Saved by lit·er·uh·choor

I have a chip on my shoulder because I didn’t go to college. Always have. I got knocked around quite a bit when I first got to New York. People would find out I didn’t have a degree and put me in a tiny box. [People? Who am I kidding. Girls.] I took my meager design skills and somehow managed a career in asset management which, ironically, is an industry that covets employees who have degrees from the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. The pretty girls all wanted budding Managing Directors. That was never going to be me and they smelled it. The stench lines wafted off my resume and into their upturned noses.

To compensate for my deficiencies, I buckled down and started reading. I crammed the classics. The titles you were all obliged to read in college. Now, all these years later, I’m able to talk a pretty good game. To meet me, you wouldn’t think I barely made it through high school and was rejected by a local community college. (Although, admittedly, I still can’t punctuate properly and don’t know a damn thing about the rules of verse).

You can’t go wrong with the classics. To this day, I’ll still read a book out of a sense of obligation. Because it should be read. That’s why they’re called classics! Except in some cases.

I love short story collections. If what you’re reading stinks, just hang in there. It’ll be over in a couple of pages and something new and, hopefully, more compelling will start. To that end, I picked up The Stories of John Cheever. It’s purported to be the penultimate collection by one of the giants of the genre. They’re masterfully written stories but I can’t relate to any of them. Every conflict revolves around the denizens of the Upper East Side or a wealthy suburban hell called Shady Hill. They’re all of the “mother drinks too much at the summer home” variety. Mr. Marston is having an affair with his secretary. They can’t afford the maid anymore. The nanny has misplaced the child. Mrs. Mackenzie was thrown from her horse. And everyone DRINKS to excess. It’s bloody tedious.

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor
O City of Broken Dreams
The Sorrows of Gin
The Season of Divorce

Don’t those sound like fun? They’re not. Do you know what? John Cheever sucks. Sometimes the experts get it wrong. Stick with Raymond Carver. He’s just as tragic but more earthy.

I recently reread Lolita. The first time I read it, I was in my 20’s. I remember it being an astonishingly well written, humorous, romp across America. A hoot! Well…I have a 12-year old daughter now and I didn’t think it was so goddamn funny this time. Mostly, I’m aghast that I once laughed at it. Plus, I didn’t remember it being so graphic. That being said, it’s still one of my favorite books.

Have you ever reread a book many years later and had a change of heart? I asked Zadie Smith that same question at one of her appearances and she said that while she admired her when she was young, she now finds George Eliot’s Dorothea kind of annoying.

P.S. Kubrick’s Lolita sucks, Peter Sellers and Shelly Winters notwithstanding. Sue Lyon is too old and hot for the role. Lolita was a child.


I don’t have a photo for this post but I always like to include a visual, so here’s an oldie but a goodie.

I was taking pics of our neighbor’s photogenic white cat, Smudge, when, for NO REASON WHATSOEVER, their other cat, Skippy, walked into the frame and BIT HER IN THE EYE! It was an hilarious unprovoked attack. I couldn’t stop laughing. Cats are the best.

smudgeThis pic always makes me wince.

77 thoughts on “Saved by lit·er·uh·choor

      • Oh I have a fatpants of my own! I did live with a friend who had a dog – my cat thought she was another smaller white cat and adopted her.

        It’s been so long since I’ve owned a dog that I’ve forgotten what it’s like! My cat has been terrorising me for 10 years next year – but every so often I miss having a dog.

      • Dogs are a massive pain in the ASS. Needy. Dirty. Not too bright. Just like humans. I admire cats for their independence. They’re cool aloofness. What turns most people off about them are admirable traits to me. Plus, they’re beautiful to watch. Have you ever seen one jump onto a high ledge? Pure poetry. My dog eats poop. If you gave a piece of poop to a cat and asked her to eat it, she’d look at you as if to say, “YOU eat it!”

      • Bwahahahahaha!

        Well, yes, they are that. Although when you’re wanting a cuddle at least they give you one! When I want a cuddle from my cat he looks at me like I’ve grown another head. Although I do love his independence. Except when he’s dangling off my mouse arm in the middle of a dungeon run with my friends online. It’s always attention on their terms 😉

        And to be fair, my cat miscalculates sometimes and ends up doing some pretty tear educing things. He sometimes runs into the stairs instead of up them.

      • Yes, but, when a cat smacks into a wall or tries to walk through a sliding door that closed, they look as you as if you say, “I meant to do that” and carry on like nothing ever happened. A dog would have to me mollycoddled.

        I had two Siamese for 14 years. Both were lap cats and thoroughly enjoyed closeness. Girlfriends would come and go but those two were always there for me. Bless ’em.

  1. I went to college for many years, but you could talk circles around me literature-wise. So I guess it goes to show having a degree in something is relative. I’ve not read a lot of classics, other than a few back in high school and my undergrad lit class. I spent much more time on science than literature. Now I prefer contemporary novels and thrillers. I suppose some might wonder how a writer could be so poorly versed in the classics, but it is what it is.

    • You have an academic, scientific and literary mind. What a package! My reading is now for pleasure but back then it was a desperate want to fit in with everyone around me.

      As far as a degree, my experience is that potential employers want to see that you went to school and got that piece of paper. It might not be related to the job you’re applying for. They just find comfort in knowing you went and completed your education.

    • I tried but Cheever’s stuff just doesn’t reach me. You’ve got to try as many as you can. But James Joyce! Holy Christ! I don’t think I got 10 pages in before I had to bail out on that guy. I felt my brain swelling.

      Meeooowww rules.

  2. I totally get your cat picture. We used to have two cats and whenever I paid attention to one, the other one would get jealous and intervene somehow.I’ve had both dogs and cats and find each has their good and bad points. I live in apts so cats fit in better and are cleaner.

    i guess one of the things that university taught me was that learning was more important than memorizing. I find your grasp of literature and art to be awe inspiring Mark. You can talk eloquently about so many artists of various kinds, that i wonder how you have ever found the time to learn so much. One of the dangerous things about university is that they teach how to approach problems with frameworks. And then those same frameworks limit your ability to see solutions or sometimes, even problems. This is so marked (pronounced mark-id) that many of those who have contributed the really big ideas that changed the way your day-to-day world and mine works, have not had degrees – because they could see outside the box. I think one of the wisest men I ever met was my Dad and he had a grade 7 education and loved learning.

    You know, the degree types are assumed to be “smarter” or ‘better” than the non-degree types. i’ve never found that. The degree types are the ones who have been tasked with managing the world – but they do not have a solid grip on the top. Just the middle. And they are getting inbred – believe me. And that inbreeding has caused our economy and society untold grief. i was in an HR class one day and the prof asked the class of 52 professionals how many had worked blue collar jobs when they were young. Three of us put up our hands. The other 49 had interned or worked white collar jobs from the very first. And then they do not understand why they cannot make headway as leaders – they have never washed the feet of the poorest – and you can’t do that with money or charity, you have to do it at the expense of ego, and that ain’t happenin’, believe me. Egotistical, bunch of idiots. Sigh

    Anyway Mark, watching my Dad as I grew up, I know that it is hard to get doors to open without the certificate, but once they are opened, as you say, the certificate plays little or no part in the business acumen or success of the player. That’s one of the lazy ways that the degree holding middle mgmt have severely limited the employee base, by using that certificate as a door-pass. That limits their responsibility, because then they can say, if it doesn’t wirk out, that they used the right criteria so it wasn’t their fault. Bastards – they won’t even TRY to hire the right people, they use their bloody frameworks, like they were taught.

    Anyway, i have just looked up after frothing at the mouth for too many sentences and realized I am making a post out of this comment. I apologise Mark for climbing on my soap box. The bottom line is that any degree does not determine the intelligence or value of any human – in fact many times it decreases it by increasing ego and putting on blinders. Just know that your contribution is of as good or greater value than if you had a degree Mark.

    Great Post – very thought provoking as usual. Thank You.

    • My dog bit me this morning. No blood but it hurt. The dog doesn’t like me because she knows I don’t like her. I’ve been bit by cats before and it hurts just as much, if not more. But I tend to be more forgiving towards felines.

      I was so late to the game when it came to book-learnin’. It takes longer if you have to rely on yourself for inspiration. It’s much easier if someone shows you a path. That’s why I insisted on buying lots and lots of books for my girls. I didn’t want them to have the same late blossoming that I did.

      University degrees are invaluable; there’s no two ways about it. If you’re going to participate in the mechanics of business, it’s pretty much a requirement at this stage. Sure, some people break through and make a successful go at it without the pedigree, but that’s generally not the case. I don’t think it’s a case of “smarter” or “better.” I do think it’s “advantage” vs. “disadvantage.”

      Thanks, as always, for these concise comments. I still think you should start your own blog. Weren’t you going to guest post sometime in October? Is that still going to happen?

  3. Well, I was an English major, but I was also almost (very close to) being a double major with dance. My schedule was so busy that I read everything so fast, that years later I hardly remember them. A lot of good that did me. When I got out, I had no idea what to do with my degree, and this, something I got in such a hurry. Nowadays, people want the degree, but all these college graduates can’t get a job, as in their degree are practically useless, not to mention the debt. That said, I still believe in education. And like you have done, you can always read the classics or lots of great books that are written today. There’s so many. It’s hard to be well read these days, there’s always a couple more hundred books you could read. Am I right?

    Cats are the best! I have three, including a stray who’s made his home with us.

    • I dated a dancer for a short while. It’s an interesting world. Very hard on their bodies. Boy, was she flexible!

      Do you remember when a degree pretty much guaranteed employment? The good old, pre-recession, days. Not any more. I can’t imagine the mess I’d be in today. It was hard enough to enter the workforce without a degree back then.

      I actually worry about the books I choose to read. There’s a finite number of books you’ll read throughout your life. You’ve got to be very careful about which ones make it past the gate. This John Cheever collection had some heft. What a mistake!

      Are three cats a handful? One, clearly, isn’t enough. Two seems to be the sweet spot. I had two for many, many years. Very enjoyable creatures to have around. People who say they’re not affectionate don’t know what they’re talking about.

  4. When I worked in restaurants, the only people not worth a damn (managers, and some chefs) were the ones who had gone to school to learn the craft.
    I’ll take those who learned by doing over those who are book-knowing any day of the week.

    I also love short stories.

  5. When I was in my teens, some 50+ years ago I read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and loved it. I tried re-reading it a few years ago and ooph – wretched stuff. But “9 Stories” is still as readable and enjoyable as ever. My ‘sick-in-bed’ books are “Little Women”, “Gone With The Wind” and “Jane Eyre” – they never fail to satisfy. But I have to say, and this may be sacrilegious, I am so over Jane Austen. And Tolkien – 50 years after the first reading -bleah.

    And yes, of course, cats RULE!

    • That’s so funny you should mention that! I recently reread Catcher. I remember reading it when I was young and thinking Holden was a hero. Someone who would tolerate nonsense. As an adult, I now see him as an over-privileged whiner. Still a great read, but from a much different perspective.

      There’s nothing sacrilegious about what you said. Your tastes change. You can’t help it! It’s biological. If tastes didn’t change, I’d still be listening to those old, bombastic, Rush albums.

  6. Love that cat picture, great capture!

    I actually left school at 16 (which we were allowed to do back then, it’s only just now they’ve changed it to 18 here). It’s only in recent years I’ve gone back to studying, and really only because I work at a university and staff can take qualifications for free so it seemed silly not to take advantage of it. But I can relate to years of feeling less adequate than most of those around me for having that lack of qualifications.

    If you like classics and you like short stories, have you ever read the short stories of E.M. Forster? He’s not one of the better known classic authors, even here in England where he’s from, but I really enjoyed his short story collection, especially “The Machine Stops” which was pretty insightful about the future considering it was written in 1909. He actually went to the same school as my other half Neil went to. Here’s a handy-dandy link for you:

    • I was such a horrible student. Miserable grades and no ambition. I’m sure if it were allowed I would have bailed out as well. It’s not like it did me any good. I wish someone had cared enough. It would have me saved a lot of time.

      I have NOT read any Forster short stories! Thank you so much for the recommendation! I’m a big Anglophile and am not sure how that got by me. I’ve read TONS of Wodehouse and am a big fan of Graham Greene—both novels and short stories. I think I should have been born over there.

      • Do let me know what you think of it if you read this book!

        I was a terrible student back then too. I hated school and didn’t put any effort in. Left as soon as I had the chance. I was a much better student as an adult when I was doing it through choice.

      • Will do! You and I should form a support group. ‘Better Late Than Never’ or some such thing. I’ll bet membership would swell in no time. There are probably lots of us out there.

  7. If you went to college now, I predict you’d be a top student in any of the humanities. You’d be better motivated than the young pups and your experience of life would be a huge advantage.

    It’s pretty damn noble for cat lover to put up with a dog for the sake of his family. Too noble, in my opinion. Why can’t they appreciate cats?

    • ‘If I knew then what I know now’ is the oldest argument in the catalog but it happens to be TRUE. Not only would I be a top student academically, I now know how women like to be treated. Imagine how successful I’d be in THAT regard when all my competition is a bunch of unsophisticated thugs. Everything comes too late in life.

      That damn dog bit me this morning. For real. Not just playing. It hurt. No blood (this time) but it hurt like hell.

  8. I never went to college either. I went to a trade school. The “classics” I was forced to read in high school? Hated them. Older literature is written so differently it’s hard for me to get in to. Oh, well. To each their own, right?

    • Hi Scott. I had to approve your comment. Isn’t that funny? New identity and all.

      If it weren’t for one particular classic – To Kill a Mockingbird – I wouldn’t be the person I am today. But, yeah, a lot of it just bounces off my skull, like the example above. That guy is supposed to be so great. I couldn’t wait until the book was over.

      How did you get hooked into writing? Not reading the classics hasn’t seem to hurt you one bit.

      • Not really sure. I tried writing a bit when I was in high school. Got halfway through a book, decided I didn’t like it, and threw it in the garbage.

        I started blogging as kind of a geek experiment. I was trying to host my own website (on my own server) and couldn’t decide what type of site to host. I settled on a blog. After a couple months of that I decided I liked it and moved over to WordPress.

  9. I also never went to college. Instead I got extremely lucky in a very entry level gov-mint job and took every class for every work system that got implemented, considered, etc. Now, 18 years later I am burnt out on the field I am in so the lack of college is coming back to bite me, even with all the years of experience I have…though I am trying for a LOWER level job. Reduced pay is difficult, but reduced stress is necessary. I’ll figure it out eventually.

    I am guessing you didn’t like James Mason? Because of his performance, or because of his role as Humbert? I just watched this last weekend.

    I can’t think of a book I changed my mind about. I think I changed my mind about Shakespeare in general when I wasn’t having to rip apart iambic pentameter, symbolism, etc. A lot of classics are available for free as Kindle downloads, so I may try to explore some of the ones I really loathed to see if anything has changed.

    • I just took a job that was a slight step down in salary but it was loaded with benefits so it’s kind of a wash. Your options really are limited without a college degree. I’m sorry to say that but it’s true. I had a hell of a time for years but now I’ve got enough experience to make up for it.

      I always thought James Mason was such an affected actor. He’s got a lot of weird mannerisms. Have you ever read Lolita? It’s super. Also, try A Clockwork Orange. Another laugh-riot.

      Shakespeare is so dreary to read. I can’t do it. But I run to the productions. I find them highly enjoyable. After I read the Sparks Notes, that is.

      • Oh, I know about how the options work. Or lack of. I work in HR so I hear managers discuss the “need for a degree” all the time for jobs where it isn’t needed. I am guessing they don’t realize I am one of those uneducated folk because of my current job, title, etc.

        I know with the Kubrick version, they had to change the actress because the movie wouldn’t be able to be made any other way. Not sure if that is good or they should have just dropped it. Haven’t seen the Jeremy Irons version.

        I tried to read both of those years ago, maybe that’s what I will start with.

      • Yes, start with those although Clockwork is kind a rough on the ladies. Come to think of it, Lolita is unkind to the fairer sex as well. Maybe I have a problem! Report back to me later.

  10. Me and my college degree are going to dumb this down a bit and talk about a movie instead of a book because I am the ruin of a generation: I grew up watching Apocalypse Now– it was on ALL THE TIME. I re-watched it when I was about 20 and was horrified. I have no idea how I took all that in as a kid and just sort of shrugged like “oh this is the way of life.”

    • I’m not casting any stones or judging because judging ain’t my business, but who was letting you watch Apocalypse Now as a child? That movie will make you numb to violence. And The Doors. There’s a fantastic documentary about the making of that film by Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis. That movie almost killed him! There’s a great outtake of Brando giving one of his rambling monologues and a bug flies down his throat! So funny!

      • I think I WAS numb to violence as a young person! Now I am this horribly fragile person that is often late to things because I have to see every lost dog back to its home, but when I was young… I was cold hearted or something. Ha. And my Mom knew it was on! My brothers used to watch that, and Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, etc. plus of course Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Alien… and so much Jean Claude Van Damme. Geeze I’m getting all nostalgic over here. You know what I wasn’t allowed to watch though? Friends. Because they had sex on that show.

        I watched every episode of every season when I lived alone in China, land of a thousand bootleg DVDs. Take that, Mom.

  11. you wince every time you see that pic? imagine how the cat felt!
    i have a stack(s) of books that i’ve been meaning to read all around the house and at some point, i’ll get around to them. when i was indisposed, i had thought i’d start on one of the stacks, but i was so drugged up, i don’t even remember the first week home. when the krewe left and i was on my own, i ended up reading what’s politely known as beach reading and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! now, i’m sure you’re wondering what the hell does this have to do with your post, right? nothing, except that we probably don’t read enough anymore. xoxoxoox

    (i think i’ve seen Apocalypse Now more times than i can remember, but i’ve never read Heart of Darkness)

    • Wince and laugh.

      I have summer beach reading every season. That stuff is popular for a reason. It’s great! But when I finish a beach read I always feel like I have punish myself for being frivolous and I pick something thick and dreary. Catholic guilt! Can’t get enough of it!

      I’ve never read Heart of Darkness either. I’ll bet it’s not nearly as fun as the movie.

  12. It must be E.M. Forster night. On my lap as I read this, I kid you not, is A Room With a View, which I am re-reading for the first time in many, many years. A Passage to India is a favourite of mine but this is a first re-run for Room. I had forgotten how wickedly funny Forster can be. Great satire, although it reads sometimes like it was written 100 years ago, which it almost was.

    Weekend run of the play over. Off until next Friday. Last night I got booed in the curtain call — good boos, though, if you know what I mean. I think they were mostly co-workers…

    • That IS spooky. I love those sweeping British novels. Those guys really knew how to build an empire, didn’t they? They wrote the book! Ha. Are you still reading this idiot response?! With Forster waiting on your lap?! Get back to the good stuff.

      Was wondering how the performances were. Congrats on getting booed. Hope your booed again next week. Any backstage shenanigans?

      • The performances have been mostly okay, except every night I (and others) flub something we’ve done/said perfectly fine dozens of times. I have too many bits — a blade that pops out of a statue, a bag, money, stage cigs, notebooks, argh! — that muck up my memory tank. This afternoon, I got hit in the forehead with the gas can. But, hell, it’s been fun. We have an 11-year-old extortionist in the cast. She’s told us all about the skeletons in her family closet.

      • Relax. The audience is clueless. They may pick up on a dropped word or two but for the most part they have no idea when something goes haywire. Consider it an opportunity to hone your improvisation skills.

  13. I was lucky, I went off too uni (College to you, I think) got my degree, had my babies, got another bigger, smarter degree. But you know what I don’t think they count for much. And they were completely the wrong kind of degrees (social sciences, both of them) to get good paying jobs with. I’m a slow learner because then I tried to solve the problem by taking a creative writing course. If I could do it all again, would I change it – I really don’t know the answer to that one. Yes, maybe if I could have known then what I know now. But then I was such an opinionated young thing there’s no way my younger me would have listened to this older me.

    Lolita: the most beautifully written disturbing book I’ve ever read.

    Adored Heidi as a girl. Tried to reread that. Big mistake. The translation is terrible and it’s terribly sexist. No wonder girls of my era all went off to be nurses and teachers and helpers and rescuers … sigh.

    Was forced to read Pride and Prejudice at school – hated it. Same with The Pearl. Reread them a few years ago – brilliant, both of them.

    • That’s a common misconception among Uni graduates. To think their degrees don’t count for much. Some people tell me that to make me feel better, which is sweet, but it’s not true. Perform the following experiment: remove your Uni degree and any education from your resume and try to find a job. It’s an uphill battle. Even if you’re applying for something out of your field of expertise, they still want to see a degree. Don’t discount it.

      I didn’t realize just how disturbing Lolita was until I had a daughters. I suppose women see how sinister it is early on. What a rude awakening! I have never read Jane Austin. Why do I have such a prejudice against her books? Because I’m a guy, perhaps? Shame on me. I should get past it.

      • Well maybe that early patterning from a steady diet of Heidi and Pollyanna still shows up … you know, wanting to make make people feel better and all that … but maybe people without degrees overrate them and people with them underrate them. Nowadays, badly paid though my job is, you do need a degree to get in the door. When I got my degree and got my first job many of my colleagues didn’t have degrees.
        About Jane – she is over exposed, which is off putting. I was surprised to discover P&P was funny – laugh out loud funny in places

  14. Honestly, some of the most interesting, brightest and shit hot people I know, never went to college or Uni. And really…who wants a chick who’s just concerned with power, status and dollars? Meh…them gals aren’t worth bedding. Fact.

    I have never read Lolita but I now think I shall.

    • I’ll tell you who wants a chick who’s concerned with power: ME! When I was sitting in an office and didn’t have anyone in my life and I was surrounded by pretty girls, I wanted one of them. The fact that their motives were dubious didn’t dawn on me until many years later. I was lonely and wanted someone pretty and soft. But they weren’t buying what I had to sell.

      I highly recommend Lolita but you’d better buckle your seat belt. When reading it, remember what era it was written in. No wonder it was banned!

  15. In defense of Stanley Kubrick’s movie, LOLITA, his hands were tied so much by the MPAA that Nabokov’s book was only an inspiration for the movie. I have never read the book and never will. I do not want to be put on the government watchlist of sexual predators.
    In the movie, Humbert has no excuses, he will always be the dirty old man. The manipulative one is debatable. Lolita had more consensual carnal knowledge with every one else than Humbert. It should always be a crime for an adult having sex with a minor, but why can a boy or girl have consensual sex with all the adults they want without consequences. They can be tried for shoplifting, drinking, drugs, grafitti, bullying, even 1st degree murder as an adult, but not even a reprimand for consensual sex.
    The movie shows that if you are attractive, young and sexy, the sea of love is your oyster, although she could have done better at the end.

    tongue n cheek

    How long did you have to wait/hold the camera for that shot?

    • How’d I miss this great comment? Too blind to see. That’s a good point about the MPAA. In retrospect, it makes me wonder why he would even try to film the thing. There was a second film version a few years ago with Jeremy Irons. I never saw it and am not sure I want to. I don’t remember it getting good notices. Humbert was funnier in the book than Mason was in the movie. Mason had a sad desperation that the book Humbert didn’t.

      That photo was taken in a blink of an eye. It was a one in a million shot. It’s not like I was holding the shutter button down. I wish I had been! This’d be a funny sequence.

  16. As I hope you already have reconciled, college doesn’t make you smart, Mark. You’re over that one, right? You read the classics, you interpret what the author meant, you project their meaning then into your life now. I know all this by reading your posts, reading your comments on my posts, reading your remarks on the people we both read. You’re a freaking smart guy. It has to do with life and learning and your open mind and reading books and reading real people. Sure, my four years in college gave me an associate’s from the little two year SUNY school and a bachelor’s from the huge university, and teachers in my classes pushed and coaxed and guided me. But before, during and after, my smarts came from myself. Like you and everybody else.

    Hey, that black cat was a real dickwad. Unprovoked violence on the peaceful white pussy. Hate that black cat for that.

    • I fear that this post might have been misinterpreted as ‘fishing for compliments.’ I appreciate all the nice stuff that’s been said on my behalf but I assure you that wasn’t my intention. We all post about our shortcomings and this is a big one for me. Thank goodness I’m doing okay. Probably better than someone without a degree could have expected to do. But some stuff is forever rattling around inside your head, isn’t it? I wonder what I could have accomplished with a few teachers pushing and coaxing and guiding me? I coulda been a contender instead of just regular.

      I still love cats. Even ones with bad attitude. What can I say? I like the dark stuff.

      • You are so not “just regular.” And I never think you are fishing for anything.

        I love cats, too, just not when they bite another cat’s eye out of their head for a photo opp. Overall, though, I admit to being more of a dog person, so I guess that makes me less dark right there.

  17. Richard Brautigan is my crack. Gone way too soon. Something you should check out, Mark. Your writing reminds me so much of his. Black comedy. Start with “Trout Fishing In America.” You’ll thank me afterward.

    • I know all about Brautigan although, strangely, I’ve never read him. He’s highly collectible! Fun fact: He once published something called “Please Plant This Book,” They were a series of seed packets. Each packet had a poem on it titled for the type of seeds inside. Most people destroyed the packets and planted the seeds. A full set with undamaged packets can be very expensive.

  18. When i was in 7th grade, i started reading Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. “Cat’s Cradle” and “Player Piano” were the first two i devoured… Witty, clever and oh, so, snarky, i just loved that man! Going back and re-reading these as i started my career as a card-carrying enginerd? Hell, was that man a genius when it came to predicting the messes that technology was going to drop on society in the coming years. Going back for a third time in my late 40’s, i realized that the man was my personal muse, a man smart enough to see the tragedies of life, yet always holding onto the tiniest slivers of optimism — because he fucking HAD TO to get through the day…

    Yes. Perspective. Use it or lose it.

    Oh, and cats are assholes.

    • How was FLA?! And the wedding?! Please report.

      I had the great privilege of hearing Vonnegut speak at Case Western Reserve when I lived in Cleveland. He said something I’ll never forget: he said that Universities and writing workshops actually DESTROY more writers than they CREATE. He said those institutions teach a writer how to conform and follow rules but they deprive them of their unique voice. Bukowski said the same thing. He said that once you sanitize the prose it becomes tedious and loses it’s special flavor. That went a long way towards convincing me that although college is awesome and preferable, it’s not the be-all, end-all.

    • Cats are lovely and you know it Ms. Daisy!!!… and i saw Allen Ginsberg read at CMU for free years ago, i’m currently reading a bio on William Burroughs and i can now say that i’ve met someone we screwed WSB, he was a power bottom you know… and Kurt’s the fucking man, the world needs more humans like KV.

  19. Creative Writing programs are the cash cows of Uni’s, i laugh at every MFA i meet or read but i’m a dick, i state you just paid a whole lot of money to “learn” something you can learn for free and i’ve yet to read someone with an MFA with a unique voice or story, in short they’re shite… when i was in school everyone thought i was an English major cuz i read so much, i had a Communication Law class where the prof asked how many books we read outside of class for pleasure or learning and after he got by 5 for the year i was the only one with my hand still up, after he got past 20 he just finally asked me straight out and i told him at least 30 probably more like 40 plus, the stunned look of my classmates was priceless cuz i was the guy that was always stoned (i also ended up the #1 student in the class)… i’m the fucking whack job who thought college was to learn and study and investigate and not for upping my earning potential or make myself more attractive to employers, to this day i’ve never used my degree but i’m still glad i went, i’d quote Bobby Frost but i think you know what i’m gonna say… and i believe all this was addressed on the Lounge at one point, tied up with women i was seeing at the time of course…

    • My desire for a degree started out as an image problem but then it morphed into something more practical. It was hard, hard, to find work out here without one. Eventually, my resume became rich with work experience and things got easier but, holy Christ, it was hard at first.

      You make Frost sound like the kind of bloke you’d want to have a beer with. I’m sure he’d prefer that to what he’s been turned into. Yes, we do all sorts of twirls on account of women we are tied up with. Always will.

  20. I like Cheever, but that’s probably because his subject matter is so alien to me. Did you read ‘The Swimmer’? Or ‘Reunion’? Both brilliant. Though I do, like you, prefer Carver, he’s a joy.

    I am about to start tutoring a 15 year old girl who refuses to go to school but writes poetry. I asked her what drew her to poetry and she said discovering Bukowski a year ago. I made a mental note to tell you that.

    • Both ‘Reunion’ and ‘The Swimmer’ are coming up in about a dozen pages or so. THANKS. It gives me something to look forward to. It’s taking me FOREVER to get through this book. I always seem to find something else to read. I should just buckle down and get it done.

      That’s an interesting note about the 15-year old. I’m friends with Bukowski’s publisher, John Martin, and I’ll pass that on to him. I’m sure he’ll find it deeply satisfying. That girl is going to be saved by literature. What’s better than that?!

  21. I’ve never found my degrees to be of any use in the job market, but I didn’t go to university to improve my job prospects, and I lament the fact that university nowadays is seen as a vocational training. I went to better understand my culture and to find out more about the sources of the self that I have become, through understanding the society in which I exist. Which isn’t a sentence that goes down brilliantly in job interviews.

    It’s great you had a chance to talk to Zadie Smith, who said she found Dorothea in Middlemarch irritating, but as someone who read the book for the first time last year, I can say it is right there in the handful of books that will forever stay with me. It’s also one of those which, as your Zadie Smith says, will be different according to your age and circumstances.

    (My newsreader seems to like to have a long three or four day rest before it deigns to offer up new articles, so just to let you know I am not deliberately ignoring you for a week each time).

    • I still, all these years later, wish I had gone to college. Aside from the degree, it seems to be the common thread that runs through everybody’s life. It’s the basis for every first conversation, or so it seemed to me when I was in my 20’s. A recent study found that the vast majority of Ivy League graduates go into either Finance or Consulting. How empty.

      I’ve never read Middlemarch. I’m afraid of it. It’s supposed to be a landmark piece of literature, but what if I don’t ‘get’ it? I’ll take it personally. I was wrecked for a week because I couldn’t get page page 5 of Ulysses.

      No need to provide a rational for your reading schedule. I’m actually not that sensitive, all evidence to the contrary.

  22. I had the same fear of Middlemarch but then it got selected as our book group book so I “had” to read it, and boy am I glad I did. You can get copies so cheaply nowadays that you haven’t lost anything of you can’t get into it.

    Me, on the other hand, have never read Lolita. I’m a bit scared of that too, for entirely different reasons. It does have a knack of turning up on this blog though — or rather, in people;s comments, so maybe it’s time to read that one.

    • Maybe I should reconsider. I’ve heard too many people say it’s a landmark read but, as I’ve freely admitted in the past, I am not the deepest thinker. I might not “get” it. I fall somewhere between Archie comics and Ulysses. The happy middle.

      Have you read A Clockwork Orange? I’ve always thought of those as companion books. Don’t know why. Perhaps because of their depravity.

  23. What a post… it was perfect until that bloody cat bit! Thanks a lot.

    I admire your take on the classics. I remember the first short story that grabbed my attention. It was John Galsworthy’s The Apple Tree. Totally devastating. Also had some upper class snobbery about it, but it aimed a dagger specifically at those people, leaving a poor love-stricken country maid in its wake. A few days later, I read Conrad’s Youth… not a shorty story maybe, a novella or something, but man I felt like I was on the biggest winning streak of all time. I doubt I’m near as well read as you, but there is something about the arrangement of words in the classics that bends my minds, as though I’m looking at the creation of this language, how it was designed to be used. Years later, I don’t read much anymore. I write more than I read now. If it makes any sense, my daily existence has a lot of number-crunching in it, anything from stats to calculus, and sometimes plowing through those bits and pieces of data, I get a glimpse of what it felt like to read the classics when I was young… maybe my brain’s grasping at straws. Or maybe it’s just too fried to know any better now.

    Books I’ve re-read…. As much as I love Conrad, I re-read The Secret Agent a while ago, and it was deplorably bad. What a total stinker.

    • You’ve got to read to write, my friend. That’s the common thread I see running through every piece of writing advice I’ve ever come across. It’s virtually impossible to read for pleasure if you’re in the middle writing a book, but once you’re finished you’ve got to hop back up on that pony. Start with Lolita if you haven’t read it! It’s worth your time.

      The Cheever stories are really no better than cheap gossip, albeit beautifully written. You’re watching rich people suffer and make fools of themselves. If you’re entertained by Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and the like, you’ll love Cheever.

      • Ok, but here’s my snobbish take on this. I read a lot of classics when I was young, and I loved them. Read contemporary stuff too but it didn’t move me as much… I look around for modern literature that gives me the same feeling of timelessness and I just don’t often find it. Unless I’m in Marquez or Rushdie or hell, even Copeland. It’s going to sound weird, but I don’t want other peoples’ voices in my writing! I hate that sometimes, I start feeling myself reaching for voices that aren’t mine. Not sure if that makes sense, but yeah, the school of Trent Lewin preaches not reading in order to be a writer.

      • That doesn’t sound weird at all! It makes perfect sense. Seriously. It’s the reason why actors filming a remake won’t watch the original. We are all sponges.

        That fucking Marquez was the man, wasn’t he? More like him, please.

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