I spent most of my summer at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, where I read, researched, and wrote an essay about Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous novel 2666. My research was funded by the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS) summer research program, which allowed me to sit in a library all-day, doing things that I love to do. For me, this entailed reading a challenging, but rewarding, novel and what a bunch of people much smarter than I had to say about the novel, and writing to seem much smarter than I am about a novel that is much smarter than I. The project was an exercise in independent learning, and I recommend the program to any student with a desire to do something intellectually stimulating over the three-month summer break. (There is a similar research program for students interested in research in mathematics and the natural sciences.) The great thing about the program is that the student has full creative control, choosing everything from the scope of the project to its end product. This is how I was able to write about the book of a Chilean who may never be taught in an undergraduate class. The program also posts completed projects to Sound Ideas, the online repository for Puget Sound students and faculty, and so represents a publication opportunity. I will be presenting a poster on my research at the AHSS symposium in Collins Memorial Library later this semester, alongside the 27 or so other AHSS summer research scholars, whose projects are ambitious, sophisticated, and meritorious.
When I was not writing and reading for my research project, I was writing and reading for fun. To celebrate a friend’s birthday, I put together a collection of poems that my friend and I had written over the past year or so. Using a publishing program called Blurb Bookwright, I printed the collection and had it bound in hardcover. I fancied the book by including professional-quality pictures from an online, attribution-free photography website called Pixabay (which also has nice wallpaper photos). The book featured twenty poems, ten of my friend’s and ten of mine, and a foreword and afterword (which were extraneous, to be sure, but gave the book some credibility) written by two other friends of ours. Needless to say, my friend liked the gift.
I did a modest amount of reading outside of my research. Of the books that I read, my favorites were Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, a smart, dizzying rumination on the ideas of chaos and order, and Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, which is written with the audacity and power characteristic of Nabokov. I recommend both—and 2666 while I’m at it—though neither is exactly palatable, which, I believe, is the point. I also, at the beginning of the summer, received a signed-copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant as part of a pre-order special through Barnes and Noble. I must have spent as much time examining Ishiguro’s signature as I did reading the book. His signature is plain, like his prose, which I think is fitting. It is also tilted, as if behind the cleanliness sits an unreliable narrator, with a tilted smile. Opening the book to Ishiguro’s signature made the reading that followed more personal, and throughout the novel I found myself flipping back to the title page, as if the signature constituted an interpretive key to the book. In the end, I suppose, it served only to mock.
I have talked for long about my summer, when in fact I never strayed from the library. My summer didn’t take me to many new places, as some of my friends’ summers did (Spain, China, New York), but it did challenge me to envision all of these places through books, and it did enable me to learn a few things along the way.