Wednesday, December 17, 2014

pile of reading

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
I bought an iPad Mini the week we left for Vietnam. I wanted it for its camera, mostly. And I’ve been happier with the iPad camera than with any camera I’ve owned. Imagine being able to see the photo exactly as you’re taking it, the photo as you will see it when you get home from the trip. I grew up snapping photos squinting through a viewfinder that was clearly displaced from the lens. One never knew what was going to come back from the drug store. When you opened the envelope and got your first look at the photos — your precious memories — and saw with horror the lack of focus, the washed out clothes, the cut off heads, the snaps that were entirely black, it made you want to leave the camera in the drawer next time. I taught myself how to use the iPad camera no the fly — and made a bunch of dumb mistakes. But I got better. I bought the iPad Mini for other reasons, too. I didn’t want to lug around a laptop but I wanted a computer, something I could check my email and Facebook on. I thought it would be fun to carry along an ebook library rather than stuff paperbacks into my pack. It’s been my habit on trips to bring used paperback classics, like Dickens, so if I lost a book or dropped it in a puddle it would be no big deal, easily replaced. With the iPad I could download a stack of books and the luggage would be no heavier than without. I checked out one book from the public library just to see if I could (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris), but I also zipped over to Project Gutenberg — and O! what riches to choose from. All that Dickens! But I downloaded only a couple things. I figured I really wouldn’t be reading that much. I would probably have internet access in Southeast Asia and I could download more there, right? (As insurance I did jam some old New Yorkers into the bottom of the duffel bag. No, I did not read them.) I read the David Sedaris book and enjoyed it. It’s not as good as some of his others, but it’s still fun. I started reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on the cruise ship on the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia. I read its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, back in the 80s when there was a big sales job about it being The Great American Novel. Huck Finn was okay, but the hype did it no favors, especially in regards to the supposedly anti-racist depiction Nigger Jim, who just seemed to me infantile. Tom Sawyer is good. I’ve never seen a dramatization, but I’m familiar with some of the elements — the most famous fence painting in American literature, the scary Injun Joe. I did see a live-action/cartoon hybrid on TV that continued the adventures of the main characters. I remember at one point Becky Thatcher squeezes through the lungs of some gigantic monster (or maybe our heroes have been shrunk a la Fantastic Voyage). The file I downloaded from Project Gutenberg came out a little strange in that the book is more than 900 pages. At first I thought it must be because of formatting issues, a giant font? But at some point I skipped ahead, accidentally I think, and discovered the book completely duplicated in the second half of those 900 pages. Well, that changed my expectations for the story. I haven’t yet checked to see if something similar happened with the other Gutenberg books.

The Cruising Diaries by Brontez Purnell, illustrated by Janelle Hessig
Anecdotes about queer sex, often anonymous, in all sorts of situations. In a preface Purnell calls it, “a document of a sexually precocious and mis-spent youth told in the style of anti-erotica.”

A Short History of Cambodia: from Empire to Survival by John Tully
I wanted a book that covered everything from Classic Angkor when Cambodia ruled Southeast Asia to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s nadir, and after. I’m not sure “breezy” is the right word for such a history but Tully’s prose is easy to like. Having been to Cambodia myself now I think I’m getting more from this account than I would have if I’d read it before I went.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton
With my current pile poetry-heavy and with the prose tending to the serious I wanted something easy and fun. A story! I read all Mary Norton’s Borrowers books recently so when I saw Bed-Knob and Broomstick drop down the return slot at the library, I snapped it up. I haven’t seen Disney’s movie version (which makes plural the words in the title). I’m liking the book.

Parthenon West Review issue seven
I’ve been very impressed with earlier issues. This one is good, too. It was published in 2010 and is the newest I’ve seen. According to the Parthenon West website, there is an eighth issue.

Poetry December 2010
Several years ago I read a year of Poetry and was appalled. “If Poetry were poetry I wouldn’t read poetry,” I told friends. The magazine changed editors and I’ve finally read a few of the issues edited by Christian Wiman. Big improvement! I understand Wiman is out now though.

This In Which by George Oppen
These days I want my pile to include at least one book by one poet (alongside the usual anthologies). Having finished a book by Bob Hicok I browsed my library — there are a lot of books in my library that I haven’t read. I pulled Oppen from the shelf and was quickly through the first few pages.

Juice by Renee Gladman
Another short book that I pulled from the shelf upstairs. I’m 15 pages in.

Against Forgetting: twentieth century poetry of witness edited by Carolyn Forche
The big anthology in the pile. Heavy in more than one sense. Considering the subject matter (living through bad shit), I can’t read more than a few pages at a sitting so I expect to be reading Against Forgetting for months.

There are always books hovering near the pile. Should I list it if I haven’t picked it up in weeks? If I’ve not read past the first paragraph? No. I have to draw a line!

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