Siri Hustvedt’s Living, Thinking, Looking (Book Acquired, 5.15.2012)

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The whole point of these books acquired posts is to try to document interesting stuff that comes in before it winds up in my pile for months (to put things in perspective, I got a reader copy of Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son back in January, and have finally gotten around to reading it just now). I usually spend a week or two looking over the book, maybe  publish a blurb or an excerpt of the book along with a photo, and then file it in one of three stacks — now, later, or never. Anyway, Siri Hustvedt’s new collection of essays Living, Thinking, Looking ended up never getting stacked anywhere, because I kept going back to it, poking into her essays on Goya, Gerhard Richter, Freud, reading her riff on sleeping, which somehow synthesizes Macbeth and Nabokov and REM science, pausing over her consideration of the Bush admin’s rhetoric. I haven’t finished the book but I will. Hustvedt combines her keen intellect with a range of ideas to explore her subjects (primarily, if the title didn’t tip you, living, thinking, looking). There’s a lot of lit here, a lot of psych, and plenty of art. Good stuff.

Book Acquired, 11.14.2011

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Stalking Nabokov by Brian Boyd. Publisher Columbia UP’s description—

At the age of twenty-one, Brian Boyd wrote a thesis on Vladimir Nabokov that the famous author called “brilliant.” After gaining exclusive access to the writer’s archives, he wrote a two-part, award-winning biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (1990) and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (1991). This collection features essays written by Boyd since completing the biography, incorporating material he gleaned from his research as well as new discoveries and formulations.

Boyd confronts Nabokov’s life, career, and legacy; his art, science, and thought; his subtle humor and puzzle-like storytelling; his complex psychological portraits; and his inheritance from, reworking of, and affinities with Shakespeare, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Machado de Assis. Boyd offers new ways of reading Nabokov’s best English-language works: LolitaPale FireAda, and the unparalleled autobiography, Speak, Memory, and he discloses otherwise unknown information about the author’s world. Sharing his personal reflections, Boyd recounts the adventures, hardships, and revelations of researching Nabokov’s biography and his unusual finds in the archives, including materials still awaiting publication. The first to focus on Nabokov’s metaphysics, Boyd cautions against their being used as the key to unlock all of the author’s secrets, showing instead the many other rooms in Nabokov’s castle of fiction that need exploring, such as his humor, narrative invention, and psychological insight into characters and readers alike. Appreciating Nabokov as novelist, memoirist, poet, translator, scientist, and individual, Boyd helps us understand more than ever the author’s multifaceted genius.

Biblioklept: Big Blog Birthday, Unabashed Book Buying, and Nabokov at a Bargain

So today Biblioklept turns a healthy one year old. When I wrote that very first post about A Raisin in the Sun, I had no inkling of the vast riches on my horizon. Ahhh…simple youth. Them were the days, etc. etc. etc.

I’ll celebrate this momentous occasion by recounting my recent trip to my favorite used book sellers, where I loaded up on more than I can possibly read in 2007. Eidetic readers may recall my last book buying spree: I’m happy to report I read 5.5 out of 7 of the books bought on that trip (I’m only counting half of The Portable Faulkner): that’s almost 79%! Not bad. Because that’s what reading’s all about: percentages and stats. Like baseball.

The goods:

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce

I’ve been dipping into the select chapters of FW included in The Portable Joyce for a few years now. I’m currently enrolled in a Joyce seminar but we won’t be reading more than a sentence or two of the book. My professor described it as a “vortex, a black hole from which no one returns.” He said this with a smile and meant it in good humor but maybe he has a point. The book is possibly probably incomprehensible unless you’re someone like, say, Terrence McKenna or L. Moholy-Nagy (whose graphic organizer for FW appears below) or Joseph Campbell.

 

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I recently listened to a series of lectures given by Joseph Campbell on Joyce; Campbell suggests that FW is the dream that happens after Molly and Leopold Bloom fall asleep at the end of Ulysses. Campbell also posits that Joyce has a final book planned that would finish the four book cycle that began with Portrait; he thinks that the book would be very simple and clear and probably short, and would be thematically based on the mother-as-ocean. Campbell’s lectures are brilliant, beautiful, human, and humorous, and best of all, they are enlightening. Besides explicating the book as a whole, he also guides his audience through select sentences of FW in ways that make you go “!!!” Brilliant stuff.

You and I both know that I will probably never read this book in its entirety. That’s okay. It’s a vortex of fun.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon

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I almost bought this book in the central train station in Rome two summers ago; I bought Eugenides’s somewhat disappointing novel Middlesex instead, because my wife had more interest in it. I’ve actually started the book already (despite having a ton of Joyce and Joyce-related academic crap to read); it’s pretty good. I’ll probably finish it if I can keep up this pace.

Gun, With Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem

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It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Mr. Lethem around the ‘klept. This is supposed to be a mystery novel involving memory-annihilating drugs and thug kangaroos. My plan is to read this over the Thanksgiving break.

Vanished Splendors: A Memoir, Balthus (with Alan Vircondolet)

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As with most of the books that I end up buying in labyrinthine used books stores, I found this by mistake. For some reason it was mixed in with children’s hardback picture books. Balthus is one of my favorite painters of all time, so of course I had to buy his memoir. The chapters are short, vague, and achronological, making this a book that you can just pick up and read at random (kinda like Finnegan’s Wake).

Nightfall: Country Lake, David Cunningham and Whistling Thorn, Helen Cowcher

If I wasn’t so lazy I’d go heat up the ole scanner and show you some of the beautiful images in these “children’s books.” I find that lots of children’s “picture” books tend to be condescending or just plain stupid, and finding good ones is not easy. I spent over 40 minutes plumbing through dusty boxes before coming across these two. David Cunningham’s gentle and dark-hued watercolor depictions of a lake at night are deep and soothing, as is the simple text that accompanies the illustrations. Cowcher’s Whistling Thorn details the evolution of acacia, giraffes, and rhinos. Lovely stuff.

Slow Century, Pavement (DVD)

I never look at the used DVDs; I have a Netflix account, library card, and a program called DVDShrink, so if I want to own a DVD it’s a pretty simple operation. Still, there are rare cases where I want the packaging, usually music films like Sonic Youth’s Corporate Ghost DVD. Like the Balthus book, I happened across this two-disc Pavement film among the children’s books. I’d seen it before: the hour long documentary is really good, and the videos are excellent. The concerts…well, I dunno. I’m not really into that kind of thing, unless Martin Scorsese and The Band are involved.

From said documentary: Pavement destroys Lollapalooza in West Virginia:

I think that’s it for this recent trip.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a book theft in our birthday edition, so here goes.

There really isn’t much to this story, and I’m actually deeply ashamed of this one. No irony, no joke. Most of the book thefts I discuss on this site are books that I’ve borrowed and never returned or books that I’ve purloined that no one was going to read anyway. This one is a straight-up theft from an indie book store. Ouch.

When I was a young stupid college freshman (note the defensive tone)–it was my first semester in fact–I had to go to a certain Gainesville book store to buy my course texts. They seemed outrageously overpriced and I was outraged, despite the stipend the state of Florida was giving me as part of my scholarship to buy books (I thought of this as beer money). In order to “get even” with these high prices, I not-so-subtly swiped a copy of Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark: I simply picked it up after I’d paid for my course texts, walked out of the store with it, got on my bicycle, road home, and never read it. That was about ten years ago. Mea culpa. I’ve never done anything like that since, and, like I said, I feel bad about it now, so bad that every time I pick up the book to give it a shot, a small shudder of shame creeps through me and I put it down.

So there you go: new books and a book theft. Here’s to another year of cranky commentary with elitist overtones.

More Alphabet Soup: Brought to You Today by the Letter H

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H is for Humbert Humbert, the rascally narrator of Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita. Throughout the novel HH, a sardonic European, provides a running critique of conformist 1950s America, his adopted home. Pining for the haunting, ineffable feeling associated with a brief, tragic childhood love, HH engineers a series of unfortunate events in order to abscond with (and eventually seduce) twelve-year old Lolita Haze. Yep. That’s right. A child-molester made this list. But if you’ve ever read Lolita, you know how charming and funny this son-of-bitch is. Lolita is in a special class of books in the Biblioklept library; it’s one of those books that I’ve read in full at least four times, and one that I pick up and read parts of every year. The first time I read Lolita, I didn’t even realize what a monster HH was–in fact, I tended to sympathize with him, even to the point of sharing his condemnation of Lolita’s bratty, manipulative nature toward the end of the novel. Like Catcher in the Rye, I first read Lolita when I was 16; like Catcher in the Rye, Lolita was an entirely different book when I read it at 21. Somehow the book managed to change again, four or five years later. I’m sure Lolita will be completely different in a year or two when I’m thirty. In fact, I vow here and now to re-read it in full right after my 30th birthday. Who knows what will have happened to it by then? How these books change on you…

Narratological shape-shifting aside Lolita deserves to be read, and read repeatedly. Nabokov’s highly alliterative prose reverberates with lyrical gymnastics, multi-lingual puns, and allusions that will make you feel oh-so clever (if you are indeed oh-so clever enough to get them, of course). Neither Kubrick’s toothless 1962 film adaption or Adrian Lyne’s gauzy 1997 attempt do any justice at all to Nabokov’s words–this is one you simply have to read. Great stuff.

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H is also for Hand, zany foil to Will, the tormented narrator of Dave Eggers’s You Shall Know Our Velocity!. In this book, the pair embarks on a futile attempt to travel the globe giving away an enormous amount of money Will has recently received as part of an injury settlement. This scheme turns out to be much more difficult and much more complicated than they had imagined. Hand is one of my favorite characters because he’s just really damn cool–a strange combination of someone’s hip older brother mixed with someone’s annoying younger brother. My favorite part of Velocity is the fifty page section where Hand takes over the narrative, casting doubt on everything that Will has previously told the reader. Will then resumes the narrative, but at that point, the book–and Will’s status as a reliable narrator–has taken an entirely different shape. Although the story ends at a wedding, Velocity is ultimately a tragedy; the very first page announces Will’s death. But again, the whole narrative is cast in ambiguity and doubt. I loved this book so much that I bought it for a friend.

(Incidentally, Hand also tuns up in “The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water,” one of Eggers’s short stories collected in How We Are Hungry).