Sunday, June 15, 2008

Our Heroine Utters A Literary "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

I am a soft-touch for book clubs. I am. I am always wanting to start them and I am always wanting to join them. And this has never worked out well for me. One day, I will recount for you readers the tragi-comedy that was my short-lived Homer Book Club just so you all understand how organized reading groups and I don't mix. I think I either get over-excited (as with my Homer book club) or I get seriously under-whelmed (as with most every other book club I've ever joined) and in neither case is the club experience enriched by my involvement.

All this by way of introduction to my most recent book club membership, the Freebird Books Post-Apocalyptic Movie and Book Club. It's a book club being run out of a little independent book store in Redhook, and the idea is we get together once a month to discuss a piece of Science Fiction set on some sort of post-apocalyptic Earth. We discuss themes, imagery, symbolism, plot structure, etc., over wine and cookies, and then we go next door to watch a movie, also post-apocalyptic, that has similar themes to the book. So far, so good.

The June discussion I can't attend because I'm out of town, so I thought I would get started on July's read, which is Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany.

Tonight, I curled up on my couch with a nice, lemony Diet Coke and my book and I read seven pages and put the book down and thought to myself, quite literally, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

What just happened to my protagonist? Was he just crouching in a shrub, and did he know... with an Asian lady who also happened to be a tree? And did he get dressed in a prism chain afterwards? And if so, huh? And did I actually read this line, "It is a city of inner discordances and retinal distortions."

Thoroughly confused, I decided to read the foreward by William Gibson to see if he could tell me what the heck this book was about, and this is what I read,

...Delany, equipped with the accumulated tool-kit of literary modernism, heads straight for the edges and borders and unacknowledged treaties of the consensual act of fiction. And, most remarkably - almost uniquely, in my experience - he succeeds; the text becomes something else...

Oh, golly. I hate when the text becomes something else. Mostly I just like it when it stays text.


I distrust few things more deeply than acts of literary explication.
Here is a book. Go inside.
It's your turn now.
Circular ruin.
Hall of mirrors.
Ring of flesh.
The smoldering outskirts reconfiguring with each step you take.
Remember me to them.

That's the foreword, dear readers. That's what I'm relying on to help clarify what I'm about to read. Now my head hurts.

Also, I think I learned that it's supposed to be a metaphor for the Sixties. Circular ruin, indeed. I don't think I want to read this anymore.

Am I wrong? Should I display austere self-discipline and finish the thing? Or should I wait to redeem myself in August, and in the meantime read some Wodehouse?
Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the hotel at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

1 comment:

Jason Pfeifer said...


I came across your blog post regarding book clubs. I’m Jason Pfeifer, and some friends and I started an online service called Booksprouts, that allows people to create book clubs, choose books, invite friends, and read and discuss online. We are currently seeking people who might be interested in trying the site out, and giving us feedback on the service. We also welcome people who have blogs to write reviews of the site (good or bad) as a means of feedback. We’re really excited to hear what people think, and on how we can improve the site. It’s 100% free, by the way. Please feel free to check it out.

book clubs


Jason Pfeifer
Community Manager