Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Radio On: A Listener's Diary, 28/100

Finally finished Sarah Vowell's Radio On: A Listener's Diary after starting, jeez, 3 months ago? I'd definitely consider it the weakest of her books. But it was her first, and was good enough to cement her writing career. So.

The idea of doing something obsessively for a year and writing about the experience isn't new (ahem). In Radio On the challenge is, you guessed it, listening to the radio, a lot, for a year. And the year is 1996. One of my favorite years! Sure, I was eleven. But I remember it crystal clear. A year dominated by the movies Clueless and The Craft, hair scrunchies, mini-backpacks and Beavis and Butthead. I'm sure some boring political things happened too. But OMG JONATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS.

Even though my brain was stuck in eleven-year-old-girl mode, there were still some "oh yeah I remember when that happened" moments in the book. Kurt Cobain's suicide. The O.J. Simpson trial. Bob Dole being Bob Dole, etc.

Even back then, radio was considered a forgotten medium. It still is -- at least in its original state. I never listen to THE radio anymore. My alarm clock used to wake me each morning with the sounds of annoying morning DJs and auto-tuned millionaires, but I put a stop to even that, now using my cell's more reliable alarm feature. And god knows I got enough of traditional radio working a summer job. For 4 summers, 2003-2006, I had a job in a factory where the work was very repetitive and solitary. The only thing to keep us sane was being able to have a radio and earphones (no tape/CDs). This was before MP3 players practically came free in boxes of Lucky Charms.

So, 8rs a day, 5 days a week, for 14 weeks I would listen to the only 2 decent radio stations I could pick up in our concrete bunker. One was a station that plays nothing but the current top hits, which would be great if you like what's popular with the kids these days. With their hippin' and their hoppin'. The other was the local NPR carrier. Which for a few minutes a day is actually interesting and bearable. Until they break out the free form jazz and I feel like Bill Cosby is behind me holding jello pudding.

Patton Oswalt sums up NPR quite well:

Update: Oh, and look, embedding the video was disabled. So here's the link:

But fast forward to the future and now it's all about pay radio. Or online radio. Pandora, And I shell out $25 every month for two SiriusXM subscriptions (one's for my dad, who listens to entirely way too much doo-wop). They have a channel dedicated to film scores! Be still my heart.

I suppose you could still do the same project today: listen to satellite radio for a year. They have music, talk radio, Howard Stern, etc. But the difference would be how you document it.

What plants Vowell's book firmly in the 90s is the fact that it's an actual book, not a blog. And that's what it feels like you're reading: a printed blog. Which is why it took so long to slosh through. Imagine reading 365 days worth of archived blog postings, even from your most favorite site, in one sitting. Yeah.

So. Spread out over 3 months, I can say I really liked this book. If you're a Nirvana fan, definitely check it out. If you hate Rush Limbaugh, check it out.

Here are some snippets:

Faced with a choice of boring and dumb or boring and highbrow, which would you pick? Baywatch is the most popular television program on the same planet that turns away a million Wagner groupies per year clamoring for Bayreuth Festival tickets. "Here we are now, entertain us."

Something Rush Limbaugh said the other day has been eating at me. He was bragging about being invited to "The Big Smoke," a cigar smokers' protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House. He waxed thus:
We in our society, ladies and gentlemen, have an ever increasing bunch of ninnies who are dead set against anybody enjoying themselves. If you have a good time, somebody's going to be upset. If you have a good time doing something somebody doesn't think you should be doing, then they're going to be angry and they are going to use whatever clout, political or otherwise, they can get you do to stop it... Do you know why people smoke cigars? They like 'em!
Do you know why some men have sex with other men, Rush, you homophobic reactionary? They like to!

There's talk of a return to civility in public discourse. The nice-girl part of me says fine, but sometimes, civility's overrated. After all, wasn't Chamberlain just being civil at Munich when he should have screamed, at the top of his lungs, that he couldn't even stand to sit in the same room as that incarnation of Satan? But no, he politely signed the death certificate for a goodly portion of the Western Hemisphere. And no teacups were broken and no tablecloths were stained. Only the world paid his tab later in madness and ashes, and was an ill-mannered, uncivil, impolite mess now, wasn't it?

I say fight fire with fire. Which is not to say fight stupidity with greater stupidity.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Stranger, 27/100

Seeing as how Albert Camus' The Stranger is supposed to be one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century, I figured I should probably get around to reading it already. It's a short novel filled with so many -isms -- existentialism, nihilism, absurdism -- that it's like taking Philosophy 101 (which I haven't taken). But as with most widely read novels, it has also been widely commented upon. So I won't add much of my own commentary. Be grateful because I would have NO idea what I was talking about (Nietzsche? That's the guy with the awesome mustache, right?).

What I will say is that every single word of the novel stuck with me. There's not a superfluous sentence in the whole book. And the courtroom and imprisonment scenes had my palms sweating, even though I already knew the story and what would happen. I would like to read it over again right now, but I need to move on.

So here are some passages I marked:

Yes, this was the evening hour when--how long ago it seemed!--I always felt so well content with life. Then, what awaited me was a night of easy, dreamless sleep. This was the same hour, but with a difference; I was returning to a cell, and what awaited me was a night haunted by forebodings of the coming day. And so I learned that familiar paths traced in the dusk of summer evenings may lead as well to prisons as to innocent, untroubled sleep.

...on a wide view, I could see that it makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or threescore and ten--since, in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before. Also, whether I died now or fort years hence, this business of dying had to be got through, inevitably. Still, somehow this line of thought wasn't as consoling as it should have been; the idea of all those years of life in hand was a galling reminder!

That was unthinkable, he said; all men believe in God, even those who reject Him. Of this he was absolutely sure; if ever he came to doubt it, his life would lose all meaning. "Do you wish," he asked indignantly, "my life to have no meaning?" Really I couldn't see how my wishes came into it, and I told him as much.

I picked up and old newspaper that was lying on the floor and read it. There was an advertisement of Kruschen Salts and I cut it out and pasted in into an album where I keep things that amuse me in the papers.

A mid-20th century tumblr!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, 24/100

So how are you liking these late 1970s-ish book covers? They doing anything for ya? That guy's sweater needs to be burned.

And whoops! Looks like a skipped #24 is my count to 100. So here it is.

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else is one of the few non-SciFi titles from Ursula LeGuin. I read her novel Malafrena a few years back not knowing it was entirely historical fiction (albeit an imaginary history), and kept expecting wizards or aliens to pop-up at some point.

This short novella is about a teenage boy trying to cope with being an outsider and what his parents/society expect of him. You know, that age-old tale. He meets a girl who's dealing with the same issues and they become friends. They have deep, personal, and philosophical conversations... and yeah you know exactly where this is going before I even finish. Because it's a guy. And a girl. And they're teenagers. The big "can guys and girls be JUST friends?" problem comes up and their friendship suffers under it.

It's a short book but it packs quite a bit in. The story becomes a conversation over what "love" actually is, what it means to be alone vs. part of a group, and the responsibility we have towards others as well as to ourselves. LeGuin captures the teenage experience honestly and realistically. Anyone who has ever been seventeen knows this story.

I think what you mostly do when you find you really are alone is to panic. You rush to the opposite extreme and pack yourself into groups--clubs, teams, societies, types. You suddenly start dressing exactly like the others. It's a way of being invisible. The way you sew the patches on the holes in your blue jeans becomes incredibly important. If you do it wrong you're not with it. You have to be with it. That's a peculiar phrase, you know? With it. With what? With them. With the others. All together. Safety in numbers. I'm not me. I'm a basketball letter. I'm a popular kid. I'm my friend's friend. I'm a black leather growth on a Honda. I'm a member. I'm a teenager. You can't see me, all you can see it us. We're safe.

And if We see You standing alone by yourself, if you're lucky we'll ignore you. If you're not lucky, we might throw rocks. Because we don't like people standing there with the wrong kind of patches on their blue jeans reminding us that we're each alone and none of us is safe.

I guess I tend to think that important events should be solemn, and very grand, with muted violins playing in the background. It's hard to realize that the really important things are just normal little happenings and decisions, and when they turn on the background music and the spotlights and the uniforms, nothing important is going to happen at all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and You Are a Little Bit Happier than I Am, 25-26/100

Here are some lines I enjoyed from Tao Lin's book of poetry, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, in order of pagination:

from "eleven page poem, page nine":
my unit of communication is the 200-page novel
always remember that i am better than you, according to me
small feelings of permanence later get wrapped and sold on amazon

from the untitled hamster poem on page 63:
'They found a slug in a tree and like 50 ants climbed on top of the slug to try to kill it but the slug jumped out of the tree to try to kill itself but it didn't die by falling and they attacked it more but the slug oozed this sticky mucus and the ants got caught in it and the small ants went and got soil and put it all over the slug and it soaked up the mucus and then sawed the slug's body apart with their pinchers and brought it back to the babies,' the hamster friend says.

The hamster tells its hamster friend that what it just typed is the name of their new press if they just add the word books at the end.

from "fourteen of twenty-four":
innate in all taco bell patrons is the possibility
of phenomenal poetry--something to look forward to

from "eighteen of twenty-four": instill an awareness of death
directly into the reader's facial expression
is still one of the most powerful literary devices available
to distill the essence of any argument or rhetorical situation
pretend you are speaking from an enormous distance
and the audience doesn't exist
and you are not the person who is speaking

from "twenty-one of twenty-four":
one can claim ownership only of what exists within one's skin
and then maybe only what the brain can directly move the atoms of
from one's own perspective the brain seems to own itself
we observe the brain from an abstract distance
we observe each other from a physical distance
the brain observes nothing from no distance
therefore everything is going to be OK

Here are some lines I enjoyed from Tao Lin's book of poetry, You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am, in order of pagination:

from "spring break":
i lie on my bed and i wait for your phone call
the only person in the world that i like
my favorite person
not god but a person

and i know you can't save me, you didn't create the universe in seven days
you're just another person who isn't in love with me
but maybe you can do something, still, i guess ...

from "Appreciate Me For Everything Good I Have Done in the Past":
My demeanor in social situations
can be described as 'low-level panic attack.'

from "At That Leftover Crack Concert Two Years Before I Met You":
I think I would panic and drive into a building if I was in Manhattan and a fire truck had its sirens on. In Florida when I'm driving I always use ambulances as an excuse to make illegal U-turns and to drive over medians and do other fun and provocative things with my car. One time an ambulance was coming and I made a U-turn and saw a tree and calmly drove there and knocked it down then saw a shrub and went to that and ran it over like a lawn mower. I felt patriotic because I was trying harder than everyone else to get out of the way of the ambulance.