The Emptiness Below Us

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:

  • Read 100 books
  • Write 50 Short Stories
  • Ride 3000 miles on my bike.

Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.

But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.

At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.

At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.

So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.

I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.

And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.

There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.

It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.

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The Path to my Fixed Purpose is Laid With Iron Rails

“Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale

Downtown McKinney, Texas



Oblique Strategy:
Don’t be frightened of cliches

Are you making your plans for next year? Do you have fixed in your mind the exact person you want to become?

Your mind, though, is not of one voice – but of at least two. Do you hear the little voice already telling you that you will fail and you will never become the person you think of? “It is too late anyway,” the voice says.

Where will you fall? Who will win in the end? Does it even matter?

Sixty Six Short Novels

“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

Oblique Strategy: Distorting time

I am working on my goals for next year. One thing that I wanted to do is to up my reading game. I was thinking about a goal of reading a hundred books in 2018.

That seemed a little silly. Though an avid reader, I am not as fast as I used to be – brain and eyes are letting me down more and more. I don’t have very much free time and even less excess energy. But that century mark of tomes read was such a siren call.

Then I thought, “They don’t have to be long books.” I could salt my reading list with shorter works (less than 200 pages) and then my goal might be doable. To experiment, I walked through the shelves of the Richardson library looking for thinner editions and found there were plenty to be hunted down.

It was a quick leap from that to heading out onto the web. I typed in “list of best short novels” into Google and opened up the first half-dozen hits or so. An hour of copying and pasting later, I had 66 books in a list. I included the title, the author, and a little blurb from whatever website I scoured the information from. There were a lot of duplicates in the various websites, of course (I think I’ve caught all of those) and I threw out half the books because I had already read them.

One cool thing is that I kept thinking, “Oh, that’s not really a book I would read,” and then I’d catch myself – these are short so there is little lost in starting a book that I might not relate to… this is a great place to experiment, to branch out, to try something new. Of course, there is a satisfaction at finishing a great weighty hunk of a book – maybe I’ll make 2019 the year of reading a few really big books.

The more I think about this, the more excited I get. I think I’ll start early – 2018 is only a couple weeks away. I think I’ll head down to the library with this list in hand and see what I can find. Wish me luck. If you have any recommendations or ideas – I’d be glad to hear them. A hundred books in a year – sounds like a plan.

Here’s the list, so far:

1 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
“Dept. of Speculation, a series of short dispatches from the front line of a marriage, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and often both in the same sentence.”

2 We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
“A gripping tale of murder most foul on the estate of the Blackwood family, Shirley Jackson’s final novel is the kind of book you’ll want everyone to read just so you can talk about it.”

3 The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
“A book about cultural identity as much as politics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a Princeton-educated Pakistani as his life in America collapses post 9/11”

4 Heartburn by Nora Ephron
“In Nora Ephron s hilarious novel, based on the breakdown of her second marriage, group therapy and infidelity share the page with recipes for pot roast.”

5 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“Achebe’s classic novel follows Okonkwo, a man who finds himself at odds with society and history amid the changing cultural landscape in Nigeria. 209 pages.”

6 Shopgirl by Steve Martin
“An exploration of loneliness, softened by Martin’s witty observations and dry humour, Shopgirl follows the titular character as she navigates life in Los Angeles.”

7 The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
“Classic Christie, classic Marple. When the body of a young woman is discovered in the library at Gossington Hall, the hunt is on to find out whodunnit.”

8 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
An examination of life and the narratives we construct for ourselves that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

9 Sula by Toni Morrison
“Sula follows the contrasting lives of two girls growing up in a poor, black Ohio neighbourhood, and the different paths they choose.”

10 The Dig by Cynan Jones
“A sparse, dark, brutal novella about a Welsh farmer struggling to make a living from his sheep, and an unnamed man digging up badgers to bait.”

11 How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
“An absurd, delightful novel about a Polish immigrant in Los Angeles who schemes to reinvent herself in order to gain access to the Twin Palms nightclub.”

12 Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Two friends plot the downfall of a politician in this Booker-winning novella

13 Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
“The aftermath of a gang rape on a young mother is explored in a searing indictment of rape culture and the lack of justice, care, and understanding for victims.”

14 The Quiet American by Graham Greene
A seasoned English journalist in Vietnam watches as a young American turns good intentions into bad policy and bloodshed in this powerful anti-war allegory.

15 The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
“A fantastical, lyrical love story set during the Napoleonic Wars”

16 Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
“A novel in verse, Autobiography of Red gives voice to a minor character in Greek mythology, updating his story to the present day. There are those who love it and those who haven’t read it. Be the former”

17 The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
A stream-of-consciousness journey into the mind of a man on his lunch break

18 At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
“A collection of 16 utterly compelling, gorgeously crafted short stories.”

19 Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
“A horror novel following the 12th expedition into the uncharted Area X. Any guesses what happened to the previous 11 expeditions Nope, weirder than that.”

20 The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
“Written when Toole was just 16, but not published until after his death. Well worth a read for fans of his A Confederacy of Dunces.”

21 Speedboat by Renata Adler
“An experimental novel that defies literary convention and category, this mix of fiction, critique, memoir, confession, and essay demands to be experienced.”

22 If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki
“A darkly comic novella in which the narrator tells her unborn daughter the story of how she came to be. A romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy, not romance.”

23 Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome struggles to tend to his farm and his wife then her beautiful cousin comes to stay.

24 Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
“In a reverse narrative, the protagonist moves backwards from death towards the story’s beginning and his role in one of the most horrific events in recent history.”

25 Lucinella by Lore Segal
“A witty and searing indictment of the ’70s New York literary scene, in which a poet observes her peers at a writer’s colony upstate.”

26 Night by Elie Wiesel
A harrowing account of the author’s time in Nazi concentration camps.

27 Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
“An alcoholic bartender in Los Angeles observes the lonely, broken, and grotesque characters who populate his bar, among whom he may be the most broken.”

28 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world

29 Cheri by Colette
“L‚a de Lonval is an aging courtesan, a once famous beauty facing the end of her sexual career. She is also facing the end of her most intense love affair, with Fred Peloux known as Ch‚ri a playboy half her age. ”

30 The King by Donald Barthelme
“In The King, a retelling of Le Morte D’Arthur, Donald Barthelme moves the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table to the cruelty of the Second World War.”

31 Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
“This short novel is a dream: the kind you dip into, just for a drowsy second”

32 Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
“The final novel from the acclaimed American author, about an elderly man and woman who come together to tackle their loneliness. A low-key, melancholy yet beautifully tender read about making the most of life.”

33 The Vegetarian By Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith.
“Set in South Korea, this is the story of Yeong-hye and her decision to become a vegetarian and the shocking reaction that this rebellion triggers in her family. A deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.”

34 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
“Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf’s story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a fashionable, wealthy and accomplished hostess, and Septimus Warren Smith, a shellshocked survivor of the Great War, is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction. ”

35 Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
“Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and one of the most highly acclaimed novels of recent times, Max Porter s debut novel is an astonishing, and surprisingly humorous, study of a man and his two sons dealing with the loss of their mother.”

36 A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
“Andreas is a simple man of few words, yet he lives an extraordinary life. At under 160 pages, Robert Seethaler’s novel is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude.”

37 The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
“An elliptical meditation on the mysteries of love, life and time, this is a sad yet beautiful novel from America s true masters of fiction, Don DeLillo. ”

38 Bonjour Tristesse by Fran‡oise Sagan
“Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible C‚cile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.”

39 Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson
“Highly praised by the likes of Lena Dunham and Alice Sebold, this is a compelling read about a poet leaving behind her sensible boyfriend for a renowned artist, a decision which causes her rational world to begin to unravel.”

40 All This Has Nothing To Do With Me by Monica Sabolo
“MS interviews the mysterious XX for a job and hires him because she fancies him. As their relationship develops, and then collapses, MS lays bare her feelings in emails, text messages, photographs that show the tragedy and the comedy of her obsession. ”

41 The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
This charming novel about a cat that brings joy into a couple’s life was a surprise bestseller around the world.

42 The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher by Ahn Do-hyun
“Wise, tender and inspiring, this is the story of a salmon whose silver scales mark him out as different – who dares to leap beyond his fate. It’s a story about growing up, and about aching and ardent love.”

43 The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
“In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. ”

44 By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano
“There s a passage in Bolano s own great tome, 2666, attacking people who prefer the perfect exercises of the great masters to the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. Admittedly, By Night in Chile is not quite on par with 2666, but it manages to be both a perfect exercise and a blazing path into the unknown.”

45 Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
“Perhaps McCarthy s second greatest novel, after the incomparable Blood Meridian, Child of God is an Appalachian nightmare written in gorgeously lush prose.” 

46 In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
“Brautigan at his best and weirdest. This surreal novel is set in a commune named iDEATH where different colored watermelons provide building materials. A lot of modern indie fiction seems indebted to Brautigan s unique combination of whimsy and sadness, but few if any match his power.”

47 The Third Policeman by Flann O Brien
“One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, this underrated book is a wild roller coaster of dark comedy, surreal images, and just plain brilliant writing.”

48 Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser
“Walser seems to be experience a well-deserved revival in recent years. If you haven t read his joyous yet bizarre writings, Jakob von Gunten is the place to start.”

49 Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
“Dreamy and completely beautiful, Robinson s slim 1981 novel is frequently cited as one of the greatest American novels of the last 50 years. I agree.”

50 The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
“If you are like me, there s nothing you love as much as a witty grump. Bernhard s novels take the form of acerbic rants, and The Loser is among the best of them.”

51 Giovanni s Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin s second and perhaps best novel is a beautiful and moving story about a homosexual American man in Paris.

52 The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
“Most people seem to read Lispector s also very short novel The Hour of the Star and call it a day. However, her other novels are even stronger. The Passion is an energetic yet philosophical short novel that everyone should read.”

53 The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
“A dark nightmare in the form of a crime novel, Hawkes explores terror through innovative prose. I only just read The Lime Twig this week and already feel happy recommending it.”

54 Ray by Barry Hannah
“One of the greatest Southern American writers which is saying something given that the region has given us O Connor, Faulkner, Hurston, and more Barry Hannah s prose is acrobatic and addictive. Ray, his shortest novel, is a great starting place if you have never read him.”

55 Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
“This is a weird hallucination of a book reading it feels like an experience, like something that happens to you, as infectious and mysterious and unstoppable and possibly magical as the disease that powers its plot. There is absolutely no way to put it down without breaking the spell, so make sure you re comfy.”

56 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
“A lovely, slim novel that tells the stories of the various inhabitants of a house on a wooded bit of land near a lake outside Berlin, before, during and after WWII but like Woolf s To the Lighthouse, it is not really about the inhabitants, but rather very pointedly about time, and the pull of place.”

57 A Separation by Katie Kitamura
“This one s a cheat, because it doesn t actually come out until February, but mark your calendar for sleeplessness, because if you re anything like me, you ll read it straight through without stopping. The plot is, essentially, this: a woman follows her estranged (and unresponsive) husband to Greece, where she proceeds to look for him (and discover the mysteries he s left in his wake). Kitamura s spare language somehow seems barely able to control the emotion it signifies. In some ways, this is a meditation on the stories we paint onto other people, and how little we can really know them which, honestly, keeps me up at night as much or more than any missing person.”

58 A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
“A surprisingly terrifying short novel about children kidnapped by pirates, elevated from its silliness by surprising moments of violence and introspection, as well as repeated flourishes of literary brilliance. Also, it s funny. Take for instance, this passage: Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child: and children are human (if one allows the term human a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies are of course not human they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. ”

59 Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
“At this beginning of this novel, Sophie Bentwood is bitten by a cat that may or may not have rabies. The ensuing domestic drama wonderful and terrible in its own right is then overlaid with this crazed, manic specter of disease that had me turning pages like a madwoman.”

60 Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World by Donald Antrim
“For my money one of the best novels ever written, of any length. Something bad is happening in Pete Robinson s town something that has his neighbors building moats around their homes and all the members of the Rotary Club finding their inner animals (his wife is, apparently, the prehistoric coelacanth). Oh, and the mayor has been drawn and quartered. Even if you don t want to know what happens next, this novel will have you flipping pages just to get to each new delicious surrealist detail.”

61 Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
“You d think that the structure of this novel, a sort of mythologized retelling of the Chappaquiddick incident, would strip it of any of its tension after all, it begins with the car going off the road. But as Oates goes over and over the event and everything that led up to it from different angles, from different moments, from different points of view the reader keeps hoping that that repeated phrase ( As the black water filled her lungs, and she died. ) will somehow be made untrue. And yet, we know it will not be. And yet, we keep reading, more horrified by the moment.”

62 The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
“This novel is the diary of a fugitive, hiding on a strange island, who falls in love with one of the mysterious tourists that appear on his shores. A hallucinatory examination of the nature of reality, with a romantic twist, which won high praise from Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz, among others.”

63 Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
“I ve always thought of Lispector s first novel as a pulsing, beating thing not just near, but the wild heart itself. It’s not a plot-heavy book, but the internal life of the amoral, incendiary Joana and what she will do, and what she will think, and what she will say is endlessly fascinating.”

64 The Room by Jonas Karlsson
Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafkaesque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.

65 We the Animals by Justin Torres
“I was sold on this book a coming of age story told in luminous prose from the very first paragraph, which by itself might keep me up for a few extra hours, looking for some of that more:”” We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more. ”

66 Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
“The story of a disaffected housewife with a cheating husband, who starts an affair with wait for it a 6-foot-7 amphibious monster man named Larry. So.”

What I learned this week, December 30, 2011

This Writer’s 2012 New Years Blogging Resolutions

  • New Years Resolution #1: Post Regularly
  • New Years Resolution #2: Clean up Old Posts
  • New Years Resolution #3: Update Social Profiles and re-engage
  • New Years Resolution #4: My Topic


The Top Five Street Tacos of 2011 (in Dallas)

#1 The Lengua at El Guero (now Tacos La Banquenta: new name, same tacos)

#2 The Steak Tacos Nortenos at Pepe’s Y Mitos

#3 The Selection at Tortas de la Herchizera

#4 The Al Pastor at Chichen Itza

#5 The $1 Fish Taco at Lee Harvey’s


When does the sun rise, set, and in what direction?

This website, suncalc.net is great for figuring out places and times for sunset/sunrise photography. Want to catch the sun rising behind a certain building tomorrow? The site will tell you. More importantly, what date will the sun set behind a certain scene from a certain vantage point? suncalc.net will tell you.

Genius.