Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 4, 2014

Beach Reading, Part 1

I like ya, kid, so I’m gonna tell ya somethin’: Them Big Ones ain’t so tough. Ya can take it from me, ’cause I’ve read ’em all: Moby, Intruder, Gravity, Finnegan, Recherche. Yep, I’m on a first-name basis with all of ’em. I walk into any bookstore or library in America and it’s like Norm walkin’ inta Cheers: “Braaaaad!” That’s ’cause they know I got their number: they ain’t as big as they’d like ya ta think, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Trust me. When it comes down to it, none of ’em got anything tougher than the shortest story Raymond Carver’s got, outside’ve a lot more words. It’s volume, that’s what scares the rookies in this game. They look at those word counts an’, “My god,” they think. “Proust? four THOUSAND pages?” That’s only what them so-called Big Boys want ya ta think. But take it from me: Ya sit down, open the cover, skip any silly introduction or foreward or acknowledgements (I hate them acknowledgements) and start readin’. Jes’ keep readin’.

Oh, they’ll put up a fight, all right. That Pynchon cat will introduce a new character on every other page of an 800 page novel; don’t let it rattle ya. Write the character’s name in the margin and keep goin’. If the character shows up again 300 pages later (sometimes they never show up again), ya got his number; flip back and find out where he came from. And Pynch is a piker compared to that M. Proust; his book’s got somethin’ like 2,000 characters. Don’t let ’em daunt ya, though. Keep readin’. Never be daunted. I learned that from Hem. Now THERE was a guy who knew how to write a big book without a lot of pages to it.

Then ya got your constant shifts in point a’ view an’ stories that keep looping backward and forward in time … they’re tricks. That’s all they are, tricks. The Faulkner kid was a master of it. Man, sometimes you just want to go down there to Oxford, Mississippi and stand on his grave and yell, “Get to the point!” Never mind, though, keep readin’.

That Melville, he had a real clever gag. He’d write one chapter that had characters and plot and stuff an’ then just when you think you’re really rolling along he’d throw in an entire chapter about the life cycle of whales or the craft of whaling or boat building or somethin’: a diversion. There you are, waitin’ for Ishmael or Ahab or that white whale to put in appearance, an’ all ya get is somethin’ about how to throw a harpoon. It’s crazy, but, take it from me, skip every other chapter and just keep readin’. He wrote a bunch ‘a books but the only one ya hear about is that Moby-Dick, which is like four times as long as anything else ‘e wrote, thanks to all them “cetology” chapters. Funny, ain’t it? See, that’s part a’ their game: they’re writin’ for them critics an’ academics, and, man, those dudes LOVE that stuff. They eat it up. Throw in some stream a’ consciousness or fancy-schmancy overlapping plots and, baby, you’re a candidate for the Great American Novel.

An’ the one who ran a game that completely bamboozled all them critics an’ academics was that Joyce, young guy outa Dublin. He had ’em in the palm a’ his hand. Ya can’t read ten words he wrote without marvellin’ at how he just twisted ’em around his little finger. He used every trick there was an’ invented tricks nobody’d ever seen before. Dodgin’, weavin’, blowin’ smoke, practically makin’ up another language that sorta sounds like English but really ain’t. He was like Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar, an’ pretty much had the game to himself when he first started. Ever’one else had ta sorta rejigger their own setup just to keep up with him. So, there’s a trick you can play on him, see? Say you’re readin’ his stuff. You just sorta read it OUT in your head, almost like it’s a poetry readin’ instead of a book. See, he was nearly blind, an’ he was this very, like, aural individual, an’ he didn’t think of words on a page as written so much as spoken, see? Now, the fact that he knew English and French and German and Irish on top of Latin and Greek makes the going a little heavy sometimes, but ya keep readin’ it OUT, an’ it starts to make sense, an’ what don’t make sense prob’ly don’t matter that much. Keep readin’. Never be daunted. Hem taught me that. Ya can go to graduate school at ever’ one a’ them big writin’ schools: Stanford an’ then I-o-way an’ then Texas an’ then Michigan an’ no one there’ll ever tell ya the kinda inside dope I’m givin’ ya here.

I like ya, kid. Ya got promise. Now, I’m gonna tell ya a secret. It’s that time a’ year when the hoity-toity Times Review of Books an’ all them other hotshot “critical reference points” publish them “Summer Readin’ Lists.” Frankly, I think they aughta be called “Some Are Readin’ lists” ’cause nobody could read some a’ that bilge. ‘Course, in The Times they call it “beach reading,” an’ by that they mean the one percent of their readers who actually have a beach house in the freakin’ Hamptons or Martha’s-“ain’t-we-the-tops”-Vineyard to go read a book at, an’ ever’one else pretends they got a place, except it’s on the Jersey Shore an’ they’re there for a week or maybe just five days when their cousin’s boyfriend don’t need it.

‘Cause I like ya, I’m gonna tell ya somethin’ I never told nobody. There’s this book. Forty years now I got this book on my dag-blamed “summer readin’ list,” see? I mean to say I’ve actually had this book in my suitcase or out on my patio table for forty consecutive summers. Every year was gonna be THE year. I was gonna read it. I was gonna turn that cover an’ crack that baby! An’, believe me, I’ve started, plenty a’ times. Ya know what? It whips me: every time.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Heard of it? ‘Course you have. Well, I can’t beat it, kid. I’ve tackled plenty of Mann’s stuff an’ come out on top: Death in Venice, Buddenbrooks, Tonio Kroger, Felix Krull, Doktor Faustus … but this one book of his … well, I get 20 pages, 50 pages, a hundred pages in an’ … I can’t cut it. Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Ford, they were all writin’ at the very same time and I got them under my thumb. But I walk into the library or the bookstore an’ there it is, just starin’ at me with a smirk on its spine. I can’t account for it. Well, I tell ya, this is the year I’m gonna crack it. Look out, Magic Mountain, I’m climbin’!

I’m only tellin’ ya this ’cause I like ya, kid, an’ it’s prob’ly gonna happen ta you, too. Maybe you’ll have ’em all under your belt some day: Tolstoy, Zweig, Beckett, Milosz, Mafouz … all the Big Ones: ya might get ’em all, but I’m warnin’ ya that there’ll be one, just one. But don’t let it get to ya. Don’t be daunted. Hem taught me that.

Copyright 2014 Brad Nixon



  1. Intruder?


    • in the Dust. I probably could have been clearer there.


  2. Thought so. I was more confused by The Sound and the Fury. The whole quicksand in the stream of consciousness dilemma.


  3. You got me laughing out loud. Well done!


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