Arts Desk

Five Books I’d Read

in which the author discusses five books he'd read, if time permitted.

1. Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice, edited by Alia Malek.
There was an earthquake 'round these parts on Monday and it was no f*cking picnic, let me tell you. I was in the middle of downtown D.C. when it struck and I know I should be grateful that I wasn't buried under 100,000 tons of rubble, and that no buildings fell down like in Haiti or Italy or San Francisco or wherever the f*ck else has earthquakes, but I'm an East Coast boy born and raised and we've got a lot of f*cked-up shit going down in these parts (media elites on Starbucks rampages, poverty, bad wi-fi on the Acela train) but earthquakes usually aren't on the list of things I worry about. Anyway, all that not-worrying is ancient history because the "temblor" or whatever you want to call it showed me that earthquakes are way scary and well worth worrying about.

When this sh*t went down, I was at work. My office chair started jiggling and I thought someone was standing behind me pushing up and down on it and I even turned around to say "Which one of you motherf*ckers is f*cking with me?" when the whole building started jiggling up and down. At first, I thought "This sh*t must be a bomb" and then I stopped thinking and ran the f*ck out of my building. That's not true: I did for one second think about some poor ol' slowpokes that weren't necessarily getting up and out o' the door with Speedy Gonzales-like vim and verve. I thought: "Maybe I should turn around—even though I'm running full speed down five flights of stairs—and help one of these sad, slow, glacial walkers survive this sh*t." And then, a few seconds later, I thought "nah" and kept running for what I thought was my life.

At the bottom of the stairway nearest my desk there's an emergency door that I don't usually—don't ever—use because it sets off an alarm. So I ran full speed at this door and tried to open it. When I pushed it, the alarm went off, but the door wouldn't open. It's difficult to convey the rage and fear that overcame me at the prospect of an entire building falling atop my weak, exoskeleton-free human form while I stood in front of an emergency exit door for some unknown reason was unable to fulfill its basic function, but rather than dwell on that I chose to run, again at full speed, past some additional slowpokes and emerge unscathed on L Street NW. Of course, everyone outside was inspecting their PDAs to determine via Twitter, Facebook, etc. the cause of the commotion, which was within one minute discovered to be the earthquake in question.

This led the traumatized citizens of Washington, D.C.—who had fled their office buildings in a misguided attempt to survive an until-that-moment undefined, unexpected catastrophe—to share a 9/11-like "We really are all connected!" moment. For me, this triggered repressed memories of 9/11 itself. On this fateful day, I luckily happened to be driving across the Mall while the Pentagon was aflame and people fled the White House in sheer terror. Now, it goes without saying that the legacy of 9/11 is horrendous: 3000+ dead, the Patriot Act, wars in Afghanistan in Iraq, an open-ended War on Terror, long lines at airport security checkpoints, etc. However, a little-discussed result of 9/11 is that very terrible, horrible, very bad "We really are all connected!" Magnolia moment. Because, frankly, we really aren't all connected, even if it seems that sometimes we are and, if indeed we really are all connected, I want to get unconnected as quickly as possible.

Because I don't want to hear about where you were during the East Coast earthquake or, for that matter, where you were during 9/11, or when O.J. was found not guilty, or when Reagan was shot, or John Lennon and JFK were assassinated. Because I don't like shared moments because they result in awkward conversations like this:

Person A: Where were you during the D.C. earthquake?
Person B: In my office. It was scary as f*ck. Where were you?
Person A: I was in my office too. Yeah, it was f*cked.
Person B: ...

I guess that these pseudo-discussions that serve as a platform for anybody and everybody to solipsistically vent their earthquake (or 9/11, or JFK/Lennon/Reagan, or O.J.) trauma are supposed to bring comfort. But they don't. Mainly they just serve as a reminder that, when the sh*t really goes down, nobody's going to know what the f*ck to do about it, which is a bummer. So, if you see me on the street or at a party or at the dog park, keep your godd*mn tales about earthquakes and 9/11 and tsunamis and Hurricane Irene to yourself. Because it's a dog-eat-dog world, and I'm having an existential crisis here.

2. I Don't Sound Like Nobody: Remaking Music in 1950s America, by Albin Zak.

3. The Devil All the Time, by Donald Ray Pollock.

4. House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, by Nicholson Baker.

5. Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha.

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