Random Bullets

·    I hardly ever do bullet points – you know concision is not my greatest suit, and they seem to have made the formatting go crazy. But I’m really tired in a brain-dead sort of way. It’s been a busy and demanding couple of weeks and whilst I have things to say, they are mostly incoherent.

·    For instance, I saw a blog post (and can’t even remember where) about what prompts readers to buy books. The blogger wrote that the less she knew the better. A few lines of appealing premise or a strong recommendation were more powerful than a detailed account of a novel. She put this down to a divining instinct for passion, but I would put it down to the romance of the imagination. It’s like relationships – the more you know about a person, the more reasons you have not to become involved with them. These days what makes me buy a book is a combination of the storyline and the style of writing; I’ve come to recognize the kinds I like and a quick read of a paragraph or so in the store is generally revealing. I also have stretches where I like to take a punt on an author I’ve never heard of before, particularly when recommended by a friend, virtual or real. And I like to read some of the prize winning books, but rarely at the time when the prize is awarded.

·    I keep meaning to tell you that I met Gabriel Josipovici, finally, at a party a couple of weeks ago. I hardly ever go to parties, but it was thrown by a friend in the English department who I like very much and who has long wanted to engineer a meeting between us. So I made a special effort. Gabriel was completely charming, as you may imagine, and managed to add substantially to my tbr list in the half hour or so we spent chatting, as well as telling me all kinds of wonderful literary stories. He was so clearly someone who has devoted his life to writing and teaching. My husband asked me what he was like afterwards, and the best I could say was that he was like the condensed spirit of literature.

·    I was sent a copy of Mary Beard’s book It’s A Don’s Life, one of the first true crossover blog books. It’s a selection of posts from her long-running blog, which is regularly featured in The Times newspaper. Interestingly, someone made the decision to include (selected, I think) comments. They sound to me like the questions you have to field at academic conferences – all concerned with intellectual one-upmanship, often tangential, always revealing more about the questioner’s prejudices than the content of the speech. I felt very glad to have such a wonderful audience here at the Reading Room, who never, ever let their egos get in the way of a discussion. It’s a hard book to write about, not least because I didn’t love it when I would have liked to. I’m thinking a lot about the differences between reading on screen and on the page, the particularities of the genre of blogging and what makes a good compilation book.

·    I’m also struggling with another review book, and a real disappointment as it sounded fantastic in principle. It’s called The Invisible City by Emili Rosales and is one of those split narratives that intertwine past and present. The main character is an architect who stumbled as a child across the remnants of a lost city. One day he is sent, out of the blue, information about the city that leads him on a quest to discover what happened to it. The other strand of narrative is the contents of the manuscript that tell the story of the city’s creation. I am finding the narrative very hard to follow, and don’t know whether it’s the fault of the translation, or a kind of generic difficulty for me with Spanish texts. I have had trouble with all the Spanish writers I’ve ever read; I find their work tends towards incoherence and is always a little overblown. Latin America, I have no problem. But Spain, and the lacunae and skips and hops in the story have me all confused.

·    A little while back, I gave my first literary supervision in about five years. I felt extremely nervous and realized I had fallen completely out of practice. I simply couldn’t remember the vocabulary; the way I used to ask questions or the way I used to explain things and express myself. You’d think all these years of blogging about books might have kept me in touch with book-speak. But academic discourse is such a particular thing. It alarms me how quickly I forget; other people seem able to spread themselves over all kinds of different competencies, but I’m only able to do the one thing I am currently practicing doing.

·    I’m about to embark on a long, momentous campaign to update and improve teaching practices across the board in my college. Educationally, there is absolutely nothing to dislike, but this is going to be a long, hard battle of diplomacy. Telling teachers we could be teaching better is always taken as a personal insult, even though it is by no means intended that way. I’ve been meeting with the development director, who is the man who might be able to get hold of some cash to ease the proposals through. A colleague had told me he was tall, dark and handsome and I said ‘great!’ not believing a word of it. But guess what – he is most certainly those things. And yesterday he was wearing a lovely black velvet jacket. As I said goodbye to him and we shook hands just outside his doorway, I was startled to suddenly see my own dear husband crossing the courtyard, on his way to a different meeting. I would have believed it was a hallucination, but no, it really was him. Later on, I told him all about the handsome development director, and then his unexpected appearance and he said to me, ‘That money I paid the white witch all those years ago was well worth it.’

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25 thoughts on “Random Bullets

  1. Your husband is delightful! The king of off-the-cuff comments.

    I am having a Jospipovici fan-girl moment here, on your behalf. Gasp. You met him! How thrilling, and how extra-thrilling that he was nice and interesting as well.

  2. My brain is often mush, but I don’t have your good excuse! :) I am struggling a bit with the Rosales book as well. I love the premise, but the writing or way he’s telling the story is very dense and I find myself easily distracted. I set the book down to finish a few others and when I went back to it found I had completely lost the thread. Usually I can pick things back up fairly easily once I start reading again, but this time I had to go back to the beginning and start over again. The bad thing is I’ve set it down again. I’ve read a few other Spanish authors thhis year and enjoyed them without this difficulty, but something isn’t quite clicking as it should. And how exciting to have met Gabriel Josipovici! Are you going to share the list of titles he recommended to you?

  3. I know what you mean about the academic comments: my husband has described the back and forth cutting that occurs in academic journals. On another note, I admire the way you think so diligently and with integrity about the books you’re going to review.

  4. Your husband seems like the kind of person who has ‘mysterious connections’ (from what I’ve heard about him here anyway). Do you have any draws that don’t open? They might contain devilish contracts ;)
    How exciting that you’re involved in such a big project of positive reformation, as long as it all stays civil I bet it will be something you can always be proud of.

    Oh and on the blog crossover book I really want to hear your thoughts about going from screen to page (especially as you have previously created your own essay collection). I can’t think of anything more terrifying that someone saying, now we want to put your comments on this post into a book where people will actually read them. Sometime I comment at 11:30 at night, nothing good can come of that!

  5. Oh dear Litlove, you are far from incoherent. Incoherence is babbling and nonsensical, I don’t think you are capable. Perhaps your difficulty is that you just had so many disparate things to talk about that bullet points worked out best? :)

    I’m with Charlotte in having a fan-girl moment over you meeting Josipovici. If I had been at the party with you you would have seen real incoherence in action as I am certain I would have morphed into the likes of a 13-year-old girl at her favorite boy band concert. Please, please share the titles of the books he mentioned.

    And your husband has once again displayed his delightful sense of humor. I hope all our admiring comments don’t go to his head. But then you have a wicked sense of humor yourself and I have no doubt you can bring his head back down to size should it get too big :)

  6. I agree about choosing a book based on storyline and style. Though I read fairly eclectically, the prose is crucial to whether I’ll enjoy the book, and I can tell that in a paragraph.

    What should I read by Josipovici?

  7. I loved your bullet point post today…reminds me of my brain this late Friday afternoon, dodging all over the place. Actually, my brain does that most days, I think.

    How absolutely thrilling to meet Mr. Jospipovici, for I know he is one of your all time favorites. I think I would have been so tongue tied I couldn’t speak.

    Good luck with your new undertaking. It does sound rather daunting, but I’m glad you have the handsome man in the blue jacket to make it a bit more bearable.

  8. Litlove, hello. I join the choir of those voicing their pleasure and genial envy at your meeting with Josipovici. I trust he had the good taste to enjoy your company also.

    You write about how some blogger chooses books, and what makes some books leap out. I generally like hearing how a story is told, what the sentences are like, if there is something operating that stands out. Structures and hard work that comes off looking easy are also attractive, as are long books. While I disagree a lot with William Gass, here’s something he says that summarizes something for me about books: “Story is what can be taken out of the fiction and made into a movie. Story is what you tell people when they embarrass you by asking what your novel is about.” (“Finding a Form,” in _Finding a Form_.) That’s not offered in an argumentative way, natch, just as a perspective.

    Reviews that detail everything about a book – and that usually means recapitulating the plot – make me stay away from the book. Negative reviews can tell me more than advertisements – ah, _positive_ reviews – do. Like you, trying an unknown is sometimes fun. Books that win prizes I don’t usually read, partly because I figure that someone will tell me about the thing (therefore allowing me time to read someone else), and partly because the writers I like don’t often win (or never do) prizes.

    Your husband’s remark was quick and humourous.

  9. Oh, that Mr. Litlove. What will he say next? Perfect riposte! And you can add me to the list of Josipovici fan-girls–”the condensed spirit of literature.” Give us more! Also more on the book/blog book-blog question; very interesting. Have blogs changed books? Nothing random here. Just great jumping-off points for more wonderful litlove discussions. Thank you.

  10. The condensed spirit of literature! Good heavens, even I am swooning. It seems that perhaps Mr. Litlove’s curiously fateful appearance would have been better timed to coincide with that meeting rather than the one with the velvet-jacketed rake. Perhaps he made his payment merely to a mischievous sprite pretending to be a white witch.

  11. So much to respond to here. How wonderful to meet Josipovici! Perhaps some of the books on your TBR list as a result of the conversation you could share? It sounds like a wonderful and difficult project to work on improving teaching practices. Having sat through some awfully tense department meetings, I know just how resistant to change faculty members can be (resistant to change, and to staying the same, and to absolutely everything. They would even be resistant to a pay raise, I sometimes think). But the work sounds really valuable and will help the students a lot.

  12. Well I can’t be a fan-girl but I am so happy that you finally met Mr Josipovici. I suppose it’s too much to hope that he will write you into one of his books. No, that would be a teenage girl (or boy) fancy. He’s definitely on my TBR list now. Good for you for embracing the bullets. And good luck with taking on the educational establishment. A charm offensive with the dapper development director sounds just the thing ;-)

  13. I am quite certain Mr. Litlove is head and shoulders more handsome and more charming than the new development director. I would, however, be willing to volunteer to meet with the handsome new development director in the black velvet jacket just in case you get too busy!! It’s a sacrafice I am willing to make for a friend.

  14. So sorry to be slow replying to comments, blogging friends! I’ve been feeling a bit rough. Endometriosis, for those of you who know what that is.

    Charlotte – Oh thank you – I will pass the kind words onto the man himself and he will be charmed. And GJ was indeed a sweetie – I am so glad I actually managed to find some conversation with him and avoided falling into the same star-struck coma that claimed me when I met Julian Barnes!

    Danielle – I am so relieved you said that about the Rosales! I was afraid it was just me. Now I am inclined to think it is him. ;) It was exciting to meet Gabriel! He recommend Agota Kristof to me and the criticism of Wayne Booth. He also recommended another fiction writer (about the Holocaust) but I must have misremembered his name as I can’t track him down at all!

    Lilian – it IS a particular form of expression, and I am shamed by how quickly I’ve fallen out of practice! But thank you for your kind words – I always think a great deal about any book I want to review. After all the work put into the writing of it, it’s the least I can do, I figure!

    Doctordi – he makes me laugh a lot, too. :)

    Squirrel! How lovely to hear from you and apologies for not getting across to visit you sooner. I am shamefully bad at blog housekeeping, but will try very hard to remember to update my blogroll!

    Jodie – lol! But I love your comments, whenever they are written! It’s an intriguing transition though, this blog to book thing, and when I put my book of essays together, my husband and I were thinking of trying our hand at being publishers on just that field. So I do keep worrying away at it. You are quite right that keeping the academic development changes civil will be the major obstacle. I’m quite diplomatic, but I do get frustrated, so will have to work at my patience! And I am going around checking all the drawers in the house – you are quite right that you can’t be too careful. ;)

    Stefanie – oh bless you. And I am laughing at the comment about my being able to keep Mr Litlove in shape. I do my humble best. ;) GJ was a sweetie and it was very exciting to meet him. He recommended I read Agota Kristof (who has a trilogy out – middle European historical novels, recent history I think) and the criticism of Wayne Booth. And he mentioned another author Dan Appelbaum, I thought, who is a Holocaust writer but I can’t track him down so I must have got that wrong. Duh!

    Jenny – I agree, prose is crucial. As for GJ, I started with Everything Passes, more of a novella than a novel, at 60-something pages. But after than, or even before, I’d recommend In a Hotel Garden. I just loved that one.

  15. Becca – the bullet points were quite fun, although they have come out teeny weeny on the post for some reason. I did manage to keep my cool with GJ, which was a relief, after I lost the power of speech with Julian Barnes! And indeed, eye candy at work is a delight. Alas, we won’t see each other face to face much, but it is always nice to work with charming colleagues! :)

    JB – it is always good to hear how you make your reading choices! I think there is always something that draws us to some books rather than others, and you have some fine criteria there. And a wonderful quotation from Gass. It was great to meet GJ finally, and I do hope very much that he liked me!

    ds – aw thank you! GJ was a delight, as is Mr Litlove (but I don’t tell him too often in case his head swells :) ). The blog to book question is one that interests me a lot, so I will certainly post on it shortly.

    David – lol! I’ll make the suggestion as it’s not good for him to become complacent. :)

    Dorothy – oh you are so right, my friend, about change in academia!! That’s exactly how it is – bunker mentality all round. GJ was a sweetie, and he recommended I read Agota Kristof and Wayne Booth. He also recommended another Holocaust writer, whose name I must have got wrong. I thought he said Daniel Appelbaum, but I can’t track him down if so. Duh!

    Pete – I like the idea of a charm offensive! And embracing bullets was fun (even if my bullets are pygmy bullets for some strange reason). GJ was a delight, and how wonderful would that be to find yourself written into one of his novels! I’d like to put in an appearance in one of his party scenes – that would be so cool. :)

    Grad – lol! I am overcome by your nobility here! Mr Litlove is indeed by far the more handsome of the two (but I say that quietly as I don’t want his head to swell) and I promise that if the opportunity arises, I’ll crate the DD and post him over to you. :)

  16. Richard – I noticed that you and Steve have both written brilliantly about Everything Passes just recently. The more mentions of GJ, the better. He was thrilled and touched that the blogworld should have taken up his books when he doesn’t get much mainstream attention (for reasons I cannot fathom!).

  17. LL, I think if you write your post first in word then the bullets are less tiny. (Not that it really matters but I suppose there’s something assertive about a bigger bullet.)

  18. Thanks, litlove. I could probably devote my entire blog to just discussing Josipovici’s work! Indeed, his entry into my reading life more or less changed everything.

    (BTW, it wasn’t Aharon Appelfeld he recommended, was it?)

  19. I forgot to make one other point: supporting libraries does support the publishing industry. Libraries buy more books than any individual could ever buy, and, unlike bookstores, which return unsold books to publishers, they do not return them to publishers once they’ve bought them. Library budgets are based on circulation numbers and use, so the more people use them, the more money they have to spend on books, and if libraries don’t get money and have to close branches, the impact on the publishing industry is far greater than if an individual person stops buying books. Therefore, the best thing to do is to check out five library books for every one you buy (and it doesn’t matter at all whether you read them).

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