Patti Smith spoke at a church in Berkeley and did an impromptu musical performance. Her self-deprecating humor was exquisitely charming. Her book, M Train, is about nothing. Really, on page one, first paragraph, first sentence, she writes, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” (Smith, 1). I devoured M Train. I was on vacation in New Mexico reading it, at my Aunt’s ranch, sitting on the porch, drinking coffee out of my deceased Uncle’s mug. Everything felt so connected, so immediately relevant. And yet, I suspect I would relate to this book and connect everything wherever I was while reading it.
At 738 pages, Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons follows the tribulations, confusions, betrayal, failures, and successes of seventeen year old Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe also delves into the politics of fraternities, sports, bullying, racism, and poverty. And just like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe adeptly creates nearly two dozen characters that are easily remembered. He spends years researching his books to create a world that moves efficiently and realistically. His books are always page-turners, regardless of the topic. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test years ago and honestly didn’t think I would like anything else by him. I was thrown off by what I thought was a conservative republican old man who wears flamboyant white suits. But everything he writes has an objectivity and if it’s possible, simultaneously an empathy. It seems contradictory but all of his characters have accountability and reasoning. His female characters are solid—some are strong and some are just as weak and pathetic as his men. Even after reading (and loving) The Bonfire of the Vanities, I doubted Wolfe’s ability to write about a teenage girl entering college. Happily, I was wrong. He wrote so well that Charlotte stuck with me when I wasn’t reading the book and will forever be with me. I don’t even know if I like Charlotte but I understood her.
Your book collection is a reflection of yourself, your tastes, your intellectual pursuits, your career, and your circumstances. Your books themselves can be unintentional markers of where you were or what you were doing at certain points in your life. And the items you use as placeholders instead of bookmarks can reveal another level of who you were or are. I started a new project, going through all of my books and photographing what was left in each book. I went through all the books in my apartment but have yet to go through the books in storage at my folks’ house. I started because I found two safety pins in a book. I can’t recall the book (I wish it was something appropriate like Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me but it wasn’t). Regardless, I began to wonder what else I would find in my books.
There were too many items to include in this single entry. I still have more books to add for future blog posts. It’s fun to see who I was and what I was doing when I was reading these books. It’s interesting that many of the placeholders indicate an active social life while I’m sitting at home or on the bus reading a book. I have spent so much time out and about because if I don’t get out of my room, I’ll read or worse, watch tv all night. These placeholders reveal so much more than I remember about myself. Forgotten people, phone numbers. But they also remind me of how long I’ve known some friends, and how many states we have known each other. Whether that be physical states and mental states. They also reiterate the people that I’ve been friends with for many, many years. The ones that have seen me through going to shows like the Toiletboys and going to clubs ten years ago. And the ones that accepted my being a book nerd in the midst of a raging social scene.
Tom Wolfe‘s The Bonfire of the Vanities is a contemporary naturalist novel and his protagonist, Sherman McCoy, evokes feelings reminiscent to that of Vladimir Nabokov‘s Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Wolfe allows the dialogue and plot to speak for themselves, and while concrete evidence of his voice is hard to be found, the novel’s presentation of society, justice, and media direct us to Wolfe’s opinion.