Showing posts with label Reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reading. Show all posts

Monday, July 20, 2020


Having literary genres and various sub categories is a fine thing to have at your disposal when your pressed with putting a label on a book that baffles you after you finish it; more than once I’ve looked at a book in my lap seeming to stare back at me after I’ve finished it.   The book seems to ask “now what? What do you make of me, and how have I aided in enhancing your experience of the life you find yourself within”?  But one needs to continue cautiously in their attempt to name that tune. Categories themselves are as slippery as the narratives they claim to explain and contextualize; the further one steps away from a book for the wider perspective might cause the reader to lose sight of the  original text and witness instead nothing but vast horizon. That’s not bad if your on vacation at the Grand Canyon, but it’s  not the preferred situation for  most curious readers. Contextualizing everything according to a variety of theories and generic definitions becomes an unpaid task and dilutes the book’s main purpose, to divert. We need to remember that  despite theoretical promises  of unlocking the secret messages novelists might have, the essence of these books is  making stuff up for our entertainment. 

Writing and literature is all veils, I would think: if anyone could get "IT" with a piece of work, we would have to assume the writer, and his audience are satisfied, sated, and are disinclined to hear the story again. But there is always another wrinkle to relate, another nuance to discover, another veil to be taken away. This echoes Roland Barthes’ idea of writing / writing as being an erotic function, that the end that one gets to at the end of the tale is not the point of the quest, but the quest itself, the unveiling of the language, the constant re-assimilation that names for things are made to under go as the nature of the material world defies literary form; it is the imagination that needs to work within the waking sphere, not the world that needs to fit within it's contours. 
We find, with reading, that writers we care about themselves could care less about what kind they are supposed to be, according to literary archivists; thus, they will have stylistics extremes that venture into another camp, away from what common knowledge dictates is their "native" style, manner. Is Gravity's Rainbow any less a work of "Magical Realism" than what we have seen in Garcia Marquez or Borges? Is Nabokov's Pale Fire less post modern than Gilbert Sorrenteno's  Mulligan Stew

It becomes the definitively moot point, irresolvable and subjects to an unending detour the circles around the precise meaning of finally inconsequential terms. Imagination is trait that will use anything manner or style that is suitable to a writer's project at hand and it ought not be surprising, or upsetting that many writers, assigned to roles by career-making PhD candidates, simply do what they need to do in order to get the work done. We witness fascinating paradoxes: Norman Mailer, by temperament a romantic existentialist who might have been in the late 19th century, is one who took to post-modern strategies to render is work: the range of his assumed styles and experimentation creates specific problems with literary historians who might be eager to be done with his books and his name. The sectarian insistence on the differences between styles is pointless, I think; it's more fruitful and more interesting to have a more fluid approach to the study of literature and writing, particularly in how writers will take cues from one another and molds those influences into something that's very much theirs alone. Garcia Marquez (nee Lopez) has spoken of the great influence Southern Fiction had on his emerging style, particularly Faulkner, and Pynchon gives credit to William Gaddis and his Joycean The Recognitions as a major motivator for him to write with the denseness he has. Criticism tends to be like guys who talk about cars with all their specs yet who never drive one, never really understand the feel of the tires on the road. A criticism that takes into account how style , whatever it's source or use, produces it's effects, it's tactile quality , seems much more inviting.  But "truth", large or small t, is something we arrive at after the fact, up the road, after we're over the hill. The point of personal experience is something we assign later, when memory arranges the particulars in some fine fashion that makes the data resonate like some kind of grand or sad music that needs its expression in talk, a phone call, poem, novel, blues guitar. Since experience is the hardest thing to convey --it is not an argument I'm making, it's a tightly knotted cluster of feelings and emotions linked to a sequence of events that I have need to relate to you, to bring you into (in a manner of seduction, dropping the suspenders of disbelief) -- I generally favor any writer to use any and all materials available and appropriate. 

At best, we see an outline of the truth, a blurred reconstruction, and it's here we, as readers, need to give our trust to the writer to take us through an implied but imaginatively plausible world. Proficiency makes us forget the lines we're reading, the very words we're taking in. Skillful writing, whatever it's style, origins or intent, quite literally pulses, and is that shape, the "truth" we want to pull the veil from. The idea of the metaphor is metaphorical, and since the 'truth' it's protecting is metaphorical, or at least figurative in some way, it seems like a dead issue. There are the same thing, though we can say are separate units of the same perceptual operation.  What's useful is to consider the process 'through' the veils, or, in conventional literary lit speak, the arrangement, tone, and orchestration of the narrative events that lead a reader finally to the last chapter, the last page and he last sentence, where one arrives at the author's sense of an ending, and their implications of whether the tale really does "end" there, done with, having served its purpose of illustrating a 'given' moral lesson based on a nominally 'realistic' event, or whether the lives of the characters go on, after the last page, changed after an arduous narrative, braced for an unknown future. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Here is a list of every damn book you haven't read

Pop culture web site published one of those lists that are intended either to shame you for being culturally deprived or boost your self regard a hint by being a hipster who is in the know. It's click bait , of course, and it me this time with their head line 10 Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them). The awkward alliteration of "Really Read" took me aback a might, as it is sing- songy rather that snappy and confident in the qualifiers being deployed . Had they used the phrase "actually read" instead of the unconvincing break-room enthusiasm of "really", we might have a headline worthy of bookish subject. No matter.   I haven't read most of them, to be honest,  but in my defense I'll say that I never cultivated a taste for science fiction novels, which dominate here. I had the teen age fascination with rocket ships, monsters and super heroes , of course, but good lit classes in high school and college course work changed my tastes, my preferences for the style and kind of books I would be attracted to. I do love science fiction movies, of course, but over all I just can't get behind the work. I did, though, enjoy Neil Gaiman's work American Gods , think highly of William Gibson's stripped down cyber punk, and , of course, fancy some Philip K.Dick some of the time,with William Burroughs as an entree for all of them

Contrary to the articles findings , most people I know who are readers (and they are legion) are quite believable when they tell me they they've read Nineteen Eighty Four. It's not a long novel, the story is not especially dense, and the argument the novel embodies, that governments are wont to contrive excuses for wars , always in the name of grand causes and great tradition, as a powerful means of fooling a populace and so enabling the State to maintain and extend their power over them, is not opaque.It is unobscured by metaphor. It is the least fuzzy-think  of all novels that one should read. The genius of Orwell was his refusal to claim the villainy of the State against Winston Smith, the protagonist, was the doings of a political apparatus of the Left or Right.  Totalitarianism is evil and foul from whatever direction it comes from. All the same, it's amusing for to remember that there were Libertarian and Marxist study groups around the campus of the university I attended, and I happened to take a long look at the reading list for each. Sure enough, Nineteen Eighty Four  was on both rosters, left and right, and both were convinced that Orwell was on their side. Neat trick.

Infinite Jest is another matter. It's a book I got about three hundred pages into before setting it down forever , less because of it's difficulty and massive amounts of incidental information and more the fact that David Foster Wallace's seemed to be less in having each sentence and each paragraph they form advance plot, characterization and give both experimentation and exposition a frame work toward a satisfying whole than he seemed intent on exhausting the limits as to what each individual sentence, as a unit of meaning, could be exploited. The trick was in keeping his structures grammatically sound and artfully appending his nominal subjects with digressions that come seemingly from nowhere at all. I thought this approach worked well, even with brilliance,in his shorter works, like the story collection Oblivion, and his his travel collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again . Offensive though it may sound, there is an art of getting to the point in due time, and DFW's briefer pieces give you a better concentration of his wit. 

Gravity's Rainbow is something I definitely read and allowed myself nearly a year to complete. No one should lie about having read this, especially to those who have. It's a difficult book, it is funny to an amazing degree, Pynchon is a fantastically gifted prose writer and a superb mimic of the styles of other authors, and none of it comes to the reader easily. It's an attractive notion that literature should be entertaining, distracting and not at all difficult to mine for subtler implications or Moral (more often than not reaffirmations of convictions and fuzzily remembered bromides that haven't been seriously interrogated in quite some time), but there are pleasures out there from imaginations that have no intention of co-signing a potential audiences hackneyed cosmology. Maybe they don't know how.  And many of us have lost patience with the time it takes to experience something that resonates beyond the mere thrill .

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books:

'via Blog this'

The problem  of finishing novels, I think, comes from the simple fact that one has read so many of them over time that what one ends up recognizing are not conflicts, emotional complications and dramatic consequences but rather plot formulas.  Sad was the day when I had to admit that I could predict more often than not where a novel was going once I crossed the threshold of a novel's middle chapters;  a number of things were set in such a way, in such an arrangement of social types and temperament that there were only a thin selection of things the author could do with his resolutions. 

He would other wise risk ruining the  comforting elegance of the template he  selected; although most readers protest that they do not want to know how novels end before they read them, they have, none the less, that the mainstream novels they read conclude in a particular way. Not getting the ending they  expect amounts  to a betrayal in their view.  

I had for years worked as a bookseller with a speciality in literary fiction and maintained a regimen of read 4-6 books a week in order to be able to make informed recommendations to customers;  after awhile I found myself power skimming, allowing my eyes to skip or elide over whole chunks of  thick expository prose in order to finish the book. 

I  stopped reading so many books at once and these days I finish only two of every five books I start; I consider the ones I lay down forever as  not having passed the audition. The dilemma, I think, comes from writers who have all learned craft and techniques from the classroom. The writers I happen to like, love, admire were outside the academy, perfecting  their art in the small hours between the hackwork needed to make rent and  have regular meals.  Everyone learns irony and tragedy from the same set of course notes. That stops being true novel writing . It is instead a species  of   examples illustrating a principle. I  have no real desire to attend the same lesson plan again and again. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Monday, March 16, 2009

The new book?

The death of the book, that paginated, bounded thing we carry around with us, dog-eared and highlighted, a friend to turn to in the moments when our attention isn't spent talking about what others want you to hear? The romantic in me says no, I want my books to be forever things, and love the illusion , now waning, that bookstores will be with us forever, but I did someone the other day using's reading device Kindle recently, and without bother describing it too much, the ease and comfort of use looked very, very appealing. Books in a another form, perhaps, abetted by a different delivery system? Probally so.

I can see the future of selling books being in on line downloads from a seller like Amazon or Barnes and Nobel, but I don’t think anyone will ever get in the habit of reading whole books from their computer screens, as a general habit. Rather, I suspect the fate of reading lies in reading devices that have a comfort and ease of use ; the issue, I think, is portability, since the basic advantage of the book over an internet text is that the book can become something of an intimate partner with you as you go places, travel, or just sit in a comfy chair , absorbing and considering the prose or poetry you’re witness to. There’s a need most readers have, older or younger, for the physicality of holding a book as they read –that seems to the way things stay in mind after a book is finished. So many column inches of prose I’ve read on line over the last ten years has stayed with me, superb as the writing may have been: all that wit and wisdom has vanished in the ether, passively taken in and mindlessly expelled like microwave cooking.

Not nearly as high; the attrition of the print material from memory is due more to the sheer volume of books I’ve read during my fifty six years. Getting older takes a toll. The point, though, is that what I’ve read with books, those intimate, portable, bendable, malleable objects that contain our language, has become integrated over time–the content and ideas have been better assimilated than from the materials I read on line. It might be a generational difference, I’ll concede, but I think it’s a safe guess that people won’t be reading from computer monitors, cell phones, lap tops or net books; they’ll prefer something cozier, like Amazon’s Kindle device for the book downloads they sell–it seems a device that invites the interaction between reader and the page that are the biggest allure of books over on line reading.

The move toward buying books via download is inevitable, in my view, and the real issue is what one means by “hard copy”. Without indulging in knee-jerk Tofflerism, my current best guess that book buyers will prefer a device like Kindle , or something similar, to reading books either on line or from a computer monitor: as I said before, portability and ease of use are key for the consumer instinct.