Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paper and Pens for Everyone!

For about five minutes today I thought I would see David Sedaris at Proctors Theater in Schenectady in a couple of weeks, but that thought was quickly dashed when I saw the ticket prices, which started at $95. Which isn’t to say that David isn’t worth $95 (I mean, he probably is), but I think my problem is the idea of the ticket price. Did I think the tickets would be $12? Um, maybe. And also, I did wonder what exactly we would be seeing for $95. The only other time I have been to Proctors Theater was when I took my daughters to see The Nutcracker there some years ago and there was, in fact, a live horse onstage pulling a carriage. I’m not drawing any conclusions here exactly, but maybe there is more to this show than just David standing in front of a lectern and reading from his latest book. Even though David standing and reading is pretty much all you’d need for a good time. (However, David being pulled onstage by a live horse might actually be worth the so-called price of admission.)

I know that David has to make a living and all and I’m not arguing against that, but it makes me wonder if I’m not going because of the ticket price (and I think I have mentioned that there were times when literally the only books I could read were David’s), then who else isn’t going? And we can all imagine who is going and how David’s fabulous chain-smoking mother would have hated them all. But then it occurs to me that maybe someone getting paid lots of money for being funny and a good writer is exactly right. I mean, if you have something worthwhile to offer shouldn’t you actually be rewarded for it? Shouldn’t David get to live a life of luxury simply for being a kind of human antidepressant? Maybe.

I mean, we all agree that J.K. Rowling was well-rewarded, right? Here was this poor, single mom who could only write in the few hours when her daughter was napping, and yet somehow, during these few hours, she managed to write all of the first Harry Potter book. (For this alone, I think she should have been rewarded. Most of my own writing ends up happening when I should be doing something else. Like right now I should be researching the Civil War, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But first.) So suddenly J.K. Rowling is rich and famous and we love her story, we all just love it. Because her books are fantastic and she worked so hard to get where she is! And then there are other authors, no less talented, who had a much easier ride. And we wonder if maybe they should have struggled more or shouldn’t be getting quite so much money. It’s like when your favorite band gets signed to a major record label and you immediately decide that they’ve sold out. (Is this an apt metaphor for these modern times? What exactly is a major record label?)

But think about the best books you’ve ever read, how they’ve stayed with you forever. How someone was able to take mere words and turn them into pictures in your mind. Shouldn’t everyone who ever did that for you get to live in a nice big house with maybe a lifelong supply of paper and pens? (I mean, actually I think that everyone should, if they so choose, get to live in a nice big house with a lifelong supply of paper and pens, but that is precisely the direction our country has been furiously heading away from.) Though, of course, this line of thinking leads me back to the idea that David Sedaris should be for The People and maybe his tickets could be a little less pricey. Is my love and devotion simply not enough for this guy? I mean, really.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Based On No Recommendations

Sometimes you find a book and it will be exactly the right book to read exactly when you need to be reading it. Or like a few months ago when a friend suggested I read Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts/The Day of the Locust, which were both not only perfect but were exactly what I needed to be reading at that time. And this I have to say is rare for me actually since, and I have to be straight up about this, I don’t like book recommendations. Probably the worst thing someone could get me as a gift is a book. That’s truly insane, but it is the truth. I might read about a book and then want to get it, but when people I like and respect tell me about good books they are reading, well, it has almost the opposite effect. It feels like, and maybe this is the problem, homework. Yeah, fine, force this book on me and I will suddenly have no interest in it. However, I can easily be tricked into reading something in a much more subtle way.

Once many years ago my friend Rachel told me about how she saw some high school kid reading Brideshead Revisted on the subway and what thrilled her was how he had a huge grin on his face the entire time he was reading. This made me read the book. Or if a book (City of Thieves by David Benioff) is just lying on someone’s coffee table, say, and I pick it up and the person says, Oh my god, that book was fantastic! I will say, Oh really? And then a few weeks later take it out of the library. (Note: that book was fantastic.) And sometimes an approach like, Well, I really liked this book, but whatever, works wonders for me.

It’s not so much that I don’t want to read what other people are reading. Except try as I might I could not get into The Corrections. And I don’t feel like reading those Girl with the etc. books. Or the Twilight books because, well. And since there is always the panic with every single book I read that once I am done I am certain that I will never read another good book again, you’d think that I would like book recommendations. But I just usually need to get to books in a very round-about way. So that it seems like I’m the one who decided to read the book without any outside intervention.

The strangest (and possibly unrelated) thing about all this is what I end up reading when I have to kill time in a bookstore. An entire store of books to choose from and I will end up reading, oh, I don’t know, Kathy Griffin’s autobiography (Brooke Shields is really nice!). Or some graphic novels that I always mean to buy but never do. So you could say that left to my own devices I don’t always make the wisest choices. But they are my choices! And usually when someone has lent me or bought me a book, I will either try to read it and fail or put it aside for a long time and eventually read it when I am good and ready. I can’t fight this weird resistance to book recommendations. But I do always take note of everything everyone else is reading.

Because really it’s just the approach that matters. I think this is because the most vivid memory I have of this sort of thing is my mother, for some reason uncharacteristically low key, handing me the book The Catcher in the Rye one day the summer before high school, and calmly saying, I think you might like this. Just that simple sentence, as though it hardly mattered at all. And it seemed to me that there was no reason at all not to read it. And so I did.