Friday, May 20, 2011

A D Jameson, On Reading

"I used to have lots of concerns about reading, I felt a lot of anxiety, when I was in college. I felt that I hadn’t read enough. I’d buy books compulsively back then, thousands of titles. Some I read. More than a few I never got to. And even the ones I did read, I mostly read long ago, and now have forgotten. (Although I tend to take pretty good notes.)

I eventually rid myself of this anxiety, or most of it. My life goes on, regardless of what I’ve read. Or haven’t read.

And reading new books leaves me less time for rereading. And reading at all leaves me with less time for going to movies, or listening to music, or visiting museums, or walking, or cooking, or working out, or dancing, or having sex.

And no matter how many things I’ve read, and will go on to read, I’ll die without having read all that much, in the grand scheme of things. So it’s better to make use of what I have read, whatever’s at hand.

I feel the same way about movies and music and visual art. About everything, really.

Though I understand now (or I think that I understand) what I was so anxious about back in college. It was not not having read all that much: it was not knowing all that much about books. I didn’t know who was who, so to speak, or what was what. If somebody told me, 'Thomas Pynchon’s new novel is coming out next month,' I didn’t know what to make of that fact; I couldn’t use it. (When somebody did say that to me, in 1996, I borrowed Mason & Dixon from the library, read the first ten pages, returned it. It wouldn’t be another two years till I read a full book by him.)

(And I’ve still never finished reading V. Nor his two newest ones, although I looked at both, purchased one.) (But why did I buy it? Out of some sense of obligation?)

I do enjoy reading very much. These days, I read more and more online. I read a few blogs, occasionally, mainly political ones. I read lots of film reviews. And articles on the card game Magic: The Gathering, of which I’m a fan.

I like reading magazines and newspapers—for instance, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, which I steal when I can (I love doing the crossword). And the Chicago Reader and the Onion, which are both free. And the British Film Institute’s journal Sight & Sound, which I have been reading for over ten years now, and which I joyously purchase every month (it costs $9.99 exactly, no tax).

I read lots of poetry, a few poems every day. I reread my favorite ones over and over: poems by Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, Lorine Niedecker, Philip Larkin… Plus song lyrics—especially ones by Morrissey, my hero.

As for books, sometimes I read a whole bunch in a row, and then don’t read any for several months. I often start books and fail to finish them, or wind up skimming them. I’m reading right now:

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara (I’m almost done);
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (I just started; this is reread);
Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown (I greatly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code);
Lion in the Valley, by Elizabeth Peters (I may not finish this one);
The Zapp Gun, by Philip K. Dick (He’s one of my favorite authors; I’d like to read everything he wrote).

I like reading several books at once; it helps to show their individual structures. I also reread books a lot, in whole and in part. That helps me to see their structures, too. (I really like structure.)

That said, it’s good to read very widely, as broadly as possible. And to read about books: where they come from, who their authors are, what others have chose to write about them. Indeed, it might even be more important to know about books than to actually read them. (I am a disciple of Pierre Bayard.)

I like reading best while riding the train, or staying up very late at night, reading a book straight through. (I often do this while on vacation.)

To a very large extent, what I have read, and what I find I most enjoy reading, is arbitrary. My dad owned a lot of Ian Fleming novels, and a lot of Kurt Vonnegut novels. My mom had a lot of children’s books. I read them all, because they were there. I also read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and J.R.R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. And to this day, I adore mystery novels and spy thrillers, and science-fiction and fantasy novels, although I rarely read them. (I love the idea of them more than anything; I love those genres.)

I also, while still a child and a teen, read thousands of comic books—more comic books than anything else, I’d guess. Mostly issues of Uncanny X-Men and G.I. Joe; I got hooked when my grandmother bought me a Transformers comic; I read it to tatters.

But why those things? They were what was around. I could have just as easily fallen in love with Westerns and romance novels. Or technical user manuals. Had I grown up around those things.

When I allow myself today to dream about reading, when I fantasize, 'Tonight I will draw a hot bath and sit there as long as I’d like, reading,' I often picture myself reading comic books. They’ve given me the most pleasure."

A D Jameson is the author of the novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson) and the prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound). Adam is also a video artist, performer, and soon to be Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In his spare time, he contributes regularly the group literary blog Big Other. For more information, visit his website here.}

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Michael Kimball | Us

Michael Kimball's Us connects the powerful forces of love and death through the process of dying, and the book, itself, is a being, breathing life into the reader and taking life away from the reader. What happens when your loved one must live in a hospital? What would you do? How would you react? What happens when your loved one has only a bit of time to live? What would you do? How would you react? Kimball creates a world which silently, and sadly, asks these thought provoking questions--these questions that float and drift around as ghosts in the brain. This is a story of a husband and wife and their love for each other. But it's not as simple as that. There is this gentility and softness and purity that becomes some kind of being, and this being, by the end of the book, is us. It's love. It's death. It's sadness. It's happiness. It's hands. It's legs, and heads, and beds. It's clocks--it's boiling water.

The author provides a series of concrete images, but at the same, because of the depth and emotion and isolationism behind these descriptions, there is a surreal quality--a silent and lonely voice combined with hope and memories and passion. And these dreamlike tones can be found both at the hospital and at the couple's home. For example:

I whispered things into her ears so that she would remember how to talk and remember me and the things that we did together. I would say that we were going for a walk when I moved her legs and I would say that we were holding hands when I held onto her hands. I would tell her that was she was taking a bath in our bathtub. I would tell her that she was sitting up in a chair or looking out the window or brushing her hair. (58-59)

There is a gap here in what is actually happening and what is going on in the narrator's head, and it is in this gap where the sadness and the love exist--the dichotomy of dreams and reality. This same sadness and love can also be found when the husband and wife go back home:

But my wife wasn't getting any better anymore for those days that we were back home. She began to forget how to live in our house or with me anymore. She forgot what things were or what they were for. We made labels for the refrigerator and the food inside it, for the doors to the kitchen and our bedroom and the bathrooms, for the things that she used in the bathroom, and for the couch and the chairs and the other places where she could sit down. We wrote instructions out for the things that we used around our house--the telephone and the television, the microwave oven and the stove, the toilet and sinks. (93-94).

Again, in this gap, the reader sees the space between the normality of home life and the life of husband and wife coping with death and dying. These small actions, these little motions which take little thought in everyday life become a struggle. It is through these attempts to overcome these obstacles, the fragility, and, the wonder of love grows and grows, and it grows so much that by the end of the book, there will be dampened pages and salt.

by Michael Kimball
180 pages
ISBN 978-0615430461
Tyrant Books, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

j/j hastain, On Reading

"Reading as projection of sound--literal individual projection of one’s voice into space. We do this because we can’t make opera backwards (the voice swallowed inward)--I am saying what sweet gift and necessity, this projection. The auditory experience of sound emanating by way of our volition. The confidence we exhibit. A way to be both exact (expression) and exposed (expression in public)--

Also, reading as relation—a sweet inversion to projection, but not an opposite. The elation occurring as accrual in a solitude. The way we take in each other’s data and magnetize that data to our cells—to our ever upcoming bodies. I am saying that combination is how we become future versions of ourselves, and to say that this happens without the relation of each other is a fallacy. You write your book. I open your book and eat there. Morph there. Graft there. I tear the pages from your book and bury them with pages from another’s book. Then it rains. The soil compacts and tightens what once existed as space between our pages. I am saying we become progressive-we, this way. Through activisms related to our relational reading. Reading with the intent to fuse—for the sake of new profundities."

{j/j hastain lives in Colorado, USA with hir beloved. j/j is the author of numerous full-length, cross genre works, chaps, and artist's books: the ulterior eden, autobiography of my gender, prurient anarchic omnibus, we in my Trans, asymptotic lover//, our bodies....}

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Marthe Reed, On Reading

"There is reading and then there is reading. To escape—stress, overwork, crazy life—reading a certain kind of novel takes me out, away, elsewhere. The fruits of sheer pleasure: Terry Prachett’s mad, parodic Disc World, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: 'You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it….From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.' Elizabeth’s fiercely righteous indignation, Austen’s glorious syntax, extending and extensive, the commas stringing together clauses, its delicious formality—disapprobation!

To read, rather, not seeking escape but a way into the words themselves, I want stillness all around me, a quietness into which the language enters slowly, shifting its way through conscious and unconscious, unfolding its sinuousity, its stutters, its musics: 'If the window was an assertion of injustice nonetheless / If a listener is uncertain                 (face the glass) / If the interior is a preoccupation / If there are events but first and last are meaningless' (Laura Mullen’s Dark Archive) – the language drawing me wandering/wondering into the questions and possibles it proposes.

Or, Will Alexander’s Compression and Purity:

The horizon scrawls itself as interior distillation
as interminate terminology
as floating ocular ravine

it remains
a parallel radiophony
a flashing sun in phantom waters
being aquatic in exhaustive sonar kingdoms

like exhausted solar feathers
parallel and subsumed

The images, always already other, reintroduce me to the world I inhabit – 'floating ocular ravine…like exhausted solar feathers.' Reading is an occasion, insists on activity or response. Requires a notebook, a writing implement, a place in which to sprawl with books open, lines spooling about me, sounds catching in my ears, setting my hand in motion. Reading initiates writing, becomes writing, unstops the pandoric box. Takes me into language."

Marthe Reed has published two books, Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink) and Gaze (Black Radish Books), as well as three chapbooks, (em)bodied bliss and zaum alliterations, and post*cards (a collaboration with j hastain), all in conjunction with the Dusie Kollektiv Series. Her poetry has appeared in New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, New Orleans Review, HOW2, MiPoesias, Exquisite Corpse, and Fairy Tale Review. She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Visit her website here and visit Nous-zot Press here.}

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Emily St. John Mandel, On Reading

"I read in the evenings sometimes, but I do most of my reading on the subway. I have a long commute to and from my day job, and I read for the entire distance. On scattered mornings I'll occasionally forget my book, and there's a certain sinking dread when I realize that I've got nothing to read for the journey. Reading is partly an escape for me (I can't say I love spending 45 minutes in the subway every morning, and it's nice to escape into fiction), but it's also a means of connection; it makes me feel like I'm part of a community of readers."

{For more information about Emily St. John Mandel, please visit her website here.}

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Matthew Salesses, On Reading

"There is something about reading. I will waste plenty of time watching poorly made movies or tv shows, but I can't bring myself to waste a single minute on a book that does not enrich the act of reading."

Matthew Salesses is the author of Our Island of Epidemics, a hypertext and PANK little book, and the forthcoming, The Last Repatriate (Nouvella). He is the Fiction Editor for the Good Men Project Magazine.}