- Walking down the street—a windy night, a blustery night, the last remnant of winter poking into new spring—walking with my family, I ran into my former cat. My wife coaxed him from the brick home five doors down the road, where he has lived for the last three years, or maybe habited is the word, browner, fatter than I remember him when I remember him. He ran up and bit me. I burst into tears.
- The time I called my parents, weaving home from the izakaya–It must be daytime, the supper hour, back at home in Florida, yes?—asking after my father, my brother, my grandmother, my childhood dog, how was she, her health, etc.? The lie in my mother’s voice. Stumbling in tears back to my tiny apartment. I missed the train.
- (I missed the train on purpose so that I could cry on the long walk home).
- On our bed, our old bed, a slimmish bed, tickling my wife, my fingers all over her beautiful young body, her laughter, shrieks, protest, delight. Our cat—our kitten—how he dashed in and bit me all over, viciously, striking like some other animal, like one might imagine a cobra or a weasel would strike. My hand, my arm, my shoulder. That I had a genuine wound there. Blood. My wife calming him, explaining him. Sweethearts.
- When my mother brought home the dog, a border collie, a beautiful black and white border collie—no, her name, I can’t share that, I can’t—me, twelve, furious, trembling even, walking into the neighbors’ yard, away, the dog, her, she, the dog in our garage, my younger brother petting her, my father suspicious, but me—Why so angry?
- I loved the dog. So much. She was the best.
- A few years ago, finding a picture of my dog, a puppy still, wet, in a bathtub of a house I lived in twice, finding the picture in the pages of a book, handing it to my daughter, who asked after the dog, her condition, name, whereabouts, etc., concerned, an edge or shade of protocol in her voice.
- That picture now tacked to my daughter’s wall on a corkboard reserved for such tackings.
- The cat—how he jumped into my daughter’s crib, curled about her. How it frightened us.
- He was never the same after the daughter, or we were never the same, an understatement, an obvious, obvious understatement, of course.
- He went to wander a bit, stroll in the world; he failed to return at nights. He took up with an orange tabby, a dusty bland beast my wife dubbed Pearly.
- A ridiculous name for a cat.
- And then I took to feeding them both. On the porch.
- There were other dogs after the dog I loved. A chow, a beagle that couldn’t keep up. What happened to them?
- The cat took residency under the house. He refused to move in. He was some kind of scrapper now. We might see him of an evening, curled on the porch, nestled, maybe, with dust-orange Pearly.
- But he stopped coming in.
- What happened to my dog? The details? I don’t know. This is still a sore spot, but I seem to refuse to ask.
- (I suppose I enjoy a sore spot, a wound to worry).
- The cat did not like my daughter, I think, and when we had the son, well, I know he didn’t like that. He made it clear. But we subscribe to a fiction wherein the cat loved the children and the children loved the cat.
- My daughter has a sweet little framed photo of my cat. He is curled snugly (is there another way for a cat to curl?) in a little wicker basket atop a kitchen cabinet in our old home. My daughter insisted on keeping the photo when I went to throw it away.
- Every person, or most persons, that is, most folks—-most folks love their dogs and like their dogs and will say of a dog they like and love: He was a good dog. But my dog! My dog was a very good dog, a smart dog, a dog of impeccable training. My father, returning from years of work overseas to a few months of not working (overseas or otherwise)—my father he trained the beast. It was his project.
- (I say, I write, My dog, knowing goddamn well that that dog was my father’s dog).
- Returning home from a week in the Smoky Mountains, unable to locate my cat. A miasma about the backporch. Flies, that dead-animal smell that permeates the nostrils, the brain. Finding a raccoon corpse under the house, its body bloated but whole, vile, large and swollen. Discarding it in a series of trash bags.
- Its fur was the same color as my cat’s fur.
- The strange joy when my cat arrived two days later, his feet trotting down the pavement, sauntering even, arriving on the porch indifferent to my delight but hungry.
- That he had taken up first with a possum, and then a raccoon.
- The first time I suspected the affair was when I heard the strange crunch of a new jaw crunching on my cat’s own food—a louder, drier crunch. I made myself, hollered, arms above head, chest-thrust, Hey raccoon—off the porch!
- But that furred trio just stared at me, knowing I’d go on feeding them as I had been, all Darwinian competition suspended by domestic tendencies, blinking in a series.
- How horrifying!
- And yet and still—my children, via the designs and tendencies of my wife and me—don’t they turn woodland creatures into anthropomorphic totems? Don’t they squeeze stuffed dolls? Draw and mold and paint forest friends? Make stories about such beasts?
- I can’t believe for a minute that the dog would’ve taken to such nocturnal company, nor would her sweet heart spurn my babies for night adventures.
- But who knows.
- My parents now live with an awful yapping terrier dog, his two rows of teeth set above his rotten beard, and above that mutant jaw, his eyes skewed, akimbo, their colors mismatched.
- There is a picture of my cat, or the cat that I am calling my cat who is so plainly now his own cat—there is a picture of that cat in the crib with my daughter. In the picture, both cat and daughter face the camera, the crib horizontal to the viewer, its vertical white bars framing the pair. The cat’s head intersects with the daughter’s head, occluding half her face from the viewer’s view.
- This picture horrified my daughter.
- (And perhaps signaled a sense of self, or, more importantly, or more significantly, or just plain more interestingly, the sense that there was a self that could be occluded, obstructed, obscured, incomplete).
- My wife and I, repeatedly testing our daughter’s reaction to the photo, varying times of day, situations, etc., in order to observe her reaction.
- (I almost used the verb gauge for observe but oh my that would be so dishonest, yes?).
- Anyway, it horrified this little girl, moved her to tears, gasping, this cat’s head blocking half of her head.
- With the dog I don’t know what happened, not really: She was old; her hips were bad, we had to put her down. There’s no image there, just the sound of my mother’s voice passing through some 7,000 miles, telling me that she—the dog—was dead. Or not to tell me, but rather to avoid telling me.
- But I do know what happened to the cat.
- Here’s what happened to the cat: We moved—not far—from a colorful, lively, urban neighborhood, to an old old suburb of that early urban plot. We moved.
- And he was an afterthought, the cat—with his roving, his adventures, he was hard to pin down, to catch in a carrier, a box. I’d tried to coax him and trap him and chase him over a few weeks, but in the thin interval between buying the new house and moving into the new house and selling the old house—well I couldn’t get him, grab him, hold him.
- Until I finally did. I engineered (the verb here is too kind) a trap of sorts, bating him with the food, constructing a perimeter, waiting. Pearly showed himself (he knew he was not wanted), but my cat was far slippier. But I waited. And I nabbed him: In a carrier purposed for cats and then into a big box and then into the back of my station wagon and then howling for five or six or seven minutes as we traveled, not far, but over a short, old bridge, into our new old neighborhood, his howling yelping shrieking raising my anxiety about the whole thing, his rustling fury palpable in acute waves from the rear of the car, my voice which could not even call him to me under the brightest of conditions in no way alleviating any of this and so yes of course the first thing I did when I got to the new old house was to open the hatchback, open the box, pull out the carrier, and try to grip the cat who yes of course sprang down (like a cat!) onto the unfamiliar concrete drive, hunting perhaps a crawlspace to crawl into, sensing none, none, none what to do what to do?
- And then he ran away.
- In Kyoto, in the hot summer rain, sweating in a poncho, fighting with my girlfriend in front of a golden temple.
- At 17, experiencing the most intense jealousy of my life, watching a classmate weep in front of The Pietà, thinking, feeling, Why can’t I feel that?
- On the way to work, sleepy, maybe a bit hungover, breaking down in tears at “Space Oddity,” concern for Major Tom, his family. Swearing off music in the early morning. News radio ever since.
- Religion is just a set of aesthetic possibilities, conditions, and experiences.
- In Cork, drinking beer on a roof in the summer sun, a wasp landed on my very eye.
- In the last year of college, writing and recording dozens of songs with friends, editing the songs into a cohesive thing, calling the thing an album, sharing it with friends, with never even once the intention of doing anything else with that music, with no dreams of anyone else hearing it, live or recorded. An album made entirely for ourselves.
- Listening to it a dozen years later, conceding that it was actually maybe very good.
- Vomiting in foreign cities.
- Wary of my own susceptibility to sentimentalism, to sentimentality, to my awful tendency to experience catharsis through a fast food commercial on television.
- Never able to feel transcendent peace in nature, despite Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, etc.—because just at the moment that the affect of transcendent peace manifests (the verb is inadequate), my awareness of the affect and the process of the affect and my feeling of the feeling of the affect spoils it all.
- Crashing into a road sign on an off ramp, walking away from the wreck, lying down on the slanted concrete abutment in the shade of a roaring overpass, feeling the best feeling, unspoiled.
- My child born—that nothing was more original, real, terrifying, beautiful.
- In dreams, sometimes: A whole other life, full, brimming, rich, real. He who wakes me wounds me, I think Nietzsche wrote. Or was it Bernhard? Or am I imagining the phrase?
- Never not jealous of a hawk in flight.
- My mother falling asleep, I kept reading until I too fell asleep.
- Vomiting into the trashcan in my classroom.
- My brother, balling up wrapping paper, hurling at me. My explosive rage.
- The snakes, the rats, the roaches I’ve killed.
- Workshopping a story in class. How I hated everyone.
- Friends jumping on my bed the afternoon of my wedding. (How did they get in?). Vomiting in the bed.
- Reading a certain novel, its plot, its construction essentially destroying a hundred or more of my own pages, my own outline, my own idea.
- A Modigliani in the New Orleans Museum of Art: Her neck was everything I remembered of the visit.
- My electric guitar, literally rusty from salt air and disuse.
- Irony as an aesthetic experience—or a defense against aesthetic experience?
- Painting the same scene in watercolors, dozens of times, with my daughter—the loquat tree, the grass, the sky. Her paintings surpassed mine so quickly.
- The rat that scuttled over my feet by the river in Chiang Mai. My horror and laughter.
- Removing dead rats from a shed as an aesthetic experience.
- All experiences are aesthetic experiences.
- Does maturity necessitate that we turn down the volume on these aesthetic experiences? That we manage the affect? That we blunt the feeling of the feeling?
- Seeing The Pietà again at 27 and moved by the memory of the classmate’s aesthetic response a decade earlier.
- The tourists crowding out Mona Lisa, I shuffled into some other room full of heavy, dark, black paintings—Caravaggios?—the names didn’t matter, the authority didn’t matter, I was 15 I think, I relaxed, I could look, I was alone, or I felt alone, it was lovely.
- My office: Prints by Goya, Picasso, Tintoretto, Leonardo. A painting by my grandmother, a dog resting, a bird and a bone nearby. Students come by to look at the giant Bosch reproduction, which I wish were more giant, more real.
- At the Dali Museum. Shock at how small some of the paintings were.
- Is there an aesthetic experience outside of sharing?
- Endlessly copying figures from comic books.
- Photographing food and sharing it on social media as a kind of thanksgiving prayer.
- Seeing the Bacon collection at MoMA, feeling a feeling that I still don’t have a name for.
- Rising early on Saturday mornings to watch a show where a man (or was it a woman?) guided me (and others, I suppose) through the rudiments of sketching animals. My grandmother made me sausages.
- My daughter’s thorough indifference to a Dürer etching in our local museum I wanted her to see. Her pleading to go to the gardens to paint with watercolors, to paint the fountain, the flowers.
- Sometimes in my dreams I write something, or paint something, or create wonderful, strange music.
- At eleven years old, sitting for a friend’s mother, who painted my portrait in watercolor. She didn’t draft in pencil, she worked so quickly. I was jealous and grateful.
- One of the reasons I love the internet so much is that it allows me to look at paintings. But looking at a painting on a screen is not the same as looking at paintings in the real.
- As a teenager, attempting wax dripping paintings in the style of Pollock, starting small fires in my bedroom, covering the scorched carpet with books, clothes, my parents sometimes not discovering the marks for weeks. Trying to explain them, but unwilling to share the paintings.
- A wish for anything that disrupts the feeling of feeling the feeling.
- A Serbian Film
- American Movie
- From Russia with Love
- Good Morning Vietnam
- Hotel Rwanda
- Once Upon a Time in Mexico
- Sinbad the Sailor
- Tinbad the Tailor
- Jinbad the Jailer
- Whinbad the Whaler
- Ninbad the Nailer
- Finbad the Failer
- Binbad the Bailer
- Pinbad the Pailer
- Minbad the Mailer
- Hinbad the Hailer
- Rinbad the Railer
- Dinbad the Kailer
- Vinbad the Quailer
- Linbad the Yailer
- Xinbad the Phthailer
Didactic extended metaphor, best enjoyed amorally.
The sordid and lurid details of an author’s life; use as a critical rubric if the author’s work seems beyond comprehension.
Mixed or imprecise metaphor. When an author stretches her words like taffy across the loom of meaning.
DEATH OF THE NOVEL
Declare the novel dead every few weeks. Resuscitate as necessary.
Originally used to denote lengthy narrative works concerning serious subjects, this term may now be applied freely to modify failure, coffee, tacos, kittens, etc.
An inventive and imaginative style of fiction eschewed and denigrated by serious readers and writers.
Poetry composed in the secret language of garden gnomes, inaudible to mortal ears.
Defining common characteristic of all politicians.
Dominant mode of much of 21st century communication (including, lamentably, this list).
Hyperbole used to describe lengthy works of contemporary authors. Use to disappoint potential readers.
Circumlocution of meaning. E.g. “feed the eagle” for “kill,” “battle-sweat” for “blood,” “tube of garbage” for “internet.”
Poetry about lions.
Each reader’s personal misunderstanding of the meaning of a work of literature.
What your father reads.
A solipsistic bid for attention delivered under the pretense of reaching out to another entity.
Use to describe any work of literature set outside of a city.
A false clue employed by an author to distract the reader. A novel where all points of evidence are red herrings (preferable) is a shaggy dog story.
Grab bag of theories you learned in college.
Elevate any degraded work of pop culture by repeating it twice. Reboot as necessary.
This narrator cannot be depended upon to pick you up from the airport, water your plants while you’re away, meet you on time for a beer or coffee, return small loans, etc.
Indicative of literature of the prudish, uptight Victorian Era. Famous Victorian works include Venus in Furs, The Pearl, and The Lustful Turk.
Twentieth-century philosopher. Quote the first and last lines of his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus frequently (don’t worry about reading anything in between).
Fear of warrior princesses.
The pinnacle of contemporary criticism.
The list ended with zeugma and disappointment.
- Do the Right Thing
- 25th Hour
- Malcolm X
- Red Hook Summer
- She’s Gotta Have It
- Summer of Sam
- School Daze
- Mo’ Better Blues
- Jungle Fever
- Miracle at St. Anna
- Get on the Bus
- Girl 6
- She Hate Me
Today, a dollar store calendar my grandmother gave me tells me, is National Day of Encouragement, which is totally a real thing. So here is a National Day of Encouragement Reading List, which is also totally a real thing. Much encouragement to you, citizens!
- King Lear, William Shakespeare
- Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
- “Before the Law,” Franz Kafka
- Candide, Voltaire
- First Love and Other Sorrows, Harold Brodkey
- “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Camp Concentration, Thomas Disch
- “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson
- “The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe
- The Awakening, Kate Chopin
- Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
- The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
- Correction, Thomas Bernhard
- Butterfly Stories, William Vollmann
- “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy
- 2666, Roberto Bolaño
- “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
- From Hell, Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
- The Flame Alphabet, Ben Marcus
- The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski
- Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
- “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare
- The Pearl, John Steinbeck
- Distant Star, Roberto Bolaño
- Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
- The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell
- “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” Flannery O’Connor
- Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard
- The Plague, Albert Camus
- “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
- Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
- A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
- “Good Old Neon,” David Foster Wallace
- 1984, George Orwell
- Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
A concise, often witty, turn of phrase that should be shared out of context on Twitter or Pinterest.
Novel where someone (preferably male) matures into the ideal state of bitter disillusionment.
Evocation of fear and pity. Best exemplified in modern storytelling by Lifetime Network original movies.
A form of textual analysis. No one knows what it means. Apply liberally.
Use to describe any French novel of the 20th century. Serve with coffee and cigarettes.
First, Outer, Inner, Last.
Deride genre fiction at all times. If a writer uses genre tropes, praise her for genre bending. (See LITERARY FICTION).
Use to describe any big ambitious novel that does not meet your aesthetic and/or moral needs.
All poetry is composed in iambic pentameter.
A writer’s immature work, which she usually (wisely) withholds from publication. After the writer dies, every scrap should be published, scrutinized, and passed around the internet out of context.
Synonym for “odd.” Apply freely.
A genre of fiction that pretends not to be a genre. What your book club is reading this month.
Use to describe any novel by a South American writer.
Use structuralist techniques to analyze narrative plots—and watch the kids go wild! Narratology is the number one thing the audience of a book review is interested in.
All heroes must be orphans.
Use this term liberally in any discussion of modern politics. Pairs well with film studies courses.
A form of literary analysis that conveniently begins with the letter “Q,” making it ideal for silly alphabetized lists like this one.
A character portrayed in psychological and emotional depth to the degree that she comes alive in your imagination. Round characters provide an excellent alternative to making meaningful human relationships.
Use to describe the style of any writer from the Southern part of the United States.
A tautology is a tautology.
Synonym for dystopia. Argue about its pronunciation, indicating that you understand the complexities of Greek prefixes.
A genre of books that sells well in airports.
Beloved warrior princess. Look, x is hard, okay?
The original sad bastard; he invented emo.
Time’s ghost. You’re soaking in it, which makes it hard to see.
- John Barth’s beret
- Zora Neale Hurston’s fedora
- Mark Twain’s bowtie
- David Foster Wallace’s bandanna
- Tom Wolfe’s white suit
- Carson McCuller’s cigarettes
- Wiillaim Faulkner’s pipe
- Jonathan Franzen’s spectacles
- Flannery O’Connor’s crutches
- Walt Whitman’s hat (cocked, natch)
- Oscar Wilde’s fur coat
- Thomas Pynchon’s paper bag
- Guy Debord
- Sylvia Plath
- David Foster Wallace
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Gérard de Nerval
- Tadeusz Borowski
- Spalding Gray
- Virginia Woolf
- Thomas Disch
- Vachel Lindsay
- Ernest Hemingway
- Yasunari Kawabata
- Paul Celan
- Heinrich von Kleist
- John Kennedy Toole
- Sarah Kane
- Breece D’J Pancake
- Gilles Deleuze
- Robert E. Howard
- Richard Brautigan
- Anne Sexton
- Stefan Zweig
- John Berryman
- Walter Benjamin
- Primo Levi
- Jerzy Kosinski
- Hart Crane
- Yukio Mishima
- A Serious Man
- The Big Lebowski
- Miller’s Crossing
- Barton Fink
- Blood Simple
- No Country for Old Men
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- The Man Who Wasn’t There
- Raising Arizona
- Burn After Reading
- True Grit
- The Hudsucker Proxy
- The Ladykillers
- Intolerable Cruelty
- Quincey, de
- X, Malcolm
- Mosses from an Old Manse
- Emily Dickinson (oeuvre)
- Go Down, Moses
- J R
- Huckleberry Finn
- Invisible Man
- Blood Meridian
- Leaves of Grass
- The Scarlet Letter
- A Mercy
- Grapes of Wrath
- Death Comes for the Archbishop
- The Pale King
- “Made in America”
- “Pine Barrens”
- “The Test Dream”
- “Whoever Did This”
- “Long Term Parking”
- “Kennedy and Heidi”
- “Rat Pack”
- The Wizard of Oz
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- Wild at Heart
- Return to Oz
- Oz the Great and Powerful
- The Wiz