Enthusiasms and me (monologue)

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.

5 thoughts on “Enthusiasms and me (monologue)

  1. I agree. Take a movie like Adventureland, or Franklyn, or a book like Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (skimming from the top of my head). All far from perfect or “great” but they offer something that nothing else offers; true to a somewhat lesser extent about all thoroughly-felt books and movies. Why should you have to not be excited about something that you haven’t quite seen anywhere else?

    Looking at criticism as the art of recommendation is a terrible and sad way to look at it; there’s far too much more, and a very important part of the more is the feeling of connection, one akin to reading/writing books and just interacting with people socially (this is the main reason I think most people write, not because they think they’re actually contributing to anything).

  2. This weird excitement happens to me irritatingly often with popular stuff. For example, I can neither get it up nor down for any of the last four Harry Potter movies; there’s much to find exciting and as much in between that’s utterly boring/hackneyed. Or the Scooby Doo movie (not joking here).

  3. Enthusiam is life. As long as one can be overwhelmingly enthusiastic, one has retained the miraculous gift of childhood, that of joy and the ability to be lost in wonder. As you say, a beautiful sunrise, a magnificent painting, a beautiful piece of music – or just a perfect sentence. A true gut feeling. Gleichgültigkeit ist ein Form von Tod. So keep your enthusiams, they are a gift. Don’t apologise but be grateful that you have retained this precious gift. Here I feel I must repeat Jacques Prévert’s Les enfants ont tout sauf ce qu’on leur prend. There are far too many people who become jaded and can no longer feel the intensity of the overwhelming sensation of ‘zum Himmel hochjauchzende’ enthusiam…

  4. I really love this post. I always think of that Pablo Picasso line: “How would it be possible to feel no interest in other people and by virtue of an ivory indifference to detach yourself from the life which they so copiously bring you?” Abundance everywhere. And certainly the only reason I started writing about books is that I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm about them.

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