Sunday, July 12, 2015

Carsick, Tsukuru, and Down, Down the Rabbit Hole

I wonder if you all find yourself doing this, too. 

So, I'm reading a book, and something is mentioned--for example, a song title.  Especially if it's pretty significant to what's going on, or is mentioned a second time, I'll immediately find the song, buy it, and download it.  I'll continue reading while listening.

This happened in January, when I was reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.  The author, Haruki Murakami, kept weaving a song in and out of the narrative, and the title character even had a favorite version by a particular pianist.  The piece is Le Mal du Pays by Franz Liszt, and the pianist is Lazar Berman.  It's a lonely turns tender, dark, unforgiving.  Maybe angry.  Ethereal in places. 

I figured there would be multiple uploads on YouTube, and I wasn't disappointed.  This person even shared it because of the Murakami book, and lo, and behold--the comment section is filled with kindred spirits who came looking for the song to deepen their engagement with it.

I had a similar experience recently while reading Carsick, a book by a man with whom I'm quite obsessed right now, and who I think will always be a great inspiration to me--John Waters.

The premise of Carsick is that Waters, a life-long hitchhiker, stepped out of his Baltimore home, hitched a ride, and didn't stop hitchhiking until he reached his apartment in San Francisco.  There are fictional parts, as well as his real adventures, and he even included a playlist in the book to go along with his journey.  I didn't seek out those songs, some of which I knew, but I did do a little bit of extracurricular engagement when he reached his destination.  I came to this passage toward the end of the book:

I feel incredibly safe as the breath-taking panorama of the San Francisco skyline that no one could ever get sick of comes into view.  I immediately visualize that great YouTube clip of Judy Garland singing San Francisco on her 1963 TV show, and once you've seen it, you'll understand how crazily focused, insanely optimistic, and spiritually privileged I feel at this exact moment in my life.
Of course, I immediately went to YouTube and found what he was talking about, and was so glad I did.  I felt his joy at returning home after days on the road, relying on strangers, getting rained on and ignored at times, much more than if I'd just read his sentiment. 

John Waters is a surprisingly old-fashioned guy in some ways, and his mind is an encyclopedia of culture and pop culture.  I can't help but think that his original writing might have just said that he thought of the moment in the old Judy Garland show when she sang this song.  It may have been the suggestion of his editor, or even his assistant who types out his handwritten (yes...handwritten) manuscripts, that he mention the YouTube video.  Either way, I feel like this was a definite suggestion drop within the narrative--if you want to experience this more, put the book aside and take to the internet.  Even before I ever got to the Garland song, while I was reading Carsick, I consumed a lot of interviews of Waters during my work days, especially those archived on NPR, some of which were about this particular book. 

I wonder what you all think of this, and whether you do it, too.  Is it a good thing that we can engage like this with books, and not only find media immediately at our fingertips to enhance the experience, but maybe even find, if only briefly, a sense of community with others who have done the same?  Or is this all too distracting, and are we fostering an inability to focus on one thing...turning reading into another multi-task?


  1. Yeah, I do it a little, though perhaps not to the same extent as you. It's easy these days, and if a certain story element is important enough, I don't see anything wrong with trying to learn more about it in order to place it in its proper context. I'm the type who attempts to read slowly, in order to savor the experience (don't always succeed, of course), so if this happens to me, it's not as great a distraction as it may seem.

    1. Agreed, Rich. I think we're on the same page. (Booooooooo! Hisssssssss!). :)


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