July 09, 2009

From the Jentel Studio

I'm listening to Sam Cooke's Aint That Good News. When I leave for my walk in a few minutes, it will be The Drifters Best Of. There's something absolutely majestic about this era of R&B. Sentimental lyrics, sure, but sentiment grounded in sincerity is a gorgeous thing.

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Earlier today we had our last group expedition into Sheridan. With no car, these weekly trips in a huuuge Suburban have been critical for obtaining 1) groceries, 2) Johnny Walker Red, 3) irises for the kitchen, and 4) fresh lemonade from Java Moon (somehow they make the slushy ice even extra lemony). Today I was shopping for a handful of souvenirs, which required some close examination. There's a lot of cowboy-themed things that, when you actually look, were made in Texas. I'd like my Wyoming kitsch to come from Wyoming.

As it turns out, taupe Chevy Suburbans are a dime a dozen around here. Twice I have finished my grocery shopping at Albertson's, approached the wrong car, and tapped on the window to ask a total stranger if they'll pop the trunk so I can put my bags away.

Even though it is always the same 20 mile drive to and fro, my eyes snag a different part of the landscape each time; with no significant intersections, I still feel like I could get lost in these rolling hills.

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Just as I'm in the home stretch of writing, I'm in the home stretch of reading. I've sent the a flat-rate Priority Mail package home to DC, containing 16 or so books I'd read already. (An excellent trick for traveling writers, by the way--books are lethal weight in luggage, and $12.95 USPS boxes hold a fair amount.)

Today I curled up in one of the sprawling leather chairs, ate a ton of pretzels dipped in chipotle hummus (spicy!), and read Steven Millhauser's The Knife Thrower and Other Stories. One of those books I bought years ago and was embarrassed to have never read.

I didn't love the book--only a few days ago I read Haruki Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which set a very high bar for that fine line between fantasy and literary fiction--but I did love one story, "Paradise Park," about an increasingly complex amusement park built in New York in the mid-1920s. The story first appeared in Grand Street, which must have been a bit of a coup, since Millhauser regularly publishes in The New Yorker. The line that stuck with me was this one:

"In the world of commercial amusement, success is measured in profit; but it is also measured in something less tangible, which may be called approval, or esteem, or fame, but which really is a measure of the world's compliance in permitting a private dream to become a public fact."

That's a perfect penetration of the mystery of pop culture, the way the most popular pleasures are also the most vulnerable to mocking. Just a matter of which way the wind if blowing. I'll donate this book to the mini-library in my studio. It's a good, fast read, and could easily inspire. Please forgive the teeny-tiny smear of hummus on page 225.

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I also read a collection of Susan Orlean's profile pieces, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. I love the way she indulges her eye, following the moments of action that fascinate her (rather than the story's externally prescribed money shots). When editors of one magazine approached her to write a cover story on a then-10-year-old Macauley Culkin under the title "The American Man at Age 10," she responded by selling them a story on a real American kid--just a kid picked at random, living a few towns over. The result is a deeply charming portrait on life in the suburbs circa 1990.

That was a good thing for me to be reading as I work on Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, as I try to have faith that I'm not the only one who finds these stories interesting.

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To the road! The evening walk is nigh.

6 comments:

Karen J. Weyant said...

I use Susan Orlean's profile works in my journalism class. They are good reads.

giulia said...

Thanks for the detailed post. I love that quote.

Susan Orlean's work always catches my eye, no matter what's happening (usually too much). I think "I'll have to read this later...". Then, I read it.

Have a good trip home.

Susan S.

Jordan said...

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Valerie Loveland said...

Murakami wrote my favorite prose book: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.

Lion Poet said...

Interesting Orlean mention. If you parallel that story with Kaufman's attempt at adapting her "The Orchid Thief", you get a pretty interesting take.

You can kind of believe he saw what she did with that story and thought maybe she would get a good chuckle out of his documenting not only her book, but her life also.

Genius.

denise said...

I just found a Sam Cooke Aint That Good News video on YouTube - what a great way to start the day. Thank you!