In the latest in the series of intellectual faux pas I call my “body of work,” I recently declared that I was going to wait to read the HAWT BUUK OF THE MOMENT, Freedom, by Jonathon Franzen. This was not out of animus for the man himself, or any sort of priggishness toward everyone who is currently reading and enjoying it. Most of my reasons are easy to understand: I am not interested in paying full price for it. I am reading a lot of things at the moment. But most of all, I don’t want to read what everyone else is reading. This may be the inherent danger of being an intelligent, self-aware person rearing its head, namely, that you will invent elaborate personal fictions to justify and explain rather uncomplicated personality flaws, but I’m convinced this isn’t just that old teenager, I’m an INDIVIDUALLLLL, LOOK OUT WORLD, GARLAND IS HERE! thing I did when I was still in high school. I dyed my hair black, I made a ‘zine, I traversed the hidden landscapes of my own emotional and personal fortitude.
There was a lot of Fiona Apple.
But I got over it. I realized that rather than trying to be the weirdest person who ever lived I should write until what I wrote couldn’t be denied. Until people would look at these things and would see a seamless artistry, that all of my choices would be the right ones - that I would not longer go to the ocean looking for inspiration because I would be ocean enough!!! This! This is what I do that makes me happy! This is my love!
“But Garland, if you are living this solitary life of the mind, shining metaphorical lighthouses across the walls of your internal caverns and wrestling demons in the murk, how will you meet your other needs?” they cry.
Are you kidding me? Everybody wants to fuck a writer.
I’m not saying I am above book buzz, I’m not. I’ve never been in position to do anything but notice it. When I was in college, I had no money. So I bought books at half their cover price, usually paperbacks that had originally sold for 50 cents, classics in inferior translations, books on the free cart, the quarter cart, books no one else believed in but me. I read Celine’s “Voyage au bout de la nuit” in a terrible translation, the front cover done up like a working man’s bodice ripper, sitting on a hot cement stadium ramp at the stadium,because it was football season and I stocked the trailers. I was getting paid NOTHING. Pittance. Barely kept me ALIVE. I never learned to traipse over to Barnes for the HAWT BUUK OF THE MOMENT. I had the University Library, but the University Library System is a harsh mistress. Faculty would check out books I wanted to read and use their powers of infinite renewal to keep them for months, books would go missing - 8 floors of books and a staff composed mostly of students? There were fuck ups. Like the time they tried to tell me a book that was in the stacks had never been returned by me. Honestly, get it together, crew.
I certainly mean no offense to any Franziens out there. Ahem. I’m sure he’s just tits. I bet you’re all line-trawlin’ for quotes to slap up on your little “literary musings” blogs, like, “Oh, yes, I have it already, I am awash in disposable income and precious book quotes.” Well I’m poor and I read mostly things I bought at consignment stores. Which, I mean, you all look like suckers to me. SOMETIMES. The second-hand book market in this country is so solid, I’d enjoy it while you can.
Freedom will still be as revelatory in a year. I’m not in the mood for fiction right now. Right now I’m reading a lot of essays, Aldous Huxley’s essays, trying to find something. I cannot seem to give a shit about phantoms. After essays, I’ll be climbing through science books all winter. So I’m going to wait to read it until I am in the proper head space to appreciate it.
I don’t judge you for reading it, I wish I had the money to buy it hot off the press. I wish I had little quotes I liked from it, before too long has passed and talking about Franzen’s new book is far too gauche. But, hey, we’re adults now. There is no syllabus. We don’t have to all read the same thing at the same time. We’re meant to stumble around on our own, thousands of books to choose from, and start furnishing our interior life of the mind - picking Kafka for depth and dread, Atwood for Femininity, Baker for precision, Wallace for street credibility, Hesse for stalwartness of spirit and German vigor, Morrison for perfect sentences and broken hearts that just keep beating, Dostoyevsky for all the sad frozen people passing in and out of carriages, Burroughs for morbid kink, Pynchon for good measure, DeLillo for Pynchon, Sedaris because everyone else is, Palahniuk because all of the dudes do, Borges to pack your dreams, and Brautigan because you grew up in the South and wanted to impress your Dad - FOR EXAMPLE.
When I read Junot Diaz last summer, I read all of the reviews right after. I did not need to read it when it came out. I may just read a decade back for the rest of my life, weed out all the so-so novels that had good PR and word-of-mouth but weren’t ABOUT anything, the ones that don’t show up on any decade wrap-ups.
YESSSSSS. Filter my choices for me, ravages of time!
I mean, I never finished his first one. WHAT??? There’s some syrup up there in the hundreds that makes it hard to finish. Too much damn syrup in novels these days.