Reading Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Reader's Block by David Markson, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said, Sculpting in Time by Andrey Tarkovsky, the screenplay of Journeys from Berlin/1971 by Yvonne Rainer, and Paris Hollywood by Peter Wollen. Reading several books at once is a habit I've continued since college. In high school I was a one-book-at-a-time boy. My girlfriend's dad thinks I'm crazy. "How can you keep everything straight?" I think he's the crazy one: how could I possibly confuse Said with Barthes, or Markson with Hamsun? I suppose, hypothetically, if I were reading two Raymond Chandler novels interchangeably I might get the story lines confused. And Jane Austen's plots tend to bleed together somewhere in my memory. But generally I have no problem reading a chapter or two of a novel, jumping to an essay, then to another novel or a poem or two. I should have asked him if he gets Seinfeld confused with the Simpson's and the NBA Finals when he's switching the channels back and forth (which is unfair, he actually does read alot). Perhaps comparing visual and print media is a false analogy -- in my unscientific experience people tend to recall images more clearly than words. But that also varies from person to person -- ah, so many variables.
So then I began to think, and then I began to worry -- in addition to reading books, I spend several hours a day on the internet reading blogs, articles, news, commentaries, reviews, essays . . . Information glut? No, I should relax. Only a complete idiot would merge the Baath Party with al-Qaeda. Excuse me Mr. President.
And I don't read novels and poetry primarily for information. Yet David Markson's novel is so allusive that I've been forced to Google at least 4 or 5 sentences per page. Ron Silliman wrote about another Markson novel a few months ago, which I think must be similarly structured. Basically, each page is composed of names, unattributed quatations, and literary facts. For instance:
The Aspern Papers
Juana de Asbaje was illegitimate
Hardy may have had an illegitimate son by a cousin named Tryphena Sparks.
The Sangreal. And/or Sangrail.
Dost know this water fly?
So if you don't happen to know who Juana de Asbaje was, or don't remember that particular line from Hamlet (perhaps I would have recalled it if I'd seen one of the movies, ha) you can type it into a search engine and find out. Almost every quote I didn't recognize turned up on the internet. Now if I could only read every book he quotes from . . .