My Guilty Pleasures


OK, who’s ready to admit some guilty pleasures? You know, those shopworn relics and low-brow treats we simply hate ourselves for loving?  Well, for this column, I’m taking off my “critic” hat and confessing my own Top Five. (Shhhh!)

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

I know, I know: a ponderous collection of pre-Freudian themes—Fate! Destiny!—unspooling in assimilated Shakespearean prose as tediously lyrical as the thing’s whole quest gimmick is trite. From the depths of ennui, I yawneth at thee, thou aspiring epic poet! Yet once that Pequod gets underway, the little kid in me still can’t help jumping aboard. Bottom line: thwia brisk 700-page nautical yarn is a damn fine beach read.

Fourth String Quartet, Op. 37. Arnold Schoenberg

True, those tetrachordal and hexachordal interpolations won’t sustain active listening, but d on’t you ever find yourself humming that second interpolated tone row when you’re stuck in traffic? Every now and then, I still sneak over to the Bang and Olufsen, put on some game rendition, listen the first movement’s reintroduction of thirds and sixths in horizontal intervals, and fall into hysterics. Call it the Rice Crispy Treat of 20th Century Composition.

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,Marcel Proust.

Je ne connais que trop bien les excès que l’on reproche au pauvre Marcel, en se moquant de lui, quand il essaie de se transformer en écrivain: certainement, les phrases interminables, sa manie superficielle dirigée à la société et au snobisme, le coup d’oeil banal sur l’enfer de la jalousie sexuelle, sans omettre la mièvre sentimentalité de la madeleine et du thé. Néanmoins, quelque chose de cette recherche inutile, qui interroge la mémoire, attire en moi une faiblesse larmoyante et je me vois enchainé à ce coin à tout jamais.

The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

Gauche, florid, mired in 16th-century Mannerism. I mean, you’re almost embarrassed for the poor Tuscan sculptor, laboring atop the scaffold for such a quickly dated representational gloss on patriarchal monotheism. Even so, whenever I pass through Rome, I still creep into St. Peter’s to feast on the hopelessly overwrought buon fresco spewed over a fine Renaissance barrel-vault ceiling. All the craft, labor, and devotion up there—it always just cracks me up.

The Grand Canyon

Pointless? Yes. Vacuous? You betcha. Two hundred and twenty-seven miles of nothing. Not the architectonic elegance of the Bryce, nor the depth of the Cotahuasi, nor the geological variety of my favorite, Mars’ Valles Marineris. But some sentimental favoritism takes me back to this Arizona tourist trap. There I stand alongside the other rubes, looking into the dignified hole and “marveling” with the rest.

© 2006 by Chris Norris, originally published in The New York Observer.