Book Monday: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Well, it's Monday night and the plan was to have Junot Diaz's book "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" read but that didn't really work out. There's like two hundred pages left in the book and I'm going to have to finish this week. Even a hundred and fifty pages into the book you get a feeling that the depth of the book goes well beyond the page. At the very least there is the fact that narrator speaks Spanish and even Spanish slang that can't be found in any dictionary. There's a feeling that important details are being missed every time a phrase comes along in Spanish when google isn't at the ready. Beyond the translation there is the fact that the main character Oscar is a genre fiction/fantasy novel/sci-fi nerd so there is bound to be imbedded references and story points that simply don't jump of the page for me because the closest I came to reading sci-fi or fantasy novels as a kid was when I read every page of every Popular Science magazine. I have a sinking sense of nerd guilt while reading this because my brand of nerd won't catch the references unless it's trouble with tribbles or forty two or references to the nineties cartoon versions of DC and marvel comics. The extent of my nerdom is obscure science more than culture, and so I feel out of place a bit with Diaz's work but as always that's actually what draws me to it. I like to understand things that are beyond me, and "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" is beyond me now.

In my one semester as Columbia College Chicago I actually saw Junot Diaz speak two weeks before receiving his MacArthur Genius Grant. Having no idea who he was and being first into the auditorium I thought about sitting as far away from the stage as possible and then the studies that talked about how choosing where to sit says a lot about your subconscious association with your place in a hierarchy. Not wanting to let my subconscious association determine the course of my life, I sat front and center in a two hundred seat auditorium. The rest of the students and teachers filed in, but they knew that he won the Pulitzer Prize for Wao and sat at a safe distance so there were three empty rows of seats at the front except for me and a guy that was my writing partner who was brave enough to join me.

Front and Center, I got the Citizen Kane view of him as he spoke. At one point he was answering a question and, understandably, trying to get a little closer to the audience but was prevented by the rows of seats and my feet. That was the time I tripped a Pulitzer Prize winner before he was a MacArthur Genius. I wonder if that'll be my "John that was Eisenhower" moment. The one time I'm driving near Camp David in 1965, lost, pass a car rolling in the shoulder, see a man on the side of road walking, and stop ahead of him. I get out of my car and ask him for directions, get back in the car and have my wife yell at me as though something significant just happened before driving back to my quite life in rural Indiana.

He said, "Sorry, young man." And, I graciously didn't press charges for scuffing my New Balance shoes.

I noticed that he had New Balance shoes too when he stood at the podium off to the side of the stage. It was good to see a dude that was so absurdly successful not wearing cloths that were different from mine. He wasn't wearing a perfectly tailored vintage three piece suit he miraculously found at a vintage shop. T-shirt, jeans, and running shoes and a shitload of brains, that's all you need, I let be confirmed. But, I rejected his response to a student who asked about whether he'd make Wao into a movie. He said, there was no point in trying because Hollywood will never make a movie about a Dominican kid from New Jersey, and a bunch of condescension about reading being superior anyway. 

I rejected that stuff because I've never self associated as a reader. Mind you this isn't because I think reading is dumb or because I buy into anti-intellectual rhetoric. I self associate as "not a reader" because it was and is extremely time consuming for me so I felt the need to push back. I'm not dyslexic but they too shouldn't be deprived of the best literature simply because Hollywood won't make diverse movies. There's so many ways to make a movie for cheap and there is a ridiculous amount of world class talent not working, ready great subject matter and work that's worth more than residuals from a McDonald's ad even if it doesn't pay like a Hollywood production.

I also have had to reject his advice that writers should publish less. It took him ten years to write and publish his first book. For me, publishing less means not writing. I write every day now, but having the demand to make something today has been very important for not letting anxiety get in the way. Publishing regularly for me is simply about getting out of my mind and letting mistakes happen. I just don't treat a published work as done. Stories are meant to be retold and added to. They're meant to get out of hand. They're meant to get better with every repetition. The real mistake isn't publishing but copyrighting and losing the right to retell the story. I guess, in substance I agree with his point of view, but his use of the word "publish", which I could be remembering wrong, misses the greater truth that stories are meant to be retold a bunch of times before they're finalized. It's like the first books of the bible. They're distilled as they are, a thousandth draft, finally committed to papyrus by Moses.