Jan 4, 2010

Need and books a babble

There is in here a compulsion, a need, why I read. It is not a reason, even though I'd like to frame it that way, not a program, not a plan, not a choice or a syllabus. There are obviously elegant and approved apologia for this, for this act, for this reading, as antisocial and deeply needy as it is. There are prose poems in praise of this and library posters with knights and castles, space ships and wind-blown lands. There are speeches spieled on this, arguments argued in essays by authors, defenses offered, pronouncements made of preciousness and importance from podiums by canonists and promoters of programs in schools of every level. There are cliches for this, sentiments to set off, values to elevate, romanticisms to reel on about even thought we know or anyway I do that these are not the reasons, that this is not a thing of reasons. There's just the need.

I don’t even go to the grocery store without a book and usually two. When I go out to eat with you and you excuse yourself to the restaurant restroom, I will read. When you come back and I have a book you’ll say you’re sorry and be confused because you weren’t gone that long, but I was fine. Reading is when and where I’m fine. I read before classes and on buses and in bathrooms. When culture shock was cracking me, crushing me until I cried, I went and found books, Ham on Rye and Pynchon in the afternoon, because books is when I am okay. When I find myself in a city that’s strange and wander the streets that always seem to me to be surreal, I find a bookstore somewhere or a library, a public library, which is a refuge and which is where the “public” always appears to be kids who can’t be quiet, from families who can’t afford day care centers, and people who’ve pissed themselves, who sleep here instead of on the streets and sometimes get up and walk around and argue quietly with themselves or something hidden in the shelves, and I will find books by the stack here, I belong here with the homeless and the abandoned kids, find refuge here and a corner and read. I was the one who went to the library on Fridays in college and collected books from everywhere on everything and set them up around on the table like the walls they were for me, and I would read. Not for class but just because.

It’s not that the reasons aren’t right. Books might be about escape and education, empathy and expansion, but that’s not why I read. Don’t dismiss the desperation. Don’t misunderstand results as reasons: this is intransitive need.

I wanted to say too that when Y2K came and happened, or maybe didn’t happen would be a better way to say it, I was 17 and disappointed. I wanted it to happen, though I know now how strange that sounds. To me it was a millennialism, a meta history, and without it there was only this, life like this, flat infinity, life unimportant and unstructured forever, mundane and just this: world without narrative without end. I knew by the time when the lights were still on in the east coast that there’d be nothing, and I was depressed. We played Risk that night as nothing happened and I had an empire in Africa I couldn’t hold. On the day and in the days after I was bothered - deeply bothered - by my need, by my willingness to want Y2K to happen. My response to this was to read, and read everything. My response to this was to be deeply suspicious, as has been said, of meta narratives, by which I mean or want to mean especially my own. I say this only to say I don’t even read to understand or make things make sense. Maybe the opposite. I read for complication. I read for confusion. These are the functions I need. I read for the babble in books, because with every first person and third person story, with every worm- and bird- and God’s-eye view I get another layer and level of chatter, of confusion to confound my construction of towers to heaven. I need this Bable. Each book adds to the barrage, another bombardment of and siege to the certainty with which I would will the world to death, to darkness for the sake of some sense of self importance or abstract meaning.

I read because I need to read. Because I have to. Call it compulsion. I read in the same way I pray, which is to say that it will not make me a better person and it’s not just good to do, it won't pay off or profit, it's not a plan or a program and not, at all or in any way, with reason. It’s just need. I have to and need to and without it what would there be? I’d be left to my own devices.

Books read in 2009:
1. Prophecy & Apocalypticism, by Stephen L. Cook
2. The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams
3. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
4. Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler
5. Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski
6. The Inner Circle, by T.C. Boyle
7. Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote
8. The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
9. The Poet, by Michael Conely
10. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
11. Slumdog Millionaire, by Vikas Swarup
12. 2666, by Roberto Bolaño
13. Teaching a Stone to Talk, by Annie Dillard
14. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, by Charles Bukowski
15. White Butterfly, by Walter Mosely
16. The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene
17. Fathers and Sons, by Ernest Hemmingway
18. Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer
19. Close Range, by Annie Proulx
20. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace
21. By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolaño
22. Killshot, by Elmore Leonard
23. This is Water, by David Foster Wallace
24. Public Enemies, by Bryan Burrough
25. Breath, by Tim Winton
26. The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño
27. Loving Che, by Ana Menedez
28. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
29. The Short Stories, by Ernest Hemingway
30. Cities on the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy
31. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White
32. The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
33. Good Omen, by Terry Pratchet & Neil Gaiman
34. Where I'm Calling From, by Raymond Carver
35. The Armies of the Night,by Norman Mailer
36. The Street Lawyer, by John Grisham
37. Legacy of Ashes, by Tim Weiner
38. Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace
39. Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow
40. Literary Theory, by Jonathan Culler
41. The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
42. Slouching towards Bethleham, by Joan Didion
43. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
44. Flying Home, by Ralph Ellison
45. The White Album, by Joan Didion
46. Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes