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This Tuesday [info]deadkytty9 and I ventured, finally, to  the Harry Ransom Center for their tour. That's right; I have been here for two years and have not yet really explored the HRC (though I did go to one of the reading rooms with my Romantic Lit class, where I got to breathe on Cassandra Austen's personal copy of Emma). The truth is I have been intimidated. It's a huge collection, and trying to figure out where to start and how to proceed gives me the fantods. Ridiculous, really; I'm going to pass up one of the best reasons to come to UT Austin just because I've got the Stendahl shakes? 

So, let me tell you what we saw just in the lobby and the gallery (disregarding the milliions of manuscripts and artifacts within the bowels of the collection): a Gutenberg Bible (illuminated with what looked to my undiscerning eye with blue Bic pen); the first photograph; an exhibition of Fritz Henle's photography; a hundred plus beautifully bound and beautifully illustrated copies of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat (which became a Victorian sensation upon its translation in 1859 by one Edward FitzGerald, and as you can imagine is treated with all the cultural sensitivity one can expect from that particular time period); and one of my favorite Frida Kahlo portraits, "Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird."

Evidence that we do more at UT than paint ourselves orange and pound the snot out of Sooners. Though we do that too.

 



It's odd to know how much stuff we have, and while I'm glad a lot of this material is in the hands of trained archivists in one of the most climate-controlled environments in the state of Texas, I do wonder if there are places and people that have firmer claims to these treasures. Still, collecting all these physical artifacts in one place makes good sense from a research perspective. The collection is fully open to memebers of the public, as well, which I find beautiful. You too, dear reader, can waltz into the building and read Tennessee Williams' first draft of A Streetcar Named Desire (spoiler alert: Blanche and Stanley run away together in this version. No joke.). You can walk into Earl Stanley Gardner's living room. You can read Carson McCullers' letters, Edith Wharton's letters, Henry James' letters, Paul Bowles' letters, and so on.  

Also if I ever have any degree of success as a writer the HRC is my retirement plan. Selectively, of course. The eight-grade Newsies fan-fiction and the blues song I composed for a grade-school project on Roald Dahl's BFG might not make the cut. 
 

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In Carlos Fuentes' Aura there's a scene in the middle of the book in which the second person narrator--so, "you,"--looks out the window and sees that "five, six, seven cats...are all twined together, all writhing in flames and giving off a dense smoke that reeks of burnt fur." And then you go back into the house and head down the hallway to fuck your boss's niece and the scene is never explained or referenced again. Well, that's magical realism for you.

This week, I think I edged closer to comprehending the complexities of gatos en fuego. I turned on my oven to roast some pecans. Suddenly, one of my foster kittens, Azuki, came bolting from behind the stove like the proverbial Chiroptera out of hell. I didn't even know there was a hidey-hole back there for him to get into. He was covered all over with a fine dusting of black stuff. "What did you get into?" I scolded. "Meow," he said.

When I brushed him off, I realized he hadn't gotten into something; the black stuff was the outer layer of fur burned to a crisp down his back. He had a slightly...sizzled odor.

So we all learned a valuable lesson. I now do headcounts when I turn on the oven, and Azuki, I suspect, will never venture near a stove again.
are you gonna eat me? )

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I'd never encountered the spirit--the story I mean--before. But in the past five months I've encountered her twice: once in Andre Breton's Nadja, once in A.S. Byatt's Possession. When I searched for her face I recognized it.
the fairy Melusina )

eulogies

Sep. 18th, 2008 09:51 am
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I won't cross-post all the beautiful eulogies I've read this week; if you're curious, Nick Mantias over at the Howling Fantods has a pretty complete page set up to keep up with the flood of them.

The one I've liked the most so far is Laura Miller's over at Salon. Miller did one of the better interviews with him post IJ back in 1996, asking what I felt were all the right questions (or at least some of the right questions; it's not a long enough interview to nail him down on all of them). Her eulogy this weekend touched for me on the essence of his work, the essential question of empathy and how difficult it is. She articulates a few things about his work that I've always argued, albeit much more poorly:

a few of Miller's quotes )
I have not yet been able to brave McSweeney's, which is currently posting memories from anyone who had contact with him. But I will say it was a comfort to see that Timothy McSweeney is as devastated and as lost as I feel. It really is bizarre psychic territory, to mourn a person I never met but who affected me so profoundly. What do you do to process a grief like that? Hodge thinks I need to write a eulogy myself, though he seems to have an inflated sense of my status as a Wallace fangirl (it does no good to tell him I am one of many; he thinks I might well be the archfan and thus have a responsibility to the internets to write something brilliant). But I'm not sure what I'd say that Miller hasn't said better, and I'm not sure I can eulogize right now anyway. I'm still doing the Kubler-Ross shuffle.

Anyway...thanks for all the patience and concern in the past week, I love you all. I am doing OK. I have mail for a few of you that has been deferred on account of me being a big old mess but hopefully it'll be on its way shortly.
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1. [profile] drawgirl is here. WOOT. Bring on the Mexican martinis.

2. New Janet Frame story--posthumous of course--in the New Yorker. It's incredible.

3. Muppet Show soundtrack on repeat in my vehicle.

4.
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It's a listing-related book meme, and we all know how I feel  about listing. And books. There are several on here I am coming out of the lit-hipster closet about. No, I've never read Catch 22. I have been planning to for a long time. Also it seems I fear and avoid Russian lit. Maybe I should remedy that.
These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded.

Bold the ones you've read,
underline the ones you read for school,
italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.
add * beside the ones you liked and would (or did) read again or recommend. Even if you read them for school in the first place.
Edit: on [profile] helpimarock's suggestions, books I'm most anxious to read but am quite interested in reading are in red.

The Aeneid
*
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay*
American Gods [I've heard it's good...but I love Gaiman the graphic novelist, not so much Gaiman the prose stylist, so I never got to it]
Anansi Boys
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir
Angels & Demons
Anna Karenina
Atlas Shrugged
Beloved*
The Blind Assassin
Brave New World
The Brothers Karamazov
The Canterbury Tales
The Catcher in the Rye
Catch-22
A Clockwork Orange
Cloud Atlas*
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Confusion
The Corrections*
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
Cryptonomicon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
David Copperfield
Don Quixote
Dracula
Dubliners*
Dune
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Emma*
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Fountainhead
Frankenstein*
Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
The God of Small Things*
The Grapes of Wrath
Gravity’s Rainbow
Great Expectations*
Gulliver’s Travels
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius* [I know, I know, people love him or hate him. I actually liked this book. Sue me.]
The Historian: a novel
The Hobbit*
The Hunchback of Notre Dame*
The Iliad*
In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences [Okay, yes, I know. I'm not sure how I haven't read this one yet. It's on the damn list.]
The Inferno*
Jane Eyre*
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell*
The Kite Runner
Les Misérables*
Life of Pi: a novel [I absolutely despised this book.]
Lolita************ [Absolutely one of my favorites. Because it's brilliant, not because it's dirty. Maybe also a little because it's dirty.]
Love in the Time of Cholera
Madame Bovary
Mansfield Park

Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlemarch
Middlesex
[It's on the list. I am pretty sure I'll love it when I get there.]
Mrs. Dalloway********************  [Transcendent. And I wouldn't use that word lightly.]
The Mists of Avalon
Moby Dick* [Okay, honestly, I'd probably skip the cetology stuff the second time through]
The Name of the Rose
Neverwhere [This book is one of several reasons I in fact did not read American Gods.]
1984
Northanger Abbey*
The Odyssey*
Oliver Twist*
The Once and Future King
One Hundred Years of Solitude*
On the Road
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*
Oryx and Crake
A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present
Persuasion
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Poisonwood Bible
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man*
Pride and Prejudice*
The Prince*
Quicksilver
Reading Lolita in Tehran
The Satanic Verses
The Scarlet Letter*
Sense and Sensibility*
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Silmarillion
Slaughterhouse-five [It's on my nightstand. Soon.]
The Sound and the Fury******************** [Faulkner's finest, and one of the most important books in my life]
A Tale of Two Cities
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Time Traveler’s Wife[profile]
To the Lighthouse
Treasure Island
The Three Musketeers

Ulysses*
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Vanity Fair
War and Peace

Watership Down*
White Teeth*
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
Wuthering Heights*
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
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Suddenly, in the middle of Powells, weighted down by the books in my basket, everything re-aligned itself and I was left to marvel at how much stress can make you forget yourself. Most the reading I'd been doing in the previous months, since the upheaval and uprooting and reschooling, had served the absolutely linked functions of survival and distraction. The fiction had impacted thinly, the reading a function of habit more than devotion. Which was not to say the reading had been poor, or wasted; but I was suddenly recalled to the bottomless passions the best fiction opened to me when I was awake enough to let it.

Yes I know this is overwrought. I'm reading Ann Radcliffe right now. Cut me some slack.
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All morning long I've been wandering around singing the Lucky Charms jingle, except I've been singing: "They're magically realistic!" It just pops into my head and I can't help myself. It's long ceased to be funny but I can't stop. I wish I knew photoshop, I'd create a cereal box. Garcia Marquez dressed like a leprechaun?

I'm gearing up for school by re-reading Heart of Darkness. I still remember reading it in high school; my English teacher assigned it right after Pride and Prejudice. She said that she liked to put the girly book and the masculine sea-exploits back to back. As it turned out, most the boys were relatively uninterested in Marlow's adventure. Me and my friend Shy both went wild over it, loved it at least as much as we'd loved Austin (we were more or less doomed to life in the English departments of our respective future colleges at that point). The richness of Conrad's language, the descriptive poetry, the sadness and resignation over the moral incompetence of colonialism, the relish for absurdity. And he didn't even know English until he was fully grown. It's craziness.

Anyway, this time around it can't help but make me think of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (yes, Manque Man, I finally go to it!). The implicit critique of imperialism and consumption, the saga of power disparities weaving through out the different narratives of Mitchell...it feels sort of like Heart of Darkness is in some ways the spiritual inspiration for Mitchell's work (though you could probably say that just as easily of Melville). And then on top of that, the depths in both writers' respective projects: the fact that neither Conrad, nor Mitchell, is writing a book about one given "issue," but rather is writing within a scope of human behaviors. Conrad's not writing to get the British out of Africa necessarily, he's writing to explore some of the unexpected danger and moral murkiness that surfaces when one group conquers another. And of course Mitchell doesn't even keep himself to one setting, but skyrockets across a whole pattern of experiences.

Is this post getting pretentious? Then let me confess I went to Stardust the other night and had a great time. It's one of those movies like Ever After: if someone asked me about quality I'd have to sort of scuff my feet, but if someone asked me about fluffy adolescent enjoyment factor, well hot damn I can get behind that. I sort of missed the stripped-down quality of the Gaiman/Vess version, but there was enough to like to keep me happy (three words: gay air pirates. Okay, De Niro is terrible in drag, but in the context of such a light movie it was all very sweet).

And now I'm off to defer my student loans. Can this day get any better?
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...is making the rounds again! [personal profile] decemberthirty was kind enough to throw the interview questions my way this time.

And here we go!



All right: the meme propagates, as ever, when anyone who is interested asks me to ask you five questions. I'll do so, and you post the answers (and the same offer I just made) in your own blog. Cheers!     
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I've been struggling to write something that will do justice to Richard Powers' incredibly complex novel The Echo Maker. Plotwise, the story is relatively simple; Mark Schluter, a twenty-something slacker from a small town in Nebraska, flips his truck in an accident on an icy stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. His older sister Karin, after years of trying to escape her roots, is brought back to care for him. But Mark, his brain damaged from the accident, displays symptoms of a rare syndrome known as Capgras; he believes that his sister has been replaced by a doppelganger or government spy.

The story is at heart a mystery. The Schluters try desperately to piece together what happened on the night of Mark's accident, aided only by an enigmatic note left by Mark's bedside at the hospital. The mystery of the accident, though, is enclosed in a wider mystery: the mystery of consciousness, understanding, self. To that end Karin Schluter calls in a medical expert, Dr. Gerald Weber, a neurologist and writer who ends up facing his own identity crisis after being faced with Mark's.

Powers' prose is dense and rich, and in some ways he writes like a modernist; there is the same interest in the fractured self, the same homage to the complexity of consciousness, the same intricate wordplay. If Woolf or Faulkner had a background in neurology, they might have explored territory similar to this. And then too there's the indelible touch of Hardy on the novel, the landscape-as-character, the way lives are determined as much by geography as by chemicals and hormones and genetics.

Neurology, anthropology, zoology, psychology--there's a lot of heavy intellectual lifting in this book. Powers sifts his simple story through the scientific advances and ecological disasters of the last few decades. What you get is a narrative as knotty and variegated as mind itself.

Some readers will be turned off by what will no doubt be called excesses, or by the labyrithine writing. It took me nearly three weeks to finish, but I was dazzled. If you are a reader who not only tolerates complexity but craves it, you are Powers' target audience. Challenge yourself to read this book.
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Children are Civilians Too is a collection of Heinrich Böll's earliest short stories, set either during or after the second World War. On the back of my copy is a quote from Joseph Heller: “ Böll combines mammoth intelligence with a literary outlook that is masterful and unique.” The quote itself is bland, but the connection between Heller and Böll is an interesting one. More than anything, what links the two men is a profound understanding of not just the horror and misery of war, but of its fundamental absurdities.

Böll is at his best when detailing the struggles of civilians after the war is over. There's a lyrical simplicity to the best of these stories that steers away from the obvious pain and pathos available at every turn when describing a people ravaged by war. Rather,  Böll steps away from that pathos and towards the simple fact of making-do that occupies his characters. Amongst the strongest in the collection is “The Man With the Knives,” about a man whose friend makes a living during a knife show: “Perhaps one of them, just one, will go home and not forget me. 'That man with the knife, for Christ's sake, he wasn't scared, and I'm scared all the time, for Christ's sake,' maybe that's what he'll say because they're all scared, all the time. They trail their fear behind them like a heavy shadow, and it makes me happy if they can forget about it and laugh a little.” And of course, by the end of the story, the protagonist is in the show, knives flying at his head: without fear for just one moment. In another story a man takes a job counting people crossing a bridge, for the statisticians, but he sabotages his numbers by refusing to count a beautiful young woman every day, a tiny rebellion against numbers and commodification. And in the story “Black Sheep,” a man fulfills his destiny as a useless slacker, one of the few people in the family not bent to mindless productivity.  Everywhere amongst people with dreary, painful jobs and lives, there are tiny moments of beauty, strength, and humanity.

Other stories describe soldiers killing boredom with drunken meanderings, men dying in ditches and tiny shacks, men tucked away in prison camps. One incredible story, “Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We...” depicts a man brought to a high school that's been converted to a wartime surgery, and too late recognizing it as the high school he departed only months earlier as the doctors remove his leg.

By and large the stories are beautiful, and felt timely, given the constant news of a far-off war we don't always see the fall-out of. There are a few places where  Böll's careful tone slips towards the sentimental, particularly in a few of the war stories; that said, erring on the side of pathos over detachment feels the right literary choice in a book about eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds losing their lives to the hubris and foolishness of their elders. To anyone interested in an intellectual and yet touching account of man at war, I certainly recommend this particular book.
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Sometimes it feels as though family dramas are so ubiquitous as to be impossible. With family life and its dysfunctions and failures and disappointments chronicled so frequently, it's inevitable that certain tropes sink into the morass of cliché and bland haven't-we-been-this-way-before recycling. This isn't to say there aren't splendid examples—no one wrote the humorous tragedy of the family quite like Raymond Carver, for example, and of course writers like Jonathon Franzen and Charles Baxter write the family with an attention to detail which makes them stand out. But sometimes it seems there's a sea of bland domestic novels to wade through before finding one that glints.

Like Never Before is a novel-in-stories by Ehud Havazelet, each tale of the collection a singular story but all of them pivoting around the Birnbaum family (and specifically, David Birnbaum, a man we see across three decades). If there's an epicenter to the tales, it lies in the strained relations between David and his father, and the way David struggles beneath the weight of family history. David, over the course of his life, rejects the Orthodox Judaism of his father (a Holocaust survivor) and grandfather (a rabbi) out of little more than a willful desire to throw off the expectations of his family, and out of a child's desire to hurt his temperamental and sometimes abusive father. Of course denying your roots is never so easy. 

Havazelet's prose is graceful in the extreme, inventive and beautiful. Even better, in spite of the bleak subject matter--pain and dysfunction and the Holocaust--the novel doesn't get dragged down by bathos or pathos either one. The stories are about life, and they are lively. They are about the failures of family, but there's also tiny vivid successes, human beings finding some part of love, finding ways to get by. They're also funny, with a great sense of the little absurdities that mark our path through pain. 

One of my favorite aspects of the work are the incredibly deft endings to the stories. There's never the pat "epiphany" that passes for closure in a lot of contemporary short fiction; instead he leaves us with complicated and nuanced moments of connection or convergence. Some of the pieces are astonishingly good on their own merit; "The Street You Live On" and "Leah" were simply breathtaking tales. Put all together, they make a detail-rich and deeply touching picture of a the old world casting its seed into the new.

If you liked The Corrections or The Ice Storm, or are looking for a very satisfying and literate domestic novel, I highly recommend this one.
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Deborah Eisenberg was one of the writers I tried most fervently to emulate when I was younger. When I was eighteen I read an article in Harpers' by Francine Prose, about the set of expectations readers bring to female writers of fiction. Prose mentioned a number of contemporary women who write savage, intelligent, complex fiction (as opposed to the aching domestic novels that Prose claims many people think of when the phrase "woman writer" enters a conversation). Two of those writers, Mary Gaitskill and Deborah Eisenberg, have been incredibly important to me over the years in different ways.

My emulations were pretty feeble, honestly. This is because Eisenberg writes some of the most complicated short stories I have ever read. They're long, they're densely layered, and plot typically fades into the background of something more nuanced. One of the blurbs on the back of her newest book, Twilight of the Superheroes, says this: "Ms. Eisenberg writes big, risky, quick but thickly textured fiction that has the energy, breadth, and social imagination we associate with large seriocomic novels." A pompous way to say it, but it's true. Her short fiction is as ambitious, as rich, as, say, Franzen's Corrections or Moody's Ice Storm. In my opinion, this is absolutely no exaggeration.

Her stories don't work the same way most short stories do; for one thing they're incredibly long, some almost sixty pages. This means you can't consider the story a flirtation, a brief affair. Most short stories are appealing because you can read them in a sitting, while waiting for the bus or on a lunch break or what have you. You really have to clear your schedule for Eisenberg's (and it's worth it). There's never some easy to swallow "epiphany" at the end; the fiction is much more interested in experience than some kind of moral lesson or unveiling or pat bow-tied ending. The stories in Twilight of the Superheroes come from different angles: one charts the internal territory of a man whose love for his schizophrenic sister contorts his feelings about family in general. In another, a group of young New Yorkers are about to lose their sublet (an extravagent penthouse that, only a few years earlier, became an image of hell looming directly over the Twin Towers). The story explores the diminishments of maturity, the struggle of youth meeting a world that doesn't match expectations. In "Window," a young woman recalls her intense relationship with a gun-peddler who lived in a cabin, both the intense glittering highs of their relationship, and the brutal culmination.

Describing the subject matter seems to deny her work justice. At heart, what works in an Eisenberg story is the way the internal world collides with the external. It's sometimes funny and sometimes horrible and sometimes very sad. Innocents are abroad in her stories, and not-so-innocents as well. We don't watch her characters or follow them so much as sink directly into them, like it or not.

She's a hard damn person to do a brief critique on. If you're a fan of Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, or Jennifer Egan, some of the same things that I love in all those writers are things I love here. But then too there's something just intensely specific about Eisenberg, some idiosyncracy that's hard to touch upon but that makes her fiction incandescent.
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By the time Suzan-Lori Parks even sat down to write Getting Mother's Body, her very first novel, she'd already won the Pulitzer and a handful of Obies for her playwriting. What a bitch.

No, not really.
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Last night I went to a lecture by Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright and author of the novel Getting Mother's Body. It wasn't a very formal lecture--she mostly talked about her creative processes--but it was fun. She was incredibly kind and funny and generous and real, and I bet you anything she's a kickass teacher.

The thing she said that stayed with me the most was something she said she learned from James Baldwin, whom she studied with at Mount Holyoke. She said the thing she learned that was the most important was how to behave in the presence of the spirit. That you treat the spirit like you treat an honored guest, invite it in and offer it something to drink. You treat it like a lover, with gentleness and appreciation. That you treat it like a volcano, as a thing unpredictable and mighty. That you don't question the form it picks--that however ludicrous or banal or whatever you shut up and listen to what it's doing. I'm paraphrasing a lot here. But essentially, what she was saying was that you have to entertain all your most far-out ideas, that you can't dismiss any of those voices that come to you. Or that you shouldn't.

This is something I've learned from writers like Haruki Murakami or Aimee Bender or David Foster Wallace or Mary Gaitskill. The idea that you tell the story that's living the most vividly on the inside of your eyelids, and don't worry about who is going to care about urban fetishists or junkies or child tennis prodigies or who is going to believe in a thing like a cat flute or a boy with a pumpkin for a head. Your job isn't to worry about that, at least not on the first go-round. Your job is to shut the fuck up, and listen to the spirit. You can worry about the people who will be listening to you later.

So tell me: how do you entertain the spirit? How do you all invite it in, with a welcome mat or a red light outside your door or with a big open house barbecue? Let's drop the metaphor. When do you feel most in sync with your creative selves? How do you get to that place where you feel like this is really, really happening?
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Last year I stumbled on some episode of BBC's Masterpiece Theater on PBS at three in the morning. It was during the last panic attack I had, one of the ones that wake me up. I used to get them all the time but they've slowed down to about one or two a year now. I know when they happen that I just have to get up and do something, and so I went to the front room and started flipping through channels trying desperately to find something besides an infomercial.

Lo and behold, here's this period costume drama. I watch for a while, trying to figure out what it is, thinking I know the standard Victorian fare. It has Bill Nighy in it, who is awesome, and the plot is really fascinating, sort of high and low all at once. Lots of scandal and gossip but also some serious Shakespearean jealousy and weird class consciousness and women's rights issues. I was so entranced I forgot how shitty I was feeling, but I could not figure out for the life of me what the book was. I finally had to look it up online: He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope. I'd never heard of it.

I ordered it on Amazon the next day. But it's taken almost a year for me to get around to reading it.

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There are two, maybe three of you tops who might care, but if anyone is into David Foster Wallace (or wants some insight into the nature of my psychotic bug-eyed obsession with said writer), Dave Eggers' introduction to the 10th anniversary edition of Infinite Jest is available here (as reprinted in the LA Weekly). I initially scoffed at the idea of Eggers introducing Wallace, but it's a quite nice introduction and pretty well expresses some of the things that are dazzling about IJ. 

I've been so grouchy lately, it's a good time to put up something I'm excited about. 

In a related note, I used chapter three from my undergraduate thesis for my critical writing sample in my applications (it's on skepticism, faith, and empathy in Infinite Jest). Upon re-reading it I realized it has everything, everything to do with "The Butterfly Mask," which is the piece of fiction I'm proudest of having written. It's probably not the most academically sound thesis in the world, in large part because it concerns itself with compassion in fiction and that's not a terribly hip subject academically speaking, but it has everything to do with what I want to write. It was good to re-read it. It made me realize that my thesis was not the failure I thought it was, but was rather just...not right for academia. Well, onwards.

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One of the earliest compulsive habits I can remember is my Book Stack. Every time we went to the library, I’d come home with twenty or so books. I would then spend the next few hours of my life executing an elaborate ritual to decide the order the books had to be read in. It involved multiple rounds of “Eenie Meenie Meinie Moe” eliminations, supplemented by a baroque series of rules. This used to drive my mother up the fucking wall. I’d come in all upset out that I had to read three less exciting books before I could get to my Lloyd Alexander or Roald Dahl, and she’d be like, “Why don’t you just read what you want?” She always sounded a little more hysterical asking this; she was afraid she was going to have to take her eight-year-old to a shrink for OCD. I can’t blame her. My response to her question was usually “Because of the Book Stack! The Book Stack, Mom!”  If the Book Stack got knocked over or mixed-up by accident, it was devastating, like this profound dread down in the pit of my stomach. My mom was probably…probably a little bit right about me, actually.

In any case, I weaned myself off the Book Stack by the time I got to junior high. Something about reading in a more analytical way took the place of my creepy ordering compulsion.

These days I have a nerdy little booklist I keep (which, it seems, isn’t as nerdy a booklist as I thought, because fully three-quarters of my lj friends have similar nerdy little booklists, and by the way I love you people). Mostly I keep the list because when I graduated Reed I was overdisciplined and didn’t know what to do with myself—it was hard to read something and not want to write a paper or babble at someone. Setting up my little “reading goals” list helps me find new books and keeps me reading diverse things, and also fulfills my crazy little messed up OCD thing. I usually decide on a "challenge" book once a year (this year it was Moby-Dick, so mission accomplished), and then I make a little spreadsheet with a number of slots in each category. Look, at least I don't have tissue boxes on my feet, okay?

In any case, here is "Book Stack 2006." Things that I've reviewed or talked about are linked, for anyone burning to know my opinion.



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