And No, I’m Not Sorry

This is not a thinkpiece about not needing to apologize, excessive apologizing, etc.  There are lots of those.  Google should have your back.  This is about the stages of talking about what you love:  here, specifically, literature.  And, specifically, embracing what books you love, unapologetically.


 

I saw a tweet recently that said the person was so mad that Infinite Jest was trending, she couldn’t even think of something funny to say.  I’m not sure of her specific complaint about the book, but, yes, it has plenty of flaws, and it’s one of the most polarizing novels I can think of.  Is anyone lukewarm about that one?

My response:  I love that a book can make someone have such a charged reaction.  And I love that it’s trending!  Not that I had anything to say about it in 140 characters.


 

The three stages of loving a book that I’ve come up with are:  1)  Exuberant like/dislike, often forged with some sort of specific identity as a factor.  2)  Increased awareness of what it’s “acceptable” to like/dislike, and mumbling over specifics when quizzed about things not en vogue.  3)  Saying forget it and just liking what you like, no apologies.


Which isn’t to say be offensive:  your favorite book will not and cannot be someone else’s favorite.  You really can’t convert everyone to a book or author, and it can get very annoying if you try.  There’s a difference between recommending something (if someone asked, if you know the person and think they’d like it) and beaning people on the head with a particular book.

It also doesn’t mean that you should insult other people’s taste in books (of course, if you know them well and do this facetiously, it can be a great deal of fun . . .).  I had my second conversation with someone I don’t know at all (have only met in passing) who is working his way through all of Sherlock Holmes, which sounds dreadful to me.  I don’t know this guy, but I can tell he’s extremely enthusiastic– extremely unapologetic.

However, I talked to someone Sunday (another stranger) who asked what I was reading (Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?— rereading, and if you have my original proof copy, I want it back).  After some discussion, we arrived at the point that she would be interested in that one, and she took down the title and author.  I was pleased, because I would certainly love to bean people with that book.  (cough, cough, recommendation)


Back to apologizing and Infinite Jest.  The book has to be something to have sprawled one of the most comprehensive sites on the internet.  And a considerable number of venomous sites.  Does the book have a considerable number of problems?  Yes.  Do I like it anyway?  Yep.

I’m reading Artful right now and came across this passage written by Katherine Mansfield, inside Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence:  “There are certain things in this book I do not like.  But they are not important, or really part of it.  They are trivial, encrusted, they cling to it as snails to the underside of a of a leaf– no more,– and perhaps they leave a little silvery trail, a smear, that one shrinks from as a kind of silliness.  But apart from these things is the leaf, is the tree, firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig.  All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me.”  (p. 87)

There are certain things in IJ (or any book) I do not like.  They may or may not be important/part of it (I’m suspicious of that particular claim, along with the triviality, frankly).  I do love the idea that the book is the leaf, the tree, that nourishes the reader.  That, for awhile, readers are able to suspend some qualms (in a moment) and be nourished, though I’d argue that engaging the problematic parts of a text is part of the nourishing process.


No text is conceived and born without faults.  There is no Ur-Text with no flaws to critique.  There is also the simple progression of time:  time moves on, and texts very frequently don’t age well (or become encumbered with new critiques).  Frequently, there is a manner of degree involved here, but save that for you and your friends to debate over coffee.  That’s a separate post.

I only want to say that there is no such thing as a perfect text, something inherently polished and perfect.  Some flaws are celebrated, some need to be discussed.  This keeps book reviewers in business, and this makes literature interesting.  It’s also why you can say “A really means a lot to me, because of XYZ,” and agree when someone shrieks (or tweets) in protest.

It also means that you can dislike something but have a civil (if superficial) conversation with a stranger.  I’m venting now, after all.  And things will balance when you have a somewhat deeper conversation with yet another stranger.

If books are a language we can share, don’t shout each other down in that language, and don’t just mumble apologies about what you love and drift into the corner.  Keep talking, keep sharing.


UNNECESSARY APPENDIX 

Redundant?

These are the books that are lying on the sofa that really, really needs cleaning up, because it looks like a bookmobile exploded.  Recommendations?  Things to avoid?  Up to you:

  • Artful, Ali Smith
  • The World Is on Fire, Joni Tevis [recommended to me]
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson
  • modern American poetry anthology, because my complete Wallace Stevens is AWOL
  • Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh [recommended to me]

 

 

 

The Smiths and a Grump Walk into a Coffeehouse 

I jumped ship Sunday afternoon and went to my favorite local coffee place.  I was getting cabin fever but had rough luck renegotiating my exercise contract last week (current status:  SIT.  STAY.), and it sounded like it was about to be aerobics time* upstairs.

*Unlike some of my more obvious flights of fancy, I do think that one is accurate; in college one year, there was an aerobics enthusiast in the dorm room above, so I’ve heard this one before.  Me picturing the full-on ’80s Jane Fonda setup is complete projection, admittedly. 

Post image is Starbucks– not the coffeehouse. I’ve undertaken guerilla lyrics-doodling. Yeah, yeah:  get a life. 


One reason I like this particular coffee place is that they generally play good music (read:  music I like) at the perfect volume:  audible, but right at that level where it drowns out nearby conversation without preventing you from reading (or whatever), even though the seating is tight.

Accordingly, I’d gone armed with my current book (A Light that Never Goes Out:  The Enduring Saga of The Smiths, the follow-up to Girls to the Front:  The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution; I’m on some sort of music roll).  I incidentally thought that brooding behind a book that prominently featured the famous disaffected Manchester group might scream “over here!  Single!” without actually having to sing “How Soon Is Now?,” but perhaps Morrissey sends the wrong message . . . . Also, I tend to forget I’m old.  Really, really, super-old.

Anyway.

Credit: Kaineiribas, DeviantArt:  http://kaineiribas.deviantart.com

Credit: Kaineiribas, DeviantArt: http://kaineiribas.deviantart.com


I sat down next to a guy affixed to his computer who, oddly, tapped his headphones when I sat.  The Unstated Coffee House Code of Conduct generally forbids that sort of thing, so I was puzzled, and I had no idea what was particularly of interest about his headphones.

I found out pretty quickly.


I can normally tune people out when I’m reading, and, as I said, the music generally is a good cover here.  Maybe it was the pitch of this girl’s voice?  Only the scientists who hunt her down and trap her for further study will have the answers.


Here’s a sampling of what I learned in the short period of time that preceded putting my headphones in (sitting down –> waiting for my order to be called):

*Religion is not the same as spirituality.  Religion is Baptist.

*Saddam Hussein was/is President of Iraq.

*America is not the world police.  (cue me mentally humming Team America theme song)

*Her parents are worried that she is a spinster.  She’s almost 24 already!

*She can take care of a dog, so she is totally ready to start having babies!

*Her parents are worried about her brother-in-law because he hasn’t produced any children yet.  (No, I didn’t understand, either.)


All attempts at further socialization went into the toilet once I hunkered down with coffee, as that’s when my headphones went in.  At first, it was something about the tone of her voice that made her hard to tune out, just on an aural level.  Then it was these– aphorisms?– that kept coming at her companion (and everyone else in the vicinity) that turned into can’t-turn-away utterances.

It was headphones or live-tweeting, and I figured no one could miss me doing the second.  Also, I can’t type that fast.  Or read while live-tweeting, which would defeat the whole purpose of coming to get a quiet cup of coffee in the first place.

I get the feeling it might be a problem.

I get the feeling it might be a problem.


In the end, The Smiths [book] and I had coffee with The Smiths [music].  Party of three, alienated and with a thorn in our side.


Unnecessary bit at the end, by way of seriously lightweight book reviewing:  The review of the book I’m reading now (A Light that Never Goes Out) is accurate; the book is full of information, but the pacing is sluggish, and Fletcher is no writer.  I’m on page 161, and the band hasn’t even formed.  For every great quotation or musical reference, there are pages of so much detail that I end up flipping back.  Clearly, I haven’t read enough to say much more than that.

Girls to the Front, by contrast, is practically page-turning, and it’s interesting that both books cover limited spans of music-time (a briefly-lived band, a briefly-lived movement).  Marcus clearly also did serious and exhaustive research, but she doesn’t exhaust the reader with the weight of it.  If you’re interested in early Riot Grrrl, this is a good one.  As this review acknowledges, the only real thing of note is that she sometimes lets people and the issues that divided them off slightly more easily than they may have deserved.  There’s generally enough context that you can spot these points yourself, though.  

If you just (like me) read Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, this is a good time to pull this one off the bookshelf (where it may have happened to have been sitting for far too long) (cough).  My review of that one is on LibraryThing and Goodreads, for what little that’s worth.

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song

Title:  from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (Part III, The Fire Sermon).  Image:  a bit (a lot) how I feel at the moment– and if you don’t recognize it, go watch classic SNL, for I pity you.


Updated:  A few things have been added, changed, and shuffled.  Also, thanks to everyone who’s contacted me in various ways so far.  I haven’t responded to everyone yet, not because I’m ignoring you but because I spent a large part of the morning flatlined.


It is officially April 1st, and I have been waiting all year to say that “April is the cruellest month.”  Were Madame Sosostris present to read my cards, I suspect she’d agree this is an accurate prediction.

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A most excellent Magic card. I want this one.

Speaking of which, I’m studying tarot at the moment (want to?).

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When I start holing up and not leaving the house, while surrounded by piles of junk, Homer & Langely style, it should make for a passable career.  I’m hoping for one of those flashing neon palm signs.

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Something like this in the front window of my falling-down hovel (where, needless to say, I will be hoarding cats) should raise the land value.

I have nothing super-chipper to say (clearly).  I’ve already been characterized this week by the statement “you read a lot,” which is possibly the thing I hate to hear most of all.  Casting me as a person with her nose in a book has been a favorite and recurring insult for a very, very long time.  I could go into all the further implications of this (most of which have been spelled out for me at one time or another), but, suffice to say, I’m that guy in that Twilight Zone episode.

Starts out well . . .

Starts out well . . .

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Again: if you haven’t seen this, now’s the time to question your upbringing. What did you watch, Saved by the Bell or something?

(Incidentally, I was once asked if I wore glasses to “look smart.”  If the reading versus the glasses don’t seem similar, they actually are:  they’re both judgments about a person based on what is seen/observed.)

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Kind of like this. “How do you known she is a witch?” “She looks like one!”

I wouldn’t ever give up reading, of course.  But it’s not the essence of my existence.

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So:  resist a single, essential definition (self-defined or assigned from without).  Read a good poem on April 1st, or play a practical joke that doesn’t hurt anybody.  Resist psychic death.

I could kind of also use your good vibes right now.

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100% Internet-generated awesomeness. LOOK WHAT TECHNOLOGY CAN DO!!!

Something’s misfiring or short-circuiting.  I don’t understand what’s up, and I can’t give any explanation because of that, because it doesn’t make any sense to me.  I’m sure it looks like stubbornness when there’s actually some sort of roadblock that literally (I do mean literally) paralyzes me.

I’ll try to think Alice thoughts, which seem to mainly involve sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and everything that’s wonderful (and, at the moment, Girl Scout cookies, which she loves.  I would reiterate that she is not spoiled).

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Alice thought example 1: “Chin scratching blisses me out. Life is good.”

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Alice thought example 2: “I am warm and safe and comfortable and snuggly. Why worry?”


So that’s all, folks.  Here are some other things you can read:

22 Amazon reviews of The L Word that qualify for WTF? status

Which Orphan Black clone are you?  (note:  I do not have cable.  Season 3 spoilers will get you cut.)

Ab Fab quotes, suitable for pitying fools and destroying your enemies.  Please join me in petitioning Netflix to make the series available, stat.

–Sir Pterry will live on in the clacks.  We salute you.

–McSweeney’s (where I spend a good portion of my time) presents “RECENT HIT POP SONGS CO-WRITTEN BY INFLUENTIAL FEMINIST PHILOSOPHERS.”  Oddly, I’m not finding these in the iTunes store . . .


One last thing:  the Blue Velvet cake (via @undeadmolly):

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Baby wants to . . . eat cake? That’s a cake, all right.

All with April birthdays who are avid David Lynch fans should take note.

All who know someone with an April birthday who is an avid David Lynch fan who has a really pathetic bootleg copy of Eraserhead (featuring subtitles in an unknown language) that they bought on eBay in the early 2000s should take note that there is now a Criterion collection edition available.

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And, in a further update today (the post was pre-scheduled), I’m alarmed to see that Chaucer and #WhatThatAprilleDay are trending tremendously– whereas Eliot is not.  Where are my modernists?!?  The entire English language is dead, anyway, as recent OED additions confirm.