Uncategorized


I was haunted by a musical phrase this last couple of weeks, having heard it every night I went dancing. Maybe like M. Swann I should wonder, did the song play into my melancholy, my imaginary soundtrack, in the way that memory is the corniest of poets, or was it all in the song all along. And then I would think, but isn’t music the apotheosis of abstraction—micro-tonal melodies with their slippery feelingless-ness, variegated from po-mo ambivalence or over-stimulated paralysis to horror movie threnodies. But in my case there were words to the melody, the power chorus to the power ballad worthy of repeat playing every night for weeks on end, even if you also heard it every day at the gym: “Why does love always seem like a dollar bill, a dollar bill, a dollar bill” The two last words repeated thrice in a descending scale of regret and resolution that could have easily lead into the Dies Irae (“Don’t worry mom, I know all about cannibalism. I saw it on TV”).

But then I found out I had misheard. The song is “Battlefield” by Jordan Sparks, tragic beyond her years. The correct lyrics—now I can’t see how I misheard this— why does love always feel like a BATTLEFIELD, a battlefield, a battlefield— not like a dollar bill. Which makes much more sense, because we are strong, but no one can tell us we’re wrong.

I think I like dollar bill better, so much more intimate, Sookie tawdry, dialectically materialist. Pop music needs more Glossolalia, like that 4AD siren Elizabeth Fraser, so that we can all hear things exactly right.

Advertisements

Boy meets girl. Boy (really a man-boy) negotiates the messy convolutions of his own desire (or more often his New Yorker Dyspepsia) by engaging in that writer-ly occupation of supplanting his psyche into the imagined psyche of an other, namely famed comedian, humorist, white-haired model of amiability Steve Martin. Boy by way of Steve Martin charms girl. Boy eventually becomes disillusioned with role playing and loses girl. Along the way Boy has kinky escapades, eat lots of lengua tacos, gets to know LA from the sidewalk up, engages in tidy and tiny moments of cinephilia, eventually attains a state of grace, a second-sight, having broken into new forays of time-space via the black hole of his own navel. If Camus tried to write broad comedy maybe it would be nothing like this.

I am a sucker for books with cool covers. McSweeney’s books look to me like cupcakes, they make my mouth water with their antiquarian typesetting and indie-comic graphics.

I am a sucker for books whose synopses read either like an entry from someones dream diary, someone who falls asleep with the tv on or like a list of exhibitions from the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

I am a sucker for darkly comic picaresques told by narrators with the same warmly conspiratorial, erudite and conflicted tone as a Humbert Humbert, even if the narrator isn’t a middle-aged emigre but a barely legal, precocious, and fatherless American boy.

I am a sucker for debut novels written by nonagenarians who remind me of all the WWII vets that were in my novel-writing class, who made me hopeful that when I too am wrinkled and stooped, I will also be a pastiche of all the wonderful books of questionable merit that I may have wasted my youth on.

I am a sucker for books built on aphorisms like, “life is shit”, and “you can’t polish a turd” and “If the shit fits…” But maybe most tragic of all I am a sucker for books that seem so promising, like a cupcake or a bowl of really ripe cherries that only end up giving me the shits.

So, I think a lot of my posts are going to be about books I started but barely kept going–like driving a hoopty, like an unusually challenging New York Times crossword puzzle, like the third dessert that you’re trying to eat for the sake of not wasting it. I’m trying to discern if my inability to finish books that I’ve started is a reflection of bad writing, attention deficit disorder, or there really was a reason I was sent to speech in first grade other than that I was shy and debilitating-ly socially inept. I’ll even give them a tag on this blog, “ADD”. Coming up in my next post, “Angry Black White Boy” by Adam Mansbach.

I’m not flat and sly
Like a spatula creeping up from below.
At most I am a heavy and clumsy pestle
Mashing good and bad together
For a little taste
And a little fragrance.

—Yehuda Amichai

I just read the Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s The Girl On The Fridge, which features reprints from his first short stories. This is the first Keret book I’ve read, but I’ve heard him interviewed on the Wisconsin public radio show To The Best of Our Knowledge; one of his short stories I heard on This American Life; And I saw the film Jellyfish he co-directed with his wife who wrote the script. All contributing to my idea of Etgar Keret as the improbably well-adjusted, inventive, and sagely humanist soul raised in a tempest. So I wasn’t prepared for the brutally ambivalent and cynical voice that overrides the 46 gestures of this compact volume. Are these characterizations of jingoism and misogyny, could it be that the words are so spare that the overall tone of the collection becomes muddled or tenuous?

His stories are minimalist exercises, a writerly quest for that turning point where concision becomes fantasia. Maybe the term surrealism has long been an empty label, too easily applied to any dreamlike passage, every fantastic story told along unfamiliar lines. But unlike the surrealists that wanted to imbue the fascio-rationalist world with the anarchy of dream time, and thereby explode the possibilities, Keret seems to do the opposite, or maybe the unspoken corollary: to reveal the dark substratum, the savage rationalism that dictates dream time, a space of banal violence, the reductio ad absurdum of all ideology.

For me the strongest pieces were the two that bookend the collection, the two that seemed the most optimistic, like the wings of some makeshift deus ex machina barely hovering above all the bloodshed and anger.

Riff on this:

What did you just finish reading?

What would you like to read if you had the time? (Every 15 seconds a new book is published.)

What would you like the world to read?

What would you like to save from the dustbin?

What would you like to compost?

What would Jesus read?

What book would you like to write?

Write it.

Write now.