During the semester I read approximately 250 pages a week, to as much as 600, if it’s thesis season–and that doesn’t even include my own writing or my email. But I also don’t notice it–I just do it, like breathing or drinking coffee or noticing where I’m walking. I did take an old-fashioned speed-reading course in grade school (described in my first novel, Edinburgh–yes, this is among the autobiographical parts) and so that is part of it (we were not taught to skim, but shown the lines at high speed via a slide projector), but all the same it can be hard to muster the energy to find books not related to my research or my curriculum. Books for pleasure, in other words.
This, of course, is a trap, and should be fought. So today I fought.
I’d gone out to the Post Office today for an errand, to find it dark due to Veteran’s Day, and with the time I’d allotted, went to my local bookstore, Amherst Books, where I found Refresh, Refresh. This is a graphic novel, based on a story by Benjamin Percy, and tells the story of the sons of three soldiers, all friends, and the turmoil of living life with a father who’s off at war. It’s one of the most honest things I’ve read about what the lives of these boys are like, and the ending is devastating. I’ve just met Percy recently and am now also looking forward to his new collection, of the same title.
Yes, all you’d have to do is watch CNN to decide you were never going to use Twitter–few things make me despair like seeing an anchor read reactions off Twitter–but for writers and literary feeds, if you use it right, it’s like having a crowd as your research intern–researching what you don’t know or wouldn’t think to look for but still want to know. Think of each entry as being like an electronic catalog card, for something you weren’t looking for explicitly but are happy to find. This is more true now with the list function. Today for example, Matthew Hunte shared a find from the Believer–Donald Barthelme’s syllabus, 81 books he wanted his students to read (pictured here). Matthew is, in the short time I’ve known him, one of my favorite people on there, and I highly recommend following his feed.
Many of the titles on the Barthelme list were familiar, but there was one I noticed I’d always seen but never read: The Changeling, by Joy Williams. I’m something of a Williams Completist, owning even the guide to the Florida Keys she wrote, but this had always escaped me, and it turns out, from this post over at Paper Cuts, there was a reason: when it came out, Anatole Broyard destroyed it in a review, and it faded out of sight. Last year, though, the Fairy Tale Press brought it out again in a 30th Anniversary edition. And soon it will be mine.
If you’re interested, here is an interview at Bookslut with Tao Lin interviewing Joy Williams on the occasion of the reissue. Kate Bernheimer, the publisher at Fairy Tale, is the one who edited me in the anthology Brothers and Beasts, with my essay “Kitsune”, about the fox demons in Edinburgh.
I am in complete agreement with you on Twitter. I signed on in July of 2007 and played around with it for a few days, but like most people I didn’t get it. It just seemed stupid. What I found out months later when I gave it another try was that Twitter only becomes interesting once you find people to follow who are interested in the kinds of things you are — and then you see who they follow and find more interesting folk to follow. If it turns out you’re following people who you’re not in sync with there’s no negative consequence to “unfollowing” someone — it’s not personal, like it would be on Facebook.
My reading list has grown exponentially since I started following other avid readers. Infinite Jest and Gravity’s Rainbow were hanging around my bookshelves for years and I finally read one and then the other with groups of people I’ve “met” on Twitter.
It’s actually too engaging at times. I have to really force myself to shut it down and walk away quite a bit of the time so I can get some work done!
I read Joy Williams’s The Changeling a few years ago and was delighted to hear you’re a completist, too. I ordered a canceled library copy through the amazon site. It’s an odd one, but has her signature concreteness, mixed in with some directly and not just breezily implied surrealistic moments. I have read all of the work, and love it for the stamp she puts on everything, but think she’s one of the rare ones who’s gotten better over time. Her last two books of fiction and the book of essays all blow me away. Anyway, enjoy The Changeling. Hope you agree she’s incapable of disappointing. Hope your work is good. Glad to know another Williams-ite!
Thanks, Michael. And thanks for dropping by.
I love that list–it’s inspired me to make a reading list for my students, too. Reading cures so much in life.
And twitter is invaluable to me–writing is such a solitary activity, that it is often my lifeline to friends and support. Also, like you, my friends (on twitter, but also those not on twitter) often help with my research. All of them are going to go in my thank you section, after I finish, and when one day in my dreamy future, it is published.
Thanks for this post! Those interview questions were actually prepared by Tao Lin, though I did present them to, and retrieve responses from, Joy on his behalf. I’m certain you will love The Changeling.
Hmmmm. Almost, almost, am I convinced of caving in and joining Twitter…
Hi. Thanks for this post! I read Joy Williams’s The Changeling a few years ago and was delighted to hear you’re a completist, too.