Books, books, books

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I love books. Ask any writer about the possessions that he or she values most and I am positive that books are at the top, if not near the top, of the list. I recently helped one of my classmates move, and after all was said and done we had moved 450 books. When I moved here, I came with roughly 200 books, which, to me, seems like not enough. I know this because I gave some away prior to the move. This I am saddened by, because as stated before, I love books.

A large part of the graduate Creative Writing – Nonfiction experience is about waiting for and getting excited about the upcoming school semester’s booklist. I know I checked almost daily as the semester neared. The problem with getting the booklist is that not only are you buying more books, but then you’re on Amazon or Powell’s or at Unabridged (buy local when you can), and then you’re buying even more books. My Amazon wishlist is obscene.

As a graduate student in a writing program, books are a necessity. They are our supplies. We don’t have fancy cameras, paints, fabrics or sound equipment. We have pens, typewriters, laptops, and books. The books that we read inform the writing that we do. In fact, much of what we read, books or not, informs what we write. When I think about why I chose to apply to Columbia, I know that it was because of what I had read. I read Jenny Boully’s The Body: An Essay and The Book of Beginnings and Endings. I wanted to study with the writer who had caught my attention and really made me consider that writing was what I actually wanted to do.

The first workshop that I took was with Jenny, in the Fall of 2010, and the books that she had us read are some of my all time favorite books.  Here is a list of some of the books that I have enjoyed the most—from Jenny’s classes and others since my arrival at Columbia last fall. The list will give you a glimpse at the variety of writers that Creative Writing – Nonfiction graduate students are exposed to during their time at Columbia.

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Nox: Anne Carson, Fort Red Border: Kiki Petrosino, In Search of Duende: Frederico Garcia Lorca, The Weather of Words: Mark Strand, Notes of a Native Son: James Baldwin, Bluets: Maggie Nelson, The Complete Essays of Montaigne: Michel de Montaigne, Ava: Carol Maso, The Pleasure of the Text: Roland Barthes, The Book of Disquiet: Fernando Pessoa, Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein: Gertrude Stein

Each of these books has directly influenced the way that I think about writing and about how I view the field of Nonfiction.

From Roland Barthes’ Pleasure of the Text, comes one of my all-time favorite lines about the writer’s text: “If it were possible to imagine an aesthetic of textual pleasure, it would have to include: writing aloud.” I see our class discussions and workshops as a kind of “writing aloud.” As we engage with these writers in our writing and in our discussions, we are in a sense writing aloud. Barthes continues with, “the language lined with flesh, a text where we can hear the grain of the throat, the patina of consonants, the voluptuousness of vowels, a whole carnal stereophony: the articulation of the body, of the tongue, not that of meaning, of language.”

I mean, let’s stop for a minute and have a collective “excuse me.” I don’t think I’ve ever read something so aggressive, so beautiful that contains as much movement as this. And it comes from this ridiculously awesome book that a professor of mine, one that I once studied as an undergraduate, one that I can’t believe I sit in class with, one that I’m still in disbelief that talks to me—this is from her class. This is what I get to read and it makes why I came to Graduate school, why I moved so far away, make so much sense.

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I was just discussing with another classmate about this semester in particular—our third—and how we feel like we’re in the middle of the most important time in our graduate careers. We are tired and overworked and reading a ton and writing a ton and there are nights when you drink coffee until two in the morning just trying to get through it all…

And then there is Roland Barthes. While you are plugging away into the wee hours of the morning, you know you are amongst writers. You are writing your own words, your own thoughts, and you can only hope that you are writing the kind of work that when someone reads it, they can say that it  “granulates, it crackles, it caresses, it grates, it cuts. . . that [it] is bliss.”

All quotes are from Roland Barthes’ Pleasure of the Text