Saturday, October 27, 2012

Novelists got bars too, part one

Before I get deep into the post I want to say this first: for the last two weeks now I've been doing all my writing pen to paper (then just transcribing to the computer when necessary). This marks a drastic shift in my writing approach, which, since sixth grade, has featured almost exclusively punching the keyboard (the turquoise, original iMac, way before Apple blew up). Like breaking any habit in one's routine, it's been new and explorative, and doubtless uncomfortable at times. But certainly my writing--voice, style, diction, structure--has undergone one of those one-eighty makeovers. I'm left confused: is this a good thing? The friend who put me up this in the first place recently read two separate pieces of mine, one composed from the keys, the other from ink; she observed the palpable differences in each and said she much prefers my college-ruled literature. "It's much more honest," she wrote to me in a handwritten letter. A couple weeks in this laboratory and I'm starting to think she's right. (It doesn't get more honest than that--I'm usually pulling all the punches in my arsenal to deny that she's ever right--about anything. I guess the longhand method is working on a psychologically therapeutic level too.) But enough about handwriting...

I just finished reading my thirtieth book for the 2012 year. Not to toot my own horn but that really is fucking remarkable. And I mean that in the relative sense, comparing myself now to the Steven of years past, who would read nothing--and I mean nothing--if the name "J.K. Rowling" wasn't stamped across the book jacket. Which is not to say that presently I'm straying away from the Harry Potter books; I re-read all seven of them from August to September consecutively, never spending more than four days on each--the truest page-turning books in the history of the novel. But the fact that every single word in twenty-three OTHER books--all written by OTHER authors--has been heisted properly from my mental, shows an achievement in my personal growth worthy of some mention. So bravo there and then. 

Thirty (twenty-three non HP) books later and I know now, confidently as though I were tasked with one-digit addition, the following: authors be spittin' like fuckin' crazy. Punchlines that got you melting, litigating against their creators on account of arson and first-degree burns. It's that serious.

Now I've been enough of a proud hip-hop aficionado since eighth grade--knowing every Nas lyric in his twenty-one year catalogue verbatim, among countless others (in the words of Jay-Z: "ask about me")--that I know classic bars when I hear them: 

"Got your ears, all eyes on me;
old school eighties guy, that's me:
hip-hop head. Female rappers givin' me dome and that's just that hip-hop head."
-Celph-Titled in "S.C.O.M." 

"I drink Moet with Medusa, gave her shotguns in hell

from the, spliff that I lift and inhale. It ain't hard to tell..." 
-Nas in "It Ain't Hard to Tell" 

"My game is vicious and cruel; fuckin' chicks is a rule;

if my girl think I'm loyal then that bitch is a fool." 
-Big L in "'97 Freestyle" 

Bars that got you stepping out from your machinery's auto-piloted plane, to fly freely in the mind's hypethral sky, full only of bright blue and endless possibility. Well, before rappers there were the wordsmiths: poets and novelists, these fine specimen who pioneered the punchline/bar game. Take, for instance, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, my most recent papered conquest: 

"I can understand a wrathful God who'd just as soon dangle us all from a hook. And I can understand a tender, unprejudiced Jesus. But I could never quite feature the two of them living in the same house." 

"I trusted too long in false reassurances, believing as we [women] want to do when men speak of national interest, that it's also ours. In the end, my lot was cast with the Congo. Poor Congo, barefoot bride of men who took her jewels and promised the Kingdom." 

"On that day of the hunt I came to know in the slick center of my bones this one thing: all animals kill to survive, and we are animals. The lion kills the baboon; the baboon kills fat grasshoppers. The elephant tears up living trees, dragging their precious roots from the dirt they love. The hungry antelope's shadow passes over the startled grass. And we, even if we had no meat or even grass to gnaw, still boil our water to kill the invisible creatures that would like to kill us first. And swallow quinine pills. The death of something living is the price of our own survival, and we pay it again and again. We have no choice. It is the one solemn promise every life on earth is born and bound to keep." 

"Misunderstanding is my cornerstone. It's everyone's, come to think of it. Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet. They are what we call civilization." 

This shit is, fucking ridiculous. Kingsolver coming at you like Eminem in '99, with that killed-straight-out-the-Pacific rawness. And that's just one book, one author. You take a look at Fitzgerald, Nabakov, Golding, etc. and from the cave you begin to see the full spectrum of the color wheel. Momma, poppa: I seen the light! I seen it with my very own! And believe it or not, it's not coming from the screen. Author Philip Roth has said the novel is dying, that in twenty-five years it will be nothing more than a cultic form of entertainment (YouTube: Philip Roth: The Novel Is A Dying Animal). The written word just can't compete with the moving picture, but I say that comparing the two is like comparing Beethoven to the number three--it doesn't make any sense, and you should be slapped across the face for even thinking about thinking about featuring the two in the same clause. Sad truth is, that's a lot of backhands to the cheek, a lot of swelling to the temple. Roth is right: books are hastily becoming an endangered species. 

I beg of you: do yourself a favor and vow to read twelve books in the next twelve months. And I'm talking about quality books. I promise that you'll be in a particularly unique position: inevitably the enchantments will bind you, and what's funny is that when finally given the keys to escape, you'll want nothing more than for the judge to give you two hundred years, no parole. You'll be a prisoner living fully and vicariously through the novelists' bars. In a phrase: a life sentence. Whereby, eternity will tick as the individual second does, incomparable to the next, and too quickly for you to realize any time has passed at all. 

Good day to all the universes. Part two to come sooner than later... 

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