Category: book learnin'

Save Me From What I Want: My Favorite Bookshops in Paris

Bookstores, English-language

First off, I know you won’t listen to me on this, but will you please skip going to Shakespeare and Co.?  Pretty please?  Talk about a reputation having outlived a function.  I’ve never found anything particularly interesting there besides some entitled American backpackers and a surly, unhelpful staff.  Yes, they do occasionally have interesting authors speak, but interesting authors speak all over Paris, all the time.

Instead, if you are looking for pleasure reading in English, I would recommend you visit The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (22 Rue St Paul, 75004 Paris, Métro Saint Paul), a small but jam-packed space in the Marais with an extremely friendly staff and a well-curated selection of serious literature, books about Paris, cookbooks, and a rather extensive children’s section. If you are going to be in town for a while, they will happily order things for you that are not currently in stock. I’ll always have a soft spot for this bookstore, as it was one place that I could always count on having a pleasant chat with another human being after a series of long, lonely days.

For a more extensive selection, but perhaps less charm, I’d suggest you push past the tourist crowds waiting in line for hot chocolate at Angelina (why?!) and visit Librairie Galignani (224 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, Métro Tuileries), ostensibly the “first English language bookshop established on the Continent.” Whether or not this is true, Galignani has perhaps the largest selection of fiction in Paris, often offering both the American and the British imprint of various books (this can mean a significant difference in price, though English-language books are always expensive here). In particular, Galignani has a peculiarly well-appointed selection of author autobiographies, biographies, and compilations of letters in a side room, so if that’s your jam, head on over.

For art books, slick stationary, cool kid’s books, and one of the most extensive postcard selections in Paris, visit the Librarie Flammarion inside the Centre Pompidou (Place Georges Pompidou 75004 Paris, Métro Rambuteau). We usually make a habit of meeting here before events at the Pompidou, and it is a rare occasion that all three of us can leave without somebody buying something. Many of the artist monographs on sale are in English, and it’s worth inquiring to the staff if something in particular you want is available in English. Most of the Centre Pompidou’s own gorgeous monographs (must. stop. buying. ten. pound. books.) are issued in English as well as French.  Flammarion is especially notable for their year-round sales, making many of their expensive books up to fifty percent off. A must, especially if you are already visiting the Pompidou, which is in itself a must. I live only two blocks away, so give me a holler when you’re finished and I’ll meet you for a coffee upstairs and we can examine your booty together.

Bookstores, French-language

I could literally write about French bookstores all. day. long. As any nerd will tell you, Paris is a book-lovers dream. I daresay that nowhere else in the world can you find such beautiful, serious, and well-stocked bookstores on nearly every street as you can in Paris.

If you are making like Sartre and de Beauvoir and taking an overpriced coffee at Les Deux Magots, may I suggest that you pop in to La Hune (170 Boulevard St. Germain, 75006 Paris, Métro Saint Germain des Près) and pick up some serious reading. Over sixty years old now, many important writers have browsed this shop and given readings there. And while I don’t think that André Breton is dropping by anytime soon, La Hune still has a pretty knockout list of authors that regularly stop by for book signings.

Another Left Bank favorite and the best recommendation I can make to other literary scholars is Librarie Compagnie (58 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris, Métro Cluny-Sorbonne).  Oh man, can I do some damage here. Obviously, this is one of the main bookshops associated with the Sorbonne, so their selection of literary, theoretical, psychoanalytic, and political texts simply can’t be beat. They often stock both the mass market paperback editions of texts as well as the handsome Gallimard and Éditions de Minuit texts. We’re getting into book snob territory here, so forgive me if this is all Greek to you. Moreover, they host a regular series of lectures by important literary and theoretical authors, many of which transcend the traditional author meet and greet to discuss contemporary politics and culture at large. The staff is extremely sharp, and they often have a good beat on what is going on at the Sorbonne as well – make sure to check out the window displays and the front table, where you will find pamphlets and flyers for upcoming lectures, conferences, and film festivals. One of our favorite ways to spend a winter afternoon is to browse for a while at Compagnie, then head across the street to rue Champollion for a movie at Le Champo or La Filmothèque du Quartier Latin, and finally end up at Le Reflet (22 Rue Champollion, 75005 Paris, Métro Cluny-Sorbonne) for a glass of wine and a chat. Feel free to rip that itinerary off anytime you like. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Should you find yourself in the opposite side of town in Montmartre, I can’t recommend enough a visit to Librairie des Abbesses (30 rue Yvonne Le Tac, 75018 Paris, Métro Abbesses), a smart and well-stocked store with a drool-worthy selection of novels and poetry from small presses, hip design magazines, and an interesting selection of specialized cookbooks. The proprietress is a particularly sassy Montmartre personality and one of M’s favorite eccentric characters in Paris.

Many of you may know that one of my academic interests is in psychoanalysis. Much to my continuous delight (and my pocketbook’s dismay), many bookshops in Paris are well-stocked with texts on this subject that would be either extremely expensive or virtually unavailable in the United States. I’ve been particularly lucky in my own Marais neighborhood in finding books that are of particular interest to me (and perhaps a handful of my readers). The lovely Les Cahiers de Colette (23/25 rue Rambuteau 75004 Paris, Métro Rambuteau) is well-stocked with both classic psychoanalytic texts as well as the newest releases in the field.  They also carry all of the major French psychoanalytic journals and their back issues for at least a year or two.

Another local Marais favorite is Librairie Michèle Ignazi (17 Rue Jouy, 75004 Paris, France), The shop is run by an extremely helpful and knowledegable woman and they stock (among other things) an amazing collection of limited-edition poetry books.  Ignazi and all of the other bookshops listed above are a great example of a particularly Parisian seriousness of bookstore employees. There are no blank-faced, doughnut-eyed Barnes and Noble employees at these stores. These are people who take their trade seriously and are eager to talk to you about your purchases and help you find things in their (often stuffed to the brim) stores.

There are two other places that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, though they certainly veer more towards the American model of book megastore (with its attendant clueless and apathetic employees).  The first is the sprawling Gilbert Jeune empire with its eight locations clustered around Saint Michel (just take the metro to Saint Michel and look for the yellow awnings). The go-to source for students in Paris, Gilbert Jeune is arranged according to academic topic, with heaving crowds during the beginning and end of the academic semesters. It’s chaotic, but it’s also one of the best sources of well-organized used books in Paris, and you can often find a bargain. Additionally, their top-floor selection of mass market (livres de poche) paperbacks can’t be beat, especially if you are looking to buy in bulk (guilty as charged). To the Paris newbie, I’ll pass on the following tip:  when I first moved to France, I was perplexed by the pricing system of livres de poche. M patiently explained to me that each book is marked on the backside with a category code (usually a letter and a number, like F6) which corresponds to a pricing matrix that is posted on a wall somewhere in the store. I’m sure none of my readers are nearly as daft as I was last September, but just in case, I thought I’d pass that one on.

If all else fails and you can’t seem to find a particular book anywhere, I’d recommend that you steel yourself and visit FNAC (1 Rue Pierre Lescot 75001 Paris, Métro Les Halles). This multi-story French institution sells just about every gadget under the sun and has a stunningly large selection of books at the lowest prices in town. Not for the faint of heart or for anyone who can’t handle crowds, FNAC will certainly have what you are looking for, that is, if what you are looking for is available in France. Their staff is comedically unhelpful and I often find it is best to browse their website before entering the madness. Expect check out to take six lifetimes and to sever the final threads of patience you might still have remaining after battling the escalator crowds. Avoid at all costs in December and January, unless Black Friday-style stampedes are your thing.

Rare and Used Books

For rare and used books, I can’t recommend enough a visit to the Marché du livre ancien et d’occasion, held year-round every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Parc Georges Brassens, 104 rue Brancion, 75015 Paris, Métro Porte de Vanves). A remarkably large selection of both valuable collectors books as well as bargain paperbacks, a book lover will be able to spend a whole day browsing here and thumbing through their treasures in the lovely Georges Brassens park that surrounds the market. I took B here for his birthday. Another one of our favorite things to do is to browse the bouquinistes that line both sides of the Seine around Notre-Dame. A Paris institution since the 1500s, the bouquinistes have little overhead and often offer books at lower prices than you will see anywhere else in Paris (especially if you are buying the coveted hardbound La Pléiade editions of classic French authors). Many bouquinistes also sell interesting vintage maps, print advertisements, and antique postcards, though at slightly higher prices. They are a great place to find gifts and a lovely place to browse as a tourist. I don’t make a habit of it, but you can bargain at both the Marché du livre ancien and with the bouquinistes.

So that’s my list, friends, but I know that this is the tip of the iceberg as far as this town is concerned. Please tell me about your favorite Parisian bookshops in the comments!

Clarence Trolls J-Date: Getting Your Deli Fix in Paris

B has been working hard on learning Hebrew the past few weeks with the eventual goal of reading the Old Testament. I’ve been working less hard, spending my time buying books that relate to my dissertation and putting them in stacks, working on my origami, and marveling at B’s capacity for filling notebooks with lists of words and conjugations for hours on end. I spent the last few lazy afternoons reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which my mother loved when it first came out in the 60s and I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It was pretty great, though it made me thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t born in a different generation. As I have a penchant for loving jerks in literature, my favorite character was Norine Schmittlapp, the nemesis of “the group” and the closest thing to a real radical that McCarthy’s 1930s New York has to offer us.  Even so, her portrait is terribly bleak, if surprisingly funny. After her first marriage fails, she marries a wealthy Jewish banker whose family has changed their name from Rosenberg to Rogers, a fact that she shares with “a particular kind of relish” with her aghast acquaintance Priss.

In fact, Priss’s chance encounter with Norine near the end of the novel was one of the best and sharpest parts of the book.  Priss meets Norine in the park, where Norine is pushing her infant son Ichabod (“‘Aren’t you afraid he’ll be called ‘Icky’ in school?’ she asked impulsively. ‘He’ll have to learn to fight his battles early,’ philosophized Norine. ‘Ichabod the Inglorious. That’s what it means in Hebrew. No glory.’”) around naked in his expensive stroller. Norine casually pats her son’s penis, a practice that scandalizes Priss, who is terrified of arousing her own toddler son and would almost rather “he be dirty than have him get an Oedipus complex from her handing him.” Norine insists that Priss come over to her lavishly furnished but disheveled home that nevertheless the site of a well-regarded bohemian salon. There, Norine recounts to Priss her affair with another woman’s husband and is brashly matter-of-fact about her sexual proclivities and experiences. When Priss attempts to describe her (or more accurately, her husband’s) behaviorist theories of child-rearing, Norine condescends the poor woman.  “‘You still believe in progress,’ she said kindly. ‘I’d forgotten there were people who did.  It’s your substitute for religion. Your tribal totem is the yardstick. But we’ve transcended all that. No first-rate mind can accept the concept of progress any more.’” When Priss accuses Norine of having abandoned her political radicalism, Norine declares that she leaves politics to her husband Freddy:

“Being a Jew and upper crust, he’s profoundly torn between interventionism abroad and laissez faire at home.  Freddy isn’t an intellectual.  But before we were married, we had an understanding that he should read Kafka and Joyce and Toynbee and the cultural anthropologists. Some of the basic books. So that semantically we can have the same referents.”

According to Norine, Freddy tolerates this curriculum requirement because

“Freddy’s philopregentitive; he’s interested in founding a dynasty. So long as I can breed, I’m a sacred cow to him. Bed’s very important to Freddy; he’s a sensualist, like Solomon. Collects erotica. He worships me because I’m a goy. Besides, like so many rich Jews, he’s a snob. He like to have interesting people in the house, and I can give him that.”

In her own self-diagnosis, Norine’s only real problem is “her brains”:

“[I was] formed as an intellectual…Freddy doesn’t mind that I can think rings around him, he likes it.  But I’m conscious of the yawning abyss.  And he expects me to be a Hausfrau at the same time.  A hostess, he calls it. I’ve got to dress well and set a good table. He think it ought to be easy because we have servants. But I can’t handle servants. It’s a relic, I guess, of my political period. Freddy’s taken to hiring them himself, but I demoralize them, he says, as soon as they start in the house.  They take a cue from my cerebralism. They start drinking and padding the bills and forgetting to polish the silver. […] I’ve been trying to turn over a new leaf, now that we have a new house. I start out with a woman who comes to massage me and give me exercises to relax. But before I know it, I’m discussing the Monophysites or the Athanasian Creed or Maimonides. The weirdest types come to work for me; I seem to magnetize them. The butler we have now is an Anthroposophist. Last night he started doing eurhythmics.”

When Priss asks if Norine really regrets the Vassar education the women shared, Norine declares “ ‘Oh completely…I’ve been crippled for life.’”

Of course it’s obvious to both Priss and the reader that Norine’s real problem is not her cerebralism but her narcissism and anti-Semitism, which become apparent when calls her own husband a “Yip” and asks Priss with more than a touch of anxiety if she thinks that “Ichabod looks Jewish.” Norine is the great satirical monster of the text, a totally unsympathetic character that is an ingenious cipher for the other women’s anxieties, be they about housekeeping, sexual prowess, education, or parenting. But in her own right, she is such a riveting mess, with the neck-rings on her blouses and her dirty polar bear skin rug; her theories about underlying lesbian drives, oral gratification and penis-envy that are coupled with her brassy declaration that “Freud is out of date”; and her ad hoc parenting cues taken from anthropological texts about the Pueblo Indians. She wears little Ichabod in proto-Baby Björn to a funeral and declares that it serves the same function as a papoose, allowing her to give Ichabod the experience of death early, rather like the mumps.  She serves enormous wedges of chocolate cake to the children for lunch. I rather loved her.

Anyway, I don’t know if it’s my boyfriend’s newest obsession with acquiring Hebrew or reading about old-school New York and the dangerous shiksa Norine for the past few days, but I’ve been longing for some serious kosher deli food. I usually get my fix in Paris with a quick trip to Florence Kahn (24 rue des Ecouffes
at the corner of 19 rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, Métro St. Paul), a fabulous Jewish traiteur in the Marais with one of the best tile mosaic storefronts you’ll ever see.

Inside, you’ll find an amazing selection of fresh bread and pastries, pickled herring and other smoked fishes, blinis, pickles, goulash, latkes, and pierogis, as well as house-cured and smoked pastrami, corned beef, and tongue.  My go-to choice:

The Big Pletzel Sandwich. That’s really what it’s called, meaning ordering it always feels kind of silly:  “Je voudrais un Big Pletzel Sandwich, si’l vous plaît.”  For about seven euros, you get an enormous fresh bun filled with layers of homemade pastrami, pickles, roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes, and some kind of unidentified special sauce. You can get it warmed up and take it to go, or you can sit in their lovely outdoor seating and watch the rue de Rosier hoards line up at L’As du Falafel. Florence Kahn is a great alternative to falafel if the lines at L’As are daunting or if you want a real carnivore fix.  It’s also a lovely place to buy the fixings for a picnic or an easy dinner, like this one I made earlier this week:

I bought the blinis and the glorious lox at Florence Kahn. I gave the blinis a quick shake in some melted butter in a pan, and added some crème fraîche, capers, and red onion that I had in my fridge.  Much fancier and more delicious than it had any right to be, especially given how easy it was to prepare.

The one thing I hesitate to buy and reheat, however, are latkes.  Somehow preprepared or frozen ones are never quite right, even if you fry them in oil. Ever since I saw a soggy tray of them at Florence Kahn, I’ve had proper latkes on the brain. Today I pushed up my sleeves and got to work. I’d never made them before, so I got some ideas from Epicurious and the food section of the New York Times online.  I settled on this compromise recipe (based on what I had on hand):

9 all-purpose white potatoes, peeled, grated, and drained

½ of a white onion, grated

1 shallot, grated

3 eggs, beaten

¾ cup of baguette breadcrumbs (you’re supposed to use matzo meal, but all the kosher stores are on vacation, just like the rest of Paris in August)

Salt and pepper

Canola oil for frying (I used extra virgin olive oil, because my kitchen is too small for ingredients I rarely use)

Applesauce and sour cream for serving (crème fraîche if you’re on this side of the pond)

After peeling and grating for what seems like forever, incorporate your potatoes, onion, shallot, and eggs together.  Then, add breadcrumbs (or matzo meal) gradually to soak up the excess liquid.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat up about two tablespoons of oil in a deep frying skillet. When crackly, add a heaping tablespoon of the batter to the oil, patting it down with the back of your spoon to form a thick pancake.  Fry each side 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and lacy at the edges. I was able to fit three latkes in each batch, and each batch took approximately one Róisín Murphy jam to cook. I incurred only two minor splatter burns in the whole process (the cost of doing business if you ask me).  I may or may not have been pretending to be Polly, the most sympathetic member of The Group, who cooked grandiose meals every night for her publisher lover (scandalous!) on her tiny hotplate.

Drain on papertowels.

Keep the earlier batches warm, either in a low oven (aren’t you a fancypants!) or in a covered pan.

Serve with sour cream and applesauce, preferably to a bewildered student of Hebrew, who will likely seem very impressed at your labor-intensive weekday lunch.

 

In isolation, he would examine himself in the Crowd-mood

I like it very much when the comments on my posts end up being much more detailed and much better wrought than my own writing.  It makes this whole thing seem slightly less malignant in its narcissism.  Lately, I’m totally unworthy of my commenters.  I would really encourage you to read both BJG and B’s comments on my last post, and would especially encourage you to watch the video that BJG links to on Youtube. I’m completely riveted by this child, and totally guilty of helping this little Neocon nightmare go viral.  We have a new poster child for the movement, ladies and gentlemen!  I suppose that this pettiness isn’t actually in keeping with B’s wise declaration that we not “continue to label them misfits in order to feel better about our own brand of elitism”  by going “back to a more human and humanizing form of discussion.”  But B, this one is just too damn good!  I especially love the sign at 0:17:  “Thank you Fox-News for keeping us infromed!”  Everyone, let’s help luckygal90 achieve her dreams, which she ever-so-articulately describes thusly:  “Every 1 I Really want Glenn Beck to see this so plz help me 2 get this video viral so he see’s it and i can mabie be on his AWESOME show !”

No mabies about it, kiddo, you’re gonna be huge!  Infrom your friends!

* * *

I wish I had an awesome restaurant to tell you about, but unfortunately I’ve been mostly housebound by a nasty head cold the past few days.  The past forty-eight hours have largely consisted of me lying in bed watching the second season of Twin Peaks and dealing with the torrents of snot.  How exactly I managed to miss Twin Peaks until now bewilders me, but now that I’m watching it I’m a veritable junkie.  I’ll spare you any half-baked analysis of the show as it would be a decade late and a dollar short, suffice it to say that I’m finding Lynch to be good entertainment when viewed through a serious Nyquil haze.

When I’m hopped up on Dayquil, I’ve been reading biographies of D. H. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis.  Call it dissertation reading lite. I’ve never been a biography reader before this, though I can now see the appeal of the genre.  It is very satisfyingly intrusive to have this much intimate information about someone. Jeffrey Meyers, who wrote the Lawrence biography that I’m reading, seems positively infatuated by Lawrence’s sex life, specifically various ladies’ accounts of his virility and performance in the sack.  After one such exhaustive account of Lawrence’s ability to “come back to a woman time after time,” I felt compelled to draw a heart in the margin containing J.M. + D.H.L. 4EVR! This might be the result of repeated viewings of luckygal90’s groundbreaking video.  Or maybe just all the cold medication.  Don’t get me wrong, David Herbert (at least in Meyer’s account) sounds like just the type of vaguely sociopathic fellow that I myself could lose a lot of sleep over:

“Lawrence was an immensely attractive man, but lacked the traditional English aloofness and reserve.  Spontaneous and volatile, he put a great strain on his personal relationships.  He had an uncanny ability to pierce his friends’ social façade, penetrate the essence of their character and reveal their inner core.  He wanted to transform their lives, often a disturbing and unwelcome process, and the ability to withstand this onslaught was a prerequisite for retaining his friendship.  Lawrence spoke and wrote to his friends with unusual—and even cruel—candor in order to destroy their defenses and revitalize their existence.”

D. H. Lawrence:  A Biography (1990)

Meyers seems especially adept at describing the particular strain of masochism that us mere mortals endure when confronted with Artistic Genius, that is, the battle cry of girls-who-date-musicians everywhere.  He’s mean to me because he wants to transform me!  He’s not a jerk, he’s an Artist!  If I withstand his bullshit, I’ll be the better for it!

Anyway, I suspect that all biographers—and perhaps dissertation-writers—run the risk of falling in love with their subjects.  I fell asleep mooning over a picture of old Wyndham when he was a dashing young solider and proceeded to have this overblown romance novel of a dream in which Wyndham and I were lovers torn apart by the war.  I awoke overwhelmed by the weight of my own lurid dorkiness.

* * *

I have taken my last dose of my smuggled-in American Nyquil (!), so I’ll let Wyndham have the last word.  I think he certainly had us Coastal Elites in mind when he wrote the following:

“You need the anger of the shopkeeper as much as the opinion, or the imagination, of the commissionaire.  It is because you are fundamentally like, as like as two peas to, your less informed, less polished brother, that you have a need of him.  You need to be seen by him, to keep close to or far from him.  You are always a pea disguising itself from a million other peas.  The other peas all know you are a pea, and love to think of a pea like themselves being a soft, subtle, clever, insolent pea!  But your identity is precarious.  Yes, you must be lavish; otherwise—you will receive that deadly look that one pea gives another when pretence is laid aside.  You must furthermore be careful never to touch, mingle with, or attack anything before first convincing yourself that it be, in fact, a pea.  Do not be so fatuous as to interfere with a melon!  it might not result in harm, but it is no fun!  The whole game is constructed, all its rules made, for bodies roughly speaking, identical in volume and potentialities.”

– Blasting and Bombardiering (1937)

UPDATE:  Luckygal90 apparently does not appreciate my publicizing her Youtube video to my six readers.  Too bad, we were only trying to do our small part in helping her achieve her dreams of going viral.  Nevertheless, I’ve removed the link at her request.

On truth and lies

“All I can do is tell the truth.  No, that isn’t so–I have missed it.  There is no truth that, in passing through awareness, does not lie.  But one runs after it all the same. […] A certificate tells me I was born.  I repudiate this certificate:  I am not a poet, but a poem.  A poem that is being written, even if it looks like a subject.”

– Jacques Lacan in his preface to the English-language edition of Seminar XI

It’s really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes

Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody.  – J. D. Salinger

I was sad to see that Salinger died yesterday. Like everyone else, I read Catcher in the Rye when I was twelve or thirteen at the recommendation of my parents. Like everyone else, I felt that it captured a particular mood of disaffection and disappointment with the world that only I felt. Like everyone else, I put the book down in amazement and said to myself “That’s me!  That’s how I feel about things!” That feeling fades, of course, with later readings, and I can’t say that I identified nearly as much with Holden when I re-read the book several years ago. I will say I still enjoyed the book immensely and certain parts became funnier as I had myself begun to remedially circulate in a world where people actually grew up in Manhattan and went to Andover. It’s curious that generations of preteens in middle-class suburbs across the US can so effectively ignore the sociocultural observations that Salinger is making about a very specific niche of people. Wait, kids are still reading Catcher, right? Or are they only reading books about wizards and virgin vampires these days? At any rate, while I probably wouldn’t pick Catcher up again today, I’d still put Franny and Zooey in my top twenty any day of the week.

As I poked around on the internet for information about Salinger’s passing, I discovered a strange new facet of Google, which now has this feature that provides a constant feed of Twitters about popular subjects. So as soon as I googled “J. D. Salinger,” I knew that LustyJoe46 has just Twittered: “Catcher in the Rye was all about me, man, R.I.P. J.D.S.”  Fascinated, I watched the Twitter feed for about twenty minutes. I know that this makes me sound geriatric and all of the hip young folks have been on Twitter like for-ever now. An amusing aside:  during a particularly ridiculous moment of Orange County paranoia last year, a young man wandered onto campus wearing fatigues and carrying a gun that somebody construed as a rifle and reported to the police, resulting in a full-fledged campus lockdown with helicopters and newscameras and hysteria-mongering text messages. I was mostly annoyed that my terrific lesson on Melanie Klein was being disrupted. As my students and I waited nervously in our classroom, one kid busted out his computer to go on Twitter to check for updates. I went from fearing my own imminent execution to amazement about this technological black magic in four seconds flat. “So, wait, you can see everything about this topic that ANYBODY is posting on Twitter?! Even if you aren’t their friend? In real time? That’s incredible!” Turned out in the end that the “gunman” was a kid on his way home from playing paintball. I left that incident alarmed mostly by the way that text messaging and Twitter had fanned the flames of a collective panic attack. Technology! It makes us increasingly anxious to live in the world!

Seriously though, I don’t have a Twitter and I don’t really think that I’d be hip to the format. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a touch longwinded over here. Twitter messages have a limit of 140 characters! I can’t even yawn in 140 characters! I’m not going to throw stones at anybody who Twitters (in fact, most of this week has consisted of me going to talk shit about someone and then realizing that nobody with a blog should ever talk shit about anyone and shutting my big fat mouth). Actually I’m envious that anybody can get out whatever it is they need to say in such a succinct format. What did piss me off, however (you knew this was coming), were the dozens upon dozens of jerk-offs who went on their Twitter feeds to talk about how they didn’t really like Catcher and don’t understand what all the fuss is about or who decided to debate it’s literary merit in the wake of Salinger’s death. To those people I want to say this: I’m sorry that you didn’t read Catcher in the Rye when you were 13 like everybody else because you were instead playing video games or beating off or torturing neighborhood animals. I’m sorry that you waited until you were in your twenties to pick the thing up and only did so because you realized that adults occasionally do this little thing called “read” and you asked your better-educated buddy to recommend some of his favorite books. Maybe you didn’t like it when you read it a decade too late, but you are going to have a tough time coming up with a more important coming-of-age novel for generations of American teenagers. So – – – – off. I’m not censoring myself in that last sentence, I just haven’t decided exactly what four letter word I would put there. Obviously, it is best that I don’t have a Twitter, because I would probably use it as a forum for picking fights with complete strangers.

This was an ugly entry, so I’ll leave you with something better, namely the ever-sagacious Louis Menand talking about Salinger’s legacy in the New Yorker archives. We’re well on our way to this blog devolving into a place where I only post links to New Yorker articles I like. Patience, dear reader, we’ll get there. Patience.

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2001/10/01/011001fa_FACT3

P. S.  A-topical, but life wisdom none the less:  “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late?  Nobody.”

Dearest reader

Have I mentioned yet how excellent it is that you are coming here?  Really truly, you’ve made my week.  My mom promises me that she is only clicking on my blog once a day, and even if “once” is actually code for “a dozen or so times,” the math still suggests that other people are actually coming here.  And by the math I mean the WordPress generated stats, and whoa, are they hella addictive.  Everyone should get a blog if only so they can have a line graph of their relative popularity to consult on an hourly basis.  Or not, if you have a job or some other frivolous outlet for your time like that.

Rereading that paragraph, I want to ask:  is “hella” still okay if dripping with ironic distance?  No?  I don’t want to alienate you, dear reader, whomever you are!  If you don’t like “hella,” I won’t use it.  This is a cheerocracy and I take your thoughts on slang seriously.  Not so into Bring It On references either?  Well, dear reader, now you are starting to cramp my style.  Just kidding.  I won’t use “hella” or reference teen comedies if it bothers you.  But “heaving”? Have you jumped on “heaving” yet?  If you haven’t, I suspect that part of the problem is that you don’t know personally the delightful individual from whence this little gem sprung.  The key is her high-pitched inflection on the first syllable.  It seriously kills me.  Maybe I can upload an audio file?  That sounds like it might be difficult.  Perhaps a list of sample sentences to demonstrate how you could incorporate “heaving” into your daily life?  Or you could submit your own!  Look, I know it’s waaay too early in our relationship for me to be making demands of you, dear reader.  You’ve barely decided if you like me yet!  You’re probably just here because you fear slander!  But it would mean a lot to me if you tried on “heaving” for size.  It’s multipurpose, gender-neutral, and British but not affected.  How often does something like that come into your life?  You should thank me.

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Those of you in the know might recognize this beseeching “dear reader” from one of my very favorite books that I would never recommend to you, D. H. Lawrence’s 1921 and 1922 screeds against psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious.  Lawrence spends a lot of time in this very bizarre mode of address to his “dear readers,” whom he largely loathes but nevertheless requires as an audience.  He’s a jerk, and it’s one of his jerkiest pieces of writing, and I fully understand that virtually no one is as interested in psychoanalysis AND jerks as I am.  However, if my blithe self-description as a Freudian makes you a wee bit uncomfortable, you might really like it:

With dilated hearts we watched Freud disappearing into the cavern of darkness, which is sleep and unconsciousness to us, darkness which issues in the foam of all our day’s consciousness.   He was making for the origins.  We watched his ideal candle flutter and go small.  Then we waited, as men do wait, always expecting the wonder of wonders.  He came back with dreams to sell.  But sweet heaven, what merchandise!  What dreams, dear heart!  What was there in the cave?  Alas we ever looked!  Nothing but a huge slimy serpent of sex, and heaps of excrement, and a myriad repulsive little horrors spawned between sex and excrement!

I mean, I get it.  Not everybody is as interested in the convergence of sex and excrement as I am.  Or maybe you are just uncomfortable with the vulgar Freudianism that results in a Jersey Shore-style culture of hyper-sexuality and self-promotion (“Everything comes back to sex anyway, so take look at my tits!!!):

If it is a question of origins, the origin is always the same, whatever we say about it.  So is the cause.  Let it be a comfort to us.  If we want to talk about God, well, we can please ourselves.  God has been talked about quite a lot, and He doesn’t seem to mind.  Why we should take it so personally is a problem.  Likewise if we wish to have a tea party with the atom, let us:  or with the wriggling little unit of energy, or the ether, or the Libido, or the Élan Vital, or any other Cause.  Only don’t let us have sex for tea.  We’ve all got too much of it under the table; and really, for my part, I prefer to keep mine there, no matter what Freudians say about me.  But it is tiring to go to any more tea parties with the Origin, or the Cause, or even the Lord.  Let us pronounce the mystic Om, from the pit of the stomach, and proceed.

Oh, David Herbert, I love you.  Even when you punch me in the face, you never fail to make nice a little later on.  Let’s hang out always.  Om.

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Finally, more fan mail!  Just kidding.  However, one M. Starik remarks:  “I don’t mind you using my photos, but does it always have to be in context of the entries tagged barf, solipsism, or funk?”  Point taken, M. Starik.  Your photographs and general bearing in the world in no way reflect these pitiful categories.  From now on, I’ll try to incorporate your work (and the accompanying adjective game!) into more cheerful entries.  Forgive me, divine Miss M.  You really are the wind beneath my wings.