I think reading and books has been just about my longest-running vice. I've been into reading every since I actually learned how as a child. It's one of my few weaknesses as a consumer, although I have learned to resist a little better the impulse to keep buying books.
I definitely need to spend more time reading the ones I have already bought.
A while back I got into this site Goodreads, and if you've been reading my blog for the last couple years you've seen my reviews there get auto-posted here. I'm trying to decide if I should add this goodreads recent updates widget to the sidebar of my blog. That way people can see not only the occasional book that I finish reading, but also the endless flood of books I desire. I probably add one to my "to-read shelf" once a day or so.
People are always dying, every day, all over the world, even dying too early. Our superconnected, hypermediated world usually rings the alarms and the mourning bells only when someone somehow famous or celebrated does it. I usually am sad when someone at least reasonably not a bad person passes and gets loudly eulogized in the echoing hall of mirrors that is our infosmogged culture, but I try to keep some perspective, because so many suffer and expire without so much as a ripple in that data-pond.
Nevertheless, out of all of the tragic early losses from the ranks of famous cultural workers, there is one that I truly really wish were not so. Not Whitney Houston, Nora Ephron, Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, even Roberto Bolaño or Elliot Smith - yeah, sad, but David Foster Wallace truly stands out above anyone else I can think of as such an exceptional mind that it's literally a huge loss to the world that he will not be around, to continue to grace us with more of what he did. I say this not simply because he was such a skilled writer - which her certainly was - but really more because the wisdom of so much that he wrote and said (i.e. in interviews) is so consistently extraordinary and just plain useful to me as a human being (and I would think to others as well). He combined the gift of stellar talent in his craft with such an extreme intelligence and, most importantly, such an extreme concern and compassion for his audience and humans in general, I just am staggered when I think that we may have had, should have had, as a nation, as a people, as a society, 20 or 30 more years of benefit from having him around, doing stuff. I literally think he was on a level of compassionate, spiritual intelligence comparable to Gandhi, MLK, the Dalai Lama... take your pick.
I confess that I was late at appreciating this. I still have about five-sevenths of his entire output to read. But almost every time I read anything of his I am just blown away and... enlightened, even if just a little bit. There are not many writers that I could say that about. Yes, there are many that are good, and/or very smart, very clever, advance the form, etc. But to also just express things that teach me how to be a better human being - that's rare.
I'm reading his second book of short non-fiction, Consider The Lobster, and what made me want to write this post is his 1999 piece contained in that volume, originally for Harpers, called "Authority and American Usage" (original title, "Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage"). You might get a few pages into this and think, so what, it's a really smart guy reviewing a book about another really smart guy being a stickler for grammar and so what. But there's so much more to it, because on the way to explaining why the dictionary he's reviewing is a good one, he swerves and swings out into tangents, as most DFW pieces do, that seem at first to be unearned departures, but turn out to be completely relevant and coherent with his main point. In this review he discusses abortion, racism, classism, child development, his own childhood and the traumas therein, democracy, the crisis in education and especially the teaching of English, white privilege, and more - all in a review of a dictionary! And most striking is his personal discussion of his efforts as a college Lit teacher to get his students to be better writers, so they can go further in our society (and in turn make our society better, also), out of a sincere and deep caring and compassion for those students that is just unparalleled...
He was just super unique and valuable, and I really wish he were still alive and around to care about and help his fellow humans like he so obviously and deeply did. Read more>>>
My goal was to read 30 books this year. I only got through 26, I think. Although I'm in the middle of reading about 8 more right now. Couldn't seem to stay focused on one at a time. Anyway, Here's the list, more or less in reverse order:
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass by Randy Mosher
Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog
Working with Anger by Thubten Chodron
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charles Papazian
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
Shoplifting from American Apparelby Tao Lin
Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics by Richard Davenport-Hines
Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem
Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
Hell by Robert Olen Butler
Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez by Charles Bowden
Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace
When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within by Matthew McKay
Stand Up to the IRS by Frederick W. Daily
Experiments With Truth by Mark Nash, curator
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Hyperborder: The Contemporary U.S.Mexico Border and Its Future by Fernando Romero
Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields
A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle
The Cannibal's Guide to Ethical Living by Mykle Hansen
Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere by Mykle Hansen
On the day before the start of this year's National Novel-Writing Month, which I plan to participate in (and succeed at, like I did 5 years ago), I've decided to finally get around to a blog entry I've been meaning to post for many months. What I want to do is list some of my favorite passages from David Shields' amazing book "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto." The book is a sort of inspirational artistic romp through the hybrid world of mixed fiction/nonfiction, narrative/memoir, original/remixed writing and other media. My "novel" I plan to write in November will be just this sort of hybrid, so I need to look through Shields' book again anyway. Here are a few choice quotes (which themselves may be quotes he's making, largely uncited, from others, and which I will largely leave uncited, with a few exceptions):
I've been reading an excellent book called "'They Take Our Jobs!' and 20 other myths about immigration", by Aviva Chomsky. It's a really straightforward, easy read, and I've been highlighting key summarizing passages as I go with the intention of blogging at least a couple of times to share them. I will get to some of those soon, but I want to briefly mention one "big idea" from the book and how it relates to some other things I've been thinking about.
One underlying lesson of Chomsky's book is that, as we all keep seeing, history is such a great way to get at the truth or part of the truth that's often been glossed over in many discussions. She looks not just at the immigration situation right now but at the history of labor in the New World to show that immigration is a simply one part in the puzzle of how capital has always fought to provide itself with cheap labor. Cutting labor costs depends on having a population of workers who don't have the same rights as the rest of the people. An underclass.
The reason we've always had an "underclass" in our society, whether it was slaves, indentured servants, immigrants, foreign workers in far-away foreign factories, or undocumented immigrants, has always pretty much been because business needs to reduce what it spends on labor. They need to cut costs so they can offer cheap prices to consumers, and so they can increase profits.
Furthermore, the need to reduce retail consumer prices has become especially important in the last half-century, because middle-class workers here, the "non underclass," in other words, the consumers, have had their (real) earnings drop steadily since the 60s. Income inequality has been increasing as money gets funneled from regular people to the upper class. This means things, to put it simply, life has been kind of bad and getting worse and worse for the last few decades, for most people in this country.
To make up for it, rather than offering a truly better, more just and fair life for most people, Read more>>>
I look forward greatly to reading Jonathan Franzen's new huge novel, "Freedom," his work of the last 9 years, just out this month. But until that time, here's something about freedom that I love, from David Foster Wallace's own magnum opus, "Infinite Jest", which I'm nearing the end of (well, I still have about 200 pages to go, but on a 1000-page book that's something!). Here, a Quebecois separatist double-agent is speaking to an intelligence agent from the U.S.:
Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout 'Freedom! Read more>>>