The Best Story Ever

The hardest thing to pull off? Is the story about an artist who writes the best story ever — or poem, or song, you get the picture — but you have to read part of that story in the narrative. And as you approach it you’re thinking, “Uh oh, there’s no way they’re going to pull this off.” How many times in your reading life do you hit the best story ever? 1 out of 50? 100? I can’t think of an example where it actually works (maybe you can?).

Anyway, most recent example: Family Feud. So much resource poured out on so slight a work. The backward storytelling thing was great. But the verses were… not the best story ever.

(Update: Thinking more about this, I’ve decided that Family Feud maybe doesn’t fit the “best story in a story” trope, exactly. Technically it does: the rap at the end of the video is the story referred to directly and indirectly throughout the rest of the short film, which serves as the story around the story. But in reality, no one makes an explicit claim for its greatness. It’s the embarrassment of riches spent on framing that story — A-List actors, special effects, high-concept narrative, Beyoncé in couture — that suggest the viewer infer the momentousness of the final, delayed Jay-Z verses. And their (inevitable?) inability to live up to the hype put this one in the same zip code, at least, as the rest of its “best story” neighbors.)

One Year

One Year, a January mix from jnonfiction
One Year, a themed mix for January. Skews light; let’s see if 2018 can take a hint.

  1. New Year – The Breeders
  2. Valentine’s Day – Hem
  3. March – Hex
  4. April The 14th (Ruination Day Part 1) – Gillian Welch
  5. Month of May – Arcade Fire
  6. June – Over The Rhine
  7. July – The Innocence Mission
  8. August & September – The The
  9. Late October – Harold Budd / Brian Eno
  10. Rose Hip November – Vashti Bunyan
  11. New Year’s Eve – The Walkmen

Like a groundhog

Popping my head back up above ground. I’ve relied on social media to maintain an internet presence for a few years. But lately I’ve felt like there are times I want to say something requiring more than 140 (280?) characters. The tools have improved, the family has maintained a webserver against all odds… let’s see if I can’t shake off the dust and resurrect the practice.

Karen Peris contributes guest vocals to one of my surprise end-of-year finds: Lost Horizons, which represents the return of Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) to music making after a few years running Bella Union. The whole album is a revelation.

04. Empowered evangelicals: bringing together the best of the evangelical and charismatic worlds

Empowered evangelicals - Rich Nathan and Ken WilsonRich and Ken do a good, thorough job of fleshing out the theological underpinnings and practical consequences of Vineyard’s self-proclaimed approach to Holy-Spirit dependent evangelicalism, challenging both traditional charismatics and traditional evangelicals to reconsider the theology behind their traditions. A good primer and a good reminder why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe. Always, the bottom line is Jesus with these guys, and that’s important– they’re so concerned not to fall into the errors of either camp. Tension, not balance.

03. Come on all you ghosts

Come on all you ghosts - Matthew ZapruderOne of the NYT’s 100 best books of 2011. Except it’s 2010. Whatever. If I were to oversimplify I’d say most modern non-Language poetry I’ve read strikes me as either “Wide-eyed wonder at the amazingness of it all” or “Post-millennial confusion about being alive,” with a small slice of “I fucking hate everything, especially God.” Zapruder is there in the second category, again– as a simplification. This is better than most, employing an easy everyday voice to take you through not-so-everyday thought, mostly about life, some about poetry itself. Standouts include Minnesota, Paper toys, Global warming (“I have seen the new five-dollar bills / with their huge pink hypertrophied numbers / in the lower right hand corner and feel / excited and betrayed. / Which things should never change?”), and the title poem, which runs for pages and is about poetry and the interplay between the writer, the reader, and the dead. Found myself thinking what it’ll be like when (not if) I re-read this collection.

02. For the relief of unbearable urges

For the relief of unbearable urges - Nathan EnglanderNine pretty amazing stories about being Judaism, being Jewish, feeling Jewish, loving and hating being a Jew. A writer comes up with his masterwork and is shot by Stalin in the space of a few minutes. A family of ultra-orthodox Jews narrowly escape the concentration camps by becoming ersatz acrobats. A schizophrenic Levite commits an unforgivable sin. An aging wigmaker steals the perfect hair. A gentile wakes up Jewish. A Jewish Santa Claus quits the mall in disgust and despair, knowing his wife will just send him back. A frustrated husband tries to circumvent the Law and receives in his body the consequences. I read it after the Millions admitted anticipating his second book of short stories, What we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank. The ability to pack life and power into the short story, that’s a rare gift, and he’s got it. Plus they each do that trick of taking you in a direction you didn’t expect. And then there are the turns of phrase. Whew.

01. The quest for the radical middle: a history of the Vineyard

The quest for the radical middle - Bill JacksonJackson’s history of the Vineyard movement, from John Wimber’s conversion, through Fuller seminary and “lab time,” the Kansas City Prophets, the Toronto Blessing, up to about 1998 or so. Lovingly done, and great to read about the many places the movement has been in its journey to the present day. Probably only of interest to insiders or sociologists of evangelicalism, but it filled in a lot of holes for me.