As usual, I’m juggling 4 long-ish books at the moment (and the unyielding commitment to finish Infinite Jest, even if it’s only at a 2-3 page-a-day pace).
However, I’ve also been regularly thumbing my way through a handful of books of shorter material. Thought I’d share some of the highlights of these thumb-intensive texts:
Separations by Marilyn Hacker – Intense collection of poetry from the ‘70s I found for cheap. The slightly torn dust jacket with the creepy Magritte painting makes me consistently pick this up. I usually end up rereading the first poem in the collection and freaking out at the fact that I bought this at the same time that I’ve been listening to a an album that quotes from this collection (that would be the supremely great Alopecia by Why who turns the following line into a dirge-like call to arms: “Billy the Kid did what he did and he died”).
The Most of It by Mary Ruefle – Another female poet, but this is actually a collection of (often very) brief prose. The stories are of the wacky, you’re-not-supposed-to-be-able-to-do-that variety. I’ll admit I was a sucker for the book’s design. That the content is just as solidly crafted comes as a sort of awesome bonus.
Novels in Three Lines by Felix Feneon – Hundreds of single sentence news items that ran in the French newspaper Le Matin during the early 1900s. The power of these sentences (as one demigod Luc Sante describes in a fantastic introduction) is the way Feneon reveals and builds suspense through the end. Each story reveals another aspect from the seedier side of France – sex, drugs, violence, car accidents, abuse, are the norm. Here’s an example drawn entirely at random: “Le Verbeau his Marie Champion right on her breasts, but burned his eye, because acid is not a precision weapon” (page 83). You’ll either love it or you’ll feel the need to read one more to be fully convinced … so here you go: “The tramp Bors, all bloody, was on the road near Acheres. He had been on the receiving end of his friend Bonin’s truncheon” (page 107). There are more than a thousand of these collected. So good.
Hall of Best Knowledge by Ray Fenwick – I’m still not sure to make of this one. Every once in a while you’ll get a book that you just don’t even know what to do with. These get filled into the category of Books So Ridiculously Awesome You Don’t Even Know What To Do With Them (BSRAYDEKWTDWT). I don’t mean that the content is necessarily confusing. I mean that when you pick up the book and riffle through the pages you literally don’t know how you are suppose to use the book. What is the book’s function? How am I supposed to engage with this text? Examples of this include the Dictionary of the Khazars (I actually only own the female copy of this text), the Internet and Everyone (as recommended by Ms. DeWitt), and A Humument (I own two different versions of this one). Usually these become some of the most interesting books in my library. I have a feeling the Hall of Best Knowledge will be joining their ranks soon. From what I’m able to grasp, each page is a dense synergy of design, image, and text. Some are narrative based some are just head scratchers. The collection is baffling. I can’t get myself to read/look at more than one or two of these at any given time. I set the book down frustrated, inspired, and dumbfounded that there’s nothing that even comes close to the originality of this collection.