While we could spend the whole day here, wading through an embarrassing array of costumes—some that we have actually worn!— the work bell tolls. Papers need to be shuffled off the desk before tonight's hot date with a pint-sized blue power ranger, a young Obi-Wannabe Kenobi, and a few plastic sacks brimming with candy.
But have no fear. You will be in the accomplished hands of Tao Lin, the Reader of Depressing Books blogger. Remember last week when we mentioned that you really should go see Marcy Dermansky at The Happy Ending Reading Series? Well, Tao actually went! And he was kind enough to send along this FotHB report for us. While we're not sure we've learned more about Dermansky from his report, we find we are more than a little curious now to meet Benjamin Kunkel. Go figure.
As for Tao, you can read his work in upcoming issues of the Cincinnati Review, Other Voices, Bullfight Review, Kitchen Sink, Punk Planet, and daily at the Reader of Depressing Books blog.
I feel like I'm about to offend a lot of important people. The Happy Ending Reading Series is run by Amanda Stern. Twice a month, or something. Four readers, I think, each time. But I can't remember who the fourth reader was, that night. There was Benjamin Kunkel, there was Stephen King's son, and there was the person who wrote that novel that someone said was Mary Gaitskill-esque. I don't remember where I sat. Mostly, I just remember that I kept saying that Benjamin Kunkel was wearing clown pants.
"He looks annoying," I said. "Like the kind of person who's just really annoying all the time."
"He has clown pants," I said.
"They're just hipster pants," said Nick Antosca.
But the pants had stripes. They were really tight. They had stripes because they were clown pants. He also looked like a 12th century bard. I am not criticizing right now. When he read, his demeanor, stance, and timbre were just of a 14th century poet, or something, in a field, reading sonnets. The field is grassy. It think it's a knoll. And there's a medieval castle, on a hill, in the background.
"He looks so annoying," I said, later that night.
"He was wearing tight, striped, clown pants," I said in an e-mail the next day.
"He had clown pants," I said, a week later, at the editor of Fence's parent's home, to Katy Lederer, who then said something about the size of Benjamin Kunkel's penis, then apologized, then took back her apology, saying that it was me who mentioned Benjamin Kunkel's penis first, which was true; I had just said that the clown pants were so tight that you could see the shape of his crotch.
Stephen King's son also read. He had a description of a cat that was funny. The cat's head being two-dimensional, or something. He said, "Gaunt." He used that word, and it worked. I could envision the cat. It looked like a shovel, and was a little scary. I felt bad for the cat because it was deformed. Deformity is scary and Stephen King is a horror novelist.
The Mary Gaitskill-esque novelist rode a unicycle. Because Amanda Stern, the person who runs the Happy Ending Reading Series, has a rule. "All readers in the Happy Ending Reading Series," says the rule, "must do something embarrassing before reading, must take a public risk."
Except for Christine Schutt, I think. Because I don't remember her (this was a different night; months ago) doing anything embarrassing. I wanted to say, "Hey, you didn't do anything embarrassing. Just because you were nominated for the National Book Award doesn't mean anything." I should have confronted her, outside, in Chinatown, because the Happy Ending Lounge is in Chinatown. Christine Schutt would spray toxins in my eyes, which I'm completely okay with.
I like the title of her story collection. "A day, A Night, Another Day, Summer." A day (okay), a night (okay, but a little dull, really), a day (yeah, I'm bored now, thanks), then Summer! —What?!— I am in love with that title. Just kidding. I don't fall in love with things that are not people, unlike almost everyone I've ever met.
But when the Mary Gaitskill-esque novelist rode the unicycle I wasn't entertained. I didn't feel amused. Because I wanted it to be me who was riding that unicycle. But not in front of all these people. I wanted to ride that unicycle in Florida, in 1993, in my neighborhood, in November, when I was ten years old.
A band called The Broadways has a song called Fifteen Minutes. The lyrics are like, "I wish I could turn the clock back / back to when I was ten / when I wasn't scared of everything / and everything wasn't so fucking crowded."
It wasn't very crowded at the reading.
At the Christine Schutt one, it was way more crowded. Probably because Aimee Bender was a reader that night. Aimee Bender will never be nominated for a National Book Award. Neither will Lorrie Moore. Lorrie Moore had the National Book Critics Circle Award, or whatever. Good for her. I mean it. She deserves it.
But I think I would like to nominate The Task of This Translator, by Todd Hasak-Lowy, for a Pulitzer Prize. Joy William's The Quick and The Dead was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Michael Chabon won. Because his book had a plot. "If you want to succeed at life," the Pulitzer Prize says, "your books should have plots." If Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision gets nominated for something, I'll be very nonchalant. My reaction will be like, "Oh. Cool." That's what I'll say. When Aimee Bender calls me on the phone and says, "Kunkel won the Nobel Prize." I'll be like, "Oh. Cool." I don't know Aimee Bender and she would never call me on the phone.
Here's a list of people I would've offended had I wrote this thing secretly, in my head, late at night, in bed, unable to sleep:
I mean... Wow!
Just kidding, though, I think.
I don't think I would offend all those people. It would depend on my mood. But I don't think Mary Gaitskill would even care. I think Todd Hasak-Lowy would more be amused than offended. Saul Bellow isn't alive.
But listen to me. I'm not critiquing society right now. I don't feel oppressed by Western Civilization. I don't fight conformity during small talk. I'm not like, "I can't even be honest because I'll offend people. Fuck this shit." I'm more like, "It's hard and strange to be sincere; to just say things and be a nice and tolerant but honest person; to have an identity and to have opinions; or something."
The "or something" means I can't be blamed for anything, really.
The "really" means... I don't know what it means.
Oh yeah. There was also a musician that night. The musician! He was this guitar guy. His lyrics were like, "Angels are good. Beauty, peace, and hope. Bright Lights, Big City. Clown pants." Just kidding. I wish, though, about those last two sentences I just quoted that he didn't say. But he was British. He had one song about boys. The boys kissed. It snowed and the boys hugged. The song showed us that he was not a homophobe. He was at once a tough, heterosexual man; a sensitive, aesthetic man; and a man who did not hate homosexuals but instead viewed them with a kind of distanced amusement. Impressive! I'm not being sarcastic right now. I was a little impressed!
Here's a list of things that are literary that I have recently been impressed by:
Stephen Dixon's story, Goodbye to Goodbyes
Noah Cicero's novel, Burning Babies
Trinie Dalton's story-collection, Wide Eyed
David Moser's story, This Is The Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself
Karen Ashburner's story, Synchronized Diving
Nick Antosca's story, Sexual Anthology, forthcoming in The New York Tyrant
Geraldine Kim's play, Iceland
Deb Olin Unferth's story, La Pena
Rebecca Curtis' story, The Wolf at The Door
Matthew Simmons' (The Man Who Couldn't Blog) description of some of the 'systems' he had as a child in the comments section of a post on my site