It’s maybe the most common thing people ask me. What do you do all day? It takes me by surprise every time. What do I do? I don’t know, what do you doIt’s maybe the most common thing people ask me. What do you do all day? It takes me by surprise every time. What do I do? I don’t know, what do you do? Do I do anything? What have I ever done?
I reassure myself that I do, in fact, do lots of different things. But the first answer that pops into my head is the same one. What do I do all day? I read.
And read some more. Books, papers, screens, scribbles, whatever. For all that I’m more connected with nature than ever here on Krangket Island, I am also extremely buried in text. I read with my morning tea (local PNG leaves spiced with some moringa I bought at the market and dried out on a table in the ever-burning sun). If I stay on the island, then I read throughout the day, in my living room, or lying on the grass, or perched on the shore above the coral jetty. It doesn’t matter much where I sit; it’s always hot and I can always see the ocean. The sun arcs above it, sparkling against the waves. As it gets darker, I read by candlelight and before I go to sleep, I swallow several last sentences in bed.
There are some other answers I could come up with too. Writing, for example. That’s a big one. I am writing my dissertation, hacking at it bit by bit, slimming it, shaping it, trying to lend it elegance without shaving away all its weight. I have also started writing a novel. That’s not in any kind of form yet, just a lot of soap bubbles and shadows.
But both the thesis and the novel are actually, in large part, just different reasons to read. For my dissertation, obviously, I’m reading a bunch of philosophy and a few choice bits of cognitive psychology. For the novel I am doing research too, on mining and witchcraft and local myths. And just as importantly, I am reading fiction. Yes the fiction is partly pure indulgence thank God, but as I start this new project, it feels like research too. How do you tell a story? How do you enchant a character onto a page? And also, why? Why do I read? What do I want out of it? How can I give that to others?
The last book I finished was a collection of Alice Munro short stories, The Love of a Good Woman. Aside from being delightful qua indulgence (yes that word leaked in from my thesis, but can we make qua not just an academic word? It’s so pretty. If I had a band I think qua is the name I’d choose for it…) they were also a great help in answering the why question. Munro writes with this lovely, quiet sense of distance. She might visit a character in a moment of drama and turmoil, but then she skips forward forty years and checks in on the same woman. The stories sum up entire lives.
There is a poignant tragedy to that, but there’s relief too. When I look around at my own life, after having read these stories, I feel less inclined to scratch at it in some pointless, anxious digging for meaning. What am I doing? What am I doing all day? Where am I and why and should I be somewhere else???
Here I am, I have learned to say with that holy, distant calm, and there I am going. I feel the finality of my role in the universe and it’s a wonderful relief. So that’s part of why I keep obsessively reading.
Is this really for adults? What's with the huge font and trite pictures? And the gaping wide plot holes in the first story? Such as, why would the graIs this really for adults? What's with the huge font and trite pictures? And the gaping wide plot holes in the first story? Such as, why would the grandmother leave all those mirrors in her house at all? And why would she leave the key for the forbidden room right over the door and not pour that dangerous mirror into cement? The second story was more interesting, but I nettled a bit at how both ideal-type women were repeatedly described as child-like. And the ending was sad in a way that didn't have any of the dissonance or catharsis sad endings usually give me. It was just heavy and glum. Oh well, it was a quick read....more
All short and of great variation in quality. Some were just too short to be of much interest; they mustered all the character depth of a Norman RockweAll short and of great variation in quality. Some were just too short to be of much interest; they mustered all the character depth of a Norman Rockwell drawing. The ones that incorporated aspects of what I guess are traditional Native stories were pretty awesome. I loved the editor's own "The One About the Coyote Going West." The way it used dialogue and interruptions and such brought a great flavor of the spoken word into the written - much more successfully than the first story which just transcribed an oral tale. Beth Brant's "Turtle Gal" was also crazy short, but there was something about the imagery and the contrast of the two characters - an old bluesy black man and a silent indian girl - that rang on in me after the last word. I would totally read the rest of the novel that Bruce King's "Hookto: the Evil Entity" is an excerpt from. There was a shameless brutality to the language that got me interested. Finally, the exuberant mystical feminism of J.B. Joe's "Cement Woman" and Jovette Marchessault's "Song One: The Riverside" was good food for the every-hungry exuberant mystical feminist in me....more
"Sexually speaking, Indian women and men are simultaneously promiscuous and modest. That's a contradiction, but it also happens to be the truth."
That"Sexually speaking, Indian women and men are simultaneously promiscuous and modest. That's a contradiction, but it also happens to be the truth."
That true contradiction is a tidy way to sum up the style of this collection. Promiscuous and modest, tough and vulnerable, stoic and maudlin, elegant and clumsy, smart and naive. And by contradiction I'm talking extremes, no pansying moderation but full-on over-the-top ballsy commitment to both poles.
Maybe it's that contradiction which ties the whole collection together. Each story has its own separate tone, rhythm, and vocabulary, which delightfully seems to flow straight out of the respective main character. Still, reading through the stories, you have no doubt that they belong together. Of course, they're all about Indians in the Northwest, but there's a stylistic unity as well.
So much for style. As for content, I was just as hooked. The characters evoke my dream of homesick nostalgia for the West - rugged, isolated dreamers every one.
And funny! Really funny. Sad, not so much, for me at least. Touching, sure, but the sad parts were too exaggerated or maybe it's just that I can't get invested enough within one short story to empathize with the characters and weep a little. But I can definitely laugh.
Also, language. Even in my least favorite story The Sin Eaters (too much of that coldly sad stuff for me) certain phrases leapt out and shook me for no tangible reason. "Memory is a church on fire."
But mostly, looking back, funny. Even too funny, aggressively so, trying a little too hard maybe. Sometimes with writing like this I can just see the author at the circular table of his college writing class, his prof standing above him wagging his finger saying "active verbs!" But wit is wit, and Alexie has it.
"Listen, Mary Lynn had once said to Jeremiah, asking somebody why they fall in love is like asking somebody why they believe in God. You start asking questions like that, she had added, and you're either going to start a war or you're going to hear folk music." ...more
Explores the nature of personal identity through some good ol fashioned concept fracture. Think you know who you are, where you are, how you are? WellExplores the nature of personal identity through some good ol fashioned concept fracture. Think you know who you are, where you are, how you are? Well what if ....
Thanks for uprooting several dualists still lurking about in me, and letting them shrivel in the glare of the one gold sun.
I liked that, while a collection intended to provoke in a variety of ways, the reflections limited the whole. None of this wishywashy isn't that so INteresting crap; rather, this is right and that is wrong, and here is why ha ha. I especially liked their reflections on Searle (the knobs) and Nagel (what does it mean to make subject object Gödel Carroll my oh my).
Though I was disappointed because - in the first Borges essay, "Borges and I", I thought that the reflection was still a continuation of the essay, and a third character, Borges reflecting on himself in the style of a literary critic, had emerged! I was joyous! Sadly, no.
The functional systemic picture that emerges from the reflections and several selections is lovely - but again, as with all theories born of concept fracture, the whole point of the original concept in question is lost; what would a meaning mean? (Sprache muss sich selbst mitteilen!!!) At one level I'm mechanic, at another fleshy, at another conceptual, here through time, there through possibility, just as long as I'm ACTive I'm an I, sure I buy it. But it hangs on where you're standing and why you're speaking, and that far they do not go. Makes me wonder what they really want to know.
And why can't we just sit down and really talk about the nature of subjectivity as opposed to objectivity. Let's get it on the table, no OFF the table and into the kitchen! Let's bake it stir it spice it whatever, but just stop taking it for granted!...more