Posts tagged with the rumpus
The Last Book I Loved: Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’
The Last Book I Loved is an ongoing series from The Rumpus to highlight emerging Tumblr writers (and the books they love). This is the final installment of Tumblr Storyboard’s version, but you can still submit to The Rumpus for publication! Thanks for reading.
I came across a Facebook post recently in which someone offered W.B. Yeats’ poem “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” as encouragement for a peer going through a quarter-life crisis. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” Yeats writes. It’s a feeling everyone has at some point, but for a twentysomething in the midst of an identity crisis, it sounded especially appropriate.
Joan Didion must have felt the same way when she chose the poem as an epigraph for her essay collection of the same name.
The Last Book I Loved: ‘The Unnamed’
When you go to the website for Joshua Ferris’s 2010 novel, The Unnamed, your screen fills with static for a second. Then it resolves into a grainy gray video of the main hall of Grand Central Terminal, like security camera footage, commuters walking to and from their trains. And then fuzzy blue circles appear over a handful of heads. When you click on one, the video pauses, and a small text bubble comes up. One says, “I look around, I wonder if I’m just sick.” Another quotes a poem by Percy Shelley. “Art thou pale for weariness / Of climbing heaven and gazing on earth/Wandering companionless / Among the stars that have a different birth.” They feel like a little of what each person has inside them, a bit of story or sorrow they keep inside themselves.
This is what Joshua Ferris’s work is — a song of this secret world. He writes about the isolation of modern life, our disconnect from the world at large and from the people around us. And he writes of the small, beautiful hopes of connection — through love, through hope, through body-breaking exertions.
The Last Book I Loved: A Time to Be Born
Ernest Hemingway purportedly said of Dawn Powell that she was his “favorite living writer.” Powell’s reputation has dwindled since then, and so I picked up A Time to Be Born in an effort to read more women writers — especially once-famous, forgotten ones. It took me a long time to get around to reading it, though, mainly because the back cover blurbs and reviews I read didn’t do justice to the one thing that made me love this book: Dawn Powell’s writing is so damn mean.
The Last Book I Loved: History of the Peloponnesian War
This is not an easy book to love. As an object, it is one of those books all of an age: squat, with yellowing, pulpy pages, the kind whose corners you can’t turn down because the paper creases so hard it that it might as well be perforated. Dog-ear it in the opposite direction and the corner comes off entirely. The print is small and dense; and it is a 2,400 year old account of a war that gets no press. It’s not sexy like the Fall of Troy, not Homerically epic. The gods don’t factor in. The content is almost as hard to love as the way I remember myself when the book first came to me.
The Last Book I Loved: Cataclysm Baby
Cataclysm Baby, a short story collection by Matt Bell, explores fatherhood under the guise of a book of baby names. The innocent abecedary form belies the book’s dark contents. I don’t think it would be inappropriate to place the collection in the horror genre, if only to align it with my own desires and my love affair with horror movies. But the book certainly contains enough blood, guts, and magic to earn a place there.
The Last Book I Loved: The Dream Songs
My relationship with John Berryman’s Dream Songs, like the songs themselves, is murky, complicated, obscure in origin, and not easy to explain — not even to myself. One signpost of great art, it seems to me, is that the meaning of its greatness shifts in relation to the reader over time, and my appreciation of The Dream Songs has deepened and evolved — as I expect it will to continue to for the rest of my life — in the two decades since it first came to my attention.