Nico Picciuto, BFR Staff

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I’m seated in a pub on a quiet and unwelcoming Tuesday. I carefully orient myself so I can see only the tattered papers in front of me, the beer I ordered only moments ago. The bartender serving me periodically enters and exits through a vaulted passage to expedite plates to where I suspect three or four groups are seated, each time rinsing his hands behind the bar before accommodating me and three other men seated in barstools; our unhurried feet dangle like kids’ at a picnic table.

To me this is far less interesting than my first or second pint—the pull of the tap, the scrape of the foam, the invitingly lonesome pint of Guinness half-rested on a saturated coaster. The proximity of which, in relation to the far right corner of the paper I’m writing on is disagreeably close for what I know to be my own taste and sensibility, though I didn’t even bother to consider any of this until I noticed condensation dripping from the pint, which I’d been using to moisten my index finger before flipping a page in the book that lay on my lap. Raymond Williams enduring work, Key Words—my particular word of interest: ‘behavior.’ Why do I behave the way I do?—steeped in my own vanity like the soggy coaster my Guinness stands on. Profound regret writhes inside me, nameless and confounding. Regret for the way I respond to things; regret for the solipsism I can never hope to escape. I’m twisted in my own way, like someone in need of rescue.

It occurred to me after some time that most of what I’d written on the paper in front of me was worthless; I’d stopped reading Raymond William’s who was now off describing the etymology of behavior in the 17th century, which he refers to merely as “c17,” and against my considerable effort to remain neutral, having been coached to continually take note of my mood and outward demeanor, I noticed now that this bothered me vaguely. Not just William’s denomination of the term century, that was of minor consequence, but everything I was doing—the impossible feeling of escaping my own lot in life—of somehow rearranging the dilapidated furniture in my head—was tormenting me. But now I could feel the storm clouds coming in, and that was it. I had told myself to be careful before, that I was prone to these abrupt fluctuations in temperament. This is exactly what I hoped to avoid by coming here tonight, but the besotted respite of a dark pint of Guinness on a glum little Tuesday was not the answer. Not tonight. Did I have an answer? What’s the question again?

              Please, someone remove me from this sardonic slumber, I think this in real time, one last gesture to be saved from myself, but—

 

 

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Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

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              As I’ve gotten older, busier, and generally more stressed, I’ve noticed something sad about myself: I seldom read for fun anymore. When I was a growing up in the truly riveting hubbub of Morro Bay, California I would make a conscious effort to sit myself down and read a gosh darn novel or even just a few short stories every week. Eventually I didn’t even have to try because reading was the most wonderful thing I could be doing. There was nothing like getting lost in someone else’s world for a few hours and, to be honest, that’s still one of the most incredible things life can offer us. When I reached college, however, I found my time increasingly taken up by technical readings for my courses in anthropology, philosophy, or whatever I was taking that semester. And let me tell you, after a week of reading Marxist theory and critiques of cultural ecology, nothing and I mean nothing sounded less appealing than sitting down with and trying to actually understand the copy of Infinite Jest that’s currently collecting dust on my book shelf. And after several months of doggedly ignoring all the books I’d been collecting, I finally realized something: I would have to force myself to read for fun or face the reality that I would only be reading technical pieces for the rest of my life. And I was not cool with the latter option.

              The first strategy I utilized to make myself read for fun was by taking an English course. English courses are a lot of work and anyone who tells you differently is wrong and probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But in spite of the work (or maybe because of it), English courses are also unbelievably rewarding. English 27: Introduction to the Study of Fiction allowed me to read seven incredible novels that I would never have picked up otherwise (as someone who reads mostly science fiction it was a trip to actually have to sit down and read Heart of Darkness for a grade but you know what it was great). I got to read amazing books for units! And write about them, which is a reward in and of itself. It was so amazing to be able to read and critically engage with literature that I never would have looked at before. Had I not taken that English course, I wouldn’t have even discovered how much I love Thomas Pynchon. So that particular experiment in forcing myself to read non-technical writings was a complete success. But alas, the summer rolled around and with it the time in which I could take classes outside of my major came to an end, so I had to think of strategy number two.

              Strategy number two was less about clever tactical course-planning and more about brute force. Amidst the balmy days of summer, my favorite author published an 880 page hard science fiction space odyssey and I vowed to finish it that summer in addition to about five other books that were burning a hole in my bookcase. So the strategy was basically to utilize my summer months to read as many books concurrently as I possibly could. I failed. But, boy, did I try. I got through probably about seven hundred pages of literature by the time summer ended just by sheer force of will, but it took me until the end of winter break that same year to finish the space odyssey. But that winter break introduced me to strategy number three: power reading.

              My first experience with power reading was with Camus’s The Stranger. If you aren’t familiar with that particular title, all you really need to know is that The Stranger isn’t that long. Maybe 160 pages, tops. One night after Christmas, I decided to read The Stranger but given my track record with actually finishing the books I start I knew that I needed to finish it all in one sitting or I wouldn’t finish it at all. So that’s what I did. It took me two and a half hours of non-stop reading but I did it. And it felt amazing. And so, I decided to try this tactic with something a little longer over spring break. (In between winter and spring break I didn’t read a single book; it was really sad.) Over the break, I went on vacation to a place with no Internet and I attribute this in part to the fact that I finished a 660 page book in four days. I was a well-oiled reading machine. I don’t think I had ever read anything as quickly and as thoroughly in my entire life. This too, is more an exercise in brute force rather than in self-control and cleverness. As of right now, however, power reading appears to be my most successful tactic for dealing with the fact that during the school year I have less and less time and drive to read for fun.

              Other strategies I’ve not tried myself but have seen others successfully employ include but are not limited to: having a book to read on your breaks at work, reading books of short stories, reading just before bed (I have tried this and fall asleep every time but other people do not), joining a literary journal (I actually do this one but some people don’t consider work fun for some reason), read poems, attempt to substitute Netflix with books at least sometimes, and many, many more!

              And perhaps this issue isn’t as universal as I feel it must be given my complete and utter lack of interest in staring at more pages full of words after spending my week doing just that, but maybe someone somewhere is struggling with this is very same thing. And if you are, hi there. I am here for you. Reading is the best and it is possible to find time to actually finish books, it just might take more effort than you’re used to. But stick with it because one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the ability to get lost, at least for a little while, inside someone else’s reality and to learn from it.