Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Books as objects in the world

My colleague and great friend Mark Yakich's new book comes out this month; it's called Poetry: A Survivor's Guide and it is wonderful:

One small thing I love about it is that it includes a few of Mark's drawings; another thing I admire about this book is how it dares to be personal, how it tells a story about living with poetry as much as it gives practical instructions for surviving the experience of poetry (reading it, writing it).

Mark and I have collaborated on numerous projects over the past nearly seven years, and something we've always seen eye to eye on is the act of writing books as a matter of making objects in the world. While much of what goes on in the college classroom or in the solitary act of writing can be seen as abstruse or disconnected from life, there is nothing like seeing a book plop onto a table and then seeing how it moves around the world, to reassure that all this thinking, teaching, and writing amounts to something, or at least some thing.

If I haven't been writing much here on this blog, it's in part because find myself in a strange gelatinous realm where I am working on four different book projects that are staggered and weirdly related, but all requiring different modes of fiddling, writing, framing, and grant-applying.

The first one is the book Mark and I have been working on for several years, a collection called Airplane Reading. Last week Mark and I drove out to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport and sat in an empty cafe and wrote the introduction to this book; tomorrow we're going to go back out to the airport and finalize the order of pieces and submit the manuscript our press for the project, Zero Books. We're also going back and forth with the ever inspiring artist and designer Nancy Bernardo, who is fine tuning a zinger of a piece for the cover of this book. If everything stays on track, Airplane Reading will be published this coming spring. Getting away from the daily grind on our campus has helped us wrangle the project and get it into shape. It's also an incredible old airport terminal, perfect for lingering and reflection:

Next, I received a fellowship from Loyola for this coming summer to finish another project, a short book I'm calling "Liberal Arts at Work." This book is part manifesto, and part...well, "self-study." (I heard that phrase in a committee meeting yesterday.) The book also brushes up against the works of David Foster Wallace throughout, and I'm still figuring out how to highlight that aspect.

My big ongoing book project is the thing I have been calling (with increasing looseness) "Up in Michigan." It is a book about place, and what it means to write about place. This book has morphed in unexpected ways over the past few months, and I'm looking forward to really focusing on it—and finishing it—next year, when I'm on sabbatical. But in the meantime it is involving a lot of zooming out and trying to get a sense of it as a thing I can describe in graspable chunks—among other reasons, for the sake of a significant grant I am in the midst of applying for.

Finally, I realized over the past month or so that one more book on air travel has been congealing in my brain. This new one is called "The Nature of Flight," and it takes on more directly some of the eco-critical angles I've touched on in my other two books about airports.

Book projects keep me going. They connect me to others in the process of writing, and they result in things I can give to students, friends, and family. They're just books, I don't mean to make them a bigger deal than they are, but they are still real things that take on their own existence, objects in the world.