Sunday, June 3, 2007

Lou Used to Read a Lot More

Nothing like a trip down memory lane to make you both weepy and thrilled.

Lou used to read a lot more. Back before Katrina turned my brain into an ADD-plagued California Raisin, reading was pretty much my raison-d'etre. For a year after Katrina, I merely stacked books on my bedside table as I started and abandoned them. It's really only been in the last six months or so that I've been "able" to read.

And that's where Lou Reads comes in. Once upon a time, I used to keep a log (before blogs) of every book I read. Mostly, I did it for myself, but I also published it on my old school's website so that my technology-crazed students could see the handiwork of an old-fashioned reader. Now that I'm reading again, I thought I would pick up where I left off-- in a more public and more thorough form.

So I've revisited and published my old reading list for your skimming pleasure. I stopped counting at 100 books. And what a gas it was to revisit my entries from some of my favorite books like Empire Falls and Life of Pi and Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Re-reads of classics like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Princess Bride. Surprises like Chang and Eng and A Year of Wonders.

Every book stirs a memory of a time and place in my life. I read the bulk of Love Warps the Mind a Little in the bed of the man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. I bought Lady Gregory's Toothbrush in a small bookstore in Sligo, Ireland. The only books I was able to devour post-Katrina were genre pulp fiction like Tom Corcoran's Gumbo Lindo and Dean Koontz's Frankenstein.

And so it goes, right?

Today would have been the 81st birthday of Allan Ginsberg. When I was a fresh freshman in college, I tried to join the college radio station staff (and now, with my crazy passion for all things NPR, I'm so sorry that I wigged out). My first assignment: to interview Ginsberg at after a reading he was doing at the Blue Note with Ray Manzarak of the Doors. Ginsberg attended my college and was a rather unhappy alum. When I approached him with my tape recorder, he granted the interview, but proceeded to answer every question with, well, let's just say the kind of answers that one cannot broadcast on any radio station. He was, in short, mean and vulgar. After listening to the absolutely unusable interview the following morning, I went to the station, turned in my press card and my tape recorder and called it a day.

So I've never been a big fan.

Today, a local guy I vaguely know decided to make it his mission to travel around to all the coffee shops in the neighborhood and read Ginsberg poetry in honor of the birthday. He'd studied with Ginsberg at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. It annoyed me at the time-- I was on the phone with my roommate trying to get the skinny on why his stepfather had been admitted to the hospital with an egregiously high heart rate-- but in retrospect, it's just another reason that Louisville is a neat place. That being said, my still-bruised-after-fifteen-years ego wanted to ask the guy, "But was he mean to you?"

I'm still not a big fan. After having spent this year teaching American Lit, I realize all the more that he doesn't wear well over time. Whitman sang the body-- even the naughty bits-- with more worship. Thoreau actually built the cabin in the woods rather than just dreamed of it. Even Bukowski, who was a contemporary, got to the piss and shit of mundane life in a more honest way.

But happy birthday and RIP anyway. Any poet who inspires people to spend their day wandering town like a troubadour is all right by me.

Are you going to let your emotional life be run by
Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Business-
men are serious. Movie producers are serious.
Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
-- From "America" by Allan Ginsberg

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