Wednesday, January 31, 2007

B is for Naked Lunch

All right ladies and gentlemen, if there be any among you. William S. Burroughs. I'm ashamed to say that until now I have actually not read anything by him. What indeed is up with that? And I call myself a Beat-lover. Let's see. If I were accused of being a Beat Generation devotee, would there be enough evidence to convict me?
  • I read On the Road as any disillusioned 18-year-old should, while traveling across the country (specifically, from Washington D.C. to Flagstaff, Arizona)
  • In Contemporary Poetry class sophomore year of college, I wrote my huge semester research paper/project on Allen Ginsberg and argued that he remained relevant (yes, I was a sophomore in college before he died) even if the beauty had to speak
  • "Hey, Jack Kerouac" was in fact my favorite song on 10,000 Maniacs' In My Tribe
  • I mourned when Allen died, even more than I'd mourned Jerry Garcia's death
  • To this day, I subscribe to the "Beat News You Can Use" e-newsletter, wherein I keep up on all the goings on of the folks who run the Beat Museum in San Francisco and regularly take the Beat-Mobile out on tour
  • I read Joyce Johnson's Minor Characters and even got my mother to read it
  • I've participated and won prizes in poetry slams
  • For god's sake, Douglas Brinkley's The Majic Bus and the likes of Ken Kesey are responsible for major life decisions of mine, and are the very reason I'm at Hofstra! Isn't that rather Beat-like of me?
  • I do quite often like to think of the best minds of my generation as starving and hysterical, although some of them should probably keep their clothes on.
And yet somehow Burroughs has fallen through my cracks. Well, this shall now be remedied as I eagerly devour my Naked Lunch (ISBN: 0-8021-4018-1).

Here's one thing that interests me even before page one. You know how lots of books' initial pages are filled with excerpts from the best reviews, the more prominent the paper the better? Well, while this one does include quotes from The New York Times ("booty brought back from a nightmare") , Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times Book Review, it's somehow more impressive to me that I find quote after praise-laden quote from some of the brilliant (albeit in a genius/madness kind of way) minds of the twentieth century: Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, Anthony Burgess...

And I'll just say flat out, I'm not entirely sure I've done enough drugs to keep up with all the references in this book. Man, was Burroughs a fan of the opiates. This edition ("the restored text") includes additions by the author, including one "Letter From a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs" he wrote in 1956. It's a very straightforward analysis of different drugs and his experience with addiction to or withdrawal from them. It's quite informative, actually; I found myself oddly entranced as he matter-of-factly explains why alcohol and prolonged sedation are terrible for curing opiate addiction, while anti-histamines are a bit better.

In the past few years, I have observed very closely from the sidelines as in more than one area of my life a person very close to someone close to me has struggled with heroin addiction. I daresay it's actually kind of creepy how in a matter of a few years I was faced time and again with people figuring quite prominently in my life who had a heroin addict figuring quite prominently in their lives. I learned a few things, but still feel on the whole rather ill-equipped to deal with such a mind-boggling, intense addiction.

This book is already interesting food for thought, and I'm still perusing prologue and addenda!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"And then there is the information, which is nothing, and comes at night."

It has come to my attention that I have been reading this Martin Amis book at a pace that can be described a few ways. One of those is "slow." This has been pointed out by more than one acquaintance/friend/blog reader.

Well, listen people. I'm a busy woman! I was -- um -- busily doing nothing in Arizona! I had movies to watch. Enchiladas to eat. Trivia to conquer. (Do you think I'm still atop the rankings of Big Daddy's Grill?) Then I came back to New York where I have been exTREMEly busy. You know, settling into a new semester. Watching more movies. Getting reacquainted with my local bars.

No, I mean, a book is meant to savor, isn't it?

OK, you're right. I read The Information at a glacial pace. I bought it and came up with the vision for my quest and then promptly finished reading that silly Van Gogh mystery before I even dove into Amis. Then it was law school semester two, and I really do have reading to do for my classes, so I had to get my Contracts-Property-Civ Pro-Transnational-Appellate routine all sorted out. And it IS Oscar season, so how can I not attend to my waiting Netflix discs?

Or maybe I was just reading Martin Amis so slowly because I was trying to build an audience -- a following -- someone who cared whatsoever -- about my little blog project. Yeah.

But I finished it! I did! It's done. And now I am moving on to B. So I'm a week or two behind. I'll catch up. I am nothing if not a procrastinator, and procrastinators are good at one thing: getting crap done when the best time to do it has already passed. I'll be back on track before you know it.

So who's with me? Who's going to read the next selection? B is for Burroughs. Naked Lunch. My edition is ISBN: 0802140181.

Also, I have a lot more to say about Amis! For one thing, in general I thought The Information was very good indeed. In the end, it was cool that Gwyn had his own revenge going but he was just such a smarmy one, and I found myself really rooting for diabolical Richard. Boy, was Richard ever doomed.

And haven't we all known a book like Amelior, Gwyn's post-modern fairy tale about which the world suddenly, inexplicably goes nuts? (Tuesdays With the Harry Potter Code, anyone?) I was viciously amused and sad for Richard as if he were a real person when the profundity requital winner was revealed...

Oh, now I've done it. I've insulted Harry Potter. This may be grounds for getting struck by that stupid lightning bolt on his forehead or wherever. I'll just crawl off to start on Naked Lunch (classes? what classes?) and leave you with a few choice quotes from The Information. Maybe they are better when you read them in context. Maybe you should do that!

"So he really didn't want to be wallowing and languishing, with Gwyn, in that twenty-first-century nautilus, that regency spaceship of fish tanks and startling energy bills, where every room had three televisions and five telephones (American luxury having much to do with the irreducible proximity of televisions and telephones)..." - p. 238

"Phil's full name was Phil Smoker. Richard thought it might save a lot of trouble to be called Richard Smoker, particularly when you were in America." -- p. 352

"It seemed to him that all the time he used to spend writing he now spent dying. This was the truth. And it shocked him. It shocked him to see it, naked. Literature wasn't about living. Literature was about not dying.
Suddenly he knew that writing was about denial.
Suddenly he knew that denial was great. Denial was so great. Denial was the best thing. Denial was even better than smoking." - p. 337

"On the other hand, he was free to wonder why so many writers' women killed themselves, or went insane. And he concluded: because writers are nightmares. Writers are nightmares from which you cannot awake. Most alive when alone, they make living hard to do for those around them. He knew this now--now that he wasn't a writer. Now that he was just a nightmare." - p. 314

And if you do yourself no other favor today, stroll into your local bookstore and at least read pages 236-237, about junk novels and airports!

Thanks, Martin Amis. It was fun hanging out with you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Writer, party of one.

Ah, but of course. Of course, in the end, Richard hits upon the perfect plan by which to sabotage his friend the writer. It's so obvious; why didn't I think of that?! I feel like I shouldn't say what the plan is, that I shouldn't "spoil" it. That would of course require someone for whom it is to be spoiled to be a)reading this blog b)reading the book c)caring one way or the other if the ending is ruined. Group A is so small in itself, and B might not even exist, necessarily making C non-existent as well.

Here's another thing about writers. OK, Amis (as Richard) is SO DARKLY FUNNY about poets in this book. Richard's wife went through a period before their marriage but after they two had initially been together in which she saw other writers. And by "saw" we of course mean knew. In the biblical sense. So he has this whole spectrum on which he places the writers and it's really cyncial and funny. Like, of course she's going to sleep with poets, but novelists? That hurts. And so on. And he relates it to a theory that the harder things are to write, the less the writer gets paid for them ("just ask the poet at the bus stop") ... and that particular continuum ends with screenplays on top. *smirk*

But he's even funny about poets besides that, earlier on. He says nothing happens to novelists: they're born, they get sick, they die... "They learn to drive, unlike poets (poets don't drive. Never trust a poet who can drive. Never trust a poet at the wheel. If he can drive, distrust the poems)." But then he adds, "Although they don't or can't drive, poets get around more." - p. 95

So it's really funny when he returns to this riff on poets and their other-ness later in the book. I definitely get a sense Amis could be a bit like me (and a million other writers, surely) who went through a poetry phase, or maybe never quite left it, but never really called ourselves a poet and nothing but a poet.

That word, poet, is one that's hard to take upon oneself. There certainly is a lot of pressure. I'm with you, Amis. Whither poetry, eh?

But don't forget, Amis is flat-out hilarious sometimes, like while they're on the U.S. tour:

"At Denver's Stapleton International Airport, at five o'clock in the morning, nobody wanted to work. So they had a robot doing it. A computer, with a robot voice: female. Richard thought that the robot, considering it was a robot and every inch a slave, didn't take any shit, always telling him to move on, to unload quickly and move on, to deposit bags quickly and move on." - p. 258

I so want Martin Amis to be my friend. He makes still another point, however, about writers: that in the end, they really are at their best when they're alone. He uses this point to illustrate that it therefore follows that they're hard to live with. But there are still larger implications.

It is perhaps these observations if nothing else that convince me I am in fact a writer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

And it's all I thought it would be

I am now officially loving The Information. Because Richard Tull's cynical observations about New York, D.C., Miami, Chicago, the United States, the obsession with the automobile that's slowly killing all of us, it's all just fantastic.

I now officially and delightedly recommend that you all read this book. In fact, I strongly urge it! Because it is genius. When you get to part three, it is all kicked up a notch.

*sighs contentedly*

Because, you see, here's the thing Richard. These observations you make? Wherein you really take Americans to task for their ridiculous behavior, while at the same time exhibiting a slightly wary or possibly even a bit jealous respect for all there is on offer? Well, some of us United States-ians feel that way, too.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

But does he fold down pages?

Richard Tull does indeed do the U.S.A.! As it were. I am now in Part Three of The Information and I am happy to report that our hero has landed in New York (yay!) where he watches Gwyn (his writer friend of whom he is totally envious) be interviewed and make a prat of himself except the interviewers don't realize it because they're ridiculous too, and it's awesome so far.

But first...oh, first first first there was a scene about 200 pages into the book, a hangover scene, two pages of pure comic cynical self-deprecating genius. That hangover scene alone justifies you reading the book, I swear. I laughed out loud multiple times. I will not let the irony go unmentioned that coincidentally, the morning after I read that particular scene I had my own world-weary head to contend with in the a.m. Funny that. You know, I went through a period of several years in which I was quite diligent about hangover avoidance. I faithfully followed my three simple rules of water, bread, and painkiller before sleep. Copious amounts of water, that's the key. If there was no bread to be had, in dire situations some crackers or potatoes or whatever handy starchy thing was lying around would do. Lately I guess I've been slacking off and I'm not sure why. I can justify skipping the food once in a while, but not drinking the water is just unacceptable.

This morning I woke up with my bottle of Dasani next to me in bed. Still completely full. It just lay there, as if it were a peacefully slumbering significant other or something. Full, neglected bottle of water. Hello? Paved with good intentions, my friends.

It took me about an hour to convince myself that yes, I was, indeed, going to get up. It was another 45 minutes or so before I did so. I would like to point out in my defense that this particular massively dehydrated and fatigued state was worsened by the fact that I missed my Long Island Rail Road train last night at the transfer point in Queens by, like, ten seconds. I saw it pulling away as I stepped out of the elevator onto the platform. The next train came ONE HOUR and THIRTEEN MINUTES later. Outside platforms, there, at Jamaica Station. Yeah, cold, drunk, 3 a.m., pitiably tired... I wanted to cry. I really did. I talked to a fellow traveler who had just missed her train to Far Rockaway. She'd approached me asking where she could buy a snack for her hour-plus wait. Fat chance, I told her, in the wee hours of the night at Jamaica. I hoped she'd want to share a cab but we were going in vastly different directions and a solo cab would be way too expensive from there.

I sometimes feel like I spend my life transferring at Jamaica, and there are all kinds of trains going in all directions, but the 2:30-3:30 a.m. hour is just not a good time. And there is nothing but NOTHING in that sketchy ol' neighborhood. I think even the pizza slice place is closed at 3 a.m. I once popped into one bar around the corner, and while I had a great time chatting with all the men, locals, among whom I was a complete and total fish out of water but a bemused one, the beers were only $1.50. That made me suspicious it's a money-laundering front or something. Dollar-fifty beers? In New York? So I don't really hang out there. Anyway, it was also closed at 3 a.m. It was just me and Martin Amis, and a few other beleaguered souls.

Wow, do I digress. Back to Richard.

"He knew American fiction, and he knew that fiction, considered in aggregate, would not lie. For him, coming to America was like dying and going to hell or heaven and finding it all as advertised. " -- page 221

I love it. Not just for its insight into the U.S. (oh, yeah!) but its subtle and only partially sarcastic comment on literature as well. Truth can be found in fiction. This is a notion I often emphasize when discussing, say, the Bible with people. Of course literature and mythology and tales we tell reveal truths, even when they are not a representation of facts and nothing but the facts.

Also of note, on that same page, Richard says "he knew, the instant he arrived on its streets, that New York was the most violent thing that men had ever done to a stretch of land..."

Last night after I had died and gone to the Long Island Rail Road, I might have agreed. But I've been thinking about this a great deal lately, about what living in New York (the state, the proxmity to the city) is doing to my love for New York (the City). For starters, I have called Long Island a pit on not a few occasions. An armpit, even. I think and dream and ponder about living in Manhattan for my next two years of Hofstra -- if not now, when?, eh -- but then I try to convince myself it makes sense to live closer to campus and just play in The City.

But I'm getting off the subject of my blog. I just -- love Manhattan. The energy when you step on the sidewalk. I never would have thought to characterize it that way, as violence done to the island. But I folded down the page, because that made sense to me, too.

I'll be sad to see this book end. Although I'm a week behind in my quest, and I so need to get crackin' on my B author. (FYI, Borges, Burroughs, and Barth appear to be the finalists.) I have folded down a lot of pages. That means I like the quotes, the things Martin Amis has said, the way he puts them. I used to have these two other voracious reader best friends in L.A. and they would chide me and my page-folding habit. I don't do it with hardcovers, only paperbacks. That somehow makes sense to me. They couldn't bring themselves to do that damage to a paperback either.

New York, New York. And oh, the things Richard does.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

TV and Information

Everyone keeps telling me (well, I say "everyone" -- but really, it's more like the all of three people or so who have had anything whatsoever to say about Martin Amis) that I've selected the wrong book of his to read. I really don't hate this book, though. I just want to find someone with whom I can talk about it. One person has even suggested I switch. I kind of like this book, though, and want to know what happens. And it isn't turning me off of Martin at all; I'll definitely want to read another of his...which I'm gathering should be Money.

I've recently read the part where the crazy criminal/entrepreneur guy enters Gwyn and Demi's house as a burglar. Among his ruminations about possessions in various houses, whether luxuriously fashioned or sparse, whether there are candles or couches or mahogany or plastic, he notes that rich or poor we all have this common denominator of the gray square, the television.

I like to remember the times when I actually didn't have one. Those times shocked people. They were basically -- when I lived in my studio apartment in Hollywood. Before my friend moved and gave me his old TV on his way out of state. I've had a recurring theme in my life of people giving me their old television sets. Oh! And our sophomore year of college, in that apartment with Mara, Ranj, and Kristen. We didn't have a TV. We were definitely the odd girls out. On many levels. I love that I had three whole roommates who also didn't need a television.

It's just - if it's there, you'll watch it, you know? But life without television is really fine. And of course, I use it now for watching DVDs. Quite often. (I'm all about the Netflix. All about.) Another ex-roommate, Renee from Boston, once questioned why I make such a distinction between watching movies (which I adore, recommend, and can't understand how anyone could NOT do) and watching TV shows (which I scorn, am picky about, and avoid).

See, my whole thing is that a film is a complete work of art, much as a book or a play. Or even when you read a magazine, if you read a magazine cover to cover. When it ends, you are finished. You've completed something. At that point you might stretch, stand up, go get something to drink, call someone, go out, go to school, go to work, go to bed, go jogging -- basically, you go and do something else. Television is the one that doesn't really work that way. When you sit there watching TV, a show ends and then you get sucked in to the next one, because before there's any settling, processing, or contented sigh it's "UP NEXT! DON'T GO AWAY!" and so on. Sucking you in. You're never satiated.

You don't really do that with something else. If you finish a book, you don't reach over and pick up the next one that very instant (except possibly in circumstances of extreme sickness). In the theater, you finish watching a play or a movie and then you go home. (Unless you're a rebellious teenager trying to sneak into another flick for free. I've found that just makes your ass hurt by the end of the day, really, if you watch too many.)

Note also that this is why I don't really like watching movies on commercial television, and I am generally OK with watching TV shows on DVD. (Have I mentioned that I love Netflix?)

Television strips away your ability to recognize when you should be finished. It is inherent in the medium. And that is how it wins. And is pernicious. And takes our money. And so on.

Renee was right -- there are some crap movies, and some quality entertainment on TV. It's just that the medium is the message, you know. (And if you think I made up that last, I shall further mourn for the general state of things.)

Please note: I look highly upon television's ability to bring us together for shared events, be it a prominent person's funeral, 9/11 coverage, etc. Also, the announcement of the Oscar nominations, brought to me live. (Although last year from Korea I watched them streamed live on

Monday, January 22, 2007

More pain?

The more I read The Information, the more I think it is memoir-ical. (I just made up that word.) Not totally, in the "all-first-novels-are-thinly-veiled-memoirs" way (thanks, JSFoer) but in the sort of "oooh, that paragraph probably really happened to him" way.

And, I am still finding passages that are biting, sharp, funny but then also when you think about it quite sobering. Example:

"The target is driving along. Without a care in the world, as they say. Although of course no one old enough to drive is without a care in the world. No one old enough to drive a trike is without a care in the world. Everyone is right up there at the very brink of their pain limit. That was one of the reasons why it was so easy to hurt people: they were never ready. More pain? Nobody needed that. Nobody thought they could possibly have room for any more, until it came." -- p. 147

So, our buddy Martin Amis appears on the cover of Pages magazine this month. There's an interview in which I learned things about him, including that The Information apparently sold only about 40,000 copies. I sort of think that half or fewer of the people who buy a book ever get around to reading it, but even if it's more, plus factoring in libraries, used bookstores, and borrowing from friends, let's say 40,000-50,000 people have actually read this one. Could that be true? It's sort of mind-boggling to contemplate. Let's say I tack on a few more out of generosity and imagine 60,000 have read it. Let's say based on population of large English speaking countries that not quite half of those readers are in the U.S., so I'm down to 30,000. This puts me at fewer than 1,000 per state. Even though I've lived in California (biggest population) and Boston (uber-literary city) and New York (the best of both of those worlds) I'm suddenly less surprised that I don't know a soul who's read it.

Perhaps I should indeed have selected Money or The Rachel Papers...

But I like this one!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Richard Tull does America?

One of the most interesting parts about my experience teaching English in Korea had nothing really to do with Korea; it had to do with the expat scene, which consisted largely of Canadians, and had also quite a few English and Irish, a fair amount of Australian, and even some New Zealanders and the occasional South African. In other words, the English-speaking world converged, and it wasn't all Americans. I found this refreshing (except for that brief moment Thanksgiving week, 40 days in) and I also got used to it, so I forget that it's still a new and interesting concept to a lot of my acquaintances here in the United States when it comes up in conversation.

Besides the general goodness of getting a different perspective on one's country and my fun new friends from around the world, it was also fun that some of my friends jokingly made me an "honorary Canadian" at the end of my sojourn. In fact, the first thing one of my Korean co-workers said to me when I got to the school that first day was, "You don't look like an American." I was never entirely sure what that meant.

In The Information, Richard Tull is trying without success to burst the bubble of his friend Gwyn's success. Richard is insanely jealous of Gwyn, because Richard's writing career is beyond lackluster at this point. He decides to anonymously send Gwyn the Sunday New York Times with a note: "Something in here that might interest you." This, he thinks, will send Gwyn into paroxysms of desperate seraching for the thing that will stroke his ego and/or confirm his place as a bright start in the literary firmament. After having some trouble getting his hands on The New York Times in a timely fashion in London, he is in a shop with The Los Angeles Times and he's like Ah!! Even better! It's even bigger and fatter and more full of crap. So he wraps it and even checks the Book Review, Arts, Calendar, News, etc. sections to make sure there ISN'T really something about Gwyn in it. He sends it anonymously.

The next week he is playing chess at his friend's house and sees the newspaper spread across the coffee table and innocently asks, "What, do you take the Los Angeles Times?" And his friend is like, no, some bloke who doesn't even identify himself as more than "John" sent it... but get this. Of course. Gwyn has found the item; luckily, he says, his glance just fell upon it. He could have been looking all week.

And so of course, Richard has to then do exactly what he'd wished upon Gwyn, poring over the pages until he finds a listing in the classifieds: wanted, a first edition of Gwyn's first book.

It's all rather amusing, as is the way in which Martin Amis subtly comments on these two particular U.S. newspapers. He also comments not quite as subtly about the U.S. :

"Richard was struck by an unpleasant thought: what if there was something to interest Gwyn Barry in this particular issue of the Sunday Los Angeles Times? An eight-page symposium on his work, for example. Or a whole Gwyn Barry Section. As in the UK, Amelior had first been a flop, then a sleeper, and finally a smash in the United States...this fact inflicted a wound that still out-throbbed all the others: out-throbbed the gouges and gashes visited on him by the book's apparent popularity everywhere else on earth, which he got to hear about piecemeal, from Gwyn's offhand grumbles: this importunate Argentinian journalist, or camera crew, that interminable questionnaire from Taiwan. But America. Come on..." -- pp. 85-86

And, see, that in itself is hilarious and telling, but read further and in a mere two sentences you get this:

"Could it be that Gwyn had stumbled on the universal, that voice which speaks to and for the human soul? No. Gwyn had stumbled on the LCD." -- p. 86

I love this book. I love reading it. Now Richard is in talks with Gwyn's agent, who mostly represents people who are already famous for something else before they write their books, something such as cooking or being an athlete or politician. I love that comment on the so-called literary scene as well.

For various reasons, Richard is slated to go with Gwyn on his eight-city U.S. book tour for the new novel. I hope this happens. I read on, eager to find out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Well, here are my initial thoughts about Martin Amis: the man is clearly brilliant, he is sardonic as all get-out, and I think I would most enjoy spending some time with him over a few drinks. Or possibly many drinks.

As I mentioned in the original post, in which I launched my Project Read Through the Alphabet 2007, The Information is a novel about a novel writer. I love that. Here's an example of the hilariously morose cynicism with which it is filled:

"For an hour (it was the new system) he worked on his latest novel, deliberately but provisionally entitled Untitled...In the drawers of his desk or interleaved by now with the bills and summonses on the lower shelves on his bookcases, and even on the floor of the car...lay other novels, all of them firmly entitled Unpublished. And stacked against him in the future, he knew, were yet further novels, successively entitled Unfinished, Unwritten, Unattempted, and, eventually, Unconceived. " -- p. 5

And so we have our writer, Richard Tull, who watches his friend Gwyn meet with fame and success and in what is purported to be a gloriously happy marriage, while Richard himself is no longer getting even marginal critical acclaim and has not only cheated on his wife but is pretty sure she must have cheated on him by now too, just because their marriage (he) is such a wreck. It is said that his first two novels weren't exactly comprehensible, but no one could quite say they were awful either. Now, his lack of agent and publishing prospects certainly seem to be rendering a verdict. And so he slogs through his days hoping to make it to the next drug or other intoxicant offered up by his failing life.

A girl has to wonder how much of this Amis himself has felt! I mean, he certainly is still a darling of the edgy-intellectual-literary world, isn't he? He's also hilarious. But not in a David Sedaris or even a Christopher Moore or Calvin Trillin way. I don't laugh out loud as often on every page as in reading those others, but I laugh good and deep at Martin Amis. He's also brilliant. (This next part is going to sound really snotty so prepare.) I really like reading someone and just thinking, 'Shit, he is so brilliant. He's clearly so much smarter than me. Could I even hold a candle...? Would he still have a drink with me...?' because I really feel (these days?) that finding brilliant people about whom I think, 'Wow, he's decidedly smarter than me' happens less and less often. What's that about? Age? Prozac? As the Bush administration goes, so goes the nation? Too much time spent on Long Island? Or out of public radio?

Whatever. There are even words I swear I've never heard or seen before, and not just the British slang (of which there is also a good amount). Anyway, the plot is meandering along introducing us to some of Richard's bitter jealousy, and that he has hatched a plan to "bring down" Gwyn, although we don't really know what that plan is yet. But mostly so far I'm luxuriating in Amis/Richard's ruminations on his miserable writer life.

"Writers don't lead shapely lives. Shape they give to the lives of others: accountants, maniacs." - p. 48

Remember, that's The Information by Martin Amis. My edition ISBN: 0679735739. You can get it for 75 cents on! I love! And I am definitely starting to love Martin Amis.

Friday, January 05, 2007

New Year Reading LAUNCH!

I'm very excited! Today I decided to finally set in motion a literary plan I've had rattling around my head for a while. I have been very caught up in appreciation for new years, fresh starts, launching plans and projects, making resolutions, etc., so I decided to finally do this one.

Sometimes I get just flat out sad at how very many books there are out there that I want to read, and sometimes in my Borders wandering and shelving I would especially look at the fiction and think that even one such as I, who is ostensibly a writer and who has often been accused of "reading a lot," has still neglected to read many an author. I would think, 'Some day I am going to start with "A" and work my way through the fiction section, selecting one major author from each letter of the alphabet that I've always meant to read and never got around to reading, and read something by that author, then move on to the next letter...'

Friends, that "someday" is today! And what better day, seeing as this afternoon one of my favorite new friends called me "comprehensively dorky, but also practical."

I'm not sure if it was because I've been restless with reader's block lately, having commenced and left unfinished at least four books in the past few months and mostly reading The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, and Poets & Writers of late...or if it was because I've been so assigned to within an inch of my reading life due to law school that I need to bring some structure to my leisure reading in order to get back into novels again...or if the inspiration of New Year's resolutions was the perfect time to launch said plan...or maybe because it was ultra-convenient that there was a Borders across from the movie theater where I had an hour to wait before seeing Notes on a Scandal (see my supporting actress rant)...I think it was a combination of all of these things.

But I am totally going to do it. I figure, two letters per month. Yes, I am aware that that makes only 24. Unless George W. declares an extra month in the year so he can be president usurper longer. And I am equally aware that there are 26 letters in the alphabet. (George may or may not be aware of this.) I figure I'll throw an extra letter in a month here and there...or just extend the party through January 2008. No big deal.

And the best part is that it can give this here literary supplement blog a bit of a focus again. You will recall that when I launched it a year ago I meant to blog unceasingly about War and Peace, but I ended up getting distracted by about a hundred other things right while I was reading The Book (friends, alcohol, the play, a life in Korea, life back home, whatnot). And since then it's just been random nonsense here and there. So I hereby resolve--law school notwithstanding--to read and blog through the alphabet this year, twenty-six authors I've always meant to read. And you can join the discussion! (This may be more appealing to some of you than reading War and Peace was.)

So here's how it works: I walk into (presumably) Borders (but it could be another store, I suppose. It was Borders today, at any rate, the one at Scottsdale Fashion Square) and stare at the appropriate letter in Fiction. Today I began with "A." The rules are:

1. It has to be an author of multiple books who has received some critical acclaim or is well-regarded in literary circles.
2. It has to be an author I've never read but have meant to read.
3. Then I look at the books by that author and select one to read. It doesn't have to be that author's most well-known work if another appeals to me more.

And then, it is hoped, some of y'all might also want to read along with me!

All right, I know you're breathlessly awaiting the announcement of our first book. (I'm a regular Oprah, with all this suspense I'm building around my book club choice, eh.) Just hang tight, we're almost there. Today in the "A"s there were many authors who ilustrate the level of acclaim to which I refer, but who were eliminated from the running because I've read one or more of their books already: Edward Abbey, Chinua Achebe, Richard Adams (Watership Down), Louisa May Alcott, Isabel Allende, Dorothy Allison, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen.

So, with them out of the running, on to the contenders, all of whom I would be ashamed to say I've never read except this is not about shame! This is about taking steps to go forth and read and next year know way more authors than I do this year! systematically! Here are the contenders: Julia Alvarez, Rudolfo Anaya, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Sherman Alexie, Jorge Amado.

Jeffrey Archer would have been a contender, except as it happens I have recently picked up (and not finished) his False Impression. I was intrigued because it's a mystery with a plot swirling around a painting by my boy Van Gogh, and if you've been reading this blog AT ALL since we finished War and Peace you'll know Vincent is my new inspiration about whom I have had a MAJOR artistic/creative madness epiphany of late. So technically I have read Archer, even though I'm not through with that book. Anyway, enough about him.

In the end it came down to Martin Amis or Julia Alvarez. I found it interesting that I was most drawn to Amis' The Information and Alvarez' !Yo!, both of which are those writers' novels about writers. This whole plunge-back-into-good-fiction-and-I-mean-business clearly is related to my New Year's and even old year's Artist's Way-driven getting-down-to-business about my writing and myself as a writer...

And in the end, while I did read the beginning of !Yo! and mentally note to return to it one day, the first member of Linda's Alphabet Stew Book Club is none other than Martin Amis! Congratulations!

The Information is about a novelist who is watching his friend become the darling of publishers, awards committees, TV interviewers, etc. as his own writing/self seems to be flailing. He is envious, and he wants to spoil his friend's success, but how? The book has been described as "blackly hilarious," "pleasantly wicked," and "funny and disturbing." Amis himself has been called "genius," "provocative" and "demonically alive."

I'm now on page 20. Join me! This weekend I shall start posting about the book in earnest. Also--anyone out there have any thoughts on Martin Amis you'd like to share?

The Information by Martin Amis ISBN: 0-679-73573-9