Haven’t been reading much lately; haven’t really missed it. I’m writing a novella/short novel/jumbo story and am on the lookout for anything that might serve as inspiration: biographies and memoirs of musicians; any hyperbolic first-person account of the narrator’s schlubby acquaintance, a la Oscar Wao or Humboldt’s Gift (as recommended by my advisor); stories set in Butte, Montana; stories with interesting mother/son relationships. This next one has the latter:
We Disappear by Scott Heim : Astonishingly, I am reading another brand new book. This is Heim’s first, I believe, since Mysterious Skin in 1995. I’ve reached the point where the novel begins to justify its strange premise by unveiling the deeper meanings involved. Specifically, the “We” in the title refers not so much to the missing children that mother and son obsess over, but the mother and son themselves, one dying of cancer and the other always high on meth. It helps to know that both characters are a little bit out of their minds, because even though Heim makes every attempt to make the story plausible, so much of their motivation defies easy description. I feel more strongly and consistently about this book than I have about any other that I could and probably would write something like this myself. This includes the excessive use of lists and semicolons; the ornate but pretty language that doesn’t seem to come easy to its writer; the ideas, objects and ways of life with which the novel concerns itself. Heim includes a list in the back of the book of the albums he listened to while writing it (I don’t find him the least bit crazy for doing this, though I guess some writers can’t have any distractions while they’re working) and I wasn’t surprised to find many of my ambient and electronic faves among them: Future Sound of London, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Low, M83, Boards of Canada, Angelo Badalamenti. This all must be ideal music to channel the strange and somber frequencies along which Heim’s mind clearly operates.
Jazz by Paul Tanner, David W. Megill, Maurice Gerow : Boring but marginally useful textbook for my jazz class that appears to have been dumbed down from previous editions. Thank God we’re also reading this…
Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, edited by Robert Walser : Source material going back to the origins of jazz. Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton are particularly eloquent when reflecting on their experiences and exaggerating their own importance.
Other recent reads:
The Listening Book by W.A. Mathieu : Corny but entirely genuine series of observations to help the reader get in touch, so to speak, with the hearing mechanism. There are about ten sentences worth of real wisdom, which almost made it worthwhile.
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday : Great book, whose best qualities have more or less escaped my mind by now. I had a sense of vast spaces and movement within them, on a cosmic level that few books achieve. At the end, when Abel returns home, it is unclear to me whether men still run through the canyon, or if these are just the ghosts and echoes of previous generations. It is an ending that is not as hopeless as it could be, like many things I have encountered recently (the beautifully sad Wendy and Lucy, for example, which like the other two best movies I have seen recently—Chuck and Buck and The Wrestler—strikes me as a literary achievement as well as a cinematic one).
Gilead was great. My Oscar favorites (with only the Winslets and Changelina yet unseen):
Director: Gus Van Sant
Actor: Sean Penn
Actress: Melissa Leo
Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
Original Screenplay: Milk
Adapted Screenplay: Doubt