Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 4 - Book(s)

Day 4 - your favorite book. has it changed since your loss?

Hard to say, since my book consumption post loss is pretty sporadic.

(Ok, ok, my book consumption before loss was pretty sporadic too.)

That's something and English and American Lit major and former English teacher probably should not admit.

But here's how I justify it - I spend all day every day ingesting enormous amounts of information and attempting to break it down into comprehensible forms. I read a LOT, just not the subject matter of my choice.

So when I get home, my eyes go straight to Lucky, "the magazine about shopping" (TM), or ReadyMADE, Bust, or the New Yorker (which kinda counts, no?) or any of the many, many mags we get along with our charitable donations to birds and nature and parks an'nat. but mostly Lucky. I want shiny pictures and stickers I can use to tag pages and things I can rip out and stick in an ideas book I have yet to put together. You get the picture.

But once upon a time, particularly those times living in countries where books in English were precious and a library card to the American or British Library in town was worth its weight in gold, I devoured books. Books I still love, still think about, books I am hesitant to read again because reading them the first time was such an emotional investment. Hesitant to read them again because I don't want my feelings about them to change.

And now, as I sit and type with this short stack next to me, I realize that most of them deal with loss, particularly, finding one's identity after loss and reshaping your life and your definition of love around this space that someone once filled. That's an insight I am fairly certain I didn't have the first time around.

So, without further ado, here are the books that almost always in my head:

The Bone People by Keri Hulme. I love this book so much I forced it upon one of my accelerated International Baccalaureate English classes in Poland, who dug it too, by the way.

Another Country by James Baldwin. This book is gorgeous. Read it.

Mating: A Novel by Norman Rush. This book is still a tease-point for M. since I had to renew it 3 times from the British Library, reached my maximum allowance, then had to ask M to check it out for me on his card. Its not that difficult a read, I was simply savoring it. What struck me the most about this book was how Rush so convincingly captured the voice of a young American female expat brazenly trying to define herself while assimilating (but not) into the foreign culture around her. My description isn't even coming close to explaining my full immersion into this novel.

The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker. I'm not saying that I liked this book. But it is one that I can't, to this day, get out of my head. It made me contemplate vegetarianism, question my thoughts on marriage and love and simply challenged me on a number of levels. This one I might just need to pick up again for a re-read, simply to see if it is a groundbreaking as I once thought it was.

And lastly, the granddaddy of all novels Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace. I think the selection of this book pretty much solidifies the fact that being Gen X is my master status, the way I define myself above all other identifiers. I was crushed and angry when I heard of Foster Wallace's suicide. What did you do, man? Don't know you were writing for us?

This book is dense and some may say pretentious. I say genius. Some dismiss it as being too sarcastic, too insincere. I say it is so sincere it hurts. M read this first and then handed it off to me after saying he was "never going to read another book" because this one was the best he had ever read (he lied). This book was the prime suspect of the "infamous laughing incident** that took place when we still lived with M's parents. This book is the source of phrases and turns of words I have built into my daily existence (do I confess I sometimes refer to some of the more hardcore advocates in my field as "wheelchair assassins"?) This book is a bear to read without multiple bookmarks and heavy as shit but I don't know what my bookshelf would be without it.

**The infamous laughing incident took place sometime after midnight on a weekday at M's parents' house. I was reading a section of the book which had me choking down my laughter. My snorts woke M up who started to reread the section over my shoulder. Snorts turned into howls turned into M's mom furiously banging on the wall telling us the SHUT THE F UP. And yes, she did drop the F bomb. Which shocked us into even more uncontrollable laughter. The following morning, M found a copy of a decree from some country that I forget prohibiting a number of actions that could be performed in public. M whited out words a la mad lib style and turned it into the "NO LAUGHING DECREE" and hung it on the fridge. It was there for months.


still life angie said...

OOO, what an awesome list, though I have never read Infinite Jest. I have wanted to for a long time, mainly because so many of my friends list it as a favorite, but the sheer volume intimidates me. I also self-identify as a slacker. Funnily, I knew a woman who came into the cafe I was working at during the height of the Slacker/Gen X media blitz. She was writing a book called the official Slacker Handbook. No, I'm not kidding. She asked me and a bunch of other slacker friends to be part of the photo shoot for the book. At 11am on Saturday. Yeah, here's the punchline. No one showed up or remembered. Poor her. She had to schedule it three times before someone remembered to come.

m said...

That is CLASSIC. I love that story. You really need to read Infinite Jest. You can even borrow my copy. ;-)

Lori Lavender Luz said...

OK. You MAY have inspired me to read IJ, which we have on a bookshelf somewhere.

I read Mating while an expat in the Middle East. My dictionary was never far away. The thing I remember about that book is that I discovered a flaw in his narrative about the woman using the outhouse. In a way that a woman wouldn't. Also, I think there was an anachronism about who was the US President at a certain point in time.

HA! Take that, Norman Rush!

OK, IJ. Here I come.

Holly said...

So GLAD you're back writing more...

Thanks for the book suggestions, they have been added to my "books to read" list!

Anonymous said...

Damn, I love you. Infinite Jest is one of my absolute favourites, too. And I agree with everything you say about it here. The humanity and compassion in that book are mind-blowing - I mean, Mario is one of the best characters ever. And yeah, when DFW killed himself I was crushed. Such a loss, for all of us.

And I love that you have worked "wheelchair assassins" into your own lexicon. Gawd, you're hip.

Haven't read any others on your list - will have to check them out.

Catherine W said...

Oh geesh. I haven't read any of these. I would like to read Infinite Jest but, sadly, I no longer seem to have a brain.

But anything that can inspire a situation such as the infamous laughing incident has to be worth attempting to muster my few remaining brain cells together for.