Books on CD I drive back and forth between LA and San Diego a lot. This 120 mile odd trip can take anywhere from slightly under two hours to four hours depending on the traffic.
After driving my way through my CD collection (whatever happened to Belly?) and bored with NPR (I want to know, really, but sometimes I don't want to know), I got some books on CD out from the library.
I found that simple books and even plays worked best. Memoirs were also good because the story was always the same: childhood, adulthood, some extraordinary success, then older adulthood when things settle down and the author has time to write his/her memoirs. Jane Austen is also good because the reader has to be at the top of his or her game.
Recently, for a drive back to LA, I popped in Laurie Anderson reading The Body Artist by Dom DeLillo. Heavy literature, but I was intrigued by the synopsis on the cover as well as the Caravaggio picture. Besides, Laurie Anderson is great composer/musician (not that I've heard her stuff, but I read that somewhere), and isn't she dating Lou Reed?
Unfortunately, very quickly, as I was getting onto the 5, I realized that I absolutely can not stand the sound of her voice. She reads with such gravity and too-precise precision that I was in audio book hell before I even reached La Jolla.
But it's DeLillo. He's amazing. He's a great writer, and I'm trying to read a lot of different novelists to expand my view of the world and all its contradictions. It's important that there are challenging books, and it's important to seek them out. It's important to confront the difficult. Everything does not have to be simple. Now, if Laurie Anderson would just stop reading, I would be content.
I held out as long as I could, but as I sat in traffic at that Border Patrol Check Point (yes, it's north of San Diego), I said adios to Dom and Laurie and put on a Betty CD.
I AM THE IT GIRL AND IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU IT GIRL!
Back in LA, I returned the CDs to the library, then took out The Body Artist: The Book. It was a slim DeLillo novel coming in at 124 pages. I was still intrigued by the Caravaggio cover, and I figured it wasn't going to take long to read. This time I was doing it right, I was going to read the book.
That night, I sat down to read The Body Artist. I don't how it is for other readers, but when I read novels, I hear the voice of the author in my head. I don't lose myself in books, but the author's voice pushes me forward.
When I started to read The Body Artist, I heard not a mental author's voice, but Laurie Anderson. Ugh!! Ack!! Go away Laurie! Go away! Let me enjoy my book.
I read the first twenty pages quickly---trying to run faster than Laurie's voice. It could be sentence as simple as "He finished his coffee and smoked", but I could still hear her grave voice weighing me down. Damn it, where's the aria Michael Ondaatje promised me in his cover quote? I put the book down for the night.
The next day, I read some more at a coffee shop and slowly the Laurie voice faded, bleached by the sun getting hotter and hotter on the fake black leather couch I sat on. Sweating, I finished my coffee and moved on to a cooler place to finish the book.
The Body Artist refers to the title character who could be called a performance artist, but that's a less precise term. Her "performance" is an actual act of physical transformation. After her husband (a film director) dies, she stays at a rented house they shared near the ocean. One day, she meets a man who is able to speak the same way she and her dead husband. The man speaks words in a way that only she and her husband did when they were alone. This meeting becomes a transforming experience for the Body Artist as she searches for her own language and self-expression.
The spoken and the speaking play a key role in the book as every day phrases become motifs repeated through out the book. This brings one to question the definition of experience. Is experience simple phrases spoken in the everyday or is it the transforming power of a major painful experience (in this case, the death)? Then DeLillo takes it a step further and asks what is the identity we gain from experiences?
I finished the novel in a library where I go to check my email. All around me was the mumbling of voices in a small community library. It was like that scene in Wings of Desire when the angels walk though the library and hear all the minds working in a non-stop mumble.
My library was less focused on work. School had just let out, so there were a lot of kids in the mix of voices. Kids with their goofy and high pitched voices. Maybe that's how The Body Artist sounds to me. Not a real woman like Laurie Anderson, but a girl woman, higher pitched, not hysterical, just lighter.
And in future, I must not listen to heavy literature on the 5. Maybe I should move over to mysteries and thrillers.