Soundtrack 2014, and some books

In celebration of my recent birthday and the incoming new school year (two things that evoke feelings of New Beginnings and Hello Closure), here is my 2014 soundtrack (i.e. what I mostly listened to on a recent long bike ride):

  1. All Fall Down” (Shawn Colvin)
  2. Let It Go” (Frozen soundtrack)
  3. One More Night” (Maroon 5)
  4. Take Me To Church” (Sinead O’Connor)
  5. All These Things That I’ve Done” (The Killers)
  6. Bailando” (Enrique Iglesias)
  7. Counting Stars” (One Republic)
  8. Freedom” (George Michael)
  9. Pompeii” (Bastille)
  10. Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” (R.E.M.)
  11. Diane Young” (Vampire Weekend)
  12. Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” (Owen Pallett)
  13. Think of You” (MS MR)
  14. O My Heart” (R.E.M.)
  15. You’re Still A Mystery” (The Bleachers)
  16. Streets of Philadelphia” [live cover] (Tori Amos)

A lot of these songs make think of my summer job in the U.S., running ENDLESS miles for marathon training in England in the spring, or private mini dance breaks in my room year-round. I wonder what fall has in store…

Additionally, here are some good books I’ve read lately: Evelio Rosero’s Good Offices, Ben Marcus’ Leaving the Sea and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station.

Good Offices is a delightfully gothic tale that feels like a closely related cousin to Bolaño’s By Night in Chile, in the sense that both books deal with corrupt priests and combine the genuinely shocking with the darkly funny (it might be a bit TOO dark for animal lovers, though I was okay with it). It also has an absolutely killer opening sentence: “He has a terrible fear of being an animal, especially on Thursdays, at lunchtime.” (It’s interesting that the Spanish title of this book is Los almuerzos, the lunches.) This book also deserves mucho respect for being so short, concise, and effective: it knows exactly what it’s trying to do, and it gets it done in 150 pages, an easy afternoon read. Sometimes I wonder if it’s harder to write this kind of book than it is to write, say, a 350 page novel.

Marcus’ Leaving the Sea, meanwhile, is one of the strangest collections of short stories I’ve ever read. I started it before I left England in June, so it was a bit of a headtrip to finish it when I came back, as all the most innovative (i.e. just plain weird) stories are (purposefully?) grouped near the end. This deliberate structuring gives the collection a consistent tone, though–you start out nice and slow in familiar and amusingly satirical Jonathan Franzen territory, and then things slowly but surely start dissolving into a bad acid trip with George Saunders mixed with seriously experimental prose-poetry. I think my favorite story overall occurred near the beginning, “I Can Say Many Nice Things,” if only because it was about a writer running a creative writing workshop on a cruise ship. How come more writers don’t write about being writers? I also liked “Rollingwood” (a dystopic nightmare about a single father dealing with a sick child and a hostile workplace), and “The Loyalty Protocol” (another dystopic tale concerning aging parents and apocalyptic gym evacuation drills). I think I can now definitely proclaim that this is the kind of dystopic writing I prefer–the kind that’s ambiguous and leaves much unsaid and unexplained–as opposed to the specific world-building kind.

Leaving the Atocha Station is one of those Sebaldian, Teju Cole-like novels that blurs fact with fiction, includes black and white photographs and mainly involves the first-person, male narrator wandering around a large city. So far I have yet to have a problem with any of those things, though I would love to know if there’s a female author out there somewhere who’s written a similarly-themed book and received the same kind of critical attention and acclaim as Sebald, Cole and Lerner have. My favorite thing about this book was how dislikable, needy and insecure the main character was, and yet… I still really enjoyed spending time with him. Kudos to Lerner for pulling this off. I think if a lot of us were truly honest with ourselves, we would confess to having similar thoughts and feelings as this narrator does (delusions of grandeur, petty jealousies, deliberately lying in an attempt to evoke pity from love interests, etc.). That might be part of the cathartic appeal of this character for me, maybe (there but for the grace go I etc). Lerner’s book will also remain memorable to me for having lots really good quotes and passages about The Point of Art in the World, especially in the Face of Violence and Horror and so on (here’s a good essay about it, and another good essay by the author himself). I’d like to read this one again someday.

“I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen, changing the government or the economy or even their language, the body or its sensorium, but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it. And yet when I imagined the total victory of those other things over poetry, when I imagined, with a sinking feeling, a world without even the terrible excuses for poems that kept faith with the virtual possibilities of the medium… then I intuited an inestimable loss, a loss not of artworks but of art, and therefore infinite, the total triumph of the actual, and I realized that, in such a world, I would swallow a bottle of white pills.” (Leaving the Atocha Station, pg. 44-5)

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Filed under books, music, review, short stories

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