Thursday, May 26, 2005

Remembrance of books past

I've never read anything by Michael Chabon, except for this essay, just now, which not only makes me want to read his books, it makes me want to write a novel. (Oh, wait — I did glance at his website once.)

Chabon also experienced a Calvino effect, citing him and a few others as authors "who wrote at the critical point of language, where vapor turns to starry plasma." He writes about embarking on the writing of his first novel with the realization that it was not according to "the plan to do for romantic relationships what Calvino had done for the urbis in Invisible Cities."

Chabon's essay is in fact not at all about Calvino. It's about writing, the reading that informs writing, the desire to write.
...when I read a page of Remembrance of Things Past (as it was then known), the book that was my project for the year, I felt all those interests mesh with the teeth of Grammar and Style, and I would imagine myself, spasmodically, a writer.

It's also about summer and place.
I started to write my first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, in April of 1985, in Ralph's room. Ralph was the Christian name of a man I never met, the previous owner of my mother's house on Colton Boulevard, in the Montclair District of Oakland, California. His so-called room was in fact a crawl space, twice as long as it was wide, and it was not very wide. It had a cement floor and a naked light bulb. It smelled like dirt, though not in a bad way—like soil, and cold dust, and bicycle grease. Most people would have used it for suitcases and tire chains and the lawn darts set, but at some point this Ralph had built himself a big, high, bulky workbench in there. He built it of plywood and four-by-fours, with a surface that came level to the waist of a tall man standing. It might have been a fine workbench, but it made a lousy desk, which is how I used it.

Umberto Eco talks about everything (including The DaVinci Code), and a little bit about The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. (I must make haste to a bookstore!)
"I had to fight against Proust in this book. If you write a novel about memory, you have to. So I did the contrary of the great Proust. He went inside himself to retrieve senses, smells and memories. My hero does the opposite because he is only confronted with the external memories, public memories which a whole generation shared."

The importance of Proust
Author Lauren Baratz-Logsted talks about her impulse to read,
It amazes me how often, when I ask a would-be published author what they're reading at the time, the response comes back: "Nothing. I don't have much time for reading." To me, this is like saying, "I want to be a brain surgeon, but I really don't have time for med school." A.O. Scott, reviewing Joyce Carol Oates' Uncensored: Views and (Re)views in the NYTBR on April 17, wrote, "Of course, every serious writer of fiction must also be a serious reader; the only way the art can really be mastered is through a compulsive, self-administered pedagogy of worship, derision, imitation and intimidation."

(Among her standout reads this year: Arturo Perez-Reverte's Queen of the South.)


Russell Bradbury-Carlin said...

I highly recommend "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" and "Wonder Boys" (a rare account of a great novel and a great movie - neither of which exlcudes the other). "Kavalier and Clay" is in my top 25 list of all-time favorite books.

Suzanne said...

Yeah, what Russell said. (I didn't like the movie version of The Wonder Boys too much, but the book is great).

melinama said...

Lovely post, Isabella, and thanks for the link to the Chabon article, and while I'm at it, your comments on several other books you've recommended and I've then read, but by the time I've read them I haven't been able to find your posts again to thank yoU!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Isabella, thanks for referencing my Compulsive Reader essay!

patricia said...

Ditto Kavalier and Clay. And Eco's 'Mysterious Flame' is a delicious delight.