"In America it is the privilege of the white man to rollick, even if he is a poor Jew born into moderate squalor. The black man, in this novel at any rate, can only be fucked around; his hope, in this novel, is to discover his own way of doing things." On Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
This week, our own Lydia Kiesling took part in The Morning News Tournament of Books, where she adjudicated a showdown between Scott McClanahan’s Hill William and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Who went on to the next round: the trans-Pacific odyssey, or the tale of West Virginia? (You could also read our own Edan Lepucki’s Tournament contribution from last year, or else read our own Nick Moran’s Year in Reading piece on Scott McClanahan.)
High genre is fiction that allows you to investigate an individual text, because it is full of its own traits and merits, whether in its characterizations, its plot, or its prose. Regular genre, I suppose, is something you can only talk about as a family — tracing the themes shared collectively among its members. High genre will always be vulnerable to the taint of its lower peers, because it shares the equipment, the same beats. This is why people are drawn to True Detective, and yet can accept assertions that it is just another dead naked lady show. I mentioned the praxis of electronic dance music. Detractors would have it that this music is derivative noise, the artless patching together of beats at just the right frequency to make the ladies tear off their cardigans in the middle of the dance hall. These are the same kinds of things that people say about genre novels. But DJs (like medieval Islamic poets, in fact), demonstrate their mastery through use of the material of their peers and predecessors. You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to be really good at spinning it.
Stephen King’s next book is a thriller set in a Midwestern town suffering from unemployment. Before this sounds a little too close to home, the synopsis reveals it’s about a retired cop trying to stop a mass murderer. Mr. Mercedes will be out June 3rd. Pair with: Our own Lydia Kiesling’s essay on her love of King novels.
As young and extremely carefree 20-somethings who spent their weeknights drinking $5 pitchers of Busch at the now-defunct Jack’s Club, we conceived of Family Dinner as a pseudo-ironic mimicry of the middle class practice with which we had all grown up. But seven years later, we are still at it. The group has grown from four people to 16. We have a calendar and a Google group, and we get together around 49 Wednesdays out of the year, rotating between approximately seven dwellings. One person cooks, everyone else brings beer or sometimes wine. We even have a family name: We’re the Boehners, and we love each other.
This year I read articles about the San Francisco housing market and the Oakland housing market and the rise of the tech class and the death of the middle class, and I had anxieties. But I was fortunate to have a job, so I subscribed to three magazines, two of which I read. I read trend pieces in which I recognized myself because I have student loans and no car and no house and no offspring. I read online guides for how to introduce cats to babies, in case the latter condition should change. I read laments on the death of the humanities and felt morose. I read tweets where people said they didn’t like Frances Ha and felt misunderstood. I read the numbers on the scale and learned that I am fatter than I was the last time I wrote my Year in Reading. I read warnings about sitting being the new smoking and wondered if smoking will become okay by comparison. I read the ingredients in my lotion and wondered if they are giving me a rash. I read a WebMD thing about my rash and wondered if my lotion would be harmful for a baby. I read Amazon reviews for natural flea treatments and learned that there are none.
Let’s say that my previous efforts with this book were equivalent to the disappointing herbal cigarette from a store called Groovy Vibes, or a bag of mulch obtained at the concert from someone’s questionable cousin. But this time I got, so to speak, the good shit. You eat the Henry James mushrooms, you look upon his dense thicket of sentences, his plodding parade of commas, and suddenly the text, and the entire world, come into insane focus.
Like many women, probably, I feel myself a profound hater in the body of a very friendly, obliging creature, sometimes alarming myself with the speed that my reactions to people and situations catapult from really low-down, mean-ass hate to an almost sickening level of obligingness, as though I were one step away from offering up my womb as a receptacle for everyone’s cares.
Participation in Twitter feels mandatory for people who care about books and writing and want people to read the things they write about books.
Twitter somehow encompasses both sides of the Emily Dickinson dichotomy. On Twitter, the Nobodies have seized hold of the mic and managed to occupy the bog.