“I am a nervous and emotional reader. I hold up a book to my face and it takes only a good sentence to turn my brain into a volcano; I begin thinking of everything at once and a regular lava of thought pours down my sides.”
You see and hear it, too.
You just can’t call its name.
— Amiri Baraka’s “In Town”
The Unnamed resonates with me the way few books do. It describes something I’ve seen but can’t name. Joshua Ferris chooses not to name it, either, which makes it all the more potent.
I’ve shared the book with friends who may now question my taste in novels. I didn’t understand why then, but it was likely describing something they’d never seen.
But maybe you’ve seen it, too. I just can’t call its name.
With a few edits, this Samurai Code Quote from the Hagakure (or Ghost Dog, if you prefer), is more broadly applicable: “When one has made a decision … even if it will be very difficult … by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about going at it in a long, roundabout way.”
After reading Akutagawa’s “The Robbers” last week, I went onto Wikipedia to see when Peter Carey, who wrote Theft in 2006, had written Wrong About Japan. The latter discusses Carey’s travels with his son in that nation, and for some reason I had a fanciful thought that he might have read “The Robbers” during his trip, and it might have inspired him to write Theft. I’m not sure why that thought came to mind, as far fetched as it might be. One was that both stories contain plots around theft. They also explore how fraternal bonds handle stress, and both stories allow the reader to get details from the perspectives of the brothers in their respective tales.
However, the writing styles are quite different. Carey’s work is remarkable for how many details it manages to omit out while still allowing one to reconstruct the missing pieces. Akutagawa’s (or at the very least its translation) is brilliant for how much detail it adds to give a vivid description of a city in decay. Despite the stylistic differences, I couldn’t shake the resonance between the two stories, especially upon reading the climax of Akutagawa’s.
Wrong About Japan was published in 2005.
With the rain putting a damper on plans for the weekend and my guitar lesson spot being filled by another, it’s time for Plan B. I think B stands for book in this case. Having recently finished What is the What and Lolita, two compelling but in some ways heavy books, I’ve embarked on something a bit lighter… Luka and the Fire of Life, a children’s book by Salman Rushdie. I’m about halfway through, and it reminds me of an Enid Blyton story but more modern, hipper, and with a more compelling plot line. I suppose that’s long-hand for An Enid Blyton Story But Better. It’s going to be a quick read, so it will be on to something else. Perhaps a collection of short stories from Rynosuke Akutagawa? The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov? Or maybe plan B will have nothing to do with books. As with all plans, A through Z, it’s uncertain.
I remember reading Better during a summer in Cambridge, MA, and a short phrase near the end stuck with me: “Write something.” I remember taking up that challenge and spending much of that summer interviewing people about what excited them, and putting that to blogger. Well, challenge is the wrong word. I like writing, whether it’s describing something I recently tried to understand, or something that has nothing to do with anything. That summer was personally satisfying because I was aiming my writing at something constructive, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.
This was a week of Write Something, particularly in my professional life, if not my personal one*. It’s offered a lot of clarity, and it’s been paying off both in terms of my productivity and personal satisfaction. I’m going to keep at it.
* For those of you whose e-mails I’ve seemingly been ignoring for weeks now, my bad. I tried to make a dent this evening!