Friday, October 21, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole into Roses

This month's recommended reading list from within the Rabbit Hole. How to move from the inevitability of death to heirloom roses in five easy steps. 

Rabbit Hole.
I read like tumbling down stairs.
I've been casting about for the last several weeks for something to read while I'm waiting for my stab at A Dance With Dragons from the library (as of this writing, there are 137 people in front of me on the hold list, so it may be a while). I was reading The Inevitable, a collection of essays about the inevitability of death, primarily because (I'll be honest here) David Shields co-wrote the introduction to the collection and it is my personal mission to read every scrap of everything he has ever written and meet him to discuss writing (without enrolling in one of his classes at UW) over coffee one day. It was an excellent collection, for the most part, and I was inspired by the mechanics of it all. Death, like love, friendship and motherhood, is one of those subjects that it's nigh unto impossible to address directly without resorting to cliché. The essays were fascinating in their massively different approaches to the same topic. They were also informative, moving, funny, and appalling. Unfortunately, I had to lay the book aside because my reading of it coincided with the third anniversary of my dad's death and it was all too much right then.

But, as these rabbit holes of reading can go, I needed to pick up some David Foster Wallace because there was an essay by Jonathan Foer in The Inevitable that I found both brilliant and disappointing at the same time and it made me think of brilliant disappointment (or perhaps, disappointed brilliance) and well, obviously Wallace is the next curve in that particular spiral. So, I was noodling through Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and feeling, as I always do when I read his work, rather dilettantish in the face of such staggering insight and wordsmithery. I was enjoying this in much the same way I enjoy poking my bruises, but alas, I eventually had to  put him aside for three distinct and particular reasons. First, like the lobster I no longer eat because of him, it's delicious and somewhat addictive, but also very rich and too much in one sitting can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Second, some of his "Brief Interviews" were men who closely resembled people I may have, at one time, known rather well and it was giving me nightmares. And lastly, because my reading happened to coincide with seeing Justin Townes Earle, both in concert and in the act of reducing the lead singer of his opening act to tears on the sidewalk, and the whole tortured genius thing just got to be all too much.

I was thisclose to picking up a book my mom recommended because she said the author reminded her of me when I'm not thinking about being polite and I wondered what that meant, when in the alchemy of the public library hold system, a book I reserved months ago came available. [I will pause here to explain that I don't buy books very often anymore. I don't have room. Besides the overflowing bookshelves in three rooms of our four room house, I also use teetering stacks of them as "decorations" or "end tables". I call it my version of shabby chic. Other people call it a gigantic mess. Po-tah-to. Also, we have an amazing public library system and I like to think I do my part keeping it afloat with my late fees. I also like the idea of sharing books with the whole city. There are many other reasons, but for now, suffice it to say that a lot of my reading and entertainment revolves around when my number comes up on the hold list.] So, this gentle and lovely book landed in my lap at exactly the right time because the Magic Hold Fairy at the library decided that it was my turn.

Eudora Welty in the 30s.
How fabulous is her hat?!
What There is to Say, We Have Said is a collection of letters between Eudora Welty and her friend, colleague and editor William Maxwell that span nearly 60 years. I want Eudora Welty to be my friend. I want to write to her of roses and traveling and the weather. I want her to come and visit me and read rough drafts of her stories aloud to me. I want William Maxwell to be my editor. I want him to send me galleys with gentle suggestions. I want him to protect me from "stupid reviews". I want him to write and ask me to ask my mother for recipes. In all honesty, I've read very little Eudora Welty for one reason or another and I've never read any William Maxwell. I'm not sure now that I want to. This intimate glimpse of them through their correspondence with each other is far more interesting to me than fictitious short stories. The personality, the wit, the mundane details of life and the genuine regard they have for one another fascinate me. I am sure these elements show up in their fiction, because even in fiction, you can't really hide who you are; but oddly, I'd rather read their writing about their writing. Especially in the frank, unguarded conversation between old friends.

Ezra Pound said: "Man reading should be intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand." People who actually read, do so for many reasons: escape, information, solace, necessity, kinship, entertainment, schadenfreud, maintenance of mental accuity, bragging rights, and so on. I couldn't name just one reason I read any more than I could name just one favorite author or book, but ultimately, it's that "ball of light" that I seek. Whether that "ball" be glowing the sickly greenish cast of  fluorescence from a men's restroom or the ruddy glow of a late Mississippi summer afternoon scented with roses and fresh-baked bread, I need it there in my hands like I need the hands themselves. Even more, reading is so intensely interwoven with my very act of being alive. That ouroboros of life affecting my reading and my reading affecting my life is a constant source of amusement and fascination to me. "What There Is..." is one of those books that's intensely alive whether anyone's reading it or not, but how much more fun to share that intensity with these charming friends. Read it.

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