Yesterday I was in Barnes and Noble and walked through the literature section with birthday money to spend. Didn’t end up buying anything, but I saw a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections on my way to the W’s. For some reason, I had the distinct and unprovoked desire to flip him off. Franzen as represented by his books, I suppose.

Now, I’ve (sort of) flipped off Luke before in a joking kind of way, but to this day I don’t think I’ve publicly saluted anyone with my oh so slender middle finger. It’s crude and should be reserved for the absolute worst (when driving, I tend to yell rather than, er, signal my displeasure).

Franzen and I have some unresolved issues, it seems. Maybe it’s that I’m not interested in what he writes about, standing reading the book jacket about dysfunctional families or aging rock stars? Maybe it was all spoiled for me in TMN’s Tournament of Books this past year–reading several reviews of the same book through the tournament will either convince to read it or not (e.g. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won my heart in the tourney AND when I read it this summer after waiting in the request queue for a month while three other people read it–did I mention I love my local library? This is not sarcasm. I really do.)

I’ve also heard from a reliable secondhand source–Luke, who heard it from Michael Silverblatt–that Mr. Franzen’s a bit pretentious. The phrase “my teeth were set on edge” has been seen all over Printed-dom, but the sensation of my jaws screeching out the word “pretentious” from between my aching teeth fits it rather well.

The dislike, however, is mostly unfounded. I never finished reading Franzen’s piece on David Foster Wallace that appeared in The New Yorker a couple months ago, partially because I was reading it for good ol’ DFW and also because I was supposed to be outrunning the ever-threatening avalanche of homework but my college library stocked shelves of temptations called periodicals. One cannot always help oneself. I’m not at a complete Franzen-loss (if it is a loss). I did read the short story “Ambition” that appeared in McSweeney’s #37. “Ambition” was all right–extremely interesting at the beginning and through the middle, but the end left me puzzled. I read the last two pages twice but it didn’t help the weirdly flat feeling that’d formed wherever it is we feel things inside when we read stories.

So. I took Freedom back to the library today, unread except for the first page. Just had no appetite for it, but plenty for chucking it into the drive-by library return bin on my way to the post office, its little book-slot clanging with finality behind the bulk of Freedom in hardcover.

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I am really bad at this game

Well, all. While Luke has been a good post-er and has been telling you all at least what he’s been reading, I have been reading on the sly.

Reading quite a lot, actually, since school got out.

Every summer I make a list of the books I’ve read on a standard sheet of college-ruled paper (but I am no longer ruled by college! YES) that I keep somewhere near the haphazard organization of books (i.e. piles– Finished Reading, In Process of Reading, To Begin, On Indefinite Haitus–this last stack is usually nearer my shelf than my bed, the latter of course being a sanctum for reading as it is in many bedrooms). According to this list, I’ve read the following:

  1. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
  2. Stitches by David Small
  3. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  4. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (as she is author of all other HP’s listed below)
  6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  9. Looking for Alaska by John Green (in this gap here, the Order of the Phoenix wasn’t available at my library, so I had to make do with this jewel of a book and the literary-lampooning cookbook below–not a bad trade-off but still a trade-off)
  10. Kafka’s Soup by Mark Crick
  11. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (though I did get it on CD so I wouldn’t get “behind” until I realized it took four and a half hours to get through 120 pages. :/ )
  12. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  14. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
  15. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  16. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
  17. The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

Currently reading: Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, Teach Yourself Visually: Excel 2007

On deck (so to speak): The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy L. Sayers and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

That looks like a lot more than it feels, strangely enough.

I wish I’d had energy to write about each of these books right after I’d read them, but I didn’t. Honestly, I wanted to READ THE NEXT ONE ALREADY (esp. with the HP series) and didn’t feel like writing a “reflection.” I cannot tell you how many “reflections” I’ve written in the past 4 years as an English major. But I do have to say that Young Adult reading is some of the most therapeutic reading anyone can treat themselves to after a major trauma like graduation/senior theses (no offense, DFW. See, I read your book first when I got home!). The biggest segment of this list obviously concerns the adventures of the Boy Who Lived.

I had never read Harry Potter before this summer (shock&horror, especially for Luke who grew up with Harry like most of the kids in my generation). There was the weird reason: Christian Parenting Magazines said Harry’s adventures involved the “occult” and would make kids want to be witches and wizards and confuse reality with fiction and therefore should be banned!!!11 After reading the series myself, I wondered if those C. P. Magazines  had ever cracked the books to see what they were about–which was a whole bunch of affirming things like friendship, loyalty, your homework coming in handy for Real Life (it is possible), bravery, adventure, sacrifice, humor, and imagination. Of course, the C.P.M.’s are looking out for the kids (similarly concerned parents banned Pokemon from my Christian school because of “demonic” reasons, but I really think they didn’t want us fighting over cards at recess), but give kids some credit. Kids are pretty savvy at figuring things out–how the world works, what’s real, what’s not, what they may wish was real but isn’t. I really dislike the BANBANBAN-everything-with-a-hint-of-bad mentality. I am SO not for censoring or restricting books based on one thing (be it language or content) without consideration of the whole. Often doing that with kids just makes them want to read it more anyway.

My second reason for not reading Harry Potter: I don’t like following fads. I just don’t. I’ll admit that I’m a Hypocritical Contrarian/ Closet Hipster(?), because I have been a rabid fan of something for most of the major periods of my young life. Star Wars. Star Trek. Lord of the Rings. Anime/Manga. (*cough* David Foster Wallace.) I think I could only be a fan of one thing at a time. I was already suspicious of HP thanks to the overriding fandom–I wanted to read it when the hype had died down a bit so I could enjoy it on its own terms.

And I did. I’m so glad I read the series, and in a way, I’m glad I waited for so long. I could see the appeal of the series because even as a semi-jaded postgrad who could see the weaker parts of Ms. J.K.R’s writing and plotting, she could still draw me into the world of her books and her characters’ lives and worries. Her comedic timing is marvelous and she captures what a classroom feels like, even in a place removed from my non-magical experience. It deserves all the hype and all the love it has received and will receive in years to come (not that it needed my stamp of approval w/r/t this, but…stamping awayyyy). My formerly non-Potter loving family has gone, in a year or so, from little knowledge of the series to dressing up on the last opening night, all the books read, all the movies seen, Tumblr-ing/youtubing, whittling and painting their own wands, deeply in love with Harry Potter.

So…sorry all you CPM-readers who believed them. You don’t know what you’re missing.

P.S. I just might write about some of these other books later.

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So, I was reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and it was pretty good, but my interest started waining and I picked up this other book from the library called The Social Animal by David Brooks, which was pretty good. It argued, basically, that our unconscious minds affect us more than our conscious minds. Pretty interesting.

And THEN re-started 2666 from The Part About the Crimes, which is part 4. I’m up to the part where that German guy Haas is in prison and starts holding these “press conferences” in prison. Also have been reading this book about Google called In the Plex, and got up to around 100 pages before I had to give it back to the library–overdue, and couldn’t renew it b/c someone else wanted it.

Going to see Thor tonight w/ my dad at the dollar theater. Actually, I’m leaving for it right now. Cross your fingers that Kenneth Branaugh (sp?) goes for big and spectacular. And epic, like he always does.

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I finished Wizard and Glass and it was, you know, alright, or I enjoyed it alright, and I promised my grandmother that I’d read this one called This Book is Overdue! about librarians, because I’m interested in the library as a career, so I read that and it was alright also. So but then I just had to finish this book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, that I’d started the last semester of college but didn’t finish, and it was alright…well, it was actually pretty fascinating, but a lot of the points he was trying to make were kind of “duh” and obvious. Like, for instance, why are Chinese folks so good at math? It has a little bit to do with how their language is structured, but he was saying you get good at math by just working harder to understand it (like most things), and have you heard about rice paddies? You have to work on them all day, longer than all day, really, every day, for your whole life, and it’s hard work. Well, so, Chinese people work hard. And that’s what it takes to be good at math. And that’s why they’re so good at math; they have this cultural heritage and work ethic built in. So like I said, reading it is just fascinating b/c he tells you these neat stories, but it’d almost be better to leave it at that, because the overarching points he makes, the conclusions he draws, are much less interesting than the building blocks he uses to support his conclusion.

Reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe now, which Karin gave me for Christmas a few years ago. It’s also a fun read. Also this sociology book (I guess…”social science” is what he calls it, I think) called The Social Animal by David Brooks, and it’s kind of weird b/c he’s trying to do a Rosseau thing like Emile and tell a story of these fictional people who grow up, meet, get married, grow old, and so on, and the science behind their interaction, choices, and so on. I was immediately put on edge when Brooks announced in the introduction that he was actually taking Rousseau’s Emile as a guiding beacon for his own book because a lot of Rousseau’s sociology/philosophy/whatever-it-is is crap. This guy actually wrote prescriptive history–as in, based on what kind of things humans are now, this is how things must have gone thousands of years ago. Plus, he has some really terrible ideas about women, and don’t even get Karin (or Mary Wollstonecraft) started on that…but anyways, this book is actually pretty interesting so far. Seems to be based on actual academic writing (he’s got a list of citations at the end of the book, which made me happy) rather than, you know, speculation, *cough* *cough* *Rousseau*.

Karin reminded me that I need to get on 2666. And she is completely right. I will. Soon as I finish TEK-AAT. Hey, that’s a cool abbreviation.

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Annular postponing

I have to confess, I am sort of postponing reading 2666 until I take a good chunk out of the last four books of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I recommended the series to my friend Matt a few years ago, myself only part of the way through the fourth book (of seven–soon to be eight, because he’s writing a new book that goes between books 4 and 5 or 5 and 6; I can’t remember which ), and he loved the books. He’s been bugging me to read and finish the series so we can talk about it, and I promised him I would. So I picked up book four, Wizard and Glass, and started re-reading. I’ve still got maybe fifteen hundred pages left in the series, all things considered, before I finish, and that’s a lot, so I probably won’t delay reading 2666 until I’m done with the whole series, but I will delay it just a little bit so I can focus my full attention on the Dark Tower and let it pull me back in. Juggling two big books at the same time can be daunting and difficult, so I’ll put it off for a little bit.

In other news, I’m starting to job hunt, setting my sights low on part-time jobs (got rejected for the few full-time ones I put in an application for), but I think I’m okay with that for just right now. We’ll see how it goes.

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Annular insurrection

As L. put it so succinctly below, we did in fact graduate– despite the tornadoes that ripped through the South and caused our school to evacuate campus on the first day of finals week. It’s been crazy. Finals were worked out (or not) with professors on a class-by-class basis, I went home with L. to his parents’ home about 3 1/2 hours away from campus (home for me was way too far at 9ish hours), then we came back for graduation a week later.

So now it’s summertime! (i.e. The Flaming Lips references, job hunting, sunshine, and lots of time for reading, etc.) Luke and I read the first two section signs (these: §) of The Pale King by David Foster Wallace aloud together before we parted ways. You’d think that I’d be ready for a break from good ol’ DFW after writing my senior thesis on his novel Infinite Jest (which was the whole impetus for this blog, if you’ll recall), but you’d be wrong. I’m going to wait for L. to finish 2666 and then we’ll read TPK in tandem.

For now, I’m catching up on Christmas gift books, which include DFW’s essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Why did I not read this before now. I had read the original Harper’s run of the title essay (then called “Shipping Out” and helpfully available online) and the original “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” from the Review of Contemporary Fiction (which, to the surprise of L’s then-roommate who had sparked the flames of our DFW fandom, I’d read just for a taste of DFW and enjoyed it despite its more academic-type concerns. Of course I used it in my thesis). All that to say, I have enjoyed immensely everything else I’ve read so far–I finished the David Lynch essay last night.

It’s weird to have spent so much time with DFW’s fiction and scholarly criticism about it (or that DFW wrote about other works of fiction) and then suddenly jump into his nonfiction. I realize that usually it’s the other way around–people gently wade into the tide pool of his observations about state fairs and lobster cookouts and then start paddling out into the deeper waters of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men  (which I loved) and Infinite Jest (ditto, exponentially). Though I started reading the essay collection the day before yesterday, I have just been zipping through it. Footnotes are RIGHT THERE at the bottom of the page! DFW heads his sections so you know what they’re about! The essays are well-written, clear, and have a delightfully curious narrator who at the same time is totally aware of his challenges and idiosyncrasies that will make finding out certain information difficult (e.g. his fear of carnival rides in the State Fair essay or his dislike of interviewing paradoxically getting him into Lynch’s secure set for Lost Highway). I’ll go ahead and say that DFW as narrator is probably not the same person as Dave Wallace off the page, but I certainly love reading what he has to say and how he says it. I should bug my creative writing (nonfiction) teacher from this past semester and see if she’s read any DFW. Surely she has.

I start the tennis profile today.

More posts as events warrant.

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Annular Resurrection?

So K. and I graduated from college a few days ago (woohoo!, but sad to leave everyone), and there was a brief message about resurrecting this blog, which we worked on briefly last summer, working through Castleview by Gene Wolfe and 2666 by Roberto B. I stopped in the middle-ish of section 4 (out of 5) of 2666, which is roughly about the middle of the book, when I went back to school in late August, and I haven’t read any of it since. I’m a bit rusty. My plan is to order 2666 from Amazon (maybe sign up for their credit card–you get $40 for free for your first order so I could get the book for free, plus build some credit) and start that section over. I’m going to hate re-reading a lot of the monotonous and repetitive murder parts, but I liked the investigation into that weird German guy who ran an electronic store and was arrested on charge of killing some of the murdered girls and I’m very curious to see where that is going.

In other news, I watched Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, Hereafter, which I hated most of the time I was watching it. It has a fantastic beginning, a few beautiful locations, a few good cinematic swooshes of the camera in dramatic fashion, but almost nothing else was compelling or interesting. Halfhearted. A movie about death, but death is only discussed as a theme (characters asking things like “what do you think happens to us after we die?”) about THRICE, if I’m remembering correctly, which, in a 120 minute movie about the hereafter, is way too little light shed on the subject. His next movie is about J. Edgar Hoover, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, so let’s hope that one’s better.

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