Coming Home Again: On Books, Travel, Life, More Books, and the Green Bay Packers

By Rob Casper

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I feel like I need to write my fellow FBC folk an apology note. I did not mean to be absent; in fact, over the course of the first few weeks I realized how invaluable reading you and writing to you could be. But then my life overwhelmed me: five trips in six weeks (Atlanta, Chicago, Austin, central VA, Santa Fe), plus the weekly back-and-forth between New York and Washington, D.C. Helping plan a big memorial event for a dear teacher who died this year. Launching an ambitious online project for our poet laureate, and dealing with a busy fall season of programs. And getting bogged down in the gut renovation of our Windsor Terrace home (when we walked around the empty shell, with no back wall and piles of dirt and holes for a basement, I thought, “We can’t destroy this space any further, thankfully.”).

The whole time I’ve been reading our books, though, and had things to say — to the books, and to you:

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  • How much I loved the flourishy prose of Edwin Mullhouse, and found the novel even darker than my all-time favorite, The Tin Drum. As well as similar: both feature unreliable narrator children, in a fantastical-historical-mundane world. I had no problem being caught between reality and unreality, which I knew was going to be the case as soon as I encountered the outrageously long sentence about White Beach (i.e., “As we stepped down onto a rocking sputtering floor…as all the colors of a summer afternoon glow like a glossy postcard, shimmer into memory like a color transparency projected into darkness onto a sparkling white screen.”)

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  • How moved I was by the strange creaturely self-portrait by Allie Brosh in Hyberbole and a Half — here’s how she described it in The Guardian — and the way it allowed her to detail depression (visually and as a kind of image-shorthand for her writing). I also appreciated the book’s ability to move from vignette to vignette; in fact, it made an implicit argument for the good old-fashioned book as the perfect form in which to gather and, by so doing, heighten the narrative threads of/deepen the impact of Brosh’s comic blogs.

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  • How I came around to Speak, though I was distracted by so much explaining — part of the problem with the novel’s epistolary/journal format, I suppose. But too many times I felt one character was telling another something they already knew, in order to make us sure of it. Let us fill in the gaps! Still, I appreciated the structure of the book, how it heightened the moment-to-moment of the past, present, and future all at once.

Which brings me to The Argonauts — a book that works the same sort of magic with time while engaging in some over-explaining, in the sections written to/about Harry. But this “over-explaining” has a powerful purpose — it comes to feel like a way to hold on to the story of their love, to keep the truth of those descriptive moments alive. And I have rarely been as wowed by arriving at a moment deep into a book as I was when Harry speaks, about his mother’s death. There was something so beautiful, so generous, in the way Maggie handled it. Partly it was seeing Harry’s name show up in the space (the word “margin” seems wrong to use here) where I had grown accustomed to seeing philosophers and poets Maggie was referencing. Partly it was Maggie ceding the power of storytelling over to Harry, and Harry’s experience — among the most intimate and powerful one person can have with another. Partly it was the way the book couples Harry’s account with Maggie’s description of giving birth to Iggy — and in the power of both descriptions.

coverThere is so much I’d like to say about The Argonauts — the brilliant, brave, challenging, moving work Maggie made which contains multitudes, yet is singular. But Football Book Club has moved onto The Sixth Extinction. Which, I have to say, I could not read — or, I should say I read the prologue and last chapter. Writer Elizabeth Kolbert ends the prologue with “My hope is that readers of this book will come away with an appreciate of the truly extraordinary moment in which we live.” But a book on mass extinction can put a real spin on the words hope and extraordinary! I cannot read such a book and lapse into catastrophizing — or, to put it another way, to live at this moment is to reckon with some awful truths. It’s not as if our predecessors didn’t have to do the same, of course — but until recently, wholesale destruction of the planet was not one of them.

Sorry Adam — I can’t do this one. But I’ll promise to get through the precursor to The Exorcist.

Speaking of sorry states, the Packers at week nine…and talk about how much can change in the football season. I knew as the team pulled through a high-scoring duel with the Chargers that next two games would be a big test. And so they were, in the worst way. And now teammates are yelling at each other, a bad sign (no matter what Mike McCarthy says). In a sense, it’s a relief — I don’t have to care about the perfect season. But I can’t say I don’t feel disheartened — especially as the Patriots continue another run at the old Miami Dolphins record. Back in Austin a few weeks ago, I actually sat down to watch the Pats in action with my old friend David Goodrich (a recently transplanted Bay Stater and a brilliant musician). It was the first time I’d voluntarily done so, and I have to say I greatly enjoyed the banter. It was a good reminder of how the the sport offers us connection, and a chance to forget the week’s travails (to say nothing of the above larger issues). At the same time, even though I’m ready to pay less attention to my team, I know my family will still watch — and I’ll keep up at least enough to know what to say after every game.

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