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books: 20 + 1

Lying on my couch at an uncommon angle, I looked up at a shelf with a small selection of paperback fiction and saw these ten titles in order: Lorrie Moore's Anagrams, Toni Morrison's Beloved and Sula, Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World, Arthur Nersesian's The Fuck Up and Chinese Takeout, Chris Offutt's Out of the Woods, Yuri Olesha's Envy, Pynchon's V, and Roth's The Human Stain.

I have so many books in storage and in piles on the floor or shelves in other rooms, yet, possibly, these ten represent in exacting proportion all the fiction I read. Having said that, I soon realize that 30% women might be high, sadly enough, and 20% in translation is low, I think, and it would be weighted more toward fiction from Europe and Russia, not 50/50 between Europe/Russia and Asia. Also, because I anticipated teaching contemporary literature, after 1945, when I drove down to South Carolina, I left most of my titles written before World War II in storage space in Philadelphia.

I do have the white whale and friends, Pierre, etc. on hand, at least a couple of the same Penguin paperback editions I read in college. Of the ten I just named, only Olesha's Envy is one I was assigned to read as an undergrad, but the copy on the shelf is one I procured years later. The British Picador paperback V is one of two editions I've owned, and I bought it in England when I was working as a busboy in Paris and then traveling in Europe the summer and autumn before the Berlin Wall fell. The Crying of Lot 49 rests on a different shelf where I keep the books I've been teaching most recently.

What's on the shelf above the first ten, you ask?

Ha Jin's Waiting, Denis Johnson's Angels and Jesus' Son, Edward P. Jones's Lost in the City, two different editions of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and then four Kafka Schocken Classics w/Dad's Kunderas leaning against them. Kerouac's On the Road rests horizontally on top the paperbacks just named.

When Over Fifty Billion Kafkas Served, my bilingual stack of stories, arrives from Romania, I'll let the copy I keep rest in its alphabetical place, between Kafka and Kundera, on the higher plane of shelf.




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