Thought and Memory, by Ed Park
Ed Park has quite the résumé. He’s the former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement and one of the founding editors of the Believer. He’s taught creative writing at Columbia University and curates the Invisible Library, an online collection of fictional books that appear in other books. Pretty cool, huh? These days he holds down the literary fort over at Amazon Publishing. His debut novel, Personal Days, was called the “layoff narrative for our times” by the New YorkTimes and was nominated for the PEN Hemingway Award, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and the Asian American Literary Award. It was named one of Time’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2008 and one of the Atlantic’s Top Ten Pop Culture Moments of the decade.
In his increasingly valuable spare time, he makes bootleg covers of 80s new-wave songs and sneaks acrostics and anagrams into his very funny Twitter feed, @thaRealEdPark. (A recent tweet: “I need there to be a store called FOREVER 41.”) Somehow he still manages to knock out essays that examine continuums you didn’t even realize exist, like the connection between the magical logic of children’s books and Borges, plus write great short stories like the one below.
In “Thought and Memory,” the author of a mystery novel sets out on a book tour, and from there, things don’t exactly go as planned. The narrator encounters two talking crows, named for Odin’s information-gathering ravens in Norse mythology, who belong to a mysterious woman with a glass eye and an oddly chosen tattoo, before discovering the bizarre, time-bending novels of a science fiction writer, whose works we hope will get call numbers at the Invisible Library.
We paired Ed’s story with illustrations by San Francisco-based artist Yina Kim. We thought her work evoked the same sense of spectral absurdity, softened by an eerie and familiar pathos.
Back in 2008, when my first novel, A Tree Grows in Baghdad, came out, my publisher sent me on a West Coast tour. Sometimes folks came out in droves, sometimes they didn’t. It was great to see my public, regardless. The public, I suppose I should say. Most hadn’t read the book. And even though it was fiction, based more on stuff I’d heard about rather than experienced, I might as well have told all present that I’d written a memoir, and that in the pages open before me, every vegetarian pita eaten, and every thought thought, was true. No one cared about the book, really, only about what I’d been through in Iraq, and what my current position on the war was and whether I wanted to go back.
The audience tended to be older. The men were what you’d call barrel chested. The women, too.
I found I liked signing books. I mean, the actual pen-meeting-paper part. I started appending a peace sign to my name. I must have shaken a thousand hands.
By the end of the week, I was going a little crazy. In Seattle, I woke up at 6 AM to do a live interview with a radio station in LA. But why six? The cities were in the same time zone. It must be for a station no one listens to, I thought, and after I hung up the phone, I wasn’t convinced that an interview had in fact taken place. Had she really asked me about my health, my diet, my bad back? Had I perhaps called my mother, out of instinct, or simply dreamt it all? I’ve had dreams like that, where I think I wake up, but I’m still asleep. I’ve had dreams in which I slap the alarm clock, over and over again, until I’m finally sprung from the clutches of sleep, grateful and gasping for air.