Sunday Salon: Week Five

The Sunday

This was the last week of classes, so all that remains of my teaching load for the semester are some massive piles of grading and the preparation of an exam that I hope will be easy for those who came to class and did the reading, and will unmask (!) those who did not. For the most part, my students did a great job keeping up with the heavy reading load (if their participation is a good indicator, which for the more confident of them perhaps it is not), so there shouldn't be any instances of red-ink carnage in grading these suckers.

My reading load has been picking up steadily this week as I finally began to relax into my post-dissertation, (almost) post-teaching, (mostly) post-job market persona. I finished Agent Zigzag (an impossibly dashing nonfiction account of a double cross agent who volunteered to spy for both the Germans and the British in WWII) yesterday in a mad sprint of reading after it was recalled by the library. My reviewing is still about a month behind, however - hopefully I can remedy that in the near future (perhaps even today?).

In my reading pile for today:

  • Finish the first volume (1950-1952) of The Complete Peanuts. You may have noticed that I have been reading this for several consecutive Sunday Salons. Now I am finally within ten pages of the end, so there is no excuse not to finish it off today. In fact, I am no longer reading the strips themselves, but am deep into the very interesting back matter, which includes an interview in which Schulz admits that he doesn't care, on an artistic or professional level, for Garry Trudeau, and an essay by David Michaelis, more recently the author of Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography. As Michaelis observes,
[The strips] explained America the way Huckleberry Finn does: Americans believe in friendship, in community, in fairness, but in the end, we are dominated by our apartness, our individual isolation. (292)
  • Continuing on through the list of "things that have been on this TBR pile, half-completed, for far too long," I hope to finish, at long last, George Ryga's drama of exploitation and violation, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. It is the brutality of the subject matter that has stymied me between acts for several weeks, but this increasingly feels like a rather feeble excuse for not finishing one of the most acclaimed and assigned plays from the Canadian dramatic canon.
  • I am still reading a bit of Gabrielle Calvocoressi's thought-provoking, vintaged collection of poems, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, every day. Yesterday's reading, from the first half of her long poem "Circus Fire, 1944," contained this stunning passage from a section titled "A Word from the Fat Lady":
When folks scream or clutch their hair

and poke at us and glare and speak
of how we slithered up from Hell,

it is themselves they see:
the preacher with the farmer's girls

(his bulging eyes, their chicken legs)
or the mother lurching towards the sink,

a baby quivering in her gnarled
hands. Horror is the company

you keep when shades are drawn.
Evil does not reside in cages. (34)
Calvocoressi continues to play with point of view in describing historical events that hover anxiously between the public (left to us in fragments through newspaper accounts and archival interviews) and the intimate (passed down through half-remembered storytellings), piecing together the last departure of a famous aviatrix or a hideously deadly fairground fire from the triangulated tales of very different observers.

As in "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart," the long poem from the collection that I described a couple of weeks ago in Sunday Salon, you can see Calvocoressi using the extended poetic format to weave complex fabrics of imagery: the chicken legs and bulging eyes of the preacher with the farmer's girls not only underline the grotesquerie of this mundane (and increasingly disturbing) grouping, but also tie them back to an earlier section in which a "geek" describes his work biting the heads off chickens ("Women swoon but stay / until the bleedings done, / pocket feathers: souvenirs" [32]) and forward to later descriptions of the tortured bodies melting together in the flames. This is an infernal poem: a short epic descent into the underworld, in which the underworld and the mundane world melt into each other in the intensity of the heat. "Evil does not reside in cages."

Today I would like to finish "Circus Fire, 1944," which extends across 23 parts.

  • I have just started Dreaming in Cuban, Christina Garcia's novel of revolutionary Cuba, which I want to have finished in time to post about it with the Slaves of Golconda at the end of the month. I have only read about five pages so far, but already it is not what I expected: more searing, more dreamlike.
  • I would like to make some serious progress on Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, which you may remember has also made several appearances on my Sunday Salon "to do" lists. Sigh. Progress will be made! The book itself is skeptical about the nature of progress. It is a novel about vividly unhappy women who feel unexpectedly smothered by their suburban lives. One has just described seeing each of her family members off to work or school as "a feeling of rapid ascent, as though the members of her household were sandbags she was heaving one by one out of the basket of a hot-air balloon" (43).
  • Last week I noted that I had to return Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to the library half-read when it was recalled from me. In a library miracle, I recalled it right back (which usually means that the other reader has a shortened time of several weeks before having to return the book) and it made its boomerang way back to me two days after I returned it. Now I feel it is my biblio-civic duty to finish it and return it as quickly as possible for any other readers who may want it.
  • If, amidst all these mighty plans, I can slip in a couple of chapters of Don Quixote, with which I am about 3/4 of the way done, that would be, well, a source of great surprise and pride.
What's up next, after this whopping pile? Probably Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy (so long half-finished that I may have to just start at the beginning again), the collected plays of Howard Brenton, and my first Octavia Butler novel, Parable of the Talents.

Happy reading, all!

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4 Responses so far.

  1. Wendy says:

    Wow Ariel - you have quite a stack there! I have never been able to read multiple books at the same time. If I'm reading fiction, I read just that book until it's done. Although, I *am* able to read a book of short stories or essays in between.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Some students just never learn that there is a reason why we ask them to come to class, do they? I have a similar exam coming up the week after next. I heard 'Agent Zigzag' serialised on the radio a couple of months ago and thought then about picking the book up. I'll wait for your review and see if it's worth it.

  3. Alix says:

    I made a note of Agent Zigzag when I saw it advertised at the Spy Museum in Washington, it looks good, so I'll be back for your review.
    Your have quite a TBR pile :) The Peanuts book sounds great.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Answering your question on the challenge: That’s right. But the trick is to choose one every group of 10 books :). And if you happen to have read 1 or more books in that group, you can skip it.

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