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June 11, 2013


I have come to think that when I have no "appetite" for books, it may be because I have no appetite. After a dubious dining experience -- among American food courts, I can think of only two that aren't just nasty -- I have my belly full and my hackles up, and what I really need is to go for a brisk walk somewhere interesting till my mind reopens. Even in the library I might walk among the shelves looking at things and thinking "life's too short," "I'm too old to waste time on that," and "what were they thinking when they published that?" Then I realize it's time to do something else, like fixing something or just cleaning.

If I may make one comment (which may be entirely unhelpful since this is your personal blog and you can say what you want here): The trouble with a lot of self-reflective nonfiction I've read comes with the moment when the authorial voice inserts itself into the text, the reflection itself. Particularly for me the moment when you say "...sad and annoyed, but tell myself to let it go, and I do," there is very little built into the piece that makes me believe that.

Structurally, the whole post is set in motion by the intimation that you lose sight of beauty at times, "for a week or two or three" as Zagajewski says. Then follows a description that continues that strain. We can understand the frustration at the bookstores which no longer carry books. But then it ends on this note of solipsism, where you write that you are "sad and annoyed" (thus expressing explicitly what the passage implies, doubling it for whatever reason), but then immediately negate it by saying you let it go, when clearly you haven't. The very mechanics of your writing are saying something other than your words. So I thought that might be a place for you to edit what otherwise are diary-like entries on this blog. Everything other than that last sentence was beautifully done.

P.S. My poetry prof. has a man crush on Zagajewski. Great choice of quote.

I would have liked to comment on your post, which I enjoyed, but somehow something has just got in the way. I really would like to let it go, but I cannot!


' this is your personal blog and you can say what you want here'

to paraphrase you, there is very little built into your comment that makes me believe that.

I wonder who the uninvited reviewer is?
Am I alone in feeling rather annoyed by him/her?

And now I have lost my line of thought and so instead of leaving a comment I shall simply return to fighting cyber crime. Tant pis!

Sharat, I get the impression that you are a writing or literature student (you say you have a poetry prof) and I think you raise a valid point about decisions we need to make about the authorial voice when writing creative non-fiction. The last sentence of this piece is something I thought about, too, when I wrote it, and I decided to let it stand because this is a personal blog, and the post was intended that way, rather than as a standalone short essay.

In general, my motto is "show, don't tell." It's almost always better to "look around with dismay," use dialogue, or describe body language to "show" emotion than to say, "and then I felt angry/sad/disappointed." Where I think you're making a logical error is in questioning how I felt and whether I let it go or not. I know how I felt at the time and what I did with those emotions. But I'm a writer, and to describe something that happened in the past, which elicited strong emotion, also in the past, doesn't mean that those emotions persisted. What good writing can do is to bring remembered emotion alive, in the present, for the reader: whether that is grief or annoyance or ardor or jealousy. It doesn't mean that the author still feels those emotions the same way she did at the time. Does "letting go" and moving on, personally, mean that we aren't allowed to write about those sorts of events later on? That would negate a great deal of the literature that's been written!

But I also want to take seriously your comment that you don't find the last sentence believable. That has something to do with you as a reader of this blog, and something to do with my writing, and perhaps most significantly with the blog form itself.

If this were an essay or short piece of creative non-fiction, I think you're right that it would have been better not to conclude with that sentence. Either the piece could end with "decide against it and walk out" or contine for a few sentences more as I show the reader something that indicates the "letting go." The fact that I quote Zagajewski saying he "forgets about beauty for a week or two" doesn't mean that I share his schedule; it means that I share his observation that people forget beauty, and then remember it again. I've been a meditator in the Zen tradition for nearly thirty years; I actually do let things go: that's what you learn to do. Because this is a personal blog, and most of my readers know me well, I ended the post as I did, because I was pretty sure most of them knew me well enough to know that I did indeed let the annoyance go. However, I can't argue with the fact that it wasn't believable for you.

I don't consider my blog a diary or journal because I don't write it "to myself;" I write it essentially as a series of letters to the often invisible Reader. It's also quite different from writing essays or non-fiction for publication, which I also do and have done for many years -- and as you say, it's my choice to cast my blog as I choose.

If you are a writing student, I hope you ask hard questions of your professors, too, but please remember to be respectful! That way you'll develop a good mutual relationship with them, and learn something about how to teach and how to deal with your own readers later on. Best wishes!

I can guess the name of this vendor; the same thing has happened at the major French-language bookstore chain. The product assortment is a business decision. The English-language book/music company has decided to become a "cultural department store", to quote their executives. (They have long been a client of mine.) The margin on throws and cute glasses is way higher than books.

The big online seller is hard to fight, for the chains as well as the independents.

I veer between sadness and high irritation when I visit both of these companies' stores.

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