Last time I wrote about three badass books by three badass authors and this time I’m going to tackle three badass books by three badass authors, so obviously I’ve got a shtick going here.
At present I am eating butter toffee coated oven roasted almonds and drinking ice water out of a Styrofoam cup. I am listening to the new Migos mixtape, Migos Locos.
Interviewer: Are you interested in the multiplicity of possible readings?
Jasper Johns: Yes, it does interest me. Maybe not so much the readings themselves, but the movement among them.
Often I find myself reading book reviews and wondering why the critic pretends to exist in a vacuum. By which I mean the critic seems so focused on the book that all other aspects of the experience are erased. Like the fact that I am eating almonds at present. Like the fact that I am listening to the new Migos mixtape. Like the fact that I am in my pajamas, sitting at my desk in our home office surrounded by piles of books, while my wife grades freshman composition papers on the couch in the living room, our son sleeps in our bedroom, and our cat runs up and down the hallway chasing imaginary prey.
Unlike the vacuum critics, I exist in time in space. I read books under certain conditions: emotional conditions, intellectual conditions, physical conditions, etc. These conditions matter a great deal, because they both inform and influence my reading experience. I am also a specific body, and I firmly believe my embodiment impacts my reading experience. So without reservation I would claim that the conditions under which one consumes a book (and writes about a book) matter as much as the book one consumes. And therefore I think it’s imperative to include those (seemingly superfluous) details.
For example, recently, upon returning home from teaching I found a package from Les Figues Press in my mailbox. I took it inside and opened it in my kitchen to find a copy of Colin Winnette’s Coyote and Sandra Doller’s Leave Your Body Behind. Since I’m already familiar with Winnette’s work, I instantly assumed I would enjoy his book and decided to sit it aside and look at it closer later. Doller, however, was only a name I associated with 1913 Press — an amazing small press (currently running a cool fundraiser/pre-sale) responsible for publishing a bunch of kick ass books including Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker’s HOME/BIRTH: A Poemic, a book I adore as a beautiful feat of hybrid literature and as a book with great personal resonance because my wife — who does literary scholarship on Zucker’s work — gave birth to our son at home. Since I was unfamiliar with Doller’s work I opened it up and started flipping around.
Don’t turn on the box. Don’t order a sandwich. Don’t comfort it out in the middle there. Don’t middle. Get yourselves a real fine pony and just glance and glisten. Take off your shoes. Let down your hair. Cut it off. (pg. 105)
It’s not my job to explain. Messplain. I want to rub the internet all over me. Me all over the internet. Oh, nothing. (pg. 119)
“HOLY SHIT!” I said, audibly. My nineteen-month-old son stopped playing with his blocks and looked up at me to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself. “This book is freaking amazing,” I said to him. Unimpressed, he returned to his blocks.
I stood in my kitchen reading Doller’s book, so enmeshed that I ignored my normal ritual of drinking a glass of water, taking my dress shoes off, walking to the bedroom and taking my tie off, and changing into my around-the-house clothes. I stood there, thirsty, still suited up from work, mesmerized by her language.
The story is not about me anymore at all but about time. The time that this and that on the shore of the happened when it was all we could do to gather our and then. Shore shore shore a gypsy tendency for peaceful living the back of the caravan was calling and who should answer but____. (pg. 21)
It strikes all the right chords for me. Most importantly, it does what Marianne DeKoven describes in her book on Gertrude Stein (A Different Language) as the function of experimental writing, “the obstruction of normal reading [which] prevents us from interpreting the writing to form coherent, single, whole, closed, ordered, finite, sensible meanings.”
If I were to write a book review about the book, more than likely I would feel compelled to omit the personal narrative about my experience. I would stick to an analysis of the book itself and perhaps the social imbrications evoked by the book. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but the older I get the more I crave writing and reading a different type of review: a review that takes into consideration the critics’s embodiment.
Way back in the tumultuous HTMLGIANT days, I attempted to theorize ways of re-thinking the role of the critic (here), and elsewhere I’ve tried to implement my ideas to varying degrees (for example). What you are reading now, presuming you are reading this, can stand as an example of what I’m talking about: a review that isn’t just a review, a review that is itself a creative performance.
Part of what interests me about engaging with books comes from the ways in which my life plays out in time and space for the duration of the reading experience.
For instance, now I am revising this post approximately two weeks after initially composing it. Things have changed. I’m no longer listening to the Migos mixtape, for one thing. Now I’m listening to Ghost Bath’s Moonlover. I’m not eating almonds. I’m actually not eating anything, however I wish I had a packet of peanut M&Ms despite the fact that I’m trying to cut back on my sugar intake. Fucking sugar.
See what I mean? Without sugar I am a different reader than I am with sugar.
Here’s a transition:
Ryan Ridge’s American Homes is one of the inaugural books published under Matthew Vollmer’s 21st Century Prose series for The University of Michigan Press’s Digital Culture Books project. This means you can read the whole thing for free online.
The series in general is a remarkable experiment in book publishing, which makes new advancements that should serve to help publishers consider further alternative models. Ryan Ridge’s book in particular makes compelling use of the platform, especially through the integration of illustrations and text.
I’d love to have a signed print of that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins image to frame and hang in my office.
But aside from the beauty of its form/content convergence, Ridge’s book is also a funny and insightful defamiliarization of our everyday surroundings. Described by the publisher as “An eccentric, otherworldly guide to the domestic spaces Americans inhabit,” it equally strikes me as a feast of language and thought. Akin at times to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, and at other times to Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire & String, I also get a Barry Hannah vibe from it, and also Richard Brautigan around the edges of the section titled “Part III (anatomy).”
Spiritual structures used for storage and hobbies and the beating of disobedient children. Often found in Backyards, American Sheds are not dissimilar to American churches in that they provide comfort and solace to American Homeowners during these trying times in the Land of American Homes. Go and spend some time alone in your American Shed today. The light in there may shed light on a few things and you’ll feel better afterward. If you don’t own a Shed, go and break into someone else’s. It’s what I do. In fact, I’m sitting in Clarence’s Shed right now, conducting interviews with Mike, Eric, Alice, and Jared for some supplementary materials (See: Garageographics).
In the section titled “Different Voices / Different Rooms” I get a distinctly lyric essay vibe, sort of a David Markson vibe, the way it toggles through quips about famous men (almost exclusively men, I think) like “Wallace Stevens, W.C. Fields, Theodore Roosevelt, John Wayne Gacy, Neil Armstrong, Pee-wee Herman, Kurt Cobain, etc. etc.”
Because of its digital nature, I’ve poked around this book on my laptop and on my phone. I’ve dipped in and out of it, scrolled around, zipped past text to look at the pictures and then gone back to read bits here and there. It offers me a different way of reading than a physical book: not left to right but top to bottom, not flipping pages but scrolling and clicking.
Speaking of my life playing out in time and space, I am now intervening at a different point for further revision. At present I am eating chocolate covered strawberries and listening to the new Godspeed! album. I’ve changed my mind about the third badass book I want to mention in this post, because I taught Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” essay today in my postmodern lit course and it got me thinking about the value of absence. So I deleted the stuff I wrote about that third book and will, perhaps, use it in a future post, in hopes that its absence will contribute further to the importance of what is present here.
”Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” — Jasper Johns, from his sketchbook