This area around Cliff House is the setting of Jack London’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Scarlet Plague.
Haven’t really left the apartment all that much in the last week. Instead of reading for the class I’m teaching online, I’ve read:
A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan.
The Emigrants by WG Sebald
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
And just starting Open City by Teju Cole, which is starting out really good.
“Knife after knife was plunged into the poor author. It was hideous, the utter collapse of his hopes. One after another his protests were beaten down unmercifully, so that he sat silently, scarcely daring to speak. ‘But the things you say are bad spring from faults inherent in my temperament!’ he finally cried desperately. ‘How can I correct them?’ There was a silence that lasted several seconds.”
—From “Flaubert and Madame Bovary,” Francis Steegmuller. This is Flaubert getting raked over the coals for an early draft of “The Temptation of St. Anthony.”
Me standing next to Jack London’s and Charmian London’s grave. Glen Ellen, California. He’s under the rock.
“Thank you for writing me such a nice letter. The spelling is better than in any of your others and the style is also good. If you sit long enough in my armchair, lean your elbows on my table, and hold you head in your two hands, perhaps you will end by becoming a writer.”
Gustave Flaubert, to his niece
3rd and Brannan. I’ve now been to where Jack London was born, where he drank, where he bought his first boat, where he studied (the last three are the same place) and where he died.
Whenever I spend the day reading, I have an urge to gossip with real people about what fictional characters were up to. I usually keep it to myself.
Went to UCSF School o’ Dentistry to get my teeth x-rayed for next week’s comprehensive visit. As he threw the lead apron over my chest, the technician asked me where I was from. I told him, and he said that he was from Minnesota, too. I asked him where, and he did that thing where he mentions the big city first, and then almost apologetically because you’ve probably not heard of it: “Apple Valley.” No way! Did you go to AVHS? No way! You were in speech? No way! The tech graduated in 2006, which made me feel old (‘99!). So we tried to bond over our shared hometown, except this was difficult because most of the time I had huge plastic sensors jammed into the back of my mouth. “Wow, you still have your wisdom teeth?” he said from behind the safety glass. “Mine are out. I’m sure you’re glad you know. The things that we talk about!” He seemed anxious the way I would be anxious teaching class when I was 24, his age now. When the x-rays were done (confirming my 3rd molars are growing in sideways, proving I have a big mouth) we shook hands and I left. It doesn’t happen very often, two people from the exact same hometown, but I was just getting my teeth x-rayed, and as much as we would have liked to chat, the task was complete. I guess when you run into connections with the world outside, they can turn out to be rather mundane. Still fun when it happens.
I walked down Judah and wandered into Great Overland Book Company. The poets usually read there, but I’d never gone to see them, so this was my first time inside. I spent almost an hour browsing. This happens to me in all types of stores—the grocery store, book store, video store (when they existed). I’ll just fall into a trance, wander aimlessly, and come out with one thing, maybe two items, maybe nothing. This time I came out of the bookshop with George V. Higgins’ “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” which reads just like the movie, but without the visuals of the movie, and without Peter Boyle and Robert Mitchum.
At Dash, I finished “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and requested the sequel from the library. I think I understand what happened. I think I preferred living in the world of the book to the actual plot.
I was in a routine despair jag over the state of my writing when I was tagged in a Facebook post by one of my former creative writing students from Cornell. He quoted something from class, and I guess I said it: “Remember your favorite book, and remember that you’re trying to write someone else’s favorite book.” I guess I said it? I’ll take it. The exact wording was probably way more profound and articulate (yup), but that’s what I meant.
I wanted to write a book that an outsider like me would carry in a coat pocket, or a backpack, and always have it ready. I still do.
At the end of 1989, David Foster Wallace was admitted to McLean Hospital, the psychiatric hospital associated with Harvard University, for substance addiction. He was twenty-seven years old and increasingly desperate for help. He had already experienced literary fame with his college novel, “The Broom of the System,” and sunk into obscurity with his postmodern short-story cabinet of wonders, “Girl with Curious Hair” (twenty-two hundred copies sold in hardcover). His most recent stop, as a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard, had lasted only a few weeks. His private life was hardly less uneven. He had attempted suicide the year before, in his family home, and had also gone from being a marijuana addict to an alcoholic, mostly drinking alone and in front of the television. Most dreadfully, he felt that he could no longer write well. He was unsure whether the problem was lack of focus, lack of material, or a lack of ambition. Granada House was to be the improbable solution to this problem, altering his approach to his work and putting him on the road to producing, in remarkably short order, his masterpiece, “Infinite Jest.”
Click-through to read an excerpt from “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace,” by D.T. Max: http://nyr.kr/Shl6ZD
This is what I’m reading at the moment, and it’s a pretty good biography (not as engrossing as Blake Bailey’s Cheever and Yates bios, but better than the recent Joseph Heller one). I was never really a huge DFW fan because his hardcore fanboys (usually boys) were those annoying lit-crit theory types who always kept the class past the bell so they could ask just one more question (which was never really a question, but a way of impressing the prof). That was a stupid reason not to pick up Infinite Jest, because I’m finding that I’m really liking it so far.
I just picked up a copy of IJ on the Apple Store for five bucks, and I’m glad I waited, because last time I checked it was ten. I’m guessing it’s a limited time deal, in case you were looking for a 1000+ page doorstop to read. I find the e-reader version easier on the arms and less ostentatious on the Muni.
…the world is just as concrete, ornery, vile, and sublimely wonderful as before, only now I better understand my relation to it and it to me.
It’s great that I can look up “Invisible Man” on Tumblr and find people who sincerely love this book. There are a lot of posts about that other Invisible Man, and posts by angry AP Honors English students, but once you cut through those, you find that the book still means something to those who read it. They’re drawn to it not just as required reading for a class, but to satisfy an unarticulated need. It taught me a little about how to understand my life, so it feels like a part of me.
It’s an imperfect novel. He gets cutesy with names, the second half doesn’t feel as refined as the first, and there aren’t a whole lot of nuanced or believable female characters. Couldn’t the same be said of me? What’s the word for when you’re angry that your most embarrassing writing is sad imitation of your current literary fixation? In my subliminally derivative attempts to rewrite certain scenes from it, I could understand, through my own experimentation, that writing a book this complex is really fucking hard. It’s a miracle that something so complicated fit into less than 600 pages, and even if I tried extra hard, I doubt I could write a piece of fiction that even begins to approach maybe thinking about trying to be at that level. But maybe it’s worth trying.
President Obama has said that it’s one of his favorite books ever. I highly recommend reading (or rereading) Invisible Man with this fact in mind. Especially since Clint Eastwood made this very literal at the Republican National Convention.
Junot Diaz’ This Is How You Lose Her came out yesterday, so I thought I’d post the dedication he wrote when he signed my copy of Oscar Wao. I’m realizing that the reading was during the last presidential election, October 2008. He once said my writing was “fucking great,” which I’m sure he says to a lot of student writers, but I’m still going to try to get it as a blurb if and when I get a book out there.
I’ve started reading the stories, but I’ve already read most of them in the New Yorker, and this one looks pretty short.
That’s me and Ignatius J Reilly judging passers-by on Canal while his mom shops for wine cakes in the DH Holmes department store. Opening scene of one of my favorites, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
Nanowrimo toolkit. Small notebook for ideas. Big notebook for drafting. Laptop for word processing and formatting (Word and Scrivener). iPad for reviewing without editing in iBooks (also good for marking line edits later). Lucky pens.