Things I Read Between Portland and Dubland.

June 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

In a nutshell: not much or very little of the three books I brought with me. Ain’t that the way?

I read a few pages of Francine Prose on the train to the airport but it was 5:45am so mostly I stared out the window at the almost sunrosy Willamette and thought about how much the Steel Bridge means to me.

I got to the airport too early. I always do that and I always say I’ll pass the too-early time reading the books I’ve brought. I always wind up eating stale scones and lukewarm beverages and browsing – just browsing – the bookshop. It never turns out the way you think it will. These are some things I read between Portland and Dublin with a five hour layover in Philadelphia.

Along the Ganges by Ilija Trojanow, deemed to be one of the greatest travel books of all time. Actually, I didn’t read it so much as spill my (lukewarm, always lukewarm) hot chocolate on it while browsing the travel section. “You did it on purpose,” Ian laughed when I called him from the gate to tell him I love him – again – which isn’t true but the fact is no-one saw me spill the drink and I could have walked away. So, while I didn’t do it on purpose, I equally couldn’t leave it there soaked and unsellable. You sully something and you’re responsible for it. You ruin a thing and it’s yours forever…. Maybe I did it a little bit on purpose.

The New Yorker Summer Fiction Issue. Fact: I’m stingy and only buy magazines on long trips. Usually I’m content to read what I can online and pretend I’m not really missing out on the magazine-only articles. Truth: you’re missing out, of course you’re missing out.

Jeffrey Eugenides’ short-story, Asleep in the Lord, makes me excited I’m going to India and not volunteering in Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying Destitute. Vladimir Nabokov’s letters to his wife Vera while on a lecture tour in the US in 1942 are endearing. The Aquarium by Aleksandar Hemon is tragic and painful but offers an interesting insight on the language of grief and the cliché that there are no words in times of tragedy. There are words, he tells us, but most people prefer muteness to the vocabulary of death and the unimaginable. I’m glad I bought it for his piece alone, it’s remarkable.

High School Confidential by Téa Obreht is really sweet and describes those traumatic teenage years so well: the social suicide of telling your classmates you’re a writer; hearing your first scribbles and stories being read aloud and mocked by people who would pretend to be your friend. Written with the value of hindsight and a recently awarded Orange Prize, it was all for the good in the end:

That I kept writing is incidental; we all make these kinds of mistakes… With any luck, they do not deter us from what we want to become. And sometimes we benefit from them. To this day, if I am dissatisfied with my work or frustrated by it, the question I ask myself is “If this came out in print now, would I be able to bear hearing it quoted to me?” If the answer is no—and it often is—I go back to my desk and start again.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s essay on growing up bookless, straddling two cultural worlds (and falling short of both’s expectations), and her eventual – sometimes painful – apprenticeship in writing is honest and beautiful and inspiring:

I see now that my father, for all his practicality, gravitated toward a precipice of his own, leaving his country and his family, stripping himself of the reassurance of belonging. In reaction, for much of my life, I wanted to belong to a place, either the one my parents came from or to America, spread out before us. When I became a writer my desk became home; there was no need for another. Every story is a foreign territory, which, in the process of writing, is occupied and then abandoned. I belong to my work, to my characters, and in order to create new ones I leave the old ones behind. My parents’ refusal to let go or to belong fully to either place is at the heart of what I, in a less literal way, try to accomplish in writing. Born of my inability to belong, it is my refusal to let go.

Can’t believe I’m practically reviewing one issue of a magazine back to back. Basically, I’m saying my frugality has not been worth it – or that I should take sixteen hour flights more often.

Before I left home that morning, I pulled up a bunch of articles I wanted to read (I can’t pay for sh*t-slow wifi, it pains me). One notable mention and then I’m done with this bizarre catalogue of airport/airplane reading. Nieman Journalism Lab discusses The Gutenberg Parenthesis and parallels between the pre-print era and the age of the internet, specifically orality and assumptions about truth. Really interesting and also talks about the print-age’s tendency to categorise the things we read. Like what we read in an airport, for example. Clearly, I’m still living in the Dark Ages.

 

 

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