Bookliving, Zink, blurbs

Toddlers are murderers of time and attention. The other new parents I know (not many) were in the habit early on of dropping vague hints about how little time they had to cook or to catch up on their shows or hunt or play video games or whatever. The older parents or parents of multiple kids I know-a few more, actually, but still not many-were silent on the subject of themselves, intent only on (and here I’m projecting) crafting a vicarious life through their little achievers or (still projecting) already resigned to huskdom and devoted primarily to gathering the shards of themselves and adapting to their new dreamless reality. I envision neither fate for myself, if for no other reason than that I am so used to being a deluded selfish asshole and habits are hard to break. Here’s a little story: a fella gets out of college after living the druggy violent adolescence of an uncivilized brute and finds that he can read a little Latin, a little Greek, and has some aesthetic opinions. This is transcendence— look out world! Fella starts to do some reading, digs it, and comes across an anecdote about Sartre, that he read 200 books a year. Fella decides to do that shit himself. Fella falls way short the first year and gets closer the second, but realizes he misread or misremembered the anecdote and that the actual number was 300. Fella decides Sartre was bullshitting. Anyway, at some point during all this, and quite without the fella fully realizing it, fella’s self-image became inextricable from the image fella had of himself reading. Fella would silently snark on nonreaders, or on readers of the wrong sort of thing. Fella developed book-mania, and began to acquire, hoard, and preen. Fella found himself in bookstores, estate sales, and in private homes book-haggling for the purpose of book-buying. Fella stole books from bed-and-breakfasts to complete sets, then never read them. Everyone fella met would fall short in some way of fella’s silly book-criteria. Fella was proud of himself, forgetting in the heat of these rapacious transactions that we’re all headed for the worm.

Let me stop this awkward faux-folksy “fella” nonsense and re-calibrate. To paraphrase Gombrowicz, “me. me. me. me. me.” I hope I’m recovering.

Books read in the halcyon days of 2007: 154.

Books read in 2014: 25, a number inflated by Buzzati’s Poem Strip (a book with so few words it almost doesn’t count) and lots of re-reads including my umpteenth waltz with Bernhard’s Voice Imitator.

PB (post bébé), I need an excuse to decide to lose myself in a book. The illusion that every book read cover to cover is some magical tonic that will grant me more grace or more wisdom or more gravitas has been shattered and replaced with a sort of frantic obsession with distraction. I’m not totally cured, I still prefer my distraction “with fiber,” so to speak, and haven’t given myself over to reality television or cable or anything; but I’m quicker to give up on a book that I’m not learning from or isn’t doing it for me or feels frivolous. When I was a kid reading lots of fantasy novels, before my full blown mania, my mother bought me a “Too Many Books, Too Little Time” sweatshirt. I got in a fight on the playground over it, maybe two, and then outgrew it (the sweatshirt, I mean–fighting took a few more years), but it was true. This is my self-important rationalization for why I don’t read much contemporary fiction. It falls short of some bizarre needy ideal for me. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large I find myself interested in older stuff, weirder stuff, stuff written by people whom I cannot or do not envy. There are exceptions to that too, but I’ll resist the temptation to digress.

Nell Zink’s was a name that came to my attention late last year. I somehow got some whiff that she might have been Helen Dewitt writing under a pseudonym and so, being a full-on DeWitt partisan (please read everything) her Wallcreeper shot to the top of my “to-read” list. The book is published by the Dorothy Project, publishers of other fine works. Of course, since I live with an adorable murderer in the midst of a library of a few thousand volumes (many of which I really should one day actually, you know, read) this means my “to-read” list is really more of an aspirational, ah… but anyway– a friend of mine whose taste I trust traveled recently to Puerto Rico and brought the Zink with her. She returned confirming that Zink was well worth reading and forwarded me this profile. That sealed the deal. Book acquired. Book started. I haven’t finished, so this is not a review.

By now, the “Zink-is-Dewitt” business is no doubt put to rest. There’s enough evidence to establish Frau Zink’s independent existence (the photos, confirmation of the reality of improbable-sounding name online, etc.) There are indeed interesting similarities– both reside at least part-time in Germany, both are in their early fifties, both were military brats, both had lived or spent time in Virginia, both taught themselves languages out of books, both are apparently brilliant and unconventional practitioners of the epistolary arts (DeWitt forged a wonderful crazy probably unpublishable book from her correspondence with a journalist, Zink hooked her a goddamned Franzen), and both are named Helen– but these add up to little more than what a similar coincidence-hunt with any two contemporaries would likely yield. There is also the small matter of the dissimilarity of their writing. DeWitt has some idiosyncrasies that mark her writing like fingerprints, and these, so far as I’ve read in the Wallcreeper (~50pg), do not show up.

But there is something different about the whole Zink rollout. There’s the word “hoax” (a non-sequitur in the best of times) in that New Yorker profile. There’s the impish noncommittal Gessen blurb “[Zink] claims to be an American expatriate living in northeast Germany. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t…” (italics mine). There’s the Franzen emails, the novel-on-a-dare story. Mystery-mongering as marketing hook (I guess this post is evidence that it worked) or are these guys just having a laugh? These are not rhetorical questions. I’m in Mississippi and haven’t been to NYC since 2012. I gnaw scraps of gossip when I’m not reading translations of decadents or books of aphorisms (true story: fella actually had a copy of Cioran’s Drawn and Quartered IN THE DELIVERY ROOM when the bébé was born– I said I hoped I was recovering, not that I was cured. I have forgotten most of the Greek and lots of the Latin, though).

Apropos of blurbs, when did they become basically useless? Have they always been mush-mouthed word salads flirting with nonsense? I count nine on this copy of The Wallcreeper. When I read them I learn that Zink may be a liar but is (pace Franzen) nevertheless “a writer of extraordinary talent and range” whose “work insistently raises the possibility that the world is larger and stranger than the world [I] think [I] know.” Okay, well, um, fuck you too! I also learn (pace Flavorwire) that the author of this “major debut” is “gifted…with no shortage of honesty…” Except for the whole mysterious identity thing. But that wasn’t Flavorwire. That was the New Yorker and Gessen. Do these folks talk about this? Who did Dorothy cut the check to? Incidentally, when did Dorothy learn that Manuela Draeger is a pseudonym of a pseudonym, and does that mean that the Ur-Draeger/Volodine/Bassmann is a female, or were they duped? That is not a rhetorical question either.

Is Nell Zink at all served by any of this, or is this all just American provincialism of the “Wait, aren’t REAL writers supposed to have MFAs or live in Brooklyn!? No MFA!? No MetroCard!? Is she EVEN REAL!?” sort? Barring a JT Leroy-style shell game (fuck, I’m doing it too!) it appears that the mere possibility of someone like this existing was news to NY publishing and to Franzen and was proof that the world is, well, larger and stranger than the one they thought they knew.

I’m looking at two other recent acquisitions: Life and Limb, a book of stories edited by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert and Leon Bloy’s Disagreeable Tales, put out by the wonderful Wakefield Press. The former has no blurbs at all, and the latter has “blurbs” which I’m guessing were mined from the correspondence of Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, and Barbey d’Aurevilly. Now that’s how it should be done. Either way, really. That blurbless book of short stories? Until I looked because I was writing this post and parsing the reviewspeak on Zink’s book, I didn’t even notice.


questioning why this blog is still here

Orbis Quintus was compromised by a disused plugin, leaving it open for malware to be installed. I have it back up for now.

It’s hard to recall whether it’s really been since August 2014 or posts were lost. I don’t know why we keep this blog up anymore. There are some discussions from years ago that we’re exceptionally proud of and a couple of weird little threads in old posts that formed an independent community. I loved this blog and still think of it often. Some of the silence stems from distraction and duties, but a lot of it comes because it feels like Orbis Quintus died a long time ago and this is a museum.

I’m planning to throw a lot of stuff I’ve been posting on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Evernote, ect. on here that has been piling up for the past year. It might take awhile because it’s hard to touch the keyboard or mouse without a toddler pulling my hand away.

I apologize if this junk clogs up the RSS feed of anyone who still has us subscribed and forgot we exist.

internet life in summer of 2014

Most mornings and evenings that I have time to sit in front of the computer, I have a baby balanced on my lap. Browsing and reading stories can be managed but it’s nigh impossible to post anything of substance.

So yeah, I have a decent excuse for not following through on committing to keeping orbis quintus active for once.

Screwing around with Twitter and Reddit has been a pleasant source for news when stuck on a mobile phone, but I might be done with Reddit in the near future. What seemed like a gently moderated megaforum now feels like a soapbox for certain individuals who have figured out how to game the system. While I’ve stumbled across some wonderfully informed people on there, like a gentleman who had some great info on some untranslated Bioy Casares, about the only thing that I can comment on freely seems to be comic books, which isn’t really a subject that I feel that I need to communicate with many people about on a regular basis. Comics are a fun diversion, not a project to learn.

Twitter is far more rewarding for finding firsthand reporting and links to interesting articles, but it’s Twitter for fuck’s sake.  Most of my tweets are retweets of reports of various humanitarian crises, scandals of overreach of government overreach, archaeology/anthropology links, and reviews of books by authors I’m already partial to.  Pretty much the exact same content this blog once promoted regularly, but with the warmth of a bot.

back to the Back to Africa news

This is the reason why I need to use the blog. I was excited this morning to run across this story about the Khoe-San being relatively recent in southern Africa, that they too contain Neandertal heritage. Nifty!

…only to discover that in another thwarted foray into blogging back last fall, that was one of the very few posts I made. Whoops.

At least I have an infant son to blame my absentmindedness on this time, but that doesn’t explain New Scientist‘s.


once more, a half-hearted attempt

It’s difficult to keep a blog these days. The changes in the ways I’ve absorbed, recorded, and shared information has changed so much in the past few years that this blog is somewhat vestigial. If something interests me these days, I email the article to Bill, I retweet or favorite it on Twitter, upvote (and misplace) on Reddit, or I paste it into a Google document in directories that have no organization. The journals that I’ve been keeping for over twenty-five years are fallow as well. The death of Google Reader is still painful.

It’s time to give the blog a try yet again. The only information that stuck in my mind consistently were the stories that I linked in blogs. This morning I stumbled across a news article on something that I’ve been following for years. If it hadn’t been for the blog, it might not have lodged in my brain.

I apologize for the newest interruption

Once I finally give a damn about the blog again, the computer decided to die. It’s now rebuilt, but still temperamental, with some conflicting drivers driving it to suicide, but it can probably be talked down. If OQ goes quiet again, it’s likely technical difficulties again or a currently unscheduled move to the new house, rather than a fit of crippling ennui.


Bill is over on Tumblr

Why not crash his party? He has some excellent links and images over there. I messed around with Tumblr months ago, but couldn’t get my act together there either.

I’m going to smack him for not mentioning Can Xue to me, as he connects her to Kafka and Schulz, while saying she doesn’t truly write like either. That sounds pretty damned good to me! It’s my own fault though, because as soon as i ran some searches, she turned up in a relatively recent Quarterly Conversation review. There is also a mammoth post over on a seemingly inactive blog This Hungry Owl.

a tepid return

I’ve not been reading much at all in recent months. It’s been bad enough that we’ve let the blog lay fallow, but then both school and  work got weird, so reading and writing altogether halted.

The stacks around the house that I’ve been slowly picking at are two books by Raymond Roussel, the new Simon Critchley, and Arreola’s Confabulario, plus about half of what i was reading in August last year.

Pathetic. On the bright side, I started and finished quite a number of things in that time, but it’s still frustrating to see those books lingering around, half-read. Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind revealed itself hidden between some other books stowed away, and I’ve already read most of it this morning. That needs to be wrapped up today before Varamo can be bought.