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Cormac McCarthy on my mind
March 17th, 2013 by alexfaye

I am in the middle of several books, and really, no real reading can go forward until I finish Infinite Jest.  I have nearly every single book possible written by or about David Foster Wallace, and I’m working my way through.  I have a posthumous fangirl thing going on with him.  In addition, I belong to two book clubs.  The 2nd Thursday Book club (I refer to this one as ‘the real book club’) just finished This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, and has chosen Black Swan Green by David Mitchell for April.  The book club at work (not ‘a fake book club’ by any means, but younger, more fluid in its membership, and less regular in its meetings) is reading Gone Girl by I-don’t-even-know-who.  Welch?  Flynn.  It’s a bestseller.  Look it up.

Yesterday, I went to the 31st annual Literary Women conference in Long Beach.  And I was bowled over.  And I purchased books.  I have new heros:  Dana Spiotta, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Michelle Huneven, Charlotte Rogan, Amy Waldman.  I bought some books.  I downloaded others.

My professional reading is piling up: I’m re-reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with my students; I’ve collected essays from kids, and the professional journals and emails pointing to web content are collecting on my actual and virtual desktops; loose pages, like the Fed-Ex packets of draft chapters from my work on the state framework committee, and binders of text to support our school’s accreditation work (WASC).  Did I mention the essays from kids?  Yes.  Those.  Hundreds.

Finally, a dear student from many years gone by has asked me to read her novel.  I read in snatches.  I can’t string together the requisite hours to give it a fair read.

And somehow, Blood Meridian has been speaking to me from the shelf.  Who knows why?  Clearly, I don’t have time to read Cormac McCarthy right now.  My real book club opted to read All the Pretty Horses for July, and not Blood Meridian, despite my suggestion — we have a friend who is a little more sensitive, and some things are just too harsh for her, so we often choose our books with this in mind — for example, The Road exemplified a terrible read for her:  too bleak, too dark, too violent. I wake up from sleep, drawn to Blood Meridian — a book known for its twisted violent vision — a book I’ve never read.

I can’t explain it, so I went and pulled it down from the shelf and opened to the middle.  Look at these sentences:

The judge knelt with his knife and cut the strap of the tigre-skin warbag the man carried and emptied it in the sand. It held an eyeshield made from a raven’s wing, a rosary of fruitseeds, a few gunflints, a handful of lead balls.  It also held a calculus or madstone from the inward parts of some beast and this the judge examined and pocketed.

And these, soon after:

They rode all day upon a pale gastine sparsely grown with saltbush and panicgrass.  In the evening they entrained upon a hollow ground that rang so roundly under the horses’ hooves that they stepped and sidled and rolled their eyes like circus animals and that night as they lay in that ground each heard, all heard, the dull boom of rock falling somewhere far below them in the awful darkness inside the world.

And just a few lines down:

The riders wore masks of boneblack smeared about their eyes and some had blacked the eyes of their horses.

warbag.  madstone. panicgrass.  boneblack.  pouring contents into sand.  the inward parts of a beast.  the awful darkness inside the world.  Holy shit, Cormac McCarthy.  That’s all I can say this morning.  I have things to do.  And I haven’t read your famous book.  Not yet.  But you’re working on me.  I don’t know why or how, but you’ve entered my head.

UPDATE:  Former student Marcus texted from college to tell me about a movie he saw and liked: Sunset Limited — based on a play by Cormac McCarthy.


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