Read, of course. But I read what I want to read, which is books, which is an another thing entirely. The object of script-reading is to get through it fast, while a book is for lingering; screenplay words on the page are mere instructions for spectacle-making, while a novel can be about the language; a screenplay always has an agenda (or three), while good literature tends to be less a sell, less insistent and impatient.
Generally you tend to see movies in one sitting, but you don't read a book that way. Maybe that's why, while I do associate certain movies with certain times in my life and can remember, say, who my date was when I saw a certain film (e.g. first Godard flick, Masculin Feminin, seen with the woman I lost my virginity with--like I'd forget that?!), my associative book memories tend to be even more specific and visceral. You see a movie, but you live with a book.
Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, for example, will forever bring up the greasy fried smell and taste of Chicken McNuggets for me -- because during the most miserable winter of my life, when I briefly held down one of the few office jobs I ever had, I read the bulk of that massive but lovable tome in a MacDonalds down the block from where I worked, those pitiful lunches being all I could afford at the time.
Over the past Thanksgiving holiday, I read three books, and each of these reads, I realized, is already linked in my mind with a specific sense-memory, however incongruous, based on where I happened to be at the time and what I was doing. Seems my brain can only do the one trick -- whatever sticks, that's it (Nickleby = nuggets: end of story). So herewith are the oddball associations I'm stuck with. (It's my mind, and all I can do is live with it, y'know?)
1) Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision and the Dinosaur Reading Light
The rave reviews earned by Kunkel, editor of lit-mag n + 1, made this a required read for the likes of me, and while I was slightly underwhelmed (damn the hype! hype must die!), he does have an engaging voice and spins a pretty good shaggy dog story (LRC blog relevance: it is, ultimately, a romantic comedy). His hero is afflicted with such chronic indecision that he learns a name for this problem (the disease abulia), not that he can decide whether or not the drugs he's taken to counteract it are really helping. While protagonist Dwight B. Wilmerding wended his way from NYC to the jungles of Ecuador, I was flying from L.A. to NYC and then joining my folks on a train to Baltimore where my brother lives, and it was on this train that the dinosaur intruded and claimed its Indecision association.
There being no seats in coach, book in hand, I set up camp at a table in the dining car opposite a young woman who was reading a John Irving novel. We talked novels for a bit, establishing that we were both total reader-addicts, before doing that friendly but clear, respectful eye-avert all dedicated readers do, and dove back into our respective texts. A little further along, the lights in the car went out for a minute and I saw a mirror-like pained look of literatus interruptus on her face. "I'm surprised you don't have a reading light," I said. "Oh, I do," she replied, "but I left it at home." She looked a little sheepish. "The round-your-neck kind?" I asked (that's what I'd left at home). "Or the book cover clip-on?"
"Mine's a dinosaur," she admitted. "You wear it on your head, and when you click the light on, it roars."
Turns out she got hers through the Discovery channel, and I'm currently trying to track one down, my life clearly incomplete without it, but at any rate, there's Indecision, for the rest of my days: Dwight in the Amazon... with dinosaur book light hat.
2) Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress meet the Slapstick
In Baltimore proper, I finished Kunkel and moved onto this delightful little book, which I'd been meaning to get to ever since it came out in paperback (excellent packaging) and (LRC blog relevance) it's a romantic dramedy that was recently made into a movie. Balzac does that wonderful literary magic feat of transporting you to a milieu you'd otherwise never experience -- in this case, a remote mountain village in the time of China's infamous Cultural Revolution -- and it's beautifully shaped, leading up to a closing line that suddenly makes the entire book snap into resonant place in your head and heart (come to think of it, Indecision has a similarly cool final sentence, if not Balzac's more classic form-and-content integrity).
I was nearly done with this short book when the Merry Mernits (as our small, tight crew is known) visited Baltimore's Dime Museum. This is a funky Mom'n'Pop establishment that recreates the sometimes bogus, sideshow-freakish fare found in early American museums, which were more Barnum and Bailey than MOMA. Along with antique medical devices and creepy mummy stuff, there's outrageous (e.g. a stuffed two-headed calf, a framed, fossilized turd supposedly belonging to Abraham Lincoln) and groan-inducing exhibits (e.g. a "Giant Bat!" which was, in fact, a humongous long, wooden... bat). And there I came upon, to my astonishment, an actual slap stick.
Weirdly enough, a student in my current rom-com class had just raised the question this past week: where does the term "slapstick" come from? I'd phumphered out a makeshift guess-answer -- vaudevillians maybe batted each other's butts with sticks on stage? But here was not only the artifact -- a long, thick wooden handle whose far end opened up, via a hinge, creating a kind of rounded, snapping-jaws head -- but the history:
"A blank cartridge inserted between the hinged halves exploded when the slapstick was struck on an offending bottom. This gizmo is the origin of 'slapstick comedy.'"
There you are and there you have it. And for me, already immersed in a fable that did in fact use physical comedy to play against its poignancy, it was no major synapse leap to crown Balzac's Chinese violin, its antique leather suitcase filled with old contraband books and its little red seamstress slippers with the Dime Museum's slapstick.
3) Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park and Some Flaming Cheese
You're either with the American Psycho thing or you're not (like Lolita, a severely Guilty Pleasure book) but if you are, this read's inevitable (Note: LRC relevance is absolutely NIL, but hey -- just because I'm into romantic comedy, why do people assume I'm not into dark? I can dark with the best of you, and this is black, black humor -- mordantly, compulsively entertaining for the first half, and then genuinely disturbing as Ellis goes all Stephen King on his own ass. Halfway into this vivid nightmare of a novel, as the haunted author realizes the psycho killer he imagined has now materialized in the world, taking cues from Ellis's own Psycho, there's some literal creepy slime to contend with, along with a possessed carnivorous bird doll. I was actually relieved to have to put the book down and join some friends for dinner.
Speciality of Uncle Nick's NYC Greek eaterie was a cheese dish that the waiters bore into the dining room with arm aloft, the platter ablaze with foot-high flames, everybody clapping, crying "hoopah!" every time. There was something endearing and cheering about it, this idea that even in the heart of modern Cosmopolitania, the simple spectacle of a cheese pie on fire could wow the crowd.
And this was what came back to me later that night, when reading Lunar Park in bed had me uneasily glancing at the shadows -- it was a little humanity touchstone I rubbed in the midst of his chilly, black-holed world. People could be monsters, yes, but they were also children.
Kunkel, Sijie, and Ellis? Dinosaur, slapstick and flaming cheese -- these foolish things remind me of you.