Tuesday, December 21, 2010


For the past few months I have been in the slow process of accepting that I cannot read all the books in the world AND that it is not necessary to read all the books in my immediate vicinity if I do not really feel interested in them even if they are supposed to be good AND that I do not need to keep books that I am quite certain I will never refer to again and/or I didn't like. I am making good progress on things I do like, which means I'm having to shelve more stuff, which means I need more space, so everything I do not anticipate ever needing to reference must go.

The most shocking thing that I intend to get rid of is Margaret Atwood's Wilderness Tips. A secret that I mostly try to keep is that I am not really interested in Margaret Atwood's world view. The Handmaid's Tale was good, though deeply depressing. Her other writing leaves me cold and unmoved, and one short story, "Hairball," very nearly made me puke. Sheer grossness and also incredibly malicious and not at all funny. The sort of feminism that she likes strikes me as kind of warped and curiously dated. The only thing I have really liked is "Death by Landscape," which is fantastic and creepy and perfect. I don't know why I'm going into this. I think I feel guilty getting rid of Margaret Atwood because there's nothing wrong with her writing. She just isn't for me. I am also not totally wild for Alice Munro. Dear Canadian writers born in the thirties: I'm sorry. Apparently I just don't get you. No hard feelings, okay? Maybe I'll understand when I'm seventy.

I'm also returning to Ivan, while she's home, the untouched and dusty copy of Sophie's World that she lent me something like ten years ago. It's very long and it's about philosophy and something else I've come to accept is that my interest in philosophy is rather narrow. It will not last five HUNDRED pages. I think that Modern Philosophy class I took my first semester in college was a mistake. What I really wanted to take was non-modern philosophy, but instead I ended up reading a book called Mortal Questions, which I think we can all agree is a fairly pretentious title for something not written by Plato.

However, I am keeping Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges, even though it is 25% boring and is therefore 25% unread. Formerly this would have been unacceptable to me but I decided to accept it because I wanted to get to John Cheever. Anyway, when I like Borges's stories, I like them a lot and find them mesmerizing. The rest of the time, I have a hard time staying awake. Borges seems to have been more interested in ideas than people, and the humans in his stories tend to be ciphers in the enactment of an idea. This makes his writing very beautiful and unsettling, and gives you the feeling that the world is much more mysterious than you had previously believed, but at the same time it's difficult to be emotionally engaged in any given story. He is compared often to Edgar Allen Poe, but I find myself on the edge of my seat with Poe, and with Borges I am usually sort of flummoxed until the end, at which point I say, "Oh," and turn to the next story. I would also like to complain that he uses too many proper nouns. This probably seems overly picky, but if you start your story with a really long sentence involving fifteen clauses, and it's full of names and places in languages your eyes are not accustomed to, and includes several faux-academic references that require a great deal of messy punctuation, and you don't get to the main verb until you're three words from the end, it is not MY fault if I go into the second sentence not knowing what the hell you are trying to get at. . . . Nevertheless, if you feel like reading some Borges, I particularly like "The Garden of Forking Paths" and "The Zahir." One thing about him is that his stories are very short.

I am now reading a huge collection of short stories by John Cheever. The upper-middle-class ennui is absolutely smothering. His problems were so preventable. Sometimes you just want to shout STOP DRINKING, JOHN CHEEVER! THE WORLD WILL LOOK BETTER! ALSO, FYI,  IT IS OKAY TO BE GAY. But does he listen? No. He died twenty-eight years ago. If he were born today he would be an entirely different and likely much happier person. I find that very sad. But his writing is still good. So there's that. This post is about acceptance, after all.

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