I was trying to work out what to read next as I came to the excellent end of Scarlet and Black (Stendhal). A friend of mine and her husband had just read A Visit From the Goon Squad and recommended it. I went to the online library catalogue to see if they had it. They did, but it was out and there was already a hold on it. I put myself in the queue figuring I would have it in a few weeks. I started surfing around looking for more immediate prospects, and landed on an interview with the author Lars Iyer.
I was interested enough to look for his book Spurious, but no library in the state had it. I found it on Amazon and as the shipping cost more than the used copy, I purchased it. I figured I’d have it in a week or so. In the interview Iyer mentioned a scathing review of Stephan Zweig’s writing (and his rather strange desire to be critiqued in a similar meme). This past fall I had read some of Zwieg’s books: The Royal Game and other short stories, Beware of Pity, Journey Into The Past, so I clicked on the link to the London Review of Books to see what it said. Scathing is a kind word for the complete evisceration of Zweig and his work. It was so intense it drew my attention away from the victim toward the denouncer. Who is this guy and what is his problem? I had quite enjoyed Zweig’s books. He was very unfavorably compared to his contemporaries, one of which was Joseph Roth. I had read Roth before I fell in with Zweig, and although I liked The 1002nd Night, I moved on to other authors.
Here in this anti-Zweig diatribe was a fevered insistance that Roth was obviously a genius but why he even bothered to be friends with the horrible writer Zweig was beyond the comprehension of the reviewer. Well, it was quite enough to put one off writing altogether. Life is painful enough without having to endure such withering ad hominem attacks. Luckily Zweig is dead, so I needn’t worry on his account. However, I was curious to revisit Roth now. There was a copy of The Radetzky March at a nearby library, so I went to get it:
As I pick it off the shelf, having my choice of two copies (I choose the hard cover with no picture and a handy ribbon to mark one’s place), my eye snags on the “S” section. José Saramago. Damn it. I had forgot that I really wanted to read another one of his books (I had read The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis this past summer and really loved it), and there right in front of me is a very pretty copy of Baltasar and Blimunda. No, I tell myself, no no no, you have enough to read. But my hand picks it up anyway and then my feet just start to walk toward the circulation desk. I stop myself in the middle of the room and contemplate the weight of the pages in my hand. Oh all right, just move: you look ridiculous frozen on the middle of the floor. I check them both out.
The next day I got an email from the library, The Goon Squad book is in. That was quick. When I got to the library I was surprised to see that there are actually two books waiting for me. I pick up the very hefty 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. When did I request that? I search my memory. I had just read a short story of his in The New Yorker, and I do remember that I then thought about his book The Savage Detectives, which I liked; I even recalled the memory of thinking about a good review I had read of 2666, but I had absolutely no memory of actually requesting it.
I searched my mind and there was nothing there. I really am a ghost in my machine, and as it turns out, my machine, like all others I use, runs its own programs mysteriously deleting and eating bits of information. Where do they go? Surely they must be on the hard drive, somewhere, but they are un-retrievable.
When I request a book I feel almost contractually bound to read it. It would be rude not to as the library has so kindly pulled it for me. So I brought them back to my abode and made a large pile on my desk – the due dates shout out at me. The next day Spurious came in the mail.