NO PAINKILLER AVAILABLE

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Not every ache or pain is age related. And not every pain can be numbed, even by prescription. Here are three paragraphs about pain not numbed in someone not yet old. I call the three paragraphs a story, although the beginning of the story precedes the three paragraphs and the story has no end. Which I suppose is the point.  There is no end.

I didn’t write it.  I wish I had.  To me it says everything there is to say about what it’s about. Which (I think) makes it impressive, if unconventional, writing.  Yes, it’s by Lydia Davis again. [From The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Picador paperback edition, pp. 170-171.]  I know some of you found her hard to take when I posted about her before. But this piece really got to me, so I thought I’d try again.  It’s not very long. See how you feel about it.

Wife One in Country 

Wife one calls to speak to son.  Wife two answers with impatience, gives phone to son of wife one. Son has heard impatience in voice of wife two and tells mother he thought caller was father’s sister: raging aunt, constant caller, troublesome woman.  Wife one wonders: is she herself perhaps another raging woman, constant caller?  No, raging woman but not constant caller.  Though, for wife two, also troublesome woman.

After speaking to son, much disturbance in wife one.  Wife one misses son, thinks how some years ago she, too, answered phone and talked to husband’s raging sister, constant caller, protecting husband from troublesome woman.  Now wife two protects husband from troublesome sister, constant caller, and also from wife one, raging woman.  Wife one sees this and imagines future wife three protecting husband not only from raging wife one but also from troublesome wife two, as well as constantly calling sister.

After speaking to son, wife one, often raging though now quiet woman, eats dinner alone though in company of large television.  Wife one swallows food, swallows pain, swallows food again.  Watches intently ad about easy to clean stove: mother who is not real mother flips fried egg onto hot burner, then fries second egg and gives cheerful young son who is not real son loving kiss as spaniel who is not real family dog steals second fried egg off plate of son who is not real son.  Pain increases in wife one, wife one swallows food, swallows pain, swallows food again, swallows pain again, swallows food again.

P.S.  If “Wife One” is at all to your taste, you may enjoy some of the quiet musings of one of the WordPress bloggers I follow.  She identifies herself as JMPod, and her blog is Original Pea.  I don’t know if she’s read Lydia Davis, but some of her short pieces remind me of Davis. What she writes is often not upbeat. Although she does say she writes mainly for her own pleasure, it would be great if more people found her.  Some things can’t be fixed. But it helps when you can write about them and other people read what you write.

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EXPERIMENT IN THE THIRD PERSON

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(after reading too much Lydia Davis)

 When the doctor confirmed the woman was pregnant, the man decided they would name the baby Victor.  Labor took thirty-six hours. The baby was lazy and refused to come out. The doctor had to use forceps.

It was a girl.  The man let the woman choose the name.  He said he didn’t care.  The woman named the baby after the female patron saint of Georgia. (Even though the man and woman were Jewish.)

In the hospital, the woman worried about the indented forceps marks on the baby’s face.  The doctor said they would go away, but she worried anyway.  She did not want a baby that was scarred.

The indentations did go away, but the baby continued to cause the woman to worry. Once she left the baby in the middle of the double bed for just a minute while she went away to get a cigarette from her pocketbook in the kitchen.  Suddenly she heard a thud that made her heart stop.  The baby had rolled off the edge of the bed and was lying on the floor. Had the baby damaged itself permanently?  The doctor came to the house, examined the baby, and said no.  But for a long time, the woman worried anyway.

The baby was also troublesome. She peed through her diaper on the woman’s velvet sofa.  Then the woman had to keep that sofa cushion turned over because the spot wouldn’t come out.  Every time she vacuumed the sofa, she wondered what would have happened if the baby had been a boy.  Maybe his pee would have stayed in the front part of the diaper and not wet the sofa.

When the baby became a child and went to school, she wrote a story for her third-grade teacher about the lazy scarred baby who was supposed to be a boy but wasn’t and caused her mother so much worry and trouble. She wrote it as if it were funny, hahaha, and her teacher gave her an A.

She was able to write these things because her mother had told her about them.  (It was her mother’s way of reminiscing.) That’s how she knew about Victor, and the thirty-six hours of labor because she was lazy, and the forceps, and the ugly blue indentations, and the father wanting her to be a boy, and rolling off the bed to worry her mother, and ruining the velvet sofa.

Much later, when she had become a woman and mother herself, she would ask herself what kind of unthinking mother would tell a little girl that her father wanted a boy, or that she was lazy and wouldn’t “come out,” or that she had been born scarred and worrisome and troublesome.

She herself never said anything like that to her own two children.

As an adult, she has occasionally tried to write again about her childhood, this time without the hahaha.  Usually she tears it up or deletes it, because now it sounds too self-pitying.  But what if she were to abandon the first-person voice of memoir?  What if she made it sound as if she were writing about someone else?

How would that be?

LYDIA DAVIS

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A member of the second of the two book clubs to which I belong, who both teaches a writing course at Rutgers and writes herself, wrinkled her nose when I mentioned Lydia Davis as someone we might want to read next. She had at least heard of Davis. The other club members — all well educated women — knew Davis only in the context of her translations from the French.  (We spent last September and October on her English translation of Swann’s Way.)

I didn’t argue the point.  Granted my book club is no litmus test, I was already fairly sure Lydia Davis is not for everyone. However — and although I’m only part way through her chunky The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, (Picador 2009) — I’ve already discovered she is definitely for me.

That’s because she invites the reader into active partnership with her. Which I love, at this point in my reading life.  I love that what she offers in her beautifully off-the-wall and frequently painful pieces — some less than a sentence in length — is both minimal and all I need to know.  I love that I must always stop to think about what’s on the page because she never tells me what to think.  Although for the most part plotless, her pieces are pregnant with story I must supply.  Although seemingly shorn of emotion, the precision of her stripped-down language can reflect subterranean emotion that is overpowering. Or it may raise profound questions to ponder.

In other words, reading Lydia Davis is participatory.  It is work.  Highly pleasurable work, for readers who want actively to engage with a writer. Probably not such fun if you’re looking for beach or bathroom or bedtime reading — light diversion, suspenseful story, hot romance.  Not that there’s anything wrong with such entertainments if they’re good at what they do.  it’s just that a Lydia Davis piece isn’t like that. Nor is she in the tradition of the great nineteenth and early twentieth century novelists and short story writers, who also demand your participation, but in a more familiar way.

Here’s what some other people have said about her work.

“Lydia Davis is one of the few undebatably singular prose stylists alive today.  She has invented a genre entirely unto itself – a form combining the precision and economy of poetry, the wry storytelling of short fiction, and a clear-eyed and surgical inquiry into the nature of existence itself.  I push her books on everyone I know.”  – Dave Eggers, author of What Is the What and Zeitoun

“Be prepared for moments of beauty that are sharp and merciless….We are in a period of literary history when accuracy, clarity and faithfulness seem transgressive.  But that – shorter, faster, more changeable – is only culture.  Davis…answers to a higher god.”  — Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

“Her writing defies generic classification. Some of her fiction could just as easily be called essay or poetry.  Many of her stories are extremely short. Her narrators are often given a drastically narrow scope but an extremely sharp focus. Their observations might be described as dispassionate — sometimes humorously so — and for this reason the considerable emotional component of Davis’s stories is often subtextual.” — Sarah Mancuso, The Believer, Jan. 2008.

“One can read a large portion of Davis’s work, and a grand cumulative achievement comes into view – a body of work probably unique in American writing, in its combination of lucidity, aphoristic brevity, formal originality, sly comedy, metaphorical bleakness, philosophical pressure, and human wisdom.  I suspect that The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis will in time be seen as one of great, strange American literary contributions, distinct and crookedly personal.”  — James Wood, The New Yorker

But judge for yourself.  Here’s a Davis piece that’s not even a complete sentence. (It’s the shortest one in the entire 733-page paperback edition of the Collected Stories.)

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SUDDENLY AFRAID

because she couldn’t write the name of what she was: a wa wam own owamn wom

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That’s all there is on the otherwise blank page.

It fills me with terror.

How do you feel about this next piece?  It’s “only” a sentence, without a period (but one which could have been said of me in my late twenties and led to cataclysmic changes in my own life).

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A DOUBLE NEGATIVE

At a certain point in her life, she realizes it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child

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What story lies behind this unusual observation?  What story will it lead to? Who is “she”? How old is “she”? Is “she” married? Is “she” already pregnant?  If so, does the father want a child? If not, what must “she” do about her realization? Are double negatives really the same as positives?  Do they lead to the same results?  The answers to all those questions are up to you.

Now consider this one — and the language in which it is written. And then consider how you feel about what it says and how you feel about what the language in which it is written says:

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HOW IT IS DONE

There is a description in a child’s science book of the act of love that makes it all quite clear and helps when one begins to forget. It starts with affection between a man and a woman. The blood goes to their genitals as they kiss and caress each other, this swelling creates a desire in these parts to be touched further, the man’s penis becomes larger and quite stiff and the woman’s vagina moist and slippery.  The penis can now be pushed into the woman’s vagina and the parts move “comfortably and pleasantly” together until the man and woman reach orgasm, “not necessarily at the same time.”  The article ends, however, with a cautionary emendation of the opening statement about affection: nowadays many people make love, it says, who do not love each other, or even have an affection for each other, and whether or not this is a good thing we do not yet know.

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I also like the following piece very much, probably because I don’t think it is only about fellowships, although it is that, too.  I might even cynically suggest that it could be seen as a commentary on much else that many, or most, of us will ever experience.

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THE FELLOWSHIP

I.

It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that each year your application is not good enough.  When at last your application is perfect, then you will receive the fellowship.

II.

 It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that your patience must be tested first.  Each year, you are patient, but not patient enough. When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.

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Finally, just one more.  Because it breaks my heart.

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HEAD, HEART 

Heart weeps.

Head tries to help heart.

Head tells heart how it is, again:

You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.

Heart feels better, then.

But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.

Heart is so new to this.

I want them back, says heart.

Head is all heart has.

Help, head. Help heart.

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There are longer pieces in the book.  Some look like proper stories (although they aren’t).  But if these five fail to do it for you, the others probably won’t either.

Don’t say I didn’t try.

FINISHING WHAT I STARTED

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The story thus far:  In her last post, Bad Girl was confessing to having been greedy and self-indulgent about books, to having bought books more quickly than she can read them.  Bad Girl of course is me, the one with the punitive super-ego and a determination to finish whatever I start, however long it takes. That goes for both (a) reading the books on the windowsill and (b) telling you about them.  Telling is easier and faster than reading.  Are you up for it?

1. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. Three-volume boxed set. I did manage to make my way through half a one-volume edition in my twenties, but never finished. Why begin again? Because two Septembers ago, I re-read Anna Karenina,  after more than half a century. This time I loved it so much.  The half-century had changed me as a reader.  Anna was no longer just the story of an adulterous love affair gone bad, as I once thought, which had made much of the rest of the book uninteresting. It was a whole vanished world brought back to life, a world in which Anna played only a not-so-admirable, although tragic, part, and one I hated to leave when I reached the last page. War and Peace is longer than Anna, so I thought having it in three volumes rather than a single heavy and bulky one would make it physically easier to hold and read.  It’s also a beautiful edition, bound in wine-colored cloth.  In fact, just telling you about it makes me want to drop everything and begin. Ah, well.

2. Beethoven, by Lewis Lockwood. A year ago Bill and I took a terrific night course at Princeton Adult School on listening to Beethoven’s  piano sonatas, taught by Scott Burnham, the Schiede Professor of Music at Princeton University.  He was witty, lyrical, enthusiastic, gymnastic, and wore jeans:  everything one wants, and rarely gets, all rolled up in a single professor. He recommended Lockwood as the one book to read on Beethoven if we were going to read only one.  (In number two place was  Maynard Solomon’s Beethoven  — the psychological approach to biography. But I had already bought and read that one.) We’ve signed up for a second course with Burnham this spring.  He will almost certainly recommend another book.  Fortunately, there’s still room on the metaphorical windowsill.

3.  A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel. I loved, loved, loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies — the first two remarkable books in her three-volume fictional account of the life of Thomas Cromwell. It was so hard to emerge from the sixteenth century when I had finished that I had to go back to read many parts again. Hurry up with the third volume, Hilary!  In the meanwhile, there’s this book, also fictional, which she wrote earlier about three men who counted for a lot in the French Revolution: Robespierre, Danton and Camille Desmoulins. 748 pages in paperback, though. Which explains why it’s still on the windowsill.

4.  The End of the Story, by Lydia Davis.  Davis is the skilled and sensitive translator of the most recent edition in English of Proust’s Swann’s Way.  Her ability to tame his labyrinthian, sometimes page-long sentences into beautiful and accurate readability was extraordinary.  She also writes short — often very very short — stories, which have been collected and can currently be purchased all together in one book. This one is her only “novel,” and is much slimmer, so I thought I would start with that.  Except I haven’t. Yet.

5.  This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett. A novelist whose work I have read only sporadically, and chiefly when her short stories appear in The New Yorker  (to which I’ve subscribed faithfully, with very few breaks, since I was twenty and a youthful admirer of J.D. Salinger, whose stories were then appearing in its pages). Patchett recently became the co-proprietor of a bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, where she now lives — so that Nashville should have a place where one can buy the kinds of books she likes to read.  I visited Nashville several times during the year one of my sons was working there and concluded that Nashville did indeed need an independent bookstore.  Which predisposed me to like Patchett and therefore to acquire this, her latest book — a collection of essays and other short pieces.  I am particularly inclined to short pieces, not only because they are short, but because they are what I have been trying to write, both before the blog and also now that I’m blogging. I’ve always maintained that you learn to write by reading. Even at eighty-two. Just give me time.

6.  Little Failure, A Memoir, by Gary Shteyngart. His fourth and newest book. I’m beginning to like memoirs, if well written, much better than most fiction.  Moreover, Shteyngart is a funny, sad, bitter and skillful writer, who is also a Russian Jew brought to Brooklyn by his parents when he was seven.  That makes us landsmen, although he’s about half my age. Also, I read his first two and enjoyed them.  How could I not buy this one? (P.S.  “Little Failure” is what his parents used to call him.  In Russian, of course.)

7. Coin Street Chronicles, by Gwen Southgate.  Last fall, Bill and I participated in a seminar course on “Five Angry Young Men and One Woman” at the Evergreen Forum, a lifelong learning program in Princeton designed principally for “seniors.” It was taught by Lee Harrod, an emeritus professor of The College of New Jersey. We read and discussed novels and plays written in England during the two decades after World War II. Gwen Southgate, who I did not know before, was also in the class.  As a child, she had lived through that war in England, and had much of great interest to tell us.  (Had there been a class vote, we two would have been tied for Most Talkative.) One of the others in the class let it be known that Gwen had written a memoir about her childhood. She is my contemporary.  Despite the dissimilarities between us  — as you may note from her occasional comments on this blog, which she is kind enough to follow — how could I not buy her book?  Now I just have to find time to read it.

8. Lit, A Memoir, by Mary Karr.  A mistaken purchase.  Last spring, I took a short Princeton University course for auditors  about Literary Memoir.  A reading list was posted online, but later revised.  This book was on the original list and then removed, but I had already bought a used copy of it.    Although it was no longer part of the curriculum, I kept it for future reading because it’s a confessional. (“Lit” being a colloquial synonym for “drunk.”)  I too once wrote 187 pages of a confessional, which is still on my computer.  (Original title: “My Secret Life.” Now retitled. Not about alcoholism.) My 187 pages were intended to be Part I of a two-part book.  However, I never could work out how to do the second part and thought I might get some ideas from Karr. Since I haven’t had the time or urge to read her book yet, I still draw a blank on finishing my own.  Sorry, no more questions.

9. The AfterLife, Essays and Criticism, by Penelope Fitzgerald.  She was a wonderful novelist who began to write relatively late in life.  The Blue Flower is unforgettable, but I have also found pleasure in all her other novels, and have re-read many of them. This book, published posthumously, contains her non-fiction. I have no idea what I will find when I sit down with it.  I bought the book because what’s in it was from her. When I find an author this good, I’m intensely loyal.

10. Memories of a Marriage, by Louis Begley.  Another loyalty choice. It may be good, it may be less good: I don’t care. Begley was an international corporate lawyer at a major New York law firm (he’s now retired) who took a three month sabbatical to write his first book, Wartime Lies, at the age of 63. I give paperback copies of it to everyone I care about.  It attached me to him for life, although I am less fond of some of his subsequent fiction, which is concerned with the problems of aging men.  (Caveat: Why The Dreyfus Affair Matters, not fiction, is a must-read.)  When I see Begley has put out a new book, I buy it.  Simple as that.  This is the latest.

11. The Conquest of Happiness, by Bertrand Russell. A very used and yellowed copy, purchased last summer after a brief fling with Gretchen Rubin’s blog, The Happiness Project.  Gretchen recommended it.  She went to Yale Law School and clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court before she became a blogger. So maybe she knows something I don’t.  Besides, who doesn’t want to be happy?  Then I got happier.  Not necessarily thanks to her. So I haven’t read the book yet.

12. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. Another Gretchen recommendation.  She loves children’s books.  (She has two little girls, according to her blog.)  This book, I know, is a classic.  However, I never read or gave it to my own children when they were young. So I was curious. Curiosity may not kill (if you’re not a cat), but it does result in less space on your shelf.

13. Frenchwomen Don’t Get Facelifts, by Mireille Guilano.  Don’t laugh.  I have a certain interest in both France and facelifts. [Two summers ago I ventured to explore this facelift business with an actual cosmetic surgeon, but decided no. Didn’t know that about me, did you?]  Also, my younger son once made me a present of Guilano’s earlier book, Frenchwomen Don’t Get Fat, when he saw me eyeing it in a bookstore.  It was a fun read, and I kept it — possibly because of who had bought it for me. Obviously I needed its sequel.  Well, I did.  Didn’t I?  Didn’t I?

14. Diving for Pearls, A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, by Kathleen B. Jones.  I met Kathy last October at a very crowded fund-raiser tea given in New York by Persimmontree, an online magazine of the arts by women over sixty.  I was there with a friend who had contributed a piece to the magazine, as I had done.  Kathy was the guest of another contributor.  We found ourselves face to face in the crush — many contributors, small private house — and got to talking.  She is a retired American academic now living in Bristol, England and writing up a storm.  Blog, book, articles.  We liked each other, and promised to stay in touch.  Then she went back to England. This book on her intellectual/philosophical journey with Hannah Arendt, which she mentioned during the tea, was published last November, after a sizable excerpt had appeared in the Los Angeles Times. I read the excerpt and bought the book.  Well, wouldn’t you? Although I’m not much of a philosopher, the reason the book’s still on the windowsill is a time thing. Really and truly. If we do get together again in the spring, which we discussed but now seems to me doubtful considering how busy she is with Arendt conferences, of course I will read it first.  (And hope I understand it.)  I never show up without having done my homework!

15. Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan.  Another quasi-loyalty selection. Enjoyed Atonement and Saturday.  Thought On Chesil Beach was well done, although I found it hard to believe.  (But then I’m not English.)  So why not his next one?  Sweet Tooth has only been in the house for about two weeks, and I might actually be able to get to it in the foreseeable future, as it doesn’t seem too taxing. It may therefore be only a temporary windowsill resident.

16. 2666, by Roberto Bolano.  I forgot why I had bought this and had to look at the cover and frontispiece to refresh my memory. There I learned that Bolano lived in Mexico and Spain, where he died prematurely at the age of 50. 2066 was published posthumously and won major awards in Spain and Latin America. When translated into English by Natasha Wimmer, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award. But in paperback it has 898 pages, which partially explains why I have been slow to begin.  But only partially explains.  The description of it in The Washington Post is also off-putting:  “With 2066, Bolano joins the ambitious overachievers of the twentieth-century novel, those like Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes and Vollmann, who push the novel far past the conventional size and scope to encompass an entire era, deploying encyclopedic knowledge and stylistic verve to offer a grand, if sometimes idiosyncratic, summation of their culture and the novelist’s place in it.  Bolano has joined the immortals.”  And here is Francine Prose, in Harper’s Magazine: “The opening of 2066 had me in thrall from those first few pages….For all the precision and poetry of its language, for all the complexity of its structure, for all the range of styles and genres it acknowledges and encompasses, for all its wicked humor, its inventiveness and sophistication, 2666 seems like the work of a literary genius.”  Will I be smart enough for this book?  Or will I go down in defeat? I hesitate to find out.

17. My Early Life, by Winston Churchill.  A third Gretchen Rubin recommendation. I read this long ago just after Churchill died, but somehow became separated from my original copy.  Since Gretchen recommended it, I bought it again, to see what she thought was so special about it.  Haven’t yet re-read it.

18. Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell.  A purchase driven by having seen and enjoyed the movie made of the book on Netflix. Wanted more. After a few pages, the book itself proved too much more.  Maybe I’ll do better with it another time.

19. Elizabeth Gaskell, by Jenny Uglow.  Biography of the author. Don’t say I’m not thorough when I decide to look into something.

20. Works on Paper, The Craft of Biography and Autobiography, by Michael Holroyd.  I liked both parts of his own autobiography.  This one is a collection of short pieces on a subject in which I am interested.  Perhaps it will teach me something more about how to write about myself? (Which, as you can’t help but notice, I do quite a bit of.)  We’ll find out if I ever get around to reading it.

21. Less Than One, Selected Essays, by Joseph Brodsky. From Bill.  Too important to give back.  Too gloomy to take to the bathroom.  Dilemma.  Windowsill.

22. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, by Alan Jacobs.  Also from Bill.  I do like the title.  And it’s a very slender book.  So it’s a keeper. For now.

23. Gulag, A History, by Anne Applebaum.  The Gulag was, of course, the vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners, and part of the system of repression and punishment that terrorized an entire society. This book about it, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was so highly praised we bought it twice.  I bought it for Bill as a surprise, and Bill bought it for Bill before my surprise arrived.  So then he had two copies, and guess who got the other one. I do not dispute its merit.  “The most authoritative — and comprehensive — account of this Soviet blight ever published by a Western writer.” (Newsweek)  “A titanic achievement: learned and moving and profound….No reader will easily forget Applebaum’s vivid accounts of the horrible human suffering of the Gulag.”  (National Review) “Lucid, painstakingly detailed, never sensational, it should have a place on every educated reader’s shelves.” (Los Angeles Times)  I modestly admit I am an educated reader, and now the book does have a place on my shelves.  But the thing is, I don’t want to read vivid accounts of horrible human suffering.  It’s bad enough to know such suffering existed.  Must I?  I suppose I must.  Just not yet, please….

24. Hermit in Paris, by Italo Calvino.  A third from Bill. Probably not long for the windowsill.  Flipping through it one day, I discovered a snippy bit about my alma mater.  This classy author was arch and snide about Sarah Lawrence College?  No, Italo, no!  I can be arch and snide if I want, but you can’t. I’m a graduate, you were a guest. If you keep this up the next time I flip your pages, back to Bill you go!

25. Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature’s Hidden Classics.  Bill can’t stop.  Why does he keep doing this to me?  Doesn’t he think I have enough to read?  On the other hand, this one is easy to tuck into a large handbag for reading away from home.  Interesting short pieces by writers I have heard of (like John Updike, Susan Sontag, Francine Prose, Toni Morrison, Lydia Davis, Elizabeth Hardwick) about writers I’ve never heard of that the known-to-me writers consider “hidden classics.”  Why not?  Let it stay.  It might come in handy sometime.

26-28.  Portrait of A Lady;The Wings of the Dove;The Golden Bowl, all by Henry James.  I once audited a course at Princeton on the novels of Henry James and William Faulkner because these two authors, who are each in his own way difficult, represented yawning gaps in my reading experience. In the course, we had time only to read James’s Daisy Miller, The American, The Ambassadors, The Turn of the Screw and four or five of the short stories.  Unfortunately, I tend to become overenthusiastic about whatever I do while I’m doing it, although the glow often fades fast afterwards.  So it was with James.  Wings and Bowl are two of the late difficult novels we didn’t cover in class that I just had to have, and Portrait is too well known not to have read.  I was certainly going to attend to all three of them when the semester was over. That was nearly three years ago.

29-32. Go Down Moses; Light in August; Absalom, Absalom; Selected Short Stories, all by William Faulkner. For an explanation of why these are in my home, see 26-28 above.  Different author, but same Princeton course, same initial enthusiasm, same result.  Shelved, until further notice.

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In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that I’m omitting discussion of the titles on my iPad, whether from Kindle or iBook, because this post is now far too long as it is, and I can’t believe anyone could possibly still be sufficiently interested in it to scroll down any further.

I am also not mentioning James Joyce’s Ulysses, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (other than Swann’s Way), Dante’s Inferno and the Shakespeare plays I haven’t yet read, all of which I hope I will read before I die — because I’ve owned copies of them for far longer than three years and if we begin examining my entire library, we will not be done for a very long time.  Enough is enough.  Even for me.

Out of the confessional and on to something else.  Any suggestions?