February 8, 2004: “Regular garden-variety cantankerousness”

Regular garden-variety cantankerousness—now regularly euphemized as “contrariness” or “curmudgeonly behavior”—is responsible for my life-long (as least adult life) disregard of the Justinian calendar. The lapse in my attention to my journal was superceded by the end of the annual end-of-the-year hysteria that has firmly rooted itself in the American culture—it might be thus in other cultures, but I have little direct knowledge of how others weather this monsterish blend of religious mythic celebration with the Cyclopean consumer engine that drives much of the American civilization. So my plan to resume at the beginning of my year, nominally Martin Luther King Day or my son Cuba's birthday, fell by the wayside—as the days came off the calendar.

Over a year ago, I decided I wasn't doing enough writing and also that the journalism I was reading about books was not satisfying. What resulted was a reader's progress—a journal with which I intended to satisfy/rectify at least those two concerns. Of the few things that I was clear on when I began to bare my soul, was that arp (as we insiders soon began to refer to it) was not a blog (that disgusting verb/noun) but a kind of personal journal, commonplace book and catch all for things I wanted to remember or get off my chest. And a kind of narrative calisthenics for my atrophying writing skills.

Certainly I was hesitant to categorize a reader's progress as a diary or journal largely because my life-long experience with journalizing has been pretty much fruitless. So why attempt such a thing, personal account—a diary—in everything but name?

For one thing, lots had changed in my life—a significant transformation of scenery from the so-called People's Republic of Brookline to a small-town, exurban life in Exeter, New Hampshire. And a good part of that brave new life has been 'no cable hook up' or television. And to top those changes off, there has been a significant down turn in my consumer activity—except for the supermarket, film-processing shops and a local Gap where I continuously find comfortable useable clothing for about 25% of the original price. Seemingly big changes internally and externally warranted some navel gazing.

A natural consequence of being an avid reader is that one (I) spend(s)a lot of time in my head either engrossed in a narrative or cogitating, fulminating, rationating, ideating, or contemplating a steady flow of—what to call it?—information? The idea of getting myself out of that headspace and onto the (a) page has had a lot of good effects, not the least of which is a modicum of reality testing for my ideas and theories and hypotheses. Curiously, what ended up happening was divergent from my original vague intention. Dan Wicket over at EWN, in some exchange, pointed out to me that I was less and less writing about books. Mostly, I became more caught up with the writing than the reading component and the reading I was doing was increasingly web-based.

My current intention in redressing my deviations is to stick more to thinking about the books I am reading—and also the books I am not reading. This has been helped by my current decline in interest in the endless solipsistic monologues that have overwhelmed the brave new media world. That and a certain high-school-cafeteria-style cliquishness that infests the Internet, happily, have freed up some more reading time for me.

So, here are the books I have had a chance to read and complete in the past few months:

THE KILLING KIND - John Connolly, READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN – Azar Nafisi, DARK HOLLOW - John Connolly, VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE ROOM – Tibor Fischer, LOVING CHE – Ana Mendes, ABSOLUTE FRIENDS – John Lecarre, THE HEALING ART- Rafael Campo, EVIDENCE OF THINGS UNSEEN - Marianne Wiggins, MAILMAN – J Robert Lennon, HARD REVOLUTION – George Pelecanos, THE PIECES FROM BERLIN – Michael Pye, COLD MOUNTAIN – Charles Frazier, STRAY DOGS – John Ridley

I found, as is frequently the case, writers who are every bit as worthy of attention as critic favorites. I am thinking of the likes of Marianne Wiggins and Michael Pye. John Lecarre is still a very potent writer and George Pelecanos gets better with each book. Charles Frazier's book was much better than I expected for a best-seller. Finally, I fell in love with Azar Nafisi.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to finish BLOOD MERIDIEN when I started to reread it in October, and I haven't gotten around to the new Edith Grossman translation of DON QUIXOTE. My bad.

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