This is my third annual iteration of this post (you can find 2016’s here and 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t an insidious arm of the international literary illuminati, or something.
I read 60 titles in 2017. That’s 14 more than last year and 15 more than the previous year. I should include a disclaimer that a steady stream of graphic novels deceptively inflates the impressiveness of that big ol’ 60.
Here are some stats:
Jesse Lacey (frontman of Brand New, one of my top two favorite bands) is the latest public figure whose past sexual misconduct has been brought to light. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past couple days because I admire his songwriting and what I perceived to be a brutally honest brand of authenticity. A deeper exploration of his early work sadly reveals that the writing had always been on the wall. It’s not really a secret that Lacey is a world class asshole, but these revelations about how an entitled rock star took advantage of underage girls shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’ve thought quite a bit about what it says about me as a fan of his music.
My favorite song when I was in high school was Weezer’s “Across the Sea,” which is about Rivers Cuomo’s longing for a Japanese teenager who has sent him fawning fan mail. The 18-year-old me found this song impressive because Rivers displayed a reckless courage in spilling his guts and laying out his ugly insecurities, impulses, and neuroses for all to see. I saw this as art: the tragedy of our faults and an exploration of the self-loathing that emerges from them.
But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that albums like Weezer’s Pinkerton (and by extension, songs like Brand New’s “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis“) didn’t seek out solutions to the problems laid out. Consequently, the underlying themes of objectification and self-loathing became glorified. The lesson was that it’s okay to harbor unhealthy notions about sex and relationships as long as you acknowledge how miserable all that sexual frustration makes you. It’s never about trying to get better or trying to be better. These messages are toxic nectar for emotionally immature young men struggling to navigate the murky waters of manhood.
What does it mean to be a man? How does one’s relationship to masculinity impact one’s self-perception? What roles do women play in shaping masculinity? These are questions that rack the minds of hormone-infested young men. When young men lack positive male role models in their lives (and therefore lack guidance for how to navigate adult sexuality), they turn to artists for clarification of how to fit into the greater culture.
This is why critics need to adopt an ethical lens when they analyze work: Artists must be held accountable for what they enter into the cultural record. Josef Stalin liked to think of poets as the engineers of the human soul, which is why he employed so many artists and playwrights in his propaganda machine. Popular culture shapes people. In some ways this is obvious, in others more subtle and insidious; its ubiquity quietly determines the things we value. Artistic fame, for instance, establishes a tacit endorsement of that which begat said fame. When a musicians finds success on the back of a puerile sexual perspective, that perspective becomes further entrenched in our cultural character.
This is not to say art cannot be edgy or provocative. This is merely to say that we need to be cognizant of what sort of art we choose to imbibe. If the goal is to teach young men not to mistreat women, we need to begin with a full audit of all the elements around which young men construct their sexual identity. I wish someone had taken me aside as a young man and taught me lessons I only learned later.
And the first lesson would have been not to listen to people like Jesse Lacey and Rivers Cuomo.
I wrote another short play that’s going to be featured in a couple readings next week. It’s called Kilo Five and it was written using a Theater Alliance prompt:
A mother, a son, and a radio.
Write one 10-minute play, with no more than 3 characters, exploring the relationship between these people and the radio.
I chose amateur (ham) radio rather than commercial music radio and have set it in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I’m hoping it plays well.
If you’d like to attend either of these readings, I’ve included details below. Each night is free and includes a conversation about the plays and their themes. The other playwrights featured are Avery Collins, Maboud Ebrahimzedah, and Brittany Alyse Willis.
The good folks at Theater Alliance pride themselves on socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages the community in active dialogue. I’m expecting the evenings to be both rich and rewarding.
Monday, Sep 25 at 8pm at the Anacostia Playhouse located at 2020 Shannon Place SE. More info on Facebook.
Tuesday, Sep 26 at 8pm at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital located at 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE. More info on Facebook.
Anna and I made a quick cameo appearance in Southern California this past weekend. The purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding in Temecula, but we were fortunate to fit in a few meet-ups with old friends. The food was, as it always is, fantastic.
Photo: Chelsea Grosskopf, 2006
I wrote a short play called “Echo in the Mirror” as part of the Act Out: Fake News! event being held Wed, 8/30 at 8pm at The Pinch in Washington DC. Here’s the Facebook event page, if that’s something you’re interested in.
The play’s about the merits and failings of how we try to promote and evangelize art, in this case focused more on popular music. It’s about the suffocating effect of a critical society bent on being more entertainment than criticism. So overall a jolly good time.
I’ll upload the latest draft to the New Play Exchange later this week.
The new Brand New album dropped suddenly last week. It’s called Science Fiction and it’s really freaking good. Top tracks for me so far: Same Logic/Teeth, 137, Desert.
This is my second iteration of this annual post (you can find 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t in the business of selling my secrets to mischevious bedouins, or something like that.
I read 46 titles in 2016. That’s one more than I read the year prior, though my consumption habits had shifted quite a bit. That’s because, in 2016, I discovered that the DC Public Library system has a treasure trove of graphic novels available for borrowing. I was thrilled. I had wanted to further explore this format, especially after having read some of the more seminal works (Maus, Watchmen, Batman: Year One) several years back. I took advantage.
That means quite a few titles out of the 46 on this list are graphic novels. Some may consider that cheating, given that you can power through most graphic novels in a few hours. I have no rebuttal, other than to admit that I rather enjoyed my reading in 2016. I don’t think I read anything I consider an all-time favorite, but it was an all-around solid year regardless. Lot of good books rather than a few great books, and what not.
To summarize my year of reading, here’s a list of all the titles I consumed, plus blurbage. I’ve ranked them in order of enjoyability. I’ve also marked whether I read the hard copy or listed to the audiobook.
This was also the first year in which most of what I read was non-fiction, which is what the kids call “adulting” these days. Continue reading
I found an old journal in a box in the closet and have been reading through it the past couple hours. I’m astounded by how the documented experiences (and the person who wrote them) can feel so foreign, like it all occurred several lifetimes ago. I’m also staggered by just how illuminating hindsight can be. So many frustrations, now clarified by distance and time.
I was very troubled once. Things are better now.
In a somewhat related topic, if you were around me from September 2007 to January 2008, holy shit am I sorry.
Uncle Mike passed away last month. His memorial was yesterday afternoon in Redlands, California. Below is the text from my eulogy.
I’m quite tardy in announcing this, but a story I wrote was published in the literary journal Werkloos in January. It’s cheerfully titled “Lamentation of the Drowning Immortal.” You can read the online version of Werkloos here.
Rejoice, baseball fans: Opening Day has arrived.
Below I’ve compiled some 2016 Preseason Power Rankings, based on a fine-tuned amalgamation of gumption, ESP, and side-eyed glances at PECOTA and Fangraphs. Why is it being rolled out days after Opening Day? Who cares!
As an eternal reminder, yes of course I’m biased against your team. Your team sucks. And I hate it. And that’s why it’s ranked so low. Get over it.
(Special thanks to Geoff Young for his help.)