Perry fell from the bed and my wife and I were very guilty about it. We thought he'd die at 2AM without any tricycle to bring us to the nearby hospital, which is fifteen minutes away. I was very calm about it, while my wife is in between the states of panic, dread and the I-just-woke-up stupor. If our son's pupils are dilated, she said, he's in the state of shock. That came straight from Google, when I found her typing things on her laptop, hitting the ENTER key with finality.
Then, several other hits on the ENTER key punctuated the early morning.
Our son is sound asleep seconds after the incident, as if nothing has happened. I started hating Google when it generated several thousand hits on what to do when your child fell from the bed. My wife didn't know what to do. I've always relied on optimism. I gave in to my wife's urging to examine our son's pupils so I woke him up.
It's not dilated, I told her.
By the time I was leaving San Francisco, the airport authorities warned me about my excessive baggage. It should be ten pounds lighter, they said, or I won't get in that last flight to Manila. That meant waiting overnight for the first flight in the morning. I hurriedly unzipped my bulky luggage and removed everything on top of my luggage without thinking: rubber shoes, some suits which won't really be useful in the tropics, and this book by Georges Perec, Things: A Story of the Sixties and A Man Asleep, along with Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon. I told my aunt, who was kneeling on the cold, marble floors of the airport, very nervous while I was tossing garments here and there, to ship them to Manila anytime she wanted, maybe before Christmas.
It just arrived a week ago.
I learned that this book is a new translation, and I have a hunch that this isn't a good version, since I haven't done much research on the various editions and translations. I bought this from Amazon (the words USED BOOK printed on a sticker on its spine, which makes it ten dollars cheaper, but still in mint condition) and something about the cover made me buy this edition.
The photo was shot by Duane Michals and I think it's wonderful. I initially thought the man was on the phone, talking to someone. The blurred man in the picture looks frantic with movement and worry as well, looking at all the clutter in his flat--from the upturned chair to the silver teapot (?) sitting right next to the television. The man's hand were placed just below his neck, as if caressing his chin, but he looks bemused or worried, which made me think that the picture isn't just about, say, cleaning one's house twice a month, or dismissing my initial assumption about the phone (since there's no cord, is there?).
It's a thoughtful cover to go with the title: Things becomes more of a problematic, an abstract concept vis-a-vis the tangible things or objects, the trivial. The photo contributes additional insight to what exactly the book is all about (or, at the very least, what it isn't about), and I wish all other book covers are just as thought-provoking. (I mean, look at this horrible cover of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.)
Other book covers:
I recognize this as a Magritte painting: The Six Elements. The paragraph in French, I think, is the first paragraph of the book: "Your eye, first of all, would glide over the grey fitted carpet in the narrow, long and high-ceilinged corridor. Its walls would be cupboards, in light-coloured wood..."
This cover looks very hippie. There are overlays of things (is that a perfume bottle?) over a portrait of an alluring lady which I assume is Sylvie, one of the main characters. But why a woman?
This is more of a literal rendering of the book. From the first few sentences that I've quoted in the beginning, Perec immerses his readers in a very meticulous description of a house, complete with its corners, the provenance of objets d'art, along with settees, sofas, lampshades, bookshelves, etc. to make explicit the sheer, senseless and pretentious materialism of its owners. It doesn't do much justice to the book's rather philosophical take since the drawing looks like Harry Potter to me. Maybe that's why the black-and-white portrait of Duane Michals appeals to me: it's sober, and it goes well with the removed voice of the narrator when describing things.
The story behind the camera my friend used in taking pictures: it was left one night on a table in a bar where her brother happened to be drinking in. Nobody returned to ask for a missing camera. Maybe nobody was brave to get the camera--it's a low-grade point and shoot, judging from its look, with lots of edges and plastic varnish peeling off and tens of stickers on its aluminum body. My friend insisted to take all these pictures in black and white, since the colored ones usually turn out pixelated. Some shots were candid and wonderful; the rest, all 400 pictures, don't really say anything at all.
I may be dumb not to think that the term Nonrequired Reading is something of an argument. I've been seeing The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthologies long ago at Booksale, and have purchased three in the past few years, and they're ingenious in churning out the best and the most inventive stories there is. I initially thought the anthology is for the "newness" of its technique--that it plays with its form, language, or simply put, it shatters the well-defined parameters of a short story. Suffice to say that my recent purchase, the anthology's first edition printed in 2002 (edited by--who else but Dave Eggers!), finally makes it clear in its introductory paragraph by Michael Cart:
The word reading, by itself, it describes one of the most pleasurable, stimulating, rewarding, exciting, even joyful acts we human beings are capable of. Yet put one single adjective -- required -- in front of it and you suck all the joy out of the process, turning it into drudgery.
Aside from the fact that the anthology didn't use other terms like postmodern, or anti-story, among other technical things (it must have been a lengthy introduction discussing postmodern, after all, with tens of footnotes), the term nonrequired is simple and exacting. For one, it's not pretentious and overwhelming. It appropriates itself to its audience, the youngsters, brandishing the anthology as nonrequired to placate the initial reaction of students when the word reading is written by a teacher on the blackboard. Worse, and almost always, the reading materials are a list, and there is a deadline.
It only makes sense, I think, when put into American context. The introduction is generous enough to put the current statistics: that the American youth's disposable income has increased, thereby allowing them to spend more money on things like books, which widened readership; the sheer growth in the numbers of younger Americans; their access to books; the "willingness of a generation of young editors to take creative risks" (again, a well put term, creative risks is probably the fact that most, if not all editors, have the same conventions and tastes regarding fiction).
The word nonrequired, after reading two or three collections prior to my purchase of the 2002 inaugural edition, never triggered the abovementioned explanation. I simply thought it's too esoteric of Dave Eggers and his cohorts to inscribe the word nonrequired alongside the hallmarks of the Best American Series released annually. What did I initially think when I first came across the anthology and was dumbfounded by the term nonrequired reading?
Honestly, I was thinking of another term: young adult, or Y.A. The term has already garnered a sour reputation, and the introduction explains the term's corrupted meaning:
Not long ago, publishers were publishing "young adult literature," an unfortunate phrase that always made the work sound like adult literature in training wheels. Even worse, in the 1930s and early 1940s there was a category patronizingly called "the junior novel." For too many years this "literature" for young adults bore about much resemblance to reality as the Cleaver family. Part of this may have been the result of a collective exercise in wishful thinking, and of an adult desire to "protect" young readers from the grittier realities of life.
The term young adult did raised eyebrows during writing workshops with my college organization--that's along with the term angst. Writers of the young adult infantilize their readers aged thirteen to eighteen: they try to keep them away from "the sophistication of their material and their creative ambition", which, to put it bluntly, refuses its writers "to respect their readers, their readers' abilities and inherent savvy."
Gone was the traditional insistence on a simplistic happy ending. Instead, writers for young people began to bring ambiguity and uncertainty to their work, to acknowledge the presence of darkness in human affairs as well as the persistence of light. Previously taboo subjects such as abuse and incest could now be addressed. Of equal importance, writers were permitted to flex their literary muscles, bringing to their work newly complex characterization, themes, and settings along with stylistic and structural innovation.
The Filipino literary scene is at a loss of this culture and identity of young adult fiction. Almost always these types of stories are printed in zines and churned out in literary folios of colleges and universities, but that's it: the audience is very limited. It's a disheartening fact that what we Filipinos typically think of young adult (or nonrequired reading, without the trappings of its American context) conjures a plethora of contradicting ideas: are they written by Murakami? are they Precious Hearts Romance books? Bob Ong? Youngblood columns in the Philippine Daily Inquirer?
When we have defined the term "young adult fiction" in the Philippines and successfully separated it from its tangle of other fiction--both good and not-so-good--maybe we can come up with a similar term, and hopefully, the anthology will be read and appreciated. Hopefully, the themes of love and romance will not be infantilized as well.