I have, throughout the past year, received various complaints about my review style, and while I can’t do anything about my English or the length of individual reviews, I can at least explain why I seem to bubble with enthusiasm about books so much, unless I am absolutely negative about them, like I tend to be in respect to Paul Auster’s books. There is a shared perception among some readers that there is no middle path with me. I would disagree, pointing to reviews like the one I wrote of Ander Monson’s Other Electricities, but why not concede the point for now. The fact of the matter is not that I try to be as positive as possible about a book, it’s that I am a person chiefly governed by enthusiasms, or that’s how I like to see myself. It is probably the one thing I really like about myself and I appreciate it in others, as well. I get shouty, excited and even a tad stuttery over things I love (in some Bookbabble episodes you can hear me getting excited). It doesn’t matter whether it is my considered opinion that these things are, in fact excellent, and indeed, I frequently do not hold the same exalted opinion of some of these books or writers any longer, but that’s not important. I think genuine excitement over books or music or the sun coming up at 5 in the morning, it’s so valuable, and in writing about books I decided against curbing this instinct of mine to praise excessively. Because art is worth exalting, worth praising. So am I misleading what readers I have? I don’t think so. I think my reviews hold up reasonably well (all things and limitations considered), even of books that I would have a more negative opinion now, because I think the basic descriptions of the books are sound, or as sound as I can manage them to be. This is a secondary concern to me though. I stand by what I said earlier: enthusiasms are important to me. I am easily enthused. I found an old Odetta record today that I haven’t listened to for years and then the mailman brought a mangled used copy of Dimitri Obolensky’s The Byzantine Commonwealth, as well as a clean copy of the Charles Olson/Frances Boldereff correspondence and I was giddy half the evening. With women or men I fall suddenly intensely in love and just as suddenly out of it (usually at the point when I seem most ‘in it’). That’s just the way it is. I love people, books and art. There’s a supremely gifted friend of mine who’s an astonishing artist, currently traveling through Europe, and if I could, I would rave about her art everyday to everyone on the interwebs who would listen. The same is true for a fantastically good writer of (mainly) horror fiction, who I am also lucky to call a friend. I like to think I’m a very enthusiastic person whenever I can manage to be. So often, I am not, silent, quiet, hollow. Enthusiasm is preferable. Books are great things to be enthusiastic about. I love books. I write this in my study, which is a room lined with books, there are books everywhere here. Poke me and I will talk about all kinds of books all day. I study books, writing my Ph.D. about poetry, and I admire booksellers like few other professions on this planet (see also this recent post). Look at a good book, not a great book, just a good book. See what a marvel it is. How it is made, how it works, how its words fit it just right. And great books…they are something else. Next to my computer right now is my copy of the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Clarel. I don’t have the words to describe the love I have for books like this. There is so much shit in the world. But here there are books. And outside there are people, each of them a marvel, too. And elsewhere are works of art. Take a moment to look up the work of Lucien Freud who died today. Take a pause. Look at it. It’s night here. In two hours, the sun will rise. There are so many things to love, so much to feel enthusiastic about. So what if I don’t feel the same excitement about Hilde Domin’s poetry, Notwist’s music or that girl’s smile that I used to have. How could I have known at the time. At the time, I was giddy with excitement, rosy with delight and glowing with enthusiasm. This will happen again and again. As it should. Stop complaining.
Archive for the 'I am an idiot' Category
Two weeks ago, I mailed a book of poetry to a friend; it was a book I had owned for many years, but I wasn’t sure how long exactly, which is why I looked inside, and saw the notation of a book shop in Heidelberg, which used to be a fantastic place to buy English books. They sold new books and used ones, it was a tiny bookshop with a huge collection of poetry, and its owner cared deeply about literature (rather than revenue); I owe much of my early reading in English to the owner and sales clerks in that bookshop, who always somehow managed to suggest the right kind of book for me. Like many smaller bookshops in Heidelberg, this one closed down many years ago. When I saw that a Facebook friend had posted the video below, about a man selling books out of his apartment, on his page, I was reminded of the small Heidelberg bookshops that introduced me to literature. Bookshops are not regular businesses, are they? In my case, they were places where you learned about a vast literary world, which could well change your life. It was from bookshops that I learned to love poetry, and I can still go to my shelves and pull out books of poetry that were important for my understanding of art and life, and see, in the front or the back, a small sticker, a stamp or the carefully scribbled numbers that evoke to me, to this day, the smells, sounds and words from each of these book shops. Another dear (French) friend of mine wants to open, against all odds, a bookshop within the next year or two, and I have no words to express how much I admire her attempt to do it.
This blog has a new layout, and I had different complains about resolution and load-time issues. I tweaked it a bit, and here’s the question. Right now, this is how it looks chez moi. Is that how it looks at your end, too? It’s kinda the more important question. Comments encouraged.
Did you really read this book? The christian characters in the story are protestants, not catholics, and this has a very important significance in the korean historical context.
THis is an exceedingly stupid mistake to make, and a huge one at that. I have not, I think, made mistakes of a similar magnitude before, but since I write most of my reviews from notes, with the books not at hand and my poor memory as sole guide, I am prone to make mistakes like that.
So here goes: if I’m being an idiot in my reviews, please tell me. You win…something. I’m asking this because I know that some people have read the review in question and read the reviewed book. I would really appreciate a head-up next time. I’m an idiot. I need your help.
For really helpful comments I offer used books. Good ones, too.
As for this review, I’m waiting for my sister to return me my copy and I will then rewrite the whole review. Until then, it stays, shameful as it is.
After having had the above, in some variations, emailed to me a few times, here’s my story: I’m sick. When I’m sick, I write badly, and can barely read. I lie back and play games on my computer.
And this is one of the best songs of the 1980s. Yeah. Fuck me I’m sick.
I don’t know why I point out that this thing exists, since it keeps making me look bad but since I pressured Donny, lord and master of Bookbabble, into posting them, I could at least mention them and hope it blows over. Last sunday’s episode of bookbabble has finally been posted, in two parts. Go here for part one and then go here for part two. Ignore the idiot with the funny German accent. Concentrate on Lord Donny, Sparkly Irene, Brilliant Bjorn, Luscious Lorne and the grand and wonderful new babbler, Splendiferous Liam. This is not just fun to listen to, Donny has also assembled a fuckload of links to all sort of poets and poems. It’s worth it.
Here I partake in the wonderful enterprise that is bookbabble. In episode 38 you can hear me, as I enter a discussion led by the ineffable Donny, sparkly Renée and gorgeous Gem, and dumb it down. Click here to hear someone with a truly terrible command of English stumble through awkward sentences.
M. Majistral from the excellent lit blog tabula rasa interrupts his review to vent a frustration of his:
Mais voilà, pardonnez-moi une grossièreté : j’en ai plein le cul de jouer (et ce jeu dure depuis très exactement quatre ans et un jour) à faire la liste des bons et des mauvais points des livres lus. J’en ai plein le cul de résumer l’intrigue. Oubliez donc les trois paragraphes qui précèdent, virons les chapeaux et les chutes et passons, rapidement sans doute, trop rapidement peut-être, à ce qui fait, selon moi, tout l’intérêt du « Livre sacré du loup-garou ». Pas pourquoi il faudrait l’acheter. Même pas pourquoi il faudrait le lire (ça, finalement, vous l’avez vu plus haut ou ailleurs : amusant, blablabla). Non : ce que je veux brièvement mentionner ici, c’est ce que ce roman de Pelevine (et sans doute plus que certains de ses précédents textes) aura évoqué en moi.
As someone who had trouble starting to write reviews (and is still crappy at it), trying to slip out of his academic skin, trying to transmit his passions for literature and still make a point that could not be summed up by an emoticon, I can understand that. But I think these three things (“pourquoi il faudrait l’acheter”, “pourquoi il faudrait le lire” and “ce que ce roman de Pelevine … aura évoqué en moi”) cannot be easily separated, or at least I try not to separate them. WordPress’ blogcounter tells me this blog’s being read (not that I’d know from the comments) and I hope that people who read my reviews can see that my reviews are, first and foremost, accounts of what the books move in me, of how they move me; and since I am a missionary whose faith in God got lost in the mail, apparently, I then spent a lot of time trying to persuade people to read or not read a certain book. I’m not sure if I misread M. Majistral’s frustration here, but I think he thinks too little of the worth of the first two parts. I know my attempts to force him to read some great writers (Jahnn comes to mind) have been unsuccessful, so far, but you can always try. See, I’m hugely egocentric, and currently pummeled by an unholy headache, but when I think a book is great or important or just really worth reading or thinking about, then I tend to think: you, reader, you need to read this. your life will be better with the book than without it. Yes it’s myopic, but that’s me. The same goes for bad books, too. Why should someone read the Brooklyn Follies when he could read Shining at the Bottom of the Sea or Go tell it on the Mountain instead? Sorry. Have no idea where I’m going with this. Getting some aspirin. Bye.
I rarely post poems that don’t meet at least a minimum standard. Recently, poems that meet these criteria have been few and far between. That does not mean I don’t finish poems. They are just not very good. I am afraid, however, that if I don’t post them, they’ll just vanish completely and that’s not satisfactory. I lost five poems during the past two weeks. Not acceptable. So, please excuse the low quality of the poems I will post during the next weeks. I try to write the best I can, under the circumstances. I am also thankful for any and all comments.
I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, you know?
I’ve just watched The Wackness, which is an extraordinary movie. I suspect the direction and the camera work’s sloppy, but I can’t judge this movie, I’m so enchanted and moved by it. There you go. I’m a sad sappy sucker. And old, so old. But I love this movie.
Like a fiend in a cloud,
With howling woe,
After night I do crowd,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east,
From whence comforts have increas’d;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.
Broke my toe yesterday, went to the doctor today, who taped it to the neighboring toe and told me to come back monday. Yeah, well. Nice to meet you. I believe you have not met my friend yet, The Claw. Bah. And it hurts like fuck.
But when I think “tomorrow” there is a gap in my head, a blank – as if I were falling through emptiness. Tomorrow never comes. (Jean Rhys / Good Morning Midnight)
I have been in bed half the day, recovering from last night’s debauchery. In a way they produced a whole enjoyable day. Drinking and carnal excesses are mind-numbing enough, and feeling sick and tired half this day, too. Being thus numbed the present moment takes on a certain luminance.
These days I seem unable to think beyond the present moment or at best the next week. Looking at my calendar I am often surprised to see how fast time has marched by. But I don’t actually care. I have deadlines to meet and miss them continuously. It’s like I am waiting for everything to be, finally, over. The books and copies and the paper in the background – that’s just pretense. I am biding my time. There is no tomorrow. People are expecting you to plan for the future, apply for a job, a phd program, something. I don’t. I feel so unhappy at my present job, because I want to teach, write. The opportunities for me to do so are slim, however, decent phd programs only take the top of the crop and looking over the printouts to my left, I feel my grade to be turning out pretty bad. Not summa cum laude anyway, which is what I would need. I’d be happy to teach anywhere but no one’ll take me. Which is no biggie since there is no tomorrow ergo there are no plans to be made. There’s only now, and now may be over any time. I just need a little push or a shove.
I love poetry. I have always read books yet come late-ish to poetry. I must have been 15 when I really dug poetry, having read batches of classics and contemporary novels, from all sorts of cultures, yet mostly in German with the few exceptions of the books I started to read in English at roughly the same time. My discovery of poetry happened when my self awareness really took off, when I was first really manhandled by depressions and desperate. I had, by that time, written hundreds of pages of prose, stories, mostly, parts of projected novels, this sort of stuff, (I burned all of this when I moved to East Germany at 22, because I didn’t want anyone else to read it and wasn’t able to lug the thick stacks of hard cover notebooks to east Germany. No place etc.), so I was familiar with expressing myself through artificially arranged words (yes, that phrase is questionable and imprecise at best, but that all you get for now), but at 15 or 16 I tried more compressed forms. At that time I started to act in our high school theatre, and the theatricality of a few well-placed words intrigued me, hence my early interest in writers like Reiner Kunze, Erich Fried and Said, anyone who knows them in German will probably know what I mean. I can’t stand them now, mostly, and I am embarrassed, even, having liked them so much at the time. The major shift, however, was my discovery (via this story) of Kafka, first (if any prose writer is close to being a poet as far as density and precision is concerned, it is surely ol’ Franz), then Hilde Domin/Rose Ausländer and then Ingeborg Bachmann. Bachmann was the writer who truly pushed me into writing and into poetry. Formal, passionate, humorous, enigmatic and clear at the same time, tender, wondrous and yet harsh and cold, within the same collection of poems, light and yet always at the edge of a strange darkness, if not subsumed by that darkness. Lowry’s explorer from Hell, that was Bachmann, for me. After her, Celan, and then English poets, such as Plath, Hughes and Berryman. These days, although, quantitatively, I read far more prose, fiction and ‘non-fiction’, than poetry, my poetry shelf boards are the core of my personal ‘library’. When I moved to Bonn, with only two bags, a friend’s address and the decision to study literature there instead of economics in Chemnitz, the only books I took in my bag were volumes of poetry. Music and poetry, to sustain myself. The importance of poetry to me cannot be overestimated, although, more and more, my own production of poetry has become at least as integral a part as my consumption of it. Writing poetry can sustain me as well as reading poetry, sometimes. I only notice that now I write it but it’s perfectly true. Strange, isn’t it? I provide my own sustenance. Is that like drinking yr own urine? Does that mean I have developed too enormous an ego?