I don’t discuss books much, though with an hour commute each way on the train during the work week, I sure have enough time to bury my face in them.The last great book I read was skateboarder Jocko Wayland’s The Answer is Never. The title borrows on cultural anthropologist/photographer and straight up skateboarder, Craig Stecyk’s reply to a guy’s question of when he’ll grow out of the kiddie sport. What starts as a rather slow introduction through the ancient history of surfing soon morphs into one of the most comprehensive histories of skateboarding, one that paralells the memoirs of Jocko’s own personal history as a faithful skateboarder. That he isn’t a professional skateboarder made everything all the more interesting. All the more new. I liked it so much that, when Absurdity & Elsewhere came into being (though it’s on hold again till I get time to muster up some good stuff to post there), I got in touch with Jocko, hoping for an interview. If not skateboarding, then certainly music, coming up in the West Coast-ish punk/DIY scene in the late 70s and early 80s. Unfortunately, he declined, saying he’d discussed the book and everything else about as much as he felt it needed. Dang.
Probably on the bright side, British director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) did invite me to send my interview questions, which I’d wanted to do since reading his X Films: Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker. Though I couldn’t think of much to ask about aside from Repo Man.
Lately, in the hopes of keeping up the trend of one good book after another, I’ve been sticking with Richard Russo novels. He’s an American writer based out of Maine. I’m not sure if he still does, but he was teaching creative writing at Colby College. The name doesn’t ring a bell? But what about the made-for-television adaptations starring Paul Newman? Yes, Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool (which you can watch on Hulu). Yeah, he’s the one. His books tend to center on these small towns in upstate Maine and upstate New York. Town’s whose fortunes are always squandered by folly, with the residents so often hoping for a lucky streak. Nearly finished (and perhaps in the slowest-moving chapter) with Bridge of Sighs, I was about to declare it one of my favorite books of all time as of now (see previous mention of slow-moving chapter), though it’s still pretty damn good. This one takes place in upstate New York, and I read the synopsis before reading the book, completely expecting something more in the vein of small-town Hallmark-ishness like the movies of his adaptions usually becomes. A 60 year old man is about to leave the comforts of his small town with his wife and vacation in Italy where they are supposed to meet up with an old friend who “once competed for his wife’s affections.”
But, that surely isn’t Russo’s style and thank god that, this far into his career, he didn’t start. The book does start from the point of this guy explaining that he and his wife are going on vacation and may meet their old friend if they ever hear back from him. But, during all this, he is writing a memoir and the novel soon jumps into extensive flashback. But, the book then shifts its focus to other major players in this guy’s life (his wife as a young girl seemed the most interesting). The philisophical dynamics that start emerging there are pretty interesting to consider, especially this question of whether people can ever change. That all your learning is pretty much done, you’re judgements and values and personalities pretty far developed by the time you’re only a teenager.
I was trying to imagine Russo storyboarding this whole thing, standing in front of a wall with a zillion little colored Post-Its with notes about each small detail mentioned in the story that suddenly becomes explained in greater detail down the line somewhere, or there are major details that are suddenly exposed as a significant connection only later in the tale. He had this knack for tying it all together so well. Hm… what else to say about it? Well, nothing, till someone reads it. I ain’t one for giving too much away!
It’s a little over 600 pages, so I’ll wait.