My turn, I guess.
Out of everything I could say by way of an introduction, it might be most useful to share where the idea for this book club came from.
In the winter of 2013 I was in a desperate state and deep contemplation concerning what I really wanted to do with my life.
A big project I had been working on had just fallen through…but it was a project which, in many ways, was taking me away from myself and my core passions, and which, if I had continued with it, would have taken me even further astray.
Since high school, when I first discovered the Beat poets, then Dostoevsky, then so many other great writers, I had always aspired to be a writer myself. A poet. A literary writer. I saw these as the most radical and original voices, and I wanted to emulate them. I aspired to go to the edges of the human psyche (or my own imagination) and find new meaning there. New forms of truth and beauty. And through my early 20s, I was on this path…
However, after moving to Colorado to work with the philosopher Ken Wilber and his Integral Institute, and then, a few years later, getting married and having our first child, I noticed (it just sort of happened given the pace of life and demands of making a living, etc.) that I had stopped writing…even more troubling, I had stopped reading. This went on for 3-4 years. I felt, depressingly, that my “inner artist” had died.
Ironically, the integral philosophy which had been so liberating and illuminating for me when I first got into it (and which inspired me to move to Colorado in the first place), had turned into a prison for my mind. (I believe any philosophical framework or thought system will do this, if you identify with it exclusively, which, working for Wilber, is what I did for a while.) I felt that I needed to break free—dis-integrate a little—and start a totally different conversation (and life). I wanted to return to my heart by returning to literature—whose very purpose and modus operandi, I thought, was to question systems of thought and reveal the human experience as such, through cultivating an intimate and imaginative relationship with language.
I had been a member of a local book club with some friends, and we had discussed reading David Foster Wallace’s monster 1000+ page Infinite Jest, but few people in the club wanted to take it on at the time. So, it occurred to me to start an online book club, invite a bunch of my online friends, and open it up to the world; use this as a way to break out of my doleful reality and create something new.
I called it “Summer of Jest.” I put up a website (much like the litgeeks site), came up with a schedule, invited a bunch of people, and…got a response way beyond what I had imagined. Over 500 readers signed up on the Facebook group. Others read along on Twitter and Goodreads; and others joined the hangouts we held over the three months it took to read the book.
Of course, not everybody actually read the book, but among those who did, and who participated in the groups, the conversations went unusually deep, I thought, and felt refreshingly authentic. Sometimes our discussions were random and irrelevant, sometimes personal and revealing, sometimes theoretical and academic—but the sheer energy and humanity of these conversations as a whole, and the connections we made with each other, were what most moved me. Many people in the group became friends (and have even met up IRL) and some have continued reading together to this day.
For a summer experiment, I thought it turned into something really special…life-changing, in fact. But there were also parts of it I thought I could be improved. For example, I grew to dislike the experience of trying to use Facebook as platform for in-depth conversation. On the one hand, it was convenient and easy to use; and everyone was already there anyway. But on the other, I found noisy, distracting, hard to keep organized, and hard to keep up with. I also began to feel that I was putting a lot of time and thought into my words, only to see my comments disappear down the quicksand of the newsfeed within a few days.
As well, I wanted to do more to connect the acts of reading and writing with each other: to see reading not merely as a passive way of consuming a text, but as generative occasion for creating new language that engages deeply with the literary work, while transcending it in a social and artistic context.
When Summer of Jest ended, I continued reading with an offshoot Facebook group called the Misfit Readers, while in the background I began developing a new project called A Theory of Everybody. It’s taken me the last two years to bring it to this point—a true labor of love. This #litgeeks experiment is part of that larger project, which also includes a journal/magazine, a podcast network, and this discussion forum itself… which I’m excited to start using.
There’s more to the story of course…I’ll just mention that I have two daughters now, a 2-year old, Beatrice, and a 6-year old, Carmen. And, with my wife Kayla and dog Mooby and the girls, I still live in Colorado—in the city of Longmont to be exact, which I love, about 15 miles northeast of Boulder.
And: I’m back to writing, working on a book of poems, stories, and essays called I AM THE SINGULARITY. I also have a novel within me, which is just waiting for all this stuff to get going before it will come out.
But right now I’m really curious who’s is going to show up next here, and what you’ll have to say…
And I’m very much looking forward to reading The Dispossessed with this group. I have read only one other book by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness—and absolutely loved it. I have a feeling this book is going to lead into some very interesting territory, as well.