I wrote a piece for a Junot Diaz fan site looking at the short story ‘Invierno’ from his new collection This Is How You Lose Her.
If you didn’t know, I’m a huge fan of Junot Diaz. I was really disappointed that I didn’t get to see him when he was in Toronto for the International Festival of Authors this past October. I was away in Niagara seeing another of my favourite artists, Morrissey that same weekend (and I had bought the Moz tickets months before). It was a shame that the two events I most wanted to see all year were on the same night.
A friend of mine did go to IFOA and he told Junot that I would go to local library book clubs to defend Oscar Wao (I even took a morning off work to go to one. What kind of book club meets on a Tuesday morning?). I found some book club members skimmed the book and found the heavy use of Spanish to be distracting, yet others tried their best to look up what the Spanish passages meant. I tried to share my perspective, tried to explain how I saw the book through a similar, yet different, Hispanic/nerd lens and found the members always responded well and either would try to read the book properly or would recommend the book to someone they knew would like it. Junot signed this to me and I was thrilled:
It’s a bit strange but I find I feel the way about Junot Diaz as I approach 40 the same way I felt about Morrissey when I was 16.
I learned a lot about literature and poetry outside of the high school curriculum because of Morrissey, I’d read Keats, Yeats and Wilde and admire how great Morrissey was at vocal phrasing and stringing lyrics together. I even learned the guitar to try to learn some of Johnny Marr’s melodies (which, btw, is a terrible, terrible idea. If you’re learning the guitar, start with Neil Young or something easy). But as the years went on, I found Morrissey repeated a lot of the same ideas, had less to say as his voice got better. He seemed more of a curmudgeon as he got older. I didn’t love him any less, but there weren’t any surprises anymore.
I was blown away by Oscar Wao, (I’ve read it four times in the past five years) and I wanted to find out more about Junot Diaz, and there’s tons out there. I downloaded talks he gave off of iTunes, read old interviews online and I’ve soaked up all I could find now that he has a new book out. I love listening to what he has to say, I looked forward to new short stories the way I’d anticipate listening to a new Morrissey 12″ single and looked forward to a new book the way I’d eagerly await a new album. A lot of what he writes says so much to me about my life. After reading Monstro, Diaz’s Dominican apocalypse story, I can’t wait to read the full novel. I think what I really like about Diaz’s work is that I connect with it in a powerful way because I think as we get older we become desensitized to a lot of things in life including our connection with art.
(And as for Morrissey, if you’re on Twitter, I’d recommend following @Mozzer_bot that just posts snippets of his lyrics from his time in The Smiths and his solo period. Even though I’ve heard those songs a million times it’s still amazing to see some of those lyrics written out. A couple of random lines: ‘I doused our friendly venture with a hard-faced three-word gesture,’ ‘You have never been in love until you’ve seen the stars reflect in the reservoirs,’ and ‘Under the iron bridge we kissed and although I ended up with sore lips it just wasn’t like the old days anymore.’ And if for whatever reason, you don’t know who Morrissey or The Smiths are, go to YouTube right now.)