Call it readerly superstition, call it a far-too-strong awareness of my own psychological climate—but all these years, I stayed away from The Bell Jar because I was certain: I was Esther Greenwood.
(And once I closed the book, I consulted the little gauge in my soul. There was that 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.)
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. [READ MORE]
There’s been a lot of hullaballo over the short story lately, and what’s a girl to do but raise her head from whatever book she’s reading and jump into the fray?
Two weekends ago, I donned a frilly pink dress and put a ton of product on my dandelion hair—P., meanwhile, shook off the dust from his barong—for a friend’s wedding. Characteristically, we were late for the ceremony itself; the surprise: we were too early for the reception. And so, on a whim that began with a sheepish suggestion and ever-widening grins, P. and I trudged our way along roughly the length of Roxas Boulevard, in and out side streets, giggling the curious stares of people we passed by—and went into a secondhand bookstore. Later, we snuck out of the wedding and caught another secondhand bookstore, much farther, that was about to close for the night. Note that this was a day after we’d done pretty much the same thing in another part of the city, sans wedding wear that time around. It was a blissful weekend, beeping work phone notwithstanding. It was one of the best weekends—I was exhausted, and it was because of good people, books, and the kind of love that makes you glad your heart can ache.
That is: BOOKS I BOUGHT THIS MONTH.
The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of others?
She laid the book down open beside a few others. She wanted to think, to let it await her. She would go back to it, read again, read on, bathe in the richness of its plates.
An astonishingly beautiful quote about reading—although only the first line applies to my experience with the book whence it came. Yes: I have given up on James Salter’s Light Years, after a too-long struggle. Finally, Sasha. Finally.
Among those in the Currently Reading pile:
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.
From Richard Ford’s introduction to Light Years by James Salter:
Light Years is full of ideas, strategies, cravings after belief that don’t work out well. The novel’s representative institutions, those hold-overs from another era and stand-ins for belief and ideas—the professions, matrimony, trust in history, travel, material accouterments—all turn into one or another fool’s paradise. And yet Light Years is a novel savingly, which derives moral strength from its own etiquettes—from form, structure, cadence, diction, imagery—and deems language itself, words used imaginatively, adequate to stand for a version of goodness.
Ford, you have a serious case of lit-boner for Salter. [Did you get that, world? The way Salter wields the English language is “adequate to stand for a version of goodness.” Throw out fluffy widdle puppies and baby pandas, everybody: Salter’s prose is on the case.]
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?
- In which I set Proust aside & tell Franzen to stop trying to distract me with ducks, dammit. [Above, this past week’s train reading.]
From Why We Build by Rowan Moore:
A building is not a sentence, which in principle has the ability to match and express a thought closely. It is not linear, like language. Compared to the fluidity of words, a building is atrociously clumsy, but it can be lived and inhabited as books cannot be. [x]
When I was a child, I read this kid’s encyclopedia that talked about how the sun would burn itself up, how all life would suffer as a consequence, how everything would subsequently perish. “In a billion years” was not a consolation. I carried that knowledge inside me for so long, and I couldn’t tell anyone because they were supposed to already know.
So. Since I last checked in, I’ve finished reading Gone Girl, as the mysterious river of snot that’s taken up permanent residence in my noggin had me skipping work today. That is: Gone Girl was my nanny-abductor, the kind of you’re-locked-to-me presence that kept promising that it’ll all be better soon, darling dearest—besides, wasn’t it the best company anyway? That is: I write this having uncurled myself from the fetal position I’d frozen into—thanks, Gillian Flynn: I hardly know what hit me.
It takes a while, I’ve learned, to reclaim the rhythms of your reading life after it having been atrophied for so long—more so, infuriatingly enough, to maintain those rhythms. In desperation, you return to the kind of books you’re confident are yours, written with you in mind as the ideal reader. A desperation because, well, consider the existential crisis: After months of erratic reading—of rarely being able to immerse yourself in a book as you used to (and with an alarming yet deeply rewarding frequency)—I wondered what it was I really liked to read, and if it would be so easy to slip into them once again.
I write about Lily Tuck’s affirming [sorry, I had to] slip of a novel, I Married You for Happiness—and basically continue my announcements-into-the-ether of how hungry for a reading life—for an inner life—I have been this year.
SOME OF MY READING PLANS, aka: THE FUTILE RAMBLE:
And so I plod on with my own little ambitions—to amass as much of the dead-people-literature 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 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. [x]