#tobyreads: Adrift, in Words and Games


I spent a little time in Nantucket about two years ago. I remember the ferry trip out and back; I remember mist and crowds on the island. It was early December; it was cold, and the sky over the island looked strange. I thought about the water and the island a lot when I was reading Caroline Bergvall’s Drift. I thought about that and I thought about Iceland and I thought about accounts I’d read of refugees and travelers in jeopardy on the water.

You get some of those in Bergvall’s book, too: basically, this is a book abounding with artistic and narrative juxtapositions that have no business working, but do, and which come together on a beatifically harmonic level. There’s verse, which shifts between languages and sometimes finds the weak points in languages and shatters them down to their components. (Sometimes, there are just variations of the letter Þ.) There are documentary moments, contrasting Viking seafaring with the seafaring of those seeking a better life in other nations. It’s harrowing and moving and it featured pages with a handful of words that moved me to tears. Essential, indescribably reading. (And all credit to Mairead Case for recommending it.)

And, apparently, an exhibit of Bergvall’s work will open tonight at New York’s Callicoon Fine Arts. So that’s something worth making a trip out for, I’d say.


In keeping with the seafaring theme: I’ve been playing Moby-Dick: The Card Game a whole hell of a lot. There’s a bit of a steep learning curve when you start out, but before long, the rhythm of the game kicks in, and it starts getting addictive. I spend more time that one might expect making with the board games, but what makes this one different is the utter bleakness of it. The goal, as a friend of mine astutely noted, isn’t to win: it’s to be the last player left alive. It’s a grim finale to an exciting, sometimes exhilarating game that neatly translates literature into a tabletop experience.


Also in the reading pile for this week: Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, which falls into the “books I’d intended to read for much too long” category. It’s a nice contrast from meditating on the vastness of the water that surrounds us all, but it’s no less haunting. Here, you have isolation, you have conspiracies and unrevealed systems; you have a character trapped in a situation where the ground rules are clear to everyone save him. It’s a book that neatly straddles the gap between thrills and allegory, and it’s all the stronger for it.


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