21 April 2009

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. Boston: Back Bay, 1996.

I Finished! this back in 2000, at the end of a scarily cold winter that I remember as only having snow on the ground the whole time. I had just graduated college and the newspaper at which I was freelancing couldn't find a full-time job for me. My car broke down three times. Or, well, it broke down once and then I took it in because it seemed the battery died. Then, a week later it broke down again, then another battery, and then, yes, a third time. Turns out the trunk light was staying on even when the trunk was shut. My grandfather came up with the idea to check it.

I was cold and unemployed and living with girls. I wrote things like this:

When you go to sleep at 1:30 a.m. and set your alarm for 9:30 a.m. and make a mental note of that being exactly an 8-hour span of time as long as you fall asleep right as your head hits the pillow, you get a nice feeling of the fact that not only are you going to have a nice night's sleep, but you will also be getting up at a fairly early hour of the morning and will have a good head start of the things you have to do during the next day. This is good and you think so what if I don't have a job to wake up to and you smile under warm blankets.

When you wake up at 9:30 a.m.—after having woken up at 7:30, 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. due to the fact that sunlight just naturally wakes you up but still leaves you tired enough to fall (thankfully) back to sleep—you seemingly can't (but actually just won't) convince yourself that getting up at 9:30 a.m. is half as good an idea as it was when you thought of it last night, because really, you don't have a job to wake up to and what the hell do you have to do that can't wait?

When you wake up a half hour later to the sound of your radio, you quickly get up (actually up and out of bed because you moved your alarm clock across the room a week or so ago not just to make space on your makeshift bedside table created from your future roommate's box of who knows what and two plastic drawer things bought at some big Mart before you came to college (probably from money you got from your graduation party where you were too hopped up on cold drugs to remember much, except being really hopped up on cold drugs) but also to ensure that turning off your alarm clock or hitting the SNOOZE button would force you to get out of bed and start walking (albeit only a couple of steps) which in turn, in theory, would make you wide awake to start the day) and set it for another half hour later, because like really I mean that's all you need.

When you wake up another half hour later (it's 10:30 a.m. after all this foolishness) you think hey yeah I'll just lay (lie?) here in bed for a while, and you do, eyes closed, but music tuned to the oldies station (the good one that bothers to play people like The Turtles and The Four Seasons, not the stupid one which can't seem to get enough of K.C. and the Goddamn Sunshine Band) keeps you partially awake, and just when you think you're about to fall back asleep, quiet oldies notwithstanding, the song changes to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog" or whatever the official title of the song is and now you're entire morning pattern of late sleep is ruined because really, who the hell can go back to sleep after leaping so violently out of bed to turn the radio off before the singer could even think about moving to the word "bullfrog"?

And now you're awake and you realize that, while you probably do have things that need done (ask Ma and editor and good-angel conscience if you need hints) you're really not going to do anything, and you stand in the middle of the living room and just look around blankly as if something will pop out at you and say "Over here!" and actually temporarily distract you from the ever-present fact that you don't have a job to wake up to and really, really, really could use one.
Boo hoo. I published this crap on my Web site: http://www.pitt.edu/~dcmst25, the second incarnation of what I don't like to call "my web presence." It's long gone, now. At any rate, DFW's big book was the perfect way to spend those many empty weeks. Something in the ease of the showy run-on language makes the vast, immense world it creates so immediate and accessible. My inclination to fall into books as a way of escape isn't what I'm proudest of, but I like it, selfishly, and this book is the best one to fall into.

So I'm reading it again, at last. I've Finished! my annotated bibliographies for my comprehensive exams, and so I'm able to read leisurely now without guilt. 1079 pages without a pencil in hand. Yes!

At any rate, I didn't want to close this blog with a negative post about some already-forgotten New Yorker story. So I'll let this book stay permanently at the top of all these bloviated entries. I've said before it's the best book you'll ever read. It is. I promise.

Thanks for everyone who's been reading this over the past few years. If you want another way to kill time at work, you can check out this site. Some people are so vain.

08 April 2009

Watson, Brad. "Visitation." The New Yorker 6 Apr 2009. 62-69.

Here's a sentence I'm never happy to see in a short story.
Loomis felt no affinity for any of them.
I like stories about loners, I guess. But can I brook stories about loners who've graduated high school? Loners with kids? What about straight, white loners named Loomis? It seems I can't. This week's New Yorker story is a pretty sad reversion to the oldest New Yorker story ever. Loomis's last name may as well have been Bascombe.

Loomis and his son just can't make it work, maybe, because he is, I guess, emotionally crippled and quote-unquote disillusioned with adulthood or something, and then at one point in the story this happens:
He recalled the days when his life with the boy's mother had seemed happy, and the boy had been small, and they would put him to bed in his room, where they had built shelves for his toy trains and stuffed animals and the books from which Loomis would read to him at bedtime. He remember the constant battle in his heart those days. How he was drawn into this construction of conventional happiness, how he felt that he loved this child more than he had ever loved anyone in his entire life, how all of this was possible, this life, how he might actually be able to do it. And yet whenever he had felt this he was also aware of the other, more deeply seated part of his nature that wanted to run away in fear. That believed it was not possible after all, that it could only end in catastrophe, that anything this sweet and heartbreaking must indeed one day collapse into shattered pieces. How he had struggled to free himself, one way or another, from what seemed a horrible limbo of anticipation. He had run away, in his fashion. And yet nothing had ever caused him to feel anything more like despair than what he felt just now, in this moment, looking at his beautiful child asleep on the motel bed in the light of the cheap lamp [. . .] (68)
Bullshit. Spare me. Watson can't even give this son a name he's such a contrived plot object.

I tend toward arrogance, but I'm not so arrogant as to think I'd ever do a better job of filling out this magazine's 48 fiction slots as D. Treisman has. And yet here's this terrible mistake. Can someone shed some light, here?

03 April 2009

Zalewski, Daniel. “The Background Hum.” The New Yorker 23 Feb. 2009, 46-61.

That down there was my 200th post, by the way. The one about sex and eating. The momentous one.

Still writing comps papers, meaning I'm not reading anything substantial. This article, though, from a back issue I hadn't really picked up when it came, gave me something I just put in the paper I just Finished! So I'm almost done. In two weeks I'll be reading again.

At any rate, it's an extremely thorough profile of Ian McEwan's life and work. Very well researched. very glitzy, too, ending as it does at McEwan's 60th birthday bash at the London Zoo, where Martin Amis and Zadie Smith make glitzy cameos. Here's the part I want to talk about:
Three years ago, McEwan culled the fiction library of his London town house, in Fitzroy Square. He and his younger son, Greg, handed out thirty novels in a nearby park. In an essay for the Guardian, McEwan reported that "every young woman we approached ... was eager and grateful to take a book," whereas the men "could not be persuaded. 'Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks, mate, but no.'" The researcher's conclusion: "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead." (46)
I've been looking a lot at 20th/21st-century claims on the death of the novel for this paper, and this is my favorite one. It's also, I think, the most authoritative. Men write about the death of the novel, and then proceed not really to buy a lot of novels, or, if they do, not to have any idea who it is that's buying their own novels. Women write novels and buy them and write more.

This, I'm pretty sure, has always been the case.