For those who are wondering where their book is, I wanted to offer assurance that, no, I am not running a poetry racket. Finishing Line Press is simply (way) behind on its publication schedule. They expect mid-life to ship out sometime in September.
In the meantime, I am planning a book launch party in Miami for the Fall. More info to follow.
After going through some 250 pages of its 500 total, the only passage I’ve highlighted in Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” is pictured above. And I only highlighted it because it is a spiritual fun fact, not because the writing is somehow stunning.
Since this year I’ve committed to only reading spectacular books, I decided to drop “White Teeth” altogether. No, “White Teeth” is not bad, I just feel like I’ve already read a better version of it: Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” And, to be honest, I would rather reread Rushdie than read more of Smith.
Of course, the Southeast Asian/UK immigrant story has a lot more flight than that given to it by Rushdie; my qualm with Smith is not rooted in a tired story. My problem with Smith’s novel is that half-way in, I cannot even begin to imagine what her point is. Rushdie’s point, no matter how wacky his story line gets, remains clear: yank the Persian rug from under Islamic extremism, leaving it with no cultural underpinning upon which to stand.
In a way, Smith’s writing reminded me of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” a good book that I forced myself to finish. Both Smith’s and Diaz’s work marry over-the-top sentences with semi-fantastical plots and twirl them into exuberant landscapes, à la Gabriel García Márquez. But. They. Have. No. Point.
I do have to admit, though, that I am grateful to Smith. Her novel helped me understand that my problem with most of the books I’ve recently read is not with the act of reading itself, but with the actual books. I was beginning to fear that I’d lost my love of reading!
But, no, my problem is with fancy footwork that leads nowhere, intricate stories that circle away from a center they never establish. This problem has a ready solution, however. It’s time to pop some Steinbeck, Hemingway and Ferrante.
In China, a person is literate if she can read 4,000 characters. So artist Xu Bing invented 4,000 “fake” characters to render a person illiterate.
He spent four years making his installation, pictured above, and now on display at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. Xu’s “Book from the Sky” embraces traditional Chinese bookprinting techniques but creates an illegible text. The result is nevertheless a clear memo: meaning lies somewhere beyond the word, the word exists beyond meaning, the relationship between a word and its meaning is not monogamous.
For Xu, they are, in fact, divorced but still very much in love.
For weeks and without much formal thought, I let the idea float in my mind. Then the universe began to emit signs. First, my credit card sent an email with hotel promotions in Austin. As an avid unsubscriber, I am not quite sure how the flyer got in my inbox. Then, my parents announced they would be in my hometown for my birthday, allowing my husband and I to leave our two babies.
Without even googling the weather, I got our tickets to Austin. Who even knew Austin is the capital of Don’t Mess with Texas?
Last night, standing in front of our hotel room, I froze. We’d been put in room 629, my birthdate. Shortly after, our dinner search resulted in one clear winner: Elizabeth Street, which served peanut sauce, my favorite food. Elizabeth Street also happens to be the name of the NYC street I lived on after college, the place where my husband and I officially began our story during a weekend snowstorm.
As I poured peanut sauce over organic tofu, my husband asked me what all these signs meant. Basically, I said, it’s like in the “Bourne Ultimatum” when Jason lands in New York without anyone knowing except for CIA agent Pam Landy, and she sends him a message over the airport loudspeaker letting him know she is with him, she is on his side.
After some of the most challenging months of my life, I read these signs as a message from my cosmic Pam Landy letting me know that I am on the right path.
It is, no doubt, a birthday gift — this certainty that the universe is conspiring with me. This Texan message saying: “Howdy, child, do not be afraid to maintain your stride.”
But I am making a mid-year resolution to ditch bad books. Reading hours are far too precious to spend them reading anything less than spectacular.
And so I say good bye to Rosa Montero’s “Dictadoras,” on the lovers of history’s most evil men, and say HELLO to “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. After the first chapter on Stalin, I confirmed that “Dictadoras” is unduly unimportant. Plus, I’ve been meaning to read Smith’s debut novel since college.
More to follow.