Long and short reads that stuck with me from 2013.
1. Tim Kreider, "I Know What You Think of Me," New York Times, Nov 29, 2013
So much insight packed into such a small space.
"Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known."
2. The Return: Short stories by Roberto Bolaño (New Directions, 2012).
Posthumously published short stories from one of my favourite writers.
"When we’d been living together for a year she left me for a German, by the name of Kurt something or other. She told me she was in love and then she cried, because she felt sorry for me or just because she was happy, I don’t know. Come on, that’s enough, mala mujer, I said to her. She started laughing like she always did when I spoke my language. I started laughing too. We shared a bottle of vodka and said good-bye."
One other glimpse: this single sentence (which tells a charming story in itself, pure Bolaño) from the short story "Meeting with Enrique Lihn."
3. Rebecca Solnit, Field Guide to Getting Lost (Penguin, 2006)
"We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance wthout wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away."
4. Maria Bello, "Coming Out as a Modern Family"
What makes a partner?
When my 12-year-old son, Jackson, asked me if there was something I wasn’t telling him, I replied, “There are a lot of things I don’t tell you.”
He persisted: “What kind of adult stuff?”
This was the moment I had been anticipating and dreading for months.
5. Naomi Klein, "How science is telling us all to revolt," New Statesman
Revolt, she said.
"Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of 'friction' to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control."
6. Hunter S. Thompson on unemployment: "I think it's a fine thing."
"Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives... and to 'the good life,' whatever it is and wherever it happens to be."
7. Maureen O'Connor, "All My Exes Live in Texts: Why the Social Media Generation Never Really Breaks Up." New York
Mesmerizing read. It's like the dystopic 1984-for-the-Facebook-generation novel Super Sad True Love Story, but... true.
"Etiquette can’t keep up with us—not that we would honor it anyway—so ex relationships run on lust and impulse and nosiness and envy alternating with fantasy. It’s a dozen soap operas playing at the same time on a dozen different screens, and you are the star of them all. It’s both as thrilling and as sickening as it sounds."
8. John Berger's Booker award winning novel G.
Brilliant novel by one of my favourite essayists.
"Being in love is an elaborate state of anticipation for the continual exchanging of certain kinds of gifts. The gifts can range from a glance to the offering of the entire self. But the gifts must be gifts: they cannot be claimed. One has no rights as a lover — except the right to anticipate what the other wishes to give. Most children are surrounded by their rights (their right to indulgence, to consolation, etc.): and so they do not and cannot fall in love. But if a child — as a result of circumstances — comes to realize that such rights as he does enjoy are not fundamental, if he has recognized, however inarticulately, that happiness is not something that can be assured and promised but is something that each has to try to find for himself, if he is aware of being essentially alone, then he may find himself anticipating pure, gratuitous and continual gifts offered by another and the state of that anticipation is the state of being in love."
9. Nora Saraman, "Dating tips for the feminist man," The Media Co-op, 2013
Not just for the feminist man....
"Get used to being uncomfortable and learning to have loving, clear, and interconnected boundaries that honour your internal voices as well as the needs of the other humans you share this planet and this community with – that is where learning happens. So when the zombies or the bankers come for us, we won't have to waste energy fighting each other."
10. Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Vintage, 2012)
I never thought I would read a book of collected advice columns, but I'm glad I did.
"Cheryl wasn’t just trying to shock some callow kid into greater compassion. She was announcing the nature of her mission as Sugar. Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. That was her essential point. Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters — every sin, every regret, every affliction. As proof, she offered an account of her own struggle to reckon with a cruelty she’s absorbed before she was old enough to even understand it. Ask better questions, sweet pea,she concluded. The fuck is your life. Answer it."
Great write-up of the book here.