Friday, August 04, 2006

FOLLOWING THE THREAD: TST celebrates its first birthday – Part I

-HAPPY BIRTHDAY R.A.L. -- 8/4/30 -- TST raises a pint to you!!!-

Well I guess the title of this post pretty much sets the tone: this month marks the first anniversary of the debut of The Secret Thread in the blogosphere. And while we know there are celebrations, tributes and appreciations popping up all over the web, we thought we had better mark the occasion in some way ourselves, just for the purposes of posterity…

So rather than put you through some long and boring tale about how this blog came to be, or revisit the reasons why we called this little venture “The Secret Thread” in the first place (if you to learn that, go to the Archives, click on August 2005, and read the inaugural post), how about we do something a little more interesting… and look into the crystal ball. No point in looking back at the year that’s just gone past us – why not look forward, to all the great reading and discussion that’s going to be happening on this here blog in the coming year? This way, we give our thousands of thousands of readers something to look forward to…

So what I’ve done is devised a kind of questionnaire for myself, and my partner in crime Mutt Ploughman, that will help to “follow the thread” and see where it might lead in the next year of this blog’s existence… Mutt, the gauntlet has been thrown down… will you deliver on Part II of this post, gracing our readers with your own responses???


Realizing this is impossible, let’s ask it anyway: if you had to name only one, what has been the most memorable book you read/blogged about during Year One?

Yes. That is impossible. But if I had to pick just one… it would probably be Breece D’J Pancake’s posthumously-published book of short stories, simply titled The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Perhaps that is a surprising choice, but the word used was “memorable”… and I have not been able to get that book out of my head since I read it back in October. Here’s what I wrote about it back then: “Reading The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake was, for me anyway, one of those incredibly rare experiences in which your mind is re-calibrated, your understanding of what fiction is capable of doing forever expanded.” I still think that today.

OK, fine… but we said we were going to look FORWARD. So, what’s coming up on your reading list? What might we read you blogging about in the near future?

Funny you should ask. Mutt and I are asking each other this exact question all the time. When I have finished my current book, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, I plan on jumping right into CamusThe Fall, which is a less-famous work of his I’ve always been interested in. Been a while since I read Camus, so I’m looking forward to getting back into his stuff. After that, I plan on switching back to non-fiction. Right now it’s not decided, but I am thinking about Hilaire Belloc’s classic account of his pilgrimage to Rome on foot, entitled The Path to Rome… or, I may read a book length interview with (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now of course Pope Benedict XVI (God and The World). But then again, no one should be too surprised if Bob Dylan’s Chronicles ends up on the blog somewhere…

Is there any one “classic” work you would like to take on in the upcoming year?

Oh yeah, there are lots of them actually! But again, if I had to choose one… gosh, that’s tough… let’s make it Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a book that is a major source of embarrassment and shame for me by virtue of the fact that I keep having to admit that I have not, in fact, ever read it. Man would I love to get that literary monkey off my back!!! But I genuinely want to read it too, and have for a long time… not only is it obviously one of the great works of world literature, but it is also abundant in spiritual truth from all I’ve heard.

What about contemporary writers/works? Anything from that category you would like to pursue in Year Two?

Definitely. The first choice that comes immediately to mind is Edward P. Jones, whose much-lauded novel The Known World was given to me by Mutt as a gift this past year… and he loved it so much he blogged about it here, I believe. Another “contemporary” writer that comes to mind, someone whose work I very much want to get into (not that there’s a lot of it!), is Marilynne Robinson. Her novel Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize last year (again, also read by Mutt… he keeps up with the contemporary writing “scene” much more than I do), but I’d really like to start with her debut, the book that hung her star in the literary firmament… Housekeeping. (Mutt says you always sound more impressive if you use the word “firmament,” BTW.) Another writer that I guess you could call “contemporary,” at least in the broad sense of the term, whose work I really feel drawn towards is the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. I could easily see either Mutt or myself getting into one of his books before Year Two comes to a close.

Going to be doing any writing of your own this year?

Oh, I’ll keep dabbling in poetry, when the impulse becomes too much to resist, or if/when the lightning of inspiration strikes me… I hasten to add that I consider myself a person who attempts to write poetry from time to time, not necessarily a poet. The mantle of “poet,” as Seamus Heaney observed recently, is a heavy one, and one ought not take it up lightly. I think it’s a title one needs to earn, really. I wish I could say I would be writing a short story or novel, but that kind of writing’s not in me. Anyway, at this point in my life, poetry presents a challenge that is both interesting and, in the rare moments when I feel I have met it with some success, rewarding.

OK, wide open question now. List three major works you think you may take on this year. Could be any genre, any length – or, if you’re so inclined, it could even be a re-read. Go. (NOTE: You can define “major” in any way that makes sense to you. I’m trying to get at three books that are “on your radar,” i.e., important enough in your eyes that you would think about reading them weeks or even months in advance.)

No problem, buttlick! (That’s from Sixteen Candles… never mind.) That is truly a question only a hopeless book nerd would be ready to answer almost immediately. Well, you’ve come to the right place for one of those. Anyway… let’s see… there’s no question that in the next year I will be reading at least one novel by the Portugese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago. If you’re at all familiar with this blog, I won’t have to say much about him – Mutt’s blogged him nearly to death here (along with T.C. Boyle, maybe the most blogged-up writer on this whole site). Though not without good reason… read his posts and you’ll see what I mean. He’s a damned fine writer… and so is Saramago, actually... still going well into his 80’s too, I might add, and writing quality stuff too. I’ve been meaning to get back to his work for a long time. I think it will be The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, which Mutt has raved about to me often. Another foreign-born Nobel laureate whose work intrigues me is the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, and since I don’t read writing from that part of the world very often, I am hoping to read one of his works soon. Probably The Harafish, which sounds fascinating to me. And Toni Morrison – to my shame, I’m almost totally unfamiliar with her work, and with Beloved being recently named by a broad-based panel of literary critics as “the best work of American fiction in the last 25 years,” I can’t help but see this as my chance to get to know her writing.

What about spiritual reading? Have any specific plans in that category for Year Two?

Glad you asked that question, seeing as the relationship between reading/literature and the spiritual life is really the central theme of this blog. I do tend to treat it as sort of a different category of reading altogether, following the whole tradition of lectio divina -- "divine reading." I've already mentioned the interview-in-book-form with now-Pope Benedict XVI. There is a powerful-looking book on Divine Providence written by Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican, that I am looking forward to getting into. I have two memoirs from the late, great Pope John Paul II ("the Great") -- Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way and Memory and Identity -- at least one of which I hope to tackle in the next year. I've mentioned Saint Augustine too -- I'd definitely like to get a little bit farther into his oeuvre at some point. Then there's Thomas Merton, John Henry Newman, Saint Francis de Sales, Christopher Dawson... certainly there's no shortage of riches yet to be plundered in this department! And the Bible itself, of course: I've been re-reading the Gospel of Matthew lately, and it's been a great boon to my spirit. Finally, to go back to our previous Pope for a second, there's John Paul II's Letter to Families -- this is a document I feel I need to be going back to and studying and pondering almost on an annual basis. It has everything to do with my highest vocation, which is that of husband and father, and its wisdom has become invaluable to me. I definitely plan on reading it again, and soon.

You guys in the Book XChange are well-known for your “reading projects” – themed trilogies, ongoing reading series, the famous XChange XChange program, etc. Anything along these lines on the horizon for Year Two?

Man, this question could go in a lot of different directions. For example, Mutt reads at least one Dickens novel each year, does something like that count? (Interviewer nods “yes.”) Fine. I have a number of ongoing reading series going that I like to get back to every now and then, and I’m sure I’ll be doing that during Year Two. One is my American Masters series, in which I am doing my best to become as well-read as possible in the literature of my own country. In the next year I hope to read a bit more Twain and Faulkner, and get back to Steinbeck with either The Red Pony or Tortilla Flat. I definitely want to get to know the work of Sinclair Lewis a bit, being our first Nobel prize winner – either Main Street or Babbitt is definitely on my list for this year. And, O.E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth, a lesser known novel about frontier life in the Midwest, written by a Norwegian immigrant.

I also try to read a few works from the so-called “Western canon” each year, and I hope to do that again as well. Possibilities there include Goethe’s Faust, CervantesDon Quixote de la Mancha and, if I’m feeling REALLY ambitious, Saint Augustine’s City of God. Oh, and Joseph Conrad – I really want to read more of him sooner rather than later. And I'd like to take on some Thomas Mann as well.

I’m sure Mutt and I will be doing a few more XChange XChanges during this coming year, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna reveal my possible choices for that here!

As for my patented trilogies, I still have the idea in the back of my mind to read an “Indian trilogy,” consisting of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Rabindranath Tagore’s only novel The Home and the World, and finally Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The idea behind my trilogy is that it's supposed to loosely follow India’s recent history -- from colonization, to the struggle for independence, to independence (and beyond).

Finally, foreign authors I want to read that I haven’t tasted yet, or have but only briefly: Mikhail Bulgakov, Mahfouz, Halldor Laxness, Tarjei Vesaas, Ismail Kadare, Pamuk, Isaac Singer, Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Machado de Assis, Gao Xingjian, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and Par Lagerkvist… just to name a few!


1 comment:

Aura McKnightly said...

You guys are out of control!!! Who are ANY of these people???????? :-)