[Poets are invited to participate in this series of snapshots of poets’ reading habits. For information, go HERE.]
Tom Beckett on Reading
1) What are you reading now? As well, what is in your To-Read-Soon stack?
2) Please share a comment about the books, e.g. recommendations, disappointments, embarrassment (a "Guilty Pleasure"), that certain titles are mandatory for your work, or anything else you want to share about your reading list.
I’ve developed the habit of reading a number of different kinds of books at the same time. I don’t know if this is a good or bad habit, but it is my habit.
In the stack on the shelf next to my exercise bike there are these books which I’m reading now…
Frost by Thomas Bernhard
This was Bernhard’s first published novel. It appeared in German in 1963 but wasn’t published in English until 2006. It’s dark and compelling. Much like my “uncle” Sam Beckett*, Bernhard writes beautifully about the bleakness at the heart of human experience.
Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple
Terrific biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I’m fascinated by his era and milieu.
Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects by Graham Harman
This is Harman’s first published book. Oddly enough I’m reading it now after having read almost everything else he’s written.
A Book Beginning What And Ending Away by Clark Coolidge
Emerson: Essays and Lectures (Library of America)
Ralph Waldo Emerson is, for me, this country’s first and greatest philosopher. This book’s riches are endless. There’s something memorable, quotable on most every page. This is from the essay Experience:
“Illusion, Temperament, Succession, Surface, Surprise, Reality, Subjectiveness—these are threads on the loom of time, these are the lords of life. I dare not assume to give their order, but I name them as I find them in my way. I know better than to claim any completeness for my picture. I am a fragment, and this is a fragment of me.”
In the upstairs bathroom, I’m reading…
Philosophical Temperaments: From Plato to Foucault by Peter Sloterdijk
Very short essays about Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Bruno, Descartes, Pascal, Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Sartre and Foucault.
This is Sloterdijk’s shorthand approach to a sort of lineage of Western philosophy. It’s interesting. I don’t take it as definitive of anything other than Sloterdijk’s sense of things, but that’s ok.
Here are some opening words from the chapter on Hegel:
“One must be at the end of one’s rope to be able to speak the truth—this conviction is woven into all of Hegel’s work like a tear-resistant thread. With it, Hegel elevated the fundamental motif of Plato’s epistemology to monumental heights: realizing means remembering, comprehending means reconstructing. The thinker whose system has been described—not without good reason—as the consummation of occidental or Christian-Platonic metaphysics was by his very nature the metaphysician of perfection.”
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
This is the novel said to have inspired Nabokov to write Lolita. It’s a book which is unique in the author’s oeuvre. Highsmith, of course, was a great writer of suspense novels like Strangers on a Train.
Because it wasn’t a great career move to publish a book about lesbian love in the repressive 1950s, The Price of Salt was first released under a pseudonym.
This book was unusual for the time, in that it was a book about lesbians that had a positive ending.
I’ve left out some other stacks of books which include Robert Duncan’s various collected from University of California Press, Philip Lamantia’s Collected Poems, etc.
Of course, my reading is much more complicated than this. There are generally page-turner, bestseller type books in the mix which I get through the library. I love mystery and suspense novels.
On the proverbial soon-to-read shelf are the four volumes of Larry Eigner’s Collected Poems, Whitehead’s Process and Reality, Jean-Luc Nancy’s Corpus II: Writings on Sexuality and …so many other things.
I’ve not provided photos of the chaos which is my library, but I am offering something else in exchange: a question. What, I want to ask, about the books/authors you re-read? I could do a whole ‘nother post on that.
[Eileen’s Note: I took up Tom on his suggestion to create another series, “What Do YouRe-Read?” for which Marton Koppany perks up from Hungary to inaugurate with a lovely contribution HERE! And, Tom, I am waiting for your re-reading post!]
* Back in the day I had work in an issue of the Chicago Review that Samuel Beckett also had work in. This sparked a rumor that Sam and I were related. We’re not, so far as I know. Nonetheless it hasn’t kept me from referring to Sam as “uncle.” I just think it’s funny. I mentioned all of this many years ago to Susan Howe who responded by saying that if Beckett were her last name she would change it. I’m not changing my name. I am the new old Beckett.