Thursday, April 06, 2006


Today's reading

I'm here at the shop reading instead of selling books, because, once again, no customers. Where is everyone? I shouldn't say no customers at all, because the quiet young punkish girl that comes in once a week is here browsing. She's wearing a black tulle skirt today, it's lovely. She is a thoughtful consumer and purchases wonderful books, mostly classics. Bulgakov. Tolstoy. Camus. Gunter Grass. God love her.

I'm through with Nick Hornby for now, having finished Songbook, his book of essays about some favorite songs and their resonance both in his life and in our collective cultural life. The hardcover of the book comes with a cd - and listening to it is like receiving a mix tape from your secret best friend. The one you wish you had, who would make you mixes like this. One of the essays is about a haunting and beautiful Rufus Wainwright song, One Man Guy, and contains this passage, on the phenomenon of songs such as this containing moments of out-and-out Divinity which make your skin prickle:

" a writer, I don't normally have much patience for the ineffable - I ought to think that everything's effing effable, otherwise what's the point? But I'm not sure there are words to describe what happens when two voices mesh.... All I can say is that I can hear things that aren't there, see and feel things I can't normally see and feel, and start to realize, that, yes, there is such a thing as an immortal soul, or, at the very least, a unifying human consciousness, that our lives are short but have meaning."

When I'm reading, I'm always searching unconsciously for signs of hope such as this. I bought a new book yesterday, a softcover to read, called Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, edited by Kevin Smokler (Basic Books, 2005), partly because of the essays in it by Paul Collins and Dan Kennedy, but mostly because, like Nick Hornby's books, it looks to be full of such signs. Here's the quote from the back cover that made me buy the book:

"The sky is not caving in on American letters. Far from it. The immensely talented writers in this collection all came of age professionally in the last decade - and all chose reading and writing over another (sic) more lucrative and decidedly flashier pursuits.... Why? How did they come to writing as a calling? What's the relevance of literature when the very term seems quaint?"

I know the answer already, I see the hard evidence every day (Bulgakov!), but I'm interested in hearing what writers of my generation have to say about it, too.

The Smokler book is fabulous-it was one of the inspirations that lead me to start my blog. One of the contributing authors,Meghan Daum,has a great novel out in paperback called The Quality of Life Report-it's a quirky little satire about a big city reporter who bites off more than she can chew when she moves out into a rural community for a TV news show segment.

Glad you liked the Hornby-I didn't read Songbook but his collection of Believer essays,The Pollsyllabic Spree,totally rocks!
I know, I've read "The P. Spree" several times, and the whole time I'm reading it, every time, I've got a big dopey grin on my face, it's so good. BUYING BOOKS! READING BOOKS! We know it's exciting and all, but it's great to have it verified in print every now and again. I look forward to the Daum essay, and will look for her book, thanks for the recommendation! Do read "Songbook" - many of the essays are about a lot more than just the song at hand: his life, his autistic son, etc., much in the same vein as "The P.S." but with the emphasis on music. It's available in paperback now, but without the cd, I think.
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