By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“I don’t want to,” I lied. “I’m reading a book.” I was holding a copy of Don DeLillo’s White Noise in my hand, but my thoughts were drifting far, far away, as far as the planet of Tralfamadore.
The first time I heard about Tralfamadore was when I was in basic training in the Israeli army. I answered one of the sergeant’s rhetorical questions, and it cost me my weekend leave. The guy who slept in the bunk right above mine left me Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi memoir. This strange mixture of genres works much the way pineapple pizzas do, hitting all your senses at once. Every time somebody dies in that book, “so it goes” appears after it. I guess that’s as good as anything one can say when someone dies.
The book told the story of a soldier held as a prisoner of war in Germany during the bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut’s description of the bodies after the bombing in that old city that I’ve never visited stayed in my head. Ever since, whenever I hear of bombings, I dig them out from under the rubble of other old memories. The bodies in this book were Germans; some of them were probably Nazis. My parents are both Holocaust survivors, but still I kept feeling the deaths of those Germans were not necessary.
“Bush is going to speak really soon,” my girlfriend said. “I wonder what he’ll have to say.”
That afternoon, I bought a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five just to look through it to see how far it was from the way I’ve remembered it. At the bookstore I met this really skinny guy who bought five copies of the Des Moines Register. He told me that in a few years’ time they will be collectors’ items. I showed him a quotation from the introduction to Vonnegut’s book:
We went to the New York World’s Fair, saw what the past has been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors. And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
A few weeks later, the American forces were bombing Afghanistan.
So it goes.
Etgar Keret is the author ofThe Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and Other Stories.
My reading didn’t change one iota following September 11 — The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras, Rethinking Rape by Ann J. Cahill, and the California Penal Code. One book I later pulled off my shelf because of the situation in Afghanistan is Amiriya Shelter: U.S. Most Savage Crime of the Century, an Iraqi propaganda tract detailing the smart-bomb incineration of 403 civilians, including women and children, during the Gulf War.
William T. Vollmann’s most recent novel isArgall.
Of the three books I turned to in the aftermath of 9/11, compulsively oscillating among them, the first was Hannibal, by Thomas Harris. The idea of a foppish cannibal who is also a scholar, lecturer and all-around aesthete, wandering through Florence committing murder on a scale that now seemed contextually quaint, was as comforting as a See’s candy. Admittedly, I fudge a bit; it was more the movie of the book I turned to for solace. I lay there flipping between Headline News and Ridley Scott’s adaptation on DirecTV — then back again to freaked-out anchorpeople, my eyes darting spasmodically to the hellish slow-moving ticker tape of surrealistic late-breaking developments at the bottom of the screen. I had ordered Hannibal in letter-box format on one of those “all-day tickets” so that it played 24 hours at a time, continuously looping into itself. Occasionally I riffled through the book it was based on, in order to find choice bits of dialogue from the movie. The novel doesn’t provide the guilty pleasures of the movie, though the former’s short chapters, each one striving toward a semblance of literary epiphany, are sometimes risible. Suffice it to say, it’s no Perfume.
At evening’s end, exhausted and irrationally secure with the sense that Armageddon had been postponed until morning, I made my way to the luminous I Am That — Talks With Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, an anthology of interviews with an Indian sage who died in 1981. The comical, imperious, visionary manner of the Maharaj — his great, emphatic chi and clear-as-water discussions of intent and awareness — reminded me so much of Carlos Castaneda that I was startled . . . and hooked. He took me out of the calamity of the moment, and continues to do so. “Everybody makes the same mistake,” says the Maharaj. “You want peace and harmony in the world, but refuse to have them in yourself. The unexpected is bound to happen, while the anticipated may never come.”
The final book of my post-WTC trinity meandering was Accidents in North American Mountaineering 1999 — a tasty collection of real-life outings gone bad, ranging from fatalities to simple rescues. Erotic, vicarious fun on an agreeable, intimate scale.Bruce Wagner is the author of the novelsForce Majeure andI’m Losing You. He created the TV programWild Palms and recently directedWomen in Film. His new novel,I’ll Let You Go, will be published in January by Villard. Michelle Huneven