Thinking about “The Book”

My pen pal Sarah has been writing nonstop about her senior seminar paper! Everyday, I go to the library and find more messages she has sent me about this “return of paper” topic she has chosen to write about. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy communicating with my new friend, but yeesh! You’d think a girl has more to talk about than some homework!

Anyway, there have been some interesting things she has told me about that have got me thinking about my books, my library, and my deep seated fears of books being made “obsolete” (if you remember my earlier ramblings about that Twilight Zone episode that had me all in a tizzy).

From what I’ve gathered, Sarah strongly believes that books will never go extinct, no matter what advancements are made in the digital world. She claims that books will forever remain an integral part of culture and art. Furthermore, the appeal of “bookishness” will never be met by any digital means. She also says that many of the other students in her class feel the same way.

This gives me a good deal of comfort. If there are young people in the upcoming generations that feel this way, then old folks like me don’t need to worry so much about books being done away with.

PS: My new neighbor “Mr. Zampano” remains at the top of my suspect list as to who sent me that mysterious letter. He stays cooped up in his house and the only time he goes out is early in the morning before the sun rises. Then, he only walks up and down the street a few times, squinting into the windows of all the other houses (I know this because I’ve been spying on him with my bird watching binoculars, which I’ve never used until now because bird watching is a ridiculous hobby. They are much better suited for spying on neighbors). Although, the neighborhood cats do seem to like him, and animals are usually a good judge of character.

Home Stretch

In the last few weeks, I haven’t heard much from my pen pal, Sarah. She’s rather busy now that it’s the last month of school for her (hurray!) and she’s trying to find a job for after graduation. In our last correspondence, she told me there is much to do in these last few weeks! Projects in every class, preparing for graduation – it all seems to be a bit much. Now, I myself never went to college so I can only partly understand the college-grad-struggle, but I hope the best for her and all of her classmates.

Meanwhile, I’ve been searching high and low to find out who sent me that mysterious letter all those weeks ago. My investigation led me to a new neighbor, a man calling himself Zampano. I was startled when he said that and asked if he had any relation to the Zampano in House of Leaves. He denied every hearing of the novel, but I have my doubts about that. He also said he hasn’t the slightest clue who could have delivered the letter. The funniest thing is that Mr. Zampano moved in the same day I received that letter. I have a sneaking suspicion that this man knows more than he is letting on…

AARON and Computer Generated Art

Well, I questioned the mailman and still have not made any headway in my investigation. The neighbors are next on my list of potential witnesses.

In more important news, I recently went to an art exhibit (I know, it’s surprising I actually went to something that doesn’t have anything to do with books) and saw some artwork that was quite peculiar. They were by a machine called AARON, a computer-programed drawing machine designed by the late artist Harold Cohen. He invented it in the ’70s and continued working on it throughout his career. AARON produces original drawings – or as original as it can within the limitations of its code. What I find most interesting about it is that it challenges the concepts of “art” and “originality.” Also I thought the drawings were really quite striking!

Seeing these works made me think of my friend Sarah and the work she is doing at UMW right now, what with her computer generated novel, questions of authorship, and what not.


House of Leaves and Patriarchal Poetry

Have you ever stared at a word for so long that it slowly becomes less and less of a word?

Well, I have. My dear pen-pal Sarah sent me another essay to read – at least I thought it was an essay. As it turns out, it was actually a long poem by the renowned Gertrude Stein, called Patriarchal Poetry. Sarah read it for one of her classes at college and she told me, “I kept thinking of House of Leaves as I read this! It’s funny how material from two different classes can be so connected.”

As I read it, my head swam. The word “patriarchal” repeats itself over and over and by the end, it hardly looked like a word. For those who have not yet read this poem, I encourage you to do so! Just like House of Leaves, it has to be experienced to be understood. Labyrinthine in nature, it tangles around itself and turns everything inside out. But, somehow, it makes total sense. A very interesting read, all in all.

P.S. I haven’t yet found out who sent me that mysterious letter. After I finish writing this, I am off to question the mailman!

Spring Cleaning

The last few weeks have passed in a flurry.

I’ve been to too many markets, bookstores, and vendor stalls to count, and I’ve come away with nothing. Nothing! Not a single book or manuscript to add to my measly collection. Irritating, to say the least.

To bide my time between these fruitless endeavors, I’ve been slowly reading House of Leaves, messaging back and forth with Sarah as I uncover different messages. Once I finished it, I started again, sure that I missed something or another amid the bizarre story. I even listened to the music by Danielewski’s sister. I caught too many amused glances as I sat there in the library with my ancient headphones perched on my head like some ridiculous crown. The music wasn’t my taste, but I suppose it adds to the story on some larger level.

Other than reading that difficult book, I have occupied my free time with the most dreaded event of the year – spring cleaning. I am not much in the way of a domestic woman, so the only time I clean out cabinets, dust, scrub the floorboards, and what not is this time of year.

While I was sorting out the many “junk drawers” that occupy dressers and desks throughout my house, I came across a letter I completely forgot about. I found it sitting in a drawer of rubber bands and old phone books, looking so inconspicuous I nearly tossed it in the garbage. You might remember it from one of my earlier posts. It was the strange letter I received when I found out about Sarah using my identity for her book destruction project. The letter had no return address or postage, and I do not recognize the hand writing. In my anger over having my identity stolen, I had completely forgot about how unsettling it is to have a stranger deliver their letter directly to my house.

Looking at the letter now, I am filled with unease. Who is watching my life so closely that they were aware of someone using my name as a blog alias? And why would they care about notifying me? I want to find out who sent me this letter, but how on earth would I even go about doing that? I suppose now is the time to take a brief break from my book collecting duties. I believe I have a bit of sleuthing to do.

Entering the House of Leaves

It is a pain in the ass.

To clarify, I am talking about that book I received, House of Leaves. I started reading – or should I say, decoding – it the other night. Almost everything in this book is layered with messages to uncover, and it is also very unsettling. I do not recommend reading this by a dark window, shades still drawn from admiring the sunset, with only the solemn ticking of a clock to keep you company. You’ll catch a glimpse of yourself in the window and think the House has come for you now.

After I picked the book up (having flung it across the parlor in terror of my own reflection), I decided I needed to stop for the night. But, of course, I could not stop thinking about it! There are a number of frustrating things about it (i.e., the bizarre layout of text, Johnny’s drug filled sex-capades, and tedious rabbit trails), but I found something eerily familiar within the ciphers and endless footnotes.

As I grow older, my mind is becoming less and less my own. Age has a funny way of moving into your mind, unpacking its belongings atop your own memories, and making itself so at home you begin to forget what was there before it moved in. It’s like a dark, endless corridor, spiraling down until you forget why you walked down that corridor to begin with, until you lose your sense of self.

I feel weirdly sympathetic for Navidson and his friends. Of course, they want to know what is behind the mysterious door, but the psychological journey that occurs is not pleasant. While my nice, little home here in Italy does not have suddenly-appearing rooms and shifting dimensions, I feel as though I can relate to their experiences in the house, only mirrored in my own deteriorating mind.

Age is a damn terrible roommate, that’s for sure.

(PS: That book collector’s First Folio was a hoax, and so crudely forged I would be ashamed to ever try and pass it off as anything more than garbage!)

Receiving the House of Leaves

This morning as I was sitting down for toast and tea, the doorbell rang. I quite dislike early morning visitors – after all, I was still in my robe and slippers! – but I peered out the window and saw the postal truck so I was relieved I wouldn’t have to be entertaining any guests. And better yet, the delivery man was holding a suspiciously book sized package. When I opened it, it was in fact a copy of House of Leaves!

My new friend Sarah had stuck a Post-It note to the front cover, saying, “This book is a pain in the ass – good luck!” Now that is not the best way to encourage someone to read a book, but I was curious to see why it was apparently so difficult. When I skimmed through the pages, I immediately understood what she meant. Mostly blank pages, strange footnotes, and bizarre amalgamations of text and shape – it is really quite odd!

I haven’t endeavored to actually read it yet because I have an appointment with a German book collector in about an hour. She claims to have a rare copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio (although I am very skeptical about its legitimacy). Once I get back from our meeting, I think I shall dive headfirst into this strange book.

Pen Pal

I’ve done something I never would have thought I’d ever do.

As of this week, I can officially say that I have an inter web pen pal. That college girl who is using my identity for her class kept sending me messages, asking me what I thought of her project and sending me links to other essays. At first I tried to ignore her. I’m not too fond of children (although my great niece has proved that not all children are grubby-fingered, snot-nosed, insolent brats) so the idea of maintaining a virtual relationship with Sarah was not exactly my cup of tea. But, the bookworm in me was curious as to what these essays contained.

Despite my reclusive nature, I found myself visiting the library every afternoon to log into Facebook and see what my new friend had sent me. Somehow we ended up in a discussion about a piece by Hawthorne and it just spiraled from there. Now it would just be rude to stop communicating with her. So it was sort of an accidental pen pal, but here I am.

Most recently, Sarah has been reading a very strange book but she won’t tell me what it is. Instead, she asked for my address so she can send me a copy. Her reasoning is that I have so see it to believe it. What kind of book is this? I’ll update you when my package arrives.

Talking with the Identity Thief

In the last week, I have gone to the library every afternoon to check my new Facebook for messages. Yesterday, my identity thief finally replied! She wrote:

“Hello Ms. Loredan! First, let me start by saying I never intended to use the alias of a real person for my class project. I thought you were purely fictional! We were to chose an alias for our class blog and you were my favorite character in my favorite book, which is why I am using your identity. I had no idea you were actually real! And believe me when I say that I would never destroy a book out of malicious intent. You see, my class just read Fahrenheit 451, a book by Ray Bradbury that deals with the destruction of books. For our project, we were to destroy our own copy and write an artist’s statement discussing how we felt about it. Perhaps you should look at my project for yourself? Maybe then you will know my intentions were good.”

Sarah sent me two files: a video and an artist’s statement. Despite my better judgement, I looked at them both. It was painful to watch that poor book get destroyed (and I could only think of my own copy safe at home!) but now I understand where this student is coming from. I feel much better knowing my identity is only being used for a school project – the price I pay for letting that woman write about me all those years ago! Although, I must say it’s nice to hear I’m someone’s favorite character!

More on the identity thief…

I am not a fan of technology. All of these new gadgets and thingamajigs are just too confusing. I still haven’t gotten a mobile phone yet. What’s the use? It’s not as if I’m calling people on a regular basis! I much prefer the old way we used to do things. Things are just too fast and too modern for my taste. Anyway, sometimes I have to get over myself – like for that online auction I mentioned last time. While I try to avoid it, sometimes technology can be useful.

Like with this identity thief situation. I went to the library to use one of the computers there and did a Google search (yes, I know what Google is). There were only two possible Sarah Goodnough’s out there and one of them is an artist in Oregon. The other Sarah is on Facebook (yes, I know what that is, too – I’m not that old). My mysterious pen-pal said that the identity thief is a college student, and this Sarah claims to be a student at the University of Mary Washington. This must be the culprit!

Unfortunately, one must have a Facebook in order to send a message. While I would never in a million years, under ordinary circumstances anyway, join “social media,” I again had to get over myself. “It is for the greater good, Elinor!” I told myself, and that is how I ended up with my very own Facebook page.

I sent a curt message to the book-destroyer, saying, “No one steals Elinor Loredan’s identity, especially not to destroy books! Explain yourself or I’ll be forced to alert the authorities.”

We’ll see what the little brat has to say for herself!