First blog post -- since the website has this option, I thought starting a blog would be a good opportunity to keep track of my experiences in a way that is, you know, public. ;) I am not very active on social media -- I mostly use it to read others' work -- so I thought this would be a more comfortable way for me to put my thoughts out there only for those who are interested. So, as the title says, these are books that affected me this year(ish) and how.
1. Leslie Scalapino's that they were at the beach and Considering how exaggerated music is
How: these books really excited me since they anticipated my own anti-poetic impulse (note the title of Considering). I realized that from reading poetry, I can get the same satisfaction of seeing my own impulses fulfilled that I get from writing. I then went on to read Diane Seuss and Dorothea Lasky and experienced a similar pleasure. I discovered that I need to get from reading everything I can in order to get from writing what I can only get from that
2. Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends
How: made me feel pleasure for a sustained period of time after feeling depressed about moving to Iowa without Aaron. Also, made me think about how loving someone means letting them complicate your life more than you thought you could handle. Maybe the capacity for love amounts to the capacity to handle complication…
3. Rick Hansen's Just One Thing and Hardwiring Happiness
How: made me feel in control again after feeling anxious about being in Iowa without my emotional support animal, Aaron. Highlights: positive experiences can become wired into our brains if we enrich and absorb them; also love Hansen’s formulation of humility as not being in “the rat race of self-glorification.”
4. Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey
How: first time I have read The Odyssey since hearing it aloud in eighth grade; the book made me think about the relation between being sharp-eyed and being asleep, and I got some words of wisdom for my entitled self from the goddess of wisdom herself: “Odysseus, you are adaptable.”
5. Juliana Spahr’s Response
How: led me to read several other of her works. When I opened this book, I just read it straight through and could not put it down – it’s rare that an entire poetry book has that effect on me. I felt, something is being said that is reaching out to me, reaching out for a response (the response, which is another person’s sense of having been really reached), and I cannot stop until it is done. When I finished the book, all I could think is, “This is what poems are.”
6.Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
How: I re-read this to teach. Made me think about the power of individual words and experiences (like having a glass of wine) to summon different selves. Also, the idea that literature is a wild goose chase after the meaning of life, which is the beauty that comes from the goose’s shadow. And then after giving the final lecture, I saw a bunch of geese assembled for the first time right on the path I take back from the English building! They were saying, “Yes, you were right about the meaning of Orlando and of life.”
7. Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness
How: made me realize that the desire to spend all of your time reading is kind of the ultimate political critique. Also, made me understand how the idea of happiness (and unhappiness) does not just describe an emotional state, but actually renders people unhappy. This is why, as soon as I start to describe my life or what I have been up to, I tend to become unhappy—no matter how much I am enjoying myself in a moment-to-moment way.
8. Adela Pinch’s Strange Fits of Passion
How: I had read chapters of this book before and assured my dissertation adviser that the chapter entitled “Getting Lost in a Book” totally had nothing to do with my dissertation on getting lost in the novel. Revisited the book only to realize I couldn’t be more wrong! Pinch captures so perfectly how we inure ourselves to a sensation through overexposure – this then has the contradictory effect of leading that sensation to affect us as a shock. What if this is how the subgenres of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British novel work?
9. Herman Hesse’s Demian
How: this book meant a lot to me in ninth grade; this time, I read it more critically (especially some of the gender and the beyond good and evil stuff). But I was still really struck by the idea that everyone’s ideal is already within themselves (as their own soul). It’s not some more impressive already-there person, but Amanda Auerbach herself who has shown and can show me the way I need to go. The future self is the one who can most help the past self along—how healing and what a powerful source of self-confidence!
10. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God
How: this book always meant a lot to my sister, so I knew it would have an effect. It is definitely a deep book, which holds there are forces so large and sweeping that not even God could stop them from overtaking us. Maybe it is only when we are conscious of the impossibility of being helped that we realize the value of the powers that helplessly, but still steadily watch us. Not 100% sure what to do with this, but such a God is more in line with how we could value other people than a more powerful being with more of an ability to practically help us.