Thanksgiving, Day 21: The Podcast

Part of who I am, who I have discovered myself to be, is that I have a certain fondness for ritual and routine. I like it when I can predict what’s coming up and when I know what I should be doing and when. Now if I were in a Hollywood romantic comedy or playing the lead on a TV show, I would clearly be in the wrong and would have to have someone like Drew Barrymore or Zooey Deschanel show me the error of my ways. They would feel compelled to teach me a love of spontaneous chaos, to break me out of the stolid routine my life had become.

Drew and Zooey can just piss right off, as far as I’m concerned. I like my routines and my rituals, and of them all, the one that really defines my week is the podcast – The Labyrinth Library.

I started this back in aught-nine, after my sister floated the idea past me of doing short book reviews for the radio station she works at, WNPR. I’d been writing reviews for ages, and had a pretty good back catalog to choose from. The idea was that I would record a five or ten minute review and it would help fill space in the broadcast schedule. As it turned out, her bosses didn’t go for the idea, but that was okay – it gave me the liberty to take the idea and make it my own.

This wasn’t my first podcast, actually. I tried making one a few years before, when podcasting was just beginning to catch on, but I very quickly realized that I didn’t actually have anything to say. The few episodes I did were just me talking about… things. And you know what? The internet has enough of that already. As I started listening to others’ work, one thing became very clear – if you’re going to ask people to spend time with your podcast, it should be about something. And for me, there was nothing better I could have chosen than books.

So I did my research, figured out how the whole process should work, and launched the Labyrinth Library on January 15th, 2009. I started with Good Omens, as a representative of what I love in books, and followed it by The Bad Beginning, as a representative of what I hate. Everything else fit in between those books somewhere.

And I’ve done it ever since. Once a week, without exception, for 202 episodes (as of this morning). If it were a sitcom, I’d be making mad money on syndication rights. It’s not too late, NPR…

As it is, though, I have something I can be proud of. I don’t have a great history when it comes to committing to projects and following through with them, so it would not have surprised me if I had done this for a couple of months and then let it die out. But I didn’t. It’s fun to do, from the writing to the actual production of it, and as the years have gone on, I’ve become aware that there are people who not only listen to the podcast, but enjoy listening to it. And it is because I know they’re out there that I can set up my equipment every week, ask The Boyfriend to keep the dog quiet for a half hour or so, and put this together. So to everyone who listens, I am thankful for you.

I don’t know what the future of the LabLib looks like, of course. As I have alluded to, I have a limited back catalog, and as I don’t read and review a new book every week (since I have a job and stuff), there will come a point where recording day comes and I don’t have anything to record. At that time, it’ll have to go from being a weekly podcast to an occasional one. I’ll still update, though, as often as is possible. I’ve done this too long and had too much fun with it to let it go entirely.

So, in my ritualized, carefully-structured week, the podcast is something I always look forward to. It gives my week shape and it helps keep me busy. For that I am most certainly thankful.

Thanksgiving, Day 18: Books

I really feel like this should go without saying, but I’m incredibly thankful for books. For the books that I have, the books that I love – hell, just the existence of a cheap, portable information storage and transfer medium that’ll probably outlast every single electronic device in my possession right now. I’ve been reading books for as long as I can remember, and even when I was living in miserable, tiny apartments – hell, even my dorm – I made sure to have books with me. Books are a part of my life that I can’t imagine not being there.

At the moment, I probably have about 800 books in my place, and I would have more except The Boyfriend put a limit on how many bookshelves I can put up. He seems to have this notion that the people who designed the condo didn’t factor in the weight of nearly a thousand books when they designed the place. Or something like that. All I know is that when I suggest getting more bookcases, he just glares at me and shakes his head slowly.

I suppose that’s why I have come to appreciate e-books as much as I have. Don’t get me wrong – I love my dead-tree books. I love the feel of them and the look of them and the smell. I love being able to flip the pages back and forth with my thumbs. I love the sound of a big, doorstop hardcover when you close it. There is nothing about conventional books that I don’t like, except that they take up so much space. And until I get my infinite library, there’s going to have to be some sacrifices on the number of books I’m able to keep at home.

Someday, man. Someday.

E-books at least give me the chance to try books out. They’re cheaper, and for all practical purposes they don’t actually exist. If a book really impresses me, I’ll have a real one shipped out to me.

In any case, I love books for the same reason any good bibliophile loves books – I love the stories and the characters, the worlds and the mysteries and the magic. I love that so many writers have been able to come out with so much wonderful work. Not only does it give me a place to go to in my head, but it inspires me to make my own places and write them down as well.

Books educate, enlighten, and entertain. They’re repositories of science and history and philosophy, whole schools of thought that represent centuries of thinking, pressed between two covers. They are a symbol of humanity’s desire to pass on its hard-earned knowledge to future generations.

Writing a book is an act of hope for the future, and books should be treated accordingly.

On the Death of Holden Caulfield

As you may know by now, J.D. Salinger is dead. I hope that wherever he is now, he’s happier than he was here.

My thoughts, however, didn’t turn so much to the author as they did towards his most famous creation, the sullen teenage anti-hero, Holden Caulfield. I never really liked Holden, to be honest. I thought he was a spoiled brat who really needed to lighten up. He would have thought I was a complete and utter phony, I’m sure. But he spoke to an audience that, in 1951, I’m sure a lot of people didn’t even know existed – disaffected teenagers.

If you were a teen in the ’40s and ’50s, your literary peers were probably very little like you. Unless you were a Hardy Boy and off solving mysteries, you were probably mostly worried about problems that were pale shadows of adult problems – getting a job to pay for that new car, impressing the girl you like, balancing work with leisure time. The transition from youth to adulthood was a given, as far as most storytellers were concerned, and very few of them gave any thought to the existential crisis that defines being a teenager.

For those of you who don’t recall, here are the central pillars of teenage psychology:

1) Nothing that you don’t already know can possibly be worth knowing.
2) Everything sucks.
3) Nothing will ever change.

Okay, maybe not all teenagers, but I’m pretty sure that covers a large percentage of the population. And I don’t think that’s really changed, ever since the concept of the teenager was invented. It’s a nebulous world, a time with far more responsibilities than a child has, and far more freedom than an adult is allowed, and that can mess you up if you’re the type who thinks a lot about these things.

Unfortunately for him, Caulfield (and by extension, Salinger) was just that type. When the book came out, and for decades after that, he became the touchstone character for teens who looked around at the way they were presented in the media, at the way their peers tried to behave and their parents pressured them to be and asked, “Is this really who I’m supposed to be?” Holden understood. Holden had been there and thought the same thoughts that you thought, and was a character that you could rely on. Yes, he was essentially unreliable and wholly unlikable, but you could at least come back to him when you started to worry that you weren’t living up to the perfect image of what a teenager is supposed to be.

In this day and age, though, is Holden Caulfield necessary anymore? I would maintain that he isn’t.

In the 21st century, if you’re a disaffected teen, there are websites and forums just for you. There are decades of rock and roll that Holden would have loved if he’d been born just a little bit later. Largely thanks to Salinger, Disaffected Teen Fiction is practically an official sub-genre of Young Adult Fiction, TV and movies try harder to address the actual problems of adolescence, and it is, by and large, much easier for a teenager these days to find others who are going through the same existential quandary that he or she is.

True, the Fictional Teenager still exists, kept alive by the best marketing drones that Madison Avenue can buy. And even the Disaffected Teen has become a market of its own. But the fact remains that there are still outlets for people who question themselves and their place in the world. A 21st century Holden Caulfield doesn’t have to drop out of school and wander New York City looking for hookers and validation. All he has to do is go to a bookstore or start a LiveJournal and he’ll find all the validation and meaning he wants. Hookers are a little more of a challenge, though.

So perhaps it’s time for Holden Caulfield to relax and slouch off into that phony sunset. While he may not be able to catch all those children who are coming through the rye, there are now a whole lot more people trying.