Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In getting ready to move across the country to Baltimore, I've been packing up all of my books, and getting new ones to read from the library.

One, Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine came recommended by a friend, who read it in a burst, feeling that her thoughts had been captured on paper. While I was reading it, I learned another friend of mine felt the same way about it. When I began reading it, it was kind of irritating. If I had stumbled across it blindly, I could imagine throwing it against a wall in frustration. It's all minutiae, with no plot development. It's all digressions based around a vivid engagement with the materials of the world. I can imagine why my friends felt so drawn to it, can hear little bits of it in their voices. But, early on, when there's footnotes talking about the way plastic straws float in cans of soda to supplement a man body of text talking about an affection for straws that bend, I kept thinking "Oh my god, it's just going to go on like this." I think the climax of the book would be a list of reoccuring thoughts, arranged by how many times they are thought per year. It's kind of a cool book, consisting almost entirely of the sort of minute observation that would make someone's attention perk up in another book. It reads like consciousness, and while at first I was just viewing it as an argument against ever trying to write a book while on the influence of cocaine, lest you become as relentlessly focused on nothing in particular as Nicholson Baker is here.

It seems important though, as a sort of time capsule, a footnote to all the books written during the eighties that were too caught up in narrative to actually characterize the nostalgia for childhood that haunts people incidentally. It's really concerned with material things, and how those effect us. I was thinking of it in the same way people take a lot of visual art, in that I was wondering if there was some kind of critique inherent: It's about the way products and advertising surround our thoughts, and the occasional bits of beauty that emerge in a man-made world. I don't know if it feels damaged by it or not, that would sort of be reading in a moral dimension that might not really be intended. I wouldn't mind having it on my shelves at some point in the future.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I read Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away. It had a focus on narrative as well as morality, and I really loved it. I checked it out from the library along with a copy of the Dreyer film Ordet, and got pretty excited by the idea of religious art. It was really compelling for how the central character primarily denied the whole idea of even having a consciousness, and seemed determined to not have anything in the world inflict itself upon him.

I just put on this Akron/Family CD-R, Franny And The Portal, that opens with a song with the refrain "Because I am not my thoughts."


laura said...

..have you read any of Flannery's short stories?

Brian said...

Yes, we have even talked about them in real life.

laura said...

i meant to ask if you'd read more, because i was under the impression that you hadn't read that many. my memory of conversations that take place at five a.m. could be bad, though.

Brian said...

Oh, well, the answer to that question would be no. I kind of liked the novel more, for the depth it afforded, there was more space to be about themes rather than plot. By all rights my enjoyment of the novel should've made me more excited to tear through this massive collection, but it just made me want to read Wise Blood more.