

Have a happy new year, or a succession of happy new moments.

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Alice is ready to ring in the New Year but more than a little ticked that this is ginger ale.

Field Notes: Notes from the Floor 

I was trying to think of other places I spend a lot of time, and I realized that my floor is one of them. Maybe that needs clarification. I have physical therapy exercises, and I spend considerable time in the middle of the floor, stretching gracelessly. I have two view options: the ceiling and the bookcase. You can guess which one I choose. 

In an ideal world, all my books are present and in some sort of order. Presently, I have a small number of them, and they’re shelved where they landed. This has produced some literary oddities, which are discussed below.  If you make it to the end, there’s some reflection on becoming numb/attuned to your everyday environment.

Also below, in color:  topics for discussion!  I’d love to hear your opinions.  Leave them wherever you wish, but do note that you can comment on WordPress even if you don’t have an account; just pick a name, any name, and that’s all there is to it.


 

 

View #1

 

View #2 (no, I don’t know what the box-and-cord thing is)


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The Snopes family wuz here

Faulkner looks messy.  This is because I looted my selection of novels when I tried to write something else (not going well).  In spite of the number of duplicates shown here (a further duplicate of Light in August is among the missing), I assure you there’s “logic”:  I keep books that have significant underlining and/or notes, and Faulkner has gotten spread out over the years.

I’ll generally loan any book; it’s only the ones that have what I consider personal (personally inspired?) commentary that I’m not really fond of letting people borrow.  I don’t want to lose them, and, often, the notes are a sort of journal for whatever was going through my head at the time I read something.  Some books are palimpsests with multiple colors of ink from different times, comments in reply to my own comments:  these are the books I like to keep close to home.

Do you have any oddities about loaning books, any books you prefer not to loan?


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I feel that all involved would be affronted, but I apologize only to Wolfe.

The current disarray has produced some really inexplicable shelving situations:  above, see Wolfe-Salinger-anonymous-Capote.  I can’t decide if the tarot deck lounging on the Salinger is rakish or appropriate.  I sort of think he would have preferred something more hoity-toity:  maybe the I Ching.  And I’m pretty sure J.D. is uncomfortable there between Wolfe and Capote:  a person of few words between two Southerners who go on . . . and on . . . and on . . . . Maybe I’m okay with this arrangement, after all.

What writers would you like to get together?  I don’t mean that as one of those nice grouping things for enlightening chat.  I mean who do you think would get in a knock-down drag-out?


 

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Neil Gaiman is cordially not invited to come hang out.

This is where I admit to being (apparently) the only human on earth who doesn’t like Neil Gaiman:  that’s my entire “collection,” right there.  I read it every time someone/some group predicts an impending apocalypse (really).  As you can see by the state of the binding, that’s more often than you might think.  Gaddis is there to squash him if he talks too much and starts to annoy me.

The thin almost-zine-looking books are by Ali Liebegott (you may have seen her on Transparent, and she’s written for that– plus some excellent novels).  Find them here.  They’re excellent.

Back to topic:  does anyone else have any offbeat reading traditions?


 

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Yes, I’m elitist about the cover thing.

This is a gratuitous photo of the (very few) Patricia Highsmith books I have, including The Price of Salt— which I read WAY before Carol (which has not come anywhere near here; some Star-something movie just opened instead).  I’m an elitist about not having the movie cover, so this pleases me.  As I said:  gratuitous.

Ripley creeps me out.  Is that just me?  Does anyone have any further Highsmith suggestions?  That’s really about the only one I like.


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Pulpy!

The reason I have that particular Highsmith is an affinity for pulp of that era.  Of course, in the current disarranged state of the shelves, none of it is together.  Ann Bannon is off by herself, separate from all the various other books, and those aren’t even in series order.  I should be ashamed.  I’m kind of getting twitchy as I write this, if that counts.

Really twitchy.  But I’d be interested to hear (comments!) how you sort your books.


 

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Your guess is as good as mine.

Please use the comments to theorize what the heck is going on here.  I certainly don’t know.


 

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twitch-twitch-twitch

Did I mention how maddening it is not to have all my books here?  Witness 1/2 the Shorter OED (capo was not included with set).  Some relevant things about that dictionary:

  • the set was my high school graduation present, and thus
  • it has traveled everywhere with me from college on.
  • It was the last edition not to list “fun” as an adjective.  I’ll never upgrade.
  • Seriously.  I refer to the DFW book A Supposedly XXX Thing I’ll Never Do Again as “the orange paperback” or “the one with the cruise essay.”  I’m not reactionary.  Or obscurantist.

Is there any particular book you drag around with you– through move after move– come hell or high water?  Bonus points if it’s a pain in the butt to transport.

 


 

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Youth!

In fact, please see the Kerouac accumulation as evidence that I was young once.

Wait.  Why is Jan mixed in with Jack?  Argh.  And I’m pretty sure I have Baby Driver somewhere.

Do you have any (book) Relics of Your Youth that you’re still hanging on to?


 

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This is a ~*~decorating tip~*~.

If you have books that are too heavy for your shelves– Riverside Shakespeare, Proust– a lintel is a good place for them.  If you have to murder an unsuspecting guest with a heavy object, it could be made to look like an accident.

Coroner’s verdict (pick one):  Death by Shakespeare/In Search of Lost Time/The Lord of the Rings.

I will not ask you if you have any just-in-case homicide plans involving household objects.


 

The (Quasi-) Thoughtful Part

So there’s the latest field notes.  Everything gets a little weirder when you stare at it for a very . . . long . . . time (repeatedly).  The book lack/mess wasn’t so much at the forefront of my mind until I had to stare it in the face so frequently.  Moral of the story:  you can dig up a lot of conversational topics from something very, very mundane if you have time to think about whatever it is.  The ordinary isn’t necessarily unworthy of talk, and you don’t always have to go have a grand adventure to have something to talk about.

It’s also amazing how much you can tune out something you see every day and become effectively numb to how much is going on there.

I’m going to corrupt a term completely here:  zazen.  For purposes of this post, though:  how often have you just taken the time to sit and regard your own everyday environment?  What does it say about you?  What’s comfortable about it?  What do you like and dislike?  What could you change?


 

I would very much be interested to hear answers to any of the above questions, bookish or otherwise.