Hello, hello. I’m a year older, today. Isn’t that something? I have a Pakistani friend who, of the same age, is warding off her parents who are busily trying to wrangle her into an arranged marriage. Age is something she often thinks about. I, on the other hand, forgot it was my birthday until I received the first phone call this morning.
I have a treat for you. A mindful Everday Yeah contributor found my blog and linked me to an interview with Jesse Ball. I first learnt of the writer earlier this year in a regular foray through the Paris Review archives. I held no assumptions about his age or literary experience then, but when I saw and read of his latest novel Samedi the Deafness I assumed it was his first and imagined that he was some young buck, one who primarily considers himself a novelist and probably didn’t have a substantial poetry portfolio yet. (I can’t help it. As much as I love poetry, novels reign by default.) I was so so wrong. Which is rather exciting because if the few poems I’ve read are representative of his work I’ll need to get one of his poetry books immediately.
Here’s an interview excerpt:
EDY: I won’t pretend to be a great scholar of the term Kafkaesque which seems to immediately put me at a disadvantage when I read your book because of all the reviews I’ve read people are quick to describe Samedi as a Kafkaesque story. I understand where they’re coming from, but in a way I’m jealous because the term is thrown around so much and I know I’ll never feel comfortable enough myself to use it when describing a work of fiction. Anyway, I ended up at Wikipedia to try and boost my knowledge on the subject, but only read the cultural references of Kafkaesque. One particular reference stood out in my mind. It’s a quote from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, “Having sex with you is really a Kafkaesque experience. I mean that as a compliment.” Now, I am only a novice on the subject, but if it were up to me I would have retired the term right then and there. No one’s going to top that. Bill Watterson made a valid effort in his comic strip when he had Hobbes say that “People need goodnight smooches so they don’t get Kafka dreams,” but I feel like he took a different route entirely with the term. So, this isn’t really a question. Maybe just talk about your thoughts on Kafka. If this seems like a waste of your time please either tell me or ignore the whole thing and pretend you didn’t see this question.
JB: Kafka — too many people read him badly. You have to find the gentleness in him — the love, the comedy. And of course — his clearness.
I missed the “Kafkaesque” comparison but I quoted this bit because, if you remember, I initially passed over Samedi the first time I saw it a store display. The cover design caught my eye but the Graham Greene comparison — it was expressed awkwardly too, I think, the reviewer tried to turn it into an adjective — made me roll my eyes dismissively. (It took a Boldtype review to remind me that the author was the poet Ball.) Ball’s comments are also interesting because Kafka’s “gentleness…love and comedy” are definitely not words I’ve often seen associated with his fiction.
Everyday Yeah is worth a browse on its own. I am not one for fiction of any length on-line, but these short short pic and story pieces managed to suck me in. Their “random musings” quality, the way they sometimes concentrate on a detail and develop it, or concentrate on one for a few sentences and then leap on to another association, carry an adventurous quality. I wanted to have them on paper in a little booklet I could flip through, which is always a good sign. The book reviews are enjoyable for the writers’ voices alone (detailed criticism is not necessarily the focus), and the aphorisms are satisfyingly weird. There’s a lot to uncover there; it’s always nice to anticipate something promising.
Another site worth perusal is People Reading. Sonya Worthy once travelled through parts of North America to discover what nations got up to with books outside of home. She’s back in San Francisco but she never lost the urge to poke a bit at anyone seen reading a book. I’m a nosy person so I never get tired of finding out.
*Cheeky reference to this poem.