I’ve been reading J.B. Priestley’s book Delight during my morning excursions to the lavatory for the last couple months. Maybe this is a sign I’m turning into my father as I age, but I’ve really embraced the art of reading in the loo. I have yet to achieve his ability to stay in there for a half hour every morning, but I’m learning the ins and outs of the practice. You can’t, for example, just pick any old book! You need something with short enough chapters to remain enjoyable and engaging even if you’re only reading a page or two a day.
When I look back at 2022 in reading I realize a lot of my favorite books from this year happened to be Loo Reads. 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, The Timeless Way of Building, A Primer for Forgetting, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, Delight, 300 Arguments…I’m sure I enjoyed them for their own merits, but I also wonder if the pace of consumption didn’t have something to do with it as well. They kept me company for far longer than books typically do, and with far more consistency.
Anyway, Priestley is marvelous. So many of these entries feel like they could’ve been written yesterday; I’ve been resisting the temptation to write about them all. (It does, however, give me great pleasure to see Robin blogging about bits from the copy I sent him. I love it when a gift finds its mark.)
(All these quotes are from A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, Boyer’s collection of essays on poetry, illness, avant-garde creative movements, mutual aid, reading, and crushes.)
After I got sick in late summer 2014, I followed U.S. poetry only from afar, as if walking by a shop window and glancing at it through a glass, even the most necessary uproar too expensive to my health for me to even think of buying […]
This rang so true to how these last two years have changed my relationship to the comics industry—a space I never felt particularly enmeshed in to begin with. Every discussion of online drama or publishing upset or new technology costs far more than I have capacity or inclination to spend. A relief, in some ways, to have that decision taken away from me.
My time in the time of illness has been unmeasurable or ir-measured or a-measured. Yet despite how this time can no longer steadily or predictably submit itself to clocks and calendars, for survival’s sake I still have to try to measure it.
Underlined this because I’m doing my annual workbook on the couch right now, surrounded by a corona of calendar pages and journals and sketchbooks, trying to piece together the fragments of a lost year.
The harm can be studied like anything, every wept tear a textbook, every minute of shallow breathing a monograph, seven hours and fourteen minutes of a sleepless night a textbook a tedious-to-read but potentially useful dissertation on having existed.
It is not as if what is true, right, urgent, and necessary is a light, and what is harm is the darkness. They are both darkness: they are both lights.
yes yes yes yes
15. There will be a lot of sewing last year’s fragments with this year’s threads.
Poetry is revenge porn against the self by the self.
As grim as reading has been for me, reading is not only the private amplification of the human worst. Reading is not merely escapism and militant solitude and everything shirked–that is, reading is not an act exclusive to words and books–and a person can also read the patterns of migrating birds or the lines in a soon-to-be-lover’s palm or the buds of oak trees or the damaged look in an eye or the danger headed this way or the people amassed in the streets. The world existed before books, and it always exists outside of them, and how a person should read is how a person must read, which is at least in duplicate, both always in this world and looking for another.
Jez and I talked about bonsai trees a lot tonight. He’d gone to the Pacific Bonsai Museum. We talked about creative work that becomes a conversation between a craftsperson and a living being—a conversation that will outlast its originator. A conversation across multiple generations.
The oldest tree he saw dated from 1850.
Lives stop, but life keeps going. Flesh begets flesh.
Great cathedrals were built by generations of stonemasons to whom the architect was a man who might once have greeted their grandfathers’ grandfathers. How agreeable, then, to believe in God.
To set stones on stones not for the architect but for eternity.
The Latin epitaph in one seventeenth-century cathedral translates: Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.
The words are carved in a disk of black marble set beneath the center of the dome. The disk was placed there by the architect’s son.
It’s easy to imagine the great man, but try to imagine the son who knows his father’s cathedral will be loved longer than the flesh of his flesh.
Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
I’m in a cathedral. My dad is in the cathedral. Our friends and neighbors—we’re all in the cathedral, eighteen-foot tall and wool-woven. Ostensibly we’re saints, but anyone from town would look around and just see people they knew. She lost her house in the Thomas Fire. He passed away last Christmas from pneumonia. This is the real record.
I posed for the portrait in 1998. Before Y2K, but after the release of Spiceworld. When we saw the Cathedral open its doors in 2002, I was 13 and felt so worldly compared to the child self hung high on the yellowed walls.
The truth is: she’ll outlast me.
I haven’t been back to the Cathedral since, but I think about it all the time.
It was by this making of comparisons to analyse her feelings that Taryn returned from her period of healing to who she was, what mattered to her, and what was inescapable. Her troubles had pressed on her for weeks, not just ill health caused by the demon but the Muleskinner’s slow approach and what she thought she owed him—or worried he’d think she owed him. And there were other failings: how she took her former husband’s generosity for granted, and how little kindness she seemed able to show to her father. The rest of it—her book, the festivals, her agent’s and publisher’s expectations—receded. But what had taken the place of the pressures wasn’t Taryn’s own tranquillity; it was the land itself, the Sidh, promising always to be there, always to be the same. Promising also that it would be the same Taryn who stepped out with sound knees and clear eyes from this blue lake, or stone hearth, or apple shade. Come again, be again—that was its promise, a sense of permanence Taryn hadn’t felt since she was under ten years old and only able to imagine that she would always stay at Princes Gate with her grandparents, always find the same old Monopoly set, quoits, croquet hoops and mallets, the familiar punt, the cats—only a little indifferent whenever she arrived—but all as it should be, the same, permanent. The Sidh was turning Taryn into a child again, a child who knew everything sustaining would last. It gave her back that knowledge beyond faith—what the faithful meant when they said ‘faith’.
Elizabeth Knox, The Absolute Book
I got a card at the Ojai Library last week. Walked into this building for the first time since I was a child and breathed the particular scent of spines and plastic and dust. Things were different, of course. Fewer shelves in the children’s section, no more chunky CRT monitors blinking green on black, keyboards shrouded in that satisfyingly tacky plastic skin. Keys you really had to punch to pull up the author of your choosing.
When I went looking for the books I remember devouring as a young reader, I found the same phalanx of Nancy Drew titles intact.
The Moomin novels, though, the ones I really wanted to see again, they were gone.