My favorite books so capture me in narrative, difficulty, or reference that I have no free cycles to spare, no extra processing power to realize that I'm reading a book. An example, this from Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec:
An inspector from Rethel was given the task of elucidating the events that had led to the double murder at Chaumont-Porcien. He took barely a week to complete his investigation, and succeeded only in deepening the mystery surrounding this murky business.Two sentences and I'm hooked. The only thing better than a detective novel (or a thriller, or any other example of "genre fiction") is of course a detective novel done really, really well. But I digress: the point is that the book is so well written and larded with a fine network of references to other books that it's all overwhelming; the act of reading is so intense, so involved that nothing else seems to happen once you've started.
An aside: I named our cats after the victims. Brother and sister, those were the first two names that came to mind; of course, our cats turned out not to be brother and sister, and François and Elizabeth... well, you'd have to read it for yourself. Google Books has it available; start at the top of page 138in the 1988 Godine edition.
Music: same story. Dan likes to joke about "difficult listening," but I think of it as, well, complicated. The complexity of Max Tundra, the mass of the Melvins, the non-stop pastichery of, say, Foetus, all of it keeps me so occupied that I don't much think. It's telling that my favorite lyricists (Osborne, Ellard, Jacobs) tend towards nothing resembling narrative and that the Zappa I love (Purple Lagoon to name a track) tends to be entirely without lyrics. When the music gets going and there's just so much there to listen to... that's when it's good. Pasticheurs such as The Books and Boards of Canada? Same thing: it's wonderful, that shock of recognition when you realize that that bass is lifted from Hair, that delight at hearing cello atomized into smaller chunks to help focus the beauty of the whole.
To loop back to Perec for a minute, slightly on the way to the slight point I'm making here: there's a sense of directness in his writing, a distinct lack of showiness (in, say, the manner of an Infinite Jest) there that's appealing. The story is told well; the appreciation I have for his writing isn't in how he says things particularly, but in the strange sensation that he's directly transmitting to the reader. If you've ever read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, then you may have experienced a similar sensation; his writing always strikes me as if it's the most correct it could be for the story it's telling. (It's probably genre fiction too, but of course that's something you could have guessed already.)
This brings me to wine. Last night, after Dan dozed off to sleep, I read a short interview with Paul Draper, winemaker at Ridge, a winery in the Santa Cruz mountains down by Cupertino. His wines are consistently among the very best I've ever tasted, and as with many wines that truly move me on a fundamental level, they seem to display a distinct lack of agency. (When drunk, I tend to refer to this quality as "not having been fucked with.") When I drink one of his wines, I can't sense any proxy, any filter, any distortion on the part of the winemaker: what's in the bottle was what was in the soil, and that's all. Just as with meeting a friend for the first time, you suddenly know that this is who they are, that it'll require patience on your part to listen carefully and understand, and also that it will be absolutely worth it.
There aren't many things in this world that have the power to obviate human agency, to put you directly in touch with the world as it is (or with nature, or with God, or with whatever you want to call it). For me, wine, more than anything else, is that; the alcohol certainly has something to do with it, but more than anything else it's the simple truth that it once was grapes that grew in a particular location, were picked, fermented, bottled, nothing else. When that goes well - when the place was good, when the weather was good, when the men and women that grew, picked, fermented, and bottled the grapes were sensible about it and left nature to its course - it has the potential to create a particular, nonrepeatable, ever-changing experience that will stop time for as long as it takes to share that bottle with a friend.
That, that time spent together, is what makes me happiest.
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;- Walt Whitman, again.
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
All I need now is for the weather to improve; this has got me in the mood for something pink, but it's no fun drinking pink wine in the drizzly dark.