April Haul Pt. 1:
- “Flush” — Virginia Woolf
- “Orlando” — Virginia Woolf
(I love Virginia Woolf, and I’ve been waiting to finish these two books before I put them on my haul. I haven’t finished them — I’m only a few chapters from the ends of both. But I can’t wait any longer. I could talk about Virginia Woolf for the rest of my life, probably.)
- “Orfeu Negro” — Marcel Camus
(This is a movie, but to be honest, I’ve been watching more movies that are new to me than reading books that are new to me these days, and this is a new favorite. A friend recommended it to me after we saw the jazz duo at Caffe Strada play the soundtrack theme and now I’m hopelessly attached.)
- “Gerhard Richter” — Benjamin H.D. Buchloh
(Here’s a link to the — legally distributed — sample chapter provided by the publisher. I can’t get my hands on the book myself, but we can read this chapter together and daydream about reading the whole thing in some happy future.)
Hey there, all! I don’t know about you, but it feels like a whole century since the last update — probably because things have started to settle down a bit (guess who has a place to live next year!), and for the first time in months, I haven’t dealt with a crisis of any sort in a few days. Life has become like a biscuit — lightly honeyed and a little humdrum.
I’m breaking my own rule a little bit in this update, and talking about an author whose work I’ve read in class recently. But that was “Mrs. Dalloway,” and on my haul, I put two of Virginia Woolf’s books that I’ve really enjoyed recently that I doubt I’ll find on a syllabus soon. It’s a shame — a lot of people that I know who dislike Woolf hate her on an oddly personal level, which I’m 100 percent certain they wouldn’t if they’d just read “Flush”! Really, what a charming book. In it, Woolf writes from the perspective of an aristocratic cocker spaniel and somehow manages not to sound ridiculous or frivolous, except in the best ways.
Every haul I’ve posted up to this point has consisted almost entirely of poetry; this is the first where none of the items are. This I say with some hesitance because I feel like all of the items in this haul can be read as poetry without much of a reach — like almost everything else I like except maybe “The X-Files” and some mockumentary TV. I often struggle to like novels, though I do like studying them (my own personal faults are to blame here — it’s hard for me to get invested in plots because I don’t really care what happens to people if they’re not real). I like for language to be as dense and rich as it is in a good poem, and for language to be so dazzling that I don’t even care if I can’t relate to it or can’t get sucked into a plot. Is this unreasonable?
Anyway, Woolf does this for me — she’s one of the rare novelists who I can think hard about as well as enjoy in terms of beauty, without wanting to tear into her technique in order to see how it works. This is all getting very abstract. But for comparison, the last novel I really lingered on before this semester was “Robinson Crusoe,” and that’s because I couldn’t stop thinking about the cannibals. I still think that Daniel Defoe only thinks cannibalism is bad because it shows that you have an unrefined palate.
Woolf’s books, though, always makes me feel like the act of reading them is setting the language to steep in the hot cup of the world. I’ll sit down with something of hers, then suddenly find myself picking out a bouquet of tulips at Trader Joe’s, thinking, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Can you live without that? It’s like plating food — the world as a warm slop of sustenance, and art a nice plate to set it on.
I may not be Mrs. Dalloway or a cocker spaniel (who knows?), but I want my world to be the one these characters get to inhabit. There’s so much fiction that all takes place in a person’s head. It’s terribly easy for me to slip into seeing only my own head. But Woolf makes poetry out of life — and a social life at that — which is just irresistibly compelling. To see the external world in a way that doesn’t inscribe people (not even dogs) within themselves.
Readers, I’m already feeling a little apologetic about the haziness of this update — thank you for making it this far. But as someone who studies logic and other formal systems, it gets lonely and stiff living in a mental world overpopulated with sets and symbols. These logical models — worlds — that I deal in make me nervous. What kind of world doesn’t have sensual beauty and emotion? The things that inhabit them — are they okay? I needed a break to bring myself back onto the planet, to let in some visual imagination and emotion and to yank myself out of conceptualizing everything. I’ve been cooking a lot, touching plants, looking at art, watching movies, looking for beauty in life — reading a lot of Virginia Woolf. I highly recommend. Take care of yourselves. And go out and read “Flush”!
- One of the best things about the book on Gerhard Richter is the weirdly aggressive interviewer in the chapter I’ve attached a link to — just reading it makes me queasy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation ended in a fistfight.
- Someday I’m going to write an update on all of the TV I’m watching. Why haven’t I done that already? Why am I not doing that right now?
Lindsay Choi covers literature. Contact them at [email protected].