William Gibson

William Gibson is one of favorites. Here’s an article on Japanese culture. He wrote it a couple years before Pattern Recognition came out. If you’ve read the book, you’ll spot the London-Tokyo connection developing here:

I’ve always felt that London is somehow the best place from which to observe Tokyo, perhaps because the British appreciation of things Japanese is the most entertaining. There is a certain tradition of ‘Orientalia’, of the faux-Oriental, that has been present here for a long time, and truly, there is something in the quality of a good translation that can never be captured in the original.

Nice Article from The Guardian

Is this true in American subways? Here’s an article about what people are reading in the Tube in London and other UK trains. I’ve seen readers on trains in Boston and DC, but I don’t recall seeing too many books in NYC. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Books, like clothes, music (should a bit of sound leak from our hi-tech earphones) and general demeanour, say something about who we are, who we would like people to think we are and who we ourselves aspire to be. It’s why the stereotype of the saturnine young man with the slim volume of poetry in his pocket exists, why publishers agonise so feverishly about book jackets and why I once nudged a friend on the tube in a chic part of west London to look at a pale, solemn young woman engrossed in a volume of Wittgenstein at 8.30 in the morning. Oh yes, he replied airily, we get a better class of reader round here.

Wittgenstein? That’s no joke.

Infinite Jest

I’ve finished reading Infinite Jest but Infinite Jest has not finished with me.

David Foster Wallace’s book has stuck in my head the way few other books have (The Sound and the Fury, V., Gravity’s Rainbow, and London Fields are the others). To paraphrase Wallace (on Infinite Jest, not the others, but to me personally the sentiment applies to all of them), Infinite Jest succeeds at being difficult and entertaining at the same time. The reader wants to do the work required of him by the text. (Not all readers can be seduced into a difficult text in this way, but that’s because the difficulty must become part of the entertainment, and not all readers find difficulty entertaining.)

Infinite Jest is difficult in an extreme way that tempts a second reading while also sending the reader to the library or, in our modern day, the Internet. Since returning home from my holiday visit to Detroit, I’ve been spending a lot of time online searching for interviews with Wallace that might illuminate the text. (Check out The Howling Fantods for some good links and news.)

The effect of this ‘secondary reading,’ has been to create an image of David Foster Wallace in my mind, an image composed of snippets of interviews and journalistic observations pasted together to form some kind of ‘meta-DFW.’ Though I know this mediated version of Wallace represents only the most brilliant aspects of his character, when taken in tandem with the novel he’s written, the combined image is almost unbearable to look at. He’s too smart, too quick, too good.

Or maybe that’s just the impression I get as a fiction writer. The word that comes to mind when I think about Wallace is genius, but perhaps that’s only because I read somewhere that one of his college professors told Wallace he might be one (a genius).

The next stop on this logical fallacy thought train is to think, ‘I couldn’t write anything that good.’ As a writer, I guess what should worry me more is the possibility that a day will come when I think, ‘I can write something that good.’ Because, odd though it may seem, while self doubt is a feeling that can cripple a writer, it is also what drives him to work harder.

Infinite Jest

I’m a glutton for punishment. Last spring I read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It was slow going but ultimately very satisfying.

Now I’m reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I hauled it to England, through Wales and Scotland, and back to the States, and still I’m only half-done. I’ve stopped twice to read other books (Dead Babies by Martin Amis and The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth). My pace is agonizingly slow because of Wallace’s writing, his inclusion of every great and minor detail.

This is one of the reasons to read something like this, to marvel at the range of the writer, but you have to commit to the long haul. You have to flip dutifully to the back pages and read the end notes. You have to carve out some brain space for all the characters and their relationships.

Here’s the question though: Pynchon’s new book Against the Day arrives in eleven days: Will I be ready to tackle another 1000-page behemoth so soon? Probably not. I’ll probably set the new one on the shelf next to Mason & Dixon, which has been on the shelf, unread, for five years. I’ve moved with it four times (yes, four times in five years), and still it sits stands there taunting me with its size.

At least it’s hardcover and will withstand the abuse of being carried around for several months when I finally get to it. My Pynchon paperbacks and Infinite Jest have taken serious beatings.

Library

The library is done. Basically. There is still some organizing to do, but the room is painted, the shelves installed, the books shelved. And the reading chairs are in place. Maybe I’ll post a pic, if I remember.

That only leaves the office, which will require another expensive visit to IKEA. Damn IKEA.

Something(s) I’ve Always Wanted

Ever since junior high school I’ve been a little obsessive about books. I would ride my father’s bike to the Book Tree across town. The bike was a ‘comfort’ model (high handle bars, wide seat, wide tires), but I rode it like a mountain bike on the bumpy trails that cut through the woods to the book store. (The only way I could get permission to ride that far was by staying off the busier roads.) I eventually wrecked the bike with all the abuse, but not before I’d ridden it across the state of Michigan twice on week-long organized rides. It was built by Fuji, if you’re in the market.

It, my obsession, started with boyhood staples like the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, then Tom Clancy, Tolkien, Brian Jacques, and Michael Crichton. Then I started reading comic books and everything else. (Science fiction followed quickly on comics’ heels.) I loved F. Scott Fitzgerald (and still do). I struggled through some Faulkner (and still do).

The point of all this is I developed the collector’s impulse. It wasn’t long before I had two shelves full of books: those I’d read and those I had yet to read. Over the years those two shelves have mixed together. At one point I tried a moratorium on new purchases to try to read all the books I already owned, but that was short-lived. I made exceptions for certain books (non-fiction, favorite authors), and, as always, the exception became the rule.

A few years ago Danielle and I found ourselves surrounded by books. Our primary bookcase was overrun: books were shelved two-deep with more stacked on top of the rows. We made more room for books all over our apartment, bought new shelves. We gave books away. Eventually we reached a slightly fussy equilibrium (I guess those two words don’t really go together, but you get the idea), but the only way to maintain it was to give books away.

What I wanted was a library, a room in the house devoted to books, walled with shelves, walled with books.

With our new house, I’m about to get my wish. The painting is nearly done, and this weekend we’re going to the great IKEA for some Billy Book Shelves.

Then we can finally unpack our thirty-odd book boxes.

Weak Sales at Borders, Barnes and Noble

According to a story over at the great Publishers’ Marketplace, Borders and other mega book retailers have seen a big drop in sales this quarter. What do they blame it on?

Not just the absence of Harry Potter, but the lack of any meaningful hardcover hits to move units and bring traffic to stores.

Apparently, no decent fiction was published last quarter.

I guess I’m not the only shopper who felt underwhelmed by recent offerings. Even Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, which have both received very good reviews, failed to keep my attention past the first ten pages.