Saturday, September 08, 2007

Reading list(lessness)

What's that you say you fancy? A more than usually self-involved post from the Thompsonian All-Knowing Trash Heap? Why, sure. Coming right up.

It was just, I dunno, this struck me.

I was mithering to a friend today about how little I read at the moment. Because I'm feeling kind of gloomy and hemmed-in and listless (yes, yes, I know it's because I live entirely on nachos, tootsie rolls, and a flavourless mush I call root marm: I never said I was the tragic hero of this piece, but at least you can't call me unAmerican), and in this mode, reading seems to become even harder than it usually is. Over the past ten years I've found it harder and harder to read books. As a teenager I was a voracious and excitable reader. Maybe I don't get so excited these days, I don't know. I definitely think being exposed to some of the wilder shores of literature has made the very great majority of stuff seem a bit tame and unexceptional. I've almost completely given up on novels, which I used to love, because I can't get excited about plot (on the whole), I tend not to connect with characters (in general), and I'm all but incapable of linear progress through a book. I'm interested in style, and especially in the unconventional or unfamiliar. But once I've sucked all of that nutrition out of a novel, which I can do to my own satisfaction in, oh, half an hour, then I'm kind of stuck with a husk. Poetry and biography were my staples till recently; now I'm not sure even about those. It's not that I don't want to read, it's just I find myself lacking -- I don't know what, the capacity, the attention span, the faith...? I don't think it helps that the only two items of furniture in my room that are suitable for reading on/in are the chair which is at my desk (which is therefore where my computer is, and by extension, Google and iTunes and DVDs and any number of idiotic games), and my bed. I love the idea of reading in bed but have finally achieved the great age -- and such a nadir of lethargy -- where I now last about four minutes before I am drooling insensately over whatever volume I've tucked myself up with.

So although reading's gone wonky for me of late, the sense of the love of reading, and the pleasure of being close to a book, is still strong, and I still hope that every book I pick up is going to be the one that will penetrate the Cloud of Unknowing. But almost every day it feels like a different book is the one that will do the trick. Which is how it is that, having earlier complained to my friend about how little I read, I spent half an hour this evening trying to clear up the enormous pile of books that has accumulated next to my bed -- on the table, on the floor, and (almost needless to say) spreading at least three feet under the bed, in fact.

As I was excavating this pile of books, therefore, it wasn't a question of looking back over a series of great reading experiences I've had in the past few weeks. It was merely a heap of aspirations to which I found myself ultimately unequal. Kind of a monument to all the things I thought, come midnight or one a.m., would be just the dose of inspiration I might need as I turned in, to cause me to wake up brighter and more turned-on and tuned-in. (As opposed to which, of course, and with due respects to Dr Leary, I almost instantly drop off.)

So here's something that I guess is of no real interest to anyone but me -- a catalogue of the pile of books I reshelved today. Think of it as a Man Booker shortlist for The Rest Of Us. Taken together it's a sort of map of what I believe to be exciting and important ideas that are not, yet, fully, in action at the heart of my own life. I would recommend (in one way or another) any and all of these books, because I believe them to be (in one way or another) interesting, some of them maybe even very interesting. One or two are very mildly embarrassing I guess. Two have essays by me in them and probably ought to be disqualified. The number I have actually read, cover-to-cover, is, I think, nine. And by cover-to-cover, I don't necessarily mean from beginning to end. I mean -- and does this remind you, as it does me, of Eric Morecambe playing Grieg? -- I've read all the pages, but not necessarily in the right order.

Apologies for the lack of bibliographical detail, but frankly, even my unconscionably long and excruciating life is too short.

Sarah Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others; Tim Allen & Andrew Duncan, eds., Don't Start Me Talking: Interviews with contemporary poets; Bruce Andrews, Designated Heartbeat; Paul Arden, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be; Neil Bartlett, Skin Lane; Georges Bataille, Eroticism; John Berger, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance; Suzaan Boettger, Earthworks: Art and the landscape of the Sixties; Humphrey Carpenter, Spike Milligan: The Biography; Dennis Cooper, Wrong, and, as ed., Userlands: New fiction writers from the blogging underground; Jim Dodge, Stone Junction; Terry Eagleton, After Theory; Hugo Hamilton, Surrogate City; Mel Gussow, Conversations With Pinter; Leslie Hill & Helen Paris, eds., Performance and Place; Clive James, The Crystal Bucket; Keith Johnstone, Impro for Storytellers; Wayne Koestenbaum, Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon; Sam Ladkin & Robin Purves, eds., Chicago Review 53:1 (Spring 2007); Tim Miller, Body Blows: Six Performances, and 1001 Beds: Performances, essays and travels; Michael Newman & Jon Bird, eds., Rewriting Conceptual Art; Simon Reynolds, Bring the Noise: 20 years of writing about hip rock and hip-hop; Philip Ridley, Flamingoes in Orbit, and In the Eyes of Mr Fury; Sarah Riggs, chain of minuscule decisions in the form of a feeling; David Savran, Breaking the Rules: The Wooster Group; Tom Spanbauer, The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon; David Sylvester, London Recordings; Scott Thurston, ed., The Salt Companion to Geraldine Monk; Carol Watts, Wrack; Judith Weston, The Film Director's Intuition; Carl Wilkinson, ed., The Observer Book of Film; Slavoj Zizek, Iraq: the Borrowed Kettle

Suddenly I realise that there's nothing on the list older than 1962 (the Bataille). Maybe that's where I'm going wrong. Maybe I need to have another crack at Paradise Lost. I still feel uncomfortable that it's possible to get a decent degree in English Literature from a prestigious university and still have never got past page 3 of Paradise Lost.

Actually, this whole exercise reminds me of something my therapist suggested I do when I was still at university (and reading loads). She said, walk into your room and try to look at everything you've got pinned up on the walls as if for the first time. What are you telling the world, and yourself, about who you are, from the posters you stick up? (In my case, I was telling the world I was a New York-based lesbian performance artist with communication difficulties. Which of course was basically accurate in every detail and to the last degree.)

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