58. Slumberland

by Paul Beatty

started 10/21 finished 11/5

Wow! This was a journey! I am not a huge jazz fan, but I imagine that reading this book to be akin to a 2 week long improvisational, experimental jazz riff. This man can write!

Slumberland is about an L.A. DJ who is on a quest for the perfect beat. He has a phonographic memory and can identify sounds of all types. While playing a set one night he stumbles upon the perfect beat, but he must have it authenticated by the one musician he idolizes – Charles Stone, known as The Schwa. No one knows where this guy is or what he looks like, but his elusive music causes seismic shifts when played. One day the DJ receives an anonymous package with a video tape in it that shows a man having sex with a chicken (stay with me, now), he recognizes the music playing in the background as The Schwa’s. The package has a German postmark so he takes off for that country, landing a job in a bar called Slumberland (patronized by black men and the white women who love them) as a jukebox sommelier.

This book was a trip! Funny and confusing and thoughtful and genius! One of my favorite passages:

“Doris, it’s eight degrees in here. Do you know what that is in Fahrenheit?”

“About fifty degrees.”

“Fifty-one-point-eight degrees to be exact, which is the temperature at which black men lose their fucking minds. In 1967 when my Uncle Billy turned down a scholarship to UCLA and volunteered to go to Vietnam, it was eight degrees Celsius. On that clear, blue, carry-me-back-to-Ol’-Virginny morning when Nat ‘Crazy Like a Fox’ Turner looked directly into a solar eclipse and decided there and then to kill every white person in the world – it was eight degrees Celsius. In Rocky II, when Apollo Creed agrees to give Rocky Balboa a rematch in Phila-fucking-delphia, Rocky’s hometown, it was eight degrees Celsius, fifty-two fucking degrees.”

That had me laughing out loud on the train!

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