Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Reading Lamp: he contains multitudes


Please note what the Golden Boy claims he's reading now and what his photo indicates he's actually reading and enjoy to the fullest the beautiful, terrifying, and hilarious disparity between the two. Or don't. But whatever you do, don't tell the GB he's got a purty mouth.

Your name: You can call me Golden. It's my nickname. And don't think it has a noble origin, either. I got it in college by drinking Molson Golden beer. But who has a four-syllable nickname? It's unheard of. So my friends lopped off the Molson bit and kept the Golden. So there you have it. Golden.

What are you currently reading? Thoughts? Jose Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. I love this book, a lot. Until now, I haven't even been able to bring myself to talk about it. It's that important to me. Like a secret or a dream, something I want to protect.

If I could ramble on for hours, I'd sing the virtues of Saramago's prose, how he blends narrative and dialogue in ways that require the reader to be ultra-sensitive to the stresses, pauses, and transitions in his language, and how when this harmony happens, the dialogue glitters like quaking aspen.

Or I'd sing Saramago's insight, how he identifies guilt and remorse as the central experience of Christianity, not humility, not compassion, not even love — but guilt, and not just guilt for one's own misdeeds, but guilt for the crimes of others, and how the inheritance of guilt is the mustard seed of Christianity.

Or I'd sing Saramago's defiance, how his Gospel shatters the monopoly that Evangelicals, Born Agains, and other literalists would dearly love to have on the story of the birth and death of Jesus.

Or I'd sing Saramago's powers of description, how the pages of his Gospel are saturated with mucous and blood, how they are full of suffering and bitter regret, and how (heresy of heresies) they are more authentically rooted in psychological possibility than the Synoptic Gospels. But since rambling on endlessly is in very poor taste, I'll just say this: Jesus bangs a prostitute and then dies on a cross.

Where are you reading?
I'm reading at my second favorite coffee shop in the world, Crema. Even now, I tremble for excitement at the thought that I'll sip coffee and turn pages tomorrow morning!

How do you choose what to read next? Every year, I set myself a reading program; I can be single-minded that way. Last year, it was Roth and Cather. This year, Proust and Saramago. Next year, Shakespeare and George Eliot. But as soon as I feel pinched by Roth or Proust or Shakespeare, I set them down. Like a crow, I peck at bright, shiny objects that catch my fancy: John Crowley, J.M. Coetzee, Marilynne Robinson, David Mitchell, and others. So I'm definitely a hybrid, a Franken-reader, a cross between a terrier and a crow.

Do you generally buy or borrow books? This is a question of personal hygiene. I don't borrow underwear, razor blades, or toothbrushes. And I never, ever, borrow a book. That's just gross.

What is the one book you love so much that you can’t be objective about other people not loving it as well? Well, if I say Child of God or Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy and rhapsodize about the blind and very often cruel pursuit of something unnameable, I’d be telling you the truth but risking your good opinion of me. Which I’m desperate to court. So I’ll pawn off this nickel-plated truth instead: Song of Myself. Only the morally retrograde don’t like Whitman. That’s a fact. Like hating birdsong or something.

What is your favorite unknown or underappreciated book? There are several of them, including Little, Big and Gilead and A Simple Life. But I'm going to make a bold move here and say The World as Will and Representation by Schopenhauer. Before Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein begged, borrowed, and stole from him, the world's most brilliant pessimist offered a plausible solution to the problem of life — will as little as possible, know as much as possible, and play your flute (be your flute what it may) into the evening, even though your sun is setting, fast.

Do you have any reading superstitions? A few, yes. Never read while exercising on a treadmill or a stationary bike. If you do, God will note in Her registry that you're not committed to either — and you know how She is about commitment.

When a passage moves you in a profound or unexpected way, pay tribute to it by lightly kissing the page. This will make you feel strange in public at first. Get over yourself. Sancho Panza is eternal, you are not.

If you're interested in being interviewed for The Reading Lamp, drop me a line at colleen AT bookphilia DOT com!

6 comments:

Book Psmith said...

Great interview...very funny. I wish I could adopt your hygiene philosophy of borrowing books but it would be detrimental to my financial health.

heidenkind said...

Considering your attitude toward books and personal hygiene (what do you do with your books, anyway?), I'm going to guess you don't go to libraries very often. I have to admit the children's section does freak me out sometimes. *shudder* hands + little kids = grossness

Kevin said...

My attitude towards books is a complex affair. Of course, this will sound perverse, but I hold my books, handle them, turn their pages and smell them; I linger over them. Just now I found an old coffee stain on page 126 of My Antonia and remember the exact moment it happened and how I was terribly vexed that its page had been marred but then quickly realized that one day (today!) I would be happy for it, because it would remind me of Cather and landscape and the indescribable pleasures of reading. So for better or worse, personal hygiene is my image of choice.

Colleen said...

I also need to use the library these days or I'll beggar myself. But I like the weird things I sometimes find in library books - letters, boarding passes, receipts, pressed flowers, etc.

I've only twice found icky things in books, and neither of them were library book. Here at the store, someone recently tried to sell me a homeopathy book that was just filled with dead cockroaches. And the copy of Frankie and Stankie I read (picked up for $1 at the Goodwill, I think) had a bunch of dead bugs too, but not nearly as many, much smaller, and no two were the same. In both cases, yucky, but the cockroach book really got my lower brain stem freaking out.

Kevin said...

At the used bookstore this morning, I found this ephemeron in Villette, a rant carefully scrawled on lined paper, kindly folded and inserted in the middle of the novel, which reads thusly:

Psycho Bitch
" "
" "
" "

You have lost my love

You are 10x worse than any name

You bitch [what follows is illegible but looks like it could be a "not" or a "rot" and an "en" or an "in," although the sentence zero sense either way]

Colleen said...

That's a great find.

I like finding boarding passes in books; around here, they're often for very far away places like Hong Kong to Bejing, or similar out of reach trips. I like knowing books have been around the world.