*This was posted on my now defunct Tumblr in 2016
I read/reread more books in the past 14 months than any other 14-month period of my life. This post is partly inspired by Blake Butler’s “all the books I read” lists. Thank you Blake.
I read around half of these as ebooks via Kindle app on my iPhone and highlighted parts while reading. There is a site where I can view everything I’ve highlighted chronologically; most excerpts on this list are copy-pasted from there to here, and are chronological for each book. This list is also chronological.
I enjoyed all these books. There were books I stopped reading and don’t plan on finishing that aren’t on this list.
I wrote more about some books than others. This is partly arbitrary. I don’t have most of these books with me (I’m in Taiwan currently) to peruse. I don’t remember the content or tone of some of these books. I feel able to write 100, 1000, 5000, or [any number] words of appreciation, criticism, analysis, interpretation, comparison with other things, summary, shittalking, generalizations, condemnation, or [anything] about [anything], and I feel I could work on this list for weeks or months, so I decided to post whatever I’ve written by December 31, working on it mostly at random, scrolling through and typing and editing.
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this quote by Arthur Schopenhauer: “Treat a work of art like a prince: let it speak to you first.” I like this idea and try to engage with books in this manner. Part of my internal monologue most of the time while reading is a constant stream of earnest and playful shittalking against the author and their book. The easiest thing for me to write might be harshly negative or dismissive reviews of everything I encountered. I like the challenge of going against this. I like the feeling of originality — and the feeling of being less mindless — that I experience while going against this deliberately.
I have also worked on this list from the perspective of a worldview suggesting “there is no good or bad in art”. Therefore I have refrained from words like “great”, “best”, etc. These words make authors feel good and important, or bad and useless, which makes editors and publishers feel good, important, bad, or useless. It seems to me like an egregious distraction from art. Greatness and ranking makes sense in sports, where individuals are linked to numbers that are lower or higher than others’ numbers, and where teams objectively win or lose in direct competition based on agreed-upon rules, but not in art it seems to me. I wrote about this in 2009 for Poetry Foundation. (I didn’t write the title or subtitle for that piece and feel aversion to them.) I feel like I can never discuss and contemplate this enough, partly because almost everything I encounter in the world — especially, it seems, in the literary world that I’ve been exposed to in the past 10 years — uses language that ranks art and judges art in terms of good/bad. (People have said to me that when someone says “This novel is great” or “This book is the best” everyone is supposed to obviously assume that they mean “I think this novel is great” or “This book is the best to me out of what I’ve read” but, from what I’ve experienced of language, I don’t think that thinking and conveying “This novel is great” has the same effect on oneself and on the world — and on the people around you — as thinking and conveying “I like this novel” or something else that acknowledges that one is not omniscient and that one is not the final, only judge on all art.) I anticipate sometimes talking about the idea that “there is no good or bad in art” — reminding myself and further immersing myself in this idea and its implications — while encountering the opposite idea daily and heavily in the world for the rest of my life.
If the font is too small push “command” and “+” at the same time. I’m having problems with font size on my site. Thank you for your time.
BOOKS I READ OR REREAD FROM NOVEMBER 22, 2014 TO JANUARY 1, 2016
I read the following 25 nonfiction books while in Taiwan last year from November 22 to January 16. I am writing about what I learned from these in my next novel which is titled Leave Society. (I typed a little about things mentioned in these and other books here.)
- Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe (2014) by Helen Caldicott (editor)
- Fukushima Meltdown & Modern Radiation (2011) by John Apsley and Suzanne Carroll
- Radiation Protective Foods (2012) by Sara Shannon
- Radiation Detox (2004) by William Bodri (available online here)
- Cure Tooth Decay (2010) by Ramiel Nagel
- Nutrition & Physical Degeneration (1939) by Weston A. Price
- Nourishing Traditions (2000) by Sally Fallon
- Enzyme Nutrition (1985) by Edward Howell
- Food Enzymes for Health & Longevity (1994) by Edward Howell
- The Enzyme Factor (2007) by Hiromi Shinya
- Enzymes: The Key to Health, Vol. 1 (2005) by Howard Loomis
- Enzymes: The Missing Link to Health (2013) by Susan M. Lark
- Depression: The Mechanical Cause (2014) by John Bergman
- Wild Fermentation (2003) by Sandor Ellix Katz
- Thyroid & Enzyme Nutrition (2012) by Lita Lee
- Longevity Now (2013) by David Wolfe
- The Biology of Belief (2005) by Bruce Lipton
- The Art of Fermentation (2012) by Sandor Ellix Katz
- Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox (2012) by Kate Rheaume-Bleue
- Good Germs, Bad Germs (2007) by Jessica Snyder Sachs
- An Epidemic of Absence (2012) by Moises Velasquez-Manoff
- Missing Microbes (2014) by Martin Blaser
- Bugs, Bowels, and Behavior (2013) by [various]
- The Symbiont Factor (2014) by Richard Matthews
- What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About(TM): Parkinson’s Disease: A Holistic Program for Optimal Wellness (2003) by Mary J. Shomon, Jill Marjama-Lyons
Below are the other books I read, reread, or started reading and haven’t finished yet — but plan on finishing in the future — from November 22, 2014 to January 1, 2016.
Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular (1977) by Rust L. Hills I reread this for my short story class at Sarah Lawrence College. I first read it when I was 20 or 21. I liked it because it seemed to not offer rules, but instead Rust L. Hills seemed interested in examining already published writing and observing tendencies and offering his thoughts — in a conversational, nonauthoritative manner — on various words like plot, motivation, scene, setting, style. I decided not to use this in my class, I think because even though it offered less rules than I expected from a writing manual, it introduced too many terms, instead of focusing on specifics, for my class.
At the end of the book is a 6-page piece in which Rust L. Hills relates what it’s like for him to write. I enjoyed this and I think I passed out copies of it to my class. It contains lines like “Forcing myself to put the words on paper helps not at all: insights become platitudes as phrased when writing under self-imposed duress. You see?!” and “But sometimes it seems easier just to feel really terrible.” and “At 10:15, begin going good. At 10:30, pause exhausted.” and “It’s 10:45, pause a minute. Exhausted.” The last line of the personal essay and the book is “And all afternoon and evening, I feel really terrible.”
Joy Williams has a essay titled “The Case Against Babies”. For more reasons not to have babies, or to have less babies, here is Terence McKenna on what the mushroom told him when he asked it how to save the world.
LSD and the Divine Scientist (2013) by Albert Hofmann
The Girl with Brown Hair (2011) by Stacey Levine Started reading this — but didn’t finish yet because I left it in Taiwan where I am at again now and so am going to finish it while here, a year later — in part for my short story class. This book contains 28 stories. My favorite so far is “The Tree” which you can read here. I recommend Stacey Levine’s novel Frances Johnson (2005).
On Love and Barley (1985) by Basho Haiku by Basho. I read this in a bathtub.
Another haiku? Yet more cherry blossoms — not my face.
Related: I recommend 14 haiku by Willis Plummer.
Wide Eyed (2005) by Trinie Dalton I reread Wide Eyed for my short story class. One of my favorite stories in it is “Bienvenido El Duende” which can be read here. This book is part of Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series published by Akashic.
Color of Darkness (1957) by James Purdy I reread Color of Darkness for my short story class. There are many stories in this collection that I like enough to reread occasionally. In class we discussed “Color of Darkness” (the collection’s first story in which a man, his son, and their servant do mundane things in a house and it’s comically bleak in a sometimes zany, to me, manner) and “Cutting Edge” (a story about a person who returns home to his parents with a huge beard, which does not go unnoticed).
Surrounded by Friends (2015) by Matthew Rohrer Matthew Rohrer’s sixth full-length poetry-collection. I enjoy contemplating each of Rohrer’s collections while reading them and, just by looking at their titles, while not reading them. His titles invoke his books’ contents and tone in a manner that is vivid and satisfying to me. One may read MK ULTRA, a nine-page poem from A Green Light (2004) here. Matthew said MK ULTRA was put together from lines “written during semi-serious mushroom use”. I learned this — he told me in an email — in 2013. When I first read MK ULTRA in 2004 I knew nothing about magic mushrooms or psilocybin. I recommend learning about Project MKUltra.
- Surrounded by Friends (2015)
- Destroyer and Preserver (2011)
- Rise Up (2007)
- A Green Light (2004)
- Satellite (2001)
- A Hummock in the Malookas (1995)
Minor Robberies (2007) by Deb Olin Unferth I reread Minor Robberies as research/preparation for my short story class. It has already been one of my favorite story-collections, and I liked it more this time than previous times. I appreciated things I didn’t notice or care about before, and the prose felt very chiseled and unusual in an even more striking way now, maybe after reading many other writers and getting used to looser prose. Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme (2009) by Tracy Daugherty
Gamelife (2015) by Michael W. Clune I unretired from blurbing to blurb Gamelife, a memoir. I was asked if I’d blurb it after I had already read it without thinking I’d be blurbing it. After reading it I emailed Michael:
I highly enjoyed Gamelife, thank you for sending me a galley. I found it beautiful and moving. I liked the depictions of middle school and of playing computer games. I wanted to read another book by you just talking about every computer game you’d ever played. The last 50 pages or so were intense and vivid. For a lot of the imagery and setting I automatically imagined my own middle school, it was like you were describing my school but there was also no dissonance, I imagined your characters in my middle school. In my middle school, kids would grab other kids’ meat and say ‘beef’.
I feel okay with my blurb which is after this paragraph. In the past I have called books “very funny” or “very moving” instead of “funny” or “moving” and it has disturbed my ability to accurately think about and convey my feelings to some, tiny degree. Blurbs pressure me to be hyperbolic because I don’t want to disappoint the author or the editor or the publisher, and because most blurbs, in my view, are hyperbolic, and to write in the blurb form is to have to deal with this aspect of blurbing.
I highly enjoyed Gamelife — a beautiful, delightful, surreal, moving, intellectually shocking, vivid, and thrilling book about numbers and death, magic and despair, dimensions and middle school.
I wanted to avoid the adjective “brilliant” because I feel annoyed by it due to (1) its low level of meaning, in my view, when applied nonliterally to a book (2) its widespread usage, from what I’ve been exposed to, in book reviews and blurbs, as a kind of synonym for “great” which I also feel annoyed by. But I used the adjective “beautiful” which also has a low level of meaning, in my view, when applied to a book. If I were forced to remove one word and one punctuation mark from the above blurb, I would remove “beautiful,”. If I were forced to remove another word I might remove “highly” (not because I enjoyed it less than I previous thought, but because I’ve enjoyed many books as much as Gamelife and I don’t want to put “highly enjoyed” for all of them but would rather leave that adverb position open for other words like “hungrily” or “intensely” or “leisurely”) but then the blurb, the first three words of it — “I enjoyed Gamelife” — would, in the context of a blurb, seem almost kind of grim, I feel.
I dislike blurbing. When I am reading a book, knowing I’m going to blurb it, I’m constantly thinking about the blurb while reading. I don’t like this. I don’t want to ask anyone for blurbs anymore, and I don’t want to blurb anymore. I can still blurb by writing about a book somewhere, like in this post, and then having the author quote me, if desired. But I think that what I normally say, when not pressured by outside forces, is not especially helpful in selling books, at least when quoted in 1 or 2 sentences on the fronts or backs of books. I normally don’t speak or write in blurbs. I try to refrain from immediately comparing books or authors that I read to other books and authors that are more famous, for example. I’m officially retired from blurbing (please retweet).
Blood and Soap (2004) by Linh Dinh Linh Dinh’s editor mailed me a manuscript of Love Like Hate (2010), Dinh’s first novel, to blurb in 2009 I think, and I never read any of it. I think I still have it in my room. (There is also a chance, 30–50%, that I disposed it at some point.) I had read 1 or 2 Linh Dinh’s stories and enjoyed them — sometimes, over the years, seeing one of his books in St. Mark’s Book Shop, I would acknowledge that I was interested but not motivated enough yet to read more.
On some level, partly because I had never mentioned Dinh anywhere and he had never mentioned my writing anywhere to my knowledge, I interpreted me being mailed his novel to blurb as me being viewed as likely to support Dinh’s book because Dinh was born in Vietnam and my parents were born in Taiwan. After reading Blood and Soap, I don’t think the things I thought in this paragraph anymore. I can imagine Dinh enjoying my writing, and I can imagine an editor thinking I might enjoy Dinh’s writing enough to blurb his first novel.
I enjoyed Blood and Soap — a collection of stories — as research/preparation for my Sarah Lawrence College class on short stories. There were 3–4 stories in it that stimulated and moved and excited me to a degree that I wanted to share and discuss with the class. I finally decided on a story titled “!”. Women (2014) by Chloe Caldwell I read this beginning to end without stopping. I enjoy books in which people write about their relationships and their life and their writing. I enjoy books in which people write about their experiences writing about their relationships and their life and their writing. I want to write more about this book but don’t have it with me to re-immerse myself in it and quote from it.
When I spent a day with Chloe, Elizabeth Ellen, and Chelsea Martin a few months ago, I kept insisting that Angelica Kitchen didn’t serve alcohol. (I worked there in 2008.) Chloe said they did serve alcohol, because she remembered drinking wine there, then seeing the David Foster Wallace movie at a theatre across the street. Even after Chloe said this I kept insisting they didn’t serve alcohol, they were BYOB with a corking fee. Later we went to Angelica Kitchen. They did, it turned out, serve alcohol, they had added it. I planned to apologize to Chloe for disrupting her memory — and to say that hopefully, by disrupting it in this manner and then revisiting it in email, the memory was ultimately strengthened in its original, truer form — the next week when we were going on book tour, but then later I realized she wasn’t going on the book tour with Mira and I and other people. I’ve been planning to email her apologizing and saying what I said above but haven’t yet. Instead now I’ve typed this here.
Strange Weather in Tokyo (2013) by Hiromi Kawakami A novel about a young woman and an old man who get drunk a lot and get into a relationship. A friend in the UK recommended this to me in an email.
Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty (2012) by Diane Williams I read this for my short story class. Previously I had not read a complete Diane Williams collection beginning to end, only isolated stories.
NOON 15 (2014) by Diane Williams (editor) My favorite stories from this issue of NOON were by James Yeh — his stories “Good” and “Nice House, Nice Car, Nice Children, Nice Clothes”. James Yeh edits Gigantic Magazine and currently works for Vice. I bought copies of this issue for people in my short story class and we read and discussed around half the issue and they seemed interested and stimulated.
The contents of this issue may be viewed here. NOON is my favorite literary magazine. It’s published annually. I look forward to reading it each year. NOON frequently publishes many of my favorite writers: Deb Olin Unferth, Rebecca Curtis, Clancy Martin, Lydia Davis, Here is Rebecca Curtis’ story from the first NOON (2000).
I’ve been published three times in NOON. I like Diane Williams’ editing style of deleting large portions of my submissions, and moving certain sentences around a little, but not doing anything to the sentences themselves and not saying anything about what I’ve written or offering general suggestions. Editing by silently deleting. The things NOON published by me were excerpts from Richard Yates while I was still writing Richard Yates, and, to some degree, I tried to make the entire book as edited-down as Diane Williams edited down my submissions; by submitting to NOON, and seeing how satisfyingly concise the excerpts could be, my standards for tightness increased for the entire novel.
Break It Down (1986) by Lydia Davis Reread this for my short story class. I have many favorite stories from this book, Lydia Davis’ first full-length book, published when she was 39 or 40, including “The Fears of Mrs. Orlando” and “Break It Down” and “The Fish” — whose first sentences are
- “Mrs. Orlando’s world is a dark one.”
- “He’s sitting there staring at a piece of paper in front of him.”
- “She stands over a fish, thinking about certain irrevocable mistakes she has made today.”
— and “Therapy” whose first paragraph is “I moved into the city just before Christmas. I was alone, and this was a new thing for me. Where had my husband gone? He was living in a small room across the river, in a district of warehouses.”
We ended up reading and discussing “Story” (the first story), “Cockroaches in Autumn”, “Five Signs of Disturbance” (the last story). I just googled “lydia davis five signs of disturbance” because I wanted to quote the poignant, funny, slightly deadpan, unexpected ending to that story and the first result is the entire story. Here is how the story and the book ends:
And further, if she had not been able to make a decision about this one small thing, as she might not have, then she might not be able to make a decision about anything else either, because all day long there were such decisions to make, as whether to go into this room or that room, to walk down the street in this direction or the other, to leave the subway by this exit or that one. There were many ways of reasoning through every decision, and often she could not even decide which way to reason, let alone make the decision itself. And so, in this way, she might become entirely paralyzed and unable to go on with her life.
But later that day, as she stands waist high in the water, she thinks that she is right: all this is probably nothing but exhaustion. She is standing without her glasses waist high in the water on a rocky beach. She is waiting for some sort of revelation, because she feels a revelation coming, but although various other thoughts have come, not one of them seems much like a revelation to her.
She stands looking full into the gray waves that come at her crossed by a strong breeze so that they have hard facets like rocks, and she feels her eyes washed by the grayness of the water. She knows it is the greater disruption of her life that is disrupting her, not just the homelessness, but finding a home will help. She thinks that all this will probably come out all right, that it won’t end badly. Then she looks out at the smokestacks far away and nearly invisible across the sound and thinks, though, that this was not the revelation she was waiting for either.
I feel a little confused sometimes and sometimes slightly bleak and sometimes slightly amused — in a kind of hopeless manner — when I read essays and reviews about Lydia Davis that excitedly and seem to predominately focus on how some of her stories are very short, less than a few sentences in some cases, as if that was her main achievement and the main reason to read her writing.
Lydia Davis, besides five story-collections, is also the author of one novel, The End of the Story (1994), which I’ve read many times and recommend. From a blog post re The End of the Story on my blog (which I deleted in 2013):
I have read this novel four or five times. In it a 36-year-old woman, the narrator, is writing a novel about her relationship with a 22-year-old man that happened in the past. The woman is currently in another relationship. She began writing the novel before her relationship with the 22-year-old had, in her view, ended.
The novel is like listening to someone talk about (1) a relationship from their past (2) how they are trying to write a novel about that relationship (3) the novel itself. But only after the person has thought of a way to convey all three things in a manner that they’re combined into one thing that is concise, interesting, readable.
This means they will change some things that do not make sense to them. Or combine scenes, so the novel does not repeat itself. Or make the characters less selfish, so they seem more ‘real.’ But they will also let the reader know about these changes, so that the novel remains a direct and non-manipulative communication, as one would communicate to oneself internally.
From The End of the Story:
I see that I’m shifting the truth around a little, at certain points accidentally, but at others deliberately. I am rearranging what actually happened so that it is not only less confusing and more believable, but also most acceptable or palatable. If I now think I shouldn’t have had a certain feeling so early in the relationship, I move it to a later point in time. If I think I shouldn’t have had that feeling at all, I take it out. If he did something too dreadful to name, I either say nothing about it or describe it as dreadful without identifying it. If I did something too dreadful, I describe it in milder terms or do not mention it.
Also from The End of the Story:
When I first started working on the novel, I thought I had to keep very close to the facts about certain things, including his life, as though the point of writing the book would be lost if something like the Indian drums were changed and he were to play another instrument instead. Because I had wanted to write these things for so long, I thought I had to tell the truth about them. But the surprising thing was that after I had written them the way they were, I found I could change them or take them out, as though by writing them once I had satisfied whatever it was I had to satisfy.
Also from The End of the Story, published when Lydia Davis was 47 or 48:
One reason I kept going back to work on the novel was that I thought I would be able to write it almost without thinking about it, since I knew the story already. But the longer I tried to write it, the less I understood how to work on it. I could not decide which parts were important. I knew which ones interested me, but I thought I had to include everything, even the dull parts. So I tried to write my way through the dull parts and then enjoy the interesting parts when I came to them. But in each case I passed the interesting parts without noticing, so I had to think maybe they were not so interesting after all. I became discouraged.
Another paragraph from my blog post re The End of the Story from my deleted blog:
Another reason I like this novel — and Lydia Davis’ writing generally — is because the language is not idiomatic. There are little or no phrases whose meanings can’t be known from the individual meanings of the words the phrases contain. For example she does not write things like, “As a matter of fact,” “Kick the bucket,” “Broke my heart,” etc. Also the language seems edited for concision, I think, because she does not write things like “So” (for example “So the other day…”) or “By the way” or “Anyway” or “Fucking” (for example “Anyway, I was fucking angry.”).
The Sunnier Side and Other Stories (2013) by Charles R. Jackson Read this partly for my short story class, partly because I was curious and interested. Previously I had read and enjoyed Charles R. Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend and Blake Bailey’s biography of him, Farther & Wilder, both of which were funny and moving to me.
The Sunnier Side, Jackson’s first story-collection, was published in 1950. His second, Earthly Creatures, was published in 1953. To create The Sunnier Side and Other Stories, Blake Bailey removed two stories from The Sunnier Side and replaced them with two stories — “The Break”, “The Boy Who Ran Away” — from Earthly Creatures. As Bailey observes in his introduction to The Sunnier Side and Other Stories, these two stories were the “only two” stories in Earthly Creatures that Jackson himself was “satisfied” with, “as he actually announced, with endearing humility, in his ‘Note to the Reader’ for [Earthly Creatures],” wrote Bailey.”The Boy Who Ran Away” is my favorite story by Jackson. It’s about a man, Henry Price, who is in his late 40s living in a house with his wife and three children and who hates himself for various reasons of which he is not completely clear on but which seem to include being unhappy and for getting angry at his children and for hating others who remind him of himself. Its tone, to me, is desperate and despairing but also zany and humorous. I like this combination. A passage from it:
He hated himself with an active hatred that was almost too much for a single human body to contain without running amok, and he did not think he could contain that hatred another hour. There were hateful things in this hateful world, things and people that should be hated, else why was one ever given an emotion so strong? But who can live with hatred in his heart when the hatred is directed only within?
This is from a scene in which Mary, who is 11, asks her father, Henry Price, why people celebrate on New Year’s Eve:
[Henry Price] put his arm around [Mary’s] waist, was suddenly taken with a sigh that shook his chest like a shudder, and pulled himself together for the effort. “Well, it’s an old custom of some kind,” he said. “People like to get together on New Year’s Eve, and then when midnight strikes, ushering in another year, they drink a toast together. They’re always glad to see the old year go, though I don’t exactly know why — and everybody feels, or hopes, that the new year will be a better one, a happier one. And if the truth were known, Mary, it never is. There,” he added with difficulty, “does that — does that answer your — your — ”
He was unable to finish the sentence; and Mary, feeling his emotion, glanced at him in alarm.
“Why is it that it’s never better?” she said at last. “I don’t think I really believe that part of it, Papa.”
“It never is, that’s all — it never is. The old year was always plenty good enough. And the farther back you go, the better it was.”
“But Papa, I can’t go very far back. I’m only eleven.”
“Forget it, Mary,” he said. “I guess I’m talking about me.”
Then Mrs. Linton stuck her head in the door and announced menacingly: “Dinner.”
Blake Bailey, whose biographies of Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Charles R. Jackson I recommend and who is now writing the official biography of Philip Roth, wrote about “The Boy Who Ran Away” in the introduction to The Sunnier Side and Other Stories:
This scathing, exhaustive, brilliant self-indictment appeared in the November 1952 issue of Harper’s Bazaar — the longest story ever printed in the magazine, so Jackson claimed. Given his string of failure in recent years, his hopes for “The Boy Who Ran Away” were almost desperately high; he begged his agent to pass along any “talk” he heard about the story, which he predicted, in exalted moments, would become a much-anthologized classic. At the time, however, it was just another story in the slicks, quickly forgotten as Jackson had also rather feared (“God knows who reads the Bazaar, for fiction I mean.”).
From Charles R. Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend (1944), his first book, which made him extremely (for a writer) famous:
When the drink was set before him, he felt better. He did not drink it immediately. Now that he had it, he did not need to. Instead, he permitted himself the luxury of ignoring it for a while; he lit a cigarette, took some envelopes out of his pocket and unfolded and glanced through an old letter, put them away again and began to hum, quietly. Gradually he worked up a subtle and elaborate pretense of ennui: stared at himself in the dark mirror of the bar, as if lost in thought; fingered his glass, turning it round and round or sliding it slowly back and forth in the wet of the counter; shifted from one foot to the other: glanced at a couple of strangers standing farther down the bar and watched them for a moment or two, critical, aloof, and, as he thought, aristocratic; and when he finally did get around to raising the glass to his lips, it was with an air of boredom that said, Oh well, I suppose I might as well drink it, now that I’ve ordered it.
Also from The Lost Weekend, which linearly in scenes tells the story of one man’s five-day alcoholic binge which includes, on day two, him walking something like 50 blocks while hungover and sweating and about to collapse in hot weather carrying a giant typewriter to try to find a pawnshop that will buy it so that he has money to buy more alcohol then learning finally that it’s a holiday — Yom Kippur — so that’s why all the pawnshops are closed and excruciatingly walking another 50 blocks back, still carrying the giant typewriter, on the streets of Manhattan, through half of Manhattan, and feeling amazed at his “impossible”, “inhuman” physical feat:
Was it really self-destruction; or was it a kind of misguided self-search, self-quest in a blind alley…
The Twenty-four Hour Mind (2012) by Rosalind Cartwright I didn’t remember reading this book, subtitled “The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives” until seeing it on my Kindle highlights list. Some passages I highlighted:
Recently psychological experiments into decision making have rediscovered that unconscious activity is ongoing during waking, and that this can be studied with well-controlled research designs. Several teams of psychologists in Europe and now in the United States have begun to explore what unconscious cognition does, and especially what it does in some circumstances even better than high-level conscious thought. For example, when we stop trying hard to solve a puzzle or remember a name, the right answer often pops up later, while we are engaged in doing something else.
We remember little of our dreams:
We now know that usually, while sleeping at home, we remember at best only the last dream of the night, and even then only if it is vivid in imagery or particularly rich in feelings. This was established in a 1963 study by Carl Meier, and since then it has been confirmed many times over. Trying to understand a patient’s complex psychological makeup on the basis of such a restricted sample is rather like trying to understand a joke simply from hearing the punch line.
Dreams and mood:
The higher the percent of positive dreams from the last two REM periods, the more improved the sleepers’ morning moods. This told us that within a healthy group with stable lives we could anticipate that waking mood improves from night to morning, and that this relates somehow to experiencing more positive dreams before waking up. Good news!
Survival of the Sickest (2008) by Sharon Moalem, Jonathan Prince On the Younger Dryas:
The ice cores revealed that the Younger Dryas — the last ice age — ended in just three years. Ice age to no ice age — not in three thousand years, not in three hundred years, but in three plain years. What’s more, the ice cores revealed that the onset of the Younger Dryas took just a decade. In fact, there have been around a score of these abrupt climate changes over the last 110,000 years; the only truly stable period has been the last 11,000 years or so. Turns out, the present isn’t the key to the past — it’s the exception.
The pituitary gland gets its information from the optic nerve — when the optic nerve senses sunlight, it signals the pituitary gland to kick-start the melanocytes. Guess what happens when you’re wearing sunglasses? Much less sunlight reaches the optic nerve, much less warning is sent to the pituitary gland, much less melanocyte-stimulating hormone is released, much less melanin is produced — and much more sunburn results. If you’re reading this on the beach with your RayBans on, do your skin a favor — take them off.
On hidden traits activated by environmental factors:
One species of lizard is born with a long tail and large body or a small tail and small body depending on one thing only — whether their mother smelled a lizard-eating snake while pregnant. When her babies are entering a snake-filled world, they are born with a long tail and big body, making them less likely to be snake food.
The Two Kinds of Decay (2008) by Sarah Manguso Some books contain large paragraphs that seem unedited to me even though I know they are probably edited. I get lost in these paragraphs and find myself rereading them and forgetting the context and trying to discern why it is that I keep getting lost. Sarah Manguso’s two memoirs that I read are like the opposite of this. I was never lost in them. Highlighted these sentences/passages:
And after the requisite horror of the first six weeks, the first six months, the first sober dates, the first sober sex, the first sober year, sobriety made me feel better than I’d ever felt. Why do I need to read sixty minutes in the morning, and swim twenty laps in the afternoon, and write a thousand words at night, in order to feel that a twenty-four-hour period has been well used? Nothing happens in a moment. Nothing happens quickly. If you think something’s happened quickly, you’re looking at only a part of it. Firing a rifle shot seems to happen quickly, but what about the movement of the trigger finger? What about the decision to fire the rifle? What about all your careful target practice? What about everything in your life that happened before you decide to fire that rifle?
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (2015) by Sarah Manguso
Maybe the best way to remember anything accurately is to write it down and forget it, and then, only at the last moment of your life, to recall it — like listening to a broken tape by hand-feeding it one last time through the tape player. I no longer believe in anything other than the middle, but my students still believe in beginnings. Ask them, and they will tell you that everything is about to start in just a moment, just one more moment. I could excerpt and revise maybe a year or two as a standalone piece of writing, but to include a year or two (which years would I choose?) would only distract from Ongoingness, which is about the whole thing, not just a couple of years. Not just the best parts. It’s about the diary as a single item, an indivisible behemoth of English prose.
The Title Of This Book Is An Inside Joke (2015) by Sophia Katz Emailed Sophia after reading this:
thank you and your publisher for sending me and other books. i enjoyed your book a lot, good job. some of my favorite pieces in it were TWEET DRAFTS, 1.9.14, 3.02.14, GOD IS A WOMAN, IRON MAIDEN DREAM, THINGS YOU DON’T WANT THAT SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT. some of my favorite lines: ‘I wish I could drink this bottle of Febreze ‘sleep serenity.’’, ‘There is a finite amount of money….’, ‘It takes so much longer to become 3 digits of age than it does to reach 2.’ and ‘I will never see my face in the flesh, only it’s replication.’
The Road to Eleusis (1978) by R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. P. Ruck For around 2000 years, in ancient Greece and later Rome, people who could speak Greek went in groups to a place called Eleusis to ingest a psychedelic substance for free in something called the Eleusinian Mysteries, or the Mysteries. Pythagoras and Plutarch and Plato and Cicero and Socrates and almost everyone, it seemed, went and said positive things about their experiences.
It’s like if Disney World was a place where, instead of dozens of rides, there was just one ride, and if you spoke English you were eligible to experience it, and people like [tried to think of modern equivalents to Plato, etc., but wasn’t sure who to put here] all went to experience it, and it involved ingesting a psychedelic something — psilocybin-containing mushrooms, for example — and then doing a kind of ride, walking through an area designed to enhance the experience and to facilitate the processing of many people per day, the people moving through this thing in a line, and if Disney World was free and had existed since 1AD and then around 2000AD was destroyed by a group of people whose worldview did not approve of the usage of psychedelic plants.
In their book, subtitled “Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries”, Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck investigate how the psychedelic substance — a drink called kykeon — used at Eleusis was made and theorize it was made with ergot. In a piece examining Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck’s hypothesis — and other people’s suggestions — Ivan Valencic wrote that Hofmann “stated that the ancient Greeks, or at least some of them, could have made a safe psychedelic beverage with an aqueous infusion of ergot thereby separating the water soluble alkaloids from more dangerous peptide ones.”
Another substance from the past that conferred psychedelic experiences and whose contents are now unknown is soma.
The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013) by Frans de Waal
On Becoming Human (1981) by Nancy Makepeace Tanner I enjoy reading books about the period of time from the first primates, ~60 million years ago (~5 million years after the asteroid causing most dinosaurs’ extinction), to the first anatomically modern humans, ~190,000 years ago, because the more I read about this time period, the less uncertain I feel about it and the more I understand the chronology of this period and the more I understand spans of time greater than thousands of years, the more I understand my body and the human body and other topics that interest me.
My Life with the Chimpanzees (1988) by Jane Goodall Cannabis (2015) by Chris Duvall The Invisible Landscape (1975) by Terence McKenna & Dennis McKenna Reread this because I’m working on an expanded version of my Terence McKenna column for Vice to be published as a book titled Beyond Existentialism.
Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (1952) by Carl Jung Reread this in a determined effort to comprehend “synchronicity” as a stimulating and exciting idea, but failed. Also reread it for a passage in my next novel. Deleted the passage from the novel but it can be read as a piece titled “Synchronicity and Schopenhauer” in Logue edited by David Fishkind.
Star Maker (1937) by Olaf Stapledon I reread this because I write about it in my next novel. I also reread it because this novel helps me to more accurately imagine the physical and temporal context of my existence — the ~100 billion galaxies in the universe, the billions to trillion-plus stars per galaxy, the billions of years of life that has probably evolved on probably millions of planets before the planet Earth had formed, and the billions of years of life that will probably evolve on millions of planets throughout the universe after the sun dies.
On Earth, anatomically modern humans — humans that look like you or me, except with less physical deformities like those that require almost everyone to get multiple teeth removed — have existed for ~190,000 years from what people know currently. 1 billion divided by 190,000 is ~5263.
Manuscript Remains, Volume I: Early Manuscripts (1804–1818) by Arthur Schopenhauer
Parerga and Paralipomena (1851) by Arthur Schopenhauer, E.F.J. Payne translation Wrote about this and other Schopenhauer here. Something I haven’t mentioned about Schopenhauer is that he shittalks a lot — much more than any other writer whose ideas I enjoy. In his main work, The World as Will and Representation, and in most I think of all his published works, there regularly occur passages where he harshly shittalks Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, often in the same sentence. The nature of the shittalking — that it appears regularly and in sentences that are as readable and structured and interesting as his sentences on existence — has become more endearing to me over time, especially after learning more about his life via biographies.
Schopenhauer: A Biography (2014) by David E. Cartwright Excitedly ordered this — the first comprehensive biography of Schopenhauer — when it was released January 2, 2014. (I remember ordering and reading it in 2010 and 2014 doesn’t fit with my memory of it and my life but all information online says it was published in 2014.) The first time I read it I didn’t enjoy it because I kept wanting the tone to be like the tone in a Blake Bailey biography, I think. This time, rereading it as an ebook, I enjoyed it voraciously. Some passages I highlighted:
In the last decade in his life, he would refer to himself as a “Buddhist,” and he told Frédéric Morin that Buddha, Plato, and Kant were the three immortals of philosophy.104 He also purchased a black-lacquered bronze Buddha, which he gilded and placed on a console in the corner of his Frankfurt apartment, so that every visitor had to observe it. He told a friend that it was positioned so that the morning sun would illuminate it and reflect its light into the apartment of a pastor who lived across the street from him, and to another acquaintance, Schopenhauer said that the Buddha statue was his counterpart to the crucifix.
On refraining from attempting to authoritatively explain the unexplainable (which is a phenomenon that causes me to lose interest in whomever’s ideas/writing):
As he reflected very early in the development of his philosophy, upon his arrival in Dresden, “My philosophy will never in the least go beyond the realm of experience, that is to say the perceptible in the fullest range of the concept. For, like any art, it will merely repeat the world.”
I was moved by Schopenhauer’s relationship with his sister:
In a lengthy letter to her brother, Adele unburdened her woes, reaching out to Schopenhauer not only to identify with him, but also to save her and him. She wrote of having no joy, no hopes, and no plans. Like her brother, she had been sick and suffered terribly the previous winter, believing she would die. In her desperation she had even considered a marriage of convenience, but fate had intervened, she said, and it became clear as day to her that she could only marry someone whose spirit would harmonize with her own. Such a man, however, was nowhere to be found. Worse, it would be almost impossible for such a man to find her. Almost no one knew her, she continued, because her soul was hidden by social attire that was like Venetian veils and masks, cloaking her true self. She feared old age, and she feared living a lonely life. Then she revealed her own death wish: “I am strong enough to bear the solitude but I would be sincerely grateful to cholera if it freed me from the whole of history without violent pain.”
After [their mother Johanna’s] death, the relationship between brother and sister improved. They continued to correspond and in 1842, after twenty-two years without face-to-face contact, the siblings met in Frankfurt. Adele was surprised to discover that the philosopher had a portrait of his mother. He offered it to his sister, but she declined because she found it disgusting and inaccurate. Even in Schopenhauer’s final year of life, the same painting hung on the wall, along with a daguerreotype of the philosopher, across from the sofa in his last apartment, Schöne Aussicht 16. Adele knew her brother better than any other person, and during her remaining days they entered into a friendly relationship, but at a distance. Schopenhauer sent her the second edition of his principal work, just as he did with his The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics, and Adele managed to see through what a recent scholar called his “misanthropic façade,” recognizing his incredible sensitivity to suffering as a sign of his character that signified an almost holy concern for all living beings.
This was radically unlike [their mother Johanna], who viewed his brooding about human misery as a sign of mental illness. Adele came to understand her brother even more after her 1842 visit, and that he required a mode of life that would not disturb his “Brahman soul,” and that would allow him his quest for an enlightenment he would share with others. “I regard you as a profound, I prefer to say holy thinker,” she wrote her brother, “[I] respect and always honor your opinion, admire your mind, even more your penetrating understanding, even the marvelous poetry that often steps forth from your adorable way of looking at things.”
I enjoyed reading Schopenhauer’s thoughts on pederasty — “a homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male,” according to Wikipedia — which he added in an appendix to the third edition of The World as Will and Representation in 1859, a year before he died. “Considered in itself, pederasty appears to be a monstrosity, not merely contrary to nature, but in the highest degree repulsive and abominable; it seems n act to which only a thoroughly perverse, distorted, and degenerate nature could at any time descend, and which would be repeated in quite isolated cases at most,” he wrote. “But if we turn to experience, we find the opposite; we see this vice fully in vogue and frequently practiced at all times and in all countries of the world, in spite of its detestable nature.” He observed that pederasty was a capital offense in the Middle Ages, that “in France it was punishable even in the sixteenth century by burning at the stake, and in England, even up to about 1830, the death penalty for it was rigorously carried out” and that, despite punishment of death in various cultures, “it slinks around at all times and in all places, in all countries and among all classes, under the veil of the deepest secrecy; and it often comes to light where least expected.” Schopenhauer wrote:
To overlook these facts and to rest content with reviling and rebuking the vice would of course be easy; this, however, is not my way of settling problems, but, faithful even here to my innate disposition to investigate truth everywhere and to get to the bottom of things, I first of all acknowledge the phenomenon that presents itself for explanation, together with the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from it. Now that something so thoroughly contrary to nature, indeed going against nature in a matter of the greatest importance and concern to her, should arise from nature herself is such an unheard-of paradox, that its explanation confronts us as a difficult problem. However, I shall now solve it by discovering the secret of nature which lies at its root.
Schopenhauer observed that young and elderly males have sexual urges, but, if these young and elderly males reproduce, the resulting offspring will not be ideal — but are more likely then average to be “inferior, feeble, defective, and undersized children” — and therefore nature has diverted these sexual urges to the same gender, since reproduction does not result from same-gender sex. Schopenhauer in the last paragraph of the appendix wrote that “there was here no question of moral admonition against the vice, but of a proper understanding of the essential nature of the matter” and then in the last two sentences wrote:
Finally, by expounding these paradoxical ideas, I wanted to grant to the professors of philosophy a small favor, for they are very disconcerted by the ever-increasing publicization of my philosophy which they so carefully concealed. I have done so by giving them the opportunity of slandering me by saying that I defend and commend pederasty.
David E. Cartwright’s biography of Schopenhauer ends:
“[I have always hoped to die easily],” Schopenhauer reflected in his private diary; “for whoever has been lonely all his life will be a better judge than others of this solitary business. Instead of going out amid the nonsense and foolishness calculated for the impoverished capacity of human bipeds, I will end joyfully conscious of returning to the place where I started out so highly endowed and of having fulfilled my mission.”
Schopenhauer had returned home.
Lysergic (2014, 3rd edition) by Krystle Cole I recommend Lysergic and After the Trip. Often when I read writing in which people discuss psychedelics, I feel that the person is “insane” or “seemingly lying” or exaggerating about their experiences or being exaggeratedly positive about life and existence and their experiences with psychedelic drugs, so when I find writing that avoids these off-putting characteristics — or that somehow, despite exhibiting degrees of these characteristics, are able to charm and endear me into being interested — I am excited, because I am eager to read information about psychedelics. When ordering Lysergic from Krystle Cole’s website, I also bought a print of one of her “Psychedelic Expressionism (Cats)” paintings and it’s on my wall in my room.
Chopin In Paris (1999) by Tad Szulc I reread this because I write about Chopin in my next novel. I pasted some passages from it on my Chopin page.
i enjoyed your book, good job. read it aloud while on inversion table, it took 39 minutes. my favorites were “The Weight” by The Band (i liked how the 2nd person was unexpected, shifting the focus), “At Last” by Etta James, “Crying” by Roy Orbison and all of part two, which i wanted to read more of. good job
I remember that after reading her book I felt completely different than before reading it. Before reading it, in the manner I did, I felt kind of depressed and wasn’t looking forward to doing anything for the rest of the day — it was in the late afternoon. After reading it, I walked outside without a plan and I remember completely forgetting what time of the day it was, wondering if it was around noon or morning. I like that a book can do this to me.
Fernando Pessoa (1997) by Maria José de Lancastre & Antonio Tabucchi A gift from Michael Silverblatt to Mira and I after we talked to him on KCRW’s Bookworm about Selected Tweets. I read it then mailed it to Mira. Words I noted from this book, which was translated from Italian to English: binomial, uprising, fragility, hysteria, ceremony, oneiric, diachrony, paragon, iniquity, shrill, repudiate, cackle, pragma, trauma, labyrinth, scrupulous, interplay, sepia, drooping, crease, chronicle, deliquescent, orthonym, exegete, demi, charm, innermost, abstention.
The Saga of Dazai Osamu (1985) by Phyllis I. Lyons I am still reading this. It’s subtitled “A Critical Study with Translations” and includes English translations of writing by Dazai that appear only in this book.
I wrote a little about Dazai’s novella Schoolgirl here.
In Search of Chopin (1951) by Alfred Cortot Alfred Cortot’s 1933 recording of Sonata 3 by Chopin is the second fastest out of the 15–25 recordings I’ve heard of the sonata. Cortot plays it in 23 minutes 30 seconds. The first fastest and my favorite is by Martha Argerich, a fan of Cortot, and it’s on this CD (it’s 26:04 seconds but Argerich repeats the first 3:16, so it’s arguably when adjusted 22:48 I think). Cortot was born in 1877 and died in 1962. Martha Argerich was born in 1941. Chopin was born in 1810 and died in 1849. Cortot’s prose style is unusual in this book, unusual in a manner that made the content clearer and more interesting to me. From what I can tell from the internet, Cortot was not very known as a writer — he spent most of his time being a pianist or a conductor. I want to write more about this but don’t have the book with me. I recommend this documentary on Martha Argerich.
I enjoy Chopin played very fast. Another example of this is Maryla Jonas’ 4:38 recording of Polonaise in B flat Op 71 №2. (Most other recordings are around 7–8 minutes it seems. Except this 4:03 version I’m just finding now and enjoying.) I think that now after hearing the fastest versions of Sonata 3 and the polonaise, I can some day enjoy the slower versions more than if I had never heard the faster versions, but at this point, having heard the fastest versions, the slower versions don’t engage and affect me as much anymore.
The Folded Clock (2015) by Heidi Julavits This book is subtitled “A Diary” which immediately interests me. Heidi in it writes about two years of her life In dated (June 21, March 3) sections that aren’t chronological. I wanted to read more pages of it when it was over. I was interested and continually satisfied by how Heidi, the author previously of four novels, was going to tell me about her life and what she was going to tell about it. I had previously read half of Heidi’s novel The Vanishers (2012) whose tone and world is still vivid in my mind (I stopped reading it due to life reasons, not due to dissatisfaction) and which was not diary-like but plot-driven and set in a slightly fantastical world in which people attack each other psychically.
The Garbage Times by Sam Pink This hasn’t been published yet but I think it will be in 2016. I emailed Sam on June 30:
finished your book. was sweet. laughed a lot at the keith chapter, even later on in other parts i would start laughing at parts in the keith chapter while also still enjoying whatever i was reading. i also keep seeing the turtles, have strong images of the turtles, and also the smallies. was self-conscious of my face a lot while reading, having a weird grinning face throughout. made me want to describe and pay attention to animals and sounds more
Elsewhere in the same email I said “really liked some of the sounds keith made” referring to a character in The Garbage Times that first appears ~60% into the book as “this guy sleeping sitting-up on a bus stop bench.”
I’ve enjoyed these books by Sam Pink:
- Witch Piss (2014) (read an excerpt on Muumuu House)
- Rontel (2013) (read my review which 32/32 people found helpful)
- No One Can Do Anything Worse to You Than You Can (2012)
- Hurt Others (2011)
- The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Home (2010)
- Person (2010)
There are some Sam Pink books I haven’t read yet.
Person(a) by Elizabeth Ellen This hasn’t been published yet but I think it will be in 2016. I read this and The Garbage Times with intense, focused, nonstop engagement and high levels of interest, reading both from beginning to end without stopping and feeling satisfied and excited afterward.
The Garbage Times was 17427 words. Person(a) was 77239 words.
Said this in a rambling email to Elizabeth:
In terms of whether the book will hurt anyone if you publish it…I feel like you obviously aren’t writing to maliciously denounce anyone, and the character that conventionally would be viewed as most denounced is the narrator, in my view, so I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s a novel, so people have to deal with that, they have to view it as fiction and they have to view every character in the book as a character, and not connect information about those characters to people in real life. If they don’t do that, that’s a defect and problem THEY have, a problem with which they are hurting people — by conflating characters and people — not YOU, in my view. By using your memory as source material, you have written the deepest, most intense, most interesting thing you can write, I feel. Everyone should be able to use their memory as source material to create moving, relevant, interesting, complicated fiction. Everyone should also learn to distinguish fiction and reality, characters and people, but almost no one else*, which makes it difficult and why you even have these doubts, I think.
*This was a typo and should be “does” not “else”
I look forward to rereading Person(a) when it’s published. The draft I read was in three parts. In part two, characters discussed part one. In another email to Elizabeth I wrote:
Your novel was encouraging to me. Because I’m writing another autobiographical novel also, and I keep feeling pressure in my mind from various vague sources, and just a general feeling, to not write what I most want to write, which is something that goes deeper into autobiographical writing, exploring it even more than I have before. Your novel seemed very brave and extreme and exciting to me, the amount of freedom you were exhibiting.
Everyone Thinks I’m a Fakir (2014) by Claudia Apablaza I enjoyed this on a plane. The first two stories from it can be read here and here. Claudia is Chilean and the author of something like 8 books and this is the only one available in English.
Here is a story from Everyone Thinks I’m a Fakir in the original Spanish whose English translated title is “If You Take Me to Guadalajara, I’ll Leave Dairy Alone”.
Binary Star (2015) by Sarah Gerard In Sarah’s first novel the protagonist is a young woman who uses Hydroxycut and Adderall and other substances to lose weight even though she weighs 80 or 90-something pounds. Throughout the novel, told in first-person, she is vegan and reads glossy magazines and goes on a roadtrip with her boyfriend and teaches undergraduate students about stars and astronomy and with her boyfriend starts “Students for the Liberation of Animals”. The contradictions in the characters’ lives were, to me, poignant and stimulating and relatable, not funny or frustrating or senseless, like it might seem from this paragraph of summary. Many of the paragraphs in the novel are just one sentence or one fragment. Some are more than one sentence. From 72% (looking at this as an ebook currently) into the novel:
He sends me articles about the dangers of constant purging but I find them motivational. He tells me he won’t find me attractive without any teeth, but I think this won’t happen to me.
I don’t care if it does.
I also know it will happen but feel powerless to stop it.
Many times I kneel before the toilet not wanting to do what I finally do.
Many times I walk to Walgreens without deciding to do so. I find myself standing in the diet aisle and I don’t know how I got there; it seems I was compelled.
I take Hydroxycut to the register and while I’m there, I buy Star Magazine. I don’t know how it happens.
Miley Cyrus’ Tiny Workout Clothes. Christina Aguilera Shows Off Sexy, Slim Figure on Music Video Shoot.
I emailed Sarah on September 3:
I read your novel without stopping last night and enjoyed it a lot, was engrossed and moved. I liked the bleakness portrayed and also where it ended. I was also interested in all the star information and I liked the effect of certain lines being repeated in different contexts, it was like certain kinds of poems I like that do that in that regard. Good job. Are you working on another book?
She said she was working on an essay collection about Florida.
I look forward to reading new books by everyone on this list.
I’ve enjoyed the three books I’ve read from Two Dollar Radio and there are others by them that I look forward to reading. From what I currently remember, in the past 5–10 years, in various places online, I’ve randomly and not randomly come upon one of their founders either shittalking me and/or saying vaguely negative and/or disapproving things about me and/or my writing.
I’ve enjoyed Baby Geisha by Trinie Dalton and I positively reviewed another of their books, Nothing by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon, in the New York Times Book Review. The only person who has ever mentioned this review to me, besides Anne Marie, is Michael W. Clune, who expressed positive thoughts about the novel and my review of it. The best blurb that could be extracted from my review, the one that appears on Amazon: “Apocalyptic and psychologically attentive. I was moved.”
I emailed Anne Marie after the review was published saying “i liked your book a lot, without reservations” and “it seemed hard to get the editors to let me say what i wanted to say clearly” and “they actually edited some things to make it so it’s now factually inaccurate i feel. for example the characters don’t ‘require’ james as an intermediary” and sending her the pre-edit, longer draft of my review.
Speak (2015) by Louisa Hall I reviewed this on Amazon. After reading Louisa Hall’s two novels (see next book on this list) I wanted to message her letting her know I enjoyed them and to ask her about something she wrote in the acknowledgements to Speak, but then felt unmotivated to do so. Until later when, while reading someone else’s novel, I felt myself missing the world of Louisa Hall’s novels. I stopped reading the someone else’s novel (for the moment) and, already thinking about her novels, messaged Louisa saying what I liked about her novels. She asked if I could provide a quote for the book, which she said would be helpful for the book. I posted a variation of what I had emailed her as an Amazon review, and responded that I had retired from blurbing but had given her book 5 stars on Amazon.
I learned about Louisa Hall from Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm. I listened to their talk and was eager to read Speak and bought it the next day.
The Carriage House (2013) by Louisa Hall Louisa Hall’s first novel, which like her second novel contains many main characters. Some sentences and fragments I enjoyed and highlighted:
“She is,” Louise said, watching Mrs. Cheshire for material. Later the wrongness seeped in. I recognized it first as the desire to be alone. Every conversation felt uncomfortable. An unnecessary engagement. A scrimmage from which I emerged a little more shaken. I couldn’t get alone enough, and the houses we lived in never felt like my own. The silence widened, delicious and hovering, He had to mentally redefine the engagement as a move that was good for her career. On the night of the party, she exuded a fever of gratitude for having been invited. Daddy was sitting at the kitchen table, looking disturbingly discombobulated in an old pair of corduroys and slippers and a patterned sweater. When the cop cars had receded, she turned the switch off and felt the familiar crumpling that always occurred post-charm, as her veneer faded and she was left alone with whatever existed beneath. He sat with his hands crossed over his chest, irritated that she couldn’t understand the bleak reality of his professional life. then muttered something about going out to the garden. As soon as you take one step out of your dream, you suddenly know that it was only an excuse to avoid the fact that you’re just another sad old tosser living out your boring life before you die. It takes guts to face life without any ambitions, facing reality each and every ambitionless day. Knowing all this, Louise began to feel that she should give up on the goal of writing a book, until she decided that her book would be about a family whose ambitions had dried out, and therefore it would still be a real contribution. he was only twenty-seven years old. There was plenty of time. For now there was some comfort in wandering silently in an emptied town, watching Adelia watch William, surprising herself with the depths of her own melancholy.
Paulina & Fran (2015) by Rachel B. Glaser I haven’t finished this yet. I’m on chapter five I think. I don’t have the book with me and am looking forward to reading it in March when I’ll probably start at the beginning. I’ve been a fan of Rachel’s writing since Butt Teen.
Did You Ever Have a Family (2015) by Bill Clegg My literary agent’s first novel after two memoirs. I was a fan of Bill’s writing before he became my literary agent. I emailed Bill after reading his novel:
I enjoyed and was moved and calmed and stimulated by your novel, thank you. I can still feel the world of it in me as a distinct area that I can reenter and explore. It’s a world where I feel I can push fast forward and rewind to move through years and decades, but also minutes and hours. I like how your novel told the entire life stories of many characters, and then also focused vividly on real-time scenes and moments within these scenes. Knowing your writing about urban environments, it was interesting and rewarding and pleasing to experience your writing on a suburban environment. I liked the ending — it moves so far away and suddenly and yet naturally and calmly and with a set of simple and unexpected observations — and Silas and I feel inspired to write a novel in different voices, or try to at least, at some point.
Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (2002) by Nick Lane I’ve been reading this slowly for something like 10 months.
Imagine that we are rocketing backwards through time at a rate of one millennium per second. In two seconds, we will have returned to the time of Christ, in ten seconds to the birth of agriculture; in half a minute we will see the first cave painters, and in less than two minutes we will catch a glimpse of our ape-like ancestors shuffling across the African savanna. Rushing backwards, the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs will unfold before our eyes in 18 hours time; and in 4½ days we will have prime seats for the opening drama of multicellular life in the Cambrian explosion. Then we continue our journey in silence. In 44 days time, we will have returned to the first mysterious stirrings of life, and in 53 days the Earth will condense from a cloud of gas and dust.
The Message of the Sphinx (1996) by Graham Hancock & Robert Bauval The argument that the Sphinx at Giza was not built during the reign of Khafra (2558–2532BC) but — based, among other observations, on the presence of rainwater weathering on the stones comprising its enclosure — much earlier, like maybe some time before 9000BC, is convincing to me.
It makes sense to me that the accepted, mainstream belief on this is egregiously inaccurate. Throughout my life I’ve continually learned of egregious inaccuracies in things I’ve been taught, or been told in tones of unqualified authority, and believed. I’m constantly discovering that things I have believed — and that people around me assume — are egregiously wrong. This leads me to believe that many things I currently believe are wrong. This gives me hope.
Related: Mystery of the Sphinx (1993, Charles Heston-narrated documentary exploring some of the arguments that are also in The Message of the Sphinx)
My Documents (2015) by Alejandro Zambra I read this in part because I was going to Chile for a literary festival and was doing Chilean interviews for my collection of non-fiction that was coming out in Chile, and I knew in every interview I would probably be asked about Chilean literature, and I chose this book to be the book I would talk about in every interview. Before this book I had read Bonsai, a short novel, by Zambra.
I haven’t finished this yet. It’s a story-collection. I’ve read maybe 60%, reading one story at a time. Laughed at this part:
“I’m not going to keep you from graduating, I’m not going to expel you, but I’m going to tell you something that you will never, in your whole life, forget,” Musa said. He emphasized the word never, and then the words whole life, and he repeated this phrase another two times.
“I’m not going to keep you from graduating, I’m not going to expel you, but I’m going to tell you something that you will never in your whole life forget.” I don’t remember what he told me. I forgot it immediately. I sincerely don’t know what Musa told me then. I remember that I looked him in the face, bravely or indolently, but I didn’t retain a single one of his words.
Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” (2012) by William S. Burroughs I enjoyed Burroughs nondramatic, nonromanticized views on various drugs and his clear, readable prose style which I first encountered in The Yage Letters, his book about going to the Amazon to find and drink yagé, or ayahuasca, in the 1950s. When in 1971 Terence and Dennis McKenna went to the Amazon to find oo-koo-hé, a DMT-containing plant preparation by the Witoto, they encountered many of the same people Burroughs had written about in The Yage Letters, which was published in 1963.
Passage from Junky on becoming “a drug addict”:
You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a drug addict. It takes at least three months’ shooting twice a day to get any habit at all. And you don’t really know what junk sickness is until you have had several habits. It took me almost six months to get my first habit, and then the withdrawal symptoms were mild. I think it no exaggeration to say it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict.
The questions, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default.
On drugs and health:
I have never regretted my experience with drugs. I think I am in better health now as a result of using junk at intervals than I would be if I had never been an addict. When you stop growing you start dying. An addict never stops growing. Most users periodically kick the habit, which involves shrinking of the organism and replacement of the junk-dependent cells. A user is in continual state of shrinking and growing in his daily cycle of shot-need for shot completed.
Burroughs is often funny, in my view, via observations not jokes or cleverness:
I was full of expansive, benevolent feelings, and suddenly wanted to call on people I hadn’t seen in months or even years, people I did not like and who did not like me.
In 1937, weed was placed under the Harrison Narcotics Act. Narcotics authorities claim it is a habit-forming drug, that its use is injurious to mind and body, and that it causes the people who use it to commit crimes. Here are the facts: Weed is positively not habit-forming. You can smoke weed for years and you will experience no discomfort if your supply is suddenly cut off. I have seen tea heads in jail and none of them showed withdrawal symptoms. I have smoked weed myself off and on for fifteen years, and never missed it when I ran out. There is less habit to weed than there is to tobacco. Weed does not harm the general health. In fact, most users claim it gives you an appetite and acts as a tonic to the system. I do not know of any other agent that gives as definite a boot to the appetite. I can smoke a stick of tea and enjoy a glass of California sherry and a hash house meal. I once kicked a junk habit with weed. The second day off junk I sat down and ate a full meal. Ordinarily, I can’t eat for eight days after kicking a habit. Weed does not inspire anyone to commit crimes. I have never seen anyone get nasty under the influence of weed. Tea heads are a sociable lot. Too sociable for my liking. I cannot understand why the people who claim weed causes crime do not follow through and demand the outlawing of alcohol. Every day, crimes are committed by drunks who would not have committed the crime sober. There has been a lot said about the aphrodisiac effect of weed. For some reason, scientists dislike to admit that there is such a thing as an aphrodisiac, so most pharmacologists say there is “no evidence to support the popular idea that weed possesses aphrodisiac properties.” I can say definitely that weed is an aphrodisiac and that sex is more enjoyable under the influence of weed than without it. Anyone who has used good weed will verify this statement.
Reality Hunger (2010) by David Shields This book is made of quotes that Shields sometimes rewrote. On page 101 of 219, Shields wrote:
Most of the passages in this book are taken from other sources. Nearly every passage I’ve clipped I’ve also revised, at least a little — for the sake of compression, consistency, or whim.
I like this book because it argues for a kind of writing that I enjoy writing and reading and that has less defenders than attackers — and more of a bias against it generally — from what I’ve read/heard in the past 10 years. I like Shields’ arguments but they immediately elicit counterarguments from me.
From Reality Hunger: “The world exists. Why re-create it? I want to think about it, try to understand it.” My instant response is that there are many reasons to recreate the world — to create a different world than the universe we exist in — in a book. Creating a different world, within this world, is kind of like ingesting a psychedelic substance. Introducing a foreign, smaller thing to interact with the original, larger thing. Or it can be like creating a moon. Earth acquiring a moon that orbits and pulls and creates tides, resulting in environments in which, relative to calmer and less disrupted areas, evolution happens faster.
At a literary festival in Buenos Aires this year, I met Eleanor Catton and enjoyed talking to her and hearing her speak about her book, The Luminaries, at an event. At the end of her talk, during the audience Q&A, she (not unsolicitedly, but in response to a question which I don’t remember) said arguably negative things about a trend she had noticed of autobiographical writing. She said something about how the imagination, to her, was not utilized as much in autobiographical writing as it was utilized in writing, like her own, that did not use the memory as the first draft (“the memory as the first draft” is a formulation by me not her). I immediately began arguing with her in my head.
Terence McKenna introduced me to a definition of “imagination” that is different than the one I vaguely had before encountering his usage of the word. The imagination, I now think, is the place where cars, airports, songs, sentences, metaphors, drawings, dance moves, fashion ideas, and smoothie recipes come from. These things appear first as ideas in the imagination, then are downloaded into concrete reality. 100 sentences about what I did today and 100 sentences about what Harry Potter, or the protagonist of Star Maker, did in one day are equally imaginative to me. Sentences about anything require usage of the imagination.
I enjoyed reading about memory in Reality Hunger:
Our personal experience, though it may convey great truths, most likely won’t be verified by security camera tapes later. We usually think of memory in just this way, as if a recorder planted in our head could be rewound and replayed; however, memory often stores perceptual information in verbal forms, not images. We remember a “light blue Rambler,” and yet because we have translated it in our minds into a verbal construct, we would find it difficult to retranslate the memory into an image, re-creating exactly the right shade of blue.
More on memory:
According to Ulric Neisser’s analysis of the structure of episodic memory, we rely — in our remembering — on complex narrative strategies that closely resemble the strategies writers use to produce realist fiction. David Pillemer, whose specialty is “vivid memories,” thinks that it takes something like a painter’s touch (the mind being the painter) to bring a memory to life and create belief. Antonio Damasio compares consciousness to a “movie in the brain” and argues that memories are just one among the many captions and images that our mind makes up to help us survive in the world. Remembering and fiction-making are virtually indistinguishable.
The Art of Memory (1966) by Frances Yates I haven’t finished this yet. It is about a technique for memory — involving imagining well-lighted areas and placing objects in them at certain intervals and then later mentally walking through the area, looking at the objects and remembering things — that was developed by someone in ancient Greece and then occasionally referenced in decreasingly comprehensive ways, which Yates tracks, over hundreds and thousands of years.
Magicians of the Gods (2015) by Graham Hancock From Graham Hancock’s website:
Near the end of the last Ice Age 12,800 years ago, a giant comet that had entered the solar system from deep space thousands of years earlier, broke into multiple fragments. Some of these struck the Earth causing a global cataclysm on a scale unseen since the extinction of the dinosaurs. At least eight of the fragments hit the North American ice cap, while further fragments hit the northern European ice cap.
The impacts, from comet fragments a mile wide approaching at more than 60,000 miles an hour, generated huge amounts of heat which instantly liquidized millions of square kilometers of ice, destabilizing the Earth’s crust and causing the global Deluge that is remembered in myths all around the world.
A second series of impacts, equally devastating, causing further cataclysmic flooding, occurred 11,600 years ago, the exact date that Plato gives for the destruction and submergence of Atlantis.
The evidence revealed in this book shows beyond reasonable doubt that an advanced civilization that flourished during the Ice Age was destroyed in the global cataclysms between 12,800 and 11,600 years ago.
I like Graham Hancock and am excited about and find his arguments and observations convincing and poignant. His ideas and his books are interesting and exciting to me also on a meta level because I’m interested in learning about the phenomenon of mainstream, dominant beliefs and teachings — which are the beliefs and teachings I and most people I know have been taught growing up in school and college and on TV and in newspapers — being egregiously wrong. Interested in learning how this happens, and the details in cases where it happens, and in how it is ever corrected and what happens during and after.
His prose is very readable. He was a journalist before he started writing books. He was on antidepressants for 5 years and now is strongly against them. I began excitedly one day writing a pitch to T Magazine for me to profile Graham Hancock but lost interest partly due to me going to Taiwan and not wanting to go somewhere to interview him. T Magazine asked me to profile Rihanna but I said no because I was working on my novel and I knew little about Rihanna. A friend of mine found this out later and then consistently made me feel like I should regret not profiling Rihanna. I told them I felt good about my decision and that I should win the PEN/Faulkner award for focusing on my novel and literature instead of profiling someone famous I don’t know.
I enjoy Graham Hancock’s views on psychedelics and cannabis. He said he was “addicted” to cannabis for something like 20 years and that after he used ayahuasca he was finally able to quit cannabis. Then, on one of his four appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Joe Rogan offered him cannabis and he smoked cannabis for the first time in, I think, 2 years. Then in a later appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, he said he was smoking cannabis again, but not all the time and not in a manner detrimental to his life like he had previously been doing for 20 years until drinking ayahuasca.
I recommend Joe Rogan’s November 19, 2015 podcast with Graham Hancock & Randall Carlson for more about the comet that entered the solar system 12,800 years ago and caused, it seems to me and is argued in the podcast and in the book, the Holocene extinction in which most of the America’s megafauna like lions and elephants and mammoths and giant sloths went extinct. Ever wonder why there are no lions or elephants in the Americas? Terence McKenna used to wonder why the New World (the Americas) was so much richer in psychedelics than the Old World and I wonder if this comet’s impacts had something to do with it because evidence for the comet has come mostly after McKenna died.
Around 12 months ago I watched a video of a panel discussion on YouTube in which Graham Hancock speaks in a grave, extremely worried, almost shaken manner about his hellish experience with antidepressants. He is speaking in response to an audience question, I think. Then one of the other panelists sort of interrupts him (is how I remember it) and — while Graham Hancock sustains, it can be seen in the video which shows all four, I think, of the panelists, his distraught, almost crying, serious expression — says something like “What Graham is trying to say is that many people have awful experiences with antidepressants and that they should not be abused, but we also want to convey that there are people who need them and are greatly helped by them.” But it seemed to me like Graham Hancock was actually saying that antidepressants were wrong in all cases — were wrong simply to exist as a choice that is promoted heavily in advertisements and by doctors — and that the entire industry was evil and that antidepressants were not useful for anyone, ever, and should not ever be an option, at least not when plant options are available.
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy (2014) by Gabriella Coleman
Tryptamine Palace: 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad (2009) by James Oroc
True Hallucinations (1993) by Terence McKenna Reread this while working on an expanded version of One Version of ‘One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life’ for Beyond Existentialism, the expanded version of my Terence McKenna column I’m working on that I mentioned above. Comprehended “the experiment at La Chorrera” more on this rereading, my second reread of this memoir.
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine (2015) by Alexandra Kleeman This novel created a lifelike, to me, but silghtly unusual world that I enjoyed being in. I felt I was in it rather than being led through it. Some of my favorite aspects of this world: the dialogue, the behavior of two people in a room together, the behavior and dialogue of two people in a relationship watching TV and in other situations, the way the dialogue was written sometimes with two (and once with three) indented lines by the same speaker (“I don’t want that,” I said. / “I want real food,” I said, not knowing what I meant exactly but remembering the phrase from the commercials.”), the food descriptions, the cult that due to its focus on diet and the body I kept wanting to interpret as making some kind of sense or trying to make some kind of sense but was continually thwarted in making sense of in a manner that endeared me to the cult’s idiosyncratically nonsensical nature. I noted these words: T-zone, deixis, ecru, epoxy, diaphaneity, transluce.
I like dialogue where one person talks a lot while the other remains silent. An example of this — where, in another thing I like, one person says “Just kidding” twice in the same monologue — in Alexandra’s novel:
Somewhere to the right of my body, C continued to speak. His voice was a little bit sharper than I remembered it. I turned my head to the left, but it still found a way in.
C said: “I thought I should let you know that I put our names in as contestants on That’s My Partner! We’ve been together longer than their minimum relationship length, and I think it could be good for you, therapeutic.”
I looked in the direction I had been looking before.
“Just kidding,” C said. “Are you listening? I was just kidding. But I am going to enter us. If you don’t want to do it,” he continued, “I could always bring B. You could watch from home. That could be therapeutic too.”
He looked at me for a while, studying my face silently. It was like he was expecting me to do something, say something, but I couldn’t tell what.
“Just kidding,” he added.
Some fragments/sentences I underlined (read this in hardcover and underlined with colored pencil):
That even, stirred-together color of the flesh
the hands loose and docile as flowers
I wasn’t feeling that unalone feeling you were supposed to have when you were with someone else
May we eat as one, I thought to myself, because I had no idea what else to think.
Even C, a thing I had that B didn’t, created as much lack in my as he sated.
He was so furious running up to us that it seemed to me he was moving in slow motion.
Someone who had shaken off simpler problems and was left only with the unsolvables.
Florence Gordon (2015) by Brian Morton Florence Gordon, Brian Morton’s 5th novel, is told in 111 chapters varying from less than a page to I think around 10 pages. After reading the first 8 chapters, I stopped because I wanted to read the rest of the novel at once on a train the next day. Brian Morton is 60 and the only person besides my friend Mal that I still talk to from college at New York University. One of the first things I published was a profile of Brian in 2004.
I was moved by Florence Gordon and teared up or cried a little often in the last 30 or 40 pages. At the same time as I felt moved, during the last seventh or so of the book, I was curious and continually surprised — in a low-level, satisfying manner — by Brian’s choices on how to proceed with the difficult-to-write-about situations his characters had gotten themselves into. He chose to be understated and concise and to omit information in a manner that gave the scenes a mildly unusual, almost slightly surreal quality. In a realistic novel, with characters behaving as complexly and difficultly as I expect them to do in real life, this was entrancing to me. The most dramatic parts were told almost offhandedly, which I enjoyed.
The four main characters:
- Florence Gordon, a 75-year-old self-described old, feminist intellectual.
- Daniel, Florence’s only son, who is a cop in the Crisis Intervention unit spending “most of his time working with people who were mentally ill” or, as most of the other cops think of him and others in CI, “a social worker with a badge”.
- Janice, Daniel’s husband, who is in New York City from Seattle researching matters related to willpower and impulse control.
- Emily, Janice and Daniel’s daughter, who is 19 and becomes Florence’s personal assistant for a time, doing research for her grandmother in Bobst Library.
These four characters, during the time focused on in the novel, are not close to one another at all, it often seemed. They’re involved in things that are central to their lives but that they alone, out of the four, know about. Sometimes some of them strive and struggle to discover what’s being hidden, but sometimes there’s no curiosity at all about what’s being hidden. The characters interact in subtle, circuitous, secret ways — that are at times playful and are fun to read about — which I found poignant.
I was most moved by the relationship between Florence Gordon and her granddaughter Emily.
The novel begins with a surprise party for Florence Gordon by her friends. It’s a surprise birthday party, but not near her birthday, because her friends know she would expect a surprise birthday party near her birthday and not attend it. At the surprise party, her friend says “we wanted to get you out of your apartment so you could have some fun.” The next paragraph, from Florence’s perspective:
It was astonishing how little people know each other, even old friends. I was having fun, Florence thought. I was having fun sitting in my apartment and trying to understand our life, our collective life. I was having fun trying to make the sentences come right. I was having fun trying to keep a little moment in time alive. And now that was gone. She had been so close to seeing things clearly, but it had felt so precarious, so fragile. Who could know whether that little flicker of clarity would still be there in the morning.
Some passages I highlighted:
For a parent, time is not a one-way street. In Janine’s mind, the nineteen-year-old Emily was accompanied, shadowed, by the infant Emily, and the toddler Emily, and Emily in all her other incarnations. So when she came out with a shrewd perception or a sophisticated thought, it was always something to marvel at, because it was as if the five-year-old Emily were saying it too. A parent is perpetually thinking, “Where did she learn that?”
When she was nine, and newly reflecting on these matters, she’d earnestly thought that if she could just concentrate hard enough, just cherish the moment strongly enough — this wasn’t the language she had used at the time, but this had been the thought — she could stop time.
Something a character named Lev says to Janice:
“You have an unfinished quality that in a person of your age is an achievement.”
“You’re open to being surprised. You’re open to being changed by life. Most of us lose that quality in our twenties. I don’t know how you’ve managed to hang on to it, but you have.”
Emily speaking to her grandmother Florence:
“That’s one good thing about you,” Emily said. “You’re old but you’re still learning. That’s what I tell your detractors.”
Daniel responding to his wife’s question of why he became a cop:
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll tell you. You know, on the news, you’ll see some guy who’s been arrested, and he’s getting into the back of the squad car? And the cop always puts his hand on the guy’s head? Like criminals are this breed of people who don’t know how to get into a car without bumping their heads?”
“Yeah. I have noticed that.”
“That’s the secret to why people become cops. We like to put our hands on people’s heads.”
He wanted to have something that he’d never normally have, as if to set this afternoon apart from his life. So he ordered a slice of cherry pie.
She was going to the conference center next door to attend a panel discussion about the psychology of impulse control in adolescents, and then she was going to sleep with a man she shouldn’t sleep with. I should write a paper, she thought. The role of the impulsive self versus the rational self in the planning of extramarital affairs.
Florence in a scene where she gets an MRI and remains calm and privately wants the young man who performed the MRI on her to say something like “We monitor your vital signs in there, and I’ve never seen anybody remain so calm”:
She was a seventy-five-year old woman, and she wanted a word of approval from this child.
But one of the fine things about life is the difference between what goes on inside you and what you show to the world.
A published writer who’d given a talk without checking her facts. Who’d based her talk on ideas she thought clever, not ideas she knew to be true. Emily was young enough to be stunned by this.
Randy Boyagoda ended his New York Times review — which, not uncharacteristically in terms of reviews, I found bleak and annoying and condescending — of Florence Gordon with this sentence:
In other words, “Florence Gordon” is a clever and amusing novel about intellectual life that leaves you feeling no more than “very meta” about intellectual life.
I disagree with this opinion (which has been stated as a fact in a tone of authority in a venue of authority). It seemed to me that the characters in Florence Gordon often said things or behaved in ways that were playful and clever and amusing — and were sometimes meta about their situations — but that the novel itself was unwilling to be clever or amusing unless the cleverness and amusement served, instead of detracted from or replaced, its poignancy.
An anecdote about me and Brian: One time in a writing workshop with Brian in 2003 or 2004 I argued something like that I preferred to read writers who had access to a computer instead of Chekhov, since writers with computers have everything that Chekhov had but, due to technology, have more of an ability to edit and organize and move paragraphs and sentences around and delete words or move words and sentences around and rapidly try new phrasings and easily experiment with punctuation and language. I was thinking of Lorrie Moore, whose sentences seemed to me so consistently and meticulously dense and rich and unusual, and whose stories self-reference so much in terms of language and ideas, that I imagined it would be objectively much more difficult to write them if she had only pen and paper or typewriter. Brian, from what I remember of this event, slammed his fist down on the table loudly, surprising everyone including me. He seemed frustrated, but was also smiling. Since then I’ve read and enjoyed stories by Chekhov — I think my favorite is The Kiss — and learned that Lorrie Moore, in at least one book, used typewriter not computer.
I’m realizing now that something about that anecdote — which I have told, verbally, maybe once or twice in the past 11 or 12 years, so don’t remember well — doesn’t make sense, because Lorrie Moore’s three story-collections at the time were published in 1985, 1990, and 1998, and I don’t think of writers using computers in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe I did in 2003/2004. Or probably I just wasn’t making much sense at the time which may have contributed to Brian’s frustration and/or chagrin: That I was using everyone’s class time, in a small, crowded room, to semi-incoherently justify and promote — via vaguely irrational, difficult-to-counter arguments — not reading Chekhov.
I enjoyed creating this list. I began it I think on December 21 or 22 and worked on it once or twice per day every day except two, for 60–140 minutes at a time, until the morning of December 31 when I stopped working on it and posted it.
I enjoyed typing in an almost stream-of-consciousness, rambling manner for parts of this list.
(I started using the word “enjoyed” in various places because in my file that I have been typing in every day, recording what I’ve ingested and writing about what I’ve done and any ideas or anything that I have, I often have wanted to track my mood — which I seem to always be doing, tracking my mood — so instead of just writing that I have done something, I sometimes have been writing whether I “enjoyed” that something or not.)
I enjoyed publishing emails I have sent. I enjoyed reading and quoting and referencing emails I have sent. I didn’t plan on this and I enjoyed it.
At 1:00:00 in this discussion, Blake Bailey talks about how letters — which are fascinating, great, indispensable to him as a biographer — are now “all email”. He says “no one’s going to print this stuff out” and argues “So what, you keep it on a disc? Well, by the time you want it 10 or 20 years from now there’s not going to be the technology to accommodate that disc. Discs won’t exist. Or, you know, the machine’s that going to [accommodate the thing being used to store information won’t exist].” He says the word “floppies” referring to floppy disks. “What are you going to feed a floppy into these days?” DT Max at 1:01:02 says he is going to “in a tiny, tiny way disagree with Blake” and then argues that, in terms of gathering information for biographies, he just thinks that “there was a period that was worse, when people were using the telephone almost exclusively.” DT Max says 2–3 more sentences and then while pointing one finger up says “And as for the floppies, it’s now — it’ll all be up in the sky waiting for future biographers, it’ll be in the cloud, and, you know, when you want to write about — ” to which Blake Bailey, expressing that he doesn’t think it will be like that, says “it ain’t going to work out that way.” DT Max, author of Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (2012) which I enjoyed in 2012, asks if Blake Bailey feels that the golden era of biographers is finished. Blake Bailey says the change — from letters to emails — “is almost going to fatally complicate the task, that’s what I’m saying” which DT Max nods at kind of slowly, I think.
To discern what books I read in the past 14 months, I consulted this tweet, my Instagram, my memory, my Gmail, and my short story syllabus. There may be books I read that I forgot I read and kept no record of reading. I’m not in my room where all my books are. This list is 17,103 words.
From now on I’m going to tweet every book that I finish reading, or rereading, as a reply to this tweet because it records the date and will be easy to reference and is public. Thank you for your time and attention.