Last week, I went to my first reading in a while. It was Steve Almond, at Powell’s, with the candlestick.
(Wait. Scratch the candlestick part. It was just Steve Almond at Powell’s.)
I enjoyed myself. Steve was charming and funny and irreverent. Particularly heartening was seeing probably 100 people show up for a reading by an author who was promoting something that could be described as rock lit. As a fellow tribesman of that woefully underpopulated genre, I can now fantasize that someday 100 people might show up to Powell’s to watch me goof off for an hour.
Now, before you get all, “Sir, I know Steve Almond, and you are no Steve Almond,” let me just clarify that I’m with you there. Steve Almond is the rare talent that can take my generation’s yearnings and predilections, filter them through Pigeon Feathers-era Updike, and try–successfully I think–to give us something that is both us, and art. Almond’s work–no doubt not every morsel, but much of it–transcends the minutia he’s pretending to write about. He’s using the fluff of our era to create literature, and that’s quite a trick.
So, there I am, listening to Steve Almond hold court, and I imagine it’s me who’s charming those 100 folks, making them laugh, playing off seemingly inane things that happen in the audience, stopping for a moment to get all misty-eyed about Willie Nelson. I was quite engaging, I assure you.
Then, when the reading was over, I did something strange.
I bought a copy of Rock and Roll will save your Life.
“Um, chuh,” you say. “That’s what you’re supposed to do after a reading.”
Sure, but this particular purchase is significant to me for three reasons.
1) It gets me past a mild but tenacious strain of Steve Almond jealousy I’ve been carrying with me for about a decade. This will be only the second Almond book I’ve read, the first being My Life in Heavy Metal, which, in a concentrated effort of suppressed book envy, I bought used a couple of years ago. Therefore, this current purchase is the first money I’ve ever spent that Almond will actually see a percentage of. This round’s on me, Steve.
2) It’s a hardback. I don’t buy hardbacks because I don’t like hardbacks. They’re more expensive than paperbacks, they’re heavier than paperbacks, and they’re not quite as accommodating as paperbacks. A hardback, to me, is a collector’s edition, which seems like something I’m not supposed to read but “cherish” somehow. I’d just muck it up. But I bought this heavily discounted hardback anyway. Why?
3) Because I want to participate in our literature as it happens. Waiting for the paperback means, on some level, missing the moment. If the rock lit soup gets cooking with this title–and I hope it does–I want to be right there in the kitchen, staring down into the pot, enjoying the aroma–or the stench, if that’s what it is. The paperback, in this sense, means cold soup.
And I’m not talking gazpacho here. I’m talking like some cold beef soup with globs of fat on top.
So, I’ll be reading Rock and Roll will save your Life, and probably enjoying it, and keeping an eye out for the green-eyed monster. I’ll keep you posted.
And if it isn’t any good, well, Steve Almond, I’d stay away from the conservatory if I were you.
I’m with you when it comes to buying hardcovers. It’s a rare occurrence for me.
About envy: it’s a hard thing to deal with–I hate myself when I’m feeling it. But I have found that it’s a great motivator, a way to get moving, get writing, and work hard.
I look forward to your One-Upping Steve Almond novel!
Good for you for enjoying Steve Almond. Yeah, that one collection of his, My Life in Heavy Metal, truly kicked my ass in the best of ways. I look forward to reading his new book.
Jessica, that’s a great point. If envy gets the words onto the page, so be it.
Rich, I’ll never forget the anatomically incorrect female organism from the title story. I was like, “Am I all of a sudden reading Marquez?”
Art, you now have your very own bookmark folder in my Firefox.
Yes! I have arrived!
While I’ve been a fan of Almond’s work for quite a while now (I bought Heavy Metal when it was brank-spankin’ new), and have a had the pleasure of seeing him read, I have to admit his decision to bash Joe Daly, one of TNB’s very own, as a promo gimmick really left a sour taste in my mouth towards him. One that hasn’t yet gone away.
Things would be much simpler for me this morning if I’d just gone to the Laurie Notaro reading instead.
Yes, complicated issue. I certainly have sympathy for Joe, or any writer who’s publicly taken to task by a better known writer. (I think the first words out of my mouth when I read that post last week was, “What the fuck is he going after this guy for?”)
We’ve all been in a situation on the ‘net where, um, impolite things are said about us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Almond showed up here at some point and softened his tone a bit. Still, that’s his decision. I have no idea if he will or not. Maybe that’s not his m.o. at all.
I haven’t followed the ruckus as much as others, and probably won’t. I’ll just say Almond’s comments crossed the line for me. I have a lot of conflict about this type of stuff, and not with Almond so much as Naipaul, Joyce, et al., who have far greater sins to answer for. I can’t say I’ve ever reconciled these feelings: the conflict of loving a writer’s work and questioning his personal decisions. They’re both very real for me. I don’t know if I have an answer.
I know about jealousy too well. I hate when people are like, “Oh, you should read such-and-such…his stuff is exactly what you’re trying to do!” They think they’re being helpful, but no. They just make me lose my shit.
Welcome to TNB, Art (one post late, I realize).
I’m trying to embrace everything that makes me lose my shit. It’s probably a sure way to lose my shit.
Hi, David here again.
Concerning the Almond vs Daly dispute. Didn’t I see that in an episode of . . . ?
It is a problem of relativity.
I worship Rush–the Rock band. My wife does not. She still likes me; so, she’s going with me to a Rush concert.
I write. I try to write. I write crap–mostly. My wife, she (seems to) like it; so, she’s pointing a gun to my head right now, saying, ‘Write!’ Is she right? Is she crazy? I don’t know, but I think it’s loaded this time.
It’s all magic to me, maybe a miracle. It does not matter if I like it or not.
In my relative mind, there are only ten authors who have the true author-ity to critique another’s work. And they’re all dead.
Concerning the Almond vs Daly dispute. They should just kiss and makeup.
Dude, where are you seeing Rush?
Loved this line, Art: “Almond’s work–no doubt not every morsel, but much of it–transcends the minutia he’s pretending to write about. He’s using the fluff of our era to create literature, and that’s quite a trick.”
Yes, I think that beautifully describes at least one aspect of Steve’s rare talent. I’ve been bummed out here that the Almond-Daly controversy seemed likely to make this a No-Almond-Fans-Welcome-Here zone. I think he’s an incredible writer. He also is someone who–as described in his own self-interview when he was the Featured Author on TNB’s Fiction Section–enjoys debate, controversy, and ruffling feathers. He has been in public spats with other bloggers, and has been the recipient of a number of really viscious online attacks that have been so personal and brutal they couldn’t be put in the same camp as the Daly rebuttal he did here . . . I have to imagine that, to Steve, the problems he brought up with Daly’s piece seemed pretty mild, when compared with some of what’s happened to him online, but here at TNB we are a very positive and supportive lot and apparently it was hard for some people to digest.
I’d love to see Steve come back to TNB and show more of himself here. I think folks would love him if they got to know him, even if a certain amount of snark is part of the package. I don’t think it’s untrue at all to say he is a major talent of our generation, or to say that, “famous” as he is, he remains very approachable and accessible, and also underappreciated because his work IS so damn smart that his fame has a kind of glass ceiling that often happens when writers call it like it is.
Well, anyway, glad you bought the hardcover. I haven’t yet, in part because I don’t give much of a shit about rock and roll (Steve, you are more than welcome to write a post about what an idiot I am for saying that, ha!), however I own all his other books and have certainly never been sorry (even though I don’t give a shit about candy either), so I’ll probably end up getting this one too.
Gina, thanks for responding at length. So many good points.
I’m new here. I want people to like me, and I want to write entertaining, relevant stuff. I want the latter more than the former, but I want both, greedy guy that I am.
At the end of the day, I want readers to associate TNB with great, fresh, relevant work. Steve Almond writes great, fresh, relevant work, and I think it’d be great if TNB were a place where people who read Steve Almond can come to find more of what they like. That’s valuable to me as a contributor and as a reader.
Loved this candid perspective. I agree with Jessica, first comment: envy = great motivator!
“Book envy”, that is such a perfect term for that twinge of jealousy you kinda hate yourself for feeling but can’t stop yourself from feeling. I think that’s going to start peppering my conversations from here on out.
“And I’m not talking gazpacho here. I’m talking like some cold beef soup with globs of fat on top.” I laughed so loud at this I scared the dog.
Candid perspectives and dog scarin’ are my specialties!
Funny to see you on The Nervous Breakdown, Art. I’ve been reading a lot of Steve Almond myself lately, though it’s a more recent discovery and I don’t have the same rock ego wrapped around it. (except, the I-should-be-doing-the-same-sort-of-book-promoting envy)
The man can promote.
Are we due for our eighteen-month chat?
Really enjoyed reading this, Art. For obsessive music fans, reading about the music we love is just another great extension of our passion. When we find an author who speaks for us, it just seems to click. I felt that way when I read Duncan McLean’s book about Western Swing, which I was just getting turned on to at the time. Anyway, I just picked up a couple music books this week that I’m dying to read (two GnR books), as soon as I finish the two I’ve got going (Greg Olear’s and Duke Haney’s).
Welcome aboard! I look forward to reading more from you.
Always glad to meet a fellow rock lit guy. It’s going to save the world.
[…] From a fledgling writer’s perspective, you’re a hard guy to root against (even though I managed it for about a decade). Whether it’s an agent who conveniently forgets his guild’s raison d’etre, or a blogger who […]
[…] AE: From a fledgling writer’s perspective, you’re a hard guy to root against (even though I managed it for about a decade). Whether it’s an agent who conveniently forgets his guild’s raison d’etre, or a blogger who […]