I spent a few days last week isolating after attending a larger social event in a friends apartment in a (mostly) unfamiliar neighborhood and I got to spend a few days enjoying (a dear friend's) book collection.
I don't have many paper books left: enough moves and small new York city apartments, combined with vague personal preference for e-ink have left me with only about 100 books, but I do sometimes enjoy reading paper books when I'm visiting someone else. My perfect vacation has always been some combination of "drinking too much coffee and reading books," and given that I'm kind of in an in-between moment job-wise right now, this was actually pretty much perfect.
I started out the week reading Slouching Toward Bethlehem (Joan Diddion) and finished it reading the first half of The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy). It was pretty much everything.
I've always been an admirer of Diddon, but I've never read Bethlehem and I've meant to sort of spend a few years trawlling luxuriously through her backlist, but hadn't gotten around to it. The writing is perfect in exactly the sort of austere but precise way that I've come to expect. I'm doubly impressed also that she was so young when these essays were published.
I had in my mind that this was a book that was an account of the state of counter-culture in the 60s, and the title essay definitely is that, but having read the entire book over the course of a few days, I'm left with the impression that this book is really a big "why I left New York City in my late 20s" combined with a love letter to California from a returning native child, who remembers "the (really) old California" and what is by now "the (simply) old California".
The "why I left New York City in my late 20s" story is pretty familiar, and it's actually nice to see, now 60 years on, that people coming to New York in their 20s and then burning out or not figuring out how to be in New York sustainably is a very old story indeed. I'm also of course, heartened that she returned to the city for the last 25 years of her life. I hope that this also proves to be an enduring pattern for my generation.
I was also struck by the way that the reflection (and really, critique) of the counter culture managed to be very early but also consistent with what a lot of people were saying earlier. To my eyes, it's not particularly surprising but the date is a bit.
The God of Small Things is, of course, lush in all the ways that Slouching is austere. Almost provoking whiplash.
I typically find these sort of lush non-linear books to be a bit Extra. Lovely, to be sure, but the lushness and non-linearity can so distract from the plot or the characters or the impact. Lush and non-linear prose has also started to feel faddish and at least for me, a signifies of a certain kind of academic/"art school" approach to prose. This is not true at all of Small Things: the story directly and explicitly explores childhood memories and trauma in ways that are reflected both in the characters and the story telling. It extremely works.
As is, I suppose, the intent, the book and writing has me thinking a lot about imperialism  and the history therein, and I think there's a way that the non-linearity of the story telling manages to engage this fundamental question  "why do people fight for their servitude as if it were their salvation," and watching this
I'm not done yet with the book, but I'm excited to dig in more.
The next book on my friend's bookshelf that I'm excited by was a collection of Grace Paley stories and essays. I haven't really started it, yet, but I think I will soon.
|||I wrote this sentence as "post/colonialism" but I think there are so many layers and intersections that expand have echos and impacts that are much larger than the history of the British in India, which isn't (and shouldn't!) be the at the center of the story, despite it's outsized and unrefutable impact.|
|||In a bit of my own non-linearity, I've been working on an essay that plays with this famous quote/question from Deleuze (derived from Riech, derived from Spinoza). The full (ish) quote is, "the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: ‘Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’ How can people possibly reach the point of shouting: ‘More taxes! Less bread!’? As Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike."|