14 January, 2012

Across the Divide

When I'm deep in a visiting room conversation, seated at one of those little wooden coffee tables, my eyes dart and wander. Some say it makes me look dodgy, but my eyes always roam when I'm speaking. It's like there's a flowchart of my thoughts being projected over the world — a dynamic script for me to read and follow from point to point — and only when I've fixed on one idea do they come to rest on anything at length. And I do mean anything; it's gotten me into trouble here a couple of times. On visits, though, I sometimes end up staring at a person.

I have become pretty adept at noticing when someone locks sights with me through the flowchart. Their face comes into focus, then, like a whale breaching from the deep: eyes, nose, mouth, and all the components that resolve into a collective. A person. A consciousness separate (which never stops amazing me) from my own. I remind myself to look away — preferrably at my visitor, lest she or he mistakenly doubt my level of involvement in our exchange — even though my thoughts have synched in that instant with a total stranger's, rendering all that mess about lacking Theory of Mind momentarily meaningless... even if the shared thoughts is Quit staring at me, jerk.

02 January, 2012

The List: Reading Versus Writing, in 2011

All right, so the year wasn't entirely a protracted struggle between my desire to read well and my insistence on finishing work on my memoir... that was just the first three quarters. I did well to keep my subscriptions from piling up, unread, while sweating to complete that final draft. Undertaking much long-form reading was out of the question. After squaring the page corners on my manuscript, however, it was time to make up for nine months' moderation.

Some very nice people, known and unknown, ordered me titles from my wish list. Big thank-yous to Debbie D., John and Lynn, long-lost Andrew, Bridget S., my dearest Mum, Christine L., Greg W., Javier G., the Pixie, Tom at Prospero's, pseudonymous Amy, Brooklyn Matt, the nice-and-timely folk of the Claremont Forum, Allison H., the incomparable Quimby's, the Rainbow Bookstore in Madison, not-in-the-industry Valerie, Rose T., and the many anonymous others. I'm grateful not only for the books but the privilege to avoid the increasingly depressing Crossroads library for weeks at a stretch. I doubt the malevolent head librarian misses my patronage; a mere six of the books I devoured in 2011 came off her shelves.

In traditional chronological order, they and all the rest follow.

* * * * *

Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Albert Camus (Matthew Ward, translator), The Stranger

Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style

Chuck Klostermann, Eating the Dinosaur

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Ray Bradbury, The Cat's Pajamas: Stories

Leonard Cohen, Book of Longing (poetry)

Kevin Wilson, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories

Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes (editors), Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance

Randolph B. Marcy, The Prairie Traveler

Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

Joyce Carol Oates (editor), The Oxford Book of American Short Stories

Hermann Hesse (Joachim Neugroschel, translator), Siddhartha

Neal Stephenson, Anathem

John Brockman (editor), This Will Change Everything: Ideas That will Shape the Future

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine

Herman Melville, "Bartleby"; and, "Benito Cereno"

Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, My Lobotomy: A Memoir

China Miéville, The City & The City

Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, PhD, What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People

Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

Alan Heathcock, Volt: Stories

Zachary Mason, The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

William Golding, Darkness Visible

Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Franz Kafka (Nahum N. Glatzer, editor), The Complete Stories

Arthur Miller, The Crucible

Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife

John Elder Robison, Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers

Victor Hugo (Catherine Liu, translator), The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

Jorge Luis Borges (Andrew Hurley, translator), Collected Fictions

Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

William Gibson, Virtual Light

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age