Monday, July 22, 2013

Signifying Nothing

Matt inadvertently reminded me the other night of my reaction to The Sound and the Fury when it was part of our high school curriculum. He and I were in the same AP English class, and Sound was the very last book we studied. My memory is that our teacher thought it was ridiculous that the AP curriculum only allotted a few weeks to this book, and accordingly told us that we didn't have to read it if we didn't want to, because even trying to teach Faulkner in a few weeks was too futile to be borne. I still think this was a wise decision on his part; what earthly teenager is going to be able to concentrate on The Sound and the fucking Fury during the last few weeks of high school?

But I tried reading it. I read the first couple dozen pages, and I had a reaction to it that I've rarely had before or since. Usually when I don't understand a book, I feel inadequate or angry or both. I feel like I've failed - like the brain I trust implicitly has failed - but I also feel stubbornly like the author has failed. So I sit and steep in insecurity with my arms folded and my lip pooched out.

But in the case of Sound, my utter lack of ability to understand it was just humorous. It mattered very little to me that I read this book properly, because the pressure was off, and it was a famously difficult book. I chuckled and sent my insecurity straight to the dumpster. Just tried a bit to understand and then did the intellectual equivalent of laughing madly and tossing the book in the air.

I think I'll try again, though. I have successfully read As I Lay Dying and while I'm not going to pretend I understood it well, I walked away minutely different and so glad I read it.

I recently read Lynda Barry's One! Hundred! Demons! and you should read it too. It's a graphic novel memoir and it's wonderful. I also read Jennifer Egan's novel in stories A Visit from the Goon Squad, and I'm sorry to say that it didn't engage me especially. I found it very effective and interesting, but I was consistently standing back from it to admire it rather than being up close and intertwined with it. This is the eighth Pulitzer Prize winner I've read which has engendered pretty much this exact reaction.

Over the weekend I started a steampunk book that was so poorly written I gave up after 100 irritating pages. So to dive back into the genre pool, I think I'll be reading Elmore Leonard instead. Hopefully he won't use "alright" as if it's a legitimate word and, moreover, a word that was appropriate in Victorian London. I started and finished Arguments for Stillness, a book of poetry by Erik Campbell, and found it mixed. Some of the poems were so good I had to read them aloud to Matt. Others didn't offer much for me.

I also had some lovely long talks with Matt about writing and creative work in general. Since he has a creative job, he is a fount of useful wisdom about how to trudge on into the darkest of creative nights. This week, thanks to his guidance, I'm setting out to rewrite a short story about stalking which just did not work in its original form, but which has ideas that matter too much to me to junk completely. It's my first time rewriting something from scratch, rather than keeping swaths and reworking the rest. (This is humiliating to admit; I should have tried it long before now.) I expect it to be a great lesson but a thoroughly unfun process.

I'm also planning to work some on the wikibook, maybe a couple of short entries and some brainstorming about the second half of the book. I'm telling you this to keep me accountable, so that I actually do the work. Last week was productive at sending stuff out - my submissions tracker at Duotrope is bristling - but I need to make more stuff while I wait for rejections. And I can't spend any more money or time on puzzles, dammit.
500-piece puzzle, 100% procrastination

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