Both of these statements often occupy me, fanning my flames more than the food I eat or the merriment I make. Shall I bend an eye and singe an ear over Dickinson or Stevens? Hop into bed with Borges or Bishop? Yet when one starts reading essays pointing to other works one should read, one compounds an already compelling problem. A few weeks ago some force intervened with an answer, possibly signaling a caesura to my yen for other books to fondle while carrying three or four masterworks in my bag at a time, daily stealing kisses from each. Sluttish, yes, but also tremulous—I only need wink at Rilke or Valéry in order to gain affection I know will be good for me, a guarantee anything with a heart would scoff at.

In lower Manhattan on October 5th, I marched with 15,000-25,000 people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds, protesting the way things are on this planet as dictated by corporate greed. A computer icon died the same day, but something much more important, vital, and amazing happened and continues. People—many of whom know the government is a fair-weather fan of the people and who are again and again complicit in protecting corporations and the super-rich from any trouble—people are changing the world by speaking out.

Last week in New York City was William H. Gass week as three encounters with the man and his work sent me sailing, coming to be a little more in love with words and the people who love them.

As part of my preparation for my interview with William Gass, I began April with a reread of Conversations with William Gass. Once again, I highly recommend Conversations as it offers a great mind essaying off-the-cuff, and doing it brilliantly. I followed this with a reading of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, another of Gass’s fifty literary pillars. It’s an incredibly elaborate orchestration of metafictional play and stylistic counterplay. Seamless collage of seemingly disparate elements like pulp genres, Irish folklore and mythology, and frame within a frame within a frame tales is one mark of its formal inventiveness. One of the joys of At Swim is getting tangled in, and having to disentangle yourself from, the various threads, and following all the characters in and out of their nested boxes. As to be expected from a novel about a writer writing about a writer writing a novel, there’s a lot of commentary about writing: “There are two ways to make big money, he said, to write a book or to make a book.” And this was the remark that “provoked” a group of pseudo-intellectuals to have a “discussion on the subject of Literature-great authors living and dead, the character of modern poetry, the predilections of publishers and the importance of being at all times occupied with literary activities of a spare time or recreative character.” Love that capital “L” there! This whole passage, with the bits about how the room “rang with the iron of fine words,” how the “names of great Russian masters were articulated with fastidious intonation,” and how psychoanalysis “was mentioned-with, however, a somewhat light touch,” is hilarious. And I think this statement: “Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another,” is critical, too, since it’s a justification, of sorts, of all the overlapping and juxtapositions of characters and settings throughout the course of the novel.