Sunday, March 1, 2015

the last book I ever read (Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman, excerpt three)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine:

Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She’ll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is.



Saturday, February 28, 2015

the last book I ever read (Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman, excerpt two)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine:

I stand up carefully, lean and twist to stretch my back. The lower back pain isn’t necessarily age related—I’ve lived with mild back pain for years. What has changed is the complexity of the knots: in my younger years the back muscles felt like a simple bowline knot, whereas this morning they feel more like a couple of angler’s loops and a sheepshank. I’m able to name a few knots used by sailors, but I have never been on a boat. Joseph Conrad’s novels planted the seeds of love for sea stories. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News led me to read The Ashley Book of Knots.

I am a reader. Yes, I am that, a reader with nagging back pain.

When my bones ache or my back rebels, I consider the hurt punishment for the years of alienating my body, even dismissing it with some disdain. I deplored my physicality when I was younger, and now it deplores me right back. As I age, my body demands its rightful place in the scheme of my attentions. It stakes its claims.



Friday, February 27, 2015

the last book I ever read (Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman, excerpt one)

from 2014 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine:

For most of my adult life, since I was twenty-two, I’ve begun a translation every January first. I do realize that this is a holiday and most choose to celebrate, most do not choose to work on New Year’s Day. Once, as I was leafing through the folio of Beethoven’s sonatas, I noticed that only the penultimate, the superb op. 110 in A-flat Major, was dated on the top right corner, as if the composer wanted us to know that he was busy working that Christmas Day in 1821. I too choose to keep busy during holidays.

Over these last fifty years I’ve translated fewer than forty books—thirty-seven, if I count correctly. Some books took longer than a year, others refused to be translated, and one or two bored me into submission—not the books themselves, but my translations of them. Books in and of themselves are rarely boring, except for memoirs of Americans presidents (No, No, Nixon)—well, memoirs of Americans in general. It’s the “I live in the richest country in the world yet pity me because I grew up with flat feet and a malodorous vagina but I triumph in the end” syndrome. Tfeh!

Books into boxes—boxes of paper, loose translated sheets. That’s my life.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt fourteen)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable—if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt thirteen)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect: on board the Nadir—especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased—I felt despair. The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture—a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt twelve)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Television tends to level everybody out and make them seem kind of blandly handsome, but at Montreal it turns out that a lot of the pros and stars are interesting- or even downright funny-looking. Jim Courier, former #1 but now waning and seeded tenth, here, looks like Howdy Doody in a hat on TV, but here he turns out to be a very big boy—the “Guide Media” lists him at 175 pounds but he’s way more than that, with large smooth muscles and the gait and expression of a Mafia enforcer. Michael Chang, 23 and #5 in the world, sort of looks like two different people stitched crudely together: a normal upper body perched atop hugely muscular and totally hairless legs. He has a mushroom-shaped head, ink-black hair, and an expression of deep and intractable unhappiness, as unhappy a face as I’ve ever seen outside a Graduate Writing Program. P. Sampras, in person, is mostly teeth and eyebrows, and he’s got unbelievably hairy legs and forearms, hair in the sort of abundance that allows me confidently to be that he has hair on his back and is thus at least not 100% blessed and graced by the universe. Goran Ivanisevic is large and tan and surprisingly good-looking—at least for a Croat; I always imagine Croats looking ravaged and katexic and like somebody out of a Munch lithograph—except for an incongruous and wholly absurd bowl haircut that makes him look like somebody in a Beatles tribute band. It is Ivanisevic who will beat Joyce in three sets in the main draw’s second round. Czech former top-ten Petr Korda is another elastic-looking mismatch: at 6’3” and 160, he has the body of an upright greyhound and the face of—eerily, uncannily—a fresh-hatched chicken (plus soulless eyes that reflect no light and seem to “see” only in the way that fish’s and birds’ eyes “see”).



Monday, February 23, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt eleven)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables. Given a net that’s three feet high (at the center) and two players in (unrealistically) a fixed position, the efficacy of one single shot is determined by its angle, depth, pace, and spin. And each of these determinants is itself determined by still other variables—for example, a shot’s depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball’s height over the net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racquet, degree of backswing, angle of racquet face, and the 3-D coordinates through which the racquet face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings. The tree of variables and determinants branches out, on and on, and then on even farther when the opponent’s own positions and predilections and the ballistic features of the ball he’s sent you to hit are factored in. No CPU yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange—smoke would come out of the mainframe. The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then only unconsciously, i.e. by combining talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art.