Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Embracing the "Tsundoku"

Today I want to share with you Open Culture's piece on reading culture:

I came across this last year and I saved this post as a draft because, to be honest, I wasn't sure what to think. As a Furious Reader, I understand the allure of books and the joy of seeing an overcrowded reading pile. I have three reading piles around my house, a full library on my Nook, and two completed mini notebooks of potential reading titles. I understand the reader's need for new material, but the tsundoku has me thinking.  Mr. Jonathan Crow's article does not argue for a tsundoku to exist, but to use this phrase for a situation that most readers can relate to. While this is a beautiful word, and I agree with Mr. Crow's proposal, I wonder if embracing the tsundoku is a necessary part of the furious reader's life. 

Every reader has heard the counterargument from non-readers: When are you going to read all of this books? Don't you have enough books to read? Why would you write down books you might never get to read in your lifetime? To my nonreading friends, I understand the validity of your questions, but this is my true response:

Our His and Hers reading piles
To me, the pile of books is comforting. It's a symbol of the journeys to come and it gives me a chance to watch myself change as an individual. I often "edit" my reading pile a few times a year - to give other books a chance, to remove the ones I may get to another day, but not today, or to match whatever scholarship I've immersed myself in this semester. My reading pile is a summation of my year, a reflection of my different life cycles. It doesn't matter if I ever read all of the books on my tsundoku - what matters is the moment when I placed this book on my pile. I must have felt something profound, had some exciting experience, or felt a need to explore a different world when I placed that book atop a teetering pile of voices. Whenever I place yet another book on my reading pile, I remind myself that anything is possible. Many gardeners believe to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. I think you can say the same for to-be-read piles or lists. My reading pile and my notebook of potential reading topics reminds me that, deep down underneath my postmodernist worldview, I am still an optimist. 

My dear Furious Readers, I encourage you to embrace the tsundoku. Do not spend a year questioning your intuition as I did - I had the existential crisis for you (you're welcome). Look to your reading pile and say aloud to the titles that you may or may not read:  "I will see you tomorrow."
Continue Reading...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Being "Completely Beside" Myself

"Language does this to our memories - simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the  moment it was meant to capture."
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Happy summer, Furious Readers! It has been some time since we last met, but I figured the best way to reappear is to share a book that I can't really discuss with you. Doesn't that sound exciting? Please don't take it personally; I really, REALLY think you will enjoy this one.

Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a heartbreaking, dark, fragmented look into the bonds of sisterhood and family trauma. We know something is wrong with protagonist Rosemary, but we can't quite put our finger on it. Rosemary begins her narrative with the declaration that, as a child, she loved to talk - so much so that she was a bother to her family. But now, as an adult, she doesn't say much. This is common among those who have experienced trauma and it is with this confession of silence that Rosemary takes us along into the labyrinth of her family's history. Her narrative begins in the middle, which means the reader gets to make a few wrong turns before Rosemary breaks through the hedges and rescues you. That is, if you trust her. Since we are hearing all this from Rosemary, it takes time to get used to her fragmented storytelling (not to mention her amazing vocabulary).  In this story, no one is what they seem - and (thankfully) for the reader, that is a very, VERY good thing.  I got to be an innocent (and then not-so-innocent once Rosemary's story comes together) bystander as I sat back and listened to her tale. I was a sympathetic ear...until I was not.  For that, I want to thank Fowler. She is a powerful example of how language and stories create a world we would not otherwise inhabit in our daily lives. Fowler assures that these worlds do exist, as long as we trust the storytelling medium. We won't get everything we want with these characters, but Fowler's Rosemary has everything we need from them...

...are you curious yet?  Allow me to make things "curiouser and curiouser" for you: Rosemary is a brilliant character and her memories - including the missing pieces - create a shifting truth, an almost fluid fairy tale, where deconstruction is the only way to make sense of the entire situation (thanks, Derrida). Rosemary repeats a few parts of her tale, and we are asked to assess certain parts of the narrative, for a second time, while using the knowledge we have up to this point. This alone makes it a fantastic read, since I found myself struggling to decide if I believed, or still liked, our reliable/unreliable narrator. If you've ever had a sibling, especially a sister, this book will speak to you on yet another level. The bond Rosemary shares with her siblings, especially her sister, is beautiful, but unsettling at the same time. In telling her story, Rosemary attempts to cleanse her family's soul and make sense of the rules, behaviors, and scripts that control our interpersonal dynamics.

Again, I don't want to give away ANYTHING, so please, Internet users, refrain from googling this story.  This is the time of year, as the days are getting longer, that anything is possible and stories were meant to be told. This summer, my furious readers, take a chance on Rosemary's truth. Use the long, lazy days ahead of us to listen to another coming-of-age story set in an overgrown labyrinth of Rosemary's signals and words.
Continue Reading...