So Many Books, So Little Time

This is not my pile of unread books. Mine are in better shape.

One positive aspect of the pandemic for me is that bookstores are closed and I can’t get lost in the endless sea of spines on shelves. In the before-times, I used to walk into every bookstore I came across and if I felt I had five minutes to spare, I would browse for at least twenty minutes and in 99.9% of cases I would end up buying at least one book, often more.

The result of this is that I have an overflowing bookshelf. I came to Canada with four books in my backpack. My dad later sent me another handful, but that accounts, at best, for one row of my shelf. But there are over a hundred books (I haven’t counted them) and, If I had to guess, I’d say that I have read about half of them, maybe less.

Now, Germans are often accused of having a word for everything. While that is mostly true (I mean, look up Waldeslust), we don’t really have a word for the compulsion to buy a book whenever entering a bookstore – at least not that I am aware of. Sure, I could make up a word. German lends itself really well for creating neologisms by simply mashing up existing words. Bücherkaufzwang, consisting of the existing words Bücher (books) and Kaufzwang (oniomania or compulsive buying disorder) sounds good and pretty much hits the nail on the head. But just making up a word, without confirmation and approval by your peers feels like cheating.

Other languages have terms that focus mostly on the collection of books. The Japanese have a term for collecting more books than one reads: Tsundoku. The term consists of the words doku (“reading”) and tsun (“to pile up”). And of course there is the English bibliomania. But both words are only about possessing books and piling up unread literature in one’s collection. That may be the source of my problem, but I am still left searching for a term for the specific symptom of having to buy more books upon entering a bookstore.

I guess I will have to stick with my German neologism for now – and hope that bookstores remain closed for a few more months.

Time Enough At Last. Or Not.

2020 is thankfully behind us. While the new, bad C-word has halted life as we knew it and continues to hold us in its grip – albeit hopefully not for too much longer – the past year has brought many people something precious, something they complained they never had: time.

Yes, all of a sudden many people had time. Whether it was because they had lost their job (hopefully just temporarily) or just because they were now working from home, cutting out their commute. Yes, people had found time. Of course, the irony was that there was nothing you could do with all this time. We were all still stuck at home because of this damn CoV…virus.

One would think that this situation was a perfect scenario for readers. To quote the famous Twilight Zone episode about eerily similar circumstances: Time enough at last! Indeed, we had time at last to read all the voluminous classics of various genres that we never dared to touch but had bought for just such an occasion: War and PeaceInfinite JestUlysses,and all the others we were always so determined to read but never did because – wouldn’t you know it? – we just never had the time.

Yeah, right.

I don’t know about you but 2020 was the year I read less than in any other since I started keeping records of my books in late 2015. It’s not even close. My previous low for a full year was 25 books. Even in 2015, when I started to keep track, I reached 12 books – in November and December alone.

In 2020, I read a total of 11 books.

The more I think of it, the more reasons come to mind why I read so little. The fact that I kept working as usual, with the exception of a few weeks in late March and early April, is one (actually I worked even more, since I started as a freelance writer for cbr.com – give me a read here). Meeting and later moving in with my girlfriend was another. Those were the good reasons.

But there was something else, a sort of restlessness that lingered in me throughout the year. From the start, the news dominated everything. Trump impeachment here, new virus there. Trump madness here, vaccines there. At one point, I found myself checking the number of new infections for Papua New Guinea while watching another nurse break down in tears on CNN. It all felt like War and Peace and Infinite Jest and The Stand had formed a weird exo-literary time-space continuum. I was just waiting for the news that a tennis coach named Randall Flagg was starting a cult to storm Area 51 (the last part was actually a possibility in late 2019, remember?).

So with everything going on and society teetering on the edge of self-destruction, reading felt somehow trivial. I was more worried about whether I would have to buy a sleeping bag and a tent and head north in the middle of the night once anarchy reared its ugly head. Funny enough, even as my mind went there, I still was thinking that I should bring Infinite Jest and It with me. Time enough at last.

But now that 2020 is over the page has turned, pardon the pun. The Mango Mussolini has left in disgrace. Vaccines are, slowly but surely, being distributed. Hope has made a comeback. And so have my reading habits. I am on my fourth book this year and there are no signs of slowing down.

Looks like the Twilight Zone got it wrong. It doesn’t take an apocalypse to find more time to read. Quite the opposite. 

Speaking of…

Yesterday I said that my books were all speaking to me, wanting to be the next book to be read.

Well, if you think that was wacky and out-there-ish, then look at this:

I saw this on Facebook. Allegedly, a couple of librarians created this. But who knows? Maybe the books took it upon themselves to get the message across.

Who’s crazy now?

When Your Books Start Talking to You

Well, since we all can’t go anywhere, why not revive this zombie blog and write about what I’m reading?

To be honest, it’s not much because I am catching up on my TIME magazines while finishing Maupassant’s A Woman’s Life and – boy howdy! – that book is not exactly fun. But what can you do? My OCD requires me to finish it. So here I am, sitting in my Poäng chair, feet outstretched on the foot rest, reading one page, one paragraph, one sentence at a time. Every now and then I look at my bookshelf to the left and what a sight that is: all these books I haven’t read yet! You’d think it motivated me to finish this one faster, but…

I catch myself thinking about what to read next. Rachel Maddow’s Blowout? Not likely while I still catch up on TIME magazine. That would be too much politics at once. The Charles Manson biography? Still too close to politics. I need something fictional.

In a state of trance, I get up and walk over to the bookshelf. At once, I hear all the voices escaping from the dusty pages, all yelling atop of one another, longing to be heard.

The first one sounds foreign and I see the copy of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary but I quickly retreat from that. One Frenchman just ruined my reading experience for a month. I need a change in pace.

Ellis’ American Psycho, Martin’s Game of Thrones series (should I reread the first book before starting the second one?), James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, Auster’s 4321, Ramsey Campbell’s The Darkest Part of the Woods. All unread, all screaming at me, promising me joy and thrills for hours!

Or should I go for a short story collection? I turn Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, Volumes 4-6? I can’t remember too much from volumes 1-3, but I know it won’t be necessary. Richard Matheson, Daphne du Maurier, Ray Bradbury. They all ask me whether I have a few minutes. They promise they’ll be brief.

The only book that keeps quiet is in the top right corner. It’s my trusty German copy of Stephen King’s The Stand. Is it ashamed of the current situation? I look its yellowed pages. The over 1,200 pages would be a serious commitment.

In the end, I don’t know which one to pick. They all look good to me. I go back to my Maupassant. Read one sentence. Then another. And another and another and…

There is one good thing about being stuck with a terrible book: as long as I read this one, I don’t need to decide which to pick next.

Eater of Words, Episode 4: Arthur Slade

I initially planned to release this episode around Christmas, but then Christmas happened and apparently right after that is New Year’s and things got hectic. So my apologies for the delay, especially to Art.

But here it is, finally: my conversation with Art about his Amber Fang series, Kurt Kirchmeier’s The Absence of Sparrows, Stephen King, tricky book titles, and how he walked from New York to Australia. Hope you enjoy!

Eater of Words podcast: Episode 3- Jeanette Lynes

Well, here we are again. Just when you think this place is dead, I bring it back to life – with another episode of the Eater of Words! This time my guest is Jeanette Lynes, who for some unknown reason brought me into the MFA in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan. This time the roles are reversed though – I ask the questions and she provides the answers. Hope you enjoy.

Eater of Words Podcast: Episode 2 – Katherine Lawrence

Well, it’s been awhile. Turns out working full-time (and sometimes editing part-time) takes up a lot of your day, and once you get home, you have to do all this household stuff! I haven’t done any writing of note either! But I am starting to feel it again. That’s the upside of living in a city where you don’t know anybody and don’t have a social life: you can work a lot. So that’s what I intend to do.

Yet, as Bart Simpson used to say (and I think I mentioned this before): I can’t promise you I’ll do it. But I can promise you that I’ll try.

With that being said, here is the second episode of this thing that I’m doing where I talk to people and don’t get paid (see, this is how I distinguish this from work). Hope you enjoy!

Eater of Words, episode 2: Katherine Lawrence

Eater of Words Podcast: Episode 1 – Dave Carpenter

I’m back, baaaaay-baaaaaay!

Phew. The last two months have been hectic and exhausting and all around madness. I moved across the country, started a new job, furnished my new apartment, got entangled in the nightmare of non-Saskatchewan Canadian bureaucracy (still ongoing), went to Germany, had a cousin stay with me for a week right after I came back from Germany, and have overall been extremely busy.

But now, I’m back. And what better way to pick up again than with the inaugural episode of my podcast? The audio is still a bit low in some parts, but I’m learning.

Without any further ado – here’s the audio. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

Eater of Words, Episode 1: Dave Carpenter

Cormac McCarthy – No Country For Old Men

Telegrams were a bit before my time but most of us are still familiar with their staccato style which was solely intended to transmit information (for modern comparison: think of text messages and their, sometimes odd, abbreviations). In this respect, Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel No Country For Old Men reminded me of telegrams (or text messages, if you will).

The book opens up with Llewelyn Moss hunting antelope in the Texas desert one morning when he comes across the scene of a drug deal gone awry. Everybody’s dead, except for one badly injured Mexican. He also finds a satchel with 2.4 million dollars. He takes the money and goes home, but returns to attend the injured Mexican. However, another truck arrives. From there, the chase is on.

The novel was originally drafted as a screenplay which may explain its style of mostly short, functional sentences. It indeed had the effect of reading the treatment of a screenplay: I felt like I was holding a camera, following the characters, and transcribing their actions and words. No time for poetic prose or introspection. Functionality over everything.

This narrative distance however also means that we don’t get any introduction to the characters. We are just thrown into the action and have to figure out what is actually happening and why. Who is Llewelyn Moss? Who is Anton Chigurh? What are their likes, their dislikes? What is their background? Their motivation? We really don’t know for the most part. All we learn about them is what they tell us or what sheriff Bell finds out. That is it.

However, McCarthy employs another interesting stylistic choice which actually helped me along the way: he doesn’t use quotation marks. He doesn’t even separate a character’s actions from his speech. They occur together in the same paragraph and it is up to us, the reader, to figure it out. The only help we get is that McCarthy uses vernacular spelling and idiomacy expression for direct speech (e.g. “sit” becomes “set”).

The resulting effect of this choice on me was that, as a reader, I constantly had to be on my toes. I had to read closely and couldn’t skim over a sentence or space out. Yet, still, I’m not sure I picked up every clue and hidden nod towards what was actually going on. Anton Chigurh, for example, remains a mystery to me.

Having said this, the story is actually quite engaging although there is no reason why we should care for any of the characters since we don’t know enough about any of them and none of them are really portrayed as likeable – with the only exception perhaps being sheriff Bell, who is also the only character we get to know a bit about in the form of brief, journal-like excerpts that open up every chapter.

If you enjoy (modern) Westerns or thrillers involving mysterious characters and nebulous motivations, or if you’re more interested in plot than poetic prose, No Country For Old Men is for you. It’s gritty, rough around the edges and unpretentious. In that, its style reflects the content.

New Year, New Cymaen

Hello again, my favorite people. Yes, you. All of you. It’s a new year and, as far as I’m concerned, everybody starts with a clean slate. Which means you, who are reading this, already got on my good side. Congratulations! Happy New Year!

A new year also means that SiNoWriMo is over and done with. I ended up just short of 23,000 words which is fine but only about half of what I was aiming for. I would be disappointed but I decided to be less hard on myself this year and so I just shrugged it off. It is what it is. Writing is not a matter of how fast you get words on the page. It is about getting those damn words on this blank, snow-white sheet of bleached, dead wood at all. So: good job, Simon. Give yourself a pat on the back. (Although there’s still a little devil on my shoulder who whispers in my ear: ‘get yer lazy arse back to work, ya filthy fecker.’ Don’t know why he’s Irish though.)  

So. With all that 2018 baggage out of the way, let’s turn towards 2019. And you know what that brings? Yes! The debut of the Eater of Words Literary Podcast! But hold on, why do I write about it, when I can TELL YOU?

Too bad that I have the face for radio, but not the voice. Anyway, this is what you get. Hope you tune in.

As you can also see: the wordpress part in the URL is gone. Which means I purchased this domain. Well, actually I’m renting it, I guess, since it costs me 120 CAD a year, or 10 bucks a month. Maybe I’ll need to upgrade it eventually. But for now it’s got all the tools I need.

With the new (less complicated) domain come a few changes. Change number 1: less personal rambling. Also, there’s a schedule I’ve set for myself. A weekly rotation for every month and it goes like this:

Week 1: An outlook on what I’m doing this month (basically a little personal rambling)

Week 2: A brief review of a book I’ve read the last month

Week 3: Something on the craft of writing

Week 4: Podcast Episode

Now, the tricky thing is: there are some months with five Sundays. I haven’t quite gotten around to finalize the plans on those. There’s an idea – but that’s all I’m going to say about it for now.

So, I think we covered everything, right? Right. I’ll be back next week with my thoughts on Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. I have no idea where I’m going with this, but we’ll see what I come up with – next week.

Until then: stay literate.