They Shoot Readers, Don’t They?

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.

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16 responses to “They Shoot Readers, Don’t They?

  1. If I request a book I certainly feel the need to take it home with me, other wise I’d just feel far too embarrassed.

    • I once, accidentally, while trying to request a book, requested the audio. When I went to pick it up and realized my mistake I hesitantly approached the desk, cleared my throat and quietly explained my error. A little too quietly I guess because I was forced to repeat myself. The librarian acted as if she didn’t quite know what to do in such an odd situation. I apologized a little too profusely not too surprised that I am apparently the only person who has ever made such a stupid mistake. At the earliest moment tact would allow, I pushed the CD’s toward her and scurried away.

  2. Triage, triage!

  3. Recently our library ordered two books on lace knitting, and they kept them aside for me (without my asking) because they knew that I did this kind of thing. What amazing people these librarians are! Even though they don’t knit themselves, they pored through the books beforehand and admired the handiwork. And every time I walk in, they do a quick glance at what I’m wearing to see if it’s knitted.

    Maybe this is just a small town thing. Maybe this is a cool librarian thing. Whatever, I like it.

    Thank you for your recent visit to my blog and for subscribing. Happy Weekend!

  4. 2666 defeated me, I am afraid. Halfway through it sometime last year, now I’m scared to pick it up because I know I’ll have to start all over again.

    • I’m only 100+ pages into it, not very far considering it is almost 900, so I have no idea how I’ll feel later, but I like it a lot so far, sometimes find myself laughing out loud. But I can certainly imagine getting defeated by it, maybe I’m even a little surprised I’m not yet. We’ll see. It’s a lot to lug around.

    • Book three is brutal! I’m just going to press on, get to book four and hope I don’t have to read 100 more pages of rapes and murders recounted. A possible explanation for my low depressed mood these last few days.

  5. Great to find a fan of the tragic genius that was Stefan Zweig. If you don’t blub over the film of ‘Letter from an unknown woman’ you have no heart. The Post Office girl is one of the saddest books ever written and a reminder of the mess that was post war Europe.

    • I haven’t seen the film, but I did read the story, it was really beautifully told. I can picture his apartment, the vase of flowers, in my mind almost as if I had been the girl staring into it all those years…

      • I think a lot of the antagonism to Zweig was due to his refusal to acknowledge the holocaust. He came from a Vienna where Jews were accepted in the elite. He could never comprehend the fact that his colleagues could turn against his race.

      • That is what I suspect too.

      • I think he deserves to be near the top of any list of great modern writers. Every book, every story is so intense, so well crafted, and echoes the ideas of his period, such as the work of Freud and Jung. Nobody has ever written likeh him.

      • Intense is the right word.
        “Love, according to the inmost laws of its being, ever desires the illimitable, all finiteness, all moderation, is repugnant, intolerable to it.” Stefan Zweig

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