As a tiresome geezer-in-training, I get a kick out of sharing my musical knowledge with young people, or as I’m learning to call them, “whippersnappers.” When they show an interest or, better yet, some knowledge of ancient musical days (the eighties), I feel that the useless information I’ve collected over the years can finally be put to use as an antidote to all things Ke$ha.
“Ooo, if you like that, you’ll love this,” I’ll say. Or “Did you know that [arcane fact with accompanying YouTube link]?”
It’s called musical rapport. Entire friendships can be built around it.
The other day, though, we got onto books. I recommended Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
“It sounds war-y,” she commented, not a fan of the genre. I know she wanted to accept my recommendation based on my unquestionably impeccable musical taste, but deep down we both realized that as common ground, literary terrain was far from stable.
To paraphrase Joy Division: Books. Books will tear us apart. Again.
When our musical tastes diverge, we cut our friends some slack. I’m generally forgiving if, say, someone doesn’t share my taste for Van Morrison, because, let’s be honest, the guy has essentially written the same song over and over for a good two-thirds of his career – “misty mystic morning mmblbmam shiver rain Avalon mmmbrmrm spirit God sax-solo love my love your love crazy love mwaaammmahh.” Friendships may be tested over whether Jeff Buckley was a musical visionary or insufferably pretentious (congratulations on picking “insufferably pretentious,” by the way) but the friendships will likely endure.
We connect to favourite books on a deeper level. We invest time, attention and imagination in them and they become a part of who we are. So when someone foolishly refuses to admit that a particular book is beyond wonderful or, worse, tells you, “I hated that book,” we’re forced to reassess the friendship and wonder whether this person is just plain dead inside.
One of the most beloved children’s books of all time is Charlotte’s Web. Not just “loved” but “beloved”; the “be” makes it old-timey and pure. As a child, I was enchanted by the story of Wilbur and Charlotte, and our house has always had a copy on hand.
And yet, our older girls were so caught up in books about wizards and dragons and casting spells – including, apparently, spells against reading books about altruistic spiders – they never bothered with Charlotte. As for our son, Charlotte doesn’t have Captain Underpants in it, so that counted him out.
When Abby came along, I was determined to take the talking bull by the horns and read Charlotte’s Web to her myself. It took several bedtimes to get through, me doing the voices night after night and pointing out important plot developments until finally choking back tears when Charlotte – oh, I can’t say it! It’s too sad and beautiful.
Abby, meanwhile, kept wondering when the animals were going to sing like they did in the film version. So I doubt she’ll be foisting Charlotte’s Web on her own children – Austin Powers, maybe, but not Charlotte.
As disappointing as this was, I felt sadder still last week when a Grade 11 student described Slaughterhouse Five as “Worst. Book. Ever.” His classmate concurred. What? Slaughterhouse Five is one of the great anti-war novels of the twentieth century, so wry, so devastating, so accessible with its short, declarative sentence. Plus, there’s a drawing of boobs. What’s not to love!
I don’t want to get into a critique of the novel. If you want amateurish literary criticism, log onto Goodreads. And goodness knows every revered classic novel has received its share of one-star reviews online. (I think a snappy one-star review would be “The Catcher in the Why for the Love of God!”)
But just to be sure that the book was as good as I remembered, I re-read Slaughterhouse Five over the weekend. I still love it. In fact, it speaks to me now in a geezer way that it didn’t in my twenties. I want to explain to those Grade 11 students about the author’s profound struggle to make sense of the senseless, fate versus will, satire as social commentary. I want to argue with them until they love what I love.
If not, we simply can’t be friends. If this younger generation can’t see that one of my favourite books is beyond wonderful, they are dead to me.
So it goes.