I don’t listen to Mountain Goats much so I don’t know if John Darnielle is “one of the best lyricists of his generation,” as he is “widely considered.”

I do wonder how he can compete with Rich Krueger:

In a coffeeshop window he straightened his tie
And through his reflection he swore he saw her there
Sitting, thinking, at the counter, drinking
Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy

Or Liz Phair:

And when I asked for a separate room
It was late at night and we’d been driving since noon
But if I’d known how that would sound to you
I would have stayed in your bed for the rest of my life
Just to prove I was right
That it’s harder to be friends than lovers

Or Doug Martsch:

Cafeteria, Harrison Elementary
Beneath a parachute I saw her without shoes
7-Up, I touched her thumb and she knew it was me
Although she couldn’t see
Unless of course she peeked

Or Dar Williams:

Sometimes Southern California wants to be Western New York…
Tempe, Arizona, thinks the Everglades are greener and wetter
And Washington D.C., thinks that Atlanta integrated better
But I think that Southern California has more pain than we can say
‘Cause it wants to travel back in time, but it just can’t leave L.A.

In any case, I only read the endnotes on books, which is where I learned about this widely held opinion about John Darnielle, when I’ve finished reading the book. In this case, Wolf in White Van. Which is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time, and I think practically everyone I know should read it.

To clarify: I think a lot of the men and boys I love, and a few of the women, should read this book. Especially the ones who grew up with role-playing games as central to their lives and imaginations.

SC should read it because he almost never reads novels unless I recommend one (I was going to say, “unless I force them on him,” but there is literally no way to force another person to read), and he wouldn’t find it otherwise. I think he might understand more deeply than I do the depth and layers and complexity of the game Trace Italian, a text-based, U.S. Mail-based game whose development runs throughout the story. I think S. would identify with Sean, the game’s creator and the novel’s narrator, who spends most of his life alone, inside his own head, except for his correspondence and official business. He used to have written relationships that took place on an international chat board initially connected to a game he played, people I called his imaginary friends who he talked to about everything he never talked to me about, and occasionally, about me.

D. should read it because he still plays D&D, has been playing off and on since he was about 13, and is obsessed by maps. Or at least he was when we were kids. He also read more when we were kids, and maybe I want him to be a kid again, since that was when we were closest and most enmeshed, and even though the intensity of the way our relationship is no longer tenable or acceptable, I remember it fondly.

SL should read it because she is one of the few female gamers I know and because her quiet intensity reminds me of Sean. She is an introvert who seems really interested in how people think and what their motivations are and how they deal with the difficulties of life. I think in another universe she might have been a nurse or a social worker, though I’m projecting my needs onto hers because she spent so much time helping raise my kids.

Both AEK should read it because they she is smart and loves reading. It might be too dark for her, though I feel like the trajectory of the story is not too bleak or depressing. But I can never guess well for her, and I’d have to describe it in detail, and that might destroy the magic.

AJK and, by extension, R. should read it because they are gamers and met each other doing nerdy stuff and they are nerds who have integrated many different social and life skills into their adult lives. We don’t talk about books much, but I think they would like it.

I want L. to read it because of the ways Sean describes dealing with his anxieties, his thoughtful approach to his own difficulties and those of others, and I see a piece of that in the thoughtful way L. deals with younger kids. He is also a gamer and would appreciate the details.

G. goes without saying; his voracious appetite for books leads me to recommend absolutely everything that I come across that might fit into his interests. Plus, gaming. Plus, adolescence.

I woke up this morning at 6:45 and read the last half of the book straight through until 9. Because my (self-imposed) reading regimen requires me to read every issue of the New Yorker cover to cover every week, though I can skip articles if I just can’t get into them or find my mind wandering again and again, I haven’t been reading books as much as I did when I was younger. Actually, there are a lot of reasons I don’t read as much as I did when I was younger, two of them being I spend hours using my eyes on the computer and need to rest after work, and TV is a good way to give them a rest, plus it’s so much better and more plentifully available than it used to be.

For a while there, I told myself I was watching endless TV to study it, and when I was going to community college to earn a certificate in Writing and Directing for the Camera, that excuse worked. I watched a year’s worth of Murder One to see how Daniel Benzali could convey everything he needed to with the skin on his jawline, tensing and relaxing, and I wanted to know what it felt like to act that well.

Now I’m just like so many like me, binge-watching because we can in our post-industrial, post-agricultural world.

Reading in bed for an hour at night and two hours in the morning feels virtuous. Spending the same amount of time — the same? Ha! Try six hours in a row! — watching TV feels luxurious and somehow wrong.

Reading Wolf in White Van made me feel like I was creative, like there was something inside me I could bring out that is just as complex and mysterious and well-structured and imaginative. Once in a while, TV makes me feel that way, and that’s the high I’m always chasing.

Writing every day gets me closer to that high.


If you read Wolf in White Van, please let me know what you think of it.