Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dubravka Ugrešić Interview

“We do live in infantile times, mothers increasingly look like their daughters, and they, mothers and daughters, both behave like little girls. Fathers compete with their sons. We all try to stay young until we die. Nobody wants to be lumped in the 'old jerks' category anymore. That’s why the world, or the richest and 'luckiest' part of it, resembles a kindergarten.”

From this fantastic interview with Dubravka Ugrešić.

Monday, November 21, 2011

5 Terrible Songs for the Xmas Season

I indulged in a slight rant recently about my disdain for Christmas music, especially when it is played BEFORE Thanksgiving, which, as any sensible person knows, is an unpardonable sin against humanity. Why are we so goddamn anxious to oust November from the calendar? Every year it seems that the gap between Halloween—that fantastic holiday of horror movie marathons and pop-up stores enticing women to embrace their inner slut—and Christmas is getting smaller.

“Well,” asked a bemused barista at Starbucks, “what have you got against Christmas music?”

A fair question to which I can only offer answers that will further perpetuate the idea that I am a “Scrooge,” a Christmas euphemism for “asshole.”

Rather than launch a diatribe against the holiday itself, I will reserve this space to discuss my five least favorite Christmas songs and my reasons for disliking them. I wish to state that there is no intent on the part of the author to convince you, humble reader, that there is anything wrong with Christmas or the music that accompanies it. Nonetheless, there are some pretty obnoxious tunes we are made to endure each year and they need to go the hell away.

“Little Saint Nick” – The Beach Boys

Easily the worst of them all. To start, I am not a huge Beach Boys fan. There is material I do respect (Pet Sounds), some of which I even enjoy, but this song is not even close to good. The lyric “Christmas comes each time this year,” delivered in that descending low register vocal by what seems to be a very bored Beach Boy, is the pinnacle of inane. If only Brian Wilson had composed a song for the IRS he could’ve written “taxes are due on April fifteenth” using the same melody. Why not—both lyrics do nothing more than provide information we already know. Lazy.

“Santa Baby” – pick one

Be it by Ertha Kitt, Madonna, Brittney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Natalie Merchant, Shakira, Macy Gray, Mae West, or Miss Piggy, the song is rotten to the core—nothing more than a celebration of crass materialism and a sad testament to how little the women’s movement has accomplished. Yes, ladies, keep singing this song about shaking your ass for diamonds. You're doing a great job telling women of all ages that they can’t get those sparkly things without cock teasing a fat, overworked man who only wants to bring smiles to the faces of good little children. Sad.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Dinah Shore & Buddy Clark

Again, frequently covered by the likes of Dean Martin and, recently, Will Farrell with Zoey Deschanel, this is a song about date rape. Merry Xmas!

“Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” – Paul McCartney

Suggesting that Ringo might not have been the weakest link in the Beatles chain, this up-tempo stab at creating a Christmas classic tells me that the best holiday songs have already been written, as has the best material McCartney will ever compose, which was his contributions to the white album, “Ohla Di Obla Da” notwithstanding. In fact, “Ohla Di Obla Da” can best be viewed as an indication of what Paul would end up writing: really, really shitty songs that strive to be joyous and end up sounding forced and empty. The culmination of those efforts is surely this saccharine Christmas abomination.

“Step Into Christmas” – Elton John

Another on the list of aging (read: increasingly irrelevant) rockers penning Xmas duds, we have this 1973 song. Actually, Elton John was still making interesting records in the 70s, so really he has no excuse. I suppose Elton never shied away from camp, so it should come as no surprise that he would record this unapologetically cloying ditty. Thankfully it doesn’t find a lot of air time these days, though my family loves Elton, meaning that, for me, there is no escape.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Not E-Reading Kafka

Sometimes I think the whole E-reading thing is no big deal. It’s the message not the medium, right?

Today I thought about Kafka and The Metamorphosis, which led me to this link and the whole damn book published online for free. I admit that it’s nice to know that I can read Kafka anywhere, so long as that anywhere includes a computer with web access. Still, I read with trepidation.

Of course, I didn’t make it too far. A long stretch of reading on a computer screen is just no damn fun. And yeah, the Kindle and Nook may boast lighting that simulates a book’s page, but I have to ask why I would want a simulation of an experience. Clearly the real thing is better.

I know the arguments: the E-readers are portable and environmentally friendly. Well, let’s look at those points.

First: portability is overrated. Yes, a Kindle allows you to carry many canonical works of literature (most for free!) in one device. And yes, best sellers, beach reads, and other forms of “light” entertainment are perhaps well suited to an E-reader (god knows I’m not wasting my shelf space on Danielle Steel), but what does such portability and wide access really do for us as readers? Assuming many readers are like me, they might be tempted to see what else is available on their slick gadgets. As Jerry Seinfeld said regarding men and television, we’re not so concerned with what’s on as much as what else is on. We like to surf and our advanced technologies encourage this. We have scores of channels on cable, an infinite amount of websites online, and hundreds of books on our Kindles. Faced with such an expanse, it’s hard to commit to one thing. (Who doesn’t surf the web with many tabs open?) I own upwards of four to five thousand books. I try to commit to one at a time, but when I am at home I’ll often pick up a different book than the one I am supposedly reading. There’s always something else catching my eye. I try to reserve one book for home reading (currently, Vilnius Poker), another for train reading (usually poetry), and, of course, there are the books I am forced to read (texts for school) and the ones I agreed to read (for reviews). Even I, a professed book lover who rejects the E-reader, have a hard time reading just one book. Imagine a hundred in the palm of my hand.

When people speak of plane rides or trips out of town, whether for work or pleasure, they praise the E-Book as a means of carrying multiple texts with them. To me, this symbolizes the above mentioned lack of commitment. Some books require patience and attention. Perhaps these are not the books people take with them on vacation (though the last time I went on a trip I took with me, and finished, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk... and this was in Vegas!), but I don’t wish to dismiss even so-called light reading as something to skim and toss away. A good book— which I define as any worth reading as defined by you and you alone— deserves better treatment than it gets from the Kindle and its users. Good books require commitment and respect. You take the time to pick out the clothing you will wear; you should also take some time to pick the right book.

Also, it seems that the E-reader makes books into an abstraction. They become illusory, digital, and transitory. Press a button and the book is gone. I cannot abide this. I like my books to take up space and have weight. One may argue that the content remains the same, and this is indeed true, but let’s take another quick look at Kafka online. The link is fine; the site is the standard black on white and the translation is fair (with links to others—I admit, a good feature). But I miss what my paper copy has: history. The smell of that used edition is gone. The cover art is also nowhere to found. Both of those things helped make the book more than a mere collection of words on paper. My copy of The Metamorphosis is an artifact. It was published at a specific time within a specific era. The art looks dated, which I like. To me, it is evidence of the past. It evinces the prevailing attitude of the era regarding Kafka and his masterpiece. It seems to ignore (or miss) the humor of the book and centers on the phantasmagorical. It is an imperfect creation, but it has personality. The E-version is fine in a sense, but antiseptic. Reading it online I miss the context my paper copy provides. The E-version might not make me consider the debates surrounding Kafka— humorist or depressive—and I will certainly not get the sense of history. One of the 20th century's great writers is thus reduced to the same standing as any jerk with a blog. (Ahem.)

Okay, maybe you don’t give a damn about cover art and musty smells. Fine. And maybe you want to argue that the E-reader is better for the planet as it saves trees. True, but I might advise you to look into strip mining, specifically in regard to our constant need to be surrounded by electronics. All that energy consumption exacts a price. The future environmental concerns may very well center on strip mining and the green activists may launch campaigns asking us to shut off our computers, smart phones, TVs, iPods, and Kindles. When the day comes, I’ll have more than enough books at my disposal.