Monday, February 27, 2017

Pathos Soils Everything

                                                                                                                                           For Eric.

In Robin Schulman’s Eat The City, she gives a fascinating account of the ins-and-outs of food production in NYC. My favorite anecdote is about the time the bodies of bees, and their honey turned, red due to getting into maraschino cherry syrup, and red dye no. 40 in it. My friend, Eric, called this the stuff of horror movies.

My friend Eric says a lot of things, and if you know him you know that this is a good thing. Consider the following exchange. This was following a discussion on the Book Parties I have. Eric, a voracious reader, always wants book recommendations, and I promised a blog post for him on that.

The conditions, clearly: What is Vital/Worth Reading, From My List of 2017, and Based on Nothing More Than My Personal Determination. Cuteness warning, #bookselfies with #souphound to follow.

Here’s the deal about Eric The Reader. He can be picky. That’s putting it gently, he has high standards. He needs books to have formidable, intellectual standards, to push current narrative forms, to stay away from pathos (sentimental, feely-ing, emotions o noes!!!!.... unless it’s Dear Sugar), and a book must keep all the promises it suggests at the beginning.
My recommendations to Eric often fly in the face of the things he likes, because I think I can change him. Sometimes it works (see above example of Dear Sugar. Eric likes Dear Sugar, Eric likes Dear Sugar! (Of course he does, he has a soul!)). Sometimes it doesn't (think Buffering by H. Hart. Boo. I love that book.).

This post isn't just for him, or for that type of reader alone. But these are the highest of the high standards. Take these suggestions seriously!
There have been many “reading lists for surviving 2017” circulating, I can’t do better than those. This is based on “even the pickiest readers should read them based on nothing more than my sheer personal determination.” So, dear Eric, these were the best of the best of my 2016.

  1. A Little Life. Hanya Yanagihara (#5)

2.       The Flame Alphabet. Ben Marcus (#12)

  1. Gold Fame Citrus. Clare Vaye Watkins (#20)
  2. Welcome To Braggsville. T. Geronimo Jackson (#22)

5.       Shadow Tag. Louise Erdrich (#109)

6.       The Heart Goes Last. Margaret Atwood (#133)

  1. Salvage The Bones. Jesmyn Ward (#138)
  2. Zone One. Colson Whitehead (#146)
  3. I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This. Nadja Spiegelman (#147)
  4. The Sellout. Paul Beatty (#152)

Books I’m pretty sure Eric The Reader will automatically love:

The Flame Alphabet. Ben Marcus (#12)

Gold Fame Citrus. Clare Vaye Watkins (#20)

Welcome To Braggsville. T. Geronimo Jackson (#22)

The Heart Goes Last. Margaret Atwood (#133)

Zone One. Colson Whitehead (#146)

The Sellout. Paul Beatty (#152)

Why? They all have formidable intellectual standards, push current narrative forms, they stay the heck away from pathos, and they keep all the promises they suggest at the beginning.  

Books I think Eric should read anyway and he is likely to resist me on:

              A Little Life. Hanya Yanagihara (#5)

              Shadow Tag. Louise Erdrich (#109)

              Salvage The Bones. Jesmyn Ward (#138)

I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This. Nadja Spiegelman (#147)

Why? The pathos. These books abosultly maintain high intellectual standards, push formal boundaries and take themselves very seriously. They also break your heart. No promises to put it back together. So maybe these four books are actually my suggestions of survival-books for 2017.

Eric, my dear, you have a kind soul, and a warm heart. You aren’t a toxic-masculinity-unfeeling-hardass. Yet, you know you aren’t drawn to the stories where Love is a character, or a major plot device. Which is why I think, out of my sheer determination, I posit that you read the last 4 here before the other 6. Sheer Determination!

In conclusion, here’s the painting we made at the last book party—a palimpsest of the book list of 2017. Everyone should have book parties! Wish you could have been there! Love you man.

For the first 100 in the reading list of 2016:

Follow Eric on Twitter @LinkTheorist
Follow the cuteness of #bookselfies with #souphound @FarmsWatson

The other 59 books that followed the first 100 of 2016:

1.     An Untamed State. Roxane Gay
2.     Dept. of Speculation. Jenny Offill
3.     A Spot of Bother. Mark Haddon
4.     We Have Always lived in the Castle
5.     Heavy. The Obesity Crisis in Cultural Context. Helene Shugart
6.     The Post Birthday World. Lionel Shriver
7.     This I Believe II.
8.     Bait and Switch. Barbara Ehrenreich
9.     Shadow Tag. Louise Erdrich
10.  Spark Joy. Marie Kondo.
11.  The Dirt Cure. Maya Shetreat-Klein
12.  Vinegar Girl. Anne Tyler
13.  Secondhand World. Katherine Min
14.  Heartburn. Nora Ephron
15.  The Taming of The Shrew. Shakespeare.
16.  Luka and the Fire of Life. Salman Rushdie
17.  Love Loss and What We Ate. Padma Lakshimi
18.  The Rum Diary. Hunter S. Thompson
19.  Women. Charles Bukowski
20.  I, Etcetera. Susan Sontag
21.  Family Matters. Rohinton Mistry
22.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Housin Hamid
23.  Sous Chef. Micheal Gibney
24.  The Giver. Lois Lowry
25.  Go Ask Alice. Anonymous
26.  The Body in The Library. Agatha Christie
27.  The Red House. Mark Haddon
28.  Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty. Ramona Ausubel
29.  The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047. Lionel Shriver
30.  The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy. Douglas Adams
31.  Dear Mr. M. Herman Koch
32.  Little Nothing. Marisa Sliver
33.  The Heart Goes Last. Margaret Atwood
34.  After The Plague. T. C. Boyle
35.  The Cat’s Table. Michael Ondaatje
36.  Eat Pray Love Made Me Do it.
37.  An Artist Of The Floating World. Kazuo Ishiguro
38.  Salvage The Bones. Jesmyn Ward
39.  An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England. Brock Clarke
40.  The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead
41.  Truth, Justice, and the American Whote
42.  We Should All Be Feminists. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
43.  Tenth of December. George Saunders.
44.  A Room of One’s Own. Virginia Woolf
45.  Trans: a Memoir. Juliet Jacques
46.  Zone One. Colson Whitehead
47.  I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This. Nadja Spiegelman
48.  Nutshell. Ian McEwan
49.  Buffering. Hannah Hart
50.  Troubling Love. Elena Farrante
51.  The Wonder. Emma Donoghue
52.  The Sellout. Paul Beatty
53.  Hag-Seed. Margaret Atwood
54.  The Fire This Time. Ed. Jesmyn Ward
55.  The Days of Abandonment. Elena Ferrante
56.  Toots in Solitude. John Yount
57.  Flash Fiction. Ed. James Thomas
58.  Lady Chatterly’s Lover. D. H. Lawrence
59.  House of Leaves. Mark Z. Danielewski


Friday, February 17, 2017

"Hearts and Minds" (aka 100 postcards I'll be sending to washington)

March 15th, The Ides of March. The thing that happened to Caesar. I’ve always kinda liked Shakespeare’s version of events. Probably mostly because it’s where we get the origin of the proverb “winning hearts and minds.”

Observe, in Marc Anthony’s declaration to Brutus:

              O masters, if I were disposed to stir  
              Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,  
              I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,  
              Who, you all know, are honourable men:
              I will not do them wrong; I rather choose 
              To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,  
              Than I will wrong such honourable men.   (lines 121-127)

 This passage notes that the act of using rhetoric-as-oration to appeal to pathos (hearts) and logos (minds) is dishonorable, and wrong.  In Shakespeare’s sense, swaying “both hearts and minds” would be an act of betrayal for Marc Anthony that he would rather wrong himself than commit an out-ward Bad.
Friends and strangers have asked why I let the blog rest for so long. Why haven’t I been writing? I’ve been reading, refilling myself with something that the rage needs to sustain itself. A time for reading hibernation, maybe. And after rereading some Shakespeare, I read about this:

 "On March 15th, 2017 each of us will mail the White House a postcard that publicly expresses our vocal opposition to the new president. And we, in vast numbers, from all corners of the world, will overwhelm Washington."
March 15th, The Ides of March. That date has a particular protest associated with it this year: The Ides of Trump. No, it is not a day for stabbing politicians. NO THREATS OF VIOLENCE. It’s time to set a new record of “fan mail.”

 On March 15, send the white house a postcard, or more than one. Read the rules here:

Right now hearts and minds are being stirred to mutiny and rage in multiple and polarized ways other than described by Shakespeare.
I’m not okay with the rage being sprayed on walls. I’m not okay with a big rage-wall going up down south. I’m not okay with white-rage that uses refugees as its scapegoat. I’m not okay with rage being used as a weapon against information and education. I’m not okay with the rage the current regime is using to mobilize its policies.

My heart fills with bile every time I hear about the next horrible thing. It fills with mud when I sit down to write, because writing about the things that are important are both matters of honor and difficult in stirring yourself out of that mud once you get in.
My dad’s death left me with a bunch of weird collections. One of which was a vault of post-cards. I’ve carried them around for a decade, some of you have been sent one or two across the years.

This year, 100 of them will make their own march to Pennsylvania avenue. Join them as they fulfill the purpose they’ve been waiting for.  I’ll return to regular blogging about stories and soil soon, I promise.