What are my hypothetical "dealbreakers"? I didn't think I had any, until this fellow I know emailed me with a link to the story that sits atop the New York Times Most Emailed list. The story is about "literary dealbreakers," which is to say, "books that are bonerkillers" or "It's Not Me, It's Your Books." Now: there is little in the way of reading material I hold in lower esteem than the New York Times' Most Emailed List, whose prominence on the New York Times homepage — in addition to the internal and circlejerkospheric prestige a writer earns when she or he writes a story that finds its way onto the list — serves not only as an important signifier of the wanton consumerism to which the once-great news gathering institution has succumbed, but a shameless perpetuator of said consumerism. Migraines! Maureen Dowd! Shamu! Oh yes, and also: "People in New York are detestable in every way; come, let us count them!" Today in class: your one-night stand is judging your book collection.
The story is filled with such divine specimens of shameless self-importance as "I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn't hide my amusement," and "life-changing experiences are a tedious conversational topic at best" and "Manhattan dating is a highly competitive, ruthlessly selective sport," and "If there existed a more hackneyed, achingly obvious method of telegraphing one's education, literary standards and general intelligence, I couldn't imagine it" — that's in reference to carrying around Samuel Beckett's Proust.
I don't have a lot of books. I tend to leave them places, like my parents' attic, and what books I do have are usually an accident of some story I was writing. But the last time I had sex the guy happened to find Beckett's Three Novels in my room. This is perhaps the only highbrow book currently in my possession. Inspired by the Times story, I began reading The Unnamable at Starbucks. It pretty much immediately reminded me of the woman who sat on the toilet for two years. I started writing a story from her perspective, keeping myself amused by the absurdity, and the novelty — and imagining the slow process by which skin and toilet seat become one amid the whirring of the blenders — when suddenly I realized the man with the laptop next to me was watching porn. A white girl, blowing a black dick the width of my wrist. He watched for hours, motionless, chuckling softly to himself. Who watches porn without jerking off? Was he some sort of critic? Isn't it supposed to be "irredeemable"?
Okay, so the point is, there is no point. The rest of the stories in Sunday's Times are worth noting: the image on the front page was of a Zimbabwean man slipping underneath barbed wire in an attempt to escape the Mugabe regime for an incrementally-less miserable life in neighboring South Africa, story A6. To the right are two stories discussing the ramifications of colonialists inadvertently favoring elite ethnic minorities for positions of power over large and angry ethnic majorities. (War!) To the left, a story about the new regulations being proposed to prevent the greed and hubris of market arbitrageurs from again sending the economy hurtling toward destruction. To the bottom, a story filed from one of those lower-middle class towns (Florida) where said greed and hubris has resulted in everyone losing their houses; bottom right, Venezuela aiding FARC. Inside, Julia Allison moved into a small apartment.
But "It's Not You, It's Your Books" was, inexplicably, the Most Emailed. I blame the credit crunch. Soon, New Yorkers are going to need things, things that are not art or fashion or restaurant reservations or real estate, with which to differentiate ourselves from and inspire insecurity within others. So: books. Sadly, I had not read many of the books referenced — positively or negatively — mentioned in the piece. But in the spirit of self-improvement and mockery I am going to start. Over the next few days I'll try to sprinkle this blog with analysis of some of the great works of literature referenced within the piece. Should we start with Ada?
It's Not Me, It's Your Books [NY Times]