Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Friday, November 17, 2006

Failure of the Day: Consumption

It’s been a very good year for books. New releases from Martin Amis, Haruki Murakami, and David Mitchell were the highlights, but I’ve only just dug into the next three of Canongate’s myth-retelling series, so it’s still a wide-open field.

Mitchell’s Black Swan Green was the book of the year for me. I also really enjoyed Amis’s House of Meetings (which won’t even be released in the U.S. until January; my subtle and nuanced hints to Chris—and product links to Amazon.UK—as my birthday approached were not in vain) although it made me realize that, to my surprise, I am not very good reader. You’d think I’d be a good reader, I do it for a living, but it turns out that I kind of suck at it.

My problem, and it is especially severe with Martin Amis, is that when the writing is that good on a sentence level, I simply stop paying attention to everything else about the book. Amis is my second-favorite novelist of all time, and I realized last month that I don’t know what most of his books are about. I read them, I enjoyed them, some of them I savored, but I don’t know—or at least I certainly didn’t retain any information about—what actually happens in them.

I have the same problem with Aaron Sorkin. I am given to understand that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is not a very good show—that’s what most everyone on Television Without Pity says, anyway. Yet every time I read a critique of the show I am just dumbstruck. What do they mean, a storyline was ridiculous or a plot hole was big enough to drive a truck through? Didn’t they hear the sentences? Didn’t they hear the economy of language, the precision and concision? Who the fuck cares about the story? Just shut up and listen to the people walk down hallways and talk!

The new Joanna Newsom CD came out this week to frankly the best reviews I’ve ever seen a record get, topping off quite a good music year as well. I’ve not yet picked it up because I’m a moron and I've only just now remembered that I can get it on iTunes and I don’t need to wait until the weekend trip to Streetlight.

The new Mountain Goats record still doesn’t quite pinch me in the spot, but it gets the Gold for Best Couplet:
And then I think I hear angels in my ears
Like marbles being thrown against a mirror

Which is even more remarkable when you hear it sung and realize that it’s a perfectly legitimate end-rhyme.

I have to give the Silver to the very good new Robyn Hitchcock CD, his best since Jewels for Sophia. Ole Tarantula features a psychedelic little number that includes the pair:
Fuck me, baby
I’m a trolleybus

Which tickles me for reasons I can’t quite enunciate.

Finally, this is also the very first year in which Chris and I will take two, count ’em, two! vacations. We’re off to Las Vegas with several friends for Thanksgiving and to cap off anniversary season. Wish us well, we'll be back just in time for my mood to sour at the prospect of a whole month of christmas music.


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