Tag William S. Burroughs

Episode 222 – Arnie Levin

Virtual Memories Show 222: Arnie Levin

“Don’t fraternize with inkers; they’ll always get you in trouble.”

Cartooning, illustration and animation legend Arnie Levin joins the show to recount his epic career and life. We talk about Beatnik-era New York, his mother’s decades-long plot to turn him into a New Yorker cartoonist, the value of a good art director, telling the Marines he wanted to be a photographer, his two-minute education in directing animation, what it was like to see his style copied by an artist who was previously copying another artist’s style, the time Allen Ginsberg tried to give him an iguana, and more! Give it a listen! And go check out his work at Art.com!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

This is adapted from Richard Gehr‘s wonderful book, I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists:

Born in 1938, the diminutive Levin sports the shaved head, handlebar mustache, and slightly rolling gait of a badass biker. Much of his upper body is tattooed with ornate Japanese imagery by a renowned yakuza body illustrator. And the more you learn about his life, the wider the gap between creator and creations seems to spread.

Levin served in the Marines before winding up as an aspiring painter amid New York City’s late-fifties beatnik heyday. “Swept up in the glamour of the beatnik era,” as he puts it, Levin co-operated an espresso house that hosted readings by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He worked parties as a rent-a-beatnik, encountering Bob Dylan, another new kid in town, during one such event.

At Push Pin Studio, then at the height of its influence upon the design world, he was plucked out of the messenger pool by Milton Glaser, who recommended him to Lee Savage’s Electra Studio, famous for its forward-looking movie trailers and commercials. After leaving Electra, Levin was recruited for The New Yorker by art director Lee Lorenz in 1974.

After taking up motorcycling at age of fifty-nine, Levin celebrated his new hobby with the aforementioned flurry of tattoos. He’s given up biking in the interests of personal safety, however, and now resides more or less quietly on Long Island in New York with his wife.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Arnie’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of me and Arnie by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of Arnie’s ink by Nate Ndosi.

Episode 145 – Kathe Koja and John Clute

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Virtual Memories Show #145:
Kathe Koja and John Clute

“I started writing stories as soon as I knew what stories were. I taught myself to type when I was 8 years old, because I couldn’t type fast enough.”

IllustrationNovelist and immersive theater director Kathe Koja joins the show to talk about her new novel, The Bastards’ Paradise, the arc of her career from splatterpunk (hey, it was the ’90s) to YA to the 19th C. romance of her Poppy trilogy, the meaning of Detroit, her life-changing experience at a staging of Sleep No More, the joys (and perils) of defying genre conventions, the epiphany of brutally murdering Tweddle-Dee, saving her first novel (from when she was 14) to feel better about herself, why great poetry is like IV drugs, and more! Give it a listen!

“I think the story of the wrongness of science fiction is like an exposure of the nature of homo sapiens on this planet. Science fiction goes wrong because we go wrong, and it does it with great clarity. I want a record of that and I want to see how we go wrong and how we can learn.”

Then John Clute returns to the show to talk about establishing the Clute Science Fiction Library @ Telluride! Also, he uses the word “haecceity” in conversation, which is a Virtual Memories first! Go listen!

We talk about some books and a couple of movies in this episode. Here’s a list of them:

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guests

Kathe Koja’s 16th novel, The Bastards’ Paradise, is just out from Roadswell Editions. Her other novels include The Cipher, Skin, Strange Angels, Buddha Boy, Talk, and Headlong. Her work has won numerous awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. As a director/producer, she leads the performance group nerve in creating immersive live events.

19655441552_fe367d5d1a_mVia John Clute‘s entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

(1940- ) Canadian novelist and sf critic, in the UK from 1969; married to Judith Clute from 1964. He has been the partner of Elizabeth Hand since 1996. His first professional publication, a long sf-tinged poem called “Carcajou Lament”, appeared in Triquarterly for Winter 1960 (i.e. in 1959), though he only began publishing sf proper with “A Man Must Die” in New Worlds for November 1966, where much of his earlier criticism also appeared. This criticism, despite some studiously flamboyant obscurities, remains essentially practical, and has appeared mostly in the form of reviews, many of which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Foundation, Washington Post, Omni, Times Literary Supplement, New York Times, New York Review of Science Fiction, Interzone, Los Angeles Times, Observer, Science Fiction Weekly (see Online Magazines), the Independent, Strange Horizons and elsewhere. He has written two regular review columns: Excessive Candour for Science Fiction Weekly between 1997 and 2009; and Scores, intermittently in The Infinite Matrix 2001-2003, regularly in Interzone between 2005 and 2008, and in Strange Horizons from 2010. Selections from this work, almost always revised, have been assembled in Strokes: Essays and Reviews 1966-1986 (coll 1988), Look at the Evidence: Essays and Reviews (coll dated 1995 but 1996), Scores: Reviews 1993-2003 (coll 2003), Canary Fever: Reviews (coll 2009) and Stay (coll 2014). An ongoing project to construct models of story “moves” in the literatures of the fantastic is represented by a set of connected motif entries in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) with John Grant [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and in The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror (2006), as well as in Fustian (2006 chap) with Jason Van Hollander, a long interview focused on these issues. In later essays – like “Fantastika in the World Storm” (Spring 2008 Foundation) and “Physics for Amnesia” (October 2008 The New York Review of Science Fiction), both assembled in revised form with other essays as Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm (coll 2011) – he has suggested that a central task for Fantastika in the twenty-first century is to dissolve the cultural Amnesia that has arguably consumed the Western world since World War Two (see Horror in SF; Postmodernism and SF). Primarily for his critical work, he received a Pilgrim Award in 1994, the IAFA Award as Distinguished Guest Scholar in 1999, and a Solstice Award (see SFWA Grand Master Award) in 2012.

In 1960 Clute was Associate Editor of Collage, an ill fated Chicago-based Slick magazine which in its two issues did manage to publish early work by Harlan Ellison and R A Lafferty. He served as Reviews Editor of Foundation 1980-1990, and was a founder of Interzone in 1982; he remained Advisory Editor of that magazine until 2004, and then contributed the column mentioned above. He was the Associate Editor of the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979; vt The Science Fiction Encyclopedia 1979), which won a Hugo award, and was co-editor of the much-expanded second edition The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993; rev 1995; further rev vt Grolier Science Fiction: The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction 1995 CD-ROM; further rev 1999), for which he shared 1994 Hugo and Locus awards with Peter Nicholls. Though Clute and Nicholls were listed as editors, the book was in fact written mostly by them and Associate Editor Brian Stableford. The current third edition, again much expanded as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (online from 2011) edited by John Clute and David Langford with Peter Nicholls serving as Editor Emeritus and Graham Sleight as Managing Editor, has similarly been written in the main by its editors and Contributing Editors; it won a Hugo as Best Related Work in 2012. Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (1995), which he wrote solo and for which he also received a Hugo in 1996, is a companion to sf, not in any way connected to the encyclopedias listed above. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) with John Grant, for which both editors shared a 1998 Hugo, deals with fantasy within a frame broadly compatible with that governing this Encyclopedia, which is its elder sibling.

Over his career, Clute has published several sf stories and two novels: The Disinheriting Party (in New Worlds Quarterly 5, anth 1973, ed Michael Moorcock; exp 1977), which is Equipoisal with the fantastic, but demurs into rationalizations at the end; and Appleseed (2001), which is a Space Opera with an anti-Religion bias. The Made Minds (AIs) who dominate much of the action manifest themselves throughout as Avatars allied to a Forerunner mentor in support of all surviving humans, who are shunned because of the sexual (see Sex) odour they emit; but as they are genetically deaf to god (see Communications; Gods and Demons), the galaxy-wide diaspora of Homo sapiens has created a Pariah Elite destined to become central combatants in the coming universal War against the Entropy-generating deity, as proclaimed for the first time in the book’s Slingshot Ending. [JC]

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation with Ms. Koja was recorded at the Saratoga Hilton on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder (except for when I screwed up the recording and used my Zoom H2n backup). The session with Mr. Clute was done on my enCORE 200 & Zoom H5. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Ms. Koja and Mr. Clute by me.

Episode 135 – Irvine Welsh / Dmitry Samarov

Virtual Memories Show #135:
Irvine Welsh / Dmitry Samarov

“What would young, pre-Trainspotting Irvine Welsh think of you now?”

“He’d think I was a total wanker.”

19879284434_c2b6b7e214_zIrvine Welsh has created unforgettable characters in his novels, beginning with the cast of Trainspotting in 1993. We caught up in his Chicago home and talked about writing, boxing, the art world, the White Sox, the creative flourish that’s seen him publish three novels in four years, the perils of success and exhausting your autobiography, the periods of life he’s interested in writing about, his first meeting with Iggy Pop, his childhood and the school-days’ balance of being a reader and being a jock, the narcissism of online living, Trainspotting over the years, Edinburgh’s failed gentrification, the ways that America’s friendlier than Scotland, and more! Give it a listen!

“I think it’s good for me as a writer not to be hanging out with writers all the time.”

We also talk about his critique of global capitalism, the problems with permanent austerity, American and UK tabloid culture, standing up David Bowie (twice), returning to Ulysses every few years, the ways William S. Burroughs helps rewire his brain, and the great anonymous allure of the first-time novelist.

“Instagram is like Methodone to Twitter’s heroin”

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Then Dmitry Samarov rejoins the show to talk about his memoir-in-progress, his paintings, his latest readings, and his decision to jump off the social network treadmill. This episode also includes my justification for being a New York Yankees fan, as well as my problematic relationship with superhero comics. Give it a listen!

We mention quite a few books in this episode. Here’s they are:

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guests

Irvine Welsh is the author of Trainspotting, Ecstasy, Filth (adapted for film in 2013), Glue, and Crime, among other works. His latest novel is A Decent Ride. Welsh is also producing movies and writing screenplays. A native of Edinburgh, he lives in Chicago and Miami. You can find a more extensive bio at his website.

Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow, USSR, in 1970. He emigrated to the United States with his family in 1978. He got in trouble in first grade for doodling on his Lenin Red Star pin and hasn’t stopped doodling since. He graduated with a BFA in painting at printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. Upon graduation he promptly began driving a cab — first in Boston, then after a time, in Chicago. He is the author of two books, Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab, and Where To?: A Hack Memoir. Go check out his paintings, and maybe buy some.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald. The conversations were recorded in the homes of Irvine Welsh and Dmitry Samarov on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same equipment in a hotel room in Washington, DC. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.

Episode 114 – Roller Coaster

Virtual Memories Show:
Brad Gooch – Roller Coaster

“History and culture are the rooms in which a person is living.”

Brad Gooch joins the show to talk about his new memoir, Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s (Harper). We discuss his long relationship with director Howard Brookner, his need to chronicle the New York City scene of his youth, the transitory nature of so much of the great art of that era, the Life-During-Wartime aspect of the AIDS era in the city, survivor’s guilt, how he stumbled into becoming a literary biographer, and why 63 is the perfect age to become a dad. Give it a listen!

Brad Gooch on The Virtual Memories Show

“One friend told me, ‘Sixty is the perfect age to get married. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have had three divorces.'”

Seriously. That guy is 63. Sheesh.

Anyway, we also talk about the influence of Frank O’Hara’s poetry and life, the many faces of Rumi, why he’s hooked on Knausgaard, the differences between writing biography and memoir, his career as a male model, and how it feels to get retweeted by RuPaul and the Elton John Foundation. Go listen!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Brad Gooch is the author of Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s (Harper) and Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (Little, Brown, 2009), which was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a New York Times bestseller. His previous books include City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara; as well as Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America; three novels–Scary Kisses, The Golden Age of Promiscuity, Zombie 00; a collection of stories, Jailbait and Other Stories, chosen by Donald Barthelme for a Writer’s Choice Award; a collection of poems, Daily News; and two previous memoirs, Finding the Boyfriend Within and Dating the Greek Gods. His work has been featured in numerous magazines, including The New Republic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Travel and Leisure, Partisan Review, The Paris Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Art Forum, Harper’s Bazaar, The Nation, and regularly on The Daily Beast. A Guggenheim fellow in Biography, he has received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and a Furthermore grant in publishing from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. A professor of English at William Paterson University, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University, and lives in New York City. He is currently writing a biography of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi.

Credits: This episode’s music is Beautiful Child by Rufus Wainwright. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Gooch’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Gooch by me.

Podcast: On Cats and Calamities

Peter Trachtenberg talks cats, calamities, and love on the Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 30 – On Cats and Calamities

“Love is usually the end of the sentence, the end of the riddle. But what does love call forth from you? What are the faculties that come into play? It’s one of those questions that we think is settled.”

What does the search for a lost cat have to tell us about the nature of love and marriage? Peter Trachtenberg joins The Virtual Memories Show to try to answer that question and to talk about his work, including The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning and Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons! We discuss the tension between non-fiction and fiction, how to search for a lost cat, where the line is between the private and the public, how he stumbled into the lyric essay form, how the process of getting clean and sober influenced his writing, how marriages fall apart and how they (maybe) come back together, and more!

“Art is high-level lying.”

I’m not going to lie; our conversation jumps all over the darned place, because Peter happens to have an even more discursive mind than your scatterbrained host’s. But it’s a great talk about the nature of non-fiction writing, Buddhism, the relationship of facts to truth, respecting intuition, and how to navigate memory’s internal landscape. Sadly, we didn’t yet have the news that Another Insane Devotion received the 2013 Golden Purr Award for excellence in cat writing from Cat Wisdom 101, but there’s still some cat-talk.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Peter Trachtenberg is the author of 7 Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh (Penguin Books), The Book of Calamities (Little, Brown & Co.) and Another Insane Devotion (Da Capo). His essays, journalism, and short fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, BOMB, TriQuarterly, O, The New York Times Travel Magazine, and A Public Space. His commentaries have been broadcast on NPR’S All Things Considered. Peter has received an NYFA artist’s fellowship, the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, a Whiting Writers Fellowship, a 2010 Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and a 2012 residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. The Book of Calamities was given the 2009 Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Award “for scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity.” He has taught creative writing at Bennington College, the New School, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the City College of New York, St. Mary’s College of California, the University of Iowa Summer Writers Festival, and Ashland University. He’s also taught in Bard College’s Language & Thinking Program. Since 2011, he has been an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Credits: This episode’s music is Stray Cat Blues by The Rolling Stones. The conversation was recorded at the home of a friend of Peter on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded at home on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Peter Trachtenberg by me.

The musicalized, heat-filled dream of possessing his beloved

I went to Homecoming at St. John’s College this weekend. I got my master’s degree there, but I consider it my alma mater much more than I do my undergrad institution. I had a good time; it wasn’t as transformative as the Piraeus seminar I attended this past May/June, but it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other students, tutors, and an old pal who came to visit on Saturday. I didn’t get to record any podcast conversations during the trip, but did reach out to a few potential guests.

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. Two weekends ago was the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD. The next weekend we had a wedding in Dawson, PA, about 375 miles from home. This weekend was Annapolis. Next weekend I leave to Madrid and hope that the riots settle down enough for me to get to my conference safely.

I took a half-day from work on Friday, after pounding out pages and sending PDFs to the contributors of the new ish, so they can send me their corrections in time for me to get the new issue out by Wednesday. I left for Annapolis around 2 in the afternoon and had to deal with a little traffic on the ride down, but got in safe and sound, albeit unfed.

I checked in at my hotel, then drove to campus, got my registration packet, picked up a powerbar-sorta thing for dinner, and headed over to the Homecoming lecture, The Musical Universe and Mozart’s Magic Flute, by Peter Kalkavage. Peter was the tutor for my preceptorial on Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right. His 1991 essay on the role of Ulysses in The Divine Comedy was one of the things that convinced me to attend St. John’s. (It’s in this PDF.)

The lecture was way over my head, breaking down Tamino’s aria in technical ways to reveal its beauty. I’m not an opera guy and have no musical training to speak of, but I still enjoyed Peter’s exploration of the structure of the music and the effects Mozart achieved from his notes, tones, etc.

I seriously don’t have a vocabulary for this. In the Graduate Institute (the GI), we don’t receive a lot of the instruction that the undergrads do. They have music, languages (ancient Greek & French), and laboratory science. Because of our truncated schedules, we make do with a lot less. (Not that I’m complaining.) I sat with another GI during the lecture. We laughed when everyone in our section flipped the page of their sheet-music handout at the right moment, while we kept looking at the first bar. It’s always fun to be the uneducated one.

Early on, Peter put on a recording of the aria, which he would later play selections of on a piano (and sing particular segments to demonstrate certain progressions). While the recording played, he swayed a little at the lectern. That’s when my reverie began.

I thought of everything that I’ve experienced in the past few weeks. First, I thought about Jaime Hernandez, the cartooning genius, choking up while telling an SPX audience about a scene from a Tyrone Power movie, The Eddie Duchin Story.

I started recalling moments from SPX: meeting people in autograph lines, arguing (gently) with Chris Ware over how “Gill Sans” is spelled, buying art from Jaime and his brother Beto, sitting at a barroom table with the Mt. Rushmore of modern cartooning (the Hernandezes, Ware, Dan Clowes, and Charles Burns were on hand), trying to talk Kevin Huizenga into recording a podcast next time I’m in St. Louis.

From there to Michael Dirda’s house on the way back to NJ. Looking over his bookshelves, noting the UK hardcover of A Frolic of His Own, discovering that third Nabokov collection of lectures on literature, spying the brick of Kingsley Amis’ letters on the shelf behind Dirda while I interviewed him.

A week in NJ followed, with Rosh Hashanah and then the annual conference I help host. Six or seven hundred people come to a hotel to participate in the show, and it always leaves me exhausted, but at least it didn’t leave me in the emergency room like last year’s anxiety-sleeplessness-caffeine feedback loop did.

Right after the conference finished, I drove home, unpacked, then repacked, and Amy & I drove out to Dawson for a wedding: Six-plus hours in the car on 78 and 76, culminating in a dirt road (Lucky Lane) in the dark before arriving at the hotel. Touchscreen cheesesteak at a truck-stop Wawa; a little local bookstore daring enough to have William S. Burroughs’ Queer and Junky on end-cap display (picked up a used copy of The Two Cultures by CP Snow); meeting gin freaks and elderly computer bazillionaires at the wedding; finishing The Good Soldier, on Dirda’s recommendation; watching eight or nine of the male wedding guests gathering in the middle of the dance floor for a bizarre choreographed haka-polka hybrid set to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”; passing on karaoke.

Sunday morning, we drove out to Fallingwater, about 40 minutes away, before heading back to NJ. It was impossible and gorgeous and everything I hoped it would be, and it made me feel a little sad to be returning to the standard nine-room bi-level of our neighborhood. I thought about the engineer in Local Hero telling Peter Riegert and Peter Capaldi, “Dream large.” I got another touchscreen cheesesteak on the drive home.

Worked frantically through the next week, punctuated with a 25-hour break for Yom Kippur. In addition to the standard fast (no food or drink), I decided I’d really get out of myself and not look at a screen for that span: no iPhone, no computer, no TV. It was as liberating as I expected. By the time I checked my e-mail after breaking my fast Wednesday night (at Greek City in Ramsey), I had 35 messages on my personal e-mails, only a few of which I wanted to respond to, and none of which were imperative.

I prayed Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon with the Chabad that I visited in past years. They’ve always been accommodating, no matter how slack of a Jew I am. Some of the older gents in the congregation either recognized me from past years or just wanted to introduce themselves and make new acquaintances, which was nice. I’m so bad about joining community; I’m much better with afflicting myself.

At the end of mid-day prayers, we received a blessing from a kohen. I’d never been present for that before. We were instructed to look in his direction, but not to make eye contact during the blessing. It’s customary to cover one’s eyes with one’s tallis during this. The man in front of me set a good screen, however, so I was able to look forward without looking on the kohen’s face.

When I wasn’t at Chabad, I passed the time by re-reading King Lear, since I’d signed up for a 90-minute seminar in it for Homecoming. I hadn’t read it in years, and this reading may have been skewed a bit by the fast, since I was going without caffeine for this stretch.

After mid-day, I drove out to Nyack, NY to walk around and pass sometime. I discovered my favorite bookstore there was gone, replaced by a dry cleaner. I visited another store, the fiction department of which was filled with stacks of trade paperbacks. I tried looking at some back Paris Reviews in a stack, but it started to tip, then bumped another tower of books. I caught both of them and struggled to get them stable again without anyone at the front of the store noticing. A day of affliction can always use a little levity.

And then it was back to work, and then on to Homecoming, where this reverie began. I scrawled these reminiscences all over the backs of the sheet-music handouts. I also wrote down some details of a wonderful dream I had the night before, where I read the profile of an author who wrote a book that, according to a hybrid of Chip Delany, Michael Dirda and Junot Diaz, I would love. The book and the author don’t exist, but I retained the title of the novel, and woke up and wrote it down. I used to dream a lot more about fully-formed works of art, but it hasn’t happened in a while. I’m afraid of what that means.

Among all these notes Friday night, I wrote, “Made PDFs for contributors; put on conference.” Then I wrote, “It’s funny how unimportant those things are, and how necessary for me to live this beauty. How little of work will I remember as I grow old, and how much will I hold onto from everything else?”

Thanks for sticking around. Here are the books I bought at the college store on Saturday:

St. John's College bookstore run

Off the Road

Life is too short for crappy books. I’ve tried to impress that notion on friends, acquaintances and co-workers who would tell me that they were reading [x] but not enjoying it. Now, I don’t mean that a good book is one that panders, just that a reader should have some degree of joy or curiosity about a book.

A few years back, one of my co-workers told me he was struggling with Infinite Jest. I asked him if he felt he was getting something out of it. I knew he was very into tennis, and thought that aspect of the book would at least have captured his interest. “Not really,” he told me. “I’m 400 pages in and bored shitless. I get the corporate sponsorship joke, and that addicts have tough lives, but does this get any better?”

“Depends on what you mean by better.”

“Do you ever find out what’s on the videotape that amuses people to death?”

“. . . No. Infinite Jest is actually a thousand-page novel about boredom. That’s the joke.” In my opinion.

He put it down and went on to something else.

Which brings me to On the Road.

I first tried to read Kerouac’s novel in the summer of 1991. I was staying at a college pal’s family’s farmhouse in Athol, MA, and there was a limited selection of books at hand, one of which was an old mass market paperback of On the Road. Back at Hampshire, it was praised by plenty of people I didn’t like and whose taste I didn’t trust, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

The characters, I recall, didn’t demonstrate much character and the writing itself was plain and uncompelling. Thirty-five pages in, I was bored shitless and put the book aside. Instead I read Gaiman & Pratchett’s Good Omens, which I picked up on a visit to my girlfriend in Worcester.

Twenty years later, I found myself willing to try Kerouac again. At a book party in February, I met the writer Fred Kaplan and his wife, writer and NPR/WNYC host Brooke Gladstone. I’d enjoyed Mr. Kaplan’s writing on Slate for years now (mainly covering the Defense Dept. beat), and mentioned that to him. He told me a little about the book he’s working on and, two G&Ts into the evening, I decided ot tell him that I had yet to read his book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed.

I know authors don’t like to hear about how people haven’t read their books, but I told him that I’d been interested in the book for a while and promised to get it for my Kindle the next day. He was amiable about it. Certainly moreso than Greill Marcus, who once lectured me about the content of Lipstick Traces after I told him that I had only read about 100 pages of it.

Anyway, I did download 1959 from Amazon and read it over the next week. Weirdly, the Kindle format of 1959 puts an extra line-break after every paragraph, so the entire work looks like it’s composed of aphorisms. I enjoyed it, although it didn’t have the voice that I find in nonfiction work by, say, Clive James or Ron Rosenbaum, whose book party we were attending that evening. (Speaking of which, buy Ron’s new book! It’s the bomb! Also, he owes me money!) Still, I found it pretty informative, the thesis largely holds up, and Kaplan’s love of jazz shows up strongly in his chapters on Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), Dave Brubeck (Time Out) and Ornette Coleman (Shape of Jazz to Come).

The sections on Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity case for Howl (tried pre-1959, but setting a precedent that would enable that year’s rulings to overturn federal obscenity laws) made me curious again about Keroac and On the Road. I thought, “It’s been 20 years since I tried it. Maybe it was the mass market paperback’s typesetting. Maybe it was my philistinism. Maybe it’s one of those works that will resonate for me now, one of those books you grow into. Maybe its time-capsule distance from me will prove of interest.”

I bought it for my Kindle, and gave it another shot. This time, I made it a quarter of the way through before surrendering.

I was expecting some sort of lyricism that would show Kerouac’s aesthetic competition with Ginsberg, or a benzedrine-fueled madness that reflected Burroughs’ influence on him, or maybe some of the sheer poetic-mystic beauty of the idler’s life that Henry Miller was so good at in Tropic of Cancer, which I thought was the obvious precursor for On the Road.

Instead, I still found the events uninteresting, the language flat, the characters (still) not having have much by way of character, and no serious observations about America or its crippled, postwar ideals. I’m still incredulous that this book was a monster hit for half a century. I know the Eisenhower years were boring, but was this really such a great alternative?

So I acknowledged that slogging along through a book I didn’t like was reinforcing the crap mood I’ve been in lately, and yesterday I picked up Arcadia, the Tom Stoppard play that I’m seeing this week on Broadway (provided there are no safety violations in the big finale with the multiple Septimus Hodges getting launched by catapult over the audience). According to The List That Knows More Than I Do, it’ll be the fifth time I’ve read Arcadia, but the language is so gorgeous, the ideas so artfully integrated into the stories, the plot and staging so ingenious, that I don’t mind returning to that well.

Moral: go back to the first sentence of this post.

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