The Book Life

Infinite Summer? You bet.

June 29, 2009
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Damn it!

I just finished an entry about surrender, did I not? About not forcing yourself to finish books you’re not enjoying? Well, here I am, thanks to my overambitious friend Andrea, deciding to give David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest another go ’round.

I quit at page 198 last fall. And I even used my prettiest, favorite bookmark, to help entice me to read it. I carried all 1,00o pages of it around with me on various summer trips. To no avail. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for months, untouched:IMGP4314

Right there, next to my many impulse purchases from McSweeney’s.

After an hour of deliberation this evening, I’ve decided that perhaps this is what I need. A little community, some friends (albeit virtual) to make me feel less alone amongst Wallace’s intricacies and admittedly gorgeous sentences.

So I followed Andrea’s link to Infinite Summer. And it looks sort of fun! And pretty motivating! (Can you tell I’m still talking myself into this? I was planning to read trashy vampire novels all summer, remember?)

But I want to try. The reading period extends into my first month of law school, which is a shame, and might defeat me, but at the least I’ll get farther than I am now. Plus, I’ve never been in a book group of any kind, real or virtual.

Here goes…

IMGP4316 I took the book off the shelf.

That’s as good a start at any.


Let’s Dispense With Genre Altogether

June 29, 2009
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I’ve already rhapsodized about Maggie Nelson here, haven’t I?

In the interest of not wanting to navigate away from the new post page, I’ll just refresh us all by saying this: I saw her read at the Ohio University Spring Literary Festival (aka LitFest) and immediately bought nearly all of her books. Her poetry is incredible, and her presence onstage is simple, unapologetic, and quietly powerful.

I just finished reading Jane, Nelson’s memoir-of-sorts about the murder of her aunt, Jane, at age 23, 4 years before Nelson herself was born.

I’ll admit my reluctance from the start: In some circles Jane is considered a kind of true crime book, and Nelson herself admitted to reading true crime while working on this book. I do not like true crime books – the reasons why, I’ll save for another day. So I dove in skeptically and would have stayed away entirely, except that Nelson’s other work is so good.

And what a good idea. This book is a memoir. It is true crime. It is poetry. It’s a journal. This is an annoying thing to say, but it transcends genre in an of itself, not as a gimmick, but because there’s no other way to tell the story. It’s entirely fascinating, and not because it’s about the death of a beautiful women (Nelson quotes Poe’s Theory of Composition in the opening, though she later lets us know that Jane was not beautiful).

Nelson uses everything available to her: excerpts from Jane’s own journals, quotations about the murder from newspapers, Nelson’s own poetic inquiries. Here are some excellent lines:

“Skin is soft; it takes what you do to it.”

“Can anyone like blood the way one likes the mountains or the sea?”

And Jane’s own words: “Am I to live this life / with a blameless ferocity?

I really think this book is the perfect example of the wonderful things that can happen when you focus on what you need to say before you worry about how to say it. The HOW comes later, will come on its own. There are a lot of poems in this book, and a lot of white space, a lot of stanza breaks. And I found myself considering the bravery of white space, and wrote this in the margins.

the control

of

white

space

the danger

in leaving

so much space

for breathing

for

running

and

breaking


Sometimes books just have the perfect last lines.

June 20, 2009
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“Each time we did it I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong. John never was. ou had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.” -Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

“This is where the story starts, in this threadbare room. The walls are exploding. The windows have turned into telescopes. Moon and stars are magnified in this room. The sun hangs over the mantelpiece. I stretch out my hand and reach the corners of the world. The world is bundled up in this room. Beyond the door, where the river is, where the roads are, we shall be. We can take the world with us when we go and sling the sun under your arm. Hurry now, it’s getting late. I don’t know if this is a happy ending but here we are let loose in open fields.” -Jeannette Winterson, Written on the Body


Surrender

June 20, 2009
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I do my very obssessive-compulsive best to finish books, once I’ve started them. Even when I don’t like them, I push through to the end. Sometimes there’s something worthwhile at the end, and I hate leaving things unfinished.

However.

I cannot get through Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. I cannot come to the end, much as I’d like to. This book was recommended by Nick Hornby, in one of his Believer columns, and I have to say, I disagree.

The entire novel is told in the collective first person; i.e. “we.” This is fun for one chapter, and less so from there on out, and is too close to the gimmick line for me. And I think, because of this collective voice, I cannot distinguish, remember, or care about any of the characters, which is sort of essential to enjoying a book. It’s set in an office, and is meant to be humorous, sort of in the style of Office Space or The Office – and it’s occassionally funny. But the thing is, offices are actually really boring. And I work in one. So reading about it in a novel was the opposite of interesting. If this was a “classic” or required, I would put more effort forth.

But it’s not, so I can’t finish it.

And I’m weirdly proud of myself, as I take the bookmark out, and place the book in the to-be-returned pile.

I’m not good at not finishing things, which is usually a good trait. But not all things must be finished. In general, if you don’t like a book that you’re reading on you own time, you can stop reading it. Put it down and find something better.

This is applicable to life outside of reading. Things in your life you don’t like? Put them down, and find something better. How’s that for profundity? Profundity is probably the least profound-sounding of all words.


She Decides to Tell the Truth

June 11, 2009
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I might just read trashy fantasy novels and books about vampires all summer long.


Making Friends with Dead Poets

June 1, 2009
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I did it!

…finished the collected letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Words in Air, that is.

It took me four months (800 is a lot of pages, and I am easily and often distracted), so now that I’ve finished, I feel sort of adrift, and abandoned. This large, hardback book from the Worthington Public Library has been a constant feature on my desk since before Christmas.

I read these letters with only the barest exposure to the poetry of either writer, and in total ignorance of their biographies – which turned out to be a fascinating way to dive into people’s lives. There’s so much that you miss, but it’s such an interesting way in. Plus, these two in particular were so in love with each other! And reading each of their letters, I couldn’t help but fall in love with them both, as well.

So encountering, at the end, “North Haven,” by Elizabeth Bishop, in memory of Robert Lowell, after a perfectly cheerful letter from Elizabeth to Cal (as she called him), was somewhat shocking. And then to jump to the footnote and see that Lowell died, in a cab, on the way back to Elizabeth Hardwick, his estranged wife…

well, I read the poem, and tears welled.

You left North Haven, anchored in its rock,

afloat in mystic blue . . . And now–you’ve left

for good. You can’t derange, or re-arrange,

your poems again. (But the Sparrows can their song.)

The words won’t change again. Sad friend, you cannot change.

The words won’t change again. All of the sadness is right there, in the word won’t, and in the finality of the simple sentence, the ceasura in the middle of the line.

So sad to see them go.