September 7th, 2011 / 12:38 pm
Author Spotlight & Behind the Scenes

The Time I Read a Lot of DeLillo Books and the Things that Happened

It was winter, and I took the bus home, or maybe it was the train, from Massachusetts to New York, so “home” is up for debate, and then a subway, probably, into my little apartment thing with a kitchenette and a big bathroom and no bedroom. Actually, maybe my sister drove me. It’s unimportant. I’d read Part 1 of White Noise, a copy I’d borrowed from the library over winter break. It made me feel happy, the descriptions, the opening chapter which I’d read on the internet several months earlier on a slow day at work. I already knew it was the novel I’d wanted to write the previous summer, the novel I’d abandoned at 30,000 words and character names that seemed true, but also false, and a number of edits that seemed confusing. I laid down on my bed. I think it was mid-morning, or mid-afternoon. The sun was in my window somehow, giving me natural light, but not enough to read by. I read Part 2, and it was about some sort of chemical disaster. I read it in a sitting that day, with the space heater from the bathroom on full blast. Then maybe I slept.

I’d returned from Vermont. We’d stayed at a bed and breakfast, and that week I would announce I was single and she would go to Germany, and I would be unable to read Part 3 of White Noise for several months, glancing through chapters on the subway to Bushwick, feeling drunk after zero beers. By this time, I’d returned my copy to the library and been gifted one from a friend who’d found the author underwhelming. I wondered if I should feel the same. I didn’t. I looked at the words. The sentences. The long paragraphs and the short, sparse dialogue. The radio and the television saying postmodern things. Things I’d later discuss with a friend that seemed similar to Updike’s “A&P” despite his distaste for “postmodernism.”

The semester passed. I was back in the former relationship. Vermont, but actually the next time we went to New Hampshire, stayed in a tent, drank PBR and bourbon and pickle juice. It was 90 degrees and we sweated in a pancake house. This was about two weeks after I’d finished the novel, back in Massachusetts, on a rainy afternoon, within a rainy week, the week before I would start work on a farm and listen to first Blood Meridian on my iPod, and later two other McCarthy novels.

I sat on the couch and finished the book. I gave it to my mom. Before that, i sat on the couch. It was unexpected—the ending. It was dramatic and bloody and then you got to see the title of the novel. The obsession with death and control. German. German nurses who were also nuns. Were they also nuns? It’s hard to know now. Now in Germany, now reading about the nun in the Bronx, Edgar something, the words magnum opus floating over a cafe, staring at a half-finished second beer. A dunkelweiss. Not now, hours earlier. Two hours earlier. Me in the cafe. The Strokes were playing. Then Sufjan Stevens. And earlier Sublime, and that had us talking about Red Hot Chili Peppers and suicide and drug overdose and Joy Division and Eliot Smith and Weezer, Bright Eyes, Sparklehorse. But then they left, and I read.

But this is months later. That was hours ago. In June, from June on, I read almost nothing. A few books published this year, one about a family, another a memoir about South America, one called The Pale King, which I could not finish even after Rick Moody said he cried after reading it, or maybe he was referring to Infinite Jest, which I did finish, but maybe Rick Moody had never said he cried, but maybe that he just liked it and I’d imagined him crying. In fact, I can imagine I imagined that easily, it was April, or May, or March, and I had mono, or was going to get it, or had gotten it, and had first realized it the morning after sitting in a bar with the author of the book about a family.

After that, I didn’t do much. I have time all mixed up. I was reading The Pale King on my first day of work, which means I’d read the others—White Noise, There Is No Year, Revolution—before I’d even been to New Hampshire. I stopped drinking for two weeks. Then I started going to Connecticut, every weekend for three weeks, and then was back at home, continuing to not read, drinking sparingly, then even less than that, no drugs, lots of television, lots of snacks. I learned to sleep in for a little while, then forgot quickly. Went to the farm, listened to Guided by Voices, thought about the fall when I’d leave here, go somewhere else, to now, here, this here. I slept easily and early.

I saw a review for a book, the cover of a book, in mid-July. I ordered it on Amazon and when it arrived I read it slowly, and then quickly, and then slowly, and then most of it in one day at a farmers market. The farmers market in Grafton, which was across the street from the public library. I went to the bathroom there. In the basement. Here existed another room, larger than the “facilities” which housed thousands of used books for $1 each. Among them, I spotted Libra. It was a book I’d seen in Vermont months earlier, at another used bookstore, in galley form—a book which I’d dismissed fearing galley errors I’ve previously experienced. Inauthenticity. I picked up the library’s copy and opened it to see its first edition marking, perfect binding, untouched. I purchased it, worked for two more hours, and waited for my boss’s van to pick me up.

That weekend I received a call from my boss. I was at Top Shop in New York, buying a sweater I’d later wear on the flight to Germany. Wear for 24 hours. Smell it. Put it on the shelf. I didn’t pick up, but he left a message requesting I work in the store the following week, instead of the field. I left a message on his phone saying I would. On Tuesday I arrived early and stocked the store, swept the floor, listened to NPR. My boss left at 11am for the Newton farmers market and I took out Libra. I’d read the first chapter on the subway the day before, on the subway. The chapter was also about the subway. Lee Harvey Oswald lives in the Bronx, rides the subway, feels things, thinks things. I read quickly. Everyday I read for at least five hours. The book was done. The words were on the page. Truths. Open, American truths. I mean facts. Facts about an American icon. This was next to lies. Or suppositions, or I mean, I think fiction. Fiction versus/plus facts about an American tragedy. Supposed conspiracy. I missed the shift from when they wanted Oswald to commit a near-fatal act against the president to when they wanted to kill Kennedy and frame Oswald. I texted my girlfriend from work and asked her to look up the date of the assassination, the date of the Bay of Pigs, the weather. I read about Jack Ruby on Wikipedia. I watched videos of the murder on repeat.

The following week, I started Mao II, which had also been gifted by the same friend who’d given me White Noise. In fact, it had been a stack of three, the unmentioned being The Names. Before I was finished, I ordered Falling Man and Underworld and Point Omega on Amazon. I made a note in a Word document to read Underworld in Germany. I didn’t know about the Cold War’s relation to that novel. How I could I know it was related to the Cold War? Soon I’d see the remnants Berlin wall everyday on my way to class. I could now voice some things about Beirut. Days earlier I’d downloaded Beirut’s new album and listened to it while picking blueberries. Then I’d gone to New York. This was the day after I’d purchased Libra.

I read on Wikipedia that Mao II had won the Pen/Faulker Award. I felt it was appropriate. The National Book Award for White Noise. The dedication of Mao II to Gordon Lish. I read Epigraph and Extravaganza while I waited for my orders to arrive. Underworld came first.

A few days later—this is all in August, just so you know, since I’d started Libra this has all been August—the month we just left behind, the extremely hot month giving way to a month of gray skies and rain, at least in Germany—I read Point Omega. It struck me as deeply invested with Mao II. Imagery. In the back of the book, there was an acknowledgement regarding 24 Hour Psycho, first screened in 1993 in Glasgow and Berlin.

A few days later, I started Falling Man. I was in my girlfriend’s parents’ car. We were on our way to New York. I read Part 1 that day, on the way to and in the city, parts aloud while she slept on the mattress in her newly leased apartment. I finished the book two days later, my straight-through finish interrupted by my uncle who I shook hands with and sat with, joined by my parents, for several hours. It was late, then, when the novel was finished. I sat up watching videos of the planes crashing into the towers. First the North. Then after, the South. Then I watched them collapse. One. The other. There were many angles, some had voices. I watched people jump out of buildings. There was a documentary on YouTube about the famous “Falling Man.” I sort of made crying sounds, but no tears came. This too felt appropriate. That night, I ordered Cosmopolis, then The Body Artist on Amazon. Neither would make it before I left for the airport.

At this point, I had a week before I was scheduled to leave for Europe, Germany that is, first a flight to Frankfurt, then to Berlin, Tegel, originating from JFK. I had a bus ticket to New York for the next day to visit friends in the Bronx. I started to read The Names and was surprised by its similarities to White Noise, but more by its differences, and its overall dissidence. It lacked conviction, arc, confidence, other things I’d seen in DeLillo. It was funny, but was it? It was overwhelmingly bleak and without great detail in some things and overwrought in others. I found myself laboring over it, spending several hours on the first 100 pages alone. I finished it on the bus the following afternoon, and proceeded to defecate for the first time in a moving vehicle.

After that, things moved quickly. I drank beer, got in a fight, played with my sister’s dog, ate pastrami, watched Louie, took a train, slept poorly, nauseously, ate fried food, drank more beer, wine, back at home now, my uncle cooking, capers on the food, Hurricane Irene and a power outage, I lost a game of Monopoly and read a Gordon Lish book. Two nights before I’d leave the country, I watched Psycho with my girlfriend. I fell asleep and then couldn’t fall asleep. Soon I was at the airport, my backpack filled with books.

For the next thirty-six hours, I slept for fifteen minutes twice. I read Underworld, half-awake, drinking on the plane. They served cognac and I took a break to watch African Cats. Some other things happened, and I was here. In this apartment overlooking a street and facing another apartment. I have finished Part 2 of Underworld, we’re moving backwards in time, after having moved forward in time by 40 years, but now we’re moving back, into the Cold War, when the wall was still there, and when where I live now was not accessible from where I attend classes. My mother informed me that my Amazon order has arrived. I’m sitting in my apartment, previously writing ferociously, now calmly, tired, after a bottle of San Pellegrino, after a curry-chicken-something sandwich and a tram ride and a subway ride and a subway ride and a quick walk listening to St. Vincent.

Yesterday, I told a friend from New York that I’d probably let Don DeLillo sit on me. Yesterday, a friend of mine from New York, but originally from Los Angeles, but not the snide part of Los Angeles, living in Berlin, told me when she had sleep paralysis she could swear people were in the room watching her, but she couldn’t move, it felt like something was sitting on her chest and when she finally snapped out of it she was all red and overheated.

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  1. William VanDenBerg

      Fine work.  Anyone else have their perception of grocery stores altered after reading White Noise?

  2. davidpeak

      “toyota celica”

  3. Shane Anderson


      oh, and if you still need a fix, come stop by St. George’s this weekend – in the afternoons (that’s when I’ll be working). we have quite a few of the less popular titles used.

  4. Frank Depiction

      Amazing. Will you publish my diary entries, too?

      All kidding aside, there was a period in my life where I read a lot of Leon Uris and I want to talk about it.

  5. dole

      I got to the part about a bunch of bad bands and then tried to only read the proper nouns.  

      I have this feeling that one day I will like something written by Fishkind.

      I will read Delillo some day but for now I think it is just too weird that people are so interested in things like historical baseball games, consumerism, college towns, and the September 11th, 2001, attacks on the United States. 

  6. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      now all that is left to do is to find all the books you schlepped halfway around the world in the wall of the apartment you’re now living in.
      great tune, this. enjoyed the tone. enjoyed the cacophony of place and time. you’re quite the modern guy. enjoy the definite order in germany. 

  7. Robert

      My perception of grocery stores didn’t change after reading White Noise, so much as they were confirmed – which in a lonely world, filled with death and paranoia, where what is truth and what is myth dovetail into themselves in equal parts of feathers and hollow bones, may be just as important. I also think books on tape are not a substitute for all those latin letters lying flat…

  8. David Fishkind

      i was there a couple days ago. really sweet shop. definitely going to be by periodically

  9. Ethan

      Bob Dole?

  10. Don

      I loved Point Omega.

  11. MJ

      White Noise was incredible.

      I’ve bought Underworld maybe five times, and I have had to sell it five times to pay for stuff. I keep reading bit by bit and never get through it all.

      One of these days I am going to buy it and have it buried with me.

  12. autosummarized

      I’d read Part 1 of White Noise, a copy I’d borrowed from
      the library over winter break. I read Part 2, and it was about some sort of
      chemical disaster. I sat on the couch and finished the book. In June, from June
      on, I read almost nothing. I’d read the first chapter on the subway the day
      before, on the subway. I read quickly. Everyday I read for at least five hours.
      The book was done. I read about Jack Ruby on Wikipedia. I made a note in a Word
      document to read Underworld in Germany. The National Book
      Award for White Noise. I read Underworld,
      half-awake, drinking on the plane. 

  13. autosummarized

      I’d read Part 1 of White Noise, a copy I’d borrowed from
      the library over winter break. I read Part 2, and it was about some sort of
      chemical disaster. I sat on the couch and finished the book. In June, from June
      on, I read almost nothing. I’d read the first chapter on the subway the day
      before, on the subway. I read quickly. Everyday I read for at least five hours.
      The book was done. I read about Jack Ruby on Wikipedia. I made a note in a Word
      document to read Underworld in Germany. The National Book
      Award for White Noise. I read Underworld,
      half-awake, drinking on the plane. 

  14. M. Kitchell

      I did too, actually.  And I’m not exactly much of a Delillo fanboy, but damn did I like that book.

  15. M. Kitchell

      How the hell have you ever made money selling Underworld?  I’ve bought it three times for no more than a quarter, and I just keep giving it away.

  16. chris

      I just read The Names and Point Omega back to back. I really loved The Names, possibly my favorite Delillo with Underworld, but Point Omega just felt a little hollow to me. I dunno.

  17. deadgod

      I prefer some of the earlier genre novels to the last few, eh, statements.  My favorite DeLillo novel is Running Dog (spy thriller), and I also especially enjoyed the baggy monster Ratner’s Star (sci fi).  I thought it was a life-long project:  a road novel, a rock ‘n’ roll novel, a marital-turmoil story, and so on – each of course shot through with his characteristic concerns (linguisticality, plots/paranoia, sick-soul-of-America, etc.).  The past decade, I’ve unaccountably gotten into fantasy, and I’m holding out for a DeLillo swords-and-dragons-in-the-land-of-Elfhome epick.  Could work . . .

  18. Morning Bites: Don DeLillo sitting on people, George Kuchar, cookbooks, 9/11 Truther comics, and more | Vol. 1 Brooklyn

      […] best quote of the week comes from David Fishkind’s essay at HTML Giant: “Yesterday, I told a friend from New York that I’d probably let Don DeLillo sit on […]

  19. Don

      It did so much with so few words.  I can’t wait for DeLillo’s first short story collection.

  20. Adam Robinson

      I’d read a book of essays like this.

  21. Leapsloth14

      Sweet ass photo

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      […] David Fishkind writes well about Delillo. […]

  23. James Yeh

      A few years ago, I assigned White Noise (coupled with Bolano’s By Night in Chile) to two investment bankers in Midtown who had hired me for $35/hour to tutor them in writing and literature. After this assignment, they stopped hiring me. (They did seem to like White Noise better than By Night in Chile, which one of them described, almost angrily, as “incomprehensible.”)

      Nice post. I especially liked the ending.