Content Tagged ‘Rebecca Solnit’

What has gone missing?

May 25, 2016 | 14 Comments

A reader’s log

January 1, 2014 | 19 Comments

In 2012 I kept a reading log for the first time, and learned that I read 68 books. I thought it would be more—like 100 books—but the body count still impressed me. What’s weird is that I’ve just tallied my total for 2013 it’s again 68 books. What are the odds? And is that number respectable?

A 2010 post by Cynthia Newberry Martin on her great “Catching Days” blog puts things in perspective. Cindy and her responders are both writers and serious readers, and nobody mentioned cracking 100. My number is apparently typical, the range roughly 40 to 78. I’m not a fast reader, nor do I desire to be. In fact, a danger for a counter is reading shorter books just to boost one’s tally. Surely it’s better, for a reading writer, to have read 40 great books than to have consumed 100 solely for diversion or bragging.

As always, my 2013 list functions as a kind of diary: knowing when I read a book tends to remind me of the reading experience, as do my brief remarks. (I made an Excel spreadsheet with columns for dates, page counts, comments, etc.) Sometimes those brief judgments are coherent enough for a reader’s review on Amazon or Goodreads. My best short reviews, however, are distillations of the longer analyses I post here. I review a lot of books on this blog, which is odd because I find reviews so hard to write. Something about reviewing must appeal to me—I think it’s figuring out a book on a deeper level, really seeing how it works. Or learning why, for me at least, it doesn’t quite cohere.

[Read More]

In praise of reading

August 19, 2013 | 9 Comments

Novelist Anakana Schofield’s essay in The Guardian starts with a lament about reporters’ fixation on writers as personalities and about the odd hustling landscape in which writers now dwell—

“These days, an author, especially an unknown author, must—in order to entice any readers to her work who aren’t blood relatives—write endless unpaid blogs, articles and responses for newspapers and magazines and random people creating things in basements. What results is the subsidising of publishers by outsourcing the marketing of the book to the writer, and now and again the subsidising of often giant media corporations, who in times gone by would have had to pay her.”

—and builds to a powerful statement about the primacy of reading:

“There seems to have been a shift from a reading culture to a writing culture, a diminishment of critical space for the contemplation of literature. Writing needs to be discussed and interrogated through reading. If you wish to write well, you need to read well, or at least widely. You certainly need to contemplate reading a book in translation, unlikely to be widely reviewed in newspapers, many of which are too busy wasting space on “how to write” tips and asking about an author’s personal fripperies. It’s a great deal more fulfilling to read and think about a fine book than to attempt to write one.”

[Read More]

Solnit redux & a sociopath’s story

August 14, 2013 | 10 Comments

My wife and I listened to 2.4 audio books last week as we drove to California on vacation. We put 4,000 miles on our rental car, one way. We saw lovely things, like the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the red cliffs of Sedona, Arizona, where we rested up for a day. Then the endless Mojave Desert of Arizona-California caused me to whimper. While it did break my spirit, I dispute my wife’s assertion—however funny her impersonation of me—that I became catatonic as I drove. But look, I’m a once and future southern boy, a child of green and humid places. When the bare earth between plants stretches to more than a few feet, I get queasy.

Anyway, given the vast ranges we traversed in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, you’d think we would have made more of a dent in the pile of audio books I checked out from the library. We started with a short work, David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice, most of which we’d heard on NPR over years—though I had to wonder if we’d really ever heard all of his famous story about working as a Macy’s elf: like the rest of the collection, it’s hilarious but far sadder and darker than I remembered, maybe an effect of listening to one Sedaris story after another.

The bulk of the trip we spent with the dozen or so CDs of Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which is history for us ordinary folk who haven’t always paid close attention to history—because history sometimes requires that you know more history than you do. Bryson read it himself, and we loved his arch delivery, even if I never could reconcile his ritzy British accent with his photos that show him as the ruddy, beefy man from Iowa that he is. We finished up, driving through California’s fecund central valley, a true agrarian Eden, with Jennifer Egan’s remarkable novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. What a talent she is. One day I’ll finish this book, but I did hear enough to learn that the goons are a wonderful metaphor for aging.

[Read More]

Solnit’s ‘Faraway Nearby’

August 8, 2013 | 13 Comments

Rebecca Solnit tried to leave home at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. At last, at age seventeen, her jealous mother and her indifferent father sent her into the world like a girl in a fairy tale:

“For that odyssey my mother would not let me take any of the decent suitcases in her attic but gave me a huge broken one in which my few clothes and books rumbled like dice in a cup. My father gave me a broken travel clock that he said was worth repairing and I kept it for years before I found that it was not.”

The Faraway Nearby opens with 100 pounds of apricots, collected from her ailing mother’s tree, ripening and rotting on Solnit’s floor, a bequest and a burden as if from another fairy tale. The fruit was a story, she explains, and also “an invitation to examine the business of making and changing stories.” So Solnit tells her own story, shows how she escaped it by entering the wider world of others’ stories, and how she changed her story as she better understood her unhappy mother.

What sent her mother’s indifference toward her into permanent rage was when she asked young Rebecca, age 13, for sympathy when she got a lump in her breast, and Rebecca, who hadn’t received much sympathy herself, failed to supply it. With effort, as an adult Solnit realizes that her mother had had a hard life, was trapped in her own story of victimhood, and must’ve cared for her before memory: “She gave me everything before she gave me nothing.”

Out of duty and from solidarity with two of her brothers, Solnit ends up tending her mother through her long decline from Alzheimer’s. The apricots arrive near the end of this sad period, which Solnit terms a serial emergency. Having hooked us with this, her story, Solnit tells us it doesn’t much interest her anymore.

[Read More]