Or Eve

I’ve been working on a new visual project of my own for a while now, and I’m getting ready to launch it. It’s called Or Eve. As of right now it doesn’t involve any known human words or languages. But I’ve been spilling a few human words or two about the project (along with some process screenshots) here and there for a while now, which you can find over here.

What next

Suffice it to say I have good reason to believe it must be 2005 because I heard-tell there’s a conversation going on out there about blogging for books or something? About specifically exchanging blog-press for free copies of books? Which, I mean, I thought that was the kind of conversation that people already had once? Like, ten years ago? But I guess I must be confused about the timeline? Because if the conversation is going on right now it must actually still be 2005? And if it’s still 2005 then I guess I’m still blogging? I don’t know? It’s really confusing?

Ha ha, just kidding, I totally know it’s 2014, and I’ve got the barf bag I just filled thinking about it to prove it.

But.

Seriously.

Suffice it to say that I’m not going to link to any of the 2014 equivalent of that dead horse because in part anybody involved in it today probably doesn’t remember or know me worth a damn and they’d just call me a newbie or something and who needs that, jeezus, and also because it was probably a terribly stupid conversation ten years ago and I’m sure it’s only gotten more stupid since (because no offense to anyone who actually works in the industry but I don’t give two figs about your day job making money off my passions when I’m sitting on my porch listening to the summer rain and I’ve got a book in my hand and everything is right with my insular, emotional, intellectual world, any more than you give a damn about me when you benefit from the fruits of my day job’s labor (and in one way or another I’m convinced you have though I don’t often like to think about it or talk about it, being but a sliver of a sliver of a sliver on the back of something much bigger)), and that whole conversation was and is probably a generally useless waste of time and mental resources, and so but, BUT, for the fact that it did spark off a series of what passes for thoughts these days in your faithful narrator’s brain about the passage of time and the seeming near complete de-evolution of conversation and participation on the internet and the professionalizationing of the web and the unreliability of memory and the relationship of said faithful narrator to the written word generated both by himself and others, all of which thoughts have lead in turn to the fleeting glimmers of the births of realizations both personal and profound, about what we’re doing here, you, me, those people over there, anyone else, the rest, and how if that the beating of dead horses is the kind of thing we’re here for these days, then, just, for, the, love, of, no.

No.

And I mean, there’s a lot wrapped up in that no, because if there was ever any contradiction at the core of what writing I’ve done during my life I would suggest that it is that there’s an inherent tension between the need to communicate and the fascination with the uncommunicatable, the thrill of sharing in an experience and the recognition that our experiences are ours alone to hold in our hearts and minds and our degenerating bodies until we die and all our experiences go with us, and I pack it all into that no, which is also a yes, a yes to something else, something new, some other desire or struggle or passing whim, something, something else, that I can’t tell you what it means, but I miss trying. I miss the nostalgia of it. Of passionately failing to ever get it right in this medium that I once took so bloody heart-wrenchingly seriously and which, today, tomorrow, the day after that, could be the last chance.

Things have changed, though, and maybe it matters, and maybe the change matters, and maybe it doesn’t, and maybe the change doesn’t, and maybe nothing’s really changed, and maybe you’ll be moved anyways, maybe I’ll move anyways. Maybe it’s time to move.

Because it’s 2005, and the world is still moving.

Or maybe it’s not.

Spoiler alert: and yet, it’s not so unlike that first chapter

So, I’m about 200 pages into The Recognitions; with luck and determination, I’ll be through part one today; and with a lot more luck and a lot more determination, I’ll be out entirely within a month. I don’t know how much of the book I’ll really get, but if my current stats hold up, I will have at least enjoyed a majority of the book.

Of course, things can change.

The thing about reading a book like this, full of allusions and foreign languages, is that you sort of have to (I mean, if you are me) read it like you’re a little bit immortal; like time is on your side. I’m reading it the way I read Infinite Jest; like I had all the time in the world to come back and study it and burrow into the details. Like, I already know I’d like to come back to this book again, they way there are so many books I could spend the rest of my life re-reading, re-learning. It’s only by giving myself permission to assume I someday will that I can give myself the permission I need to take the immediate pleasures I can while glossing over the pleasures I can’t. Someday, though. (Ten years later, and I’m a little bit away from finally re-reading Infinite Jest. It will almost be like reading it again for the first time. Almost.)

What’s great though is that The Recognitions really can be immediately enjoyable. (Which feels like a bit of a theme for the year; gosh, these big books can be good, too! Which isn’t a particularly interesting theme. But. I’m not exactly in the term paper business this year.) Watching Otto unfold has been in particular a trip; if a somewhat squirm-in-the-seat trip. (Who doesn’t want to make more of their own story to others than there is to make? Who isn’t tempted to show off their own arm sling, whatever it may be for them, to wait for the questions it will fail to prompt? Unless that really is just me. Then, move along, please.) It’s also been fascinating, witnessing the rise and fall of the marriage of Esther and Wyatt; at the rate this book moves, we’re either going to cross several generations of characters, or everybody is going to live until they’re well past a hundred.

I will admit to feeling a little uneasy with regards to the question of what this book all adds up to, which is obviously a premature question to tackle, and one that’s probably foolish to discuss in any case; 950 page books about art, society, religion, and money should not be reduced to bullet-point summaries. Still, I would currently have a hard time filtering out a thesis statement, or even a necessary point, to the book, to what it’s saying about anything, if anything. But, it’s early, of course.

Some thoughts on How To Live by Sarah Bakewell

How To Live, or, A Life of Montaigne, by Sarah Bakewell, as published (and, to be fully transparent, provided to me by) Other Press: Hey! Good book, this!

I started this book sometime last year, but since I just finished it this week, I’m freeing it up from the forgiveness of things I meant to and did not write about last year, in order to go ahead and mention in this year, as a book that I have read and, really, quite enjoyed. I read it fairly gradually, this being the latest book I’ve saved for reading over lunch at the day job, ten pages here, twenty there. For whatever reason, I don’t read entire books worth of non-fiction as much as I might like, or might recognize that I perhaps ought to as a human being in search of some sort of general well-rounded humanity-ness, or perhaps, just because, well, there’s a lot of it out there, and I would frequently hardly know where to start. I guess I can safely say at this point though that, should my non-fiction lunch-hour reading-practice continue for the foreseeable future, I can, at the least, point at Bakewell’s book, and nod, and say, “More like that, please.”

Bakewell brings a light touch and an engaging voice to the surprisingly complex tale of Montaigne, a guy who, for all his words about himself (which I have not read, having no experience with the Essays before reading Bakewell’s book, this being, really, my introduction to the idea of Montaigne as being someone or something I might like to know more about), really did not have anything near the last word about himself. Through her book, Bakewell writes out the essential thread of the story of Montaigne’s life, weaving in, as it applies to the various answers to the titular question, the reactions and readings of those who follow Montaigne in history, up through the editing and translation wars that bring his life’s story up into our contemporary world. She related his writing and his life to the French and European world in which he was immersed and also draws in classical and other historical reference points to give his work a rich and intriguing context.

But, like I said: a light touch and an engaging voice. No doubt that this could all be bone-dry reading, but in a bit over three hundred pages I feel it safe to say Bakewell advanced my knowledge of the subject without coming close to boring me to tears (as, I understand it, many works of historical explication might be likely to do). I looked forward to reading this book every day; it is likely I will read more of Bakewell’s work in the future.

That being said, I’ll end with a question: while I’ve got some books of essays lined up for further lunch time reading, I’m curious what works of nonfiction (creative nonfiction, essays, histories, otherwise) others out there might see fit to recommend? (This is the kind of question that will, or at least, will likely, or at least, might, could, possibly, affect my actual life, sometime in the next year or so. At the least, it did, the last time I ended with a similar question, from which suggestions I did, in fact, sometime soon after, read You Were Wrong, by Matthew Sharpe, a book I did devour and did like quite a bit; I still need to read Jamestown. And I will be reading Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land, eventually. So.)

CORE DUMP Y2K10: The imaginary pullquote from an unwritten review of Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, a book I failed to get around to talking about as much as I wanted to, but which I remain convinced is an excellent and frightening novel that I think everybody with a stake in the whole “being a part of human society” thing ought to take the time to read

If I were to write a full review of Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, this would probably be the pull quote:

What lingers, months after reading it, when the specific details have faded from memory, is a sense of lingering strangeness, an extension of the borders of the story past the point at which the premise ought to have split at the seams. Perhaps it was a trick, but it was a well-executed one, in that case, if it was, one that entertained and terrified at once with a depiction of lostness within stifling claustrophobia. Metropole is both a grand Kafkaesque metaphor for the alienating qualities of modern society and an effectively affective story of a waking nightmare.

CORE DUMP Y2K10: 5937 words worth of unfinished blog posts, presented alphabetically, and coated with self-forgiveness

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Dispatches from Imperial, #1

For the last two weeks, over lunch, I’ve been reading Imperial by William Vollmann. I’d actually started reading the book earlier this year, getting about 50 pages into it as part of a plan to read about 50 pages per week until I was done, before I promptly forgot the book existed after I had to move it off the coffee table and onto a high shelf, the quality of the hard cover being of a sort that my cat, it would seem, liked, at least enough to gnaw on, quite randomly, this being the sort of behavior that could not surprise me but which still took me off guard; he’d never eaten any of my other books. From time to time in the months that followed I’d notice the book, up there, near the ceiling, as I ran from one other priority to some other other priority, never thinking to actually take it back down during the slow moments to make good on the promises I’d made to myself when I’d first bought it, which is to say, to actually read enough of it before the paperback came out to warrant spending the cost of the hardcover (purchased either on sale or with a coupon or something I’m certain but still a fair dollar or two more than I’d be likely pay for a used video game, which, naturally, would provide far more immediate, gratuitous per-dollar-per-hour enjoyment than reading a chaotically long essay about immigration and irrigation in southern California) (and if there is a paperback version to come, which one would like to assume there will be, it has not shown up yet, at least, not according to my cursory glance at product listings on the Web). It was only a couple weeks ago that I finally took it back down and loaded it into my bag and took it with me to the day job, where it’s been sitting on my desk since, like some comforting dog, ready to attract the notice of neighbors, only to nip at their fingers when they go in for a pet behind the ears. Except, this book does not, in fact, despite its bulldog size, bite: it is, so far, I am willing to say, after 140 pages of semi-attentive, semi-distracted, sandwich-sauce-on-my-fingers, e-mail-buzzing-behind-my-head reading, about as compulsively readable a work by Vollmann I’ve yet to pick up and give an even semi-serious attempt at wading through—this is a book with so much love to give, can it help it if it puts its paws up on your shoulders, leans in deep, and slobbers all over your face? The sentences—that lovely fundamental unit of writing which, from book to book, paragraph to paragraph, Vollmann has (kindly) juggled with and (less-kindly) struggled with—are crisp, and have things to say, things to tell you, and never for a second lose sight of that fact; even if he goes long, even if he goes florid, it’s with intent to tell you something, to communicate facts and emotions to you, the reader, crushed under their weight of fur and bones. Yes, emotion: this may be a history, this may be a study, but it is an altogether, so far, a story, a human one, in which humans are creatures who do things that mean things to them—be it crossing a border, be it protecting a border, be it farming a land, be it sailing a river of shit, be it being in love, be it being out of love, be it writing a book. This is a book that for that reason is enjoyable to read, engaging, compelling; lunch time reading can be a trick, with everything waiting at the other end of the half-hour one might allot oneself if one is willing to feel like a bit of a slacker, and a book that does not compel can be an easy book to shove back in the bag in favor of answering a query or doing something else of value to somebody else. But Imperial, ah, Imperial—I want to remain in your embrace. Through the fatigue, despite the distraction, I will remain past the day’s goal of ten for an eleventh page. Or twelfth. Or another.

New review at The Collagist: Drowning Tucscon by Aaron Michael Morales

Issue number 13 of The Collagist is up. As Matt Bell notes in his Letter From the Editor, it’s the one-year anniversary issue. Which makes it all the more exciting to be a part of it; in this issue, you’ll find my review of Drowning Tucson by Aaron Michael Morales. Here’s how it begins:

Fill your book with blatant, modern-day classic, critical thematic concerns and a reviewer ought to have no problem calling them out in an easily digested bullet-point format. So we have Drowning Tucson by Aaron Michael Morales, in which, yes, race, sex, class. Gotcha revenge and mercy. Hello violence and suffering. Welcome to the party pedophilia, prostitution, human worth and dignity. All the above are on display here, ready to be picked apart and analyzed in essays and articles about narrative success and structures and interests. I ought to be able to phone this review in while mowing the lawn next to the airport.

Except, this book hurt. And trying to find a way to talk about that without merely repeating over and over again that this book hurt presents a far greater challenge.

This was a tough book to write about, because my reaction was so strong. Hopefully that all comes through in a more clear way in the review itself. Many thanks to Matt Bell for helping push this one in the right direction in some key spots. I’m curious to see how others react to this book.

Also in this issue of The Collagist, you’ll find a review by Gabriel Blackwell of Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr. I wrote about Termite Parade on this blog, and previously reviewed Some Things That Meant the World to Me for The Collagist, and I’m excited to see Mohr continues to get good coverage (which I’ve been seeing a lot of lately for Termite Parade).