Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Perhaps Tellingly

After writing about book-buying sprees recently (over at the LBC), I got to go on one yesterday. I was surprised at how much I’ve been influenced by litblogs and podcasts in what I chose:
  • John Banville, The Sea because Mark Sarvas enthused about it
  • Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss because of the Booker
  • Nell Freudenberger, The Dissident because she gave an amazing interview on WNYC and then Lauren Cerand hosted her reading
  • Laird Hunt, The Exquisite because Bud Parr is so enthusiastic about it
  • Tayari Jones, The Untelling because I like her blog
  • Julie Powell, Julie & Julia, somewhat skeptically, but she is a cook and a blogger and I do expect to find it funny, and
  • Lauren Slater’s Best American Essays, 2006
    but not
  • Mark Danielewski’s Only Revolutions even though I’m tempted and it’s clearly a triumph of book design. Have you seen it? It’s like a really gorgeous issue of McSweeney’s. But I listened to Michael Silverblatt’s interview with him on WKRC’s bookworm, after hearing and reading lots of buzz on the book and he was so incredibly pretentious I could not bear it. (I haven’t listened to the Bat Segundo version yet—I’ll have to do that.)
I’m intrigued by the conceit—a love story from two perspectives, one running from front to back, one from back to front, meeting in the middle. Each page has the same number of lines, half from the woman’s perspective, half from the man’s, and then marginalia that puts this time-bending story into historical context. It is, in short, way too complicated to describe in full.

And Danielewski is clearly really, really smart. Am I jealous? Maybe. But when I heard him describe all the rules he’d set for himself and say, “…perhaps tellingly, the word home is never used…” I threw in the towel for now.

Perhaps tellingly? As a thing to say about your own crazy work? That struck me as beyond pretension. It’s not “telling” when it’s your own deliberate choice and there is no “perhaps” about it. How about “Because they’re drifters, I decided to banish the word home from my vocabulary for this book.”


Matthew Tiffany said...

Yes, that does smack of pretension a bit. Reinforces my decision to steer clear of him, at least until the antics are channeled a bit more in favor of a good story, instead of the other way around -

JohnFox said...

But with Danielewski's House of Leaves, what amazed me most was not the erudite pyrotechnics, but the solid backbone of the story. It had all the mythic elements, and the climax genuinely moved me (although I never would have expected to be so emotionally involved by such an experimental novel). All that to say, I haven't read Only Revolutions yet, but I know that Danielewski has the core narrative talents. It's just a matter of whether they show up here.

Anne said...

Thanks, John. I'm glad to hear good things about the book. I had such very, very mixed feelings about the author after listening to him: clearly really smart but oy! I don't like pretense.

Still, it's unlikely to rise to the top of an ever-growing t.b.r. pile...

Anne said...

..the first book, that is...I know that you're writing about House of Leaves....

amcorrea said...

House of Leaves was completely engrossing. I read it with tiny post-it notes to follow the different idea trails. (My favorite being a discussion of George Herbert and Echo, with another on the meaning of the word "uncanny".)

That said, it's not without it's flaws...but I'm looking forward to exploring this new one when I'm up north for Christmas.

Much of HoL is about grief--and I agree with John Fox. But I completely understand your aversion to pretension, Anne. If it was my first encounter with him, I'd probably head the other direction too!

Anonymous said...


Hope I helped a bit with the spree. Glad you liked Ochsner and can safely say that House of Leaves is the most pretentious pile of .... I have ever failed to read.

lots of love,


Tayari said...

Thanks for putting me on your list! :)