Showing posts tagged reading

Benjamin Kunkel on The Book of Disquiet: “I’ll never set foot in this world”

Yet just as often as I am tempted to give in to misgivings and guilt, I feel something else—I feel that I’m right to clutch the thought of The Book to me, and to prefer, to any satisfaction I might obtain, the excitement and dread of being solitary and unrealized. This is especially so when I’m back in my apartment, alone with my books. Then I wonder again if it’s true that “Freedom is the possibility of isolation.” Meanwhile, “Life, obvious and unanimous, flows past outside me in the footsteps of the passers-by.” All that is quoting Pessoa, with whom I may have identified too strongly, as a patient becomes a part of his disease, or disquiet. Yet the ideal reader is an invalid. He lies in bed and imagines the life he might lead once recovered. If the illness is prolonged, what was a chance occurrence, an event separate from him, alters his character somewhat and becomes a part of it. Of course I’m not sick at all, and in reading The Book of Disquiet I took all the pleasure that is the mark of good health. Nevertheless, even now that I haven’t taken the book down from its shelf in my bedroom for several months, sometimes when I am walking through New York, with its hurry and din and its large portion of purposeful and enviable people (I have sometimes even heard that I am one of them), I look around and think, thinking of The Book of Disquiet, “I’ll never set foot in this world.” Whether this sentence, uttered silently in a voice not quite my own, amounts to a boast, a bizarre lie, or a statement of sad fact is one of many things I don’t know and, if the example of Pessoa is any guide, may contrive never to learn.

— from “A Cold in the Soul: Reading The Book of Disquiet in Apartment 62” by Benjamin Kunkel (The Believer)

In the open air

“To live a dispassionate and cultured life in the open air of ideas, reading, dreaming and thinking of writing – a life so slow it constantly verges on tedium, but pondered enough never to find itself there. To live this life far from emotions and thought, living it only in the thought of emotions and in the emotion of thoughts. To goldenly stagnate in the sun, like a murky pond surrounded by flowers. To possess, in the shade, that nobility of spirit that makes no demands on life. To be in the whirl of the worlds like dust of flowers, sailing through the afternoon air on an unknown wind and falling, in the torpor of dusk, wherever it falls, lost among larger things. To be this with a sure understanding, neither happy nor sad, grateful to the sun for its brilliance and to the stars for their remoteness. To be no more, have no more, want no more …”

Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet (edited and translated by Richard Zenith)

(Photograph: Untitled, ca. 1960, by Vivian Maier [1926–2009]. Thank you, Artnet.)

“I read as one who’s passing through.”

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Passing by

“In the faint shadows cast by the last light before evening gives way to night, I like to roam unthinkingly through what the city is changing into, and I walk as if nothing had a cure. I carry with me a vague sadness that’s pleasant to my imagination, less so to my senses. As my feet wander I inwardly skim, without reading, a book of text interspersed with swift images, from which I leisurely form an idea that’s never completed.
There are those who read as swiftly as they see, and they finish without having taken it all in. So I, from the book skimmed in my soul, glean a hazy story, remembrances of another wanderer, snatches of descriptions of twilights or moonlights, with garden paths in the middle, and various silk figures passing by, passing by .  .  .”
— Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet (edited and translated by Richard Zenith)
(Photograph: Untitled, 1926, by Jan Lauschmann [1901–1991]. Thank you, Howard Greenberg Gallery.)

Passing by

In the faint shadows cast by the last light before evening gives way to night, I like to roam unthinkingly through what the city is changing into, and I walk as if nothing had a cure. I carry with me a vague sadness that’s pleasant to my imagination, less so to my senses. As my feet wander I inwardly skim, without reading, a book of text interspersed with swift images, from which I leisurely form an idea that’s never completed.

There are those who read as swiftly as they see, and they finish without having taken it all in. So I, from the book skimmed in my soul, glean a hazy story, remembrances of another wanderer, snatches of descriptions of twilights or moonlights, with garden paths in the middle, and various silk figures passing by, passing by .  .  .

Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet (edited and translated by Richard Zenith)

(Photograph: Untitled, 1926, by Jan Lauschmann [1901–1991]. Thank you, Howard Greenberg Gallery.)

Junot Díaz on his “slowness as a writer”

As for my slowness as a writer—that’s been a struggle, no question. We live in a culture that values and rewards machine-speed productivity. Even the arts are expected to conform to the Taylor model of productivity. Used to be in the old days, only the pulp writers wrote like machines. Now everybody is expected to be literary John Henrys. So in that context someone like me is an anomaly. For many years I felt pressure and even felt bad that I wrote so slow. But what can you do? As an artist you’re on a journey of discovery and sometimes that journey takes a long time, doesn’t subscribe to [a] train schedule, to the punch-clock. And I need to read a lot to make my pages happen. A book a page seems to be standard rate of exchange. I read a book, I get one page. But it’s clear to me that us slow-poke writers are a dying breed. It’s amazing how thoroughly my young writing students have internalized the new machine rhythm, the rush many of my young writers are in to publish. The majority don’t want to sit on a book for four, five years. The majority don’t want to listen to the silence inside and outside for their artistic imprimatur. The majority want to publish fast, publish now. The professional aspect of the practice is stressed over the artistic dimension. I was recently teaching in a school famed for its writing program and a lot of my students—not all of them—got more excited talking about advances and agents than they did the books they’ve read recently. In this atmosphere, I’m a total outlier. That really struck me—how many of my students wanted to be writers but how few of them practiced the kind of reading that would help sustain all the writers we’re producing. But there were a few who did read and who believed in it, and those were a great joy, believe me.

— from The Sunday Rumpus Interview by Gina Frangello

Couldn’t have passed for Normal

Oscar had always been a young nerd—the kind of kid who read Tom Swift, who loved comic books and watched Ultraman—but by high school his commitment to the Genres had become absolute. Back when the rest of us were learning to play wallball and pitch quarters and drive our older brothers’ cars and sneak dead soldiers from under our parents’ eyes, he was gorging himself on a steady stream of Lovecraft, Wells, Burroughs, Howard, Alexander, Herbert, Asimov, Bova, and Heinlein, and even the Old Ones who were already beginning to fade—E. E. Doc Smith, Stapledon, and the guy who wrote all the Doc Savage books—moving hungrily from book to book, author to author, age to age. (It was his good fortune that the libraries of Paterson were so underfunded that they still kept a lot of the previous generation’s nerdery in circulation.) You couldn’t have torn him away from any movie or TV show or cartoon where there were monsters or spaceships or mutants or doomsday devices or destinies or magic or evil villains. In these pursuits alone Oscar showed the genius his grandmother insisted was part of the family patrimony. Could write in Elvish, could speak Chakobsa, could differentiate between a Slan, a Dorsai, and a Lensman in acute detail, knew more about the Marvel Universe than Stan Lee, and was a role-playing game fanatic. (If only he’d been good at videogames it would have been a slam dunk but despite owning an Atari and an Intellivision he didn’t have the reflexes for it.) Perhaps if like me he’d been able to hide his otakuness maybe shit would have been easier for him, but he couldn’t. Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.

Junot Díaz, from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books, 2008)

(Image by dabacahin.)

His Destiny

You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.

Pa’ ’fuera! his mother roared. And out he would go, like a boy condemned, to spend a few hours being tormented by the other boys—Please, I want to stay, he would beg his mother, but she shoved him out—You ain’t a woman to be staying in the house—one hour, two, until finally he could slip back inside unnoticed, hiding himself in the upstairs closet, where he’d read by the slat of light that razored in from the cracked door. Eventually, his mother rooting him out again: What in carajo is the matter with you?

(And already on scraps of paper, in his composition books, on the backs of his hands, he was beginning to scribble, nothing serious for now, just rough facsimiles of his favorite stories, no sign yet that these half-assed pastiches were to be his Destiny.)

— from Footnote 6 in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(Photograph by Gordon Parks. Thank you, Urban Art Gallery and The Gordon Parks Foundation.)

Here, try this
He watched Virus for the thousandth time and for the thousandth time teared up when the Japanese scientist finally reached Tierra del Fuego and the love of his life. He read The Lord of the Rings for what I’m estimating the millionth time, one of his greatest loves and greatest comforts since he’d first discovered it, back when he was nine and lost and lonely and his favorite librarian had said, Here, try this, and with one suggestion changed his life. Got through almost the whole trilogy, but then the line “and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls” and he had to stop, his head and heart hurting too much.
— from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
(Image: The Lord of the Rings: Shields of Middle-Earth poster from Weta. Thank you, Pipedreamergrey and Geek Art Gallery.)

Here, try this

He watched Virus for the thousandth time and for the thousandth time teared up when the Japanese scientist finally reached Tierra del Fuego and the love of his life. He read The Lord of the Rings for what I’m estimating the millionth time, one of his greatest loves and greatest comforts since he’d first discovered it, back when he was nine and lost and lonely and his favorite librarian had said, Here, try this, and with one suggestion changed his life. Got through almost the whole trilogy, but then the line “and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls” and he had to stop, his head and heart hurting too much.

— from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(Image: The Lord of the Rings: Shields of Middle-Earth poster from Weta. Thank you, Pipedreamergrey and Geek Art Gallery.)

The density of a dwarf-motherfucking-star

Love. Oscar knew he should have checked out right then. He liked to kid himself that it was only cold anthropological interest that kept him around to see how it would all end, but the truth was he couldn’t extricate himself. He was totally and irrevocably in love with Ana. What he used to feel for those girls he’d never really known was nothing compared to the amor he was carrying in his heart for Ana. It had the density of a dwarf-motherfucking-star and at times he was a hundred percent sure it would drive him mad. The only thing that came close was how he felt about his books; only the combined love he had for everything he’d read and everything he hoped to write came even close.

— from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(Illustration: Red dwarf star erupting by David Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “And when the star ages and settles down, its planet would enjoy billions of years of quiet, steady radiance.”  Thank you, Mr. Aguilar and Smithsonian.)


Privacy
“If you were to shake me awake in the middle of the night and say, ‘Quick, without thinking: What is the most important thing in the world?’ I would say, ‘Privacy.’ I know that’s not right; you don’t have to tell me. I know that the true answer is probably love, or understanding, or feeling needed—even for me. But I am telling you what comes to mind first, and that’s privacy. Sitting alone in a room reading a book, with no one to interrupt me. That is all I ever consciously wanted out of life.”
— from Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler
(Photograph: Lady in a Rooming House Parlor, Albion, N.Y., 1963, by Diane Arbus. Thank you, New York Times.)

Privacy

“If you were to shake me awake in the middle of the night and say, ‘Quick, without thinking: What is the most important thing in the world?’ I would say, ‘Privacy.’ I know that’s not right; you don’t have to tell me. I know that the true answer is probably love, or understanding, or feeling needed—even for me. But I am telling you what comes to mind first, and that’s privacy. Sitting alone in a room reading a book, with no one to interrupt me. That is all I ever consciously wanted out of life.”

— from Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler

(Photograph: Lady in a Rooming House Parlor, Albion, N.Y., 1963, by Diane Arbus. Thank you, New York Times.)

“Mostly I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.”

Anna Quindlen, from “At the Beach,” in Living Out Loud

Rebecca Solnit: “A sentence is a road and reading is traveling”

This is what is behind the special relationship between tale and travel, and, perhaps, the reason why narrative writing is so closely bound up with walking. To write is to carve a new path in the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features in a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as guide—a guide one may not always agree with or trust, but who can at least be counted upon to take one somewhere. I have often wished that my sentences could be written out as a single line running into the distance so that it would be clear that a sentence is likewise a road and reading is traveling…. Perhaps those Chinese scrolls one unrolls as one reads preserve something of this sense. The songlines of Australia’s aboriginal peoples are the most famous examples conflating landscape and narrative. The songlines are tools of navigation across the deep desert, while the landscape is a mnemonic device for remembering the stories: in other words, the story is a map, the landscape a narrative.

— from Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

“In her childhood she learned to leave behind pain by reading books. Sometimes they took the books away—too many words, too much pleasure. She turned to poetry. Words to learn by heart—to say over and over again in the dark.”

bell hooks, Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life

Reciting softly to herself

“Not everyone goes to poetry readings to find love. She did. Growing up, poetry had been the sanctuary, that space in words where longing could be spoken. Nobody in her world understood. Poems came in another language. Nobody could find or hurt you there. She spent many a night sitting in a freezing kitchen before a plate of cold food held together by congealed fat reciting softly to herself sweet words—Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, William Wordworth. Poems were the way to leave pain behind—to forget. They were a kind of suicide, a death. Her real self could drown in them. They were water to her thirst, cooling the burning sensation, soothing the red welts on her skin left by lashes from fresh young branches still green. Poetry made childhood bearable.”

bell hooks, Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life

(Painting by Derrick Woodford. Thank you, Mr. Woodford and antiquehelper.)