Saturday, February 18, 2012

Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan’s book is more a stylistic innovation; she is a prose stylist in the vein of James Joyce, though at a lesser level, focusing on tactical invention rather than straight forward storytelling, a literary Quentin Tarantino - a film maker she admires. I had listened to her book, not reading the words but listening via an audio book, losing the appreciation of her originality, though conscious of the novelty in the way the stories were told, missing the famous Power point pages and the relevance to the overall story line. Last night I read the glowing reviews from many sources, especially after the book won the Pulitzer prize, which made one want to borrow the actual paperback so one could enjoy her work on a visual level, which is how one experiences reading instead of through the auditory level.  On the other hand, listening to writers like David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franken or even James O’Neill, works that rely less on stylistic innovation but more on pure storytelling bravado, one can appreciate the work by hearing the words, an enjoyment in the way it was intended to, harking back to ancient times of Homer when people gathered around a campfire or even the coffee houses of medieval times to listen to stories.

What benefits the writer more: reading or listening to books? From a recreational level, listening to books is more convenient, an activity that one can do while driving or exercising in the gym, a great time saver that allows multi-tasking. Consuming books to learn is needed by novelists; but will the necessary knowledge a writer must obtain as a consumer of books be served by reading or listening, with different mental gears absorbing the input while the work formulates in the mind’s eye. Listening to a book is like listening to a great symphony, multiple sounds cascade in various melodies and crescendos, similarly, stories create images like a mental movie playing in the mind, the sounds of words laying their spell in the same faculty that reading utilizes, with the plot weaving itself into images created with sound of prose. Debates have raged on which method is best, though I agree that visual reading is the best way to appreciate a book though listening does provide an ease and equal enjoyment amidst the turmoil of everyday life where one lacks the time to sit down and read. As one ages, time seems to be scarce with past pleasures of innocent solitude long gone, the visit from the goon squad coming to get you, so listening to books is a way to beat the goons by clawing back some spare time to enjoy a book.

One of the reviews had a song for each chapter, noted artists like Jimi Hendrix, Massive Attack, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Pearl Jam, Bryan Ferry and other hip artists not known in the mainstream, a fitting way to end her appraisal considering the setting of the rock music industry, recalling the aging rock star in Franken’s ‘Freedom’, while alluding to the onslaught of the digital age, and futuristic scenarios of youngsters with high-tech listening devices. Egan’s book briefly delves in science fiction, fast forwarding to the future, a sly nod to William Gibson whose works straddle different genres, thriller and futuristic fiction, though some critics call Egan’s work unclassifiable.  Listening to the music in YouTube while reading the reviews was a cool way to enjoy this new stylistic work; Apple and Google having moved the entire planet into a magical plane where all things seem possible, allowing Jennifer Egan to explore new ways of linking short stories like a mash-up, a sort of hacker effort that legitimizes the slap dash endeavor, so different from the old days with grizzled old story tellers spinning tales, but instead trying to decipher the new rhythms of communication spawned by technology.

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