It’s been a while since I shared what I’m reading, as seeing as how I’m supposed to be blazing through two books a month this year per my 26 in 26 list, I thought it was time. I’m almost finished “Haussmann, or The Distinction” and to say I’m in love would be an understatement. I don’t want to get off the subway when my stop comes, because the book is so beautifully written and I can’t bear to put it away. “Haussmann” (which my French teacher reminded me is pronounced without the h) opens with the author, Paul La Farge, explaining how he discovered a tattered old copy of the first publication of the book by an obscure and forgotten author named Paul Poissel in a French library, and that La Farge has done his best to translate and modernize the text in this reproduction. Only Paul Poissel never existed. According to the author’s Wikipedia page, the entire thing is an elaborate conceit, which at one point had its own (now defunct) website dedicated to the life, work, and death of “Paul Poissel.” More:
The entire website functions as satire, including, at one point, the accusation that the American author “masquerading” under the French name “La Farge” had the audacity to put his own name on front cover, as if he was the actual author. Other parts of the website include quotations, such as an excerpt from a 1934 letter Walter Benjamin “wrote” to Gershom Scholem, in which he makes a deeply complicated observation about Poissel, and also MP3 files featuring early archival “recordings” of Poissel’s voice, reciting (in French) portions from his own “works”.
I mean, is that not the most quirky and fantastic thing you’ve ever heard? I so wish the website were still active. On his own (real) website (complete with a copyright in the footer crediting the site to Paul Poissel, ha!), La Farge tells the story of how “Haussmann” came into fruition. The entire story is worth a read, if not for how buoyant it will make your heart feel, but for this line in particular:
I worked on ‘Haussmann’ for five years. I never changed the first paragraph.
I am fascinated by the creative process, particularly the experience of writers writing. Partly because oh right!, I’m writing a book (sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact or else I tend to put it off), and partly because hi, my name is Erin and I have a serious reading addiction. If it has letters and words and at least one of them is worthwhile, I’m reading it (kidding. my standards are a bit higher). I devoured “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, which provided insight into the daily grind of coping with the little voice inside of you never shutting the fuck up with its flowery prose about absolutely everything, and also potentially making a living off of it, and so I was thrilled over the weekend to pick up a copy of “Writers on Writing.” It’s a collection of essays by some pretty amazing writers: E.L. Doctorow, John Updike, Elie Wiesel, Jamaica Kincaid. Perhaps because the essays are all short, the tone changing every few pages with a new author, that it feels more like a staccato than a legato (and yes, I totally googled “what is the opposite of staccato”) and is why I’m having trouble really latching on to it. I’m still enjoying it. Writing is one of the most singular pursuits there is when it comes down to the act of actually writing (writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so I concede you have to interact with other people to gain any sort of inspiration), and I don’t know, I kind of feel like the new kid at school who finally finds a group of people who totally accept and understand him when I read books like this. These are my people. (Also, yeah right, Saul Bellows wouldn’t even sneeze on my manuscript, but it’s fun to pretend).
What are you guys reading? Any hot plans for the weekend? It’s my mom’s birthday today! We’re having dinner in her honor tonight. Happy birthday, Moo! I won’t tell anyone how old you are, I promise.