Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Mash-Up

I’m finding it difficult to remain faithful to one book.  I’m currently reading Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van der Berg, Vano and Niko by Erlom Akhvlediani, No Logo by Naomi Klein, Watercolor Women/Opaque Men by Ana Castillo, The Animals by Richard Grossman, and Chance Ransom by Kevin Stein. 

I love them all so far, but I just can’t commit to one.  And I’ve been eyeing Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan, Robert Creeley’s selected poems, and the short stories of Tennessee Williams. 

I have plans to purchase Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov, Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, The Physics of Sorrow by Greorgi Godpodinov, Goat’s Milk by Frank Ormsby, The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, The Guts by Roddy Doyle, and Young Skins by Colin Barrett, just to name a few. 

I have a problem. 

My inability to focus on one text may be due to the manner in which I spend my days: reading student papers, rereading texts I plan to use for class discussion, reading a shit ton of internet junk, skimming Wikipedia, rereading old poems and writings that I should be polishing but often abandon 1/3 in after something akin to depression sets in. 

So blame it (largely) on my job.  But blame it also on the times.

Many others have written more polished and considered pieces on the subject of reading and culture in the age of Google.  (They have names like Nicholas Carr and Dubravka Ugrešić and Douglas Rushkoff, names you might want to check out.) I am not concerned with composing a long think piece on this, but more curious about my lack of focus means for me, a guy who has long identified as a reader (a kind of odious term, but I’ll use it).  I don’t think I am the most voracious reader in town, certainly not the most erudite.  But I am a book geek.  I like to take photos of my bookshelves and share them with my uninterested Facebook friends.  I love bookstores and feel an odd sense of duty to purchase something whenever I enter one.  I like collecting books, even ones I doubt I’ll ever read.  And I like to keep up with what’s happening in world literature, though I still haven’t read László Krasznahorkai and can’t get into the second volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.  But I have them on my shelves, waiting for the day when I might want to read them.  Or at least add them to the pile of books I’ve not finished. 

Last year I read Ulysses, which represented a personal accomplishment.   As I have written elsewhere (on this blog and my other), I was previously very anti-James Joyce.  This is because my boss and mentor at the Aspidistra bookshop has no use for the filthy Irish Modernist master.  This is also because I read Faulkner first and, as much as I love Joyce, Faulkner will always be my go-to for stream of consciousness prose.  He essentially ruined me for Joyce and Virginia Woolf, until last year when Ulysses just sort of clicked with me.  It was the right book for me at that time.  I read the bulk of it on the beaches of Rogers Park while happy young people threw footballs over my head.  The setting seemed fitting considering the famous chapter where Leopold Bloom jerks off on the beach.  But I read it slowly, chapter by chapter, taking breaks when the literary hijinks got to be a bit much, reading shorter books on the train and reserving Joyce’s tome for weekend reading.  This created the idea that I could do this all the time: read short, portable books on the train (slim poetry collections, pocket paperbacks) and save the heavy stuff for reading in the easy chair with a glass of whiskey at my side. 

This works well enough, though I think I’ve now gotten into the habit of splitting my attention to the point where I am unable to really commit the mental energy some of these books demand.  What’s more interesting is that all of the books I am currently reading have started to bleed into each other.  The result is a curious mash-up of literary themes and styles.  I will do my best to represent it:

A young woman dresses up as bigfoot while singing of Finn McCool in a series of tercets that dip in and out of the experiences of a first generation Mexican-American woman who seeks to challenge notions of consumerist culture and indict corporations for their branding of sheepherders who talk with dogs and foxes and mice in a Beckett-like voice of absurd detachment in the prairie land of Illinois. 

An amazing book, no?