Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I hate recommendations, but here's one...

so my friend reminded today of something that i wrote below about not liking to take recommendations. i.e., i like to discover stuff--bands, books, movies, etc. (what else is there, really?)--on my own. this is not to say that i don't take note of stuff other people are into, but it's sort of just that: if somebody tells me about something that sounds cool, i write it down and sort of wait until i feel like getting around to checking it out.

isn't it weird how the most pleasurable thing to do can be to play someone a song you really love, but when someone else plays you a song they really love, it can be tedious? that's a really selfish thing to own up to... but it's weird how it can happen even with someone whose taste you really trust. i think it's the idea of being put on the spot, like, "Check out this song RIGHT NOW and love it as much as i do RIGHT NOW!"

but then that brings up the question, How best to intro someone to something you really dig? it's a tough one... you can lend it to them unsolicited or copy it for them and let them check it out at their leisure. but sometimes when people burn or lend me CDs i didn't ask for, i just never check them out. but sometimes i do and i'm totally blown away. i think a big part of all this is that my life is so media-saturated anyway--since i have to isten to, watch and read stuff for work--that when i have free time i want to decide exactly what i'm going to take in. aaaaaanyway, something to think about.

this is all by way of introducing my thoughts on Nicholson Baker's "The Fermata," a very intense and funny book i just read that was given to me by my friend John Atkinson of Chiasm and Aa fame. John gave me this book a while back as a b-day gift and though it looked intriguing, i must admit i let it sit for a while. (now be honest, how many books that you've been given as gifts have you actually read? especially when you have no previous knowledge of the book? probably not many. a book is a huge time investment and it takes a lot of trust to dive into one just b/c someone else says so, even if that person rules, as John does).

but i needed another book stat after finishing "The Age of Innocence" and i picked this one up over Thanksgiving weekend and was hooked after like five minutes. basically, it's a fictional memoir of a thirtysomething career temp who has the ability to freeze time. i.e., the entire world stops moving but he can move around and interact with everything and everyone that's standing still. (just so ya know, the book's title is taken from a symbol in music notation, which you see above, that calls for a note to be held for as long as the interpreter wishes. a pretty damn good encapsulation of the notion of stopping-time-at-will...) this concept could yield any number of narratives, but this one is like 99% sexual, i.e., the character uses his power almost entirely in the interest of undressing, spying on or otherwise violating women.

the most interesting thing about the book to me--okay, well the most interesting thing besides the nonstop graphic sex...--was how the whole thing is sort of written as a justification. i.e., the narrator, Arno Strine (great name for a pervert), bends over backward to describe why what he's doing isn't perverted or wrong or deviant. he stresses constantly how he undresses women out of love, and if he chooses to mess with them in any way, he does it to add spice to their lives.

like there's one great scene where he goes to the library and uses what he calls "Moving Psi Squares" on a woman studying next to him. basically what this means is he has these tiny squares of paper cut from porn magazines and he stops time, arranges the squares around the book the woman is reading and flicks time on and off so that the woman gets like a subconscious glimpse of them. he does a bunch of other stuff along these lines, like spies on women in bookstores and then freezes time and writes dirty lines on the page they're about to turn to, or leaves porn stories he's written just under the hands of women sunbathing on the beach. all that sort of stuff.

but again, there's this constant notion that what he's doing isn't that bad or harmful or anything like that. nevertheless, it comes through often that Arno isn't entirely comfortable with what he's up to. he's always going around asking people what they would hypothetically do given his powers and he becomes really disturbed when a security guard tells him he would go around raping women. Arno rarely considers himself in a deviant light; he basically portrays his crimes against women as works of conceptual art. As he says, "Unlike any of those questioned, what I want to to do, and what I in fact end up doing... is to live out my perennial wish to insert some novelty into the lives of women." almost like he's a superhero who performs clandestine acts of charity or something.

anyway, obviously there's all this ethical and psychological stuff swirling around, but it's really the way the book is written that makes it great. basically Arno is superarticulate, funny and charming, so you're listening to this total sicko, but totally being taken in. the book is filled with his hilarious observations. having temped for a little while, i especially enjoyed the part where he's talking about being too old for temping and considering what the people in the offices where he works might be thinking of him:

"People are somewhat puzzled by me when I first show up at their office--What is this unyoung man, this thirty-five-year-old man, dogng temping? Maybe he has a criminal past, or maybe he's lost a decade to drugs, or: Maybe He's an Artist?"

so the whole thing is filled with awesomely witty tidbits like that and great extrapolations of what the mundane thoughts of someone who was actually able to stop time might be. at one point when Arno loses his powers, he becomes frustrated and whines, "What if I never accomplished a successful Drop [i.e., time-stoppage] again? Horrible. I wanted immediate controlled nudity."

anyway, the book is really, really extreme in its sex-obsessiveness, so if that's off-putting, there's no getting around it. but overall i found totally hilarious, pretty damn thought-provoking and even a little sad. it's easy to condemn Arno, but it's impossible not to see a little of yourself in him. Baker makes sure that taking the high road with regard to the character is just not possible: he's too normal, too likable, too witty, etc.

it's been a long, long while since i've read Camus's "The Fall," but i seem to remember it being somewhat similar in that it was basically one big long confession/justification for behaving like an asshole. it's a pretty cool impetus for a book, the whole "Look, I've done some fucked up shit, but I'm really very level-headed, and you'd do the same given this set of circumstances" thing. it's a surefire way to make your audience squirm a little. anyway, it's a hell of a book and a pretty quick read. so thank you, John! i'm glad i got over my dumb inertia about taking recommendations and just read the damn thing.


Moandji Ezana said...

"isn't it weird how the most pleasurable thing to do can be to play someone a song you really love, but when someone else plays you a song they really love, it can be tedious?"

Actually, I hate playing people songs I love. I find it nerve-wracking and tedious. I'll get bored and frustrated 30 seconds into it and feel like turning it off.

Maybe it's because I don't really like being in a listening situation (you know, sit-down-and-listen-to-CD) with other people.

Anonymous said...

glad you got around to it - I don't often give books at presents for all the obvious reasons you note, but when I do it's b/c I am 100% positive that a person rly needs to read the book. and you would be even less likely to read it if I just said, 'hey, go read this book sometime'. I feel like I have a million things to say about this book, but I don't remember it clearly enough and for some reason my copy disappeared a few years ago.

anyway, I will just strongly, strongly, strongly recommend that you also check out Baker's "The Mezzanine," which was his first book and is basically perfect, especially for reading while on your lunch break, commuting, etc. imagine more or less the same earnest-geek-genius narrator writing an intensely focused and footnoted book about his lunch hour, but about a million times better than that sounds like it could possibly be. 120 or so pages of srsly transcendent musings on the minutae of life, so many LOLz etc, probably my favorite book evar. you know, whenever you get a chance, no pressure etc