More reading

Spent some time in Berkeley today, wandering around the quiet streets and deserted campus with Erik, Dana, and Tina. Being there with Berkeley friends, all three of us reminiscing full-force, made me feel both nostalgic for my undergrad days and grateful for my present life. That’s a great gift.

After we got home, I spent almost three hours taking new photos for the omiyage pouches in my shop. These pouches are some of the most expensive items I sell, yet were among the earliest items I posted, so the original photos were not so flattering. I’m still not 100% happy with the retakes, but they’re worlds better than their predecessors! I’m always shocked how long photoshoots take… and I still haven’t figured out all the settings and features on my camera. Soon.

Last night I finished Laurie Colwin’s short story collection The Lone Pilgrim, which has been on my to-read shelf for years. While reading, I responded the same way I often respond to short stories: they seem beautiful and haunting at the time, but I promptly forget them afterward. I don’t much like writing short stories myself; perhaps I prefer to read “long” as much as I tend to write that way too. Colwin’s characters were sympathetic, but they all blended together: well-behaved, thoughtful women getting into messy relations with their families and with men. I didn’t feel I learned much from them, though I admire Colwin’s ease with the first-person narrative. That night, I dreamed I was starting an affair with a friend’s husband. That’s what comes of reading story after story about extramarital affairs!!

While I was in Berkeley today I bought a copy of Logicomix, recommended to me by Daniel to soothe my comics frustrations. I began reading while Erik and I lunched at Le Régal, and finished a short while ago. The book is coherently structured and cleanly drawn, and is overall a very intelligently made piece of work — as befits a book about logicians! The art reminds me very much of my beloved Tintin comics, and it’s easy to see the script is the work of professional thinkers, just as the illustrations spring from the practiced pens of professional animators and comics artists. It sounds weird, but I just really, really enjoyed the caliber of this book; I could have been reading, as Mike Madison wrote in Blithe Tomato that his father sometimes read his favorite books: “ignoring the narrative but taking comfort in the weight of the book” and the quality of the work. Of course I did read the narrative, though, and here’s where I run into some rather vague issues with the book.

My biggest issue is with a major narrative choice the authors made. The book is ostensibly a story about Bertrand Russell (wow! the Wikipedia photo looks exactly like the illustrations in the comic!), but this story is interspersed with a simultaneous narrative about the creators’ process of writing this book. The main author, his conceptual collaborator, the two artists, and their researcher are all characters in this story, and we see them arguing with each other about how the story should be told. This is a tricky thing; whenever you reveal your self-suspicions to your audience, you’re always running the risk of persuading him to share in them! But I also just found it distracting to be always watching the creators run around Athens and pace around their studio. It wasn’t wholly self-indulgent, but I don’t think it worked seamlessly either. I suppose they wanted to indicate their own grappling with the concepts presented in the book, but I wish they had found a way to do it that did not involve so much expository dialogue and rather repetitive scenery.

The other trouble, which is perhaps ultimately a more significant problem, is that the story (both stories) don’t resonate that much with me. I used to enjoy math, and even took an intensive logic course at CTY, but there’s either something lacking in the storytelling or I’m just such a pure humanist/artist these days that I can’t deal with philosophical-logical questions anymore. The concepts presented in the book were made very accessible, but I still didn’t (bother to) understand all of them, and they didn’t stir any responsive feeling in me. I didn’t feel particularly caught up in Russell’s struggle, or moved by the creators’ challenges in making the book. As with reading Colwin’s book, I enjoyed the whole experience of Logicomix, but it doesn’t particularly make me think — though I’m certain it was intended to. So this is a problem.

One thing the book did spark, however, was a long-latent desire to revisit some of the complicated intellectual books I’ve got sitting on my “history” shelf — The Metaphysical Club, and The American Intellectual Tradition (vols. I and II!). These days the only philosophy I read is yogic and Buddhist (which is, at that, reinterpreted for a mainstream lay audience), which I find very meaningful and helpful, but maybe it’d be handy to know some of the more Western tradition as well. After all, I did research, write, and deliver a lecture on postbellum American intellectual history while I was in grad school (not a public lecture — it was an assignment for one of my seminars), none of which I remember, though I do have a vague memory of using the chalkboard to help explain pragmatism to my cohort! Maybe someday I’ll return to these thinkers and their ideas.

A last thought: I’m deeply envious of Logicomix‘s creators, because they were able to delegate! A writer, a co-creator (Papadimitriou didn’t write any of the script, but he’s credited for “concept and story”), a husband-and-wife artist team, and a researcher — that sounds amazing. With my projects, I have to be writer, artist, and researcher all in one, and I don’t know yet whether I can do it. Collaboration sounds good and I’d like to do it sometime, but for now I prefer to do all my own work — perhaps it’s my way of crystallizing my creative identity.  Anyway, it’s going to be a lot of work and a long-ass haul, for sure.