PATRICK STEPHENSON

Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

“Those I’ve Left Behind”

by Patrick Stephenson,
compulsive book buyer, caveat emptor

WRITE ON RADIO // Although my bookshelves are already overstocked with novels I’ve ignored and/or haven’t read, I buy new books compulsively. If I haven’t been to a bookstore in a while (nearly any will do; on a recent trip to Rochester, BookshelfI found myself browsing (Ja forbid) the sales rack at Sam’s Club) a new novel craving suddenly emerges, then transforms into a need that must be sated.

That my shelves contain an abundance of unread and abused books is not a factor during store trips, because those have already been acquired, have already taken root and been granted space on my shelf, where stacked spines coalesce into an eye-pleasing color mix. Most are read to the end, if not immediately then over a period of several months/years, because I am, be assured, slow and lazy.

Some books, however, are treated even more poorly than those that remain (partly) unread. A few months ago, I moved up to the Cities to attend classes at the U, and this past weekend, I returned to my old home to look over the books I’d abandoned, those that had, for some reason, been unworthy of a spot in the three or so moving boxes I brought along during that first month in this New World.

These were books I’d left behind, like sinners in the hackwork of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, left to fend alone while their betters were carried off (by My hands) to Heaven/the Cities. The Tribulation they faced, though, was apathy rather than the Anticristo’s 300 Apocalyptic horsemen. An odd comparison, to be sure, but in either case, they were covered with dust, and I felt sorry for them. Why did some stay and others go? What was their distinction, and exactly which books had I left?

(1) Tietam Brown, by Mick Foley

I met Foley at a Tietam Brown reading. He was a brilliant crowd-worker, both incredibly engaging and personable to its attendant long-haired, shirt-wearing fanboys, none of whom bore mullets, but who were completely taken by Foley’s ex-ring charisma and wrestling stories. I love Foley’s two memoirs, which detail his highs/lows as an independent and mainstream wrestler, in an array of federations that included both the WWE (formerly the WWF), and the ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling), and which describe his legendary, wince-inducing list of injuries (like the one in a German ring of barbed-wire that tore off his left ear). I did not, however, enjoy Tietam Brown. Unlike his previous two books, which were self- instead of ghost-written, his first (last?) novel seems wholly amateurish, like the work of someone who has access to a prestigious company like Knopf merely because he’s a famous wrestler and bestseller who can draw asses into seats for both bookstore readings and wrestling events. Foley has skill as a memoirist, but not as a novelist.

The title character is physically similar to his author-God. Like Foley, he has an ear missing. However, unlike Foley, TB is afflicted by two other traumas: he was gang-raped in juvie, and he was in an accident that decapitated his big-bosomed aunt. Both traumas are invoked again and again throughout the story, without any sort of subtlety or artistry. As a result, they seem trivial and fake, as though Foley has inserted them, not because they’re important to establishing the novel’s character or story, but because he takes joy in likening blood drip from a decapitated head to the sound of rain falling. In addition to those wackeries, Tietam’s previously deadbeat, though really only misunderstood, father exercises in the nude, and requires his married lovers to eat from his ane. The novel’s prose is immaturely wrought, and seems tailored to the YA set, but its content is needlessly, and ineffectively, graphic and violent.

(2) Star Trek: The Captain’s Table — Books 1 Through 6

Sadly, I once read those Star Trek novels that litter the Sci-Fi section at your local Barnes. This one is over a thousand pages long, and includes contributions from LA Graf, Michael Jan Friedman, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Diane Carey, Peter David and Jerry Oltion. Says the collection’s back cover: “There’s a bar called the Captain’s Table, where those who have commanded mighty vessels of every shape and era can meet, relax, and share a friendly drink with others of their calling. But the first drink is always paid for with a story… even for Starfleet’s finest officers!” On the collection’s cover is a painting of Trek’s starship captains, sitting around a table in a bar with drinks at the ready.

Captain Picard looks stiff and drugged, is staring at some unknown and distant point. Kirk looks pissed, is bracing himself against the bar’s table. Sulu is likewise uninvolved in conversation, is nearly hidden in shadow on the left side of the cover. Captains Janeway and Sisko, however, seem at least to be paying attention, to whatever story is being told. Not one of the captains’ mouths is open, though, and none of them actually seem to be speaking or telling one of the stories so promised by the collection’s backside. Perhaps that’s for the best.

Whatever was once intereresting about Star Trek, and its novels, no longer is. When I found this book on a discount rack, buying it was an attempt to regain a time when I was able to abandon my pretensions (I had none) to enjoy a story that involved characters taken from a dorky, but often entertaining, television show. I’m not there anymore, and this book is now missing from my new home. I tried to read it, but couldn’t without editing the writing in my mind: changing, deleting and rearranging words. It’s a compulsion.

(3) Cosmopolis, by Don DeLillo

I bought Cosmopolis when I was first into getting high on prominent literary fiction. To see it on some shelf in some store, without having any prior knowledge about its release, and knowing that I liked its author and absolutely had to buy it, was exciting. I paid in full for Cosmopolis, unaided by any sort of new release discount on the price, and sat down to read. I put it down. I came back again, some other time, and put it down again. It was boring, vague and kind of dumb. All of the reviews I read thereafter only confirmed my fears. This book had not been worth the $25 plus I’d stupidly laid down in plastic.

Buying Cosmopolis, without first (at least) reading reviews (if only to have some kind of idea of its story and content) or ensuring that I would actually enjoy it, was my first real realization that, even if you’ve liked an author’s previous work, paying full price for a slim hardcover that you’ll eventually see in remainder for $5.00 can be a heartbreaking experience, the kind you recollect and pore over when you stare up at said novel’s spine. Like all of DeLillo’s books, the language is engaging—“There was no friend he loved enough to harrow with a call. What was there to say? It was a matter of silences, not words.”—but only to a certain point, and in Cosmopolis’s case, that point doesn’t extend to the novel’s end.

(4) Money, by Martin Amis

I found this one under my dad’s bed, and I’ve attempted to rectify the neglect it received by bringing it up to my apartment. Obviously, the three preceding books deserved some of that aforementioned apathy, but this doesn’t belong among them. Please forgive me, Martin Amis, you Yellow Dog.

— P.S., for Write On Radio, November 2004

Written by patiomensch

February 28, 2007 at 9:35 pm

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