Friday, August 10, 2012

Good Friday

I gave it all away in the title: it's been a good Friday.

Actually, my good Friday started on Thursday, when I went to boxing class.  Granted, the workout made me feel like I might actually vomit or pass out at a couple of points, but I didn't, and as we all know, all's well that ends well.  What I was left with instead was a sense that I had had a "good sweat," worked hard and burned off a few trillion calories while simultaneously exercising my brain.

Who could ask for more?

This morning, I got up and went blackberry-picking.  (Look to the right.)  I picked 10 pints: 5 for jam, 5 to freeze.

I made it home just in time, because by the time I got back, it began raining and eventually the rain showers turned into a small monsoon.

This was perfect for my good Friday, though, because it gave me a chance to make the blackberry jam and a pound cake (and eliminated any need to water the garden: always a plus).

The pound cake is also perfect for my good Friday, because in it I used the remaining eggs I had left from my stint in the Berkshires.  While I was vacationing in the Berkshires in July and visiting the homes of Melville and Wharton, I took care of my friend's wonderful chickens.  My reward was a dozen fresh eggs.

The only problem with all of this fresh stuff is that it ruins the (tasteless) store-bought stuff for me--pretty much forever.   There's just no going back, once you've turned that corner.

Meanwhile, I have a garden full of jalapeno peppers (jalapeno jam is quite wonderful--a winter favorite for me is poached egg on toast with jalapeno jam) and my yellow plum tomatoes and Roma tomatoes are also starting to ripen.  And there's eggplant.  Tomorrow, I'm going to have to harvest the basil and make a stash of pesto to freeze for the winter.

I also spent a bit of time working on a tank-top I started knitting weeks and weeks ago.  I always fall behind on knitting when the really warm summer months hit.  But then again, I always look forward to getting back to it when things cool off a bit.

I'm advising an honors thesis project in the fall, and my student recommended Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace.  It's over a thousand pages, but thousand-page novels don't scare me: I'm the girl who read War and Peace.  (Twice, actually.  It's a really good novel.  Seriously.)

Anyway, I'm liking Infinite Jest: it's going slowly, but mostly because I feel like I'm actually savoring it.  This is a good thing.  I like it about 8 trillion times better than Naked Lunch, which as you may recall from my blog post about it, I didn't like at all (see The Naked and the Unfamiliar).

I don't mind reading about drugs or drug use in a novel, if I feel like there's something else going on.   It's a novel, after all, not a document about you being a total idiot.   If you're just asking me to think you're cool because you get high and nearly die, well, I can't say I'm going to be all that intrigued by what you're telling me.

There are tons of websites out there about how to read and survive Infinite Jest--just as there are tons of websites out there about how to read and survive James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).  I prefer to ignore them all.  Authors make choices, and some of them decide to write 1000+ page novels (and then somehow manage to get a publisher to agree to publish it).

Whether or not I think they should have done such a thing is between the two of us (the author and myself I mean).  In my opinion, Norman Mailer had no right to make The Executioner's Song (1980) over a thousand pages long and then attempt to justify himself by claiming it could have been 2000.

Personally, I don't want to be coached, encouraged, advised or warned--I just want to read for myself and see what happens.  I realize, though, that a lot of people want or need the encouragement, and I try to provide it when I'm teaching long novels.  (I think none of my students in 19th Century British Novel would have been at all surprised last spring if I had arrived sporting a pair of pom-poms and a sweater that said, "MIDDLEMARCH.")

Dave Eggers' introduction to Infinite Jest made me nervous: I don't like when intellectualism drifts towards the hoity-toity, and I think he spent more time apologizing for the length of Wallace's novel than was necessary.  He also resisted the publisher's request to try to make people believe the novel was easily consumable because, he argued, every sentence was worth spending time on.

Well, now, I don't know that I'd say that about any novel, really, but what I would say is that Infinite Jest is very readable and very funny.  I don't think anyone who has gone through high school in the U.S. could help but laugh when the Admissions Office tells Hal that his test scores are "a bit closer to zero than we're comfortable with."

I think there's value in patience.  Americans are too often a society of consumers: we want what we want and we want it now, preferably in a sound-byte.  Why can't I just spend the next month reading Infinite Jest?  Well, actually, there's no reason at all why I can't.  So that's what I'm-a-gonna do.

See how easy that was?  Like I said, good Friday.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."