This is a transcription of ‘LoLT: A Valentine’s Day Poem and Two New Books — 09 February 2024’
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David: I want to tell you one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten. This is going to be obvious to some people, but it really helped me out. It’s that, in a relationship, there are three parts. There’s you, there’s the other person, and there’s the relationship itself. And they all need care. If you’re going to have a successful relationship, all three of those parts need to be in working order and they all need to get attention from time to time.
David: I got that advice from a therapist. Therapy can be a great place to work on the challenges you face in all of your relationships — with friends or family or your work or your significant other.
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David: Become your own soulmate, whether you’re looking for one or not. Visit BetterHelp.com / strongsense today to get 10% off your first month. That’s BetterHelp — H E L P — dot com slash strongsense.
Melissa: Coming up, a cunning mystery set on a train in Australia.
David: A graphic novel about a punk band lost in time.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I eat up closed-circle mysteries like popcorn, and if they’re set on a train, it’s like having just the right amount of salt AND extra butter. So I am predisposed to like the new novel ‘Everyone on This Train is a Suspect’ by Benjamin Stevenson. He’s well-known in Australia as a stand-up comedian. And his 2022 book ‘Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone’ was a massive hit. It was published in 26 countries and is in the works as an HBO series. That story is an homage AND a send-up of golden age murder mystery tropes — with a very cheeky narrator who breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the reader.
Melissa: That narrator’s name is Ernest Cunningham. He’s an author, and he’s back for this sequel. The conceit of this book is that the novel Ernest wrote about the murder in ‘Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone’ has made him so famous that he’s been invited to a prestigious writers’ festival aboard a famous train that runs between Darwin and Adelaide in Australia.
Melissa: He’s joined on board by crime-writing luminaries, including a forensic science writer, a writer of literary mysteries, a best-selling mystery author, a psychological suspense writer, and the author of legal thrillers. In short, they’re all experts in murder. How to write a murder. How to investigate a murder. And how to get away with murder.
Melissa: When one of them winds up dead, the others, including our narrator Ernest, turn detective. But they’re also all suspects.
Melissa: I love a voice-y narrator, and this guy is the voiciest of voice-y narrators. He frequently breaks the fourth wall and is quite cagey with his exposition. Before the murder in this book, he warns that a comma will be a pivotal clue.
Melissa: Kirkus wrote, ‘It’s not for everyone — but if you want to read a supercharged meta-pastiche like this, this is exactly the one to read.’ Based on that description, I think you’ll know if this book is right for you. It feels very right for me. It’s ‘Everyone on This Train is a Suspect’ by Benjamin Stevenson.
Melissa: BTDubbs, if you also like books set on trains, there are fantastic train books in our Strong Sense of Place episode called ‘Trains: Better Than Planes and Cars. Fight Me.’ Because we can be a little cheeky, too. I’ll put a link to that episode in the show notes.
David: Nate Powell was the first graphic novelist to win a National Book Award. He won for the last book in the ‘March’ series. That is an autobiography of the civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. ‘March’ is a strong argument for the strength of graphic novels. It shows Lewis’s life and the ideas that inspired him succinctly and powerfully. It combines a movie’s brevity and punch with a novel’s character study.
David: Nate Powell’s next book just came out this week. It’s called ‘Fall Through.’ It’s the story of a punk band from Arkansas. They have a song that fractures time. Every time they play the song, they wind up in a slightly alternate world — one where the legend of the band exists, but they themselves have never been. The book is said to be a tribute to the punk ‘rocking all night, and sleeping on the floor’ lifestyle with a bit of something like Russian Doll or Groundhog Day.
David: Powell is writing from the heart on this one. He is a punk musician from Little Rock and once owned a record label. If you’re curious about what the work looks like, a few pages are posted on Amazon. We will link to them.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: If you’re listening to this on release day, Valentine’s Day is coming up. I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. On one hand, there’s the commercialization of a private relationship. That feels, at best, uunnecessary. Valentine’s Day can make people who are either not in relationships, or in poor relationships feel inadequate about who they are and where they are in their lives. I am categorically against that.
David: But on the other hand, I’m in favor of having a day that celebrates love of all kinds. I believe that love is why we’re here. I think it’s the best we are — when we are mindfully loving. We are here to be kind to one another, travel together, age together, get to know others on a profound level and try to support them unselfishly. I’m not sure how I feel about the yoga Ram Dass, but he said, ‘We are all just walking each other home.’ — and that’s stuck with me since I heard it.
David: It’s nice to recognize that every day, but if we need to pull out a special day for love … well, that seems okay to me. So maybe Valentine’s Day is in the approach. I bring all that up so that I have an excuse to read you a poem I found a couple of weeks ago.
David: It’s by Matthew Olzmann. He was born in Detroit and teaches at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, along with his wife, Vievee [VIE-vee] Francis. I don’t know much about him, but based on what I’ve read, I feel we would be friends if we found ourselves going to the same bookstore or coffee shop regularly. He’s the author of three poetry books. This is from his first book. The poem is titled ‘Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem.’
Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem
and laugh, loudly, at your own jokes.
and sing them when vacuuming.
You have soft hands.
Because when we moved, the contents of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
Because you think swans are overrated and kind of stupid.
You drove me to Providence.
and my name almost never appears there.
Because you made that pork recipe you found in the Frida Kahlo Cookbook.
and to be consumed in flames.
you still believe someone outside can see you.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the books we talked about today and more info about Matthew Olzmann’s works.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of Erik Mclean/Pexels.
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