Pass Pass Pass
Pass Pass Fail
Pass Fail Pass
Fail Pass Pass
Pass Fail Fail
Fail Fail Pass
Fail Pass Fail
Fail Fail Fail
are one of the above combinations.
Or they are what’s in this blog post.
What’s in this blog post is a list of books that I “discovered” this past summer, that shifted things for me in small or big ways, or that I simply enjoyed.
Comprehensive exams, where I go to school, involve picking three topics for which you create a list of at least thirty-five books each. Like most PhD amateurs I went overboard and had around two hundred books overall, then read about half of them.
You get the summer to read and make notes, then you get questions which you answer in five thousand words each and await results.
I don’t care much for waiting, so I’ve declared myself three wins.
Congratulations, me! You’ve done what millions before you have done.
The books I picked were of four main kinds:
books I’d read before that I knew would be core books for my essays
books I hadn’t read before that I knew would be important for me
books I hadn’t read before that were there because they were “supposed to be” there
books I picked by chance/that fell into my lap/that weren’t even on my precious lists but I read them
I don’t want to be a broken record about books I may have gushed about before, so I’m picking just a handful of books from the last three kinds.
Etel Adnan (major figure)
All of Etel Adnan’s books, which I either read or re-read this summer, are wonderful—I pick Journey because it works beautifully as both memoir and manifesto for how Adnan looks at the world. As you may know, Adnan has painted Mount Tamalpais for decades of her life. I expected Journey to tell me how she came to that work and how it has sustained her. I didn’t expect it to let me re-enter her written work—The Arab Apocalypse, Seasons, and Sea and Fog particularly—with a more nuanced sense of what she does. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs from the book (context: Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire repeatedly in a similar manner, so obviously is an influence):
Let us return to Cezanne. He is a petrol lamp. His glance lightens the things it touches. A sense of the tragic in the quality of a painter’s glance, in the moment of choice, in the phenomenon called vision. Cezanne was in love with the mountain (or the gardener, or the apples) but with the moment when his glance settled on them differently than when he was promenading or was involved in a conversation. A painter’s glance is bitter, in the sense Rimbaud gave this word. That’s why this glance seems to erase the very object that creates its intensity, the cause of its intensity. (“To abolish . . .,” Mallarme used to say.) Cezanne turns light into an impersonal and cruel prism. And if we so much like his watercolors, it is because they escape our direct glance, they slide like mercury under our eyes, because there is between them and us an invisible obstacle which is both transparent and irreducible. It can lead you to insanity.
I’m struggling to remember exactly why I put this book on my EA list . . . Read More