On occasion you find yourself doing things that seem strange to your notion of yourself. Like drinking a 16oz Pabst Blue Ribbon. Sometimes these strange details don’t bend your mind much, because you’re doing exactly the right thing. Which is to be drinking that PBR at an A.A. Bondy show with other people who clearly know the man’s music, understand that there’s something about what he does that will never signify super-stardom, but is, among all today’s drek, true. Normally when a musician sings and plays with eyes closed I wonder if it’s not a bit too affected. But that understated voice…Bondy, it is clear, is somewhere else when he plays. That somewhere must be a hard place, and I don’t envy him his demons, be they dark as pitch or just a light, gray rain.
There were couples, and singles, and old folks listening. I wished I’d recorded the whole thing in a 360 surround screen, it was that good. I don’t know if this description is accurate, but it hints at a respect for a performer that I haven’t seen in years from an audience. Even between songs people stayed quiet, understanding that spaces are just as much a part of the whole as anything else. And when, during one of those spaces, a woman called out, We love you Scott Bondy, he said exactly the right thing: Thank you, darling.
A good year for book reading was 2009, but more importantly I discovered again the beauty and power of the short story. It was partly a function of time — short stories are often perfectly packaged for those bits of travel or in-between spaces of my life.
A number of “Best of” lists include Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection, and although I enjoyed his work and working with him, there’s a piece of me that thinks that this collection has captured imaginations in part because Pakistan is so much in the news.
The environment too was in the news frequently, and William Cronon, opened my eyes not to the impact of the changes man has wrought but to the connectivity of history, geography, and the ecology. A classic that’s just as relevant today.
I remain disturbed by much of Nam Le’s collection since reading it. I wasn’t moved by the actual writing so much as left with a sense of the anger and earnestness contained within his stories. There were very few tidy endings, and even when he drifted close to cliché, the suffering of his characters (outward and inward) was more than enough to leave an impression that I can’t quite shake.
So the best this year have to be some of the individual works themselves: A River Runs Through It (Collected Stories of Norman MacLean), Seiche (Granta 108), The Lightless Room (Granta 108), Lily (In Other Rooms), and Cartagena (The Boat).
It is difficult, in a year, to come anywhere close to comprehension of a city like London. At best you perhaps start to understand why it has enthralled so many before you. London is a city built on narrative and meta-narrative. I suppose the same could be said about British society. That narrative was the cornerstone of their colonialism, and if I can remove myself from the weight of that empire for a second, I have to say that they are pretty good at it. So in that spirit, now ten days removed from the Big Smoke, I’ll be adding some thoughts on particular moments in London.