Sunday, January 31, 2010

Week 3.......and 4. Sue me.

Okay, what had happened was............

I work a lot. I'm a Navy air traffic controller. There's gonna be some weeks when I literally have no free time whatsoever, from sunrise until midnight. Last week was one of those times, and so the book I was reading necessarily spilled over into this week. To make up for it, I read another one in a day. So technically, I read two books in two weeks. That's called math, folks.

Sometimes you come across a book that changes the way you look at the world. It might not be life-changing in the sense of some college student reading Ishmael and being inspired to eat leaves and grow douchebag dreadlocks. Maybe it just changes the way you think about a certain period in history, or challenges what you thought you knew about a topic. The first book I read was one of those experiences for me. It was Neil Postman's "The Disappearance of Childhood", an amazing and entertaining piece of pop scholarship that deserves it's own Ken Burn's documentary. I really can't say enough good things about this book.

Like I said, the revelations I had reading this aren't of the kind that are gonna change my daily life in any way, they weren't some dramatic Deepak Chopra epiphany............but it was a huge paradigm shift for me in the terms of how I view children, childhood, and the history of western culture. I just always took for granted that childhood and human nature were a package deal. That the idea of childhood had always been here, in the same conceptual form it is now. But Postman argues (very persuasively) that the modern concept of childhood has NOT always been with us, that children were NOT always viewed as a special and separate class of people apart from adults, and finally, that the concept is on the decline once again thanks to mass media treatment of children as both consumers and sexual beings (ie: kiddie pageants).

His basic thesis is that the age of the printing press ushered in a new kind of knowledge, and that the ability to read and write became a cultural line in the sand between adults and children, something that didn't exist prior to that time. He gives evidence that before the printing press came along, children were viewed as "little adults". For example there was no such thing as children's clothes, and regardless of age children were not shielded from grown-up talk about sex, death, curse words, and anything else that we say "earmuffs" for today. There was no public school system before the printing press, and so kid's went to work at a much (MUCH) earlier age.

And that's just the first chapter. I'll let you read the book for the rest of the "journey of childhood" and why Postman believes it is declining.

The book did leave me with my doubts...........I mean, it's a little difficult to imagine that there was NO concept of childhood as we view it today prior to the 17th century, when every museum I've ever been to features wooden toys and dolls from virtually every time period in human history, going back to ancient african, native american and mayan civilizations. I mean, I would think that the idea of a toy itself points to some separation between adult and child. But the book mainly defines childhood as those ages between 7 and 17, so maybe it's a moot point anyway.

I highly, highly recommend this book. It's one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I've read in a very long time.

The second book I read...........or in this case, a personal favorite of mine. "Mao II" by the ridiculously talented Don Delillo.

I'll say it, I think the guy is a certified genius. His way with words is unequaled in modern American writers, followed closely only by Tom Robbins and Cormac McCarthy at their best. And even they would have a hard time digging as deeply into the human condition as Dellilo does with one paragraph from any of his classic novels (Libra, White Noise, the list goes on).

Mao II is my favorite book by Delillo, and this is my second time reading it. Ostensibly it tells the story of a reclusive writer struggling to finish his long-awaited third novel. But between the lines it's a rumination on the nature of genius, art, terrorism, terrorism as art, and maybe most of all, mobs and crowds and cults as social phenomena. From the first page onward this book digs into your gray matter and doesn't let go, and I don't think any other novel has more deeply influenced my own writing, or at least ambitions of writing.

Check both of these books immediately.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book-A-Week-A-Thon-Fest...........Week 2: the Weekening

You like what I did there?

So for week 2, I grabbed somethin' from my large library of unread books I've bought over the years, or as I like to call it, the hall of great financial decisions. This is what I just finished reading.............

The cover says "a novel", but really it's a collection of short stories by Neil Jordan, including Night in Tunisia.

Now, I'm a fan of Neil Jordan as a filmmaker. Michael Collins, The Brave One, and of course The Crying Game, which was only recently dethroned as the ultimate haha-you-watched-a-gay-movie movie by Brokeback Mountain. In my opinion, Mona Lisa with Bob Hoskins is one of the most underrated flicks of all time. So Jordan is cool with me. But I had never read any of his fiction before, and barely was even aware that he was known as an author, until sometime last year when I found this collection of short stories at a goodwill. But I never got around to reading it. So now I read it.

I was not very impressed.

It's not that he's a horrible writer..............although he is incredibly pretentious and definitely clunky with prose. But he's still not horrible. He knows how to paint a vivid picture and build believable characters. The main problem I had with his stories is not his technique. It's that as a writer, he is (and I know this will come as a shock based on his filmmaking career) obsessed with sex. And not in the guilty pleasure "who/what will Chuck Palahnuik make his characters fuck next" kinda way. In a really awkward "what does this have to do with anything" kinda way. To illustrate this, I've come up with a few examples of what a normal fiction passage may look like, next to how Neil Jordan might write the same passage.

Normal Passage:

"It was then on his deathbed that he realized how much he loved the girl, his only daughter, and as they held hands he knew she would one day become a kind woman in spite of his absence."

Neil Jordan Version:

"It was then on his deathbed that he realized how much he loved the girl, his only daughter, and as he saw her growing breasts he knew she would one day be a woman. And like all other women she would find that after years of dancing at the town pub for any and all sexual attention, her eyes would soon show the deadness that he was about to feel in mere moments."

Normal Passage:

"The boy rode the horse on the beach."

Neil Jordan Version:

"The boy rode the horse on the beach, fully erect."

You get the idea. Dude likes to color his commentary with unnecessary filth flarn filth. And the few times when it's NOT unnecessary, it's usually because the entire story itself is about awkward sex.

The book also contains the original screenplay of The Crying Game, which I skipped partly because I've already seen the movie, but mostly because I'm not Brian fuckin' Grazer. What do I need with a screenplay? When I read a story I don't wanna know where the camera pans, followed by 8 pages of straight dialogue.

Sandman exits room.

Blog page slowly fades to black, with Danny Elfman score.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reading is gay

Last year a friend of mine, a school teacher from Wisconsin named Mike Strusz (whose blog can be found here) made a goal in 2009 to read a book a week for the whole year, 52 in total. According to him he came up 13 short from his goal, but that's still nothin' to sneeze at*.

Now,.........I read a lot. Too much, according to my wife everytime she stares blankly at the full bookshelf in her living room, fantasizing about all the other things she wishes were there instead. I don't think there's been a time in the last 6-7 years when I wasn't in the middle of a book. Once I'm done with one, I pick up another the same day. Sometimes I will even read a whole book in one day. But mostly "reading a book" means I've been reading 3 pages a day of some Graham Greene novel exclusively on the toilet for 2 months. So even for an avid reader like me, 52 books in a year is a lofty goal.

It would have been especially lofty if I would have tried it in 2009, a year the majority of which I spent in boot camp or Navy A-school, places where outside literature is treated the same as a bottle of Jim Beam in 1920's Chicago. Coincidentally, Navy boot camp is also in Chicago. It's like that city can't function unless it's prohibiting shit.

At any rate, Mr. Strusz has made the same goal for 2010, and since I have a lot more free time now that I'm done with training and out in the mythical fleet, I can finally attempt to run this nerd marathon with him.

So, I'm startin' the first week off with a book from my favorite cynical conservative irish asshole (more than enough of those out there for me to choose a favorite) P.J. O'Rourke.

"Eat The Rich" is his hilarious take on Economics, with chapter titles like "How (or how not) to reform (maybe) an economy (if there is one)". He traveled pretty extensively to research this book, and uses some obvious countries as extreme examples of economic situations. The breakdown is something like this:

Good capitalism- United States
Bad capitalism- Albania
Good socialism- Sweden
Bad socialism- Cuba

O'Rourke is a libertarian and unapologetically pro-capitalism, as any sane person should be, but he really doesn't pull any more punches from the US than he does from Cuba, Sweden, or Russia. The overall thesis of the book seems to be "nobody knows what the hell they're talking about when it comes to economics, including the experts". I'm about 2/3rds of the way through it, and it might be O'Rourke's best book, which is saying something for the guy who wrote a book called "Parliament of Whores", maybe the best analysis of the fucked up Washington DC party power structure ever written. I still quote that book.

So every week on the blog from now on I'll post what book I read, and a quick review of it.

*Unless you're a dapper dan 1940's TV ad executive, or a crusty old black delta bluesman named "Smokestack Willie", nobody should ever use the phrase "nothin' to sneeze at" as frequently as I do.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Onward through the fog and whatnot........... was a good decade, folks. Maybe not for you. But nobody wants to hear your stupid problems. This blog is about me and my incredible life. A time capsule, if you will, to be discovered in the future by aliens or Viggo Mortenson. And for me it was a good decade. I did what every American white male does in their teens and early 20's.........made a shitload of rap albums.

I also did other far less interesting things, like get married and have children. BOOOORING. Somewhere in between there I went to disneyworld too, I think.

I was a lot of things in the 00's. A fast food fry flipper, a photographer, a semi-successful semi-underground local rapper, a TX state employee, and most recently an air traffic controller in the US Navy. All of which put me in places I probably had no business being. As a state employee I frequently took "bathroom breaks" and snuck my way into Senate sessions, chillin' in the mezzanine looking about as out of place as Pat Buchanan at a Quincenera. As an usher for the Frank Erwin Center, I got to watch UT Longhorn football games ON the field, occasionally pretending to do my job. As a rapper I was able to open up for some of my childhood gangster rap heroes, like Bun B, Method Man, and the Hanson brothers. Don't ask me to explain that one. Now I spend my days in an air traffic control tower, telling planes full of people what to do, which should probably scare you into driving wherever you travel from now on.

I've lived in many places this decade. Austin, Jacksonville, Ship 11 in Great Lakes Navy boot camp, Pensacola, and Nevada. Coincidentally all places where far too many rednecks are walking around with guns.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope the 2010's bring us many new and exciting things. New friendships, inspiring art, better relations between cultures and nations, know...............robots we can have sex with.

Happy new year.