mourning diaries fascinate me because i think most of us are afraid of death. i know i am. particularly the death of a partner whom you have intendedmourning diaries fascinate me because i think most of us are afraid of death. i know i am. particularly the death of a partner whom you have intended to spend the rest of your life with.
reading dfw takes work. it takes focus and a dictionary, and not the pocket kind that has commonly used words, but the kind with SAT words that is tooreading dfw takes work. it takes focus and a dictionary, and not the pocket kind that has commonly used words, but the kind with SAT words that is too heavy to carry. you probably have to read dfw at home or with a smart-phone handy. and i still prefer reading him to any other writer. i’ll throw the warning out there that i have an inability to articulate why i like a favourite author’s work (but this doesn’t mean i won’t keep trying).
i remember when dfw was writing and speaking about what he went through in rehab and what drove him as an author, etc. he didn’t do it often, but the psychologist in me couldn’t stop looking for interviews and information about these kinds of questions. with his upbringing (strong successful mother’s influence, tennis champion, labeled genius from an early age: here
) he says that one of the things he got from rehab was that geniuses were allowed to have problems and were just like everyone else.
he learned that his genius didn’t necessarily make him special. he was no better or worse. when i read his work, what i see is a man who is deeply and genuinely interested in learning new things, on sharing these things and meeting people, ordinary people. sure, there’s an essay on mccain’s 2000 campaign, but there’s also an essay that, at least for me, humanizes the porn industry by covering the “porn oscars.” he talks about how funny kafka is and how few people see it because they’re so busy trying to intellectualize and “get” kafka. reading this book feels like shaking his hand and hearing him talk over coffee, or taking his class and going to lecture.
many of these essays would be better suited to being categorized as journalism. he’s asked to report on something, and he’s throwing himself into the narrative and helping to explore larger issues to help relate it to the reader. i can see him following mccain’s campaign with the worn leather coat that he borrowed from a friend, because he still thought that rolling stone magazine was that kind of place. i can see him with his bandana going to the world’s biggest lobster fair and being genuinely disgusted and compelled to share this story of suffering.
i know he gets a ton of flack for his style, but it hasn’t stopped me from reading and re-reading almost everything he’s written and i certainly know i’m not the ideal reader for his work. i know i miss a ton of references and probably fail to make some connections that may seem obvious to him. but i’m a student of dfw. i’m happy to re-read his work, to take notes and cringe at the notes i made in the margins the first time around.
i feel like people miss out on him because of his reputation and i’d hate for that to stop anyone. i think he deserves a chance and i know damn well he could teach you something....more
I was after something intimate and I learned to spot it in the first alley, in the first verse of a poem, on the first glance of a strafrom Intimacy:
I was after something intimate and I learned to spot it in the first alley, in the first verse of a poem, on the first glance of a stranger. Great books, like great cities, always let us find things we think are only in us and couldn’t possibly belong elsewhere but that turn out to be broadcast everywhere we look. Great artists are those who give us what we think was already ours.
In the words of Emanuele Tesauro: “We enjoy seeing our own thoughts blossom in someone’s mind, while that someone is equally pleased to spy what our own mind furtively conceals.” I was a cipher. But, like me, everyone else was a cipher as well. Ultimately, I wanted to peer into books, places, and people because wherever I looked I was always looking for myself, or for traces of myself, or better yet, for a world out there filled with people and characters who could be made to be like me, because being like me and being me and liking the things I liked was nothing more than their roundabout way of being as close to, as open to, and as bound to me as I wished to be to them.
from My Monet Moment:
It would be just like me to travel all the way to Bordighera from the United States and never one look up the current name of the villa. Any art book could have told me that its name was Villa Garnier. Anyone a the station could have pointed immediately to it had I asked for it by name. I would have spared myself hours of meandering about town. But then, unlike Ulysses, I would have arrived straight to Ithaca and never once encountered Circe or Calypso, never met Nausica or heard the enchanting strains of the Sirens’ song, never gotten sufficiently lost to experience the sudden, disconcerting moment of arriving in, of all places, the right place.
She opens a door and we stop onto the roof terrace. Once again, I am struck by one of the most magnificent vistas I have ever seen. “Money used to come to paint here as a guest of Signor Moreno.” I instantly recognize the scene from art books and begin to snap pictures. Then the nun corrects herself. “Actually, he used to paint from up there,” she says, pointing to another floor I hadn’t noticed that is perched right above the roof. “Questo e l’oblo di Monet.” “This is Monet’s porthole.”
Proust’s novel is about a man who looks back to a time when all he did was look forward to better times. To rephrase this somewhat: he looks back to a time when what he looked forward to was perhaps nothing more than sitting down and writing… and therefore looking back.
It is not even Egypt or the things he remembers that he loves; what he loves is just remembering, because remembering ensures that the present won’t ever prevail. Remembering is merely a posture that turns its head away and, in the process, even when there is nothing to remember, is shrewd enough to make up memories – surrogate, standby memories – if only to justify not having to look straight at the present.
from New York, Luminous:
In that spellbound moment when we’re suddenly willing to call this the only home we’ll ever want on earth, New York lets us into a bigger secret yet: that it “gets” us, that we needn’t worry about those dark and twisted, spectral thoughts we are far too reluctant to tell others about – it shares the exact same ones itself, always has.
from Afterword: Parallax:
The German writer W.G. Sebald, who died in 2001, frequently wrote about people whose lives are shattered and who are trapped in a state of numbness, stagnation, and stunned sterility. Given a few displacements, which occurred either by mistake or through some whim of history, they end up living the wrong life. The past interferes and contaminates the present, while the present looks back and distorts the past.
Sebald’s characters see displacements everywhere, not just all around them but within themselves as well. Sebald himself cannot think, cannot see, cannot remember, and, I would wager, cannot write without positing displacement as a foundational metaphor.
In order to write you either retrieve displacement or you invent it.
things that were my favourites:
Lavender; a wonderful easing into the essays, into reflections on memory, on past, on how we look back on the past and frame it, on how it impacts us into adulthood. it reminded me of bosnia, of my grandfather (even though it was about aciman’s father).
New York, Luminous; a walk through a city through movies and literary references. movies i hadn’t seen were brought to live, then the essay was re-read and i saw how perfectly they shine and how fitting they are.
The Buildings Themselves Have Died; for being a perfectly named story. for making new york come alive in a different way than New York, Luminous. for reminding me of david foster wallace. though there are differences – dfw sees it through the older generations, aciman through the buildings themselves....more
this little sixty page novel has completely changed my mind about joyce. i don't think i've loved a book this much since i read "a hero of our time."this little sixty page novel has completely changed my mind about joyce. i don't think i've loved a book this much since i read "a hero of our time."
i welcomed the new year in california. instead of a lavish and loud party the family went bowling then came home to play taboo. midnight came and without much fanfare, we went outside to light sparklers and look at the clear mount shasta sky. we went back inside to drink champagne. the boys started playing poker. i curled up by the fireplace with the dead.
i remember vowing never to read james joyce after a miserable attempt at reading a portrait of the artist as a young man. on a whim, i gave joyce another chance to catch my heart. and it worked.
many who’ve read this novella say the last two pages are what wins you over, but i was won over before that. joyce has a way of creating an atmosphere that transports you. reading gabriel conroy’s inner monologue, i still felt like i could hear the swishing of feet, the buzz of the voices around him. as he perfected his speech, i felt his trepidation and even his agitation at miss ivors after her “west briton” comment.
in francine prose’s reading like a writer she talks about the dead. her emphasis is on word economy but also going with your individual style as a writer. in such a short amount of space, you’re introduced to a fleshed out world and become wrapped up in gabriel and his story (but also that of his aunts, the singer D’Arcy and the fate of poor michael furey). from what i understand, these characters aren’t touched upon in any of joyce’s others works, and i’m glad. adding to the dead would feel forced; the way it is feels like the way it should be.
aside from the last two pages, which were wonderful, this is what i loved the best:
A waves of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries. Like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy....more
i’ve thought long and hard about how to better record the connections that i make and wish to make when i’m reading books. then i found out that alberi’ve thought long and hard about how to better record the connections that i make and wish to make when i’m reading books. then i found out that alberto manguel had written part of that discussion for me.
on book summaries and giving away plots:
I don’t like people summing up books for me. Tempt me with a title, a scene, a quotation, yes, but not with the whole story. Fellow enthusiasts, jacket blurbs, teachers and histories of literature destroy much of our reading pleasure by ratting on the plot.
on writing in books (something i’ve only recently allowed myself to do)
I always write in my books. When I reread them, most of the time I can’t imagine why I thought a certain passage worth underlining, or what I meant by a certain comment.
and then, i found i liked his reading tastes, that he’s read books i haven’t heard of. i imagined that it wouldn’t be interesting reading about books i haven’t read, but the snippets that he gives are enough that i can get the gist of the novel (and decide if i should read it) and figure out the point he’s trying to make.
i found out about francois-rene de chateaubriand and his book memoirs from beyond the grave. with one excerpt, i knew i wanted to read it.
There are people who, while empires collapse, visit fountains and gardens.
threads of chateaubriand come up throughout what i’ve read of the book so far, and they’re related to manguel’s life, memories, surroundings. he relates passages and texts to remember (much in the way that chateaubriand himself encourages and finds).
Our existence is so fleeting that if we don’t record the events of the morning in the evening, the work will weigh us down and we will no longer have the time to bring it up to date. This doesn’t prevent us from wasting our years, from throwing to the wind those hours that are for us the seeds of eternity.
when the last section on chateaubriand came, i had already inquired about an english copy. and then another perfect sentence:
Reading Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, I forget that it is Chateaubriand, not I, who is mourning.
i’m was to october at this point with firm mind to read chateaubriand and more manguel. i had also figured out how he’s managed to be so thoughtful about his reads, something i truly needed to learn to do myself. first, he’s choosing books based on whims and wants. no reading schedules, really, just, going with the flow of things.
by the end of the book, he’d read 12 books, one per month, with some diaries, letters and related material read throughout to help write about the books and fully understand them. that’s the kind of reading year i’d like for 2012. slow and thoughtful, unrushed.
I feel uncomfortable having other people’s books at home. I want either to steal them or to return them immediately. There is something of the visitor who outstays his welcome in borrowed books. Reading them and knowing that they don’t belong to me gives me the feeling of something unfinished, half-enjoyed. This is also true of library books.
also: note to self, read the pillow book by sei shonagon:
There are times when the world so exasperates me that I feel I cannot go on living in it for another moment and I want to disappear for good. But then, if I happen to obtain some nice white paper, Michinoku paper, or white decorated paper, I decide that I can put up with things as they are a little longer....more
last year, i think, i read important artifacts and personal property from the collection of lenore doolan and harold morris, including books, street flast year, i think, i read important artifacts and personal property from the collection of lenore doolan and harold morris, including books, street fashion and jewelry, by leanne shapton and it stayed with me. using the format of an auction catalogue, the book chronicles a relationship. it turns it into an artifact, something to be studied. it takes items and makes them people, gives them a setting to exist within. it dares to put a price on something forcing you to ask questions about emotional worth and monetary worth and the importance of archiving and reflection.
barthes only brought this book to the forefront in my mind. he dissects love, emotions relating to love and the loved one, forcing us to think about the words we use, the emotions we try to help them portray. the book is indeed written in fragments, arranged in alphabetical order by titles. for this we the reader are told that it is meant to show us that no one part is more important than the other, each weighs in equally, and the author presents it to us as such. essentially, barthes breaks up the book by aspects of love, the loved one and the love relationship. then he uses beautiful conversations, fiction and non-fiction excerpts and his own experiences to expound on a topic.
prior to barthes, every book i’ve tried reading on love focused on the rules established around the definition of romantic love, and they isolated me as a reader. i couldn’t see any love i’d ever known (or god forbid, hoped to know) in those pages. with barthes, i could see loves i’d had and loves i hoped to have reflected in that text. i took notes like a madwoman in margins and flagged passages and added other books on love to my list of books to read. i read passages aloud to my husband, to my friends, to former lovers. i felt like my heart was bursting in a wave of understanding and acknowledgement of being understood.
i made notes: page 14, 24, 39 (perfect), 42, 85, 100 (perfect), 104, 199, 233. i wrote in the margins about former and current lovers. i made notes to re-read rilke. to read blake, to finally read goethe, bataille.
on goodreads, a smart woman wrote that she recommends this book to “those who must analyze as they swoon” – that’s the perfect way to describe it....more
rimbaud is comfort reading for the soul. i fell into reading him on accident, i was talking about poetry with a friend and he happened to mention thatrimbaud is comfort reading for the soul. i fell into reading him on accident, i was talking about poetry with a friend and he happened to mention that this was his favourite poet. and he told me all about rimbaud’s past, the tryst he had with paul verlaine, the religious upbringing he had and the curious fact that rimbaud stopped writing at 21. that he dropped everything to become a merchant and to run away from it all. my interest was piqued; there isn’t any way that it couldn’t be.
what strikes me about rimbaud in the translated work that wyatt mason has compiled is the ability to watch him grow in the few years that he is a poet and writer. he lists the poetry and prose as best as he can by the year that it was written. mason even captures versions of poems, again sorting by year, so that you can see the corrections that age helped him to make to his beautiful poems.
i’ve read previous translations of rimbaud, and i’ve loved those as well, but this one felt a bit more… modern and relatable. instead of a literal translation, word by word, he tried to convey nuances of the language into english, which to me hasn’t been done as well by previous translators. i imagine reading it in the original french would be amazing, but alas, i can only speak so many languages.
below is probably my favourite prose piece that he’s written (which isn’t an easy thing to choose).
* * * *
Long ago, if my memory serves, life was a feast where every heart was open, where every wine flowed.
One night, I sat Beauty on my knee. –And I found her bitter. –And I hurt her. I took arms against justice.
I fled, entrusting my treasure to you, o witches, o misery, o hate.
I snuffed any hint of human hope from my consciousness. I made the muffled leap of a wild beast onto any hint of joy, to strangle it.
Dying, I called my executioners over so I could bite the butts of their rifles. I called plagues to suffocate me with sand, blood. Misfortune was my god. I lay in the mud. I withered in criminal air. And I even tricked madness more than once. And spring left me with an idiot’s unbearable laughter.
Just now, having nearly reached death’s door, I thought about seeking the key to the old feast, through which, perhaps, I might regain my appetite.
Charity is the key. –Such an inspiration proves I was dreaming!
“A hyena you’ll remain, etc….” cries the demon that crowns me with your merry poppies. “Make for death with every appetite intact, with your egotism, and every capital sin.”
Ah. It seems I have too many already: –But, dear Satan, I beg you not to look at me that way, and while you await a few belated cowardices—you who so delight in a writer’s inability to describe or inform—watch me tear a few terrible leaves from my book of the damned.
it’s hard for me to explain why i love a poet, or a specific poem. i feel transported, or full of life or anger, or just an emotion that previously hadn’t consumed me, for the duration of my reading and for some time beyond. i’m stuck in that space that the author has written and it feels for a time like i want nothing more than to drown in that emotion. this is why i read rimbaud, all the time. ...more
Sometimes the earth trembles; sometimes you can feel it breathe. The colours are red, purple, blue, gold, all shades of green. The colours here are b Sometimes the earth trembles; sometimes you can feel it breathe. The colours are red, purple, blue, gold, all shades of green. The colours here are black, brown, grey, dim-green, pale blue, the white of people's faces - like woodlice. -page 54
reading jean rhys for me felt incredibly important, something that I had been lacking all of this time. a long-time friend had read voyage in the dark and reviewed it and something about the way she talked about the main character reminded me of everything I loved about literature when I first read authors like sylvia plath and virginia woolf.
i started the book and the first paragraph or so, about anna loving and hating london after leaving the west indies of her youth won me over. i felt like i was reading the british version of the lover by marguerite duras (and even after finishing, this is the closest thing i can compare the book to).
That was when it was sad, when you lay awake at night and remembered things. That was when it was sad, when you stood by the bed and undressed, thinking, 'When he kisses me, shivers run up my back. I am hopeless, resigned, utterly happy. Is that me? I am bad, not good any longer, bad. That has no meaning, absolutely none. Just words. But something about the darkness of the streets has a meaning.' -page 57
the book felt well ahead of its time in the representation of anna's life, her sexuality. it read like a book written much later, though originally it was published in 1934. the main character isn't one i can relate to. a girl freshly turned eighteen with little family, traveling as an actress and internally lacking her own sense of self, unhappy (here, i thought of nothing but the bell jar).
People say 'young' as though being young were a crime, and yet they are always so scared of getting old. I thought, 'I wish I were old and the whole damned thing were finished; then I shouldn't get this depressed feeling for nothing at all.' -page 91
near the beginning of the book, when anna is walking with her roommate, she meets the man that will be her undoing, essentially. she and her friend are walking along the street and catching the eye of the man and his friend and the timelessness of the scene stuck with me throughout the novel. many movies play on this idea, many novels do the same. and usually, it leads to that happiest of endings, the eternal romance. instead of the struggle.
throughout the novel, you could just feel the struggle coming on.
Keep hope alive and you can do anything, and that's the way the world goes round, that's the way they keep the world rolling. So much hope for each person. And damned cleverly done too. But what happens if you don't hope any more, if your back's broken? What happens then? -page 130
i make the novel sound sentimental, something like a jeanette winterson poetry-prose novel, but it isn't. that's what makes anna such a captivating character, whether or not you relate to her. her thoughts are precise, her emotions are valid and flow naturally with the story. the writing is quiet but strong -- and the ending, surprisingly relevant to issues women face today.
I dreamt that I was on a ship. From the deck you could see small islands - dolls of islands - and the ship was sailing in a doll's sea, transparent as glass.
Somebody said in my ear, 'That's your island that you talk such a lot about.' -page 164...more