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Over at, Linda Holmes has written an essay calling for all of us NPR listeners (and New Yorker readers, and so on) to recognize the fact that we will never be able to read everything we want to. Nor will we be able to listen to or watch everything on our cultural bucket lists. It is just plain numbers, she says. (How many books can you read in a month, how many months will you live if you live to be 85, what number does that give you? It’s not enough)

Holmes differentiates reactions to this realization into two categories: culling and surrendering. In the former, people take a determined stance to reduce what they consider worthy of attention: I will not watch TV, it is all trash. And while “The Real Wives of Orange County” is likely no great loss to them, they may have really enjoyed “Mad Men” or old Poirot mysteries on A&E or the Superbowl. They won’t know, though, because they have culled TV from their cultural consumption. Dale’s previous post on all the books he won’t read falls (somewhat shakily) into this category: Jane Austen is not worth his time. (Don’t throw things at him. I know she’s a good writer but I am also pretty convinced he can live a happy existence without reading Pride and Prejudice.)

Surrender is the strategy Holmes herself appears to advocate. In this frame of mind, we are completely aware that WE ARE GOING TO MISS SOME GREAT SHIT and we just have to be ok with that. So, for example, if Dale dies without having read Die Blechtrommel or Doktor Faustus (both of which he will not, he tells me, ever read), that does not make him a less-well-read individual. He just knows that there is a finite amount of literature he is going to ingest and he wants to enjoy what he does read and not beat himself about the head and shoulders for not reading Thomas Mann’s greatest novel.

Holmes reminds us that being “well read” is not a destination at which you arrive. It is a process. Are you interested in the cultural production of the world in which you live? How big is that world? I feel compelled to know a bit about what is going on in contemporary German literature, as well as on the US literary market. My desire for an expanded world reduces, in pure page volume, the percentage of what I can know of each. If your cultural wold is the American Midwest in poetry in the twentieth century, you can probably hope to read most of its literary output before you die.

As a professor of literature, I have a bit of difficulty with the surrender notion. We in black, with our Foucault oder Bhaba tucked under our arms, are generally more inclined to talk like the cullers: who me, watch sports? ick. Not worth it when I could be reading Kant. Surrender implies that we know that we cannot know everything and that someone out there will have read more of x, y, or z than we and then we aren’t experts after all and aaaaaaaahhhhhhh. . . . . . .

But deep down inside I have surrendered to the knowledge that I’m just not going to get to it all, nor should I try. I want to always be reading something and am very pleased that the past year or so has meant a return to pleasure reading for me. I’m working through the books that I bought at the MLA, as well as some genre fiction, and have started writing a story of my own. (shhhh) And, in solidarity with Dale, I will now list the Books I Will Not Read (with a healthy side dish of Books I Have Given Up On):

Tolstoy, War and Peace (I brought this with me to Hamburg when I spent my junior year of college abroad. My logic was: I will miss reading English but don’t want to pay a premium for buying British paperbacks. I’ll bring THIS GINORMOUS book and it will tide me over for months and months.) Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know squat about Russia in the nineteenth century and was totally confused about why they were all speaking French and how in the hell in Napoleon get there, anyway? I gave up about 1/4 way through it and know that I just can’t bear to trudge through all of those pages again.

And if I’m really honest here, I’m going to just clump all sorts of Russian literature together and say: won’t get to it. Someone told me to read The Master and Margarita a couple summers ago (blog post here) and I enjoyed it. But it didn’t make me yearn for more.

I’ll also agree with Dale on Faulkner. If any of you read my post on The Sound and the Fury, you’ll know why. Ick.

Autobiographies of any political figure, ever. Clinton, Bush, Bush, Obama, Rumsfeld, whoeverthehellyouare: I don’t care. Reading what you would have to say about the world would spike my blood pressure. I also don’t need to read Master & Commander-style narratives that talk about the political or military exploits of those who never got around to writing their autobiographies.

Any book with the words “chicken soup” in the title, unless it actually involves a dead chicken and a pot of water with veggies.

I am sure there are more. Oh yes, I am sure. But right now I’ve got to run and read more Sookie Stackhouse 🙂


Written by Jennifer

April 20, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Bands I’ve Seen

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Saw a list like this over on dchud’s blog, and wondered if, for one, I could actually remember all of the bands I’ve seen in the last quarter century or so, and if I could, if my list could even begin to hold a candle to his. I have to try. Here goes, in no particular order other than the random recall mechanism known as human memory:

Grateful Dead
Leftover Salmon
The Minutemen
Porno for Pyros
Midnight Oil
They Might Be Giants
Lyle Lovett
Willie Nelson
Beau Soleil
The Blasters
The Beat Farmers
Billy Bragg
Echo and the Bunnymen
The Producers
Modern English
Mason Williams
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (oh yeah)
Ziggy Marley
Alex de Grassi

Surely I have forgotten some, but there is likely a reason for that. It’s a pretty modest list, and I realized while making it that I have never been to one of those massive stadium or arena concerts, which explains the absence of certain mega-artists from the list, since those are the only venues they play. I am likely just too cheap to shell out the dough and always have been. I may be the only kid ever to graduate from high school in Denver without seeing a show at Red Rocks.

Regrets are few. I am still pissed about missing the 1984 Talking Heads show at Red Rocks. May the ticket window wench who wanted me to get in line behind the guppies lined up for Stevie Nicks/Joe Walsh tickets (it didn’t even sell out!–I have forgiven Joe Walsh, but Stevie Nicks is still on my list) suffer from terrible gas all her days. When I came back after the Nicks line had dissipated, Talking Heads had sold out. Yes, that was the Stop Making Sense tour. Yes, I am bitter.

Also regret refusing an offer of free tickets to see U2 at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver in 1982. They were unknown back then, and a guy in my ninth grade class got grounded and offered them to me (I seem to recall they were $4). I said, who are they, and passed. May I also suffer from terrible gas for being so damn stupid.

Last, but not least, the leisurely breakfast Jennifer and I had back in 1998 instead of getting our butts out the door to buy tickets to Die Roten Rosen (Die Toten Hosen doing their Christmas jag–priceless) in Berlin is still stuck in my throat. How did I possibly think that would not sell out in, like, 30 seconds, which it more or less did. May my gas be compounded by piles, whatever they are. Sound nasty.

So, at the ripe old age I have now achieved, something to make these past disappointments melt away: I just scored tickets to see the Leningrad Cowboys in Leipzig. They are playing three blocks from my house. It is a dream come true.

Oh, and that Dead show in Telluride in 1987 was a good call, too.

Written by Dale

September 23, 2009 at 7:11 am

Posted in life, music

Must learn Icelandic first …

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… before we emigrate to the place where obviously my soul was born, even if my birth certificate says Ohio.

That’s a bit overstated, but tonight I watched the documentary/concert flick on Icelandic music, Screaming Masterpiece, and besides rediscovering that Björk Gudmundsdottir (aka just Björk) is both a creative genius and a voice unlike any other, I found myself scribbling down the names of bands to go look up after watching the flick. While looking up one, Apparat Organ Quartet, I discovered that their homepage is really just a MySpace page (hey, Iceland isn’t rolling in dough). Glancing at their friends, I saw one named Olafur, an older white gent who looked vaguely familiar. Olafur, as in Olafur Ragnar Grímsson, better known in diplomatic circles as the president of Iceland.

So, weighing the pros and cons of heads of state, as an American, I have a president who starts wars, disdains the poor, and is really just trying to make his friends rich. Oh, and he’s a humorless dick, too. Were I an Icelander, I’d have a president who not only has a MySpace page (that shows a rich sense of humor), but also invites rather loud and rowdy bands such as Trabant to play in the presidential residence. I suppose 600 years of humiliation at the hands of the Danes has made the Icelanders just a bit more humble and idiosyncratic than a long stint as a superpower has done with us.

Truly, emigration seems like a reasonable option at this point …

Written by Dale

January 20, 2008 at 12:20 am

Posted in music, politics