I was given a copy of the British philosopher Gillian Rose’s memoir Love’s Work by a journalist who interviewed me when my novel came out this summer; he said that my book somehow reminded him of hers. This would be an incredibly vainglorious way for me to begin here, and I suppose it will remain so no matter what I say, but I promise you, that’s not what I meant. Because having read Rose’s striking, honest, and tough-as-nails consideration of what it is to be alive among other people, and of what it is to then die, I suspect that that very nice journalist might have been taking the piss. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m very glad to have been given the chance to spend time in the starkness and rigor of Rose’s short, interrogative last work. Rose gathers in personal reminiscences and philosophical preoccupations, memories of the deaths of friends, and realizations about her ethnic and cultural inheritances. She gives comfort a kicking, and shows morbidity up for the easy moping that it is; complex, jarring and vivid, this is no trip into grief-lit. It also contains one of the most perfect descriptions I’ve encountered of a child’s discovery of the written word: “Reading was never just reading: it became the repository of my inner self-relation: the discovery, simultaneous with the suddenly sculpted and composed words, of distance from and deviousness towards myself as well as others.” Or how a death-room “formed a hard crystal of light, exposed to the raucous and merciless spring.” Rose finished Love’s Work by expressing the hope that she might not be deprived, after all, of old age, but she died following the book’s publication in 1995. The hard work of getting to that point is captured unforgettably and movingly within these pages.
And speaking of the debut novelist’s dreary store of self-consciousness, it finds a smart and rollicking antidote in Jonathan Lethem’s new non-fiction collection, The Ecstasy of Influence, which traverses topics from cinema to theory to nudity to cell phones to billboards to Bolaño’s 2666; my favorite pieces, though, were those which brilliantly dissected the various sulks, funks, and paranoias of being a writer who moans about doing writerly things – not least among them writing itself. I’m probably the last person in the world (here we go again) to have read and relished Lethem’s essay “Rushmore Versus Abundance” – a brisk reminder that, yes, there are too many books to fit into our narrow categories, so get on with reading and stop complaining – but I’ll be doing it again.
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