Friday, January 15, 2010

Stuff I'm reading

The cover of Roberto Bolaño's novel, 2666, which, as you'll see below, is among the Stuff I'm Reading. Image found here.

Besides printouts of PowerPoint presentations being shown to us, memos, and drafts of new syllabi, I mean. Yes: It's week-before-Spring-Semester week, with all that entails. But in the evenings, I try to set aside some time to watch and think deep thoughts about Big XII basketball, and read other stuff. Here's a quick list:

Via Andrew Sullivan comes the reminder that Roger Ebert has a blog. This is a good thing in light of the fact that because of some recent surgery, he has lost the ability to speak--and, I learned yesterday, to eat and drink. What must that be like? Some excerpts from his response below:

[When I came to understand I could no longer eat or drink,] I dreamed. I was reading Cormac McCarthy's Suttree, and there's a passage where the hero, lazing on his river boat on a hot summer day, pulls up a string from the water with a bottle of orange soda attached to it and drinks. I tasted that pop so clearly I can taste it today. Later he's served a beer in a frosted mug. I don't drink beer, but the frosted mug evoked for me a long-buried memory of my father and I driving in his old Plymouth to the A&W Root Beer stand (gravel driveways, carhop service, window trays) and his voice saying "...and a five-cent beer for the boy." The smoke from his Lucky Strike in the car. The heavy summer heat.

For nights I would wake up already focused on that small but heavy glass mug with the ice sliding from it, and the first sip of root beer. I took that sip over and over. The ice slid down across my fingers again and again. But never again.

One day in the hospital my brother-in-law Johnny Hammel and his wife Eunice came to visit. They are two of my favorite people. They're Jehovah's Witnesses, and know I'm not. I mention that because they interpreted my story in terms of their faith. I described my fantasies about root beer. I could smell it, taste it, feel it. I desired it. I said I'd remembered so clearly that day with my father for the first time in 60 years.

"You never thought about it before?" Johnny asked.

"Not once."

"Could be, when the Lord took away your drinking, he gave you back that memory."

Whether my higher power was the Lord or Cormac McCarthy, those were the words I needed to hear. And from that time I began to replace what I had lost with what I remembered. If I think I want an orange soda right now, it is after all only a desire. People have those all the time. For that matter, when I had the chance, when was the last time I held one of those tall Nehi glass bottles? I doubt I ever had one from a can.


Let me return to the original question: Isn't it sad to be unable eat or drink? Not as sad as you might imagine. I save an enormous amount of time. I have control of my weight. Everything agrees with me. And so on.

What I miss is the society. Lunch and dinner are the two occasions when we most easily meet with friends and family. They're the first way we experience places far from home. Where we sit to regard the passing parade. How we learn indirectly of other cultures. When we feel good together. Meals are when we get a lot of our talking done -- probably most of our recreational talking. That's what I miss. Because I can't speak that's's another turn of the blade. I can sit at a table and vicariously enjoy the conversation, which is why I enjoy pals like my friend McHugh so much, because he rarely notices if anyone else isn't speaking. But to attend a "business dinner" is a species of torture. I'm no good at business anyway, but at least if I'm being bad at it at Joe's Stone Crab there are consolations.

When we drive around town I never look at a trendy new restaurant and wish I could eat there. I peer into little storefront places, diners, ethnic places, and then I feel envy. After a movie we'll drive past a formica restaurant with only two tables occupied, and I'll wish I could be at one of them, having ordered something familiar and and reading a book. I never felt alone in a situation like that. I was a soloist.


So that's what's sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, "Remember that time?" I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it's sad. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.

I'm a couple hundred pages into Roberto Bolaño's magnum opus, 2666. What I know about it is chiefly through its 37-word summation (of a 900-page novel) on the back cover and both it and the author's reputation--in this country, gained after his too-early death; but what I can tell you so far is that this novel does not telegraph its destination(s?). I don't mean that in the sense of plot-twists, though. In what I've read, the disappearances of the women mentioned on the cover have certainly been mentioned and sort of talked about, but only in a sort of casual, making-conversation sort of way. They're by no means the narratives' (yes--more than one) focal points. "So far," please note. I have no sense of what will happen. But it is in that sense that I realized, as I was thinking about it this morning, that this novel reads like a poem: as a text that can't be segmented into scenes but has to be considered whole. That is a rare thing to be able to say about a novel. And a beautiful thing.

And, just to reassure (or horrify) those of you wondering (or hoping) if I may have forgotten about this, I'm a couple of chapters into Breaking Dawn. I seem to recall the Mrs. telling me that in Bella Swan, her main character, Stephanie Meyer wanted to capture, in large part, the voice of what she herself was like when she was nineteen (Bella's age).

I will just let that linger in the air for now. But I'll be coming back to it.


Camille said...

I finished reading 2666 a few months ago, and your intuition is right-- you have to consider it as a whole. I am not going to spoil anything. Its a very satisfying read-- it got me through the worst part of my first trimester.

John B. said...


Hey there, stranger! Glad you dropped by and left a note, and very glad to learn your pregnancy is going well.

What I like about the novel is that while reading it I have the feeling I know just as much as the characters do, when they know it. The early mentions of the women's disappearances attract my attention only because the summation on the cover mentions them, not because anything in the novel tugs on my sleeve to make me notice them. Other stuff actually seems more important, in fact.

Its control is really remarkable.

R. Sherman said...

Mmmmmmmm. Basketball. Mizzou-OU in Norman, today. I love it that the Tigers are safely under the radar; a perfect place to be going into the tournament.

(It's too early for me to engage in profound literary thoughts, BTW. I need a couple more cups of coffee.)


John B. said...

I saw your Tigers beat a good Kansas State team last week--I was very impressed. (Full disclosure: I've seen all the Big XII teams except for Baylor and Colorado.) My deep thinking about the conference consists chiefly of the following: "Wow--even the worse teams are pretty good." KU, it pains me to say, seems to be the best team overall, though they can be flat sometimes; my Longhorns' inability to shoot free throws consistently will hurt them in the inevitable close games to come. Etc., etc. I've seen some good basketball in the Big XII; it promises to be a good season.