Evidently being back at school requires a post-vacation recovery period before beginning any useful work. Actually, no, it doesn't ---- this is supposed to be The Summer of Progress and Productivity, not the Summer of Sloth, you cog! I still haven't dumped crap off at school or even gotten the groceries yet, much less leaped back into my writing. Sigh. I did miss my cats though. You'll be glad to know they are as cute and as annoying as ever.
Instead of doing work or even doing preparatory work I have started a book (for pleasure reading! Oh my!) and watched a movie. But, isn't that the exact same thing you were doing at your parents' house, you ask? Why yes, it was. But for some reason it's more pleasant doing it here, where I am not constantly being interrupted. On the other hand, my day here has been devoid of human contact, which can get old pretty fast.
So I have started reading Chang-Rae Lee's novel Native Speaker, which so far is fabulous and wonderful and you should all go read it immediately if not sooner. You may wonder why I am reading this particular novel, and I suppose it is as good a time as any to tell you all about the Bookcase of Shame (not to be confused with the bookcase of theory which Timido is hiding behind in that picture). Several friends had raved and sang the praises of joy of Lee's "new" novel, Aloft, back in 05, and I read some intriguing reviews of it that made me want to get it. But when I looked on the aforementioned Bookcase of Shame, I noticed that I already owned his first novel and had never cracked it. So I promptly avoided having anything else to do with the topic for the next two years or so. You see, I buy books constantly and compulsively, like a crack addict or shoewhore (and if you think I can't drop that kind of money in a single bookstore outing, you sooo don't know me). I'm the reason your undergrad classes can't get their books ---- because I go in "just to look around at what other people are teaching" before the quarter starts and poach everything that looks good. And I mean everything, from theory to sociology textbooks and random history books to novels that have nothing to do with my time period or continent or language (as witness Lee) to anything feminist or racial-studies related. And I don't have the time to read these books ---- not surprisingly, when I do have the energy to read something in the evening, I pull a dissertation-related library book off the pile. And so, one of my bookcases gradually filled with unread books, those dense little packets of obligation and anxiety, until, with the exception of the bottom shelf which holds all my grad seminar readers for ballast, the Bookcase of Shame became full. (Jeez, you'd think I studied Dickens, or Henry James, with the way I herniate a sentence like that. But anyway.)
Finally I had to have an intervention with myself. This was not when I started moving unread books to the auxiliary bookcase in the bedroom, or even started packing them in moving boxes in the closet, but was the humiliating (and heretofore secret) moment when I realized I was preparing for a visit to my parents' by packing shopping bags of unread books to hide in their house. At this point I cut myself off cold turkey ---- no going inside a bookstore! Close all my online accounts! The only book buying I can do is for my dissertation! (You should be amazed that I spent so much of my Berkeley trip inside bookstores and did not buy anything, but an unfortunate side effect is that entire stores now feel like the experience of contemplating the Bookcase of Shame.)
All this means that I cannot buy new books without reading some of the backlog. Hence, my experience of "new fiction" is novels that are ten years old and that I bought at least five or six years ago. I feel incredibly out of it --- whole literary empires have taken root, grown, flourished, and built monuments in the desert only to have them crumble down to a shattered visage and be forgotten by the next generation of literary scholars in the time I have been on my self-imposed moratorium from books. Strangely, this corresponds with my sense of frozen stasis in grad school ---- I'm still 22, of course, and nothing has quite cured me of the notion that somewhere out there it's still the mid-90s and the Smashing Pumpkins is touring. Don't try to tell me otherwise; they claim that sleepers are dangerous to awake.