all the books i read in barcelona

In Barcelona I tried hard not to think too hard about anything and mostly it worked.

Beers in the early afternoon and long walks around the old city and every day was sunny and warm enough in the afternoon for an hour or so to take your coat off and sit in the clear quiet light. The only things I can say in Spanish are “please” and “thank you” and “I have to pee” and so I did a lot of pointing. After eight days in Barcelona I can also say “ham sandwich” and “fried peppers.” Next on my list of things to do is learn Spanish but it is a useful and disorienting and humbling experience for someone whose whole life is language to spend time in a new place without the ability to speak.

My boyfriend left a chapbook on my pillow every morning in Barcelona, which is a very romantic thing to do if you are dating a writer who also publishes chapbooks, or a reader, or dating anyone at all really, and I have been thinking about different ways of writing about what I read. Reviewing books is one way of meeting them on their own terms but the labor of a review is a certain kind of work I do not always feel like performing, because the way I read most of the time is out of selfishness. I do not believe that it is possible to write objectively about anything at all but a review should at least move toward the book instead of lie about eating chocolate and wondering whether it is too early to drink another beer. A review should ask what a book is doing in relation to its own ambitions and when I write about books I like to ask what the book is doing in relation to myself. I read books that do not ask much of me when I am sad and books that make me work harder when I am happy, or chipping away at something of my own, or on the days I take the train an hour and a half each way to my day job as a way of saying Here is work I did for myself instead of other people. And as it turns out the chapbook is a perfect form for someone struggling to navigate a city in which she cannot even manage to utter a sentence, in which she is eternally lost; a city for which she did not even think to bring a map. This kind of thinking, this kind of travel: something that is focused and sharp but also ephemeral and easy to carry.

My boyfriend left me two Ker-Bloom! zines without having any idea that I’ve read that zine off and on for years. The woman who makes it has a child now and has left one city and moved back again and everybody is getting older but still also doing what they love and that’s reassuring. Here we are, trucking along, making things. Also: May-Lan Tan’s Girly , which is published by Future Tense, a press you should be paying attention to because they also put out Chelsea Hodson’s chapbook Pity the Animal, which is brilliant, and Wendy Ortiz’s memoir Excavation, which is brilliant too, and Girly was so good that as soon as I finished it I ordered her book even though it has to come from England and the postage is expensive and I have about four hundred books at home I am supposed to read first. Also: Bhanu Kapil’s Treinte Ban (A+ boyfriend, I know) which I read twice in a row and is about a lot of things but one of them is about writing a thing that does not want to be written and for which there is not yet an adequate form, and lucky me the book I am writing now is a thing like that, which is not a thing I would have picked to write had I known in advance but if it was easy it wouldn’t be art. It might not be art anyway but I am trying to be optimistic.

We found La Central by accident, which you think at first is just a little design-y bookshop and then turns out to unfold in a vast extraordinary maze, one room after another and then more floors and more rooms and more and more and more, like the kind of bookstores that happen sometimes in your dreams. I bought Susan Sontag’s Illness As Metaphor there because I am also chipping away at an essay about vampires and cancer and I had a feeling that Susan Sontag would be a lot smarter than I am about cancer, and I turned out to be right, but that’s okay. Also Juliet Escoria’s Black Cloud, which is bleak and precise and great if you like fucked-up stories about fucked-up girls doing fucked-up things, which I do.

I brought The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath with me from home and read a little bit of that too and found the magnificent pretentiousness of the adolescent Sylvia Plath a little too close for comfort, considering the last time I read the unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath I was myself barely no longer adolescent and felt deeply that she had spoken the very language of my core. And I also brought with me The Light of Truth, a collection of the writing of Ida B. Wells, which is fierce and beautiful and depressingly as relevant now as it was when it was written. I meant to read more on the plane ride home but I watched a lot of terrible movies instead. That one about the little boys running around in a maze in henleys and the one where Tom Cruise keeps dying and one more that was so bad I don’t even remember it at all, and now I am home and can talk again, but I still don’t feel much like thinking.