Why This Book Is Important and Things I Like and Don’t Like About It, Plus Biographical Information About Me
A Book Review of OK by KOOL AD
by Helen Marialuzia Reiner Good (aka Helen Schreiner)
Tone and Rhythm
9 of Swords
Crushing It // “Mane”// Urban Dictionary
“The Pain” (9 of Swords, Again)
Drugs and Alcohol // Cars // Khadija X: Murderer and Rapist // The Heavy
Some Other Stuff
TONE AND RHYTHM
I am afraid that thing is going to happen when you are talking to a person with a different accent than you and you start imitating them by accident. So embarrassing. The tone and rhythm of this book is very consistent and has a lot of forward momentum and it got under my skin and I think I still sound like me, but I don’t know how clear my perspective is on that.
Consciousness is shifting! A cis-man wrote a book with a cis-male narrator who openly loves and supports and honors the beings of his wife and children, and he praises them and their accomplishments, repeatedly, thematically, throughout the book. I have to tell people about it.
It is so important!
That was my inner monologue about OK (sorry house, 2016) by KOOL AD (aka Victor Vazquez) when I was laying on the couch in my therapist’s office.
What came out was more subdued-like. I might have said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book where the male narrator is happy about and loves his family. It feels important.”
I went with that. I wrote Gian and asked if I could review it because I thought it was important. He said, “Sounds good.”
I hope I get to meet Gian IRL someday. Internet friends is cool, but you know.
Imagine a world where every literary detail made a huge political difference in the collective narrative. – OK by KOOL AD
I’m trying to live in that world.
I’ve just finished reading. Like literally a few seconds ago I closed the back cover, sighed deeply, and pressed the book into my body. I’m so glad this book exists. Everyone should read it.
I wanted to meet this book on its own terms and write a review of it that was just as twisting of form and function to reviews as the book is to novels.
Until I read OK, I had never ever read a novel, written by a man, with a male narrator who openly loves and adores his wife and children and praises their accomplishments repeatedly, thematically.
Have you ever read such a book? I couldn’t think of any. And I also asked my friends who can stomach to read more contemporary fiction written by men than I can. They couldn’t think of any either. It must be extremely uncommon!
I know men who live as such. Men who openly adore their children and partners and consistently praise them to others. And they are setting good examples. It is so encouraging to see that in the dumb, tired 10,000-year-old patriarchy we are somehow still living in.
But a book has a permanence and a reach to it past moments of living examples. This book feels so important to me because it is in book form. It has become part of history, part of the conversation.
Thank you for being an ally, for using your voice in this particular way, Victor Vazquez. I see you.
9 OF SWORDS
I was at the Namaste bookshop on 14th and 5th the week between Christmas and New Year shopping for my annual witchy day planner. They have those Llewellyn’s brand spiral bound ones that include spells and moon cycles, and I like to keep track of such things, private, secret bruja that I am.
The one I picked out had a section on connecting with the hag. Your inner hag. Hag magic. The hag is the third and final stage of development for the feminine psyche, it said, the crone in the world-myth of the virgin, mother, crone. Men can connect to her, too. Yin and Yang and all. But no one likes the hag these days. It’s bad for capitalism to embrace your flaws as gifts. How does that concept sell more whitening toothpaste to the same number of people than last quarter? Hint: It doesn’t. But! If you get in touch with your hag, you can make some real advances in your personal growth. Overcome psychic blocks, etc. Fuck capitalism. The book said to take the 9 of Swords tarot card, representing awakening from a nightmare, and meditate on it everyday, and in a week you’d realize better what your personal nightmares are, so you can work on overcoming them.
This is what I was up to around the time OK showed up at my apartment.
CRUSHING IT // “MANE” // URBAN DICTIONARY
From page 246: Why did u open this book and read it up to this page? U tell me. Cause I don’t know.
I thought I was in love.
I mean, I knew I wasn’t in love, but I met someone I thought I could love.
I met a guy. He has this innate, gorgeous kindness- real healing stuff- it’s powerful.
But the timing was all off. It’s just one of those things.
Love, as Fromm teaches, is a combination of knowledge, care, respect, and responsibility. That’s how I know I don’t love him (and how I know he don’t love me back neither, sad face). Because of the timing, there was no chance to develop any of those things. We have the respect thing down, but that’s about it. Our few interactions have been really influential on me though.
As the saying goes: It’s complicated.
But it’s also pretty simple.
Anyway, OK came to me though him, the guy I was crushing on. I had recommended a book to him, and he had written to say he was into it, and I asked what else he’d been reading and he said OK, and he said it felt good to read, that it was “lazy genius,” and so of course I wanted to read it too, so I ordered it. I didn’t tell him. I just kind of wanted to get in his headspace, like that song, Where Do You Go (My Lovely), by Peter Sarstedt, or I’d Like to Walk Around in Your Mind, by Vashti Bunyan. That’s the answer to why I opened the book and read to page 246.
Oh, and see what I did there? Those song references? If you know the songs then you understand and maybe even feel cool for knowing, but if you don’t, then you might look them up or maybe you just don’t relate.
Well the whole book, OK, is just like that.
I felt mostly pretty cool reading it. I knew a large percentage of the musical and literary references, and I’d experienced almost all of the drugs referenced, and the musicians and books I don’t know I can’t wait to look up.
The book is actually a good educational document. Just listen to all the records and read all the books referenced and you’ll guaranteed be a better, more well-rounded person.
More on the drug stuff later.
There is one part that made me feel uncool, which is the heavy use of slang in the book. I think if I listened to more hip-hop I would have known more without thinking too much on it –But it didn’t matter - Vazquez is such a good writer that the slang is easily understood in the way very playful language can make itself clear.
(Funny) story, the crush guy above had written “mane” in one of his emails, and I knew it was probably slang for “man”, but I still looked it up on Urban Dictionary just to be sure and saw that yeah, I did understand. See? No fear ;)
I studied writing with some real hard people, where deformation of the verb and invention was encouraged, and therefore, based on that literary upbringing, I think this book sometimes takes those concepts to an extreme that could be misconstrued as not taking itself seriously enough for how good it is.
By the way, just really functionally, just in case you want to stop reading right now, like you can’t be bothered by all the details of my personal life, here is the shortest version of this review:
Read this important book. It is good. I think you will like it because I did. Mainly because it is the only book I’ve ever read (written by a man) where a male narrator openly loves and adores his wife and children and praises them and their accomplishments, repeatedly, thematically.
If you have a little more time, here’s the medium-length review:
Read this important book. It is good. I think you will like it because I did. Mainly because it is the only book I’ve ever read (written by a man) where a male narrator openly loves and adores his wife and children and praises them and their accomplishments, repeatedly, thematically. And because it breaks traditional narrative structures with ease, has wild-style free-form prose, is spiritually aware, socially conscious, is (mostly) peaceful, fun, silly, happy, not too serious, but very real. Also #realtionshipgoals, #parentinggoals, #minusthedrugandalcoholabuse, and is a mix of Be-Here-Now-meets-Hunter.S.T.-and-actually-all-West-Coast-writers-meets-A-Moveable-Feast-for-the-modern-era-meets-Latin-magical-realism-meets-A-Wrinkle-in-Time-level-childlike-wonder-meets-every-literary-and-musical-and-drug-and-religious-reference-the-author-could-think-of-probably-meets-everything-meets-nothing-the-end.
“THE PAIN” (9 OF SWORDS, AGAIN)
From Chapter 54: “Just think, Fatima,” Fausto coached Fatima. “Nothing is impossible. Everything is possible.” Madonna chimed in, “We are The Pain and The Pain is us. To escape from The Pain we must abandon The Self.”
Fatima thought about it, she conferred with Lupe and Rosa for a few minutes until Rosa, the quieter of the two twin sisters spake: “There is no pain.”
So many things happen in a life at the same time. Things that are all simultaneously on your mind. That serious fight with a friend. The other not so serious fight with a different friend. Too many visits with your ex-boyfriend. The other guys in your life that you’re sussing out. The one you have your hopes set on, remote possibility that he is. The other guys who you feel have their hopes set on you. You all strive to forgive and to love each other. Nobody bothers to talk about it.
The hot shower. The snow falling. The morning. The St. Louis swing music on the radio right now. All the music, ever.
The infinite injustices done to those oppressed. The ways you can help. All the reading to do. All the writing. The side-hustles. Day jobs. The dreams. Schemes. The movies you’re trying (read: I’m trying) to get made. The grounded here and now. The fantasy realities. The push and pull between the two. Grocery lists. House cleaning. Calling your family. Doing what you can. Boundaries.
These things are all going on in me, in you in different forms, but all of the time.
I’ve been working on a memoir for like a year and a half- it’s written, but now I’m rewriting some of it. I wish you could have read it first, before this, because then you’d better understand why I wanted to write this book review.
This book, OK, is just like all the stuff I wrote above. All the stream-of-consciousness stuff going through a head, but instead of my thoughts, imagine the thoughts of a woke-seeming- cis-gendered man-of-color-artist-rapper-writer-husband-father living in California.
Does that make sense?
So back to the 9 of Swords / Hag meditation – I was doing that while I was reading this book. Somewhere around day five of the week long process I was coming to some really good stuff about what my psychic blocks might be, and I was trying to have a lot of self-compassion through the process, and I wrote down my revelations on the little note papers I keep by my bed and it became my bookmark in OK along with the sorry house sticker it came with.
The note reads:
I love you,
Encompassing Care, Kindness, Respect, Honesty, Attention, Responsibility
Goals to try for today <3
healing peace, moon in Gemini
when I’m focusing on someone else, I’m disassociating from my current situation
great benefit in getting grounded in what’s happening in the here and now
don’t worry or get frustrated if you struggle w/ this the rest of your life
be grateful for the people and things that have brought you here
And by day seven of the exercise, I was writing down this in my journal:
There are no psychic blocks. Blocks are a choice.
Some of that was from the 9 of Swords / Hag thing but a lot of it was this book!
Reading this book is like that science experiment where you yell at a plant in one room and you sing love songs to a different plant in a different room and the plant that you yell at dies and the plant that you sing love songs to thrives, and then a scientist freezes the water from the two plants and the water crystals from the yelled at plant are all busted and deformed, and the water crystals from the love song plant are beyond beautiful.
Well, you’re the plant in the love song room and this book is doing the singing.
Reading this book changed my physical structure to be more resonant and therefore more beautiful to people around me because I could see their smiles reflected back – like my chakras were open and spinning and clear and scrubbed to shining and the people around me were happy to see it.
I scooped up snow from the bridge side rail and looked down to see it was shaped like a heart. That happened.
That is what I’m talking about. That’s what my experience of reading this book was like.
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL // CARS // KHADIJA X: RAPIST AND MURDERER // THE HEAVY
From page 150: I felt like an angel. I felt like a devil. Then I felt neutral. Then I went back to feeling like an angel but this time more muted, less rapturous. The brain operates in an oscillatory manner, I find.
The brain oscillates because it’s made of particles that are made of particles that are made of particles that oscillate, quiver between this reality and that. At least that’s my vague impressionistic view of things. Semantics hamper extra linguistic truths mane. The truth of the matter is that we both are and are not. That’s how I feel, at least. And who am I?
The drug and alcohol use in the book: It’s kinda boring in the way that writing about drugs and alcohol can be boring. He took this drug, he took that drug. He drank this, he drank that. The writer knows a lot about drugs and alcohol. Ok. And if your narrator’s book-life is composed of going here or there and taking this or that drug and drinking a lot, well ok.
In this book it turns into an arbitrary choice, like background noise, or a mood. In the way that anger is a choice and drug, too. Some characters are angry all the time, what?
But then I was thinking about it in the context of all the higher level spiritual ascension stuff in the book, and how for all its self-awareness, social justice awareness, and compassion, the writer/narrator totally misses on the fact that drug trafficking is a special hell for the people forced to do it, and supporting that “industry” with constant drug use is in contradiction to the care he professes and demonstrates literally everywhere else in the book.
Also, re: the narrator’s kids: I was legit raised by stoners (I’ve been working on this bit for a little while) – And when stoners are your source for information as a kid, you grow up with a very fluid understanding of reality. Just imagine a stoner’s answer to any question a kid could ask.
And I think that fact of my existence has made me more open to, and even seeking of, concepts like infinite parallel universes, the non-existence of time, reality as an illusion. Which is really helpful on a lot of levels. But being raised by drug users isn’t all magical and surreal. There is real uncertainty for a kid, not knowing what state your parent will be in. Except you don’t realize that when you’re little. You just know that your caretakers are unpredictable, and that leads you to believe that people in general are not trustworthy. So for all its specialness, the stance of this book, that taking care of your kids while doing drugs all the time is ok, was a little triggering.
I also thought naming all the cars was silly, but I don’t get why cars are cool, and also I didn’t like Khadija being written as a murderer and a (marital) rapist. The narrator, Muhammad X, was a murderer, too, so I guess they’re equal there. It was all just in stark contrast to the whole, overwhelming, spiritual bent. No biggie. It was all still fun.
Sorry to be the heavy right at the end, I’ll try to bring it back around here.
SOME OTHER STUFF
I was going to tell you some other stuff—other thoughts I had about the book.
I was going to try to write about my impression of the hip-hop lifestyle presented in this book and how it compares with that presented in other rap and hip-hop songs (love of family / drugs / alcohol / cars / shopping / travel / music industry / run-ins with the law and going to jail as a fact of life) but I don’t know enough, so I hope someone who knows more says something useful. Like one time I was on the subway and these young kids were free-styling in front of me and one asked if I wanted to be a fly girl for them when they got famous and I literally said, “Yeah, maybe. You guys do have really good raps.”
That’s how unqualified I am. Good raps.
Oh—There is a whole chapter of this book written like a Robert Frost poem that made me think Vazquez wanted to make doubly sure you knew how capable he is, if you were doubting his abilities for some reason.
And there are a lot of good, profound one-liners, like:
Extreme romance is essentially warfare.
Conversation is the lowest form of telepathy.
Maybe I’ll write more in the comments section if this ever gets published online and if I think of more stuff to say.
Let me ground you in where I’m at right now:
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York, North America, The Earth, The Milky Way, The Universe, Whatever is Outside That Because There Must Be Something.
Oh, sorry. Read that backwards to feel grounded.
It is snowing outside. It is mid-January. 2017.
I’m sipping kombucha, listening to La Sonnambula on Saturday Night at the Opera on WKCR. Don’t read too much into that, please. I just took a shower and put on my nighttime face cream. I’m sitting on my couch under a rebozo that used to belong to my dead Mexican grandmother. It’s 10:09PM.
This is the seventh or eighth draft of this I’ve written in the last two or three days, not counting the drafts in my head, of which there are infinite versions. I started on paper, as usual, but I’ve moved on to the laptop.
It’s my first time to write a book review.
I reread Susan Sontag’s essay Against Interpretation earlier today. I feel like you should know that.
If this book, OK, had a thesis, I’d say it is found on page 242, in the second to last chapter, and reads:
There is absolutely no difference between anything
Aim for sustainable joy
Sustainable joy. What a concept. What a goal.