On My Nightstand: Children’s Editorial Assistant Taylor Norman
Every month a Chronicle editor is sharing the list of books he or she is currently reading. This month we hear from Taylor Norman, Editorial Assistant in the Children’s division.
Okay. The thing to keep in mind about this “what I am reading” list is that I am a person who loves both reading and lists. So in one sense, you could say I am in the process of reading 255 books, because that is how many occupy my actual list. In another sense, you could say I am in the process of reading every book in the world, because that is the end goal, after all. In the end, though, we can just truncate it at let’s say the five books closest to completion, siren calling in different and changing pitches Dopplerly as they move up the list. And then you can say I am simply in the process of writing a complete nightstand list.
What I’m reading, what I’m actually reading right now, consists of two books.
First, because I am interested in becoming a better speaker and reader and writer of French, I figured the reason I’m a good s and r and w of English is because only four minutes out of the first ten years of my life were wasted on non-reading. That is to say, I communicate well because I read constantly; therefore, if I want to communicate better in another language, I should spend a lot of time reading in that language. I haven’t read any French novels since I graduated, so I’m working now on something familiar: Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers. That is the French edition of the famous book Harry Potter at Wizards’ School. It’s fun to read a story I know better than the language it’s in—it makes for some really interesting backwards translation discoveries. For example, when Aunt Petunia “swallows,” i.e. out of nervousness that her terrible secret family connection will be discovered, they say “elle avala sa salive”—that is, “she swallowed her spit.” Pretty gross phrasing out of a so-called romance language, if you ask me. (Also, they call Muggles “les Moldus” and Hogwarts “Poudlard,” but “Godric’s Hollow” remains “Godric’s Hollow.” Isn’t that crazy?! Those Frenchies.) (Also, occasionally the narrative switches to this more-obscure, only-written, never-spoken tense. I am going to try and figure out why. Stand by.) Anyway, that is a fun exercise for my brain.
The other book I am reading right now is Girl with Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace. I am incapable of finding the right words to explain how important DFW is in my life, so I am not going to try. I apologize. But I will just say: reading his words, every time I do, feels like eating a cheeseburger after having your mouth wired shut for six weeks. Do you know what that feels like? Exactly.
Figuring out which book to read next always puts me into a bit of a crisis state, which is why I keep a list. I am often stricken with specific desires (for books) and then can’t focus on anything other than whatever I’ve determined I feel like reading, so the list is a nice way of maintaining potential desire. I recommend lists when you are having problems managing desire, is the upshot of all this. Anyway, I think I’ve finally narrowed it down to one of the following three.
2666 by Roberto Bolaño. A friend here at work (hello BK) recommended this book to me a while ago when I was looking for a good winter break book. “Do not choose 2666,” he commanded. So I did not. Now I am. Well, maybe. Basically, this book does one of my favorite things a book can do, which is to gather up some lives that are mostly different but are connected in some small way, maybe sometimes for good reasons and maybe others for vague ones, and in getting in so deep to these tiny lives, start to qualify what exactly it means to be a person, to be alive, to live. It is easy to quantify, we do it all the time: 7 billion, 60 minutes, 10 fingers—but I like books that force you to get some sense of what that means in practice. No pressure, Bolaño.
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. Another friend recently bought me this book, which was way too nice, but also timely, because I had just gone searching for it but had been underwhelmed at the quality of the used copies I was finding. (Check out what Four Corners Books has done with their new edition). It’s one in their series of Four Corners Familiars, where a modern artist reimagines a classic text. It’s pretty stunning. This is not the version my friend got me.) Mid- to late-19th century literature is probably my favorite period to read. One of my best college classes was a seminar on Dickens, and I just got out of a month-long relationship with Dickens’s good pal Wilkie Collins (his The Woman in White was awesome in the true sense of the word—a story as intricately-crafted as it was compelling and absolutely creepy. Count Fosco is one of the best villains I’ve ever read—the end of one chapter had me repeating “Oh my god. Oh my god.” for at least one full minute. I am serious, and if you don’t believe me, there were witnesses you can interrogate who will confirm). All this makes me feel all the worse about never having read such an important representation of the period. Not having read it is sort of like watching Twin Peaks but not Fire Walk With Me—you are fine without it, you get what is going on and are in love with Agent Cooper and everything, but you don’t have any idea how insane everything actually gets. So in honor of William Makepeace Thackeray, please go educate yourself on the events leading up to Laura Palmer’s murder (if that’s what it was).
We might go a little bit crazy, possibly. I’ve been feeling a little bit like I need a touch of non-fiction, and I happen to have Brian Boyd’s books on Nabokov. (Two tomes that I won, I might add. That is right, you are reading the words of the winner of The Russian Years AND The American Years.) I do love Nabokov, and he, as a person, is an incredibly complex and intriguing guy. For example, did you know he was an accomplished lepidopterist (studier of butterflies)? This crazy theory he came up with (that, weirdly and sort of disturbingly, parallels his fiction) to explain the evolution of a certain type of butterfly was, after many years of being scoffed at, proven last year. He’s a very smart man; that is why he is kind of terrifying—but also potentially intriguing enough to warrant two tomes’ worth of information.
However, then I start thinking about Nabokov’s insanity and wondering if I should just go to one of the sources of that insanity and read Gogol’s Collected Tales. One of these alone blows your mind for a week, and they’re actually, now that I am thinking about it, sort of a nice hybridization of Nabokov’s reality + Twin Peaks mentality. Maybe I need my mind blown for a little bit. Maybe I should start reading these in alphabetical order or something. Or maybe tomorrow my nose will have leapt off my face and replaced me at work. You know? There is always that.
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