Biographers: things would definitely not be the same without them.

Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm  Comments (2)  

A provocative question

After all isn’t the purpose of a novel, or a museum, for that matter, to relate our memories with such sincerity as to transform individual happiness into a happiness all can share?

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk

Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 12:07 am  Comments (4)  

Enemies and fiction

Sometimes, I think the secret to fiction is telling a story about being our own worst enemy, then seeing if that leads to tragedy or life going on in the same old way.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 11:36 pm  Comments (1)  

POV: Bleak House

Point of view: let’s take Bleak House for instance.  You have this grand satirical omniscient point of view set beside the seemingly humble narrative of Esther Summerson.  Most novelists don’t attempt mixing points of view like that.

I suppose many learned papers have been written about the points of view in Bleak House and how they work.  But I will not read those learned papers and leave it for a puzzle to piece together on my own or–failing that–remain a mystery.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Possible worlds: part one

Where would we be if Choderlos de Laclos had not concocted his Les Liasons Dangereuses?

Published in: on September 18, 2009 at 1:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Shakespeare in translation

I was reading an article (where and by whom I don’t remember) where the idea was floated that Shakespeare should be translated into modern English as Chaucer has.  That’s an interesting proposition.  Translations are new works of literature, but literature all the same.

What play should be the first?  How many years would it take to do it?

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 11:57 am  Comments (2)  

Check my last, (or hers)

She calls me.  She says he wasn’t as serious as she thought.  She says she was ambivalent in the first place.  I tell her hanging out together is still on my agenda.  (That’s so cold saying it that way.)  Fuck it; she’s no longer in my heart.  It ain’t going to happen.

Some people you desire for your whole life.  Others fade into blue as swiftly as you can make it happen.

Color her blue.  But don’t get me wrong.  I’ll always remember her that Sunday afternoon at the coffee shop when she first opened Middlemarch.  I’m going to miss discussing it with her, but I barely understand it myself.  By the time she is my age and read it several times, she will know much more about it than me.

I hope the children she will eventually have understand just how smart her Mom is.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Appear and fade away

I finished rereading Sebald’s Vertigo yesterday and started rereading his Rings of Saturn today. It was ten years ago this summer when I first read Rings of Saturn. It had just been translated into English. I read about it in a book review that intrigued me enough to buy it. I found it a quirky and indescribable book, the sort of book I enjoy the most. I do not know why I like novels that defy the normal rules of narration, voice, and style. I suppose the unfettered and unconventional in life beguiles my emotions in ways I will never decern.

Coincidently, the first person narrator in the Rings of Saturn begins his story by mentioning a journey he took during the Dog Days when he was feeling melancholy. It further cements my affinity with Sebald’s narrator. The eclectic mix of events, observations, and details as seen through the eyes of the narrator/Sebald(?) astonish and mystify me.

All I know is that ghosts appear and fade away on this hot humid day.

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

An old traveler

Yesterday, I was reading a travel guide for Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges–three cities, along with Paris, I will visit in September. The most fun part was studying the maps and tracing walking tours. I imagined V was accompanying me on the trip. We walked along foreign streets, and sat in cafes refreshing ourselves.

She sat down beside me unexpectedly and unannounced while I was immersed in thoughts of traveling. I enjoyed sitting with her. I did not mention how sad I was that she was not going with me. The melancholy of it disturbs my thoughts this morning. But I would rather have this melancholy than not having met her at all, despite my disappointments regarding the impossible.

I suppose these thoughts made me fish four of the Sebald novels from the book stacks in my apartment. They are written in the first person. The protagonists are melancholy travelers through Europe. These characters share a personal exhaustion with the age in which they live and the countries through which they travel. The plots are a fascinating accumulation of detail. The hero starts his journey tired and melancholy. He never leaves those states despite who he has met or what he has witnessed. All seems as it necessarily must be.

I feel old today. That’s just as well, for I am. I resist any attempt at objectivity as I think about what I want to do. I cannot say anything as eloquently as a Sebald character can, yet I may never have tried, for eloquence arises from the subjective, not the objective. I’ve run away from myself for so many years I wonder if I can ever recover something imitating a genuine self.

I hear in my mind’s ear Willie Nelson singing his beautifully styled version of I Can See Clearly Now.

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  


The spine of Womersley’s abridgment of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire consists of unabridged chapters extracted from the text. I get a better sense of Gibbon’s ability to weave drama, observation, and reflection in a miniature whole that is something akin to a short story. The bridging selections between the unabridged chapters knit together Gibbon’s sustained argument for the causes of the fall of the empire, but I find the argument less interesting to follow than reveling in Gibbon’s narrative ability. The unity of the chapters seem as if they were chiseled out of granite.

What I have lost by not reading the whole again, I have gained by seeing the literary value of the work in closer perspective. I suspect Gibbon will always be one of my favorite writers.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Meandering: The Delighted States

I read Richard Eder’s NYT book review of Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States. The review piqued my interest in the book, a quirky homage to some novels, their authors, styles, translations, and translators. Then I read Michael Dirda’s review of the book in The Washington Post. Whatever the merits of Dirda’s review, he slapped Thirlwell in the face.

I started reading the book yesterday. I’m through the introductory part. I am enjoying the read so far. Thirlwell meanders, drifts, and dreams in the world of novels.

The book feels like the perfect summer read for me. Who can predict what the solitary reader might enjoy?

Published in: on June 20, 2008 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Reading course addition

Let’s say we start the reading course with Plato’s Phaedrus. Let’s finish it with Derrida’s Dissemination . It is what started the the thought of a quirky reading course in the first place.

Published in: on June 10, 2008 at 1:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

A friend for life

I am giving Ted Kooser’s poetry collection, Delights and Shadows, a slow reading. I am already in thrall to it. The poems trigger memories from my childhood, the days when we lived in small Iowa towns and Galena too.

It is a damned shame more people do not read poetry. I don’t mean for silly reasons such as poetry makes us better people or wiser. When you find a poet you really like, reading the poems are a gentle caress. And poetry can sustain us too. I have turned to poetry several times when my heart was broken and seemed beyond repair.

Find a poet you enjoy and you will have a friend for life.

Published in: on May 29, 2008 at 10:33 am  Comments (1)  

The Internet has bewitched me

I do not start my days early enough.  First, I must manage my three fantasy baseball teams.  Then I make chess moves against my Internet opponents.  After that, I read the New York Times online, concentrating on the book reviews.  Next comes Arts & Letters Daily with its wealth of articles, essays, opinions, and book reviews culled from across Internet publications.  I finish the morning ritual by reading the blogs I like best.

Finally, I get to my own writing.  My mind has already been tugged a dozen different ways from it by what I have read before opening up a blank screen and trying to fill it with words.  The latest book I am reading sits too close to the computer.  I struggle not to look at it let alone open it and start reading.

I might go back to doing some writing on the manual typewriter.  The computer will be shut down and not within reach.  I will purify myself from this deluge of information and Internet activity for a short spell each day.

Published in: on April 8, 2008 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Fiction and history

I read the passages of In Search of Lost Time where the narrator examines and describes both his love for Albertine and his jealousy over her. The reading fascinates and painfully pierces at the same time. As I recall, Albertine was based on a man with whom Proust was in love, but that does not matter at all. I wonder what it cost him to write these things as he lay in his bed.

Proust seems the pinnacle of excellence when it comes to relating the feeling of what happens when one is in love. Understanding that was the key that unlocked the door barring my enjoyment of Proust.

Proust melds fiction and history as well as anyone ever has. Can there be any philosophy without fiction or history? Some days, I feel our fictions and histories are all we own. The whole of any philosophy is grounded and contained in imagination, memory, fiction, and history. The view from nowhere is both real and our supreme fiction.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 9:29 am  Comments (1)  

War and Peace

I slowly read the James Wood review of Pevear and Volokhonsky’s new translation of War and Peace. I have read the book every decade of my life since I was 17 except for this one. I must read it again this year and Wood makes me feel the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation is the one I want.

I wonder what it would be like to read the whole of it to V. How many nights would it take? Would my reading make the characters come alive for her? What would her thoughts be about the sweep of history? Years hence, would she see or hear the words War and Peace, see it on a bookshelf, or study somebody reading it and say, yes, my beloved Lynn read me that book on those glorious nights?

Published in: on March 12, 2008 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

My novel

It is a cold day to be sure, but the sun is shining through my window. It’s been awhile since that happened. A steaming coffee sits beside me. This passage from Calvino is on my mind.

Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can discover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.

The passage is underlined. I did not notice the underlining the first time I read it. She underlined it. That’s very good.

It must be common to think of life as a novel. We create our lives within the boundaries of the form. Take this day for instance. I am alone sipping my coffee. I have nobody to meet for lunch as I did yesterday. The day is mine. What passage shall I write?

The sun and the big warm smile of the woman who served me coffee at Starbuck’s are already written along with the underlined passage in Calvino. I can feel the caffeine taking hold, so that’s in it too.

The memory of V standing before me last night, her sweater and jeans hugging her body, that’s in it now too, since I’ve mentioned it. As beautiful as the memory is, I must write other things into my life today or go mad.

I’ve gone on long enough about this. I know I bore you, but I don’t want to use too much of your time.

Published in: on February 19, 2008 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Books are good for you

Bored, restless, pretty much brain dead from last night actually, I decide to do some laundry. I take my college abstract algebra book with me to the laundry room and flip through the later chapters. I think to myself: I used to know this stuff at least well enough to pass a test and now I know nothing at all. I feel that way about most of my knowledge base these days.

I woman comes into the laundry room and loads up her machines. She brings a book with her. I’ve seen her around the building. She’s attractive and has certainly caught my eye more than once.

She asks me what I am reading. When I tell her, her eyes glaze over. I ask her the same question. She’s reading McCarthy’s The Road. My heart beats faster. I tell her he’s one of my favorites. She asks me if I like coffee. I tell her its one of my favorite things. She asks me if I want to have coffee sometime with her and share our thoughts on the books we’ve been reading. I say yes. She gives me her number.

Reading is fun.

Published in: on February 9, 2008 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

After Reading Radio Waves

I can see you in Canada. Probably Ontario. You’re reading Machado. You even wrote a poem about reading Machado in bed. I wish you couild see me now, alone, reading your poems in bed, so alone I almost feel lonely.

Published in: on February 8, 2008 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Classic Comics

When I was a boy, I spent several years enjoying comic books. This included the usual such as Superman, Batman, and Sergeant Rock in Our Army at War. There was another interesting series called Classic Comics. They told the stories from classic literature. These tended toward stories with some adventure in them such as Mutiny on the Bounty or Treasure Island. I recall Jane Eyre was part of the series. Who does not like a good tale about a crazy woman hidden in the attic? I don’t recall War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov as part of the series.


Published in: on November 13, 2007 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

No Country for Old Men

I started reading No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy on Saturday. I liked it right from the first few pages. Sunday afternoon, I saw a trailer on TV that said the Coen Brothers have adapted the book into a movie. Wow, the best of both worlds: McCarthy and the Coen brothers.

My good friend Steve is an avid McCarthy reader. He thought the book was good, yet not up to McCarthy standards. I don’t know about that. On the surface it is a good crime novel, but that is like saying Blood Meridian is a good western tale. As crime novels go, McCarthy proves once again he is a genius.

At any rate, I have another book that I wished I would have written: No Country for Old Men. That’s my highest praise for a book.

Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 2:58 pm  Comments (2)  

The demolition of State Street as I knew it

With all the demolition of buildings and construction of new high rises, I had to generate a few random paragraphs about it. And pretend they were meant for a poem.

The demolition of State Street

When can a turntable explode with State Street?

The explosive swears around a comic

anagram. Construction Worker coppers

a guilt next to each anagram. A species

experiments with State Street. State Street

impresses the nasty injury.

When can a message refresh State Street?

The flat space mates Construction Worker.

State Street folds Construction Worker against

the pigeon. Construction Worker abides outside

the turntable. How will the nonsense offender

peer under Construction Worker?

Construction Worker peers near a kernel.

State Street prosecutes opposite an employer.

“Oh Mama, can this really be the end?”

Published in: on September 27, 2007 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment