Reading Matter, or to clean the desk

Like cleaning your desk: make a list of recently read books. (Including some that you’re currently reading, or will read in the near future).

It is cleaning the desk. Having made the list, I may put the books on the shelves, and this list will be the remainder/reminder.

William Gibson, Spook Country
I’d just embarked on reading Gibson’s latest when Omar sent me the warning: “this is Gibson’s worst book”. Well, it didn’t make a difference as having read everything by Gibson, I simply wanted to read this one too. Having finished it, I now wonder why I put in those hours of reading time. The novel never seems to start off. Gibson’s style is bland, and the words did not conjur up images. It is interesting to see that Gibson speculates on locative media, but the concepts he comes up with are not very imaginative (I have heard better ideas in workshops), and the connection he makes with the themes of privacy and surveillance are not very convincing. One is left with the ‘vintage-Gibson-plot’: here’s an elaborate plot ‘plotted’, which, a the end, turns out to be a cover up for something else. Almost everything is a mystery, as none of the characters has any idea about what is happening and why. Neither has the reader. And to be honest, I did not really care about it. Of course there are a few nice scenes and in the first few pages I did become interested in the character of the journalist. But it’s not enough. I’ll wait for the next one.

Jonathan Raban, Surveillance
Actually, I’m reading this one now and haven’t progressed further than page 84. It is a contemporary, conventional novel in the DeLillo-vein, half White Noise, half Mao II, updated for post-9/11. I read the first chapter immediately after finishing Spook Country and it became painfully clear how much Gibson’s novel was lacking in simply making the reader imagine a world through words. Surveillance may be a conventional novel, and you almost see how Raban positions his puppets, and how approaches the themes (security, surveillance), but he does it skilfully and it makes the novel an enjoyable read and an enticing analysis of contemporary western life.

Harm Nijboer, De fatsoenering van het bestaan
I did a little write-up for Harm’s PhD-thesis earlier. See below.

Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees
I reviewed Moretti’s An Atlas of the European Novel years ago for Mediamatic, not really knowing who Moretti was (yeah, an Italian literary theorists, with a leftist background, I knew that). I enjoyed the use he made of maps and diagrams for the analysis of novels, and his style of mixing his own text with diagrams, maps and quotations. Graphs, Maps and Trees, subtitled Abstract Models for Literary History, takes all this one step further and proposes the use of graphs, maps and trees as methods for doing literary history. The book is short, convincing and very clear, and it makes one long for many more of the sort of studies that Moretti undertakes. It might be more sociology than hermeneutics, but I love this sort of sociology. The only aspect that I am a bit worried about is Moretti’s frequent referencing of biological models and evolutionary theory (Mayr, Stephen Jay Gould and D’Arcy Thompson are mentioned a few times). My worry mostly derives from the fact that it’s a bit too easy to suppose that form works exactly the same way in literature as it works in the biological realm. (That doubt being uttered here, I can immediately add that it does fit quite neatly. Yet I hope Moretti will not exchange all of his Marxian inclinations for evolutionary biology).

The Ends of the Earth, An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic/Antarctic
Two front sides: one for writing on the Arctic (ed. Elizabeth Kolbert), one for the Antarctic (ed. Francis Spufford). Spotted it in the nice bookshop in Rockport. Just a very nice collection of (literary) writing on the Poles. I sometimes read a chapter.

John J. Babson, History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Including the Town of Rockport
This must be one of my craziest acquisitions: the 1972-reprint of Babson’s 1860 history of Gloucester, bought in Gloucester (where else?). I actually read about half of it until now. Naturally I bought it as an intertext for Olson’s Maximus Poems, that deal with the early settling of Gloucester, and Babson lists all the early inhabitants of Gloucester and relates their histories. Babson was the first to write the history of Gloucester, it was one of Olson’s favorites. Babson delved deep in the archives, and it seems there is not much he missed, except for the history of Cape Ann prior to 1623 (Samuel Camplain landed in Whale Cove in 1606, and many Basque and Portugese fishermen must have paid visits to Cape Ann between 1606 and 1623). It is fascinating reading – at least for someone who’s gotten interested in Gloucester through Olson. Local history, as the history of a place, how it is formed and formatted through various forces, has captured me.

Thomas Dresser, Dogtown, A Village Lost in Time
A booklet that is probably only for sale in and around Gloucester. It tells the story of Dogtown, the settlement near Gloucester that was abandoned during the 18th century – the last house was torn down in 1845. Now it is a wood – F. and me walked through it from Rockport to Gloucester – where the remains of the settlement are still visible. It’s strange place, that features in Olson’s Maximus Poems.

(And then there is the Babson Boulder Trail, a trail along boulders that have words carved into them, like an early 20th century idealistic/business/labour version of the Stages of the Cross: Ideas. Study. Be On Time. Courage. Intelligence. Use Your Head. Spiritual Power. Work.)

Good wikipedia-page about Dogtown with pictures:,_Massachusetts.
Babson boulders:
More Dogtown:
(Ah well, you can do the surfing and browsing from here…)

Jack Kerouac, On the Road, The Original Scroll
I started reading Kerouac when I was 17. Stopped when I was 20. So this is a return after many, many years. And a happy return it is: it is a joy to read, it is much better (and sadder) than I remembered, and it is not a (re)discovery of the autobiographic Kerouac, nor of the mythic Kerouac, but of Kerouac the writer. Excellent essays too. Still 30 pages to go.

Tom Clark, Charles Olson, The Allegory of a Poet’s Life
I guess this biography is necessary reading for whomever would like to understand Olson. It gives an excellent overview of his life, and a very good insight in his troublesome psyche. And what a mess he made of his life. I think I am interested in Olson also because he is too bookish, too abstract, too didactic. Clark mainly writes about Olson as a character, and much much less on his poetry, or his (equally messy) theories and poetics. That is fine, but it makes it the biography of the character, not of the poetry. Anyway, I still ‘devoured’ it.

en,reading matter,writing | October 15, 2007 | 17:15 | Comments Off on Reading Matter, or to clean the desk |


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