Category Archives: Digressions
Today, through the ever-squint and the haze of over-the-counter medication, I finished reading two books. Two very different books, but both perfectly hurtled me back into the habit of reading—a momentum I do wish will hold. One’s the close of the His Dark Materials trilogy, which was nothing short of a revelation; the other’s Tiny Beautiful Things, the much-adored collection of Dear Sugar pieces. I chose the former (and the two books that preceded it) partly because I’ve become so used to kick-starting a reading life in hibernation, I’ve grown certain a big helping of plot and wonder is just what’s needed; partly because of some unshakeable notion that this there is no better time to read this books than now. And, comparatively more simply: I picked up and feverishly read the Dear Sugar collection because I needed to feel a little less out of sorts, a little less listless, a little less lonely—and not be condescended to. Both books just felt right, and they turned out much better than that. Hurrah, then, for me. [Continue reading.]
Why do I keep buying books at a time when I am least predisposed to actually reading them? How awkwardly—how unnaturally—I seem to be reading lately!
My brain has atrophied, I self-diagnose. And I am quick to heap the blame, if prodded; after all, surely I can’t be accountable for my own inability to respond to the provocations of literature? The heights of marrow-sucking the past couple of months of weekdays have reached are close to convincing my poor brain [my even more wretched soul!] that it’s best for everyone involved if whatever intelligent faculties I pride myself on having simply find a shadowy corner to mewl in. The weekends are too delicious a respite—naps must be made, people must be loved, secondhand bookstores to trawl, inihaw to fill my belleh. And naps must be made. [Continue reading.]
Books are deceptively tidily-packaged keystones of great power—and, if you’re lucky (as I consider myself to be), years of reading will arm you with presentiments about what a protracted brush against that power might do [to] you. And I had that hunch with The Bell Jar. I’ve known everything there was to know about the novel before I read it, and every little thing was bad news for someone like me. Call it readerly superstition, call it a far-too-strong awareness of my own psychological climate: I stayed away from Plath’s novel because it was about me.
And once I closed the book, I went back to the little gauge in my soul. There was the usual hum that runs through you after a good and/or timely book. But beyond that: I felt strange—both superior and self-pitying; I looked at all the teenagers that swarmed that coffee shop, all those souls that would never ever need to be scared of a book like The Bell Jar—all for naught or otherwise. [Continue reading.]
First thing upon waking up, P. and I headed straight to one of our favorite Booksales, and after that we went to another Booksale; in the hours in between, he hoarded more knick-knacks and I drank my tea and smoked my cigarettes. (Do a riff on this, Sasha: How it’s the best thing to wake up one Sunday to the-man-you’re-mad-for-saying, “Let’s go buy books.” And later, a city or so away, the two of you mostly quiet in starkly lit stores—occasionally raising your head to find the other, to hold up a good find, to grin like the book-mad jackals that you two are.)
The thing is, children: The short story will persist, and our attitude toward it will endure. The novel may die, resurge, die again, get resurrected endlessly by its legion detractors and champions; the essay will toy with medium and length and preoccupation and ethical standards; the novella will always be the special little snowflake it’s grown comfortably into; poetry will keep curdling our blood with its beauty, its inscrutability, and its conceit that it’s the best form for thought-and-soul that ever will be. And the short story will be in a corner, nursing a warmed beer, brooding over an overflowing ashtray, trying so obviously and awkwardly not to meet anyone’s eye for fear that it might seem too needy—and it’ll be there in that complicated metaphor of a corner forever. And, kids—we’ll all just have to deal with it. [Continue reading.]
Yes, the kind of reading I’ve been doing lately is one that, primarily, seeks to reassure myself that Real Life and the myriad terrors it’s been serving up lately can be staved off—even vanquished under the onslaught of words, words, words. Although, haha, I don’t know why I gravitated to the three up there, as collectively they seem to be tailor-fit to depress the bejeebies out of me. Davis’ novel is about a man who hates his job and whose marriage is falling apart (and there is no assurance of a happy ending); Shields has constructed a manifesto on the kind of writing I have long ago forgotten how to do; the Plath is infamously about a young (promising!) woman who descends into a crippling and vividly described depression.
Although pragmatism and bitter resignation about the realities of life have long been telling me to pull the plug on this book blog—put it out of its misery, yadda—I’m too selfish to do so. I put up this little corner of the internet because I was, simply put, rather lonely. And although books were—and continue to be—one of the best ways to assuage one’s solitude [or rather, to remind one’s self that being alone was nothing to fear with a book in one’s hand], the experience estranges you from the world. It feeds your self-indulgence, going beyond just bowing over crisp, creamy pages to finding yourself demand that your experiences be heard, your undying love for this character be recognized, your notice of a particular turn of phrase be given an opportunity to rise beyond mere envy-admiration. [Continue reading.]
Real life from of February to August was overwhelmingly about work and its myriad demands—not to mention dealing with the consequent upheavals in other parts of my life because of those demands—my reading life was desperate at best, and lackluster at worst. I was quite unambitious, and even acknowledging that in those days wasn’t a comfort. I, again, simply wanted more. The challenge, I thought then, was a novel. A novel that I could get lost in—through the story perhaps, through its language, preferably. I wanted a novel that challenged, basically. Enter Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, closely followed by Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox. Both books are characterized by unconventional storytelling, even a marked fascination with storytelling itself. In many ways, both books re-launched me into the world of fiction, helped me trudge on to where I am now, babbling to you, Dear Ether. [Continue reading.]
And so I plod on with my own little ambitions—to amass as much of the Classics that I want to read, which involves reading a lot of the Oxford World’s Classics [oh, that unrelenting white spine] and amassing more of NYRB Classics, too [I’ve been shy-stalking the NYRB Classics group on Goodreads, and it’s a treat]. I’ve also just recently bought Proust’s Swann’s Way—partly because of the heathenhood factor, partly because I trust Lydia Davis’ translating prowess. I’ve bought this beautiful annotated and unexpurgated edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as yet another edition of Jane Eyre. I want to read Frankenstein, too, and Dracula, and Moby-Dick. I’ve bought Anna Karenina, and one of these days, I am taking a deep breath. I want more of Sherlock Holmes. And then there’s Raymond Carver and Richard Yates—we need reunions, we do—them, and Wilfrido Nolledo and Kerima Polotan. I want more of the books people have forgotten over time but are recently rediscovering—it’s not unlike being privy to a great secret, not unlike being part of a movement. I want more dead writers in my shelves, more people-characters that have grown timeless right in my head, were they justly belong. I just want more. [Continue reading.]
The house I used to live in—the one I shared with my now-ex boyfriend, a boss, and a former instructor—had a second-floor landing, one with built-in bookshelves. It remains vivid, that January day: P. and I were desperate for a new house (the landlady had just sold the apartment complex and waited until the very last minute to tell us), and here was one with walls just repainted, with this generous space inviting quietness and the consolation of reading. Three bedroom doors opened to the landing, letting in the sunlight—and P. and I had looked at each other, not daring to hope—and P. and I had looked at each other, and I know now that we’d had the same thought: This could work, babe. In the room we would share, a long plank of heavy wood had been drilled to the wall. We would share that too: My novels in neat arrangement (in a system that made sense only to me, I’d assume) keeping space with his art books, art magazines, and issues of National Geographic from the 1970s that P. liked to mine for photographs he could re-render. [Continue reading.]