Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
Kristin Rand is a boisterous and unflinchingly honest local comedienne, actress and fashionista. She's Half of the sketch comedy duo Moxie! that she formed with fellow crowd-crusher Mara Wiles, and together they have monthly shows at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. Rand also recently starred in the Nix brothers's short film Love to Hate, which won the audience award at the 48 Hour Film Project. Westword recently caught up with Rand to discuss spirituality, poetry, the mating habits of prehistoric humans and literary cotton candy.
Westword: What sort of books do you habitually read?
Kristin Rand: I was thinking about that. I don't think you've ever interviewed anybody who reads the type of books that I read. I read a lot of books about spirituality, science and psychology. Stuff like that. I used to love memoirs, too, and still have a place in my heart for memoirs. I'm kind of falling back in love with the art of writing, so I've been really drawn to fiction that is specifically well-written -- whereas before I would only read fiction for the stories. I just started reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is like the only literary thing I've read since Bukowski's Ham on Rye.
A lot of teenage creeps are into Bukowski for some reason. I'm guessing it's the latent misogyny and bad hygiene.
Yeah, I couldn't get into either. Friends whose opinion I respect recommended it very fervently and then when I read it I was just like, um, okay?
He's also just kind of gross. I prefer a glamorous writer.
I'm such a voracious consumer of other people's art, I love people who make art and I get even more into it as I get older. I get why people -- young men, especially -- appreciate Bukowski's writing style. I hate to sound too pretentious, but as someone who pursues art, I get less critical as I realize how much effort goes into making anything. I think that the path that I took to find and perfect my voice and learn how to give what it is that I have to give has made me appreciate artists. Painters, people who make clothes, do poetry or do anything expressive at its truest from are creating something unique and personal.
What are the spirituality books that you mentioned earlier?
This makes me sound like an asshole, but I feel like the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is like my bible. I know that so-called new-age thought gets dismissed really easily, and I don't care what religion people are, but the stuff in that book doesn't apply to any one belief system. It's a very calming book. I feel like Tolle writes and speaks like an alien. That accent is unbelievable if you listen to that book on tape. It's freakish.
There's some helpful stuff there, but I kind of can't stand Power of Now. It's basically saying the same things as existentialism, but existentialists don't try to coddle you with false solutions. I was also forced to read Tolle, so maybe it's a more personal resentment.
I could see how you would resent that book because it's written in a very non-personal way. It's a good book for people in rehab. I read a lot of existentialism in my early twenties when I was super-disillusioned. I think you have to get past that bleakness at some point and try to enjoy yourself. There's also a book called Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which is like my favorite book. I'll let you borrow it if you take good care of it. He makes similar points to Tolle but in a totally different way. Ram Dass, who used to be called Dr. Richard Alpert and he worked with Timothy Leary at the Harvard psychedelic studies. Then he went to India and he was kind of reborn as the Ram Dass guru character. I wish I brought it with me. The main part of the text are these crazy elaborate mandala drawings with these saying repeated all over like a chant. "Just let go, man. There is only right now!" It's like getting a good talking-to, and there's so many specific things that I read in that book where I'm like, "Fuck, yes," and can apply to my life. Growing up and going to church never made me feel better about things, it gave me so much weird guilt and sadness. It didn't provide anything for me. If it provides for other people, that's fine, go for it, feel good about living. I can't reconcile the idea of turning my problems over to this idea of god, the provider, the creator. I don't know where I'm at spiritually, I don't know what the fuck is even true, but that book is the shit and it's been really helpful to me.
Not much fiction though? I like to read non-fiction books over a long period of time, because there's not like a story to keep me from putting it down, so I like to throw a comic book or something in the mix somewhere in the middle to just maintain the habit of reading with something more immediately engaging.
I need to do that more, just give myself more cotton candy. I like to just fucking go for it and slog through books. It'll take me a while to get through it, but right now I'm reading the Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, which is just like: amaze! Next on my list is The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil. I have like eighteen books on my good-reads list right now. Reading is so great, I'm really falling back in love with it. I used to read so much as kid.
What did you like to read back then?
Let's see. I'd read like all the Nancy Drew mysteries stuff. I was like seven or eight, but then having to read for school kind of ruined it for me. I used to read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk in college, which I guess was a bit like cotton candy for me. He is great when you're in your twenties. He had a good run there in the early 2000s. I liked that you could be doing whatever you wanted with your life and then just dip into his insanity for a hot second and then get back out.
Which ones did you read? Have you kept up with his recent stuff?
I feel like I read all of them, but I feel like I stopped reading like right before Haunted came out.
Well, it's all downhill from there. There's a section from Haunted that is just...
Well, let's say it's literally stomach-churning. The rest of the book kind of fizzles, it's a bunch of ideas that barely hang together. Anyway, you go see a lot of poetry readings, right? We haven't discussed poetry all that much in this series.
I feel like on the spectrum of what we do as comics, it's just on the other end of the fucking teeter-totter. It's a spoken expression of hurt and emotion, but it's trying to be evocative of particular emotions, while we're trying to evoke laughter. It's all about how you process shit. It's a similar path that ends up in completely different places. I'm so drawn to it, not just slam, but poetry in general.
I think comics can benefit from a more poetic relationships\ with words. They're also not like, hiding in an irony foxhole. Poets seem more sincere.
Listen, I've fucked enough of them to know that it's not even real, it's just the beauty of their art. You can say all sorts of beautiful things and still be a totally flawed person who doesn't even know how to do the beautiful things you write about. Whatever. I love artists.
Let's talk about Sex at Dawn, which I think is a really fascinating book that challenges the whole monogamy paradigm from an interesting historical perspective.
Great book, great argument. I like how they trace it back to the development of agriculture, which led to the idea of property ownership. There's kind of a funny chart in the book that documents how agriculture eventually leads to war.
That idea of property ownership extended to women, which seems like it's been a pretty shitty deal for you so far.
I love how that book questions these ideas that we mistake as our foundation for no reason. Just because it's someone else's idea of what is right or natural. Who the fuck said that it's natural for a woman to be stuck with the same man because he wants to be sure it's his children who inherit his stuff? I don't want these things that people say I should want. The idea of home ownership is terrifying, possessions just make me more anxious. If this is the way things are supposed to be, then why is everything so fucked up? The record stands against what we call natural. Things haven't turned out the way I think we'd intended. It's a great book, though, because it's just presenting an argument, they're not insisting that it's certain.
Well, it's history, so there's no way of knowing. I remember a theory from the book that makes a weird sort of sense. It's about why women make noise when they orgasm: there's like an instinctual reason, it's not just so they can flatter guys' egos. Apparently, the noises were like a signal to other potential caveman lovers because women can have multiple orgasms.
I know that's awesome. It's like, "Hey! Hey other cavemen! Get over here, I gotta up my dick game!"
Kristin Rand can be seen performing standup at Capitol Hilarity at Blush & Blu on September 4, and headlining the Down Under Comedy Club in Greeley September 13-14. She'll also be sharing a story on the September 19 Narrators show: Apparently, the theme is dicks.
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Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.