Because I'm taking a workshop involving him next year, I'm reading some Steve Almond. My reactions to his work are interesting. I finished a book of essays, (Not That You Asked), and enjoyed it in incomplete, patchy ways. Parts of it bugged the hell out of me. I look forward to his fiction next.
I also decided to try a couple of Wallace Stegner books. I read a few of his stories and enjoyed them enormously. I kind of want to read his entire book of collected stories, which is over 500 pages, but there's so much to read for me right now that I don't think I can set aside the time. He seems like an interesting mix of Flannery O'Connor and Raymond Carver, although with dialogue as sharp and rule-breaking as George Saunders. He's delightful. I want more.
I've never enjoyed reading poetry because I can't get beyond the sensation of drowning in a lack of understanding: a glucky and inevitable losing sensation, like struggling in a tar pit. The only poems that didn't leave me confused were much plainer stuff, like Frost, which I didn't like in a sort of exasperated way, don't pander to me, I'm not eleven years old (even though I didn't understand the stuff that was rated R for adult situations. I am nothing if not huffy about my own possibly nonexistent smarts). The only thing I can figure out when reading poetry is if I like it or not. If it gives me a feeling of "wow" and a shuffled interior, or if it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, or if there's just nothing.*
Despite all this, I bought The Dream of a Common Language after reading Wild (an action which I understand a great many readers of Wild took, but it wasn't the first time Adrienne Rich had been recommended to me). I devoured the book in two days and still have no clue what I read. Thus, I moved on, and tried a book of Anne Sexton last week. I've nibbled at it, and my responses swing wildly between the three poles I mentioned earlier. One of the poems I adored and read thrice in a row; one of them I sincerely disliked; some of them leave me with nothing.
One of the curators of this collection also wrote a book about how to interpret modern poetry, and I decided to read it. Why not? Maybe I'll learn something about why I react like this, as if my intellect essentially no longer exists, whenever I read poetry written after about 1950.
Since a day without DFW is evidently a day without oxygen: I also bought This is Water, which is a little hardback book containing Wallace's unbelievable commencement speech to Kenyon in 2005, which I've mentioned enough times in this blog that I see no point in linking to it again. One of the reasons I bought it was to read the whole thing - fiddled with slightly after the actual giving of the address, but not abridged as some online versions are. I knew pretty much how long the essay was, and I knew how much I was paying for the book - eyes open - so I ignored the bad Amazon reviews that said it was a ripoff.
BUT. If you too want this essay to hold in your hand badly enough to buy this book, I tell you, resist the urge. The essay is formatted to be one sentence per page. I didn't care about $10 for an essay you can [mostly] get for free, because I wanted to hold it, but the formatting fucks up the rhythm of Wallace's words very badly, which I think I can get codified into an imprisonable offense if I collect enough petition signatures. And the long version adds some more content, but (I can't believe I'm about to say this) not much of importance. Print out the WSJ version and hang it over your desk instead.
On a related note, this is serious DFW fandom right'yere:
I so don't get everybody's obsession with Pemulis.
A kind soul gave me The Thinker's Thesaurus for my birthday (it was on my wish list). I thought I'd love it, and OMG I TOTALLY LOVE IT. Even if you're not a writer, if you're just a wordnerd, buy this palmary, eximious book.
Ahead of me is Edward St. Aubyn (I really hope I like the Patrick Melrose books as much as I think I will) and Alice Munro. I've read about 1/4 of Dubliners, and am not finding it life-changing or frustrating, which makes me feel like I must be missing something. And I'm careening through Inside Scientology, which is so, so awesome. Stranger than fiction by far, told absolutely straight, and damned compelling.
Finally, and randomly, more than half of the books above would not have been in my orbit without my library. Please use the library. Encourage book circulation without loss of income. Authors will exhort the hell out of you to buy as many books as possible, to support poor starving writers, and I can't disagree with this. But 70% of the books I read are just not appropriate for purchase by me, for one reason or another. And because of the library, I sacrifice nothing. Nothing! Trust and love and believe in your library.
*This is all hilariously ironic because my mom's profession, to which she's devoted, is mostly about interpreting, researching, and teaching poetry, albeit that of several centuries ago.