Books Acquired:
Loaded, Dylan Jones

Progress Made:
Great Jones Street, Don DeLillo
With Friends Like These…, Alan Dean Foster
Lou Reed: The King of New York, Will Hermes
Loaded, Dylan Jones
Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut

Books Finished:
Midworld, Alan Dean Foster

Hello dear readers, I hope you’re all having a Super Tuesday.

I officially had it with the rain today. Now, my publicly stated policy is that I am pro-rain; it is always needed in our drought-bedeviled state, if not so much here in the oft-sodden Northern lands. And philosophically I stand with Lennon on the matter of weather: It is what it is, and you should find a way to enjoy it rather than bitching.

But every year there comes a day, right about this time, when I stand and shake my fist at the sky, shouting “Enough already!” I always feel a little better afterward, however foolish and futile the gesture.

Which is neither here or there, I know. Sometimes you just have to get something off your chest.

Don DeLillo’s 1973 novel Great Jones Street, which I just acquired in January, begins like this:

Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstances of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic. Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation. Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors. Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity — hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs. Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.

And of course, this being the unholy year of Someone’s Lord two thousand and twenty-four, I thought of only one man: the one whose name we do not speak in these parts, the man whom I previously referred to with the comic appellation “Fuckface von Clownstick,” the evil troll whose specter looms over our nation’s politics like a noxious cloud dripping pus and stale urine. You know who I mean.

I’m not sure DeLillo’s formula applies to him, necessarily. And certainly he lacks the self-awareness necessary for suicide. But I can dream, can’t I?

That’s as far as I got in Great Jones Street, as I spent a lot of time in February with Will Hermes’s Lou Reed biography The King of New York and Dylan Jones’s Loaded, an oral history of the Velvet Underground. I didn’t really intend to buy the latter; I already have more than enough material to absorb for the self-imposed life sentence that is Kiss the Culprit. But then it leapt into my hand as I was sidling toward the cash register at East Bay Booksellers on College Ave., and here we are.

The rest of my reading time last month was devoted to Buddhist catnaps (short stories) by Kurt Vonnegut (originator of the phrase) and Alan Dean Foster. Mostly I’ve been alternating between the two, and they are closer in spirit than you might think. In fact Foster is kind of a real-life Kilgore Trout, a working sci-fi author with a shockingly lengthy bibliography.

Vonnegut spent most of his life struggling, not entirely successfully, to escape his early-career categorization as a science fiction writer. Foster seems to embrace it willingly, though a couple of the stories in With Friends Like These… are not sci-fi at all. Here’s a passage from a story about a mysterious, possibly supernatural, rock star:

Willie put the strap over his head. He snuggled the guitar firm to his slim body and started to play.

Hush-dead silence greeted the first note.

It was all wrong. It was too deep, too strong, too bad. It woke dark shapes that hid in the back of the mind, woke insect legs that creepy-crawl at night under bedsheets. It made the hair rise on the back of Sam’s neck. Willie held it, choked it, wouldn’t let it die. It wavered, floated, and finally drifted away crying from its mother the amplifier.

This is, I think, my fourth time through Welcome to the Monkey House, and I was worried that it might seem stale. Quite to the contrary, it has felt very fresh; I remembered some of the stories as bare-bones outlines, not always correct ones, and some not at all. On the one hand, this certainly increases the entertainment value of the book; it was paid for long ago, and hey look, it’s just like new Vonnegut content for nothing!

And then again, this is the sort of thing that makes me wonder why we read at all, at least for any reason other than whatever pleasure can be derived from it in the moment. As I look around the library I see many books that I would tell you were great but, if you pressed me for more details, I would be hard-pressed to tell you anything useful about.

But that’s life, I guess. You read, you write; you remember, you forget. The important thing is to keep going. Right?