[I’d written one hundred thirty-seven words on what a shitty couple of weeks it’s been lately, but then I reread it and wanted to commit grievous harm upon whatever whiny idiot wrote it. Right. So. Off we go to the good parts, which is books. Duh.] ‘Sup, Internet. I’ve been on so many psychological benders lately, there’s hardly any stability in my reading life. Yeah, I’ve gravitated toward genre for the past couple of weeks—reunited with Courtney Milan’s and Eloisa James’s romances, finally got to read a Tessa Dare and liked it; there’s a sprinkling of fantasy and horror and crime and psychological thriller. I guess that with the abundance of craziness in these here parts lately, I’ve been looking for something I can be comfortable with. It’s hit or miss, sure—hell, I binged with the Milans then rolled my eyes at the last unread Gillian Flynn in my shelves—but sometimes, just moving forward, just reading, is the way to go.
More recently, however, I’ve shyly crawled toward reading material that’s not precisely comfortable. I’m all too aware how my mind has refused to be biddable these past couple of months, but now it’s yearning for a challenge—almost missing having to be told to fucking stay still and focus, because there is much goodness to be had.
So. Last April, my friend (and editor at Esquire Philippines—eek, have I told you all that I’ve been writing about books for Esquire, augh never mind some other time) Luis gave me my very own copy of Renata Adler’s Speedboat. As everyone on this side of the internet knows: Speedboat’s been given the NYRB Classics treatment; it’s republication is a pretty big deal. Which was completely lost on me because I had no idea what a Renata Adler was, no idea that countless men and women (my gift-giver included) considered Speedboat to be one of their formative books. I don’t even know—until now, actually—what exactly the book’s about, but I was intrigued when news about it started breaking, and I remain intrigued. (This whole don’t-know-what-it-is-but-I-think-I-will-like-it thing, for the record, is the kind of thinking that impossible to-be-read piles are made on.) And so I dove into Speedboat, found myself enjoying it—I have a soft spot for vignettes; it’s the lazy in me—and I figured it was something I’d keep on enjoying. And then Real Life, as it is wont to do, stomped all over my grand bibliophilic plans.
I’ve picked it up again right around the beginning of August, for the NYRB Classics group read over at Goodreads. I flipped open the book to the tattered Post-It flag that marked where I left off—and had no fucking clue what I was reading. So I went back to the beginning. Savored that first delicious shock of an opening paragraph. Read it on the train to work, read it while waiting for the P. to come to bed. I’ve lugged it around with me for close to a month now: One vignette for this morning, the next one three mornings on. It’s going well, methinks. I feel the same way as I did when I first tried reading it, which is (in this particular instance) not a bad thing.
Another book that I’ve been dipping into on and off—but with more dedication lately [that’s me, occasionally dedicated dipper]—is Noga Arikha’s Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours. You know: Yellow bile, blood, phlegm, black bile? The logical leaps that took over centuries of medicine, re fluids in the body that dictate who we are, and who we’ll forever be, yadda? Right. I’ve been fascinated by humours [allow me Arikha’s spelling, please] ever since I learned that, historically, The Sads were the result of an abundance of black bile. I’ve been gobbling up whatever ultimately useless information there is about black bile—and humourism—since then.
Just so we’re clear here: Arikha’s book is boring to any reader who won’t come to it with that kind of fascination. Hell, the things I’m picking up in this book tickle me senseless (because I am weird), but it’s still a long stretch of objective unexcitement. Arikha’s book is a resource, a reference—it’s a summarized compendium of readings on humourism throughout the centuries, how this philosophy (and practice!) dictated the history of medicine for way too goddamned long. It’s not dry, fine, but it’s just one endless rundown of all the important shit that went down. And—I just realized it this afternoon—there’s no trace of the author anywhere. It’s like she decisively stepped back. No authorial insight, no voice in the curation. It’s almost a goddamned textbook.
And, again, I’m enjoying myself silly. I like reading about how a philosophy evolves, the movements within it. I am inherently interested in this shit. I like information that guarantees no practical application! I, um, like learning things. (This is the girl who, in college, spent a couple of weeks poring over texts about mandrakes for the sheer fun of it.) I like having my color-coded Post-It flags on standby, my red notebook open to a fresh page, my pens and my highlighters at the ready. I like almost hearing my brain hyperventilating, its struggle to keep up and conquer the reading. Egad, I like studying. (Said the currently-wonky-sinused and joint-achy girl in her pajamas on this sweet, sweet lonesome Friday night.)