One of the things about reading 124 books as quickly as you can is that you start making connections all over the place with everything. It gets all “A Beautiful Mind” up in there. I realize that Matt’s funny Pennsylvania phrase “redd out,” which means to clean or organize (“I redd out that closet last week, but it still smells like deer antlers in there.”), appears in Jane Eyre, making it not a Pennsyltucky OR a PA Deutsch thing but a 19th-century Anglican thing. And then my brain starts to take a little trip I like to call “Which Slightly Differing Account of the Rise of the Novel in 18th- and 19th-Century England Do I Really Believe and Will I Be Able to Keep Them All Straight When the Time Comes?” And then I start to go through them: Watt, Hunter, Moretti, Armstrong, etc. And a little while later I snap to and I realize I’ve been wandering around Smith’s for like 45 minutes, clutching a bag of rabbit hay and a stick of deodorant, muttering to myself. Something like this happens about once a day now.
As a kid, I used to read a lot in the summers. My house was far out of town and there were very few neighbors. It became the summer babysitter’s main job to drive me and my siblings to the public library once a week where I would check out like 20 books at once and somehow read them all in five days so I’d be stuck bookless for two days until the next trip which meant I actually had to spend the interim playing with my brother and sister. And by playing I mean bullying. I’m still sorry, Jenny and Marshall. Me without reading material was generally bad news. Books weren’t just my escape, they were my mood stabilizers, my Xanax. But that was then, when there was something to escape (teenagerhood, a family self-destructing in slow motion) and minimal responsibilities outside of walking and feeding the dog. Book overload in the adult world has had the opposite effect. For the last two or three days, as I slog through to the end of my list, I feel weepy and angry, disconnected with my life and the things around me (dogs, Matt, dinner), a bit adrift. Today in class, as an illustrative metaphor of some or another research concept, I drew a little desert island on the blackboard. There was a chalk palm tree, the brown hump of the land, and the shark-fin waves around it. In a quick flash, I realized the picture was also a picture of my current geography. Away.
(BTW, I just totally Freudianed “end of my list” as “end of my life” up there. It’s apropos: this list has been my life for quite a while now.)
But I meant this post to be funny and somehow it’s begun to sound bleak. I don’t feel bleak. Right now, after reading my Arcades Project excerpts, I feel happy and relieved to be only two brief texts away from the finish line and also like I *really* want to go to Paris. So why am I tearing up at the Onion’s Steve Jobs story (“Last American Who Knew What the Fuck He Was Doing Dies”)? Or, more to the point, why has reading 122 books made me feel like I have really bad PMS? Where crying becomes a nearly thoughtless response to almost any kind of external stimuli?
Is it that my head is so full of books? Or is it that this really intense, hard thing that I’ve been planning and actually doing for years is finally starting to come to an end? In The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin quotes Eugene Sue: “A novel is not a place one passes through; it is a place one inhabits.” Here is my desert island, my Away.
I’m finishing up my reading tomorrow. Then I’m spending some QT with a few friends and just enough booze. Then I review for a month. Which is not the same thing as reading. I’ll miss it, I’m sure. But I’m ready to be on the mainland again.