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Can someone please tell me which church this is?

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Thirteen things I've been thinking since “Why read a book (let alone write one)”...

...by Tessa McWatt, over at Bookanista.  (Note: Tessa is one half of the awesome teaching team that runs my Master's programme in Writing at the University of East London.)


About the idea of co-creation.  That reading a good book, just like watching a good movie, or listening to good music, is a shared creative enterprise between the creator and the ‘consumer’ (blech—can we have a better word please?).  That this kind of entertainment (and ‘entertainment’ is my word, not Tessa's, but you'll see in a minute why I use it) is not a passive act, a thing we consume like a bag of potato chips (betcha can't eat just one), but an active process in which the ‘primary’ creator and that other creator — the reader/watcher/listener — come together to make meaning.


About that bit, from Michael Chabon's first essay in Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands:

The original sense of the word ‘entertainment’ is a lovely one of mutual support through intertwining, like a pair of trees grown together, interwoven, each sustaining and bearing up the other.  It suggests a kind of midair transfer of strength, contact across a void, like the tangling of cable and steel between two lonely bridgeheads.

A few lines later, he delivers on another aspect of what Tessa was getting at:

The other taint is that of passivity.  At some point in its history, the idea of entertainment lost its sense of mutuality, of exchange.  One entertains or is entertained, is the actor or the fan.  As with all one-way relationships, grave imbalances accrue.  The entertainer balloons with a dangerous need for approval, validation, love, and box office; while the one entertained sinks into a passive spectatorship, vacantly munching great big salty handfuls right from the foil bag.


Yet entertainment—as I define it, pleasure and all—remains the only sure means we have of bridging, or at least feeling as if we have bridged, the gulf of consciousness that separates each of us from everybody else.  The best response to those who would cheapen and exploit it is not to disparage or repudiate but to reclaim entertainment as a job fit for artists and for audiences, a two-way exchange of attention, experience, and the universal hunger for connection.


About how many times I have tried to read that Will Self piece in the Guardian (when it first came out, when I found that Tessa had mentioned it, a few times in between) — and failed.


About how often Self uses the phrase “put paid to” (among other things).


About how his Groucho Marx / Amazon connection is spurious.


About how I should get over Will Self alright already.


About how maybe the book is not dead?


About how, while reading Tessa's essay, I wondered who China Miéville was.  So I went looking, and wound up at his blog.  Which meant I found this quote:

“You have to identify those neighborhoods where you want to concentrate your population,” said Chris Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer.  “We’re not going to light distressed areas like we light other areas.”
  (So far I like China Miéville.  Chris Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer, not so much.)

Which also meant I discovered the meaning of rejectamenta.

Which in turn meant (because the Dictionary.com page had all sorts of teasers that for me are like those kinky callouts on a Cosmo cover — I cannot resist) I found out What Character Was Removed from the Alphabet, and that:

Roman scribes wrote in cursive, so when they wrote the Latin word et which means “and” they linked the e and t.  Over time the combined letters came to signify the word “and” in English as well.

And that:

When a word comes about from a mistaken pronunciation, it’s called a mondegreen.
  (A mondegreen!  How lovely is that?)

And finally, that:

...the Dothraki language has no word for “thank you.”
  (Never mind that I had no idea what the Dothraki language was in the first place.)

All of which is to say, very (and fittingly) convolutedly, that when Tessa says:

But while some studies say that young people are reading more, others confirm that screens encourage skipping of content, lack of concentration (even now I’m tempted to look at the email that just came through on the top right-hand of my screen, and when I am reading an e-Book I end up lost in dictionary meanings and links to Google that send me off on tangents, away from the intimate message of the book’s universe).



About empathy and about my brother, secure in his conviction that I — or anyone else he loves (let alone doesn't) — could not possibly have a worldview that is both different to his, and worth understanding.


About empathy and about my cousin Ali, secure in the sense of his questions.  What's the point of reading anyway?  Why would you read the book when they've made a movie?  Why do something that takes so much longer, when the end result is the same?

Ah, but the end result is not the same, my friend.  Because the end result is you.  And a you who has read is very different from a you who has not.  If only you knew how different that you would be.  Among other things, this would be a richer conversation, already.


About how at least one answer to the question “Why read a book (let alone write one)?” could come from Adam Gopnik:

...the best answer I have ever heard from a literature professor for studying literature came from a wise post-structuralist critic.  Why was he a professor of literature? “Because I have an obsessive relationship with texts.”  You choose a major, or a life, not because you see its purpose, which tends to shimmer out of sight like an oasis, but because you like its objects.  A good doctor said to me, not long ago, “You really sort of have to like assholes and ear wax to be a good general practitioner”...

While another could come from Billy Collins:

The joy in writing poetry is being down on your hands and knees with the language.  If someone carves swans and animals out of soap, that person loves soap.  And if you write, you love the language.  Writing a poem is an opportunity to get as close to the language as, pretty much, you can get.

It is a pleasure.  I have no high mission that drives me to write poetry.  It is a very hedonistic activity.  I write it for pleasure.  I go there to get pleasure.  And, if possible, to give pleasure.

And yet another could come from Annie Dillard:

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don't know. . . .  Do you like sentences?”

The writer could see the student's amazement.  Sentences?  Do I like sentences?  I am 20 years old and do I like sentences?  If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew.  I asked him how he came to be a painter.  He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”


About how, while I loved the Mohsin Hamid quote, something about the way I absorbed, consumed or digested it made me remember it quite differently later on...

This is how Tessa tells it:

Mohsin Hamid recently described the novel as the “second-largest pleasure-based data transfer that can take place between two human beings, exceeded only by sex.”  I’ll go one step further, to suggest that reading a book, at this point in our technological evolution, is to engage in radical acts: to hold, own, engage with over years if I wish, without interference — in privacy that is not afforded any other act of exchange with a stranger (even sex seems to have its accordant sex tape or voyeurs) — something potentially life-changing.

And this is how I recounted it to Andrew a couple of days later:

She mentions a quote by Mohsin Hamid — you know, the guy who wrote How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia? — he once said that reading a novel is second only to sex as the most intimate, private, and potentially powerful way in which one person can engage with and connect with another.  But she goes one step further than Hamid; she says that it's actually more intimate, more private (and therefore more powerful) than sex, because the intimacy of the sex act can be breached.  It can be watched and videotaped and so, at least in terms of the outwardly visible expression of the exchange, it can be owned, used, shared, and sold (by Amazon or Facebook or the NSA or whoever).  It can be co-opted in a way that cannot happen when you lie down with a book, to make a world with its writer.

If that isn't an example of the kind of co-creation she's talking about, the kind of shared work that goes into the making of meaning when a reader and a writer come together in a text.  Then I don't know what it is.


About this line in Tessa's paragraph:

I am at my highest level of engagement with the human mind while reading.

So am I.  And so, dear reader, are you.

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[lunedì 18 maggio 2015 ore 10:10:16] []

Dreams in the Hollow of My Skull

Most people.  That's most people.  And then the fall comes.  It comes for you first.  You before everyone, everyone else.  And so for years you are alone and ahead and beyond and there's nothing whatsoever to fucking do about this difference.  This distance.  No one else is here.

The kind of thing that takes its toll.

The year my father died, we spent April in what I'm supposed to think of as Mumbai.  It was my first time, Auri's first time.  Some other day I will tell you what he thought; it's a fun and politically incorrect story, and there were many of those stories that spring because even if it was for the second- or third-wrongest of reasons to be together, we were together.

Over years and over time,
Over smiles and over wine.

Anyway, we were in Mumbai, and we were staying at a hotel that had a cutesy kind of happy hour thing at the rooftop bar every evening.  The wine was god-awful, but the little canapés were alright, and the WiFi worked well, and so I went up often, if for no other reason than because it meant seventy-odd minutes of being me.

All in all it wasn't bad,
All in all it wasn't good,

Once it became reasonably clear that my father was no longer interested in alcohol (I guess he had other things on his mind, funny how terminal cancer, et cetera), I began suggesting he come up too, at least and anyway on the days he felt like it.  Good days.

No one tells you when its time.
There are no warnings, only signs.

There was one evening he came.  We sat across from each other, awkwardly, on uncomfortable couches that squared off against each other like snubbed colonial spinsters.  All around, big windows looked out on Bombay smog and smut.

You're not a child anymore,

They had a band that evening.  And they played As Time Goes By.  And of course.

Do you let me down?

My father asked them to play it again, or no (now I remember, that would have been too perfect), it was that they had only played one verse and chorus, before moving on to something else.  He told them to do it over and do it all.  Or maybe he told me to tell them.  I don't remember too well.  What I remember is the way he then sat back through the song, humming in that way only a father can hum in public, as his vaguely embarassed daughter sits nearby.  He was dying of cancer.  Living with cancer.  Whatever you choose to call it.

Do you make me grieve for you?

I watched him.  I stepped out like you do, and watched us — both of us thinking and talking about Casablanca, about Ingrid Bergman and Bogie and Bacall and here's lookin' at you kid.  Maybe even about When Harry Met Sally.  Points came in the melody when he got quiet.

Do I make you proud?

He looked happy, or maybe something kind of like happy but not quite.  He looked for once like he was thinking about all of it.

Do you get me now?

He said, “You know.  I'll miss this.”

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[sabato 16 maggio 2015 ore 21:04:07] []

May Monday Cryptic

Jokes about digiuno.  (“Ma come? — siamo a maggio...!”)  Jokes about a Flaubertian widower and his damn you-know-what.  Jokes to have you in stitches and it hurts to laugh this much, not even this much.   “Tu sembri magra,” so give us this day our daily minestra, our tears, and our essential oil of lavender.  “Benedetta fra le donne and benedetto il frutto tuo...”  Il mio not so much, huh?  At least and thank goodness for painted toenails.

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[lunedì 04 maggio 2015 ore 08:25:00] []

Among other things...

...for Shaggy, this month.  A line I write over and over again inside:

Because of course forget-me-nots are blue.

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[venerdì 01 maggio 2015 ore 04:05:19] []