Tuesday, August 07, 2007


An exercise copped from Katie Sherrod’s Desert's Child blog (you can click on the link in the blogroll: the post is Playing Tag With Seven Things). I know a few readers who will have fun with this, at least one of whom will enjoy a good excuse to avoid whatever’s pressing at her day job.

1. Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies: I typically do not give away books, because most of the books I now read are from the library: not mine to give, ya know? So, let me answer this question a few different ways, though it’s an insane question, given the hoards of books I have loved through the years. The last book of mine that I gave away was a treasure: Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, a book that I had for close to 20 years: a slim gorgeous haunting fictionalized mosaic of the life of Buddy Bolden, one of the early—and somewhat apocryphal—titans of New Orleans jazz, who spent most of his adult life wasting away at the state asylum in Jackson, Louisiana.

Two books I would give away if I had a mind to do so: Alain Borer’s Rimbaud in Abyssinia and Grace Paley’s Collected Stories. One of my many obsessions is the “silence” of Rimbaud’s years in Africa, after he threw over his life as a poet in France: clearly Borer was obsessed even more than I. An equally compelling aspect of this book is Rosemary Waldrip’s translation: her translations of Rimbaud’s poetry are by far the best and most moving I have read.

I had heard the name Grace Paley through the years, and through some form of my not unusual dysfunctional mental calculus, I had dismissed her out of hand, without having read a word of her prose. I think I may have read some of her poetry, but just as likely not. When I was on the verge of finally meeting her (she was coming to SA for Gemini Ink’s Autograph Series), I read the Collected Stories, and was blown away by the freshness of her voice, and its wonderfully cubist syncopation, English turned on its ear. It was, as I have said before, Padgett Powell before there was a PP, not surprising, given the closeness of Donald Barthelme (PP’s mentor) and Grace.

Though I don’t exactly give their books away, I am always proselytizing PP and his wacky blood brother Barry Hannah.

2. Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music: Probably Chick Corea’s Light As a Feather album. Senior year in college, so that should give you some idea of what else was going on to facilitate the changed way of hearing. The experience took me from listening on the outside to listening within the music, and what a feast there was to listen to: Chick’s rapid fire lyricism, Stanley Clarke’s blowing out the limits of his bass, Joe Henderson’s sax and flute, Airto’s percussion, Flora Purim’s voice straight out of the rainforest. LAAF is not even my favorite Chick/RTF album, much less my favorite anything, but it was clearly the dweller on the threshold. LAAF took me right back to re-hearing Chick’s work on Stan Getz’s Sweet Rain: gorgeous.

3. Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue: Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion. The first movie I bought, though I almost made the mistake of believing I was buying it for a young boy client of mine. The fatherless boy in me weeps from beginning to end. The same with the contemporary version of A Little Princess (NOW we know the secret of the princess cup!). And, since I have watched Tina’s own fatigueless movie countless times, I suppose we must drop in Sense and Sensibility; I haven’t done it that many times yet, but I suspect that the Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice will end up in this category as well.

4. Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief: Ever changing: Alan Bates in the 70s; Stevie Wonder, the same, until the horrifying pap of "I Just Called to Say..." (Stevie possessed by the ghost of The Captain and Tennille, EEK!); Pynchon, until Mason & Dixon, though I am completely back with Against the Day; probably Daniel Day-Lewis; Van Morrison, until, well, until I don't know what, but it's gone, real real gone; those goofy girls in Absolutely Fabulous; probably Mary C. Earle talking about just about anything; this list could get ridiculous, I better just stop...

5. Name a work of art you’d like to live with: Is that live with, or live in? Again, too much to choose from. I already live with one of them: Tina’s own Gwyneth painting. It is iconic: the green mask, the proud woman out of the dark fens. Take a look:
http://www.tinakaragulian.com/Gwyneth.html. Also on the list: Larry Rivers’ painting in the McNay, any of Van Gogh’s electric blue paintings, the Fauves, and I have a feeling there is something out there that I have completely missed.

6. Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life: How in the hell to answer this question: ALL my favorites penetrated my life. Let’s answer it this way: What books were there when you became a real reader, and not just someone who pretended to read? Here they are: spring semester, freshman year, Father John Barth’s (not the non-Father John Barth) class on Religious Dimensions in the Modern Novel: Faulkner’s Light in August and A Fable; Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and The Power and the Glory; Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Just before that was an entire January spent reading all the Hesse I could get my hands on, starting with Siddhartha. Pynchon, of course, blew my mind open; John Gardner’s The Sunlight Dialogues and John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Ebony Wood took me off on yet other adventures, and, of course, Padgett Powell (A Woman Named Drown, Typical, and Edisto) and Barry Hannah (The Tennis Handsome and High Lonesome) laid me to waste. These are not books that penetrated in the same sense that To Kill A Mockingbird (a vision in itself) penetrated Katie Sherrod’s life, but they certainly penetrated my life as a reader and, eventually, as a writer.

7. Name a punch line that always makes you laugh: Not a clue, but two comics who always made laugh hysterically back in their glory days of the ‘70s were Robert Klein (before he ran out of material) and Albert Brooks. I can still pretty much crack up, just by looking at Brooks, waiting for something to explode. The funniest comic I ever saw live was Ellen DeGeneres, long before she made it big, back at a tiny French Quarter theater. I pretty much crack up at just about anything she does, even now.

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