Tag Archives: Essays

Regarding longing

Consider the peculiar dangers of provoking desire through the books one reads; how words on a page can remind you of a longing you thought you’d long ago calmed, or tease you into considering the weight of someone else’s gaze, or galvanize you into crossing a once interminable distance to take the wrong person’s hand in yours and confess a wanting. Consider this unflinching definition of desire, brought forward by Siri Hustvedt via the very first line of an essay: “Always a hunger for something, and it always propels us somewhere else, toward the thing that is missing.” (And, here, remind yourself of Anne Carson declaring, “Desire moves. Eros is a verb.”) See yourself armed—first with your library, and then perhaps (of course) with your longings. And then, please, consider yourself in a reality where you moved, arms laden with the books that compelled you. [Continue reading?]

“Merely the noblest of distractions.”

“For myself,” Marcel Proust writes, “I only feel myself live and think in a room where everything is the creation and the language of lives profoundly different from my own, of a taste the opposite of mine, where I can rediscover nothing of my conscious thought, where my imagination is exhilarated by feeling itself plunged into the heart of the non-self.” I feel immensely giddy that I am allowed a more literal interpretation: I am in the mad throes of love with my room. The good books are better, and the blows are softened when I’m with the books that don’t like me so much. I’m savoring every moment I have in this room, and I’m looking forward to the days and nights-into-days of reading that it will host. Sure: The detritus will find a way to rise, inch across my desk and on the floor; the books will ever so surely contrive a disarray; Real Life will intrude and I’ll be too weary to even try to stop it. But—and, yes, almost a chant of mine now—I will keep reading, I will immerse myself in what Proust rather earnestly dubs as “merely the noblest of distractions”—for as long as the floors gleam, for as long as I have a clear view of every book in the room, for as long as that red chair will hold me. And even after, of course—of course. [Continue reading.]

Bibliophilic housekeeping, plus Lethem and Munro—and beetles

It’s like musical goddamned chairs, my mood and my reading material—one moment I’m all eager for awkward crushing (Rainbow Rowell), the next I’m hungry for some straight-up murder shenanigans (Gillian Flynn); one day I’m bingeing myself with the best of historical romance (Courtney Milan, Mary Balogh, and so on) and before that day even ends I’ve tossed the ebooks into a dark corner of my hard drive to reach for comic books with lots and lots of explosions in them. [Continue reading.]

06062013: “What do you see?”

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.]

01142013: A book pile to cleanse the palate

I picked up The Drawing of the Three, the second book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, because I wanted something hefty that would take me away from the bad juju flying around today. And so when Ronald wakes up at the beach (where The Gunslinger, first book, ended) and starts being eaten by the scariest, most ridiculous demon lobster in literary history—the man gets two fingers and a toe eaten, for fuck’s sake—I was thankful for someone to sympathize with, someone who made me think, “Well, he’s more fucked than you are, girl.” See, after being all, “I see serious problems ahead,” at page twenty, Ronald goes, “I jerk off left-handed, at least that’s something.” Yeah, let the Gunslinger remind you look for the bright side, Sasha. [Continue reading.]

Just more, Nick, okay?

Proof of what makes Hornby such an effective writer on reading: He can share his experiences with books I will never ever care for, and yet I keep devouring his work. For example, here in the latest collection of his Believer columns: He prattles on about austerity in Britain for two pieces, and I read hungrily. He digresses (like always) toward football, and yet I read on. I mean, setting aside my purely selfish motivations—I want to talk about myself, and I want to talk about books, which is also largely about myself—isn’t that supposed the point of all our bibliophilic navel-gazing? Beyond setting one’s encounter with a book on a page of our own (so to speak), isn’t this reaching out to other readers—shouldn’t you be constantly making the case for reading and for good books, and for that wearied yet reinvigorated state of your soul in the aftermath of some spankin’ awesome literature? [Continue reading.]

01092013: Bye, Franzen; and Proust, still

Franzen, I’ve found, shies away from an indulgent narrative about families—about his family, here in particular. Snidely, I think: His essays need to have reach—they shouldn’t only be about the Franzens. And so: Family dynamics should naturally draw on Snoopy and its creator. An awkward adolescence—too enlightening, really: who knew Franzen was such a big dorkus?—dignified by an examination of the youth group he belonged to. Selling the house his mother had spent nearly a lifetime to build—a house full, no doubt, of his mother’s disappoints—should lead to a dissection of real estate in America. And, goddammit, troubles with his wife should veer into bird-watching in them good ol’ United States. [Continue reading.]

The Hustvedt essay

Desire has long been Hustvedt’s forte, from her novels and threaded through her nonfiction. And the essays in this collection are so unmistakeably-to-me Hustvedtian: They’re essays in the blessedly conventional sense—the simplest route from writer to reader. Here are a host of subjects in a deeply personal voice, exceedingly intelligent, more than a little sensuous, and familiar all throughout. Desire weaves in and out of the essays—“Living,” for her musings on family life; “Thinking,” for her reflections on the making of and the appreciation of literature, the academe, as well as her disarmingly easy relationship with neuroscience; “Looking,” for her meditations on art. Again: All of them fascinatingly eloquent, and all of them unafraid to draw from Hustvedt’s own life. No shame to tell the reader that this was how she felt as she thought. This unabashedness, coupled with her goddamned intellect, never fails to send happy shivers down my spine. [Continue reading.]

“Why read otherwise?”

“The opportunity to single out a book that ‘changed my life,’” says Billy Collins, “makes me realize that no book leaves us unchanged, for better or worse. Why read otherwise?” Subtitled “71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them,” The Book that Changed my Life, brain-child of bookstore owner Roxanne J. Coady […]

Why, Indeed?

Doing more reading of the Classics as I have been lately, it seemed only right that I pick up Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino [translated by Martin McLaughlin]—and not so much because I needed to convince myself that there really was something good with all my befuddlement and the near-constant-feeling-of-being-out-of-place of late. Key […]