What I’ve been reading, etc.

Well, what a disaster. I’ve missed two days of my ludicrous self-imposed rule to write a blog post every day for a month. Technically I’m now back to square one, but I’m just going to carry on like nothing has happened. After all, nothing has happened.

I’ve had a hard time thinking straight lately. (An old creative writing tutor of mine used to say that kind of thing a lot – he’d always be ‘having a hard time’. ‘I’m having a hard time locating the voice in this poem.’ ‘I’m having a hard time making sense of that guy’s face.’ Etc. It was a nice way of saying ‘this thing here isn’t working’, kind of foisting the problem back on himself, in a way.) Anyway, in lieu of saying anything much, here’s a short selection of things I’ve been reading.

I Won’t Eat, You Can’t Make Me: This is a heartbreaking report from Japan about an isopod, named No. 1, that wouldn’t eat. It even pretended to eat to appease its human owners. This piece also contained the revelation (to me) that many Japanese teenagers have iPhone cases shaped like isopods.

I’ve just discovered the ‘Bird of the Month’ series on The Toast. I don’t know how I hadn’t come across it before. Anyway, February’s BOTM is that brainy, spooky bird wonder the raven. I really like the excerpt below, describing a bit from Poe’s poem. It is so bleak, so very bleak.

Somewhere between the 17th-century Bible-quoting raven and the secular bird above is the raven in Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem ‘The Raven.” A ‘weak and weary’ young man sits at his desk at midnight, trying to distract himself from thoughts of his dead lover. Enter a ‘stately raven’, who answers the young man’s theological and romantic questions by repeating a single word: ‘Nevermore’.

The young man tortures himself to the point of insanity by wondering ‘what this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore/ Meant in croaking “Nevermore”’ – even as he recognises that the word probably has no meaning whatsoever, and is simply something the bird happens to have picked up from his owner.

Tragically, I’ve been reading bits from The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. It’s a terrible book. Cabane argues that charisma can be learned, that there’s a formula you can follow in order to present yourself charismatically. If you internalise this formula and adopt all of the correct behaviours, you will be believed. Her advice is to ‘stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla, speak like a preacher’. This to me sounds very difficult for anyone who is human. I have tried it (not on a person, just in the mirror, at myself). It was horrific and I do not recommend it to anyone with self-respect. Besides, even if it is true that it’s possible to learn charisma, that it’s possible to persuade others that you hold power, what happens once you are believed? Then where will you be? Where?

Here’s a good piece on Aeon, about spending four months on Mars (well, a simulated Mars, on the side of a volcano in Hawai’i), but it’s really more about boredom. There’s this bit about an explorer called Felicity Aston who skied across Antarctica. It took 59 days, and she got bored.

Because I had no one else to talk to I found that I started talking to the sun (as it was the only different thing in the landscape!), as if it was a friend accompanying me on the trip. Sometimes the sun would even answer back, asking why I was doing such a silly thing!

I hope she’s read Frank O’Hara’s true account of talking to the sun.

"When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt" the Sun said
petulantly. "Most people are up
already waiting to see if I'm going
to put in an appearance."

I just tweeted this poem from Poetry Night NZ and am actually kind of miffed that at time of writing, no one has even favourited it. (Addendum: Poet Marty Smith has now favourited the poem.)

Back to Aeon: it’s great. I probably don’t read it as often as I should. I am currently steeling myself to read Twilight in the Box, about the effects of solitary confinement on the human brain.

I’m also reading Words Will Break Cement by Masha Gessen, for a book review. It’s pretty phenomenal, and I’m grappling with the question of how to articulate why. It’s always easier to find things to say when something doesn’t work. The other night I went to the launch of Kerry Donovan Brown’s first novel (it is really, really great – I edited it, so I guess I have a vested interest, but listen, it’s really good) called Lamplighter. Damien Wilkins launched the book, and one thing he said stuck with me, which was that praise always run short. It’s easier to write at length when you’re criticising. ‘You’ve written an oyster,’ he said to Kerry.

One other thing I’m dipping in and out of: Griffith Review: Pacific Highways. In a couple of weeks’ time there’s an event here that I have to read at, because I contributed an essay to the issue. Other readers are Harry Ricketts, Kate Camp, Steve Braunias, Kate De Goldi, Bernard Beckett, and Hamish Clayton (I think?). It is ridiculous how nervous I am about this event. This morning I met my two old road-trip buddies Pip and Kirsten for breakfast, and we got to talking about reading aloud at events. Pip said (I hope it’s OK that I am recounting this anecdote, Pip) that one time she was so nervous when she was reading at an event that she actually vomited. While she was reading. She vomited into her hand then had to swallow it. I have vomited before reading, but never during. I think this is incredible. It makes me respect Pip even more, if that were ever possible. So I will just remind myself that even if I vomit during reading, one day it will be far in the past and I’ll be able to tell people about it over breakfast and in some small way they’ll feel better about the future.

About ashleighlou

Bookish person usually on bike
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One Response to What I’ve been reading, etc.

  1. I have never done that vomit thing but I have a friend who has the the most relaxed on-stage persona of any famous NZ author and he is like that every time before showtime. I think it’s good – shows that you take it seriously. I get nervous if sharing a stage with someone who isn’t.

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