Top of the Pile #27, #28: David and Goliath, The Country Doctor

I know I haven’t done one of these posts in a while now, but I’ve been busy. And sad. And busy some more. Not to mention that all of my books are packed in boxes and have been for weeks now, so they haven’t been laying around to remind me how I’ve been neglecting them lately.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve ignored reading altogether. On the contrary, I’ve managed the impossible.

Infinite Jest CoverI’ve finished Infinite Jest and lived to tell the story.

You probably think I saw it coming, and made sure I was in a public place where I could immediately start bragging about my accomplishment and have people cheering and asking for my autograph on their bare muscular chests (yes, all my imagined fans are bare chested male models who have the deepest respect for Infinite Jest survivors!).

But to be honest, finishing the book caught me completely off guard. Faced with such lengthy a novel, my lovely Kindle got so utterly confused that it never indicated the right reading progress throughout. Some days it said I’d read 85%, then days later it reconsidered and decided it was more like 73%, and this went on and on for weeks driving me completely crazy, until one day, ONE DAY, I tapped to get to the next page and there it was, the final paragraph of Infinite Jest and my most wondrous reading victory thus far.

Now, what an extraordinary book!

I was talking to a friend and fellow “Infinite Jest survivor” (yes, we’re starting a club!), and she said that the moment she finished it she turned back to the first page and started reading it a second time. Now, I really don’t think I’m in a place right now where I could possibly handle that, my brain being complete mush after all the homeless-flat-hunting insanity these days, but I totally get what my friend was about. Infinite Jest is a book to be read more than once. That may sound off putting, it being 1000+ pages of Foster Wallace often crazy lingo, but I have a feeling one reading couldn’t possibly do it justice.

And yes, it’s a complicated, difficult read. It’s most certainly not for everyone. But, throughout the long love-hate relationship I’ve developed with it, I never once could deny its brilliance. So yes, there you have it. I’m an Infinite Jest groupie. There’s a chance I’ll give it a second try some time in the future, and I’ve already bookmarked some Foster Wallace essays and short stories for when I get part of my sanity back and I’m ready to dive into reading again. So take of that what you will, and if you’d like my autograph (even if it’s not on your pecks, sigh), I’ve got six dozen rainbow coloured sharpies to pick from, after all these weeks of packing and labeling. Just say the word.

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Read Like a WriterI finished Reading Like a Writer last night, and it’s the very last book I packed for our move to God knows where. I really wanted to finish it before we left, so that I’d be left only with my Kindle during our homeless-and-certain-to-be-shelf-less phase. So this will be the last hardcover I touch in a while, and I’m glad it was this and no other, because I happened to really enjoy it.

I expected it to be about writing and how to become better writers, but it turned out to focus more on reading and how to become better readers, which is unlike any other creative writing book I’ve read. It’s full of examples of brilliant writing from authors I’ve loved all throughout my reading life, and new ones I’ve only thus discovered and added to my to read list.

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David and GoliathSo here’s a fun story.

A few weeks back V and I took a long weekend trip to Bristol, to get away from the cardboard box invasion taking over our flat, and the clouds of hopelessness and homelessness gathering on the horizon.

And during that trip, which I haven’t written about because, well, I’ve been battling lots of lovely shades of flat related despair and frustration since, well, during that lovely trip I have been super duper strong and managed NOT to buy any books, not even one.

It’s incredible what having to pack and store 300+ paperbacks in half a day does to your book shopaholic compulsions.

But anyway. Halfway through our Bristol adventure, we stopped to rest for a few minutes on a park bench, and there it was. A paperback copy of David and Goliath, slightly dogeared but in pretty good shape altogether, just waiting for someone to save it from the coming rain. V, who had previously voiced his admiration at me not buying a single book during our weekend away, threw up his hands in despair but resigned to his fate, and minutes later we were leaving the park, David and Goliath safely resting in my handbag.

Now, this isn’t the first book I’ve found on UK streets since we moved here (it’s the fourth, actually, an average of a book a year, believe it or not!), but it’s the first one I’ve actually read, and not just took home, stacked on a shelf and forgot about it. I finished David and Goliath in a couple of sittings, and it was an interesting enough little book, if a little lacking in the conclusion drawing department. Gladwell’s stories and examples are intriguing, easy reads, but to me they lacked closure, and I was left feeling that I needed to read more on the subject before I’d be able to form an opinion on it.

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The Country Doctor

And finally we reach my current reading affair, Balzac’s The Country Doctor. I wish there was an extraordinary reason behind me picking it, but I’ll be reading exclusively on Kindle until we’ve finally settled somewhere, and since I already had a few of Balzac’s novels on it, The Country Doctor being the shortest one, I just went for it. I know, talk about superficial!

Anyway, I started reading it last night and my Kindle says I’m about 10% through. To quote one of my picky reading friends, “Nothing’s happened yet. No one died..”, so there’s not much I can say about it for the time being.  I’ll definitely keep you posted though!

That’s it for now, happy reading everyone!

Infinite Jest Progress: Page 194

That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That concentrating on anything is very hard work.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Top of the Pile #20: Infinite Jest

OK, so this will very likely be my final Top of the Pile post, as I’ll surely be plodding through this ginormous book for the remainder of my life.

You think I’m exaggerating? Well then, you clearly haven’t heard all the scary stories about how only a minute fraction of those who embark on the Infinite Jest adventure survive, minds and limbs intact. I, for one, have countless friends who’ve admitted defeat at various stages throughout their 1,000+ pages long self imposed reading challenges, and only one who’s made it to the finished line. He, this person whom I now treat with the amount of reverence fit for a book reading god, admits he’s emerged out of it all scarred and bruised but also (how else?) a changed human being in more ways that one.

As for myself, I’ve been putting off even considering the possibility of ever intentionally touching Infinite Jest. I’ll admit it, I was intimidated. I was more than intimidated, I was certain I wasn’t smart enough for it. I had always suspected it, you know, that there would come a time and a book to confirm me I was nothing but a blonde, freckled, geek looking (oh the irony!) bimbo.

So this is it, my friends, the moment of truth. Will I fail or will I live to tell the story? Time will tell. For now, I’ve been officially reading Infinite Jest for about 6 days, and my Kindle says I’ve made it through 6% of it. Dare I predict it will take me 100 or so days to finish it at this rate? That’s not too bad, really, considering people around the world are doing this Infinite Summer thing, where they set aside an entire summer to read Infinite Jest together.

So I guess this summer will be my Infinite Summer. It was about time I embarked on something fashionably weird/insane. I’ll keep you posted (aka moan about it) throughout it all, and I swear I’ll try my very very best to make through to the end, like a self respecting, blonde, infinitely geeky bimbo.

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I finished The Snow Queen last week after a 5k evening run (yup, still doing those, or more or less trying to survive one every other day).

If you’re after the short version, I didn’t find it as good as The Hours or Specimen Days.

I mean, it was all right (is that ever a good thing in a book review?).

It’s a story about things unseen. A higher power. A sign that everything will be OK, that one and one’s problems have been acknowledged, and there’s someone, something hard at work making sure everything turns out all right. All one needs to do is read the signs and wait.

I mean, it’s an interesting enough premise, I just wish it’d been a little more elaborated on in the book. Everything felt quite a bit unfinished, and though I guess it fits the theme, and you’re free to read into what’s not visible and pick our own signs, I wanted more detail. And the writing, though it’s beautiful, gave me the impression of “Hey, I can write a metaphor and you can’t! I can even do it on every other line! Look, no hands!”. No one ever likes that.

I don’t have any more Michael Cunningham works around and I’m surrounded by piles and piles of novels I’ve been meaning to read since forever, not even mentioning Infinite Jest looming in the background like a freaking book Godzilla for the next couple of months or who knows, so I don’t think I’ll be touching another Cunningham book for a while. I will leave you with a tiny Snow Queen quote though, it’s definitely a better way to end this post than I ever could come up with.

It’s hardly ever the destination we’ve been anticipating, is it? Our hopes may seem unrealized, but we were in all likelihood hoping for the wrong thing. Where did we – the species, that is – pick up that strange and perverse habit?

Happy reading!

 

This is Water

It’s been crazy, these days.

It feels like the natural ending of the above phrase is “but it’s fine now”. It’s been bad but we’re getting there. Hell on earth it’s been, but it’s quiet now. That’s what’s expected, from a sentence beginning rather badly, isn’t it? Some hope, a peaceful conclusion.

Oh well, it’s been crazy, these days, and it still is.

We’re not getting there, or if we are, we’re crawling at such a slow pace, like continents floating towards each other a hundredth of an inch a year. And it’s not quiet. It’s most definitely not quiet. It’s never been as unquiet before. It’s like every mouth and every engine and every car horn and, well, every object and every creature and every weather phenomenon capable of noise have made a deal to gather all their decibels in these couple of breaths of air where we kill our time. So no, it’s not quiet. We’re pretty much sleeping, sipping and breathing in the main hall of this factory running at maximum capacity. We hardly produce anything, but all the pieces of machinery huff and puff and rub blocks of metal together.

I’ve been sleepwalking through the week, struggling with my English, my hand to mouth coordination and remembering people’s names. And I’ve been thinking, this not-getting-enough-sleep thing has been with me for pretty much all of my adult life now, yet I still have hope it will go away at some point. When in fact I should probably just accept it as part of me by now, a part of my body I won’t manage to change without invasive surgery procedures, if at all. Like my freckles.

This is what I’ve grown into, a tired person with a spotted face, and it’s forever.

I carry my exhaustion across various London postcodes to the office. It makes sense. Being tired at home, hopelessly wide-eyed in your own bed, is pretty boring stuff, but forever yawning while leaning your exhaustion against a dusty keyboard makes you seem really cool. Like things, interesting things, ones that go on late into the night, happen to you. Like you’d have stories to tell, if only you weren’t too sleepy to form simple words.

My project is on hold so I’m spending my days turning it into this thing which will soon be able to land rockets on the Moon or something. Hours upon hours, headphones on, typing a million lines of code that end up making it half a millisecond or so faster, or fixing a bug no one’s able to reproduce but me, and only when the planets align in a certain way. I do it because work is among the few things I don’t feel anxious about these days, where I know every problem’s got a solution, and one no more than a few key presses away. It’s good to have things like that in life, that you can manage, so I guess I’m among the lucky ones.

Everything else is beyond my control. My now, my a minute from now, my tomorrow. I’ve started reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a couple of days back, and I remembered one of his essays I’d read a few years ago. It begins jokingly…

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

…and goes on to describe a million annoying, tiresome, end-of-the-world-feeling things grownup life is made of, to then conclude:

The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”

 

Every hour or so, the guy sitting next to me, also safely sealed in his own music bubble, yanks his headphones off, stands, stretches and walks out for a smoke. I crave for these breaks of his, I get few distractions in this place. When he gets back, he carries with him a couple of healthy breaths of hand rolled cigarette flavour. I breathe them in. I haven’t touched one in years, and I don’t miss it, but the smell reminds me of a million nights and a million stories and a million people I’ve loved inside and out. A country and time I know for sure don’t exist anymore, what with all of us taking religious care of our bodies these days, and less of each other.

It may seem like it, but I’m really not nostalgic or depressed, or no more than usually. I guess it’s just the sleepwalking. It makes colors blur, shapes bleed into each other. Past, present, lived, imagined, they’re all part of the same foggy sky. Which reminds me.

I’ve got a window now. At work. I’ve got a real, three meters wide, dark framed window to stare into when there’s nothing interesting to look at through the tiny windows on my screen. I can’t believe I forgot to mention it, a window really is the most extraordinary thing, isn’t it? This one overlooks a slice of the parking lot, a yellow bricked office building and four trees. I look at them. The leaves are the size of sunflower seeds from where I sit, which I guess is close enough. They flutter. It will rain later, someone says, and that’s fine, what’s a little rain when it’s Friday the 13th and there have been no limb shattering tragedies and no heart breaks, and you’ve got trees to rest your eyes on, real trees, and the promise of sleep.

Rain’s just water anyway.

 


Writing Soundtrack: Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men