Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Time capsule nº1, originally uploaded by magic fly paula.

Before you open the first page of a book, or click on Amazon, or go to the library, or start harrassing a friend to borrow their copy, you are afflicted with a condition I call "books on the brain". You have book hunger, book greed, book lust. How this condition is spread is the province of marketing experts, publishers, and increasingly, writers themselves. In fact, we writers are constantly being told that if we don't get out there and hustle our wares, we're basically self-indulgent twerps who don't realize that the days of the Parisian garret are over. What's more, we deserve whatever miserable sales figures we get.

But, remorseless twerp that I am, I'd rather be writing. Or reading. Or drifting around accumulating another lethal case of books on the brain. So what if my head tilts oddly to one side from the weight. For me, the pleasure of books makes it all worthwhile

Anyway, here's a list of the books currently occupying space in my brain, demanding that I make a move. Maybe the more successful and savvy writers and marketing people can learn something by how they got there. As for me, all I know is I want these books.

1. THE SEA. I know, I know. Banville's Booker winning novel is on everyone's brain and everyone's list. That's what winning the Booker's all about. Huge sales. Thousands of avid readers, donning their reading glasses and venturing intrepidly into the little world you created. Something that's often better than money to a writer's troubled soul. But thanks to Mark Sarvas at The Elegant Variation and Sinead at Sigla, THE SEA's been on my mind for weeks now. Gotta find it. Gotta have it, that place of innocence and primitive pleasure that Banville found in childhood, that place of melancholy and regret layered over the scene by the adult. And if I can't have THE SEA--which is likely, since the damn thing is near impossible to find, I'll have to take the one with the word "evidence" in the title instead. See, that's how books enter the brain stealthily. One word. An image. A suggestion from a friend you trust.

And besides, anyone who says they plan to spend their Booker winnings on "Good works and hard drink" deserves to be read.

Another book on the brain is Joan Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. Ever since I read the amazing excerpt in New York Times Book Review, I've known it posseses truths I need to understand. And come to think of it, why have I never read PLAY IT AS IT LAYS? This woman's writing is incredible. The timing. The lack of sentimentality. The unflinching eye. Damn! I just might have to go back and read every word she's ever written.

And while we're on the subject of unflinching, Bret Easton Ellis has a new novel. The name, fortunately for my equilibrium, has not yet pushed its way into my brain. I had no need to take it in because I decided a long time ago that Ellis wasn't my cuppa. He was a nihilist, I thought, and me, I'm an anti-nihilist. Then I wandered over to Myfanwy Collins' blog and read her piece about rereading LESS THAN ZERO. She seemed to be saying that sometimes the best way to exalt life is by grimly portraying what happens when it is degraded.
So okay, looks like I'm gonna have to read that one too. And if I like it as much as she did, I'll probably have to find the name of the new novel and read that one, too. You see how this works? How can I ever figure out how to market anything to potential readers, when I've got this huge pile of books accumulating in my head, threatening to drive me mad?

And let's not forget poetry. There's Paul Zweig, for instance. I'm ashamed to admit that until I read some of his poems on Via Negativa, I had only the vaguest awareness of his name, and absolutely no knowledge of his work. And now? Every poem of his that I read seems better, truer, deeper than the last.

Another poet I haven't read is Carol Ann Duffy. But when I read the review of RAPTURE in THE GUARDIAN on Sunday, I knew I had to have it. It's a series of poems that explores the issue of love, one particular love, from initial euphoria, through ultimate connection, and finally to its end. Obviously, I need to know what Carol Ann Duffy knows.

And finally, there's Louise Gluck. Yes, I've read her. Even own a couple of her collections. But this morning when I visited Suzanne Frischkorn's blog, which provided a link to Gluck's stunning poem, October, my greed was once again incited. Obviously, I need more Gluck in my life.


Anonymous said...

That's a great list, Patry. Would love to hear your thoughts about the works, as you read through them...

Did you know that "books on the brain" is viral. Now that list is working its way trhough my brain! In fact, the symptoms are getting worse, with my wanting to run off to the nearest bookstore to get going ... minus the Gluck books. I already own all those.

Oh, and I read a lot of Joan Didion. My son is reading The White Album in his English class at high school right now.

Patry Francis said...

maria: Oh yes, it's definitely viral. That's how things like the Booker prize work. Mass contagion. No available copies at the library. I will update as I work through my ever growing list.

In the meantime, do you have a favorite Gluck poem?

And how does your son like The White Album? It's interesting to hear how these things resonate with a high school student.

rdl said...

Oh my g-d, my head is spinning. do I have to add these to my list that is already so long that I doubt very much that I will live long enof to read them all.

Suzanne said...

I *heart* Joan Didion. :-)

Anonymous said...

In response to your question about Gluck: It's hard for me to single out one poem from the many favorite ones, but for years (before her new work: "Meadowlands" and "October"), I used to really favor the poem "Mock Orange" from "The Triumph of Ahilles." (1985)

As for Didion's "White Album," I'll try to catch my son in one of those moods -- you know, when teens beam themselves back to earth for a brief moment... and I'll ask him then!

Patry Francis said...

Maria: I had Gluck's "Happiness" taped to the front of my poetry notebook until it grew ragged, and I had to replace it with something by Adam Zagajewski. But now I think her newer work is even more exciting.

Mary said...

I found Louise Gluck via The Undertaking (from The House on Marshland). A little gem. I commented on it a couple of weeks ago on my blog. I want to get hold of her collection: The Wild Iris. Haven't got round to it yet though.

I know a little, but not enough, of Carol Ann Duffy's work. You have whetted my appetite to go find some more.

Dave said...

As far as not having been familiar with Paul Zweig, I think you're in pretty good company. Hardly anyone seems to have heard of him! I guess it's a sign of my own complete ineptness in the self-promotion department that I had to choose such an obscure poet for my responsive reading experiment.

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