Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Name Calling

Tonight, after class, you are at the deli counter of one of the better markets in town, picking up a whim-based quick fix for your dinner.  The time is a few minutes beyond seven-thirty, meaning the evening rush is on the wane.

You see two checkers at leisure, with no customers in line, eager to be home to prepare the evening meal.  Nevertheless, there is a din, a hum of activity, the invasive sounds of individuals in conversation and attitude.Soon you hear a particular voice, its source still not clear to you.  

The voice is calling your name.  Now, you stop, look about you, down one aisle, up another, bent on discovering the source and then the person behind the voice.  A few moments later, in a process of supermarket triangulation, you and your caller have achieved a momentary parallel park of your shopping carts while you catch up on the parade of personal history that has befallen each of you since your last  chance to visit.

The metaphor here is perfect.  Books and stories, however ant-like the process of their appearance in the world of publishing, commerce, and description make them seem, are so plentiful that you have long since tried to come to terms with those you wish to read, those you have no intention of reading, and those you might well wish to read, were you aware of their presence in the world.

Books and stories must call out to you in order to get your attention, the same way your friend got your attention in one of the middle aisles of Gelson's Market.  Knowing this to be true, you allow for a certain ongoing awareness of some of the new books and stories being published among the multitudes.  Books and stories are nearly as pervasive as random events in Reality/

Your current project has itself called out to you to the point where you are well into it, your ongoing proposal for it increasing at a daily basis.  It has your attention, but as your focus fixes on the growing vision of what the final project will look like, you understand how you are focusing on irony.

In its way, the project is the essence of simplicity, one hundred novels you've read over the years, starting at age ten, when you first encountered Huckleberry Finn, extending to some of the novels you believe have made significant impressions on you, to use your own words, knocked you on your literary ass.

With the possible exception of one you are considering changing for another title, you have your hundred novels.  You believe each of them, in its own way, has contributed to making you the writer you are (and by your own extrapolation, cause you to recognize the writer you would like to be but are not yet).  You have them broken into four categories that have relevance for you.  In addition, you've written brief introductions to explain and define these four categories.

Although some time has elapsed since you've reread some of these hundred novels, there is not one in the entire list you have not read at least twice.  In some cases,such as Huckleberry Finn, there is no accurate way to estimate the number of times you've read and reread, then studied the novel for hints, clues, direct and indirect examples of narrative techniques you feel the need to understand more than you do.

Each of these books engaged you to the point where you read, reread, studied, and in some cases even imitated.  Enter the irony, bearing a laundry list of requirements.  You cannot stop your work with a simple mention of a particular novel, then assign it to its place as Coming-of-age, Search, Puzzle, or Institution.  What you must do from the perspective of right now, of July, 2015 and however long thereafter it takes you to acknowledge closure with this project, apply the stethoscope to each of the one hundred.

You must listen to the novel as it once again speaks to you, moves you in the one or more ways it moved you at early or more recent times in your life.  There is no justification you can see for recounting the pollen of these hundred novels.  For one thing, they're available in Wikipedia; for another thing, there is a likelihood many of them have been the subject of explanatory texts, such as the Cliff's Notes revised edition you did for Thomas Hardy's estimable novel, The Return of the Native ( which, much as you liked it, you did not include in your own one hundred novels because it did not knock you.  Impressed, yes, but so too did other of Hardy's novels, including The Mayor of Casterbridge,  one that almost made it to the one hundred because of its first chapter.

What are you listening for?  Only in the most peripheral sense will you be listening to plot.  You will be listening to ways their characters call out to you, asking you to look at the ways they made their appearances on stage.  First and foremost, they will get your attention in the same fashion your attention was wrested from the quotidian by your friend, with their narrative voice.  Their wit will help, but so too will their pathos, their bawdiness, their cleverness, their mischievousness in exposing the institutions and situations you consider to be sensitive to a romp with mischief.

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