Archive for the 'Reading' Category
Infinite Jest has been sitting in my mind since reading Federer As Religious Experience and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and sitting on my shelf since Nic gave it to me for my birthday in January. The 1,079-pager sits sandwiched between Jonathan Franzen’s How To Be Alone (short stories, 305 pages) and John Cheever’s Oh What a Paradise It Seems (100 pages). And I’ve been too intimidated to take it down.
Until today. When I saw this:
So, it’s like the support from NaNoWriMo where participants write 1,600 words a day during November to come out at the end of the month with a novel. Except, this is Reading a Novel.
Summer Reading Support Group.
Complete with conversations, encouragement and commiseration. And no pressure to understand footnotes, allusions, mind meanderings. Just, enjoy. And, so I will start. Seventy-five pages per day all summer long. Woot! Starting… now! Who’s in?
This, from the project’s brainchild Jason Kottke:
But what I am qualified to tell you — as a two-time reader and lover of Infinite Jest — is that you don’t need to be an expert in much of anything to read and enjoy this novel. It isn’t just for English majors or people who love fiction or tennis players or recovering drug addicts or those with astronomical IQs. Don’t sweat all the Hamlet stuff; you can worry about those references on the second time through if you actually like it enough to read it a second time. Leave your dictionary at home; let Wallace’s grammatical gymnastics and extensive vocabulary wash right over you; you’ll get the gist and the gist is more than enough. Is the novel postmodern or not? Who f’ing cares…the story stands on its own. You’re likely to miss at least 50% of what’s going on in IJ the first time though and it doesn’t matter.
And and and! It is a fact that Infinite Jest is a long book with almost a hundred pages of endnotes, one of which lists the complete (and fictional) filmography of a prolific (and fictional) filmmaker and runs for more than eight pages and itself has six footnotes, and all of which you have to read because they are important. So sure, it’s a lengthy book that’s heavy to carry and impossible to read in bed, but Christ, how many hours of American Idol have you sat through on your uncomfortable POS couch? The entire run of The West Wing was 111 hours and 56 minutes; ER was twice as long, and in the later seasons, twice as painful. I guarantee you that getting through Infinite Jest with a good understanding of what happened will take you a lot less time and energy than you expended getting your Mage to level 60 in World of Warcraft.
And so, readers: Forward. I wish you way more than luck.
What’s up, Spark Notes?
Is this akin to “Translating” a Dylan song? Turning verse into cereal box prose? Pandering to (the idea of) ordinary folks?
Fear. Strong word. Shakespeare’s writing evokes a lot of things, but fear would be at the bottom of my list. Torture, Giant Squid, abandoned mental institutions, marionettes, going to school in L.A. These are scary things. But, Shakespeare?
The kind of English people actually speak today is also a weird statement. Not that I’m, by any means, a totally proper speaker or reader, but I have learned that writing is as much about the How as the What.
“Oh, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. Enough, no more.”
“Oh, it sounded like a sweet breeze blowing gently over a bank of violets, taking their scent with it. That’s enough. Stop.”
Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this.
There is certainly value in making complicated things accessible. I guess the question is, does it matter how you get the information if you still know at the end of the story that Orsino ends up with Viola – happy and in love – and Romeo and Juliet both die – not as happy, but also in love?
I’d say yes, it does.
That there is a difference between “If music be the food of love, play on” and “If it’s true that music makes people more in love, keep playing.” And, “O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou” and “Oh, love is so restless!”
But, how to explain the importance of the How, I don’t yet know.
It’s just a feeling I get … that the words themselves are as important as the plot they convey. That the puzzle pieces of language are as important as the picture they paint.2 comments
Every morning, my cat wakes me at 5 a.m. up tearing up newspapers and books. Some days, I throw him into the hallway, only to lie awake while he body slams the door. Some days, I throw him outside, then get up feeling guilty about the snow soaking his sleek coat. Today, I got up, fed the mongrel, put on my headlamp and read my book.
In the weeks and months preceding the election, I didn’t read any books. I was glued to refreshing the Opinion page on NYTimes.com and glued to getting the latest New Yorker in my P.O. Box. I also frequented the Huffington Post, NPR.org, TheAtlantic.com, The Morning News and some others.
Since the election, though, and the onslaught of recent rain/sleet/darkness here in Jackson, I picked up some books from the shelf of I really should read those one day. And I found a gem: The Mermaid Chair. It’s written by Sue Monk Kidd (the author made famous by The Secret Life of Bees, which is now a hollywood blockbuster starring Dakota Fanning.
It’s an addicting novel about a woman’s journey back to the place of her childhood, where she confronts the tragedy of her past, her stagnant marriage, her mother’s recent off-the-deep-end actions and falls in love with a Benedictine monk. This, all set on an island rich in boggy descriptions of egrets, crabs and tides.
It’s one of those books that you can tell is better as a book because you can smell the salt and mud as the tides change and feel the morning sun on your own eyelids, even as you lie on your couch reading by headlamp.
So, the other things I’m reading right now:
David Foster Wallace.
Good Poems by Garrison Keillor.
East of Eden By John Steinbeck (my favorite of his remains The Pastures of Heaven).
Living Buddha Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh.
And countless magazines (including, but not limited to The New Yorker, Photo District News, back copies of Alpinist and The Economist).
If whimsical “chick” novels aren’t your thing, I’d recommend David Foster Wallace’s NY Times story about Roger Federer or his story about going on a cruise, Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise. The opening paragraph that will make you want to read all 24 pages of detailed descriptions of white white towels, creepily sparkling clean rooms and decadent dining with overweight cruise ship connoisseurs:
I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined a conga line.
While it takes me about 10 minutes to get through one page of his dense writing complete with footnotes, it’s 10 minutes well spent.
And, the best part about reading DFW’s story is that it makes me want to be a writer.2 comments