A friend of mine told me he paid a rather absurd sum for a very short book. It’s out of print, an instructional manual.
The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland.
I found a copy for myself and compulsively read it when I am tired of all the other things I have to read – it doesn’t lend itself to a cover-to-cover type of treatment. The book is a how-to guide on making yourself into a tarot card reader or psychic – using talking cues and techniques to get someone to tell you about themselves, and to say things that sound like their personalities and lives.
It’s nice to know, actually, that there is a technique. I went to a psychic once because it was “free” that day – I was walking home from the grocery store and had my palm read by a woman in her living room while children made noise in the other room. She told me a couple very vague platitudes, and let know she would get more specific for 15 dollars. I walked out feeling great that I was going to do something “creative” with my life.
Probably the most interesting thing that I have found so far in the book is Rowlands’ insistence that you can tell someone that there were life choices that they made, and they spend some time thinking about what would have happened if they chose another path. This is, of course, profoundly true. Decision making is the curse of mankind – all this damned free will that we don’t know what to do with. We are all thinking about our Robert Frost-ian selves, and wondering if that other path would have made a better kind of difference, rather than “all the difference.”
I’m not going to buy any tarot cards any time soon. Well – maybe I will, actually. But I’m not going to be opening up a psychic booth at a county fair any time soon – partly because I’m only halfway through the book, but also because I don’t know how I’d feel putting on a charlatan act of truth when I don’t know any better than the person whose palm lines I’m pretending to read. It’s nice to pretend, though.
Lauren Groff should be commended. She probably is, by many people. I know literary award functions aren’t like the Star Wars award ceremonies, but if it were up to me, I would gladly hand her that Tesla Plasma Ball that the Gungans get at the end of Episode 1.
That’s supposed to be a compliment. Here’s a straightforward compliment: Lauren Groff is a hell of a lot prettier than that Gungan king (Boss Nass. Dammit, I wish those movies were better.) What was I talking about?
Arcadia, with its poetic purple prose and insistent present tense, was like being on a river rafting trip with your family, only not your family – instead, it’s the Stone family, with Bit, Hannah, and Abe. It starts idyllic, with Bit as 5 and the commune of Arcadia living in Ersatz Arcadia, a.k.a. tents. It’s pretty tense as well, as things continue. Of course. “Plot” and all that.
Sometimes, if a writer is doing his/her job right, you wish that the plot could stop right where the text is, and leave everyone well enough alone. Bit, whose shoulder we perch on for the novel, has lots of terrible things happen to him. He is born into the commune, he falls in love with a manic depressive, he has to face the stench of the real world, he is thrust into the disease-ridden future. I kept wanting his pain to end, the turmoil around him to quiet. The book is separated into 3 (maybe 4) distinct parts, and from the 1st part to the 2nd, when Arcadia’s population explodes, I could only feel despair. Once you hit the rapids, it’s all roiling uncertainty (that’s a metaphor carried over from the second paragraph).
Right on Arcadia‘s back cover, it’s compared to Lord of the Flies, and right on its inside flap, it’s said that this is a book about a commune. Neither are true. Arcadia is a book set in a commune, and while a book can be about its setting, the book is really about Bit, and how an artist’s mind and an empathetic mind are nurtured, and also torn asunder. How pain manifests itself in art, how we are forced to create the same art because of our fixations.
It’s also about Lauren Groff’s love for words and language. And the 70s, and the 80s, and the 2020s. It’s about parental love as well, and the unknowable bonds between husband and wife. I tend not to read things that criticize the things I love, and since I only read this book once, I can only give it glowing praise. It’s a delicious read. I could have read a 1200 page doorstop about the denizens of Arcadia. But present, flowing prose is hard to sustain. At 300 measly pages, I suppose I’ll have to read it 3 more times instead.
I know already have thousands upon thousands of you hanging on my every word like slaughtered pigs hanging on hooks in a meat locker…
No, wait. Like… seagulls mistakenly hooked on bait meant for salmon.
No. Like… children mistakenly hooked on bait meant for salmon!
What I came to say is… I am going to change the structure of the blog. Or give it a structure at all. It’s been like a Pollack, which is fine if you like that sort of willful slapdash-ness, but I’m going to impose structure, since we live in a post-ironic world anyway.
So. Mondays will be a book review, Wednesdays will be a book recommendation, and Fridays will be a book update. Books books books. I read more than I do anything else. When I do other things, like look out the window, or something equally exciting and exotic, I’ll post about it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or the weekend.
The point is, you can rest assured that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that I will have posts up on this here internet based weblog.
Imagine is excellent.
Jonah Lehrer is a master of the anecdote and the anecdote explication – the prologue about Swiffers is so readable and interesting that it feels like a magic trick all its own. Then he takes us on the ride of imagination and creativity through music, technology, animation, and writing and lands on an actual magic trick – Penn and Teller’s Cup and Balls. It’s perfect.
It’s a book that makes you highlight passages and break out the sticky notes. Blue walls? I should try that. Concentrated play? I should try that too. Same with getting myself into a rut, taking a nap on a difficult idea, and taking a walk down city streets.
Perhaps the most amazing idea he has, which illustrates with his firm grasp of the science behind it; is that sequestering yourself isn’t always the best idea. Some ruts can be fought out of with diligence and commitment, but others can only be conquered with a bike ride, a conversation with a stranger, and a trip through the office to a coffee machine.
My only note is this – Lehrer points towards the poet W.H. Auden and his reliance on Benzedrine, and then he points out that it’s not the best way to be creative – that you’ll stifle insight with a reliance on drugs – but he doesn’t make a strong case for it. I left that chapter wondering whether or not a focus drug would be useful, and I thought he might make a stronger case that they aren’t.
But ah well. Creativity comes dressed in many different clothes – luckily, I can apply some of the meta-ideas and (hopefully) invite it over more often.
View all my reviews
I’d like to get a ruling from the internet.
I love bookstores. I won’t bore you with the details, but I have been in Brookline Booksmith 4 out of the last 7 days. I only walked out with a book once – a bizarre 1952 sci-fi novel called City that I’m going to have to write about later.
I know that independent bookstores need money and patronage. I try to provide both.
Yesterday, I walked into Brookline Booksmith fresh after starting and really enjoying Dead End in Norvelt, and reading the brackets of the School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books. There was a time in my life when I was a middle reader fanatic. I gobbled Hilary McKay novels like they were penny candy, shouted Paul Fleischman’s name and credentials to anyone who would listen, pressed Stargirl and When You Reach Me into protesting hands.
And then… I moved away from Santa Cruz and Gay, the Children’s Book Guru at Bookshop Santa Cruz, and then I read Infinite Jest, which seems like a non sequitur unless you’ve read Infinite Jest. And now… well, now I’m ready for middle reader books again, but it’s impossible without a guide.
This is a roundabout way of saying I went in to Booksmith and asked for a recommendation. In fact, I asked for “an update.” I asked for a children’s book buyer and a cute, tall girl with short hair pointed me towards a shorter, fast-talking girl with black hair, who loaded my arms with books.I tried not to be show-offy as she pulled Brian Selznick and Gary Schmidt – I wanted to be told the new and unexpected. She recommended Inside Out and Back Again, and Breadcrumbs. I looked through them, I let a Dad and his daughter take them from me and then I left. I walked out without buying anything, and then I added Breadcrumbs to my Holds list at Boston Public Library.
I feel bad about this. The book recommender, whose name I didn’t ask, was excellent. I’m excited to read the book she recommended me. I wanted to slip a couple dollars into her hand, like she was a white-gloved doorman who had called me a cab. A really great cab, that was going to take me to a re-imagined Hans Christian Anderson world.
I don’t feel terrible. I am not Hamlet-ing around. I just want someone to to pat me on the head, tell me it’s all right, maybe hand me another coffee, and say that libraries need as much patronage as bookstores, and to not worry, because I’ll surely buy something from Booksmith soon.
Can someone do that for me?