Four paintings (Georges Perec)

There are four paintings on the walls.

The first is a still life that despite its modern manner is strongly reminiscent of those compositions constructed on the theme of the five senses which were so common throughout Europe from the end of the Renaissance to the eighteenth century: on a table, there is an ashtray with a lighted Havana, a book of which the title and subtitle can be seen – The Unfinished Symphony: A Novel – though the name of the author is hidden, a bottle of rum, a cup-and-ball, and, in a shallow bowl, a pile of dried fruit, walnuts, almonds, apricot halves, prunes, etc.

The second depicts a street on the edge of a city, at night, alongside wasteland. To the right, a metal pylon with crossbars supporting at each point of intersection a large, lighted electric lamp. To the left, a constellation of stars reproduces precisely the inverse image of the pylon (base in the sky, apex towards the ground). The sky is covered in a flower pattern (dark blue on a lighter background) identical to the shapes made by frost on glass.

The third is of a legendary beast, the tarand, first described by Gelon the Sarmatian:

A tarand is an animal as big as a bullock, having a head like a stag, or a little bigger, two stately horns with large branches, cloven feet, hair long like that of a furred Muscovite, I mean a bear, and a skin almost as hard as steel armour. The Scythian said that there are but few tarands to be found in Scythia, because it varieth its colour according to the diversity of the places where it grazes and abides, and represents the colour of the grass, plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, meadows, rocks, and generally of all things near which it comes. It hath this in common with the sea-pulp, or polypus, with the thoes, with the wolves of India, and with the chameleon; which is a kind of lizard so wonderful, that Democritus hath written a whole book of its figure, and anatomy, as also of its virtue”“and property in magic. This I can confirm, that I have seen it change its colour, not only at the approach of things that have a colour, but by its own voluntary impulse, according to its fear or other affections: as for example, upon a green carpet, I have certainly seen it become green; but having remained there some time, it turned yellow, blue, tanned and purple, in course, in the same manner as you sec a turkey-cock’s comb change colour according to its passions. But what we find most surprising in this tarand is, that not only its face and skin, but also its hair could take whatever colour was about it.

The fourth picture is a black-and-white reproduction of a painting by Forbes called A Rat Behind the Arras. This painting was inspired by a true story which took place at Newcastle-upon-Tyne during the winter of 1858.

From Georges Perec’s novel Life A User’s Manual. English translation by David Bellos.

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Books I Didn’t Read in 2011 (And Books I Will Try to Read in 2012)

Okay. So obviously a list of the books I didn’t read in 2011 would be, y’know, long.

This post is about the books I set out to read, tried to read, wanted to read, abandoned, neglected, acquired and thought looked interesting, etc. It’s also about what I want to—what I plan to—read in 2012.

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A reasonable starting place: I wrote a post in early January of this year detailing the books I would try to read in 2011. I actually read most of the books I named in that post. But:

I failed to read past page 366 of Adam Levin’s incredibly long novel The Instructions, although I think I was a bit too harsh in my semi-review. Chalk it up to exhaustion.

I failed to even begin to try to read William Gaddis’s incredibly long novel JR. (But I swear to read it one year. Not next year, but maybe the year after?).

I failed to read past the first chapter of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love.

I read most of the Tintin collections I picked up last year, but I didn’t get to volumes 5 or 6.

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Moving beyond that early post, books that I recall abandoning (although I’m sure there must be more):

I abandoned Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Italian romance The Marble Faun after about 30 pages.

I abandoned 334 by Thomas Disch after about 50 pages. Somehow simultaneously dense and loose, it struck me as intensely imagined and sloppily composed.

I abandoned John Williams’s Butcher’s Crossing after the first chapter; it was a great opening chapter, but I thought it was going to be, I don’t know, more like Blood Meridian.

I also abandoned Chad Harbach’s big book The Art of Fielding (after 100 pages) because it was lame (notice it’s not pictured above because I traded in that sucker), but I had a nice dialog with some readers who responded to a post I wrote about abandoning it, so that was a plus.

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Books I bought in 2011 that I aim to read in 2012:

Correction by Thomas Bernhard. Bernhard was a repeated suggestion from readers in the aforementioned Harbach post/rant, and he was apparently a huge influence on W.G. Sebald, so, yes, looking forward to this.

The Reivers by William Faulkner. I read A Light in August this year and reread most of Go Down, Moses. My plan is to read one Faulkner a year for the next ten years.

Ferdydurke by Witold Gambrowicz. I struggled to make it through Gombrowicz’s bizarre jaunt Trans-Atlantyk, but once the novel taught me how to read it, I was enchanted by its strange humor and frenetic syntax. Over some beer and wine, I had a conversation about Ferdydurke with my father-in-law’s priest who is Polish. His pronunciation of Ferdydurke should win an award for charm.

I will read Georges Perec’s big book Life: A User’s Manual.

I have already promised to read William Vollmann’s Imperial.

There are many, many more, of course (too many, really).

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Books people sent me to read and review that look really cool that I will be reading and reviewing at some point in the very near future:

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai: I will read this and review this in the very near future.

The Funny Man by John Warner: Comedy, drugs, celebrity culture.

The Book on Fire by Keith Miller: This one is about a biblioklept. It’s been at the top of my stack for a few months now, but I keep letting myself get distracted.

Thirst by Andrei Gelasimov: Apparently this novella about a maimed alcoholic war vet is funny. (I hate the cover).

Mule by Tony D’Souza: Middle class man sells marijuana cross country. (I love the cover).

Various titles from Melville House’s Neversink line: I’ve got a few in the stack.

Also: I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. I actually stayed up really late last night reading free public domain books from Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson; I’ll read a contemporary novel on it this year—Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, perhaps? Suggestions welcome!—and try to review both novel and the process of reading the novel on a warm glowing machine.

And: I’m sure there are a ton of novels that will come out in 2012 that I’ll want to read; I’m already primed for Dogma, Lars Iyer’s sequel to Spurious.

So: What are you guys looking forward to reading in 2012? What did you fail to read in 2011?

Books Acquired, 12.21.2011

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So, obviously I can’t manage to do these “Books Acquired” posts in a timely fashion, let alone chronologically. Anyway, I’m certain of the date I picked up these four because I ended up writing this post about why novels make lousy gifts later that day. As always, the iPhone pic is a bit blurry. It’s tough work lighting books, believe it or not, and they’re usually different dimensions, etc., gripe, whine. Jeez. So these books are: The Crimes of Love by Marky de Sade, which I dunno, I’ve been compelled to read him lately; The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell, which did you know is written entirely in questions? And did you know that Powell was (is) the big-time writer in res at my alma mater? And do you care? And why? The Dennis Cooper novel is Frisk. I always scour this particular bookshop for Cooper, but have never had any luck. So on this particular trip, of course someone has let go of his entire collection of Cooper, like six or seven novels (not God Jr. or the short story collection though, which seemed like good starting places). I picked Frisk sort of at random. I’ve been looking for Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual for a while too, so I was happy to pick it up. I consider it assigned reading in 2012.

I also picked up books as gifts that day, including some children’s books for my kids, and a first edition hardback copy of Brugo Partridge’s A History of Orgies.