Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Last night I wanted to do this thing I used to do when I couldn't sleep, which is pluck out a book from my shelf without looking, find a good part, and then try to sleep after reading a couple of these random excerpts. Anyway, the lucky winners of last night's attempt were Thomas Lux's New & Selected Poems and Alex Garland's The Coma. And I liked both excerpts enough, so I'll share them with you here.

From The Coma:

"A final thought occurs to me... It's the formulation I made while standing on top of the building opposite the bookstore: You wake, you die.

The reason is this. Everybody dreams. Everybody dreams, but nobody has ever managed to tell me what their dream was like. Not so that I really understood what they saw or felt. Every dream that anyone ever has is theirs alone and they never managed to share it. And they never managed to remember it either. Not truly or accurately. Not as it was. Our memories and our vocabularies aren't up to the job."

I picked up The Coma at the Edinburgh Int'l. Book Fair almost exactly a year ago. It had just come out, and we attended his talk and he let us interview him and he was really nice and I bought The Coma even though I wasn't planning to, just to get it signed. But it's a very good book. Kafkaesque, though I usually dislike that term. Very precise, with perfect accompanying illustrations from his father Nicholas. It's short, you can finish it in a couple of hours (I read it on the plane ride home, along with Frank Cottrell Boyce's Millions). Though he's only written 3 books, Garland's one of my favorite writers.

Thomas Lux:


You've seen them, these semi-urban birds
who live, not in, but on the edge of great cities.
No longer wild -- of the cornfield, or resting high
in rafters of deserted tobacco barns. They venture
to the borders, but will not cross, where city sends
its last tendrils out and park gives edge
to woods, where the first lawns
larger than billiard tables grow
each block a little larger
with the houses. These crows

like old and gnarly pines
to graze beneath, aloof, and to sit in. They are not
so bold as smart and seem to know that laws exist
against the discharge of shotguns upon them.
Old blue-black aristocrats, they prefer
to saunter, at midday, across lawns
of pine nuts abundant, the best spots
to steal what lesser birds hold dear.
Maybe this is why a groups of them is murder.
They are everywhere where they never used to be.

I hate to see it: a bird so crafty, so sure,
moving in where it's easier to eat
and they grow dim. What logic
sends them here and not so far away
only fieldhands know them? Maybe
they come to us, to live among us
so they can claim it as their choice -
which makes them proud and bright,
though does not cease their doom,
nor preserve their haughty, haunting cry.

I was in a bookstore in Boston in the summer of 2000 when I came upon this book. I'd never heard of him but took the book down and read several pieces; I liked them. But when I got to this poem, it was just weird. Neva and I had just gotten together around this point, and then I had to leave for vacation for a little under a month, to Boston AND New York, my first return to the US since 1990. So we were missing each other like crazy, and I had just emailed her a really long letter, which included a bit about being scared of the crows in Boston because they were huge and ink-black and would swoop down and try to take my ears off. She even turned my letter into a poem. So when I came across this poem, with its title, it was just too perfect, and I got a copy for me and for her. I didn't see any crows in New York, though.

And this last one is from Douglas Coupland's Eleanor Rigby, which I've just finished:

"Though I was swamped with homesickness, part of me was also enjoying a sense of inner freedom that I now know evaporates after about the age of twenty-five. It was a small joy finding an all-night gas station called Elf, maybe a few hundred yards around the corner from the hostel complex. The guys inside saw me coming from a long way away, and I could tell they were used to having girls from the hostel visit in desperation.

Okay, here's the reason we never told Mr. Burden about the gas station bathroom: its employees were the handsomest men any of us had ever seen, sculpted from gold, and with voices like songs. And there they were, in a gas station in the middle of nowhere, going to waste. They ought to have been perched on jagged lava cliffs having their hearts ripped out as sacrifices to the gods. On top of their physical blessings, these guys were charming and attentive-- in both a humanitarian way and a frisky way, even charming to me-- and... well... I'd never been flirted with before, nor has anybody flirted with me since.

They spoke their schoolboy English, with heavy Italian accents I'd always thought were a cliché: Hello-a young-a lady. Good eve-a-ning. All I could do was blush, and as I knew only Latin (B+) it was flummoxing to have to ask for a key, but obviously they knew what I needed, and handed it to me like a crystal champagne flute. I may have been desperate for that key, but I still dawdled; it was heaven. And best of all, the bathroom was spotless and even held a small bouquet of irises-plastic, but it's the thought that counts. When I returned to the hostel, Colleen was just waking up. I told her about the station, and she returned a half-hour later, aglow, saying how much she loved Europe. By the end of the night, all the other girls loved Europe too. We couldn't wait for daily sightseeing to be over so we could run to the Elf station. We were awful. Nature is awful."

Also a very good book. Coupland's novels have been maturing alongside the author himself, and it kind of gives you a warm glow. That same empathy is there, but now it's tempered by an almost paternal feeling. In the same novel he can make you feel like this world is hopeless and later on convince you it's worth saving.


So. Muzak's been downloaded 28 times and only about 6 of you have mentioned downloading it, let alone whether you liked it or not. Tsk tsk. Did no one read that part of the post? I was trying to gauge if I should do it again. Maybe you didn't like the songs? That's alright. Or are there just a couple of lurkers who don't wish to reveal themselves?


A bad trailer for Aeon Flux. Makes it look like the female equivalent of Equilibrium.

Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha. I haven't read the book, but I thought this was set in Japan? How come it's all Chinese actresses? The only Japanese people I recognize are Ken Watanabe & Koji Yakusho, who is probably most famous now for his collaborations with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but who I first saw in the original Shall We Dance? Of course, this is all moot because it's written by Akiva Goldsman. Another famous novel (in addition to The Da Vinci Code) given the Kiss of Death. Just listen to the sparkling dialogue.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote.

A different trailer for Thumbsucker.

1 comment:

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