A Crate List

January 5, 2011

I keep my books in milk crates. I do. Some of them are real milk crates that I liberated from their proper function years ago, and some of them are store bought, slightly fashionable, storage crates that have interlocking pegs to facilitate stacking. And if you run a milk delivery service, and are contemplating legal action…come on…I got most of these crates years ago, I was young and foolish, I’ve rehabilitated myself, and besides, there’s a statute of limitations on milk crate liberation.(Isn’t there?) Anyway, as it’s the season for lists—movies to see and to avoid, books to read, music to listen to, websites to sight—all good topics to make up a list about…here’s The Extrasimile Book Crate List.

What is this a list of? The top crate right next to the desk tends to have the books I’m reading now—or am thinking about reading, or just read, am pretending that soon I will start to read, have read a little of, will never get to but won’t/ can’t admit it to myself—those books.

1. Henry Adams. History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson.
I think Henry Adams is not much read these days. This volume runs to some 1200 pages. I like to dip into it now and again just for the quality of the prose.

Life was quickening within it [Harvard] as within all mankind—the spirit and vivacity of the coming age could not be wholly shut out; but none the less the college resembled a priesthood which had lost the secret of its mysteries, and patiently stood holding the flickering torch before cold alters, until God should vouchsafe a new dispensation of sunlight. Amen, Henry.

2. Bruce Duffy. The World as I Found It.
Who is Bruce Duffy? There’s not a whole lot of information out there, but he wrote The World as I Found It, a novel about G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein and it’s a good novel. Surprisingly good. Is this the worst title ever? Yes, but:

If I wrote a book called The World as I Found It, I should have to included a report of my body, and should have to say which parts were subordinate to my will and which were not, etc., this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense, there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned in that book.— Quote, the mighty Ludwig, unquote.

And here I am telling you so blithely what this book is about

3. Avital Ronell. Stupidity.
Now, let’s face it, most of us don’t need a book to tell us how to be stupid. Hey, I majored in stupidity in college. Yet, It [stupidity] may be as close as we mortals can come to a plenitude, says Professor Ronell. And even though I have my doubts about the wisdom of reifying ‘plenitude’, this is a remarkably insightful, remarkably un-stupid book. Avital Ronell is a professor at NYU. Check her out on youtube; she’s quite a good lecturer.

4. Henri Cole. Blackbird and Wolf.

This book may have the worse cover design I’ve seen in a long time. But Henri Cole is an excellent poet. Here is his Beach Walk:

I found a baby shark on the beach.
Seagulls had eaten his eyes. His throat was bleeding.
Lying on shell and sand, he looked smaller than he was.
The ocean had scraped his insides clean.
When I poked his stomach, darkness rose up in him,
like black water. Later, I saw a boy,
aroused and elated, beckoning from a dune.
Like me, he was alone. Something tumbled between us—
not quite emotion. I could see the pink
interior flesh of his eyes. “I got lost. Where am I?”
he asked, like a debt owed to death.
I was pressing my face to its spear-hafts.
We fall, we fell, we are falling. Nothing mitigates it.
The dark embryo bares its teeth and we move on.

*
No, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

5. Anne Carson. Economy of the Unlost.
The subtitle will be more help: (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan). In addition to being a first rate poet, Anne is a Greek scholar. She gives us the original Greek of Simonides and then translates it; she gives us the original German of Paul Celan and then translates it. Simonides was the smartest person in the fifth century, B.C., she tells us. Or so I have come to believe. He must have been; he actually got rich writing poetry. If you’re going to read one book about poetry this year, make it this one.

6. Robert Duncan. The H.D. Book.

If you’re going to read two books, The H.D. Book might just be a good choice.  This is Robert Duncan’s study of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and, if the first couple of chapters are any indication, his study of himself, and Ezra Pound, and anything else that crosses his mind.

When again in the eighteenth century the Western World would conquer India, the dream of Vishnu returns to infect the West…the synthesizing Romanticism was under way. And it is to this Romantic movement that Pound, H.D., and Lawrence, in the Imagist period, belonged…with its insistence on the ultimate reality of the image itself and of a cadence that corresponded to that image—what Pound called “absolute rhythm”—imagists return to Hellenic purity…

Some 700 pages; I’m working on it.

7. Kenneth Koch. The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch.

What to say about Kenneth Koch? A big fat book, a great deal of which is not worth reading, and then he hits you with—

“What is death in the circus? That depends on if it is spring.
Then if elephants are present,
mon père, we are not completely lost…”

I don’t know, there is something I like about Kenneth Koch…

8. Postmodern American Poetry.

A Norton anthology. From Charles to Charles. We start with Olson and end with Bernstein. It’s a good place to get a taste of a lot of poetry.

9.William Butler Yeats. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats.

When he gets it right, my friends, there is no one better.

10. Thomas Pynchon. Against the Day.

I’m probably never going to actually finish this book, but I do pick it up and read now and then. I wonder, should one be re-reading Gravity’s Rainbow instead? Fess up, have I really done an adequate job on either? (Oh, and Mason & Dixon…) Still, against the day…?

11. Martha Nussbaum. The Therapy of Desire.

Empty is that philosopher’s argument by which no human suffering is therapeutically treated. Martha Nussbaum’s historical and philosophical treatment of a whole tradition in philosophy that you don’t hear about much. Does love need a cure? There’s a lot material in this book on people like Epicurus (who wrote the above sentence) and Seneca. Philosophy as something you live—all in 500 or so pages. This is quite a book. Martha knows everything.

12. Javier Marias. Your Face Tomorrow. Fever and Spear.

The first volume in a trilogy. I’ve picked it up a few times, I’d like to read it, it looks interesting, but…I just can’t get into it. I promise to try at least one more time.

13. Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken.

A gift from my sister. I have to read this one; she’s going to give a quiz.

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