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How’d Palahniuk Do That?

Tonight I was driving home from work listening to Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant on my tape deck. A few miles from home I got behind a black Corolla with STUDENT DRIVER painted on the fender in huge white luminous block letters. I’m driving along for mile after mile, just below the speed limit, keeping my distance, while the voices in the story speak. My mind wanders.

In the story, a carload of characters are driving along in the dark, talking.  One says something something like, “I think we’re missing Soccer Moms tonight. ”  Another answers, “Nah, tonight is STUDENT DRIVERS.”

Philip K. Dick was a master of this sort of reality-creep.  Chuck P. has it too.

Minnaloushe: 1988-2007

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THE CAT AND THE MOON

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet.
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

–William Butler Yeats

			
		

Mycological Survey of the Plateau of Leng

I set out for Leng shortly. I do not anticipate being able to file further dispatches until the conclusion of the expedition led by Prof. Winkler. Let us pray there are no encounters with Matango. (If it’s any consolation, I believe the atmosphere of Leng too rarified for the tropical species.)

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The Second Ascent

For the second ascent we were well prepared.
We had body bags and a guide who cared.
We had endless ropes and a bag of traps
And the lairs were laid out upon all the maps.
We had food for months and assorted knives,
Though the points had been dulled to appease the wives.
We had water and matches and even a kite
That we’d fly to scare spirits away at night.
We made certain that none of the cots was shared.
Oh yes, for the second ascent we were well prepared.

For the second ascent we acquired a priest,
One who treasured most what we prized the least.
We heard tell the old-timers at last confessed
When their cleats and tents had been doubly blessed.
He brought braziers and Bibles in every tongue
And a stole in case somebody had to be hung.
He was pious and chaste and knew many a song,
Though his stride was as short as his patience long.
If worse came to worst he could sanction the feast.
Hell yes, for the second ascent we required a priest.

For the second ascent we set out at dawn
With a bleary eye and a stifled yawn.
We remembered the foothills requiring haste,
And the noonday dread of the stony waste.
The latecomers, sadly, were left behind;
Though the few who went early we’d never find.
We no longer put off insurmountable tasks,
Having learned it was better not even to ask.
While the dew was still frozen upon the lawn,
Full of dreams, for the second ascent we set out at dawn.

For the second ascent we forgot the first,
With its blinding nights and its storms of thirst.
We put all those memories out of our minds,
From the littlest loss to the gorier finds.
We retraced our old path without seeing the tracks
Of our previous climb: the discarded packs,
The disturbed rock cairns with their charcoal runes,
The racks of ribs and the crusted spoons.
We stopped our ears to the winds that cursed.
Out of mind, for the second ascent we forgot the first.

For the second ascent there could be no end
Till we reached the top, when we might descend
(Or might not, depending on what we found,
And how we felt then about level ground).
The summit’s existence had yet to be proved
And some felt in their hearts it continually moved.
Though the aerial photos were shown to be fake
Our conviction was boundless, but make no mistake,
It remains a decision we cannot defend.
Still and all, for the second ascent there could be no end.

For the second ascent it continues still,
And it seems rather rash to have left no will,
With the mist having hidden the earth from sight
And the stars above thicker by day than night,
My altimeter burst and my compass dead
And the cold in my bones leaching into my head,
Every camp falling short of the sites we’d drawn,
Every marker misplaced and then totally gone.
Could our critics have really meant us no ill?
So it seems, for the second ascent it continues still.

In Defense of Audiobooks

This Stephen King article on the joys of audiobooks includes quite a few that sound worth seeking out.

Hail to the Spoken Word | The Pop of King | News + Notes | Entertainment Weekly

I spent a large part of last year listening to lecture series put out by The Teaching Company, but lately I’ve switched to fiction.

Here are my favorites.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (read by Wolfram Kandinsky). I’m listening to this right now, and it’s probably the best audiobook I’ve heard yet–not just a reading but a performance. Kandinsky takes on a myriad of voices, with subtle and clear interpretations of lines that I know would give me a lot of pause if I were reading the text.

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk (read by Richard Poe). I think this was the first audiobook I tried. Poe’s voice grated on me at first, but I came to appreciate it, especially with some of the personality transference stuff that happens late in the book.

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (read by Martha Plimpton). Note perfect reading of a compelling mystery that is only a little bit of a let-down (not her fault).

Dark Matter by Philip Kerr (read by John Lee). A stirring tale of the elder Isaac Newton when he was in charge of tracking down and prosecuting forgers, with a spirited reading in many accents. Sprawling tapestry, total ear-candy.

Why Not Me? – The Franken Presidency (read by the author, Al Franken). Hilarious parallel history narrated by its author. At one point Franken gives way to his official biographer and it loses some steam, only to narrowly recover again in the epilog.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (read by Rosalyn Landor). Slow, stately, depressing and disturbing. At some point I realized I probably should have been reading the print edition because it would all have been over sooner…but I stuck it out.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (read by Neil Gaiman). Gaiman is a fine reader, and this one frightened the kids to the point that they didn’t want the tape in their room. The next night, they asked to hear more of it, though.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (read by John Cleese). Cleese at his best.

Saturday by Ian McEwan (read by Steven Crossley).  This is a slow one, but I find myself thinking about it months later.  The standard metaphor of a human life divided into of seasons (spring turning into summer, into fall, into winter) is supplanted here by one with more shades, more variations, seven instead of four:  The days of the week.  The main character here lives out a Saturday that  is also Great Britain’s Saturday…the sixth stage out of seven…the penultimate day of a week that is also a life.  It’s a thriller, but a quiet one, and unforgettable.  I think the slow reading helped it sink in more gradually than if I’d torn through it on the page.  Maybe you’ve got to be about my age to really find this as haunting as I did.  Maybe.

In some cases, books I might have liked otherwise seemed imperfectly matched to the reader, and I gave up. That was the case with King’s revised version of The Gunslinger, read by George Guidall (when the ideal reader would have been Johnny Cash), and more recently with John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, where I have fallen back on the print version and am going to have to spend some time trying to flush the reader’s voice from my memory. I enjoyed King’s own reading of his original Gunslinger novel.