First things first

It is impossible to write an effective first post on a blog. If I were writing a book, I would save the first page for last, after every other word had been scrutinized and settled. But while a book marks the end of a writing process that usually remains hidden, a blog shows every step (and misstep) along the way. I can’t save the first page for last, because I may never arrive at the end.

I do know a few things about the beginning, though. The concept for this site first formed in my head about a year ago and traveled through several different versions before arriving at what you see here. One version imagined long essay-like posts that would, in sequence, build towards a larger work (the book model); another fantasized about a unique design for every post (the editorial model); a third dreamed of elaborate visualizations relating each book within the library to every other (I still hold that one close). All were discarded when they failed to keep my attention long enough to finish them, or else proved so complex as to seem prescribed, as if the project were already finished before I’d even started.

This version emerged from an afternoon spent flipping through old journals and deciphering my scribbles. For years I have jotted down passages that struck me and documented the books they came from, as well as what other books they reminded me of. I never made a conscious decision to catalog my reading but was instead driven to record new ideas as they struck me. Sadly, a pile of journals has proven to be a largely inaccessible resource, with most of these notes rarely, if ever, revisited.

At the same time, I was able to recognize how the notes on each new book responded to and surfaced from those on the books that came before. I discovered The Comedy of Survival in The Ecocriticism Reader and found many ideas in concert with Richard Manning’s revisionist history of agriculture, Against the Grain. I couldn’t help but think back to Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo as I read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake; Limbo was a strange and horrible little book, but it seems more relevant in retrospect. I’ve reread Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians several times in recent years, no doubt returning to it because it seems to so perversely capture the war in Iraq. I had just finished it again when I turned to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine; Coetzee seemed to hover over every page, his fictional image of torture weaving its way into Klein’s accounts of the real thing.

This site grows out of these journals. It’s an effort to document the ideas in my library and follow the links from book to book. I don’t know what the end result will be (or if there will be an end) but I hope the path to get there will be interesting. I also hope that the methods employed here serve as a model for others; there are many fascinating things to be discovered in the spaces between books, if you take the time to look.

I’m beginning with a book on theory, partly because I expect theory to be an overarching theme, but also because I was reading it as I finalized the design of this site. I read it more purposefully as a result, already attuned to the ways in which this blog could change both the way I read and the way I write. I look forward to discovering—and sharing—just what those changes will be.

Related books

The Comedy of Survival

Joseph Meeker

Meeker argues that the destructive aspects of western civilization are founded on the tragic mode, while the comic mode offers a path for redemption.

The Ecocriticism Reader

Cheryll Glotfelty & Harold Fromm

An introductory collection in literary ecology, the movement that aims to do for environmentalism what gender and race studies did for civil rights.

Against the Grain

Richard Manning

A revisionist history that argues that we traded away much of our humanity in exchange for the little bit of security that agriculture promised.

Limbo

Bernard Wolfe

A bizarre dystopia in which the elite voluntarily amputate their limbs and have them replaced with high performing machines.

The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein

Klein expertly and devastatingly reveals the history behind a model of capitalism that first fed on disaster, then fomented it.