by Morgan on April 16, 2011
Last night I went to Skylight to hear Justin Taylor and Blake Butler read from their new books. It was entertaining to see these two guys together. Taylor is a full bore nerd: grungy Vans, wrinkled short-sleeved button-down, straight-leg Levi’s, dorky glasses. His reading voice is dry, ironic, straightforward, much like his writing.
Butler, we’ll call the theater major. He also reads like he writes: loud, flamboyant, aggressive. Vintage Adidas, faded grey jeans, black polo, the monologuist’s costume.
Thank god for the incongruous pairing, because it was just about the only entertaining thing about the night. The introductions by the Skylight employee were tepid and boring (he clearly knew nothing about either writer), and neither author spoke about their book, nor answered any questions. Taylor read and sat down, then Butler read and sat down, and that was it. Applause.
I don’t much like being read to. It feels a little like watching someone eat. Watch me eat this delicious apple pie in front of you. No no, don’t touch the pie. Just watch ME eat it. I understand why we do it, and I understand its potential appeal (sure, it was interesting to note that both writers last night literally embody their writing voices, but I probably could have gleaned that if they’d taken the opportunity to actually speak to the audience instead of simply read). I just think it’s boring. Especially if the reading isn’t followed by an exchange of some sort.
I don’t know if this is Skylight’s doing, or poor publicity, or what, but it would have been infinitely more interesting to see these two guys have a dialogue with each other, perhaps addressing how different they are as writers of the same gender and generation (Taylor writes plot-driven narrative about things that clearly interest him, Butler is a surrealist), than to basically read their own books to themselves.
I mostly went to see Taylor. I enjoyed Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever enough to pick up his novel, The Gospel of Anarchy, and adored the first part, forced myself through the second part, and abandoned the book in the third of five. (The novel promptly falls apart at the beginning of the second section, wherein the POV shifts from first-person David, to omniscient everyone, a decision about which I cannot fathom the Why.)
I don’t know Butler’s work, but he edits HTML Giant and his blog has an awesome name: Gilles Deleuze Committed Suicide and So Will Dr. Phil. His new novel, There Is No Year, is a superbly designed piece of insanity wherein a Mother, Father and Son (named Mother, Father and Son) move into a new house and find copies of themselves living there already. The Mother kills the copies. Then the crazy shit starts happening. I haven’t read it, but what Butler read last night was quite good, and so I’ll probably pick it up at some point.
I’m disappointed. If I’m going to leave the house and drive to Los Feliz and look for parking and freeze my thighs off in the over-airconditioned Skylight box for an hour, it should be worth it. And there’s no reason why, given the presence of two young, successful writers with new works, and thirty people there to listen to them, I shouldn’t expect more.
Do yourself some favors:
–> Read Franzen’s piece in this week’s New Yorker.
–> Listen to David Lipsky and Rick Moody talk to Michael Silverblatt about DFW.
–> Read The Daily Beast’s Game of Thrones primer, in prep for tomorrow night.
–> Don’t forget about THIS. Holy shit.