Sunday, June 11, 2006

This post brought to you by jet lag and insomnia

It occurred to me this evening that I love Alaska in spite of myself. That is, even though I do the same three or four things here over and over and over while I'm here, it's still revitalizing to be back, to have mountains and trees and ocean again. I spent almost all day today outside, and I'd forgotten how euphoric that makes me feel. Not to say the Vienna woods weren't beautiful or that I couldn't have gone for a bike ride in Norwich. Nonetheless, Alaska -- and Anchorage -- have a very odd hold on me. In all likelihood, this feeling will pass when the place starts to feel cloyingly small, as it usually does. That's when no amount of hiking or biking or really great pizza can make me want to stay. A downside of being nomadic is the creeping sensation that no place is really home anymore. Alienation blows.

On the lighter end of things, I'm working on several books at once, which I haven't done in a long time. I haven't written about books in a while.

40 Stories by Donald Bartheleme
His prose is really crisp and cutting, but I've been so fried lately that I can't really pay adequate attention. It's a recent purchase, so I don't feel obligated to rush through it. Which is just as well, since the stories are really dense.

After Babel by George Steiner
Another dense tome. This little gem of translation studies lore weighs on my conscience. I bought it last summer hoping to get a jump on my thesis (ha!) and so far I've made no progress since then, unless you count starting over and reaching roughly the same place at which I left off. Ideally, I'll have this finished by July, but if I can't concentrate on the Barthelme, you know, fun stuff, then the academic reading is doomed until I get my head back to earth. It doesn't help that this guy is one of those theorists who gets condescending when referring to those feminists.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This woman does not care about her characters. The book makes me chuckle, but it's so indifferently written (and honestly, a let-down considering the hype it got back in the day) that I'm starting to not care. Has anyone else read this?

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2005 edited by Dave Eggers, intro by Beck
First: the introduction is by BECK. Second: I have my beefs with the Dave Eggers literary rockstar juggernaut, but this collection is consistently enjoyable and tends to include at least a few of my favorite authors each go-around. Aimee Bender, for one. (Bonus Dave Eggers rant: The guy does good work for the children, which I am all about, naturally. The guy's also got a reputation and an ego, which I could do without. The thing that bothers me is that he plays a seminal rule in the McSweeney's canonization process, being one of the high-ups in a lit organization that decrees what's hip. So the hipster dollar follows certain patterns. Even if these authors deserve the credit -- and they often do, again Bender comes to mind because she rocks -- the creation of an in-club runs counter to my idea of what groups like McSweeney's ought to do. You know, be the scouts for new talent instead of gimmicky, self-conscious hit-or-miss collections that place as much value on design as content.) That said, Third: Tony Millionaire did the cover and there are comics by Joe Sayers and Anders Nilsen in there. I'm 100% justified.

I've also been picking at the last month or so of The New Yorker, but nothing serious. Chances are I'll reread Moby Dick, or at least parts of it before I leave the Land of Whales. On a closing note: Everyone should read more Amy Hempel and A.M. Homes.

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