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Monday
Dec182006

Quitter

Years ago, I was a person who would see a book through to the end. Then one day, I counted how many books I had left to read in my life (based on how many I am capable of reading in a year, subtracting a sizeable chunk for the distractions of having children and/or going blind). The number shocked me so greatly that I vowed not to waste it reading books that weren't enjoyable to read. And so I became a quitter. I started quitting left and right. The books in our apartment with bookmarks a quarter or even half of the way through are many: Donna Tartt's Little Friend. Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey. Yuri Rythkeu's A Dream in Polar Fog. Tom Bissell's Chasing the Sea. George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night has a bookmark in it, somewhere just after one of the hotel room freak out scenes.

It's not always easy to pinpoint why these books have let me down. There are aspects of each that I love, but they failed to call to me to pick them up at every spare second. Perhaps it was down to an off-season pick: Rythkeu's book, set in an Arctic region of Siberia, was something I had started in June. I am sure I thought it would wisk me away to some unimaginable climate, but the pulsating New York sun surely distracted me from imagining the pain of frostbite. Perhaps it was the temptation of some other book I would rather be reading, as was the case with the Fitzgerald, which was what I had in my bag when Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler arrived in the mail, and who could resist that?

The most recent addition to the list of abandoned books is A.L. Kennedy's Everything You Need. As much as I loved the Uncles and Mary Lamb, as much as my curiosity was piqued by Nathan Staples' self-torture, I couldn't keep my eyes on the page. Perhaps it's down to distractions in my own life, but the timing of what I was reading in front of me seemed all off, and I felt compelled, on my way in to work today, to remove the book from my bag and replace it with something familiar and comforting, even though that something originally came all the way from Sacramento via London via Ballarat, Australia: my autographed, half-read 1969 Andre Deutsch copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

This is one of the lucky few I actually return to. (The only other I can immediately think of is Orhan Pamuk's Snow, which got a second chance a year after I had set it aside in the first place.) Didion's first book of essays was one I had begun to read earlier this year, but had deemed far to precious to waste in one sitting, and so I left a few of the essays unread, a lonely bookmark sitting somewhere between chapters, quivering with anticipation. Now is the time to find it again.

And so I have replaced a "can't read" with a rarely tackled "re-upped read." Peter Carey's Theft or possibly PD James will be hitching a ride in with me tomorrow as backup. And Ms. Kennedy will have to sit on the shelf, Three Lives & Co. bookmarking her somewhere near page 100. Just in case.

I cannot feel guilty. After all, there are only 1489 books left to read, if I make it to 80, eyesight intact...

(Everything You Need was one of the books in my From the Stacks Reading Challenge, and by quitting the book, I'm afraid I've had to quit the challenge as well. Apologies to the organizers; you inspired, but my insatiability won over.)

Sunday
Dec172006

Sunday Zen

Thursday
Dec142006

The things that make me laugh

"It's Magic Johnson!"
"Hi, Pee Wee!"
"What are you doing in the Magic Screen?"
"The Magic Screen and I are cousins!"

(Yes. I also laugh at people falling down.)

Wednesday
Dec132006

Ups and downs

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been informed by our captain that our flight time today will be approximately 14 minutes. I hope you enjoy your short flight with us."

Fourteen minutes: Just enough time for the girl behind me to loudly devour an entire bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. This, after she walked on board with an open bottle of Corona.

Is it wrong of me to wish flying were still as classy as it used to be? (Okay, so maybe not the smoking and furs part...)

Tuesday
Dec122006

Book, take me elsewhere!

Still lingering over the end of Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr. Y: equal parts Jeff Noon and Jacques Derrida, Neil Gaiman and Martin Heidegger, with a large dose of Gwendoline Riley, and yet somehow a bit Sophie's World. Have I thrown enough comparisons at you? I'm at a loss to describe it with anything but a slew of comparisons, because this book isn't sitting comfortably in its own category yet. Which is meant as a compliment, especially as these are authors I enjoy reading more than I would like to admit. (Apart from the Sophie's World. That one, not so much.)

I should reveal before I go on that I was initially disappointed by the book, as much as I enjoyed reading it. But then I don't think I've let it sit long enough. And books that I really dislike don't usually leave me disappointed - they leave me ambivalent. Nor do they usually tempt me to read them while walking down the street, nearly bumping into lampposts.

So surely I must have loved this one?

There are reasons not to. The ending felt rushed - too much "and then we were here" or "and then that was done and we were on to the next thing" - but perhaps that was my own perception of it. Or maybe that was the point, to make time feel less concrete and fluid to drive the story home. But then the characters she wanted us to feel connected to - in the minds of, even - felt a bit two-dimensional. Interesting, given the possibility of four. And glimpses of a new story were offered (Lura's unwillingness to look anyone in the eye who asked about her experiences in the Troposphere) that never felt resolved. It feels a bit as if I've had the book knocked from my hands before I had a chance to read the last chapter. And I really, really wanted to read that last chapter.

Because the book affected me. As I walked to the subway yesterday, images of the Troposphere ran through my mind, and I began to wonder what emotion the Q train represented. And it continued: Each old book I picked up at the bookstore was loaded with new meaning. If I solve the puzzle in that 1925 copy of The Puzzle Lock by R. Austin Freeman, will a porthole open to a new dimension? If I play the faery song at the end of Eugene Field's 1893 collection A Little Book of Profitable Tales on a rusted flute at dusk, would I fall into a faery world? Thomas's melding of roll-ups, rope burns, iPods, time loops, and fourth dimensions made it seem possible, just for a moment. This is a talent, one that lingered with me long after the last line of text was gone from the page. (And, ultimately, the reason I bought both books in the end - Thomas would make a great used book salesclerk.)

I think I'll linger a bit longer. In the meantime, go read the book yourself, or at least some other, more coherent, favorable impressions.