I’ve been on a streak of disappointing books.

I finished the David Yaffe’s Joni Mitchell tome, but tired of his analysis of her lyrics, someone who didn’t live through the era and had no context. Having said that, if you’re a Joniphile you’ll be stunned to learn so many tidbits, like the woman who drowned herself in “Song For Sharon” was Jackson Browne’s wife, metaphorically, of course. Mitchell has a real bug up her ass about Browne. Then again, anybody who has ever dealt with the woman knows she’s incredibly difficult. Then again, you don’t want to meet your heroes, not usually.

More simplistic but more interesting was Steve Katz’s autobiography. Yes, the guy from the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He’s so BITTER! He can’t stop saying negative things about Al Kooper and it’s been fifty years. David Clayton Thomas too. But this book is fascinating in how it all ultimately dries up. You can’t make a living from music, fewer people know who you are, and then you’re headed for the dustbin. To a great degree Steve has been subsisting on the artwork of his wife, not the first, but the one with the longest tenure. Everybody’s got a story, there are no miracles.

But the problem with both of the above books is they’re non-fiction.

If you really want to learn about real life you’ve got to read fiction.

As for those reading business books… If one more person recommends Ray Dalio’s b.s. book I’m gonna explode. So the guy made a lot of money, so what? Age and you learn that everyone is an individual, and you can only maximize what is special to yourself. To try to imitate the career of someone else is futile. But we’re all looking for answers in a world where there are fewer of them. We all want to believe we’re on the right path, when the truth is we’re in the wilderness, looking for exactly that, truth.

On paper “Americanah” is not my kind of book. Then again, I didn’t read it on paper, I read it on the Kindle. Bookstores keep going out of business, Amazon is picking up the slack, but the publishing industry and its greatest acolytes, aged baby boomers, believe they’ve turned back the tide of digital and saved the physical book. What next, the 8-track and the cassette? Oh, that’s right, the same backward-looking press talking about print says those formats are coming back too, which they absolutely are not. Have you even got a cassette player? But the news is controlled by oldsters eager to return to a simpler time, to retreat from the chaos when anybody who ever survived knows the only way out is forward.

Why am I so angry?

Because of the schism. The baby boomers who think they rule who don’t. I told everybody they needed the big iPhone and my inbox was cluttered with deniers. All telling me the same thing, they TALK on the damn phone. Connect with someone a bit younger, they never ever talk on the phone, it’s a COMPUTER! Until you see your device as a computer as opposed to a telephone you’re part of the problem and not part of the solution but the thing about self-satisfied boomers and Gen-X’ers is they have to believe they know everything and are part of the solution, otherwise their inner core is threatened.

And because of the disinformation. Never in the history of my lifetime has conventional wisdom been so wrong. Forget the people trying to spread falsehoods, too many people are clueless as to what is happening, which is why I retreat into art, that disconnected from the machine, and when it rings true I’m elated and connected even though there might be no one else in the room.

Like when I read “Americanah.”

It’s about a woman from Nigeria. Yup, intrigued you right there, didn’t I. You’re mousing to Amazon right now, not.

And they speak English, which no one in America seems to know.

And they’re black but they don’t feel racism, which Americans can’t comprehend.

But the government is corrupt and there are strikes and you just can’t get ahead.

So Ifemelu moves to the United States.

That’s right, that’s her name. Yes, it’d be easier if her name was Jennifer, but they use real Nigerian names, deal with it, read the subtitles on the foreign movie.

But she leaves behind the love of her life.

It’s a love story. It’s social parable.

It’s life.

There’s more truth about relationships in this book than a year of HBO.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but I am gonna quote a few passages I highlighted and illuminate these concepts.

“basking in the attention her face drew but flattening her personality so that her beauty did not threaten.”

You’ve got to know who you are, you’ve got to adjust, you don’t just get to go through life willy-nilly. If you’re at a party and everybody’s poor, even middle class, you cannot ramble on about flying on the private jet. Furthermore, however rich and advantaged you are there’s always someone better off. To get ahead, the beautiful have to be non-threatening. But they pay a price, you’re just so envious of their status you don’t know it.

“He made her like herself. With him she was at ease.”

Admit it. On a regular basis you hate yourself. You don’t have to say it out loud, you can even deny it, but deep inside you know it’s true. What you’re looking for is to feel comfortable, that you’re all right, that you have value. That’s what you’re looking for in a love relationship.

“She was terrified to spend money.”

I still am. Ever since I crapped out twenty five years ago. I’m not convinced more will come in. I’ve never ever seen this expressed in a book before. You’re living, you’re spending, and you can’t make any money, what is end game? Usually bad, as it is in this book.

“It was as if he believed that they shared a series of intrinsic jokes that did not need to be verbalized.”

Now that’s love.

“Still, she had had other crushes since then, minor compared to the strike on the train…”

Yup, Ifemelu gets a crush on a guy on the New Haven Railroad, going up to Yale. It always happens like this, when you least expect it. And you never ever forget it. People are powerful, even those not trying to evidence their power, you’re in their aura and you become infected, veritably lovesick. Sometimes you hopscotch to a new person, sometimes your infatuation fades, but it’s the nature of being alive, bouncing from connection to connection, it’s why you should play, it’s exciting.

“and she thought that the romance novelists were wrong and it was men, not women, who were the true romantics.”

BINGO! Women are practical, they can cope. They might verbalize their feelings, but they soldier on, men get stuck.

“His friends were like him, sunny and wealthy people who existed on the glimmering surface of things.”

Do you know anybody too wealthy to work? I do. They’re exactly like this. Always smiling, always happy, and it’s nearly impossible to pierce their surface, reveal their hopes and dreams, if they’ve got any. They’re so busy appearing marvelous that they’ve sacrificed part of their humanity. So worried about being less than and not included that they air kiss and get along with everybody.

“She was from the generation of the bewildered, who did not understand what had happened to Nigeria but allowed themselves to be swept along.”

That’s life in Trump’s America. I’m bewildered, aren’t you? What do we do, protest all day long or just try to get along? And if we don’t stand up for what’s right are we relinquishing our power to do so forevermore?

“It puzzled her the ability of romantic love to mutate, how quickly a loved one could become a stranger.”

Whew! You’ve been at it for years, and then there’s a rupture, something said or done and you just can’t reconnect. You’re different. Ifemelu is living with a man and then there’s an inflection point…the relationship never recovers.

“But she was jealous of the emotional remnants that existed between him and Paula.”

We hate that they had a history before us. We try not to be jealous, but we are.

“It was this that drew Ifemelu, the absence of apology, the promise of honesty.”

Stop being mealy-mouthed and have a backbone, have the courage of your convictions.

“Because he had last known her when she knew little of the things she blogged about, he felt a sense of loss, as though she had become a person he would no longer recognize.”

Yes, Ifemelu blogs about race, it becomes her business, she makes a living, speaks at conferences. I was stunned to come across this plotline, very weird to see yourself in a book.

“she was a literal person who did not read, she was content rather than curious about the world – but he felt grateful to her, fortunate to be with her.”

You think it’s about looks, about wealth, but it’s truly about personality. Want to hook someone of substance? Live, be curious, be open. Her old flame married the icon. As beautiful as they come. But she did not read, she went through the motions, does he have a duty to stay with her?

Duty… The boomers left their spouses for something better and rarely found it.

Today’s educated class sees marriage as merger. Combining assets. Meanwhile, the poor just have babies and don’t get married at all.

This is what popular culture does worst, illustrate love. It’s all about looks when the truth is it’s something indescribable that you feel. Which used to be captured in music, before the coarsening of society, when money trumped love, and is most eloquently detailed in the written word, in books.

So, do you live up to your obligation or do you jump ship?

That ultimately becomes the question in “Americanah.”

And I’d like to tell you it’s unputdownable. Perfect. But it’s not that great, but it is very good, and delivers for the time invested, which few books do anymore, because reading a novel means removing yourself from the fast-paced world of the internet. You’ve got to be plugged in, it’s like we’re all living in an episode of “Black Mirror,” wondering how it will all turn out. But there are no robotic dogs, no orgasmatron, many things are the same as they always were. Like people. Like love. Like life.

Comments are closed