This NPR segment came on right as I was pulling into my parking space at work, and of course I had to stay in the car and listen to it. I turned off the engine, though.
1. I’ve been sick (yes, AGAIN) for the past four days, and all this free time with nothing to do besides blow my nose and re-watch all my Buffy DVDs for the 700th time has got me thinking about how I don’t have any good books to read. Even without the sickness factor, I still need to start doing more reading. Can you guys recommend some good books? Here’s a list of some of my favorites, to give you an idea of what I like. Assume I’m aware of or have read the other books by these authors.
The Last Samurai – Helen DeWitt
The Floating Opera – John Barth
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Geek Love – Katherine Dunn
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
The Time-Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
Empire Falls – Richard Russo
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
A bunch of Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris
As you can see, I’m a bit behind on What’s New In Books Lately, so I could use your help.
2. This is the antithesis of books*: in the sixth season of Buffy, when she came back from the dead and was all broke and unemployed, why didn’t she get a job teaching people all her fighting skills instead of flipping burgers at the Doublemeat Palace? I’m sure she could have made a shitload of money showing frightened Sunnydale residents how to fend off the many demons and vampires that lived there.
But I guess turning everyone into mini-slayers wouldn’t have helped her maintain a low profile, would it?
*On second thought, Buffy probably isn’t the antithesis of books. I bet it’s wrestling or “Flavor of Love” or something.
I wish I had more to write about here, but all the new, writing-worthy things I’ve been doing lately involve my job. I have a lot to say about how I’m adjusting to the decision-making part of it. It’s been a long time since I had a job in which people came to me to inquire about What Should We Do With This Thing or How Should We Approach That Issue. In the past five years I’ve been a waitress and an HTML e-mail coder, neither of which involved other people consulting me on the major decisions. This new role is an interesting adjustment.
But I can’t really talk about my job.
Last Sunday afternoon I watched ten episodes of Dexter in a row. I didn’t intend to watch ten episodes in a row, but I watched the first one while riding my exercise bike, and it was really good so I watched the second one while I ate. That one was good, too, and I wanted to find out what happened next. So I watched another one and another one and another one, and then I looked up and it was midnight.
Dexter is really scary. It’s very gross, but I’m mostly okay with that. It’s creepy and dark and suspenseful, and that was scary enough that I debated sleeping with the lights on. But what scared me the most was the main character.
Dexter is a forensics analyst for the Miami police by day and a serial killer by night, but he only kills people who are guilty of terrible crimes (child molestation, multiple murder, etc.). The fact that he only kills bad people, coupled with the slightly dubious story of how he became the way he is, compounded by the fact that the story takes place from his point of view, is supposed to make him a sympathetic character. And for the most part, it does.
So the character of Dexter himself isn’t what scared me. No, the thing that scared me arose from a particular type of dizzying myopia that comes from spending long hours immersed in a fictional world. This happens to me all the time. When I watch one season of a TV show from start to finish, or when I read a book from cover to cover in one sitting, the characters and situations and themes stick with me long after I’m done.
As I was watching all these episodes of Dexter in a row, I was thinking, I bet it’s really hard keeping such a big secret from everyone. How lonely it must be to have nobody to talk to about it. I wonder if anyone I know has a really big secret like that. Oh come on, that’s dumb. But everyone has little secrets, don’t they? Things they’ve only told one or two people over the course of their lifetimes? Sometimes I look at people I know and wonder how much I really know about them. How well do we know anyone at all?
That’s what really scared me about Dexter: the idea that (Google notwithstanding) we can only know as much about another person as they’re willing to tell us. Though this scary thought was magnified by the ten hours I spent watching a show about a serial killer, it’s a thought I’ve been playing with for some time.
A few weeks ago I had dinner with a big group of people, most of whom I’ve known for at least six years. I’d lost touch with most of them, though, and there were a few people there whom I hadn’t seen in a very long time. At one point during the meal, I looked up from my plate and thought, I don’t know these people anymore. Time and new jobs and moving away and breakups turned them all into virtual strangers, people I don’t know any better than I did six years ago.
During dinner, I found myself basing my interactions with these old friends on what I knew of them from the last time I saw them. It didn’t work, of course. They’re different and I’m different, and although I didn’t expect things to be the same as they used to be, I was surprised at how really weird it was.
Which made me wonder how well I knew them in the first place. Maybe dinner was weird because they’ve all become secret serial killers in the intervening years. Or maybe they were always secret serial killers and I just never knew.
As I’ve gotten older, everyone I know has become less and less forthcoming with the details of their lives. Situations get complicated, relationships and other personal details get sticky, and we’re not as likely to share these layers of our experience as we were when things were simple. I imagine it like a bedsheet falling slowly from a clothesline: as the sheet falls into the grass, the fabric sinks into a wrinkled pile, and you can’t see the whole thing anymore.
See, I used to have jobs I could write about. When I was a waitress, I could tell you all about my coworkers and the bad customers and the good customers. I didn’t care too much about my e-mail coding job, so I could write about that one, too. But I care about this job quite a bit, so I’m holding it in.
The job example is a faulty one, because of course I talk about it with my family and friends. But I used to be more open than I am now, and it’s a pattern I’m seeing in other people both online and off as I get older. Good or bad, we’re all playing our lives close to the chest.
P.S. If I know you and you’re a secret serial killer, please don’t ever tell me. And don’t come to my house, either; I’m sleeping with the lights on.
* A friend asked me, “Are you watching less TV now that you’ve decided to reevaluate what you watch?”
“Not really,” I said.
“But are you watching better TV?”
“That’s the thing,” I said. “I’m definitely watching better TV, but somehow it still takes the same amount of time.”