profiles in courage
I am in a writing group. It’s with some people I met through a writing class I took last winter in the city. It was cold. I remember I was reading The Patrick Melrose Cycle at the time. I’d sit in the Christopher St. station and let two, sometimes three trains go by just so I could keep reading. It was so cold sometimes I’d read with my gloves on. There were seven of us students. Some people submitted work they’d already workshopped previously. I felt bad for those people; their work getting chewed out over and over again.
Point is, I am in an offshoot group of this here class I took last winter. And we’re meeting tomorrow, after months of being away, and it’s my turn to submit work. There’s this project I’ve been working on, a side thing, not work work, not the actual book I’m supposed to be working on. A side thing. It hasn’t gotten much attention lately because of traveling and visiting and giving myself to people instead of paper, but it is a thing. Thirty pages so far. I am so nervous about submitting this thing, because it isn’t a “real” thing, and it’s crammed with a lot of things I’ve never had the nerve to write about, and the people in my group are so smart and literate. Last month I read Lean In, and at one point the author talks about this phenomenon that affects women almost exclusively: this idea of feeling like a fraud. Like, even if you’re talented in your field, eventually someone will call your bluff, realize you’re faking, and the con will be over.
That is how I feel right now. There we are. Courage is a pain in the ass sometimes.
“Maybe, sometimes, ‘Wish You Were Here’ is actually enough.”
"It doesn’t occur to us, as we turn a page of the morning paper or smile across the room at one another or stop to admire the cut clarity of a diamond, that light’s foremost desire, from the instant of its creation—whether in the fused heart of a star, the sulfurous head of a match, or the glowing filament of a bulb—is to escape."
(from “Monet in Mourning, by Vincent Czyz)
Saw the author of this piece read tonight at Word. It was small and intimate and before the event started they played The Smiths and Radiohead over the speakers, and everyone had glasses and white names and black coffee and I felt shiny and freakish because I was in a floral skirt and my Madeline sweatshirt, carrying a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic purse. But I digress.
Mr. Czyz was a damn near perfect reader of his damn near perfect writing, even with the event coordinators futzing with the mic while he was still trying to get into his reading groove. He also read from his book, Adrift in a Vanishing City, and it was warm and atmospheric and tender and you should just get his book as soon as possible. You can thank me later.
Meantime, do yourself a favor and go read Manet in Mourning here.
There is this weird phenomenon that happens sometimes, where you pine for a book for weeks and weeks, reading reviews, basking in all the praise and adulation said book has received, and dreaming of the day you will finally get to read this book. And then, when it is finally in your anxious little hands…it is nothing at all like what you hoped it would be.
Such is the case with me and Norwegian Wood.
So it’s 1969, and everyone’s angsting really hard, and we the readers follow the sexual exploits of one Toru Watanabe, a college student in Tokyo who has some Serious Emotional Baggage. Said Baggage is of a rather heavy nature, and hinders his decision-making abilities in the face of a blossoming romance.
But summarizing the book like that makes it sound kind of raunchy and more than a little gross, and it’s not. Erotic, definitely, but not gross. I will make no bone(r)s about it: sexytimes abound in this novel. There is no shortage of that. But at the same time, there’s also a lot of tenderness.
Only problem is, I didn’t feel it—the tenderness or the arousal.
And maybe, ultimately, that’s my biggest gripe with this book. See, as a mood piece, it’s absolutely splendid. Murakami does such a wonderful job capturing the mental and spiritual uncertainty of the tippy end of the sixties, with the music the characters listen to and the books they read and the walks they take together…it all comes together very prettily. The settings are described in vivid detail (like the amorous scenes). But on an emotional level…it was incredibly difficult for me to connect with any of the characters and their issues. I couldn’t relate. Everyone has mental problems, and everyone’s a little bit unstable, and everyone has some kind of emotional cross to bear…but by the end of it, I didn’t believe anyone was truly suffering as much as they said they were. I didn’t feel that everyone was stuck in a mental rabbit-hole of angst and self-doubt and whatnot. I didn’t get a sense of the sadness crippling practically every character in this book, or of the numbness that seems to be Toru’s default mode.
I just didn’t even care anymore.
And at the end, there was this one sex scene that I could not bring myself to understand. Plausibility was nowhere to be found. I don’t have a problem with love scenes, but they should be believable and understandable at least!
I don’t particularly enjoy writing negative reviews of things, especially books, because I know how much the process of writing a novel can suck. I know how excruciating it can be, and I would imagine that writing this book was tough for Murakami, because it’s so emotionally raw and incisive.
It’s just not incisive to me. It speaks loud and clear, but not to me. So it’s not that it’s a bad book; it’s just not a book for me.
However, since this was my first Murakami novel, I might give him the old college try and read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or something. Who knows? His backlist is so long I’m sure I’ll find something I like.
"I fill in the gaps of the crossword at any spot I happen to choose."
“In seventh grade, I was teased mercilessly about my funny speaking voice, and I’ve been self-conscious about it ever since. It took some persuading to get me to make this recording, and it’s a testament to the story that I was game: while I love many things in issue 205, “Local Obits” was what I wanted to share. Anyone familiar with Lydia Davis’s work knows that she can do a lot with a little, and this piece—composed of elliptical snatches of lives, or, rather, someone else’s distillation thereof—turns the quotidian incantatory, funny, bittersweet, strange. A master class in the minimal (if not in performance).” —Deputy editor Sadie Stein on Lydia Davis’s “Local Obits” from issue 205.
The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library opened in its current location on West 20 Street in 1991. Formerly the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the facility was renamed in honor of the former chairman of The New York Public Library. The library provides New York City with Braille and Talking Books and Long Island with Braille Books.
This photo of talking books at Heiskell Library is on display at Mid-Manhattan Library’s Reading Room exhibition, which showcases NYPL’s valued and beloved branch libraries across the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. Stop by your local branch today and show your support!