Wednesday, December 03, 2003 :::
Books, Books, The Magical Fruit
Here's the deal: I'm writing little comments about all the books I read in 2002, in chronological order of completing them. These were finished sometime in April of 2002. The comedic premise, such as it is, is that it's really hard to remember much about books you read 18 months ago with over 100 finished in the interim. I'm not sure if this gag gets any funnier with repetition. But I made a public promise and as long as there are bones in my fingers....
IRON TEARS by R.A. Lafferty. Fantasy stories from the Old, Weird America (trademark Greil Marcus), spooked and beautiful and horrible-funny. Lafferty—who died last year, to too few laments—his voice is old-man grizzled and childesqueishly (as opposed to childishly) wondered. Fans of alternate histories of technologies cannot afford to miss “Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies” and its delightfully strange “slow light” 19th century television dramas, even better, by Lafferty's detailed critical exegeses, than all those Rod Serling and Gore Vidal ones from the 1950s we're always hearing about; you will learn herein much about the positive side of prejudice, whistling down the Moon, see wild-eyes combos playing crazy songs and hang out in warmly awful bars and dread cannibalism and newspapers that can predict 39 years into the future—but no farther! Everyone is their own destiny, inhabited fully and fiercely and all fiery in Lafferty’s bizarre dream worlds; alas, I find they fade away with the mad rapidity of dreams but while you live them, man, you are really living.
THE RULES OF INSANITY: MORAL RESPONSIBILITY AND THE MENTALLY ILL OFFENDER by Carl Elliott. A serious, detailed, if ultimately tedious discussion of some of the reasons why we might want to consider people not morally culpable for what they do. Often seems to endorse the view that if someone either THOUGHT that what they were doing was justified, or that they didn’t seem to have ANY moral thoughts about it whatsoever, than no matter how heinous their behavior was, there is no grounds to hold them culpable or punish them for it. I contemplate my own mixed emotions (the right word) about how important punishment is vs. mercy. I think about how that “Hey Ya” single by Outkast appears to have united the Western World like nothing since the Treaty of Westphalia, and how it might be even better than “Judy In Disguise With Glasses.” I store these thoughts away, in hope they will get lost. I read this book as research for a story that never got written. I idly think that story, had I wrestled it to the ground and prodded it into shape and chipped away all the parts that didn't look like a statue and all that crap, might have been the most important thing I’ve ever written. At least it gave me the opportunity to have a long phone conversation with one of the experts who testified on behalf of the lack of responsibility of Andrea Yates in murdering her five children. Well, you see, he explained earnestly, that woman sure acted fucked up. She twitched to boot. Other people he has called schizophrenic also acted fucked up and twitched. You can see the scientific conclusion he was inelucatably led to. Can't you? Yes, I could only nod, although nodding does not communicate well over telephone wires. Yes, yes, o my yes. There are affirmations and there are negations, and punishment, for all its flaws, is at least an affirmation and to some of us this is important.
CLASSICAL MUSIC: THE 50 GREATEST COMPOSERS AND THEIR 1,000 GREATEST WORKS by Phil G. Goulding. While there is nothing wrong with a book like this and I hold, like clutching a seat-cushion floatation device, to the hope that it might do me some good in a case of dire future need to have it sitting there on my (crowded, double-layered) shelf, I can recall only that the author was a little too middlebrow/PBS faux jocular and "I’m gonna make this easy for ya" without much distinctive in his viewpoints or prose, and that reading a book like this so dense with names, dates, observations, and facts as idle entertainment on the toilet when you don’t intend to write about it (at least, ahem, not until a year and a half later) is as much wasting time as drinking that fifth beer in that third bar, and it’s funny how my superego keeps telling me this isn’t so when it so obviously is. If I truly understood what I’m writing here, I’d be reading a lot fewer books, and perhaps—perhaps!—be a fuller human being. But what the hell, 24 hours in a day and I’m finding myself capable of sleeping fewer and fewer of them. This did inspire me to buy some more records, mostly at three-for-a-dollar day in the attic at Pico Records, and I think I really like that Rachmaninoff one where he rips off that guy from the Raspberries, and most of the late 19th stuff was interesting enough, though older than that it still just sounds like a lot of slowly moving swelling noises to me. I will mature into a more nuanced appreciation with time, I'm certain. Like with books, I might well be better off listening to fewer records and enjoying them more. The wasteful overproduction of modernity, however, has just left me with too many options and too much time. I’m sure you all can relate.
::: posted by Brian at 11:25 PM