O little axe of Bethlehem

baby-jesus-guitarIn the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty-three, a youth humbly approached his special destination — a little music shop in the heart of his city’s downtown.

Inside, he took $188 in crumpled tens and twenties from his pocket.  Then the kindly shop owner reached above his head and took down a cherry-red imitation Les Paul electric guitar — a Japanese knockoff — from a long row of guitars hanging from the ceiling.

When the transaction was ended and the lad emerged from the shop with his guitar (in a very cheap black case), he whispered under his breath:

O Lord, though I’m pimply, though the lenses of my glasses are very thick, though my hair is oily, though I am girl-less … O Lord, please … let me rock.

This is my story.  Well, OK, it didn’t quite happen like that.

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A-holes: What kind of writer are you?

A-holes: What kind of writer are you?

I’ve been away for a long time, my beloved friends. A new day job and the weird, twilight frenzy of revising my novel (if you go into the dictionary and look up the word “palimpsest,” I’m sure it says “for an example, see Nick’s book”) — it has been impossible for me to keep up, and I’m sorry for that.  I miss my friends here on WP and beyond.

Even if I haven’t felt capable of posting an original thought on Call of the Siren, I have been capable of reading other people’s thoughts … like Seamus Perry’s piece in the TLS,Angry, Difficult D.H. Lawrence.”  Lawrence was not the kind of writer you would want to get close to; Richard Aldington, Perry writes, said Lawrence had a “wounding capacity for not adapting himself to others.”

Perry’s piece gives us one kind of writer; I’m also reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s cold attitude to his children if they played too loudly and disturbed Daddy; I’m also reminded of a former professor friend meeting the author of The Once and Future King, T.H. White, and finding him to be the complete opposite of the generous, compassionate, bemused narrator that my friend cherished in that book (the photo accompanying this post shows White during a lecture at Boston College).  This leads to a simple conclusion.

Writers can be real a-holes.

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On reviewing and breaking backs

BANEOne advantage of being the L.A. Times deputy book editor was this: I rarely reviewed a book I didn’t like.

Every week, I sorted through piles and piles of new books for only those things that resonated with me — if something didn’t, I wouldn’t write about it.

But what happened if I was a hundred pages into a book before I realized it was a dog?

What would I do then … drop it?

Are you crazy?  I couldn’t do that — I’d already committed too much time to it!  I had to review it!  So, there were a few options open to me:

  • Damn it with faint praise
  • Forget faint praise and be ruthless — break its back just like Bane
  • Give most of the review space to the subject, not the actual book … and then finish off the piece with a sentence about how the book was”helpful” or “serviceable” (which I guess sounds like the first option).  It sounds like praise, but it isn’t.  Calling a book “helpful” puts it in the same category as a shovel.  Or a Boy Scout.

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