Long-term projects

As the name of my blog states, I am addicted to “loose baggy monsters,” those novels that are so big they could also serve as doorstops and/or weapons (although that would require throwing a book, which I don’t usually do*). As friends and family enjoy pointing out, if there is a fat book on the bookstore shelves, it fixes me in its sights and compels me to buy it. My general reading weaknesses are short stories and poetry. Where short stories are concerned, I think my problem is that I finally get into a story, the characters come to life for me, and then it ends too soon, leaving me with a sort of hollow feeling. On the other hand, you would think that my increasingly short attention span would thrive on a volume that I could dip into in relatively short intervals. I love essays, why not short stories?

Poetry is difficult for me in part because I am too concerned with other people’s opinions. It may sound ridiculous, but I can’t help a nagging feeling of pretentiousness from creeping over me whenever I try to read poetry. It is ridiculous, in fact, because I rarely read poetry in public–ensconced in my office, who besides the cats will ever see me reading it? And yet, despite the fact that I have 2 (smallish) shelves dedicated to poetry, I don’t read it as often as I should.** Perhaps it’s because I have a hard time divorcing it from the “serious reading” done in classrooms and I don’t envision it as something that can be read at home, “for fun.” Such divisions are completely arbitrary and often rather unreasonable and I suspect that it would be liberating if I could break down the mental block that sustains them.

Whatever my silly prejudices, I’ve been thinking of taking on a long-term project of sorts, in which I read (and hopefully get around to posting about) a poem and/or short story each week. I was spurred to think about this because of the upcoming summer poetry challenge and my acquisition of Tatyana Tolstaya’s White Walls: Collected Stories (it’s a New York Review of Books Classics edition–so lovely). In addition, I have a collection of Katherine Mansfield’s stories on my alternates list for the Unread Authors Challenge. Apparent Dip and I are thinking of subscribing to some poetry journals to keep a flow of poems coming into the house. Can anyone recommend journals/magazines for fiction? We have several years’ worth of New Yorkers to wade through, so that’s one avenue, and then there’s The Paris Review

One other note: in preparation for the unread authors challenge it has come to my attention that I tend to shy away from literature written by men. My initial list of six unread authors was completely composed of men until I threw two women in to mix it up a bit more. Now I feel like I have more of an equilibrium, but again, I have some ingrained (and baseless) prejudices that need to be defied wholeheartedly.

If anyone has poetry/short story recommendations, I would be glad to have them.

* Generally I’ve only thrown a couple of books in my lifetime, but only when truly desperate. In part, this is due to the embarrassing shoulder injury I sustained while picking up my unabridged dictionary with one hand. It’s one thing to become injured through participation in athletic endeavors, it’s something else entirely to mess up one’s rotator cuff because of a book. On the other hand, I have been known to throw rolls of toilet paper at Apparent Dip while working on some problem sets for physics back in college (I actually was aiming at the wall, but can I help it if AD’s head got in the way? Or that my aim was off?). Sometimes I’m amazed that the man was crazy enough to marry me…

**Despite the fact that Apparent Dip and I have been together for almost 13 years, he continually surprises me. I was amazed to discover that he loves poetry and reads it on a regular basis… I’m not sure why this surprises me, but in addition to having an “inner drunken cowboy” (he has a fascination with Edward Abbey, cowboy hats/boots, and country music of the “my girl stole my truck and now my dog has left me too” kind [although I should also note that he’s extraordinarily eclectic in his musical tastes]) he also has an “inner poet.”

3 responses to this post.

  1. I too shy away from poetry (both in my private reading and in my graduate coursework), perhaps because I am deeply put off by the way academics talk about it as a genre. But I really should read more. Sigh.

    But I am filled with admiration for your poetry/short fiction resolution. I have often thought of doing something similar, but I may have to wait and see how I do with my 52 Weeks/52 Plays challenge (which may be an ongoing resolution from year to year, for my professional health as a drama scholar) before I embark on other, more neglected-by-me genres. I look forward to hearing how it goes for you!


  2. Sycorax Pine: I think you’re spot on when it comes to the way academics talk about poetry–perhaps that is the root of my uneasiness whenever I attempt to read it on my own! We’ll see how this works, but I’m hoping that shorter pieces and poetry will make a nice contrast to the loose baggy monsters I tend to surround myself with (both in my work and at home!). 🙂


  3. I’ve felt self-conscious about reading poetry too — I most definitely do it privately when no one can see me — but I’ve gotten over that feeling a bit in the last year. It IS liberating to get past that mental block. I’ve had a great time enjoying reading poetry, rather than feeling like I’m preparing it for class.


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