Monthly Archives: January 2012

Heading home to Jackson

Thank you to everyone who came out to the book signing/reading at Burke’s two Thursdays ago. It was a stuffed house, and I left feeling equally stuffed with gratitude. There’s a nice little essay by Nicholson Baker about reading one’s work aloud and the always present prospect of becoming choked up at completely inappropriate moments. It’s not so much a case of being emotionally moved by one’s own work as it is the spontaneous flood of tears at a moment of high stress. However, I am happy to say that I proudly avoided weeping while reading. That’s one of the two things I always pray for before a reading: that I will not begin to spontaneously weep and that I will not trip and fall while reading.

In other news, the Memphis Flyer ran a nice write up before the reading and they have posted an extended Q&A here.

And in additional other news, I take my one-man-signing show on the road this weekend and will proudly deface copies of my book at Lemuria in Jackson, Miss., at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4. This is my hometown bookstore, site of countless afternoons spent mooning among the paperbacks. I am not reading at this one, just signing, which is good, because at Lemuria all I would do is weep.

p.s. I finally updated my FAQ with some pressing questions that have been coming my way. Feel free to send more.

Dear Memphis, Dear Memphis

I’ll be at Burke’s Books in Memphis–in the heart of Cooper-Young for all you locals–this Thursday starting at 5:30 p.m.

I’ll be there signing and mingling and doing a whole bunch of talking with my hands. I’ll also be reading a scooch from the book, beginning at 6 p.m.

Do you want to attend but cannot? Shoot me an email–barrett.hathcock [at]–and I’ll figure out a way to get you a signed copy.

All the Rage

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence
Geoff Dyer
Picador, 2009

Dyer and his brand of blurrily personal nonfiction is much in the ether lately, or at least the certain subsection of slightly literary inclined internet ether I breath, for better and worse. But more than the chatter overhead, Dyer has been urged on me by a well-read, much-respected friend, and I have finally buckled against my own inability to take reading suggestions and have read Out of Sheer Rage, his book charting his failure to write a sober, academic study of Lawrence.

I thought the book was almost an undiluted joy. Like much of Nicholson Baker’s writing, the book sounds unendurable when subjected to brief description: it’s a book which chronicles the author’s inability to sit still and write about D.H. Lawrence, a writer he both admires and who has penetrated his life to a cellular level. But also like Baker’s U & I, the book manages both to avoid its way into its subject, to be both about the author’s own interests, obsessions, tics, neuroses, while also being about Lawrence, and teaching me–a Lawrence neophyte–a great deal and making me want to read Lawrence desperately.

It also makes me want to read more Dyer. I’m not sure if Dyer’s brand of nonfiction–novelistically pliable and complex and yet learned without being fusty, essayistic without mooning into abstraction, curling into scholarship, or shedding its style into reportage–is indeed the Next Wave, but he is one of those author’s who, as I think Martin Amis said somewhere, you discover with muffled enthusiasm, realizing as you read that you’re now going to have go read everything the man has written.

But I do have a quibble. And for better and worse, quibbles are easier to write about than straight praise: I wished the book had a bit more novelistic furniture, especially toward the end. When discussing Milan Kundera in the middle of the book (pgs. 118-122 in my paperback, where he mounts his quiet assault on the novel), Dyer says, “After reading Immortality what I wanted from Kundera was a novel composed entirely of essays, stripped of the last rind of novelization.” And while I find this idea fascinating and while what I liked about this book of Dyer’s was its associative leaping from idea to idea, I found myself still wanting a little more rind. There are personal, scenic-like details that crop up repeatedly–Dyer’s girlfriend Laura is a wonderful foil, for instance–but these ingredients raise certain expectations that go unfulfilled. For example, Dyer buys a flat in Oxford, England–Dullford, he calls it. And it occurs at a point in the book where this seems like the most reckless action he could take, and yet he doesn’t really go into the why or the how of the purchase. He doesn’t pay it the same kind of narrative attention I was expecting. He thinks about so much in this book, but he doesn’t really allow himself the room to think about this. And it seems less like an interesting narrative maneuver than it does an avoidance of his responsibility as a narrator. In a novel, we would just call this an example of an unreliable narrator, but in a work of nonfiction, does this not just become an author’s mistake?

And while it’s his book, his life, his aesthetic, and while I realize he wants to rid himself of these kind of well-made novelistic restrictions, and while I’m not sure if this fault is either his or mine, I still wanted to hear more about that stupid flat; I wanted to see him besotted by all that paperwork, signing his life away. This is a problem with personal nonfiction of this sort, in that it’s personal only up to a point. It is open but shields the true, fully honest self off from the reader. So, paradoxically, a novel feasibly becomes a more honest way to communicate with a reader because an author isn’t always deploying these invisible firewalls between himself and the reader while maintaining a facade of jocular openness.

Does this reaction make me hopelessly old-fashioned? I feel suddenly like an old man at a concert, complaining about the volume.