Wednesday, August 31, 2011

We're #3! We're #3! We're #3!

The Measure of America is a cool book, if you're into that kind of thing.  Barring taking an actual physical book home, follow the American Human Development Project online.

I have to wonder about the Native figure, and not just because of articles like this.  I read that the average life expectancy of a reservation-based male is 45 years, and a reservation-based female is 48 years.  That could be because the infant mortality rate is 8 times that of whites - Tota died at 93 (depending on the birth certificate), after all - but I don't really know how statistics work.

I also know you can't compare a Pine Ridge with an Akwesasne, that Famous Mistake is always made when discussing Indians.  Lumping us together into one big Native American Population is like equating Italy with Scotland with Poland, but can I expect anything better from people who see the world like this:

Maybe since they're measuring America and the Indians are actually sovereign nations, the reservation folks didn't even factor into that life expectancy chart, who knows.  The good news is, Becky will only be alone for seven years instead of eleven.

And our .8s match, isn't that cute?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Remember When I Said to Read "Birds of Paradise?"

If you don't, then here's a reminder.

Now I've gone and told you to read it again, at The Heat Lightning. 

If you don't read it this time, you might see the face I reserve for the printers when they mess up my orders.

"I said towels, you idiots! T-T-Towels!"

Proof that Becky and I know how to have fun in hotel rooms.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I had some explaining to do about my search history

I hate to do this to you, but do you remember Book Fucker?  I found him by Googling "book fucker" in quotes, and he was the first image that popped up.  Now, not so much.  Therefore, I'm calling Book Fucker a book fucker a whole hell of a lot so that folks who Google "book fucker" will be able to find his grimacing face.

You mean you don't remember Book Fucker?  How can you forget?  His image is burned into my retinas.  It's one of the internet's truly disturbing images, made so largely by his expression.  Since I can't find it except on my old BEA post, I don't know his origin story.

But here he is again, for your viewing pleasure:

I showed you that so I could show you this.

IG Publishing, on Indie out of Brooklyn, has offered Book Fucker a rebuttal - the cover of their Fall 2011 / Winter 2010 catalog.  When it hit my desk a couple weeks back, I knew it couldn't be a coincidence.

Today I finally got around to scanning it, so you could judge for yourself:

I'm sure IG Publishing would have you believe it's an innocent reprinting of an Illinois W.P.A. poster from 1936 which admonishes kids not to stick gum inside the pages of books.

Sure, IG, we all know how popular white gum is.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

if we want hell then hell is what we'll have

And I would turn on the TV

But it's so embarrassing

To see all the other people
I don't even know what they mean
And it was magic at first
But let everyone down
And now this world is gonna hurt
You better turn it around
Turn it around
- Jack Johnson, Cookie Jar
While researching stupid criminals on which to base the crime spree of Betty Corona and Eric Clueless, I came across a great deal of crime which is the opposite of funny.  In the glut of horror which news channels drool over in the pursuit of ratings, three stand out.
First, there’s one I’ve heard many people talking about, the 17-year-old whose parents wouldn’t let him have a house party.  He decided the thing to do was beat them to death with a hammer and throw a party anyway, with their murdered corpses locked in their bedroom.  He told a friend about it during the party, and the friend called 911.
Maybe the murderous teen used the same tone another teen at a different party might use to confide a venial sin; dude, I raided my parent’s liquor cabinet for this; they’re so gonna kill me.  Maybe he was bragging.  We don’t know yet.  He’s not cute like that girl who killed her baby and got away with it, so the spotlight only flickers over him.  You can read about his crime and watch videos on websites which make snide comments like it’s more “news of the weird,” the same websites which invite you to vote on celebrity hotness and rate fad diets.
The next is also getting a lot of play, the California woman who cut off her estranged husband’s penis and threw it down a garbage disposal.  I was in college when Lorena Bobbit created a national punch line by cutting off John Wayne Bobbit’s penis.  He was abusive, beating and raping her over the course of their six-year marriage.  On the night in question, he came home drunk, raped her, passed out, and she reacted violently.    
By contrast, the California woman drugged her ex, tied him up, waited for him to regain consciousness, then cut his penis off.  People seem to be taking this one much more seriously.  In 1993, there were a few pundits who did not see the funny.  They asked readers to imagine if the roles were reversed; would anyone be laughing if some husband waited for his wife to pass out, then cut her breasts off / sewed her vagina shut / cut her nose off?  These few were a minority.  Even they conceded that while the reverse was horrific, there was nothing on a woman’s body that had achieved the symbolic status of masculinity (and even abuse) as the penis.  
There was no way to prove abuse beyond Lorena’s word, but Bobbit has abused the two wives he’s had since so I think we can agree that Lorena didn’t make it up to avoid conviction.  Since we couldn’t be clear on the couple’s dark history, at the time the general reaction was, Hey, the penis got sewn back on - no harm, no foul.  Folks want the California woman locked up for life for various offenses, including torture.  We don’t know what the history is with the California couple beyond the woman’s curt declaration to the cop who picked her up; “He deserved it.”
Then there was a squib I haven’t heard anyone talking about.  A couple of California meth addicts attempted to sell their 6-month-old baby outside of a Walmart for $25.  It’s the type of awful crime, the loveless, soulless, everyday atrocity so senseless and terrible you know it will never make a Leno monologue.
Except it does.  Snarky bloggers use the $25 dollar Walmart baby as a punchline about rock-bottom pricing.  You can envision a world, years from now, so lacking in empathy, so inured to cruelty, that crimes like these become fodder not for anonymous bloggers but are exploited on network TV by beloved comedians.  It’s no world you want to be a part of, but you are.  You are living in this world, this country, day by day, and every day we lose a little empathy toward our fellow man, every day the collective “norm” takes another step toward a national pychopathy.  
Is the world getting worse?  In the early 20th century, a woman used a cutting board and a kitchen knife to behead her baby because “I always thought there was something wrong with him.”  Now we have Casey Anthony.  As far as I can see, atrocity has always been with us.  It’s the way we act about it that’s getting me down.
“The way we act, or rather don’t act.”  That’s what I wanted to like to write.  But we’re beyond not acting.  Our attention feeds the machine.  By enjoying the 24-hour news coverage - even if your enjoyment is rooting against the criminal, or hoping to see justice done, or marveling at where we stand as a society, you are enjoying the broadcast - we are complicit.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bye Bye Borders: So Long, and Thanks for all the Books

To no one in the book industry’s surprise, Borders Books & Music is bankrupt.  On a blogger’s level, I’m very jealous of a person named Corey.   Instead of wringing his hands over what to post, editing, rejecting, shuffling, he’s posting every day about life in his Borders during the liquidation.  He’s got spelling errors, but his work is more visceral than mine.  It’s called abooksellerwithoutborders.  It’s an optimist struggling with occasional bitterness.  It’s a solid writer chronicling an important, historic moment in the book business.  It’s a condemnation of corporate bullshit, a celebration of the Third Place, and an examination of what happens when that place must close.  Feeling a little jealous, but I’ll get over it.
Borders was my introduction to the book business.  Chrispy had been there for five years when I started, but he was such a veteran it came across as a much longer stretch.  He told me 2000 would be his “last year working  a holiday in retail.”  When I left in 2004, he said the same thing.  He’s still there at our old store, #47 in Pinecrest (still Miami, just a snooty zip code), the one doing big business every day on US-1. 
Jorge (pronounce that George, please) is closing #47 down.  He’s worked for Borders for nearly thirty years.  In South Florida, he’s the the last of the old-school booksellers still working for Borders.  They were everywhere in my day, the ones who loved working for Borders so much it became their career, the ones with 15 to 20 years under their belts.   An email came down from corporate a couple years back.  For the few old-timers who’d watched Borders devolve and still held out hope that it would be a special place again, this soulless email was the final straw.  Digusted with what a job they once loved had become, the old guard departed en masse. 
Closer to where I work, a former Books & Books manager is closing the Borders at Merrick Park.  Working for him is Claus, a guy any employer would thank his lucky stars to have on payroll.  Claus was also in the Chrispy range of employment when I worked at Borders of Pinecrest, which means he’s also old guard now.  Claus is Danish.  Borders is the only place he’s ever worked in America.  
Writing this is depressing the hell out of me.  Here’s more misery for the sadness pile; Borders’ bankruptcy gives publishers who were already hardening their accounting practices more reason to be harsh, puts 11,000 booksellers out of a job, and completely eliminates physical bookstores in many small towns. 
If no one steps into these “smaller markets” with an indie, people will get their books online, and getting books online means one place.  It’s a great time for indies to open, but only under a very specific set of circumstances.  No one is going to invest in the Chrispy and Claus’s of the world opening their own stores, so any new bookstore owner needs deep pockets and an unusually high tolerance for going without profit.
Did you know that’s the goal at independent bookstores?  Every corporate job I’ve had looked for 4% growth each year, but independent bookstores consider a year without red ink a success.   
I’d love it if three stores stepped in to take the place of Dolphin Mall, Merrick Park, and Pinecrest.  I’d love to see Miami become as rich with indie bookstores as Philadelphia, New York City, or San Francisco.  Of course, I’ve been waiting for that to happen for years.  Those of us who could realistically make a go of it are too busy working for Mitchell Kaplan to apply what we know into opening stores of our own, and the booksellers whom Borders’ bankruptcy is putting out of business don’t have the means.  
When you spend twenty or thirty years in retail avoiding management, you don’t have a lot of capital to show for it.   
Here’s to booksellers left behind.  May they find something else they love as passionately as books.  Barring that, may they find something which throws gobs of money at them.  

And may a few lucky, brave souls open bookstores of their own.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Banana nut. That's a good muffin.

You never know when banana bread is going to be part of your life.  It's out there, waiting for you to leave your bananas out too long, then you notice there's a little too much black on the peel.  A few more days they'll be completely unappetizing but a few degrees shy of disgusting, and it'll be banana bread time.  

I'd forgotten that the perfect banana bread recipe requires three bananas rather than the two I had.  We have more bananas for smoothies but they're entirely too yellow.  Because you can't will a banana to rot (what an awesome super-power - ripening), I immediately switched gears into muffin land.

I don't want to think about how much seeing the video above played into this decision.  Do I make my own decisions, or do I just react to stimuli?  Let's just admit that Adaptation is one of the most brilliant movies of all time and move on.  

This is a rare real-time post.  I can smell the muffins as I type.  I woke up at five am, thought about my writing-work-dinner-wedding prep  agenda for the day, and looked at the bananas in their now-or-never ripeness.  My upbringing won over my longing to write.  Wasting minutes I could've spent writing is intangible; throwing two perfectly usable bananas into the trash is real waste.

My posts have thinned out lately, and I expect them to get thinner.  If you look over the proceeding, you can imagine why.  I'm a bookseller.  Unless you're Cory, there's not a lot of drama in the day-to-day.  Well, maybe for those of us in the business.  But Indie vs. A-Word, paper vs. ebook, dying industry vs. renaissance of the story - those posts can only go so far.  I want to write about anything and everything.

The downside is that I sometimes end up writing about nothing.

I flatter myself that my thoughts on books, movies, parenting, relationships, food, and life are worth sharing.  Still, I like to polish these thoughts up a bit before I share them.  More importantly, especially for things I've started to write for reasons I'm not aware of, I want these posts to have some meaning.  This sometimes means opening the same file dozens of times, revising, rearranging, looking for a point.  Since Sweet with Fall and Fish doesn't have a unifying theme (apart from being the Official Blog of Aaron John Curtis), it's important to me that the individual posts try to have a point.

I have thoughts about Borders closing, and Amy Winehouse dying, and mass killings in Norway, but by the time I decide how I really feel and the best way to express it, those feelings are years out of date.  Witness the post I've been working on about The Dark Knight and Tropic Thunder, movies which came out in 2008.  Not because I just got them on Netflix, but because I wasn't sure how to express my feelings about Heath Ledger's death.  After all that microscopic consideration, the challenge becomes making someone care.  But I suppose that's always the challenge.

Did you know I saw Patti Smith at the Miami Book Fair International days after Just Kids won the National Book Award?  As part of letting the standing room only crowd know about the upcoming (at the time) OMiami! poetry festival, I was one of dozens who helped P. Scott Cunningham perform Arthur Rimbuad's Vowels, a random act of culture about which Smith said, "I've never seen anything like that."

I've mentioned Hilldawg from time to time?  That's her holding the sign.

Did you know Patti Smith performed three songs during the reading, and that the last one became a sing-along?  Did you know I loved Just Kids?  Did you know I met Patti Smith?  Of course you didn't.  I worried too much about capturing the magic on the page, I procrastinated starting, then so many months had passed that it seemed silly to try and remember how I'd felt at all.  There have been many nights like this I've passed over, but I offer this as an extreme example.

There's a lot of pressure in my life right now.

I'm getting married in 32 days.  The marriage doesn't stress me at all, but there's a lot of prep involved in the event which marks the beginning, especially since this is DIY wedding.

Also, I know in this economy I should be pleased to have a job, but the work load I'm saddled with lately is ridiculous.  Our week's run Thursday to Wednesday, and I'm over 32 hours for the week.  These thoughts occurred while I was baking and I wanted to share, so I'm pushing back biking in to get this posted.  I'll probably take Wednesday off to be with Dylan - Becky and I are taking turns watching him this summer since we can't afford camp or daycare - but I can't be sure.  I could live in my office and work there every waking minute and it would take half a year to get on top of things, and even then I probably wouldn't be on top of things because they'd find even more for me to do.  Grawr.

Finally, I've had a setback in my writing life.  The mighty Carl Lennertz has left Harper Collins to become CEO of the North American branch of World Book Night.  This is excellent news for the world of books which is semi-devestating to me personally.

As I've written my stories and taken time polishing my novels, it's always been in the back of my mind that my first published essay was a given (I've had pieces published online and in print, so I guess I mean published by the Big 6).  I know I acted like it wasn't, but I was fooling myself.  I'm glad I chose not to shout State by State from the roof tops, but I no longer have that foot in the door, that significant set of eyes which has looked at my work and deemed it worthy and which invites prospective agents and magazine editors to do the same.  I'm back to square one.

In some ways, it's good.  It gives my morning writing time more focus.  With the help of my writers group, I am polishing four or five of my best stories until they will knock a magazine editor on her ass, so that she'll share the story with her readers, and I'll have a nugget of something to put in my cover letter to an agent, something more substantial than hopes and dreams.  I need a credit.  As Laura Munson writes in This is Not the Story You Think it Is, "You can't put good rejection letters on a resume."

What this doesn't bode well for is Sweet.

Of course this comes as my gradually-increasing readership reached its zenith in July.  I should be writing more to keep you guys coming back, but something's got to give.  I'll try to take a day to myself (if I can find it) and automatically schedule a bunch of stuff I've been tinkering with so it looks like I'm active while I take a break (or maybe it will be like today's post: write it, look for glaring errors and hope I didn't miss any, then publish post).  Just because I don't see the point doesn't mean you won't, right?  Reading is a relationship, and finding a piece's moral and sharpening it to a point is just me trying to bully your reaction.  Of course, you might just get nothing but this for a while.  We'll see.

Meanwhile, WLRN's Under the Sun released a CD of the last Lip Service event.

"What's this?  A CD of a live Lip Service event recorded for broadcast by Under the Sun?"

"And who is that at #5?  Why, it's me.  Remember when I freaked out over the edits...
Wait, I never blogged about this, either?  Fuck me."

As I sat in Books & Books cafe, reeling from the realization that Carl Lennertz left Harper Collins before he could publish me, a favorite customer approached and told me he enjoyed hearing me on NPR.  Co-workers told me they'd heard and enjoyed me on the way in to work.  It's the only thing that kept me from a meltdown that day.

Since then, strangers have come to the bookstore looking for me.  One asked, "Which one of you is Aaron?" while I happened to be there.  She didn't shop, but just stopped off on her drive home to tell me how much she enjoyed the piece (thankfully, I wasn't in the buying office at the time).  Customers have congratulated Becky on her upcoming nuptials (which I mentioned in the Q&A after the reading).  Apparently, I also "sound cute" on the radio.  I feel like my writing career is foundering, but more people are aware of me than ever.  It's fairly surreal.

So take heart.  Even if you don't see much of me here in the coming weeks as I prepare for my nuptials, you may hear me on the radio.

And the muffins?  They smelled better than they taste, but they are solid, moist, and they put two rotten bananas to good use.  Here's to a morning well spent.

Friday, August 12, 2011

When in Doubt, The Heat Lightning

I don't know what that means either, but at this moment, when I lower my bucket into the depths of possible titles for the book stuff I do over at THL, the well is dry.  U of M Library just ordered 114 travel guides from Books & Books, and since most of them are new it involved a lot of data entry.  To break off the monotony, I'd leaf through them from time to time.

As Christine Borges responded to the THL post on Facebook, "as a born and raised Miami girl (and trained journalist) I'm completely offended by the lack of research and intelligence all of those guidebooks used.  I mean seriously... did they even TALK to a local before making their own assumptions based on stereotypes?!"  I wasn't born here but I've adopted Miami as my home, and I was surprised by the guide's tone and content.  According to the author bios, there is nary a native in the bunch.

Here's the post.  Most importantly, here's the image I created for the article.

That's right, I made this collage, and I am proud of it.

Let's look at that again, shall we?

Google image searches included "beach party," "Miami Beach party," "Miami Ocean Drive," "Miami Beach Washington Ave," "beach dance party" (NOTE: want pictures of old people having fun?  Put the words "dance" and "party" in the same search), "South Beach party girls," "South Beach clubs," and "South Beach drunk."

I also saw a search for Salvatore Farragamo in the middle of all that, but I don't know why.  It could have been the only designer I could think of at the time.

DJ Kitty Kitty was already on my desktop.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Are Zombies Real or Pretend?

Dylan loves Michael Jackson.  He’s particularly fond of Thriller, both the song and the video.   He asked to watch it the other day and I said no because it has zombies.  He described the video in some detail, even imitating the dances.  Obviously he’d seen it before.  I knew he wasn’t afraid of anything, except zombies, vampires, the dark, monsters, Moo Cat (sometimes), windows without blinds in them, banshees, being alone, needles, nightmares (that’s fear of having one, not an actual nightmare), loud noises, his large stuffed animals if they’re left on the bed at night, and having splinters removed.  We decided to watch it together.  
“Are werewolves real?” Dylan asked.
“No,” I told him.
“That’s Michael Jackson,” he told me.  
“Uh huh,” I said.  Translation: You were negative twenty-one when this came out, kid, shut up.
“He turns into a werewolf, but not really.”

Adults see special effects in their infancy; a 6-year-old sees terror.

When Michael Jackson and Ola Ray leave the theater, a voice comes from the background.  Someone in the movie they're leaving reads a phrase written in blood: “See You Next Wednesday.”  Not wanting to be outdone in my knowledge of the Thriller video, I told Dylan that director John Landis puts that phrase in all of his movies.  Dylan was not impressed.
[Side note: I didn’t need to Google the name of the actress who played Michael Jackson’s girlfriend.  At eleven years old I didn’t know why I thought so highly of her, but I knew it had to be something special.  Special enough for her name to stick all this time.]
“Are zombies real, or fake?” Dylan asked later.
“What do you think?” I non-answered.
He watched the screen for a moment.
“Fake,” he said.
“That’s right.”  
“Those are zombies.”  He pointed.
“No, those are dancers wearing zombie makeup,” I said.    
“Oh, yeah.  Michael Jackson is wearing makeup.  The rest of them are zombies.”  
“No, they’re all wearing makeup,” I said, “because there’s no such thing as zombies, remember?”
“Oh.”  The way he said oh, I knew he didn’t understand.  Zombies are fake, but this one time Michael Jackson danced with some for a video.  Or zombies are real, but the Thriller zombies are pretend.  Or Zombies are fake, but there are real zombies in movies.  
“Those are all dancers,” I said.  “They all got put in makeup, just like Michael Jackson.”  
“Then how did that one’s arm fall off?”
“It’s a fake arm.”
“Oh,” he said.  Translation: Aaron doesn’t know what he’s talking about.   
At that point in the video, director John Landis made his cameo as the zombie emerging from a mausoleum.  
“Look,” Dylan said, “That’s the Captain.  He was a Captain.”
With the navy blue suit, hat, and the beard, Dylan certainly had a point.
“Actually, that’s the director,” I said.
“He directed this video,” I explained, “and he put himself in it as a joke.”
“And he died?”

This is why daddy drinks.
“No, he’s wearing makeup.  Zombies are fake, remember?”
The big dance sequence in the street started.  Dylan pointed to the screen.
“That’s Michael Jackson in zombie makeup.  Those are zombies in zombie makeup.”
“Those are dancers in zombie makeup,” I said.  “Right?  There are no zombies.”
He considered the screen for a while.  The dancers went through their head spins, which are basically showing off the various make-up jobs, when this guy happened:  

Dylan turned away.
“Can we watch Dino-Squad?” 
For a song which will really haunt your dreams, click here.
Dylan is scared that the living dead will feast on his flesh. I'm afraid my IQ points are being drained by that song the Dino Squad plays every time a member "goes Dino."

I hope we're both wrong.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Forgot to Remember to Forget

         I’ve developed this theory about why old folks sit and stare into space.  When I see a certain knitted pattern on a blanket, or taste a perfectly-made shortbread cookie, or watch a movie filled with actors I’ve seen dozens of times before, I have a few moments where I lose the plot to memory.  
I think of the blankets I’ve slept beneath with a similar pattern, on overnights at my aunt’s house, or when I was sick on the couch, or on camping trips.  I think of the shortbread my grandmother used to make, or the Irish section at the international pavilion which sprung up once a year in downtown Syracuse, or struggling to bake the perfect one at home so I could recapture that feeling and finally giving up when I realized it had to be made for me.  I think of seeing this actor as a cocky but ugly dude in all those eighties movies, that actress as my secret crush throughout high school, that guy in all of the shlock he slogged through on his way to being a household name.
Nothing is what it’s supposed to be.  Sunlight filtered through blinds is not sunlight filtered through blinds, it’s a road you travel which brings you to a bunch of places you’ve been when the light poured into your room at just that angle and you took a moment to notice.  The present has no now, only memory of what was.       
Does it happen more often as you age because there’s less to look forward to (and I don’t mean there’s nothing good in the future, I mean when you’ve reached, say, fifty, and realize more than half your life is likely gone; at that moment there is actually less life ahead of you than you’ve already lived)?  I think so, but I’m only approaching that halfway moment.  If you look around my family, anyway.  My halfway point might have come when I was nineteen, and this year might be my last.  You never know.
Think of that aged person in the corner at family gatherings, the matriarch or the patriarch, taking a break from reading, or talking, or eating.  She sits and stares.  If associations steal this much time from me now, imagine what will happen when I’m ninety.     
“How was lala land?” Becky might ask, or “Where’d you go?” when she sees my eyes return to normal.
Of course at those moments, I’m beyond the present, looking every way at once.  Maybe that’s the real reason old folks stare into space.  Maybe the past is just a small part.  Maybe the questions I spend my time with now - why am I here, am I living my life well, will it matter that I was - will be a lot less abstract near the end of my life.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

By the Time This Sour Cream Expires, You and I Will Be Married

Sometimes shopping for toppings for your baked potato is enough to leave you grinning ear-to-ear.  Of course it's just a ceremony, and it doesn't mean anything that's not already there.  But at the same time, it means everything.

Book in Hand: Joshilyn Jackson's excellent Backseat Saints (Jesus, why does the softcover jacket suck so hard?)

My baby took this picture of me, and I love it.  Last night, I made it my new profile picture on Twitter.  I also made her picture of Shakespeare and Company in Paris the background, the same one which adorns Sweet.  I got five new followers last night, too.  Coincidence?  Hell, no.

It might have had something to do with my proficiency with the hashtag #bookswithalettermissing, though.  If you don't know, you add that "#" to a phrase on Twitter and everything with that phrase comes up.  It's like bookmarking a conversation:  

Aaron John Curtis
Bridget Joe's Diary. Kind of like Middlesex, but, you know, British. 

Daniel Pink 
Nancy Dre -- Plucky girl detective marries iconic rap star. Complications ensue.

 Diana Delosh 

That was a weird phenomenon.  I meant to change my picture and go to sleep, but instead I got caught up in this addictive word game.  I was telling myself how funny I was, while laughing at other people's choices.

Soon, it became a trend, which is what Twitter calls popular stuff.  Once that happened, all hell broke loose.

Twitter is where... well, you're on the web, you probably don't need me to tell you its reputation.  #bookswithalettermissing was far too literary from some ("Why the hell is #bookswithalettermissing trending?!?!") and some who tried to participate just didn't get it ("Harr Potter," "Girl Who Played with Wire").

It stopped trending almost as soon as it started as bibliophiles the world over who'd swelled the hashtag recoiled in horror from the banality ("The Da Vinci Cod, hahaha"), the ignorant ("how do i know i don read jk"), and the painful ("He Hunger Games").

Twitter is proof; when something gets too popular, it goes to shit.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Halloween Memory: You Should Read "Shock Value"

I had just turned six years old when my brother and cousins took me to see Halloween in the theater. 
At the time, you had G for General Audiences, PG for Parental Guidance suggested (“some material may no be suitable for pre-teenagers”), R for Restricted to folks with a a parent or adult guardian, and X for Midnight Cowboy (IE, no one under 17 admitted).  My adult guardians would have been my brother AJ and my cousin Shawn, who were 13 and 15 at the time.  They watched over my cousin Shane, age 13, sister Cass and cousin Shannon, both 11, and six-year-old me - the same age as young Michael Myers on screen, when he stabs his older sister to death for having sex and gets sent to a mental institution.
1978 = good times.  Try getting a group kids aged 6 to 14 into the next Saw and see how far you get.  
Having personal experience with a six-year-old has taught me that one thing they can’t do is distinguish reality from fantasy.  Sample questions along this line include, “Are vampires real?” and “What would we do if zombies attacked this house?”  I might as well have been watching a documentary.
Listening to John Carpenter’s synthesizer now, which he says is an homage to Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, is a mix of nostalgic terror, judgment over its hokey creepiness, and genuine shivers.  Listening to the music, watching Michael Myer's white mask fill the screen, I was bathed in horror.
At one point, my brother leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“Isn’t this awesome?” he asked.
I felt like a silhouette, a piece of blackness in that dark theater.  He words entered my ear like light, found my spine, and exploded throughout my body.  I couldn’t speak.  I think I managed to nod, but I don’t quite remember.  

Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value has a chapter which deals with the question every horror fan must face at one point or another: “How could you watch those kinds of movies?”  Apart from a glowing review from Powell's, part of me probably picked it up to answer that question myself.
I can always use the excuse that I had no choice; I was indoctrinated early.
As far as the book, it’s fascinating if you’re a fan of any kind of film - Zinoman makes a compelling argument that most critically-lauded, Oscar-winning films of the day are shot by folks who grew up idolizing what many considered schlock when it was first produced.  
If you like horror movies, it’s required reading.