Bump bump go the books on the top of the site. This site, I mean. When you roll your mouse over one of these books, they leap. When your mouse departs, they crunch back into the title banner like some old Atari obstacle. O obnoxious HTMLGIANT, where the hustle never sleeps. A recent commenter said, in fact, that she actually refrains from buying stuff recommended here because of all the “nepotism and over-hype.”
I mean, that’s fair. We’re probably not friends, dear reader. Statistically, you probably don’t know who I am, and I probably don’t know who you are.
I don’t mean “heard of.” Whatever that means. I mean know know. If we do know each other, we’re unfortunately probably going to go out of our way to allude to it—like waving our Red Sox hats at each other in the bus terminal—thereby pissing off everybody around us because we’ve made them feel isolated and outsider-ish. It sucks to feel that way! It sucks even worse when you’re sitting at your computer on the balcony, mooching your neighbor’s wireless and trying to translate a finger-bound interaction with an LED screen into a feeling of Significant Human Connection. I mean, people complain about online people choosing to be anonymous, but how obnoxious is it to go on here with our real names? Mike? Who cares if I’m Mike. There’s a million Mikes I’m not, and they spend just as much time in their bed rehearsing apologies. Do you make a habit of walking into huge, thousand-bodied parties—where everybody’s trying to sell something, or pick a fight, or invite you back to their place, or come off all dashing/sagely/whimsical/epic/wacky—and inserting your two cents after somebody’s spiel? And not only that, but giving everybody who’s heard you a picture of yourself, your phone number, directions to your house, and making sure everybody who’s heard you also knows what your name is. Like maybe you are forced to carry a giant sign that says your name, and this sign blinks like crazy when you talk. Sound terrifying? Well, hi there. Here you are.
But the problem is this: reading cool shit is one of the best (and only) ways I’ve ever found to feel less lonely in a fundamental way. And the stuff I want to read is stuff I usually find in two ways: 1) By myself. I was flipping through channels one night and saw a move where this dude with a square forehead chases a car and slams his face into a stop sign. Whoa, I said. I watched the rest of the movie, where Jack Black tries to save some bunnies and Dennis Hopper says “Talk into my bullet hole.” So I found out the movie was called Jesus’ Son and that it was based off a book, so I bought that book. And it was great. On the back of the book, someone says Jesus’ Son reminds them of this other book, Airships by Barry Hannah. This is where we enter #2 of How To Find Out About Shit: 2) Through others.
Because I liked Jesus’ Son, and because I liked it in a way that made me feel less weird about being alive, I felt like I could trust other people who expressed similar enthusiasm. This is not the same thing as both of us liking pancakes. Everybody likes pancakes. Good for everybody. I’m talking about the kind of Liking that feels like a holy relief. The kind of Liking that involves being a teenager and realizing the other dude with all the acne in your Earth Science class also has a Neutral Milk Hotel t-shirt, which makes you much faster friends with him because you feel like you can let your guard down. Because you feel like he might also understand what it feels like to walk around on what you perceive to be (granted, based a lot on immature self-romanticizing) your fucked-up wavelength. So this kid tells you about The Violent Femmes or Harry Nilsson, and you want to check them out. Not because you want to know all about this kid’s summer camp experience in sixth grade, when he accidentally swallowed a frog skull and peed on Jessica Yurtface while he was trying to do the rope course. If he tells you that, you’ll sympathize, but you don’t really care. What you care about is that his way of shivering before the world seems similar to yours, and he seems to have similar taste in self-indulgent shivering sessions, which seems really important because there doesn’t seem much else to do besides die, have babies, and flip pancakes. So you go on the fucking internet and you download Nilsson Schmilsson.
Meanwhile! Some other lonely kid overhears you guys talking the next day about Nilsson Schmilsson, and because you’re both so enthusiastic and allusive and wrapped together, he feels even more lonely and gets mad and decides you and your new friend with the bladder problems around hot girls of the Yurtface clan—well, you’re both fucking elitists. When you guys get the same sunglasses Harry Nilsson wore and sit together at lunch making obscure jokes, you’re being total fucking hipster douchebags. And he’s kind of right. More than kind of. If asked in an abstract way whether you wanted to share your love of Harry Nilsson, you might say, um, okay, yeah sure, I wanna share it. But you’d be kind of lying because it feels fucking awesome not to have to share that love, to have this tight shiver-based connection, to walk around cocooned in the espirit de corps of knowing your walking partner knows how walking around feels for you. Everybody else? Maybe they’d know. Maybe they wouldn’t. It’s too scary, sometimes, to find out. You like having your thing. You like being elitist.
I mean, I could change the story. I could say you’re wearing football jerseys or you’ve got carburetor grease on your wrist. Mutual loneliness coping isn’t exclusive to art intake. The point is, you’re right to hoard your thing, and the annoyed kid is right to call you a douche. These are feelings, and feelings do what they do. What’s missing, maybe, in my strawpeople story, are honest attempts to imagine into the feelings of others. Like for the annoyed kid to realize the validity of the douches’ loneliness, and for the douches to stop being douches and tell people what they’re listening to. And not only that, but to tell people what they’re listening to in a way that overcomes their default insecurity and self-protectiveness and invites shared experience. Even shared experience of a nature outside of their own experience. An invitation for others to experience Harry Nilsson (and here I think is the kicker) even if those others don’t like it. Or like it, but in a “wrong” or different way. And to not get defensive or personal about any of this. To be as honest and open as they can about their feelings toward Harry Nilsson, but not to take someone else’s inability to feel the same way as a rejection of theirs, as a foot stuck out to trip their tentative walking-around-in-the-fucked-up-world. And sometimes being this honest means being less enthusiastic than you want to be, less bombastic, more gentle and restrained, because trumpeting infatuation often just makes people feel bad that they’re not, at the moment, infatuated, which is kind of—if we’re still being honest—what your trumpeting wants them to feel. Look at me, you trumpet, I am in love! Isn’t that awesome for me, you fucked up stranger standing in for the fucked up world?
I don’t know how to magically solve this shit. All I know is this seems to resemble the currency of praise exchange and enthusiasm ’round these here parts. I don’t want anybody to change how they feel or how they do things. Nobody except myself, maybe. So in an effort to be less defensive about how fucked up I feel all the time, here’s something: 1) Tell me in the comments section about a book you’ve heard about on HTMLGIANT. Or anywhere from a stranger on a site like HTMLGIANT. A book you haven’t bought because you don’t have the money or you feel weary for whatever reason. Maybe you will pick a book I think is terrible. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. The point is: 2) This Friday, October 1st, I will randomly pick four (4) book-hearing tales and buy those books and send them to the tale-tellers. I would love to buy books for everybody, but I only make about $13,000 a year. Maybe when I’m crazy wealthy after I’ve invented this new insta-pancake spray I can’t tell you about, I will do another version of this post and buy books for everybody who comments. 3) The only rule is I can’t know you in real life. We can’t have ever met, or made out, or had any version of what the world considers significant face time. Probably a more graceful version of this would be if I randomly and anonymously went around fulfilling people’s wistful comments about books on their wish-lists, but—I don’t know. That would be better, yeah. Maybe the reason I am doing this in this way is because I feel defensive about the reputation of the site? Yeah, that’s probably it. If I were a more graceful person, I wouldn’t bother feeling defensive, but unfortunately, I also still get aggressive with my haircut.
I know this place can feel like the “cool kid” lunch table. In the long run, that’s probably not such a bad thing. But every kid of a certain cool is a huge fuck up, for crying out loud. So let’s throw the table out and sit on the floor.