Truly, the most important reading I did last year was Beowulf. I got to read it in the original Old English with a group of amazingly brilliant people and to live in that super soundrich world for about two months. We also looked at a couple other translations; the Thom Meyer is really special. The next most important reading was for my comprehensive exams, which I wrote about here.
Hmm. I don’t really mean to hierarchize the value of these books. This is wrong. Maybe, since so far things have been listed chronologically (did Beowulf early last year, comps reading during the summer): a third highlight was Michael Donhauser’s Of Things (trans. Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron), which I read toward the end of the year, on my multiple flights home to Bangalore. It is a gorgeous and fierce book that reads fieldlife:
from “The Tomato”
To say once more “the tomato.”
On this autumn-saturated Sunday evening.
At the quiet of day’s end, the ringing of bells, cries of farewell.
When the fun stops and with it, the feeling of its insufficiency.
The waiting, the passing in silence, the rustling of leaves, being nowhere.
When Sunday, diminishing gradually, retires.
In sitting there, in spoiling away, in willingness.
With which we endure it: in praise of enduring.
To say it: that this has been a beautiful Sunday.
Yet the tomato takes the evening as an opportunity.
Favored by the given conditions: in all their sparseness.
By way of the light: allowing it to gently settle there.
By way of the surging traffic: in order to absorb it.
The humming, the droning, the vibrating: in order to transpose it.
Into the quieter variety of its seeds, into the juice of its fruit-flesh.
(No fruit has ever robbed me of every rebellion like this.)
The tomato appears in the shadow of language.
As moon (once again): as monad.
Darkened: a silken coal ember.
Michael Donhauser. Of Things. Tr. Nick Hoff & Andrew Joron. 1993/2015.
Here are the rest of my favorite books from last year: Read More
One of the great disappointments I experienced when I first moved to the US nearly five years ago was that regular American people sound nothing like the American people in movies.
I don’t mean that any country’s people ever sounds like its cinema, but that a certain type of film can capture, or re-invent, its linguistic community’s continuum of articulacy-inarticulacy in a way that allows you to be moved by its beauty—luxuriate in its pain.
My disappointment in American speech quickly turned into disappointment in American cinema because it’s the other way around. The cinema has failed the people.
Or: the cinema has failed part of the continuum while celebrating the other extreme.
The other extreme being that sort of determined, stylized, sometimes reverential, sometimes parodic-pastiched dialogue that’s completely well done in the hands of say Quentin Tarantino or 80s/90s David Lynch. A kind of over-articulate language that’s on the skin of personhood—think Don Corleone scratching his chin.
Actually, to take it a notch down, this—from Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988)—is completely genius:
I’ve always been enamored with the way American TV and movie characters Read More
As would any serious readerly person, I treat my books like real estate.
Or is it a bad thing to treat one’s books like real estate? Either way, I like to look at my shelves the way an Austen character might look on the prospect of a mansion–you know how that is.
OK, I have to say this before I forget it: I’ve been bingeing on BBC televised versions classics for the past couple of days in order to get over the trauma of yet another academic term as a doctoral student. The best thing about these shows is how all the characters say RRUHM for “room.” Apparently it’s some sort of old-fashioned British thing, like the way they used to say GUHLANT for “gallant.” Such beauties.
Onto far more important things, I only bought two books in February, but they were both so excellent, and strangely of similar sizes and colors even.
Teresa Carmody. Claudette Sartiliot.
Teresa Carmody is a super talented PhD peer and co-founder of Les Figues Press. I don’t know how much you can tell this from my scan, but the book is narrow and long. It feels very different in my hands. I like.
The Claudette Sartiliot is an utterly random discovery. I looked up “discourse of flowers” in the library’s search engine, figuring that someone must have written a measly essay or two on the subject, and turns out there’s a whole book. It’s out of print and rather exquisite. Hardback with actual dead flowers in the mix. Read More