Sunday, January 08, 2012

pile of reading

Timescape by Gregory Benford
This science fiction novel was published in 1980. I remember reading a review of it, probably in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I don’t remember the review being an all out rave, but it was positive enough for me to pick Timescape off the shelf at the paperback book exchange in Sebastopol when I had credit to use. The book then sat in a box in the closet for years. I brought it to Berkeley when I cleared out my mother’s house. It’s okay. I’m about halfway through. Characters living in 1998 are trying to send messages via tachyons to characters living in 1963, hoping the folks in ’63 will manage to head off some of the fomenting ecological disasters of the late ‘90s. I read another SF novel recently that was set in a year that came and went. Benford doesn’t fill his 1998 with spaceships the way Frederic Brown did.

If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan Van Meter
A collection of essays, the ones I’ve read so far recounting memories of a sissy boy childhood and awakening gay sexual feelings. “First” describes a car ride in which the five-year-old Ryan proposes to his five-year-old beloved, Ben. That’s what people in love do, they get married, right?

Close Calls with Nonsense: reading new poetry essays by Stephen Burt
Twenty years ago I swore off reading critical essays because I was reading all these critical essays in order to find out what I should be reading but rarely actually reading the works the essays were written about. That’s what you do when you’re an intellectual, read thinkers writing about art. Right? No more reading about fiction or poetry, I sternly directed myself. You must devote your reading time to the poetry or fiction that these critical thinkers are thinking critically about. It was a good choice. I gave myself permission very recently to read essays again. Since I’ve been reading without the help of the judgments of others I have developed judgments of my own so when I read a critic, Stephen Burt in this case, I have confidence in my own opinions and have some perspective on the critic’s take. I’ve read a few of the contemporary poets Burt talks about here – D.A. Powell, August Kleinzahler, Rae Armantrout – but mostly not – Liz Waldner, Laura Kasischke, H.L. Hix. I don’t know what I’ll take away from this book, exactly. On the whole I think it better I go back to reading poetry to the exclusion of people talking about poetry. It only matters so much what others think. If Burt loves somebody I care not for, so what?

Paradiso Diaspora poems by John Yau
John Yau is a favorite. I just read a selected by him. Liking this one less, the writing seems slacker, but there are lots of fun lines. “[T]hose of us perched in the back rows, and there are far more of us than there are seats, can’t tell which entrance in the hours erected by the sky’s solid fa├žade might prove useful should the mounting chatter take a turn for the worse …”

The Wounded Alphabet: poems collected and new, 1953-1983 by George Hitchcock
Both Yau and Hitchcock ply surrealistic bayous. Yau is playful and shifts from serious to goofy over the course of a poem (or a line). Hitchcock doesn’t do fun. He’s all serious, often in that melodramatic tone I associate with 19th century verse. “[S]omewhere in the years outside these walls / A boy, shivering, dives in a golden river // Still searching for a bit of porcelain, / White, in the shape of a fish.”

The Cento: a collection of collage poems edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford
The poems I crafted from titles owned by the UC Berkeley library would fit well in here.

News of the Universe: poems of twofold consciousness chosen and introduced by Robert Bly
A Sierra Club publication that wants to be more ambitious that just being a collection of nature poems. I understand there’s a new edition available, but I’m reading the old one which was given to me by my first landlady in Berkeley.

Drama: an actor’s education by John Lithgow
This memoir can be fun, can be a bit much. “In the towns, the streets are eerily empty. The carousel in Oak Bluffs is shuttered and silent. As the days pass, all signs of human life disappear from the windswept beaches, leaving them desolate and melancholy.” The streets can’t just be empty, they have to be “eerily empty.” The beaches without humans on them are necessarily “melancholy”? Drama, indeed.

From Hell a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
I was going to read this someday. When I saw that the West Branch copy had been misshelved at Central I decided I would be doing the library a favor by checking it out so that when it came back it could be directed to the owning location. Alan Moore is interesting. I don’t always love his stuff. In fact, I often find it a tad overwritten. And Eddie Campbell’s art is a bit scratchy and stiff. But I don’t doubt this is worth reading, even if I did see the forgettable movie version (Moore hates all movie adaptations of his work) and don’t care about Jack the Ripper.

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