Catherine says when Eric came to interview her for We Wanted To Be Writers, she didn’t give him any titles for Books by the Bed. “My reading at that time was entirely devoted to dharma study, and I didn’t think those books, wonderful as they are, were quite what this feature was meant to be about. But a few things I’ve been reading lately move me finally to step up and offer a few words.”
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon: It’s no longer by the bed because I loaned it to someone to read. I loved this book. It was so satisfying to read a novel so well written, so warm, so intimate with and respectful of its characters, so wise, so mature, so full of life and darkness and heart. I had just before read A Visit From the Goon Squad, which was a good read, timely and smart, even made me cry somewhere along the way, but on some level, it felt kind of like watching well done, intelligent television—and I can be an addict of well done television, don’t get me wrong—but what was the literary appreciation about? I didn’t get it, and I felt kind of helplessly, hopelessly out of the cultural loop, even over the hill. Perhaps I exaggerate. After all, my taste has always been a little, or a lot, out of synch. But then I picked up Lord of Misrule. I hesitate to use the word redemption, but there it is. A long shot that became a winner. And full of love.
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben: Irreversible climate change is already happening – does this surprise anyone? Bill McKibben’s account, already a year out of date, makes the case so clearly, I recommend it as a must read. McKibben’s perspective is global and his argument is that we already live on an altered planet, no longer the earth we’re accustomed to (hence the gimmicky nod to renaming, Eaarth with two A’s)—that no matter what we do now to respond we will not be able to do business or culture or politics as they have been done until now. But this possibly depressing news is only the first half of the book.
The second demonstrates with example after example the capacity of people joining together locally in work (and protest and play) to create resilient and sustainable ways of living that respond to the change. I found the book’s tone occasionally a little glib and snarky, but only occasionally and only a little, not nearly so much as to undermine the informed, wise and inspiring insight offered.
And relating this book to the ongoing conversation around writer as public figure, I can only point to McKibben as a writer who fully takes that responsibility on.
Chroma by Derek Jarman: A tale from the fuddling, failing side of memory—collecting my stored boxes of books, left behind in Pittsburgh during my ten years in California, sorting, deciding what to keep and what to pass along, I come to Chroma. I remember it, but vaguely. I read around in it, I think, but not cover to cover. I will pass it on, but in particular—it is right for my daughter, a filmmaker, Heather von Rohr, or my friend the painter Deborah Morris. I email them together, would one of them like it? My daughter loved that book and has it in storage and says if Deborah doesn’t want it she’ll take it and give it to someone. Hmm. Heather, I write, could this copy be yours? No, she’s sure it’s stored. But maybe she gave it to me? Oh, yes. I think she’s right. I’m not sure that this confusion can be appreciated if your own memory is not beginning to lose itself this way. But by now I’m deep in the colors, Jarman’s haunting mix of memoir and meditations on color, a slim assemblage of brief quotations, contemplations, and personal stories, written as he was dying, profoundly simple, straightforward, and formally inspiring. One short little chapter each night. When I finish, it goes to Deborah.
There Is No Year by Blake Butler: Butler is new to me. I don’t know how long he’s been a star or how widely he is read, especially among my Workshop generation. I recently discovered him during a short stay in Provincetown, browsing the wealth of literary magazines in the fellows lounge at the FAWC. His words stood out from the pages, the rhythms and tones. Now this. This novel is a mystery. Old-fashioned, I wish it were printed on plain white paper, instead of on gray. The words are enough, and the gray is discouraging to aging eyes. Maybe the aging aren’t meant to read this book. But try, old eyes and all. I haven’t finished, have yet to see where the journey is going. But it goes, and there is magic in it, compelling and strange.