This blog is two and a half years old now, and what I’ve put here has been quite… hit or miss, I think, during that time. I started it back in 2007, near the end of my senior year of undergraduate, because I intended to take a year off before ‘pursuing’ an MA (how they flee, those degrees), and had been warned by numerous people, professors and graduate students alike, that it is very easy to stop writing without a grade looming, making the transition back to writing for school very difficult. As such, posts have ranged from practice just putting thoughts into sentences (“(and thoughts are nothing if they never pass through the windowpane of a sentence)” – Roubaud) to trying to work out what has interested me in a book, or to put that interest into a vaguely academic-ese language in the hopes of future use for school, a language which I never had the energy or a strong enough desire to sustain (let’s just say a PhD is highly unlikely). Having finished with academia for as far as I can project, I hope to scrub a bit of that encrusted language off— it did not suit me in the first place, I don’t think. All to say, I intend to get less nose-half-heartedly-to-the-grindstone-because-what-else-does-a-BA-in-English-do. I’m sure I will still turn up with the occasional over-long post that hangs together only by the loosest threads (I just started The Loop, after all), but since my reading is no longer determined primarily by a syllabus, what I am reading and what I want to write about will, I hope, converge more often— and will thankfully not be hijacked by “How can I turn this thing I want to write about into the subject of a paper I don’t particularly care to write?”
Onwards, then. I picked up a nice selection of books with Christmas gift cards, mostly novels by contemporary authors I’ve never read, and have also been trying to finish up the books I picked up in the Dalkey Archive summer sale a few months ago as well as the various used books I’ve grabbed since moving back from England. Two books that I began and could not get into were Harry Mathews’ The Conversions and Kobo Abe’s The Box Man. The Abe I will probably give another chance; I’m almost certain it didn’t take only because I started it in the middle of holiday travelling, with all its attendant distractions and interruptions— intercoms and babies and flight attendants and noisy seatmates. The Mathews… we’ll see. It’s his first novel and, based on the two chapters I read, seems to suffer from all the worst tendencies Oulipian constraints can produce: extreme esotericism that might be amusing given the right mood, but is completely nonsensical without the intentionally hidden key (e.g. I learned from an essay surveying Mathews’ work that the host’s first words to the narrator, “The cheek of our Bea!” is in fact the narrator mishearing the title of a song— “The Sheik of Araby”— being sung by another character, Bea).
Aside from those hiccups, though, I’ve been reading some excellent books. Around Thanksgiving I stumbled across D. H. Lawrence’s “St. Mawr” and “The Man Who Died,” the first of which I’d been curious about after reading Richard Poirier’s rave in A World Elsewhere, where he calls it one of the finest novellas ever written. While I don’t know that I’d go that far, I did enjoy both novellas and am very interested in reading more Lawrence. The scene where Mrs. Witt defends the horse’s life against the Dean and his wife’s insistence that it be put down was the most unexpectedly funny piece of writing I’ve come across in a while. I had not been led to believe Lawrence had a comedic bone in his writing hand, just vitriol and passion. Either way, these felt like a good place to start with Lawrence, though not substantial enough for me to say much about him, considering the volume of the rest of his work. I’m unsure about which of his novels to go to, though, so any suggestions would be welcome.
The other books I’ve read recently I want to cover a bit more than cursorily, though. Maso’s Ava and Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, two books by Aira, Solstad’s Shyness and Dignity, and the first Handke book I’ve read should get some words here in the coming weeks. I start a new job this week, and knowing that work I don’t want to do usually inspires me to do work I do want to do, I intend to be back with those relatively soon.