Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Confessions of a CCM junkie

Hi, my name is Brook, and this evening I stepped foot in a ... a christian bookstore (like Ren confessing "I...I was NICE today" with a look of grave, nearly horrified concern on his face...). I don't normally do that sort of thing, but I used to practically live in that world, and so, despite the fact that it is so very foreign to me now, at the same time it will also probably always be a part of my life in some way or other, that CCM / CBA world of commodified holiness. There's a lot of fluff and nonsense in those places, but if you know where to look, there's also the occasional "real deal". I was buying the latest book by Margaret Becker, as well as a book w/ audio CD by A.W.Tozer (both for whom I still hold the utmost respect). Wandering around the isles, looking at all the "christian" product, got me thinking about what a strange looking animal the christian subculture is. Over the years, I've seen that scene get into bed with some odd partners - like Precious Moments porcelin figurines, or more recently Extreme Sports (I won't even go into the whole novelty item thing -like "Testa-Mints").

There was a time in my life, however, when I lived and breathed that subculture. Mostly as a teenager and young adult, probably well into my mid-twenties (at which point I discovered a whole other "christian subculture" out in the real world that changed my life forever). There is something innate in most of us, some desire or longing, to want to be a good person, to do the right thing, and the christian (marketing) subculture plays to and on that instinct for all its worth, getting you to believe that buying "christian" product is the "right thing to do" (just like Wilford Brimley does with oatmeal). The terms "secular" and "christian" come to serve as a rallying point of "us -vs- them" mentality, getting the "christian" consumer to place a moral weight on what they are buying - a morality that has nothing to do with "fair trade" or "ecological" considerations or that sort of truly biblical morality, and everything to do with which label has been placed on which product ("christian" or "secular"). There is this unwritten, unspoken belief, it seems to me, that the more products you purchase and consume labeled "christian", the better Christian you are (and therefore the better chance you have of getting to heaven because you are following the right path, doing the right thing, and all of that). This concept reached ridiculous proportions at a certain point (including christian mortgage companies, car dealers, clothing, etc), but in my own personal experience, it mostly focused on the music we were listening to, the books we read, and the company we kept, with the primary focus put on...Music. Entertainment, in general, seemed to me to be the earmark of whether one was living a holy, devout, christian life. Not whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked (who I wouldn't want to be near anyway because of the sexual immorality implied by their state), visited the sick and imprisoned, or any of that other unmarketable stuff, but rather what kind of music was I listening to ("feeding my spirit" with would be the correctly understood terminology), and was it "christian" or "secular"? (THE most important question one could ask regarding what one was engaging in). Those qualifying for something akin to sainthood would be those who got rid of all their (possessions? to give to the poor and follow Christ? no...) SECULAR ALBUMS and listened to only christian music...

I could go on and on, bitching about how screwed up all this line of thinking is, and I will at some point I'm sure, but for now just suffice it to say that this was the mentality that I was immersed in for a good amount of my young adult life. And to tell you the truth, I don't know that I would change those years much for anything. Granted, I've had to do a whole lot of unsticking myself from the cultural mess it entangles, seperating the truth from the trappings and baggage, but CCM music (Contemporary Christian Music, for those who might not know what CCM means, and who will probably rightly ask why would anyone use the word "music" after the letter that stands for "music") played a very important part in my life, and I do believe there can be a legitimate place in a genuine Christian's life for CCM. At its best, christian music helps keep one's mind and thoughts focused on the truths of their faith, on the God they serve, on Christ and His life, and what that means for their life and how to live it. CCM can serve as a catalyst for worship, or even just as a positive aural environment in which to allow oneself to soak in. It can be a common ground upon which relationships with fellow believers can be strengthened or discovered. There is nothing wrong with music that focuses on the various aspects of Christian faith. It can be very good, in fact, a calming and healing element for the soul, an anchor in the midst of times of confusion. And, probably best of all, it has the potential to lead one (to point in the right direction at least) towards a truly authentic life of faith, inspiring deeper study of the scriptures and deeper thought on how to apply these things to one's life. Some of the best artists are simply confessional singer/songwriters, sharing their life of faith and their struggles, providing something of a light and example for their listeners to follow or share in, to feel they are not alone (while some, at their didactic and condesceding worst, are simply making teaching tapes set to music, or propaganda even, with all the lack of artistic integrity that entails). Some of it is Inspirational, in the truest sense of the word. and some of it... well, some of it is just damn good rock and roll, whatever you might happen to believe.

Some of the best, and most genuine Christian artists I have come to know and love over the years include artists like Rich Mullins, Kieth Green, Rez Band (with Glenn Kaiser, whose life and example was probably the single biggest influence on my early Christian life and thought), Undercover (whose song "Build a Castle", as well as the albums Branded and Balance of Power in general, probably had the single most significant influence on my life and thought later on in college - an awareness of death and an understanding of the importance of relationships that has profoundly influenced me to this day), Daniel Amos / Terry Taylor, Mylon Lefevre (who seems to have flipped his boat since then and gone all looney cliche' charismatic), Margaret Becker, Kim Hill, Charlie Peacock, Amy Grant, Larry Norman (the grandpappy godfather of christian rock), etc. etc... There are countless others whose music I have loved, but these artists and more like them have had a deep impact on who I was (and still am), and how I thought about and lived my life of faith. In recent years, artists like Nicole Nordeman, Carolyn Arends, and Jennifer Knapp have continued to provide a spark of hope for signs of life in the christian music subculture to me, artists who seem (to me) to be the genuine article - that is, more concerned with their faith and the struggles and sacrifices it entails than with their CCM image as product (I would also mention artists like Sarah Masen or Sixpence None the Richer, but I generally think of them not as a CCM artists - which, despite all the nice things I just said about it above, would be to degrade the kind of artistic expression of faith that they create - but rather I like to think of them as among those genuine artists, akin to Sam Philips, who may have roots in CCMland, but live and move and shine their light in the real world, in ways the CCM world can't quite understand - or, worse yet, can't "market". No one's quite sure what's happened to Jennifer Knapp, but I'd like to hope she's about to head in that direction herself - turn in her resignation to the CCM marketing machine and follow Sam Philips' footsteps right the hell out of that ghetto)

Though I've outgrown that confining world of CCM culture, it's still a part of who I am, and there's enough goodness and life to have come from it that I don't wish it were otherwise. I've developed some of my closest friendships out of that era of my life, and I'm still living on the life of faith I found there (though it looks nearly unrecognizably different from what it was before), still struggling towards a genuine understanding of God and my relationship with who He is, still struggling towards a genuine expression of that faith in my everyday life.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

The BIG GAME (my rant on professional sports)


Today was the day of the BIG GAME. Big, IMPORTANT game I'm told. Big Sweaty men dressed in colorful tights playing with balls and chasing each other. This particular BIG GAME featured an oddly-shaped ball which the big sweaty men were fighting each other to be the one to hold. Play starts with all these big sweaty men bent over in a line, asses in the air, ready to go at it. One or two of these men are apparantly so excited that they can be seen running back and forth behind the line of men bent over. One of these men is known as the "tight end". And then there's that one big man who gets to bend over right behind another bent-over man holding a ball as he waits for the right moment to reach out and grab the ball in the front man's hand. from a distance it looks rather lude, this position they're in. Up close it doesn't look much better. Hopefully the man in front doesn't fart, as the man bent over behind him would most likely get the full dose (and I imagine these big sweaty men can pack a wollup of a fart). the play comes to an end after all these men chase after the one man with a ball in his hands, and generally, after they catch up with him, there is a big sweaty man pile - in fact there are many big sweaty man piles throughout the game. At least they're wearing protection. When a player does a good job, his teammates will usually reward him by giving him a loving pat on the butt. I don't know if this is some sort of incentive or what, but I do know that if I were the one playing in the game, the incentive for ME to do good would be the promise that if I did something good then no man would come near my butt with his hand. A hot cheerleader, fine, but no man-to-man butt-pats for me, thank you. The point of the game of course, is to score. step over that line with that ball in your hand and, touchdown, you score. much man dancing and butt patting to follow. then, after the BIG GAME, when it's all over, the big sweaty men all head to the locker room to undress in front of one another and take a shower together.

I suppose if I were gay, I would enjoy sports more than I do. But as it is, I think I would rather sit in my room and play with my own balls than watch other big sweaty men play with theirs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Futurological Congress" by Stanislaw Lem (an introduction)


Walter Wink, in his book "Naming the Powers" talks about the "powers of the air", referring to
"the invisible but palpable environment of opinions, beliefs, propaganda, convictions, prejudices, hatreds, racial and class biases, taboos, and loayalties that condition our perception of the world long before we reach the age of choice... It "kills" us precicely because we breathe it in before we even realize it is noxious. Like fish in water, we are not even aware that it exists, much less that it determines the way we think, speak, and act".
We've seen the awareness of this sort of "reality" analogously portrayed in movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show, and in music such as that made by Radiohead and Beck (as David Dark writes about in greater detail in his book "Everyday Apocalyptic"). In Stanislaw Lem's book "The Futurological Congress", the character Ijon Tichy finds himself in a similar environment / future reality (and Wink's concept of the "powers of the air" is portrayed as quite a literal concept here). It is a world in which reality itself has been commodified, by means of next-generation hallucinogenic drugs - “Mascons” specifically:
"Narcotics do not cut one off from the world, they only change one’s attitude towards it. Hallucinogens, on the other hand, blot out and totally obscure the world… But mascons falsify the world"
- which the society itself requires for it’s very existance and survival. Commodification comes in both the Truman show / 1984 sense (aka: imposed on one from the outside), and also in the Brave New World sense of voluntarily sought by the society itself
"The fiendishness of it all is that part of this mass deception is open and voluntary, letting people think they can draw the line between fiction and fact. And since no one any longer responds to things spontaneiously…the distinction between manipulated and natural feelings has ceased to exist"
Tichy, awakened to the truth, goes out
"Like a bloodhound hot on the trail, my mind sought out all the hollow, empty places in this monumental masquerade, this tinseled cheat that sprawled across the horizon"
As the purveyors of this society explain, “A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given a chance”, explaining how
"one can mask any object in the outside world behind a fictitious image – superimposed – and with such dexterity, that the psychemasconated subject cannot tell which of his perceptions have been altered, and which have not. If but for a single instant you could see this world of ours the way it really is – undoctored, unadulterated, uncensored – you would drop in your tracks!"
This calls to mind, not only the concept behind Stephen King’s “Needful Things” – which is more akin to the reality spoken of in FC - but also, on the other end, a comment made I believe by C.S. Lewis that, were we to see our fellow man in all his trancendental glory, as he really is, we would be tempted to fall down in worship. Or, as Frederick Buechner’s Nicolet says (in Final Beast),
“whatever this is we move around through…Reality…the air we breathe…this emptiness…If you could get hold of it by the corner somewhere, just slip your fingernail underneath and peel it back enough to find out what’s there behind it, I think you’d be…I think the dance that must go on back there…If we saw anymore of that dance than we do, it would kill us sure… The glory of it. Clack-Clack is all a man can bear”
As these societal overseers so rationally put it,
“is it so satanical if, in some extreme case, a doctor chooses to hide the truth from his patient? I say that if this is the way we must live, eat, exist, at least let us have it in fancy wrappings…what’s the harm?”
As Ijon Tichy begins to wake up to the truth of the reality around him, he writes how “all along I was unaware of the foulness lurking behind that most elegant, courteous facade”. he knows he must do something about it, but what? He comes into posession of an “anti-illusory” elixir, one that helps to counter the effects on himself of the illusion-perpetuating drugs he is living on, and goes through stages of reality-awareness,
“realizing in a sudden shudder of premonition that now reality was sloughing off yet another layer – clearly, it’s falsification had begun so very long ago, that even the most powerful antidote could do no more than tear away successive veils, reaching the veils beneath but not the truth”.
Tichy finds himself “no longer safely inside the illusion, but shipwrecked in reality”, much like Neo once he is pulled into reality, out of the Matrix. He knows that a mind awake is not readily tolerated in a society who’s very survival is dependant on illusion, and is “certain that the fact that I could see was plainly written on my face and I would have to pay for it”. He fears that the anti-drug which woke him up will wear off and he would find himself back in “paradise”. and, much like the attitude of the Zion resistance group in The Matrix, he says that this
“prospect filled me with nothing but fear and loathing, as if I would have rather shivered in some garbage dump – with the knowledge that that was what it was – than owed my deliverance to apparitions”.

Thomas Merton writes along these lines in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
People are constantly trying to use you to help them create the particular illusions by which they live. This is particularly true of the collective illusions which sometimes are accepted as ideologies. You must renounce and sacrifice the approval that is only a bribe enlisting your support of a collective illusion...You must be willing, if necessary, to become a disturbing and therefore an undesired person, one who is not wanted because he upsets the general dream.

in a disconnected way, I’m reminded of all this when I hear a mass media / self-help icon like Dr. Phil say (in the form of real advice to his listeners), “there is no reality, only perception”

The book, in typical Lem fashion (and similar to fellow SciFi writer Philip K. Dick), is a strange trip, one that is well worth the price of admission and may well alter your own perception of whatever it is you think of as "reality".

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wendell Berry on the war

Some thoughts by Wendell Berry, excerpted from the chapter "Peaceableness Toward Enemies" in his book SEX, ECONOMY, FREEDOM AND COMMUNITY, in response to the war in Iraq. Oddly enough, these words were written 15 years ago in regards to the war waged by George Bush the first, who didn't succeed in making a complete mess of that country the way his son W has now.

What can we mean by the statement that we were "liberating" Kuwait? Kuwait was not a democratic nation. If it was imperative to "liberate" it after Saddam's invasion, why was it not equally imperative to "liberate" it before? And why is it not equally imperative to liberate Tibet or China, or any of the other nations under non-democratic rule?

It may be true that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous madman. dealing with a madman, people of common sense try not to provoke him to greater acts of madness. How Saddam's acts of violence were to be satisfactorily limited or controlled by our own acts of greater violence has not been explained.

This war was said to be "about peace". So have they all been said to be. This was another in our series of wars "to end war." But peace is not the result of war, any more than love is the result of hate or generosity the result of greed. As a war in defense of peace, this one in the Middle East has failed, as all its predecessors have done. Like all its predecessors, it was the result of failure, on the part of all of its participants, to be peaceable...

...victory for some requires defeat for others. And those who have been defeated will not be satisfied for long with an order founded on their defeat. One such victory will sooner or later require another. In fact, this war produced not order but disorder probably greater than the disorder with which it began (Brook's note: "probably" is no longer the right word to describe the situation. "incomprehensibly" is probably a better word when talking about this war). We have by no means shown that disorder can be put in order by means of suffering, death, and destruction.

We must also consider the possibility that this war happened not because we had a purpose in fighting it but simply because we were prepared for it... It is well understood that the mere possession of any piece of equipment is a powerful incentive to use it. Our aimlessness and apparent bewilderment in the aftermath of the war may be an indication that the war itself was virtually without a purpose.

...We were evidently determined to preserve at all costs a way of life in which we will contemplate no restraints. We sent an enormous force of our young men and women to kill and to be killed in defense of our oil supply, but we have done nothing to conserve that supply or to reduce our dependence on it... We wish to give our people the impression that except for their children, nothing will be required of them.

About equally troubling is the tone of technological optimism that accompanied the war's beginning... The assumption...has been that this was a war of scientific precision and predictability, that we knew exactly what we were doing, what was involved, how long it would take, and what the results would be...Of course, anyone who uses tools can testify that results invariably become more complex and less predictable as force is increased. When our leaders talked about the results of this war, they were talking about victory and the political order that presumably would be imposed (for a while) by the victor. They were not talking about the deaths and griefs, the economic descructions, the intensified hatreds and resentments, the changed patterns of poverty and wealth, and the ecological damages that would also be the results and that would not be readily predictable or controllable. The confession, by certain pro-war politicians, that some of the disorderly and lamentable results of the war were "not foreseen" was surely the war's most foreseeable result.

The circumstances of this war made obscure such apparently simple questions as "Who is the enemy?" and "Whom is this war against?"

The enemy was said to be Iraq, or Iraq as ruled by Saddam Hussein. But in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein, we faced an enemy who had been armed, fortified, equipped, trained, and encouraged by ourselves and our friends. Our government gave aid to Saddam Hussein, indulged his human rights abuses and his use of poison gas, and encouraged him to think that we would not oppose his ambitions. We sold him equipment that could be used to develop nuclear weapons, missiles, and poison gas. We sold him toxins and bacteria that could be used in biological warfare.

...What about the children? we ask as our leaders acknowledge the inevitability of "some civilian casualties" - or "collateral casualties" as they put it...
We are thinking, too, of our own children to whom someone must explain that some people - including some of "our" people - look on the deaths of children as an acceptable cost of victory.

There is no dodging the fact that war diminishes freedom. This war increased government secrecy (which is at any time a threat to freedom)...and it increased governmental and popular pressure toward uniformity of thought and opinion. War always encourages a patriotism that means not love of country but unquestioning obedience to power. Freedom, of course, requires diversity of opinion. It not only tolerates political dissent but encourages and depends on it.

One thing worth the imperative to imagine the lives of beings who are not ourselves and are not like ourselves...

...there is one great possibility that we have hardly tried: that we can come to peace by being peaceable.

That possiblilty, though little honored, is well known; its most famous statement is this: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."

In times of war, our leaders always speak of their prayers... Perhaps they believe or hope that prayer will help. But within the circumstances of war, prayer becomes a word as befuddled in meaning as liberate or order or victory or peace. These prayers are usually understood to be Christian prayers. But Christian prayers are made to or in the name of Jesus, who loved, prayed for, and forgave his enemies and who instructed his followers to do likewise. A Christian supplicant, therefore, who has resolved to kill those whom he is enjoined to love, to bless, to do good to, to pray for, and to forgive as he hopes to be forgiven is not conceivably in a situation in which he can be at peace with himself.

...Ignoring the Gospels' command to be merciful, forgiving, loving, and peaceable, our leaders have prayed only for the success of their arms and policies and have thus made for themselves a state religion - exactly what they claim to fear in "fundamentalist" Islam. But why God might particularly favor a nation whose economy is founded foursquare on the seven deadly sins is a mystery that has not been explained.

Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical. It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations. It will not readily serve those who are greedy for power. It cannot be effectively used for bad ends. It could not afford opportunities for profit. It involves danger to practitioners. It requires sacrifice. And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic of retribution. It is the only way by which we can cease to look to war for peace.

Let us hasten to the question that apologists for killing always ask: If somebody raped or murdered a member of my family, would I not want to kill him? Of course I would, and I daresay I would enjoy killing him. Or her. If asked, however, if I think that it would do any good, I must reply that I do not. The logic of retribution implies no end and no hope. If I kill my enemy, and his brother kills me, and my brother kills his brother, and so on and on, we may all have strong motives and even good reasons; the world may be better off without all of us. And yet this is a form of behavior that we have wisely outlawed. We have outlawed it, that is, in private life. In our national life, it remains the established and honored procedure.

The essential point is the ancient one: that to be peaceable is, by definition, to be peaceable in time of conflict. Peaceableness is not the amity that exists between people who agree, nor is it the exhaustion or jubilation that follows war. It is not passive. It is the ability to act to resolve conflict without violence. If it is not a practical and a practicable method, it is nothing. As a practicable method, it reduces helplessness in the face of conflict. In the face of conflict, the peaceable person may find several solutions, the violent person only one.

We seem to be following, on the one hand, the logic of preventitive war, according to which we probably ought to kill all heads of state and their supporters to keep them from sooner or later becoming power hungry maniacs who will force us to fight a big war to save freedom, civilization, peace, gentleness, and brotherly love.... If it is to mean anything, peaceableness has to operate all the time, not lie dormant until the emergence of power-hungry maniacs. Amish pacifism makes sense because the Amish are peaceable all the time. If they attacked their neighbors and then, when their neighbors retaliated, started loving them, praying for them, and turning the other cheek, they would be both wrong and stupid. Of course, as the Amish know, peaceableness can get you killed. I suppose they would reply that war can get you killed, too...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

by your side

When Dawn
then Dusk
and Darkened Sky
exchange their hue
for one last time
if all we've said
is just Goodbye
with one last day
to live our lives
I'll hold your hand
gaze in your eyes
and pray
a thousand times
'till all we've left
are tears to dry
at daybreak
on the other side

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bob Dylan

Well, I'm back from seeing Bob Dylan perform at The Palace tonight, and it was great! Dylan has so much material that you just can't know what he's going to play on any given night, but he played a few that I've only dreamed of seeing him do. Visions of Johanna for one. Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up In Blue, Highway 61, and All Along The Watchtower for some others. He's majorly reworked all of the songs, some of them so much that I couldn't figure out what they were until halfway through the song. Others I recognized the lyrics to but never did figure out what exactly they were. All I knew was that I was in the presence of a true Legend, and I was soaking it all in as much as I could.
There were many striking differences between the Dylan I saw last night and the Dylan I know of from music history. For one, he stood at a keyboard all night, didn't play a lick of guitar (though he did play a bit of harmonica here and there). He's also in a major country / classic bluesy soul rock groove. Rockabilly, for lack of a better word. Usually not my thing, but Dylan is a master and you have to appreciate the fact that he's gone back to the very roots of rock & roll and is keeping them alive and vital in our generation of slickly-produced commercialized sugar-sweet throwaway music. Plus, without Dylan, we don't even have the concept of "country rock" or it's like. He was the first to do that sort of thing.

I was wondering while watching him, given how different his current show is from what you would have seen in the late 60's, if the young Bob Dylan could somehow see and meet the old man Dylan, I wonder what he would think of himself. Would he recognize who he had become? And I wonder if the Dylan of today ever looks back to those early days and wonders what happened to that kid and how did he end up here, and could all those years really have gone by? Knowing what I know of him, probably not, but I know I would be asking those kinds of questions at that age. Hell, I ask those kinds of questions at this age! But maybe that's the kind of thing that's keeping me from living the kind of life he's lived. "If any man looks back after putting his hand to the plow, he is not worthy of me or the kingdom of God... and he'll be turned into a pillar of salt for good measure"

Thursday, November 02, 2006

October rusts

October has come and gone, the leaves (as Kansas once sang in lyrics it took me years to understand) have fallen from the trees. October has always been my favorite month, and nowadays life's quick passing usually finds me unprepared when it comes around. like death. it catches me off-guard, and I'm wondering how to make the most of the moment. like life. and then it's gone...
It's been an unseasonably cold October this year, and rainy, and that hasn't helped matters any. Not many good Cider Mill-ing days to be found. and I seem to have slept right through the ones we did have. I did see a few good concerts this past month though, and that always helps one to feel more alive and connected. Like Indigo Girls in Ann Arbor (a great town to spend autumn in anyway, with it's used book and record stores, and abundant coffeehouses - some that aren't even Starfucks - amid the near-tangible excitement of college life in general).

November promises to start off with a bang: Bob Dylan, at the Palace. A more important cultural icon I will not encounter in this life. He's at the top. The guy influenced the BEATLES for crying out loud! Had the balls to tell them that they were ok, but their music didn't have anything to SAY! Hit John Lennon pretty hard inside, and next thing you know we have the Sgt Pepper album with a song like "A Day in the Life". That is what you call impact. I've been immersing myself in Dylan's music this past week, reading his excellent book (Chronicles), and watched once again the Martin Scorsese masterpiece No Direction Home. I think I'm ready. and I'll be in the 2nd row! "is that Bob Dylan in front of you?" "no, that's just some guy...Dylan is the one in front of him" "so you're saying there's only one person between you and Bob Dylan??" "yes, that's what I'm saying"...
My brother will also be coming home at the end of the month for Thanksgiving weekend, and that is always something to look forward to. Since he's moved away, I usually get to see him maybe 4 or 5 times a year, and that's hard, but he's living in New York, and so I couldn't have asked for a better life for him (or a better vacation spot for me!).

After Chronicles, I'm going to get back to the Harry Potter book I started last month (Goblet), and maybe I'll take some Merton with me to the Cider Mill if we ever get anymore nice days before the place closes down. Reading Merton by a peacefully flowing stream out in the autumn woods has a way of transforming and healing the soul. I still haven't finished David Dark's book Gospel According To America (despite how absolutely rich and deeply thoughtful it is), so I'd like to get back to that one. And my dad is reading Faulkner's "Absalom Absalom", and I'm thinking about trying to tackle that one as well. I'll probably only get around to finishing Potter though...