When last October I began talking to friends about Ten Thousand Saints, I got in the habit of starting with a question: “Do you know about the straight edge scene?”

The answer, invariably, was No.

Undoubtedly, this lack of awareness can be pinned on my bookish, Portland-centric social circles, at least in part. No matter, eight months later, most conversations about Eleanor Henderson’s debut include a brief tutorial on the boys and bands that spawned a movement three decades ago in response to the drugs and drinking and generally hedonistic tendencies associated with punk music.

Now, as glowing reviews greet the novel’s publication — on the heels of a New York Times Book Review feature, Vogue and Entertainment Weekly have joined the joyous chorus — I’m starting to wonder whether “straight edge” might finally enter the mainstream vernacular.

If you’re curious to learn more, here’s Wikipedia on the subject. Also a straight edge FAQ. [click to comment]

Here’s Stacey D’Erasmo, writing for the front cover feature of this coming Sunday’s New York Times Book Review:

“The ambition of Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel about a group of unambitious lost souls, is beautiful. In nearly 400 pages, Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus.”

“What is your novel about?” I’d asked Eleanor, months ago, in her Ithaca home. I’d read an advance copy of the book by then, of course, and brought my own ideas to the interview, but what did she think? After working with her characters for nine years, their story had grown to accommodate any number of interpretations. [click to comment]

An essay in Listen to This called “I Saw the Light” follows New Yorker music critic Alex Ross to ten Bob Dylan concerts during the fall of 1998. It’s a fascinating read, whether you’re a devoted Dylan fan or simply curious about the enigmatic performer. If Ross proves to be the ideal guide, surely it’s no coincidence that he only came to appreciate Dylan after years of ambivalence.

A strange and yet common phenomenon, this—suddenly embracing songs, artists, and whole genres of music despite previously rejecting them—and one that’s been on Ross’s mind for more than a decade. In an old interview with The Morning News, he told Rosecrans Baldwin, “Back in the days of Feed magazine, Steven Johnson wanted to organize a discussion on this topic: What’s going on in the brain when you listen to a song that you think you hate now but will fall in love with three years down the line?”

Surely we could all compile lengthy Once-Rejected/Later-Loved playlists of our own. [click to comment]

“My career as a composer lasted from the age of eight to the age of twenty,” Alex Ross explains in Listen to This. “I lacked both genius and talent.”

His admission got me wondering about the creative arts. Specifically: What begets an artist? Here’s Alex Ross, who latched onto music in grade school and has never let go. He not only understands music but can articulate equally well its production and the passions it elicits from listeners. And yet he claims to have accepted, years ago, having no talent for making the thing, itself.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a book called The Tree by John Fowles, “a moving meditation” (says the New Yorker) on human creativity. I read a short excerpt out loud.

No art is truly teachable in its essence. All the knowledge in the world of its techniques can provide in itself no more than imitations or replicas of previous art. What is irreplaceable in any object of art is never, in the final analysis, its technique or craft, but the personality of the artist, the expression of his or her unique and individual feeling.

I asked, given his personal experience, what Ross thought of the idea. “That sounds right to me,” he started.

From there, his response took an interesting, provocative turn. Here’s the rest, in full. [click to comment]