Thursday, December 29, 2016

The End

Time goes still during the holidays, when I take my place at one end of my parents' couch with a book in my lap and try to to tune out the sound of the TV so I can be in my daddy's company while I read. Between Christmas and New Year's Day I can effectively dodge all responsibilities and ignore email. My only pastime between books is to tentatively poke the edges of resolution-ish thought bubbles and brace my gut against currents of regret for the failures of the year gone by. This, to me, is a successful vacation.

I'm enjoying the synchronicity of the books that have fallen into my hands here at year's ebb. Santa via mom via brought me Moonglow, the new Michael Chabon book. The protagonist is a gruff old man with an engineering mind, and the dominant themes are mortality and legacy. The blind whimsy of a holiday book exchange brought me Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which is about basically the same things and the same guy. The book gods want me to make peace with the saturnine, with the collective grandfather, with Chronos. Maybe they're letting me know, "hey, your life could be worse, you could be a dead old man." Touché, book gods, tou-ché.

Some necessary words on one of the best novels of 2016. Moonglow is peak Michael Chabon. It is funny and beautiful, both specific and universal. Chabon is clever, imaginative and virtuosic, but not to the point of stealing focus from the story to shine the light on the author. This is a particularly impressive feat, given that he himself is a character in the story, or maybe this is the key to the effect: the presence of the author character within the text (slightly doofy) is a sleight of hand that distracts the reader from the workings of the master creator shaping the story.

The last book I'll read this year was a Christmas gift from my dear friend Peter John Still, sound designer, mystic, linguist -- a kind, curious, all-the-way-odd duck. His wide-ranging mind has many passions, and I'm fortunate that my interests overlap with his in some fringe territory where few people care to dig in deep. Call this zone of our friendship's Venn diagram "comparative esoteric spiritual poetics". So this book he found is called The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts. This classical scholar from England has re-interpreted the carvings within a particular Egyptian pyramid, refracting new light around our understanding of ancient spiritual belief and practice, the uses of language, the relationship of the word with the natural world, and the associations among humankind's collective identity formations and the cosmos. Let's just say it's not a fast read. Also, with very little reference in my understanding of the subject, it's hard for me to know what of this text is solid scholarship and what is just cool-sounding made-up stuff. But maybe this is an appropriate frame to work within when you're reading a text about religious poetry!

Happy 2017, readers. I hope we all do great things in the coming year, or at least read some great ones.