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literate and literary discoveries


Every day, I fire up my Mac first thing in the morning and wake up with one or another of my seven daily online newspapers, one American, four British and two Danish. If only my French were better, I could add one or two more to that list, but no. There are only so many hours in a day. I have chores to do, places to go, scenes to write, a household to feed, and a blog to maintain. I’m teaching myself Irish, Welsh and refreshing my ancient Greek already. The French will just have to wait. Unless I move on to Sanskrit, in which case just shoot me.

All these newspapers provide me with my daily dose of “Aha!”, “Really?”, or “Wow!” News, book reviews, analyses, movie reviews, style pages, op-ed pages – I eat it all up. Sometimes, a few things will stick for the rest of the day, the week, the month. Sometimes, there will be discussions across the spaghetti bolognese of any or all of these things, interrupted by Damien pushing around the vegetables on his plate with a disgusted “I don’t eat that!”

These are the daily, small scale revelations, the firecracker version, the ones that make me feel alive and glad to be, unless it’s that other kind of news day, the kind where the overriding headline on any side of the Atlantic is yet another mind-boggling version of human stupidity, short-sightedness, horror and tragedy.

I won’t talk about those days. Your life is bad enough already.

Every once in a blue moon, however, I will happen across a Great Head-Exploding Moment, the kind I wonder does NOT reverberate throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the kind that blows my bathetic brain to bits and pieces it takes me weeks, months and decades to reassemble, if, that is, I figure out to put the pieces back to where they were.

It can be brought about by anything – movies, art, discoveries, documentaries, music, literature. That last is a big one. Not a few books have bits and pieces of my brain plastered all over them, including the one and only book I hated so violently I threw it out of a sixth-floor student dorm room window – and let it rot in the rain. I do believe that the Copenhagen Public Library to this day is still missing its English-language translation of St. Augustine of Hippo’s “City of God”.

Sometimes, it will happen that the brain-exploding moments are brought about by other people, who think I might or might not like, dig, understand. It follows that some of those people are idolized in my personal Pantheon, and some others are pilloried. It all depends on the reaction.

One of the immortal ones introduced me, many, many years ago, to writers like Willilam Burroughs, James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Charles Bukowski. I was scraping off brain cells and rearranging mental furniture for years after.

The biggest literary head-exploder of that particular era, as I recall, was my discovery of a certain Brooklyn writer named Henry Miller. The first time I read “Tropic of Cancer”, I was not so much floored as flattened into oblivion. Holy Cow! You mean, someone, a street bum in Paris back in the Thirties thought like I did? This was big. This was huge. This was major.

Henry Miller went into my personal hall of fame. He’s still there today, shored up by two cherished paperback Obelisk Press editions of the “Tropics” books, “not” admonishes the back cover, “for import into the United States.” (It was banned for obscenity when this edition was published.)

Since then, there have been others, other books, other writers, other moments that pushed my buttons and realigned the poles on my internal batteries. The Buttkicker, who freely admits he’s light-years behind his intellectually omnivorous spouse (“What do you mean, you’ve never read “Utopia”??? Why not???”), has arranged to blow up my brain at regular intervals, especially if he thinks I need it. He writes sci-fi on the sly, so – wheel in the many late and likewise Great. Thanks to him, I’ve added Heinlein, Lovecraft, Frank Herbert to the Hall of Fame. Together, we discovered Dan Simmons’ “Ilium” and “Olympos”, two books so breathtakingly original you can’t believe you even read it. It’s the Trojan War, that long-dead pulverized horse of literature, but not anything at all like you’ve ever read it before – or likely since.

There have been discoveries of other, unheralded and sub-radar talent, talent that deserves a much wider audience, and stories that are retold as you’ve never read them before, and some of them rate the firecracker rating, while others are H-bomb level.

Then, right at the moment i was getting cozy and complacent and contented with the status quo, the Buttkicker sprang into action. Yupp, time to blow her head off again, fire her up again, make her sleepless at night – again, and not the way you think.

He managed to get his hands on a documentary called “Dreams with Sharp Teeth”, about a writer he thought could be an inspiration and a motivation and many things beside: Harlan Ellison.

Now, the name is not at all unfamiliar. A long time ago, when I could afford such things, I read Playboy for the articles, and quite often, there would be one or another essay by this dude, Harlan Ellison, and they were always provocative, interesting, and often hysterically funny. But I wasn’t exactly burning holes in the asphalt to my local English-language second-hand bookshop to buy up his entire oeuvre because of them.

Some things you have to be ready for. I wasn’t ready – yet.

Friday night, once Damien had crashed, the house was quiet, and we had just finished watching Luc Besson’s “Subway”, out came – the dreams with sharp teeth. I laughed so hard I started to wheeze. I scraped up my jaw off the floor. I know for a definite fact I’ve been scraping my brain off several horizontal and vertical surfaces ever since. And now, I am ready. I am so ready, it’s a scandal. There’s a writer out there, a writer whose books I’ve never read, whose worlds I don’t know, just waiting for his words to blow up my brain to subatomic particulate matter.

I can’t wait.

Even if the esteemed Mr. Ellison will never directly influence me or my own substandard words, even if I’m not even that big a sci-fi fan, strictly speaking, I can and likely will learn a lot from someone who takes great care with his words, his allusions and metaphors.

Writing, as he once said, is supposed to be hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it.

Well, take my word for it, people – it is. Hard. Harder than you think, especially if it sounds effortless and unrestrained and reads like you think.

So long as it does – make you think. If you’re lucky, your head might explode, just as mine did and still does, every day.

But a little inspiration never hurt anyone.

Just watch for that particulate matter. You may never find it again.

(Image: Keith Haring, “Untitled”(Exploding Head), 1983)

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