Thursday, August 31, 2006

Curiouser and curiouser

Amazon has some links to example pages from Mark Z. Danielewski's upcoming book Only Revolutions.

Free-verse story telling? Check.

Outrageous book design? Check.

Parallel spiral plots? Check.

Lines like "I'll destroy the World"/"I'll devastate the World"? Check.

The hairs on the back of my neck raised in the delightful buzz of geeked-out anticipation? Check.

Cat Power was going to call her most recent album The Cheesiest until someone suggested that title wouldn't be the greatest

Good grief! What does Ed Champion have against the writers I like? Is he going to go through the lot of them tearing them apart one by one like some author-eating Audrey II? Should I take down my China Miéville post before E.C. gets wind of it and sets his critical sights on yet another writer I hold near and dear? Because after his takedown of Mark Z. Danielewski, I don't think I can stand to watch another round of...

Erm, wait. Ed seemed to, uhm, enjoy House of Leaves. Well. Pish-posh. I might have to take back my cheese comment.

(And hey, Ed: this'll come in handy. I've been using it tonight myself. Miéville. There's one that should be in the Hard to Pronounce Literary Names guide.)

Golems and watercraeft and cactii and monsters on the mind

It's probably safe to call China Miéville one of my favorite contemporary writers, based on how much I enjoyed Perdido Street Station and The Scar. The Pleasures to Pages ratio in both books--Perdido especially--is both high and favorable. Seems though I do take my time between reading his books. Maybe because there's only a finite number of them, I need to ration them out, lest I get caught in a world in which there are no new China Miéville books for me to read. (Where else am I going to see words like "anamnesis" and "stravager" be both used and cool?)

So maybe my recent reading of Lord of the Rings got fantasy (ahem, "fantasy") back on my mind, then, but since I randomly recommended Perdido to two different friends over the weekend, it seemed like a ripe time to finally attack Iron Council. I'm maybe a quarter through it now and it's different but the same. I can't put my finger on what the difference is yet. Though I know and remember this universe well, he's doing something else here. Whatever that is. Sometimes I worry this is going to bother me, and then right away something amazing happens in the book, and I'm surprised again. Though I know by now I shouldn't be.

Really, gods, I'm just enjoying it a lot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Speaking of nerd humor... someone who recently finally switched his laptop full-time to Ubuntu Linux, this made me, as the kids say, laugh out loud.

This is really just a horrible excuse to make a terrible nerd joke

I tell you, it's a good thing Edward Champion is here to beat the crap out of famous writers. God knows, without his Blogposts of Fury, such writers as David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen might have accidentally kept on doing their own things. Heavens, no!

I'll tell you something I learned from my (extremely limited) experience with Dungeons & Dragons. If you're planning on unleashing a Flurry of Blows in an attempt to kill Gods? You better roll a pair of natural twenties. All I'm seeing here is fives and sevens.

Tentative initial thoughts on The Keep by Jennifer Egan

What little I read of the reviews for The Keep by Jennifer Egan focused on the more structural aspects of the book--the multi-level framed nature of the narrative; the melding and mixing of different genres (ghost story, gothic story, love story). All of which is (obviously?) interesting, but the book is (certainly?) about more than its form. What I think this book is more about is the unique and strange sadness of being a human being in a very modern society, a social framework that makes connectivity between people ubiquitous and easy and user-friendly. What happens when the ability to make those connections--in both or either a technological and inter-personal sense--is taken away or lost (either temporarily or, ahem, permanently), is what forms a basis for a specifically contemporary tragic condition.

In part, at least.

Or maybe not at all.

What's most important right now (in that post-final-page haze) is that The Keep is really a good book and I still love Jennifer Egan. A lot. I'll need to re-read Look At Me sometime soon before I make really grand claims but I think it's safe to say that though Ms. Egan has written three quite different (in terms of tone and subject matter and "genre") novels, there's enough evidence to support a claim that she's got concerns (such as the contemporary technological/sociological landscape); one might go so far as to bandy about such pretentious-sounding phrases as "as a writer, Jennifer Egan has continued to add to her overall project" (a slight variation of which ("The Jennifer Egan Project") is a band I would very much want to be a member of).

Again, in part, or at least, or not at all. This all sounds awfully smarty-pants mumbo-jumbo but her work sort of makes me want to actually write smarty-pants mumbo-jumbo about it because, dare I say it, her writing feels...important? Which is, I should make clear, not antonymous to "fun" or "enjoyable".

(Did I just use the word "antonymous"? Gads.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Creative writing workshops are made of people! People! OMG WTF PEOPLE!!!

While I'm looking forward to reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, a review of the book in the New York Times has sparked some less-than-pleased responses: see Mark Leahy's response at the Sycamore Review blog and Barrett Hathcock's bilious reply in a guest-blogging appearance at Conversational Reading. (Dan Green offers some quicker, less angry thoughts.)

It's probably a broad oversimplification of the discussion here to suggest that it comes down to a tired "Creative writing workshops are the suck!" vs. "Creative writing workshops are the awesome!" debate. Still, interesting reading, if you're into that sort of thing. But I hope it doesn't somehow bizarrely overshadow the Francine Prose book itself, which I suspect has more to offer than the NYT bit indicates. Even if it's all reminders of the obvious sort, I've a hunch it'll be worthwhile reading anyway, for the very reason that the obvious is so easily overlooked and is well worth being made (from time-to-time) perfectly explicit.

(Sort of like the way friend Chris and I were discussing the audience at the Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band concert last night; we were trying to decide (as we are wont to do at thee indie rock shows) what the typical TSMZMO&TLLB fan looks like. We were sort of stumped--as far as we got was the idea that the indie rock fan beard was going to be scruffier than the norm (due to generally increased levels of deep-thought chin-stroking and/or inability to purchase razor blades due to blowing-of-all-cash on PBR tallboys and/or vinyl record-album first-pressings) and that there'd be some generally-more-increased levels of pretentiousness in the very air around the ur-fan than even the platonic ideal form of "indie rock fan" would likely evince--until we realized you really had to dig down to the most obvious fact to get a handle on the situation: the typical TSM... fan is, largely male. This feels weird to me. What's up with that? Don't girls like thee punk post-rock string quartets? Especially when said quartet is 3/4ths female. I know the rest of the men in the band weren't nothing to look at, but the music is something fantastic. Also, note to whoever the tool in the crowd was who made fun of the vocals: You're a tool.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

There's hype, and then there's, I feel a little weird even thinking about it

Daniel Woodrell's novel Winter's Bone has been getting hyped. I learned about it a month ago form Tod Goldberg, who called it the best novel he's read this year. I can't say the same, myself; I've read Crime and Punishment this year, and that's pretty much a competition-killer. But I can say the book deserves hype. It's really good. Dark, quite dark. It's a compelling story with a fascinating lead character and setting and fine writing (with some great moments of writing throughout). But mostly it's just good. Painful, almost.

There's other reviews out there if you need more info.

Apropos of nothing

What are your thoughts about Henry James? Or, what do you think of when you hear the name Henry James?

(Note: You needn't have ever actually read Henry James to be able to play along at home.)

The trick is to keep coming up with snappy blogpost titles

Guess who else has got a work-in-progress? Janice Galloway, author of The Trick Is to Keep Breathing, one of the best. books. ever.

She recently gave a reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as reported at The Scotsman:

Janice Galloway also treated us to a piece of new writing, part of an as-yet-unnamed project known only as "the thing" - though she did go as far as to say that it might become a "novelistic memoir". The section she read was about birth - her own, as told to her by her mother, continuing what she described as a "a pleasingly reproductive theme" for the event.

As well as reading about Clara Schumann's first pregnancy, from her award-winning novel Clara, she read part of a short story published in The Scotsman Orange Short Story Award collection Work, about a young Italian boy in the heyday of light opera, tricked into the operation which will make him a castrato, able to sing all his life with an unbroken voice.

Her moving, visceral prose proved that good writing reflects ideas and emotions powerfully into our own time, even when it talks about distant times and places.

I am terribly ashamed of the fact that I did not make it through Clara; in my defense I can only say it came out in that dark time between pre-this-blog and post-the-shadow-of-college when I wasn't reading as much as I should have been, and slowish thought-provoking literary novels weren't exactly what I was reaching for when I did make my way into the bookstore. Corrective measures have been taken. (Well, I've moved it back to the TBR pile, at least.)

By the way, word of warning: skip Trick if you have even a single emotional bone in your body. The book will pull that bone out of you and beat you in the face with it. Potent text.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

And if it means I gotta read Underworld to do it, I will go there

Jennifer Egan--who I'm in love with and would like to marry--talks about five not-so-random books at New York Magazine. (Via Bookslut.)

(I've been a total screwtard and I haven't read her new novel The Keep yet. I've been too busy trying not to read the reviews. (Harder than it sounds.) But I'm going to get on that book as soon as possible.)

Note to self--print out old e-mails, stuff into boxes, provide significant lump-sum future payment to great-great-great-great-great grandkids

Stories like this, about a collection of letters (and a "previously unknown manuscript of a poem") by Samuel Taylor Coleridge being sold to the British Library in London, sort of make me feel the need to re-read A. S. Byatt's Possession. Does that make me a dork? So be it.

Via Books, Words, and Writing, which has quickly become one of my favorite litblogs on the block.

"Dude, how totally Federline was that?" "That was pretty Federer, man"

Speaking of David Foster Wallace, he's got an article-essay-thing in the New York Times about a tennis player. I haven't read it all yet--okay, I haven't even gotten past the first page yet--but I'll say that the second paragraph got me more interested in tennis than I've been since the sun-drenched day I finished Infinite Jest five years ago. I don't really even remember any of his other tennis-themed essays communicating to me DFW's love for the sport in anything near the emotionally-involved way that paragraph does; I mean, sure they provide me with certain intellectually-graspable informational tid-bits such as "DFW loves tennis" and "DFW is smarter than I can ever hope to be" but I don't recall ever feeling the deep spiritual connection that can join people in appreciation of something utterly beautiful which one participant in the spiritual-connectivity had previously had little cause for which to consider that I felt by the time I got to the bits about the popcorn and novelty eyes. But maybe it's just that it felt nice at this particular random moment (which could have been any moment in my own personal history) to read about a Truly Amazing Sports Moment with complete emotional detachment or desire in regards to who wins and who loses said sporting moment (says the Cleveland boy for whom such moments generally equate to loss and heart-ache; see also the Fumble and the Drive and Michael Jordan's Shot and whatever we call the moments in which we lost the World Series in 1997 and whatever other crazy stupid moments have conspired to leave me a general emotional wreck w/r/t Great Sports Moments In History) (not that I've got my share of bound-up bitterness) (oh no) (none at all).

It would be sort of like if TDAOC was a book and the cover was a picture of Mike Tyson milking a cow: fun and all, but highly inappropriate

Somewhere along the line, I switched my blog-reading habits, and I guess I let some blogs accidentally fall through the cracks because I am a horrible human being. It's the only excuse I can offer for losing track of Elizabeth Crane's blog. Turns out she's been busy: reading some Jonathan Lethem, exploring MySpace, coming up with an awesome idea for a Project Runway spinoff, talking to people, riding trains. You know, generally tearing shit up in a great role model for all the writer-kids out there sort of way.

She's also switching publishers. Interesting story. I'll vouch for the fact that you should read All This Heavenly Glory despite the cover of the paperback edition. I'll say that it's actually a very nice cover, good photo, interesting design. But it sucks that it's on the wrong book. It's cool, though: once you get it home and you're heading out to your coffee shop to read it, you can always hide it inside a copy of David Foster Wallace's Oblivion, so people don't think you're the sort of person who reads books about "softly-focused happy young girl[s]". I mean, nobody wants to be that guy, right?

Monday, August 21, 2006

More Jonathan Franzen news, in a less-sense sort of way

Thanks to the hordes of you who made sacrifice(s) to the dark lord(s) of your choice(s), we've been granted more information about Jonathan Franzen's next novel:

Franzen is also working on a new novel. It's poor form to grill a writer about a work in progress, but I do it anyway, and he throws me a few cryptic crumbs. "The deep ecologists like to say that nature bats last," he says. "Whenever anyone is trying to say, mankind is smarter than nature ... we are of nature. And nature does therefore always bat last." So something political? "Certainly that's another thing I've been doing over the past five years. Being upset over the state of American politics."

So, there you have it. It's pretty much like you've already read the novel. It's an angsty ecopolitical sports story! Woot!

The rest of the profile/interview is interesting enough, too, from a fanboy perspective. Gotta say the photo begs for photoshopping. Also, the quote "In places The Discomfort Zone reads like outtakes from a Judy Blume young-adult novel" is distinctly off-putting in an "Are You There, God? It's Me, J-Franz" sort of way. I mean...yikes. Yikes, I'd go so far as to say, o-rama.


I'll be there. Metathere. Virtually there. Okay, not really there at all

If you're in Singapore in January and need something to do, drop by the "State of Play IV: Law, Games and Virtual Worlds" conference and say hi to sometimes-TDAOC-approved Neal Stephenson:

While the conference program for "State of Play IV: Law, Games and Virtual Worlds" is still being finalized, one of the highlights is an extemporaneous conversation about the future of virtual worlds, whose participants will include science fiction writer Neal Stephenson (who coined the term "the metaverse" in his book "Snowcrash"), journalist Julian Dibbell (author of "Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot") and science fiction author Cory Doctorow ("Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom").

Maybe he'll mention whether he's got any new writing projects in the works. Maybe for something under 3,000 pages. Maybe that would be nice. Or maybe he'll be delivering pizzas while Cory Doctorow goes for the world record in pogo stick endurance. That'd be gold.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Reason number kalaboolion I loves me some Stephen Dixon

From Old Friends, which I've just started:

He liked to smell flowers but for years hasn't had the heart to pick them, he said, even in the unmowed small field behind his house. "I don't want to sound sensitive about this, since anyone who knows me will tell you that's one thing I'm not, but years ago I once picked this beautiful tall blue flower to surprise Suzanne with and thought I heard the entire field weep. No, that's gotta be bullcrap. It was no doubt the wind suddenly picking up and blowing through all those wildflowers and tall grass and weeds, and I should've just thought that."

Dixon's stuff, when it's funny, is usually mind-ha-ha funny, not laugh-out-loud funny. But this bit caught me off-guard. Yeah, I laughed out loud.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hopefully this will be more popular than my own "Poesy and Potatoes" Restoration & 18th Century Britlit club

Despite my allegiance to the Cleveland Public Library--held long and fast since my wild youth as a Professional Shelver of Books at the Westpark Branch--I may still be convinced to cross the imaginary line in the turf and visit the Mayfield Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library for the new Pizza & Prose book discussion group, which is being run by Austin Kleon. The first book up for discussion will be Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Austin promises the group will focus on "a nice mix of graphic novels, prose fiction, and memoirs".

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Actually I always sort of figured the end of the world would be a barren Texas sunset as soundtracked by Explosions in the Sky, so this is no surprise

To borrow the best phrase I've ever read in a music review: if you had told me right after I finished reading All The Pretty Horses that I'd ever again be interested in reading another Cormac McCarthy book, I'd have told you to pack your bags for an all-expenses-paid trip to my fist. But hey, crazier things have happened, so why not this: Cormac McCarthy's got a new book coming out in September and I'm honestly intrigued.

The premise ("author of those hard-bitten west-Texas narratives" writes story about "the end of the world") doesn't seem so far-fetched to me. When I set aside my disagreements with the Horses (which, I admit, are not of the highest-minded caliber) and focus on what I liked about it, it sort of feels like I've already read the book that's just now coming out. I suspect he'll bring something interesting to the genre. And it makes me curious. So while he won't be cutting to the front of the TBR line, I'm shocked and surprised to say that Cormac McCarthy might find a place somewhere in it again in the next couple months. If we as a people last long enough, that is.

(Via Rake's Progress.)

Me, I'm hoping for awesome financing and free hotdogs for the kids

What do you want from your library?

Booka Shade? Naw, man, Booker Prize

The 2006 Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced. In my continuing efforts to become the least authoritative litblogger in the 'osphere, I have successfully read exactly zero of the books on the list. This is a 133 percent improvement since the release of the 2005 longlist, from which I had previously read exactly 1.33 of the listed titles.

I rule.

Via the at least 100 percent more authoritative Maud Newton.

News, in a sense

"Jonathan Franzen ... is working on another novel".

Woo! If you'd like more information, though, you'll need to make a sacrifice to the dark lord of your choice.

Friday, August 11, 2006

One Book to, in the darkness, bind them

According to my informal research, well over 1000 people have completed the One Book meme, which started at the Faith and Theology blog. While I imagine it would be fascinating to see how responses have transformed in nature and tone since then, I'll settle for caving to absomassive peer pressure and providing some likely-to-change-depending-on-the-hour-of-the-day answers of my own.

1. One book that changed your life:

When I think of a life being changed, I think of the very nature of the game one plays becoming at once different, like starting a game of checkers and ending it in a checkmate, or that moment in the original Half-Life when Gordon gets captured and suddenly you've got to fight your way back out of imprisonment after losing all your weapons. For the purest example of this I think you'd have to go back to my childhood, way back, and find that first book I ever read by myself. (I think it was about Raggedy Anne & Andy.) I mean, games don't much change more for the player than when they learn the language moves are made in. But for my One Book I'm going to give the nod to Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It fundamentally changed my view of what literature is and what it can do and, if I'm feeling melodramatic about it, it may be responsible for much of what's followed in life.

2. One book that you've read more than once:

Funny because I was just talking about this the other night. I've read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson twice. I've read it twice because I really liked it the first time but then I realized a while after I read it that I couldn't remember anything that happened in the book. Then when I read it the second time I realized I could remember all of it, but only when I was reading it would it come back to me. Now I'm thinking I'll probably read it a third time because it's all gotten blurry again.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island:

I'm going to wait until it's released in Fall 2007--can I do that, can I place a temporal restriction on my arrival at my own hypothetical little island?--and take the edition of War and Peace that Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are translating. I've never read it, and I have a hunch I'll need to be on a deserted island if I'm ever going to. Them crazy nineteenth century Russian writers and their love of words.

4. One book that made you laugh:

I'm thinking of actual laugh-out-loud action here and it's hard to come by; it's a rare book that cuts through my hard-held belief that laughing to oneself while alone in one's living room at night is a sure sign of madness. So call me paranoid but I'm going to go with a safe answer and say The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams because seriously, come on, the whale's monologue was the sort of thing you'd be insane not to have laughed at when you first read it.

5. One book that made you cry:

If you want to talk about emotionally devastating literature...I think I remember Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison hurting like all hell. It's been about ten years since I read it and much of it's gone out of my head by now, and I'm thinking it's time to add this one to the list of books that would qualify as answers to question number two, above. So I don't much know what to say about it other than to point at it and say, "Yeah. That. Hurt."

6. One book that you wish had been written:

David Foster Wallace's next fucking novel, already. Come on, man!

7. One book that you wish had never been written:

Oh gosh. There's not many books I actively despise. So I'll use this space to make an embarrassing admission: when I was a far younger reader, the first time I read Neuromancer by William Gibson, I hated it with literal throwing-it-across-the-room passion. I don't remember why. I remember thinking it was stupid, and I couldn't see what the big deal about it was. It is perhaps the strangest and most "wrong" of a reaction I've ever had to a novel. A few years later I tried it again and liked it much more. There's a lesson in this, I'm sure. (Also interesting is that the only other Gibson book I've read is Pattern Recognition, which I really enjoyed, first time out.)

8. One book you're currently reading:

The one (and only--I'm not the kind of guy who has fourteen books going at once, if you discount the Beckett I have on the back of the toilet; and I don't count it because so far I've only read the opening paragraph of Molloy there, though I've read that paragraph about ten times now) book I'm reading right now is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's a very long book. I suspect it will be the only book I'm reading for a while, which is fine. I snapped my way through a succession of very short books in a very short period of time before I started this one, when I decided I needed to throw a boulder into my path to force myself to slow down for a while. Plus I made a vague commitment several months ago to clear out some of the largest and most imposing books on the TBR pile before the end of this year. I guess it was finally time to honor that promise. Plus I've seen the movies so many bloody damned times by now that I was starting to feel immense guilt about not having tackled the book yet. So.

9. One book you've been meaning to read:

This is me making vague hand-motions towards the obligatory litblogger TBR stacks and shelves. (Seriously, it's nuts right now. It's been nuts for a while now but really it's just nuts looking. And I don't even get free books from publishers. I keep like finding other books on the "already read" shelves that I guess I never actually read or which warrant re-reading and I keep moving them over to the TBR section. Do I really need to re-read Infinite Jest any time soon? Well, yeah, I do, but. Uh. Nevermind.) If I had to pick out one, though...lately I've had a strange urge to give Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle another shot, so I'm going to say Quicksilver. I was very excited about the books when they started to come out, and then I got through 400 pages of Quicksilver, and I got sort of angry at it and quit, because it was slow and not nearly as interesting, I thought, as Cryptonomicon. But now I'm thinking of maybe taking another stab at it sometime in the next ten months. Maybe I'll have better luck with it this time through.

10. Now tag five people:

There's nobody left to tag. Everybody on the internet has done this meme. Everybody.

Okay, that's not true. I tag everybody who reads my li'l blog via the LJ feed, whether or not I know you. I also tag everybody else on the internet who hasn't done this meme yet. Let's just finish it up this weekend, 'kay? Kay.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Poetry reading on Friday at City Hall

This just in from the Poets & Writers League of Greater Cleveland:

When: Friday August 11, 2006 at noon
Where: The Rotunda of City Hall
What: Poetry Reading by local poets
Who: Marcus BALES

The Mayor´s Committee on Art in the Rotunda announces a poetry reading on FRIDAY AUGUST 11 at Noon, in the Rotunda at City Hall, which is the big interior space in City Hall, at E 6th and Lakeside, beside Claes Oldenburg´s "FREE" stamp sculpture. Bring a photo ID with you to get into City Hall.

The event will last approximately one hour. Each poet will read a few of their best-known poems.

Marcus Bales is the winner of the 2001 Ohio Writer Poetry Contest; his poems have appeared in Salt River Review, the Melic Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The City Poetry Magazine, Snakeskin, but never in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, or Poetry.

George Bilgere is the 2003 winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and the 2006 winner of the Ohioana Poetry Award. His new book, _Haywire_, won the 2006 May Swenson Poetry Award. He's the host of Wordplay, a radio show devoted to the Cleveland poetry scene. It airs every Wednesday on WJCU, 88.7, at 12:30 in the afternoon.

Kisha Foster is a junior at Cleveland State University who started her career as poet at19 and after six years of hard work, Foster is performing with increased comfort coworker and mentor Rafeeq Washington. Foster has been performing across the country and was recently honored by having one of her poems performed at the PWLGC "Writers and Their Friends" biennial celebration of the Cleveland writing community.

Nina Gibans is a lifelong resident of northeast Ohio. She has worked for cultural organizations in volunteer and professional capacities her entire career and has served on numerous civic and cultural boards of trustees. Her degree is in art history and aesthetics.

Jack McGuane is Poet Laureate of Lakewood, and widely known for his outspoken poems and adeptness with apparently simple language that gets memorably under your skin and into your head.

Cindy Washabaugh is a faculty member in Cleveland State's creative writing program.

Introduction of the Event by the Mayor´s aide, Melaina Kampf

Marcus Bales will read Ray McNiece's poem "Love song to Cleveland", which Ray gave to Mayor Jackson at the Ingenuity Festival; and will introduce each poet

Reading order:

Jack McGuane
Cindy Washabaugh
Kisha Foster
Nina Gibans
George Bilgere

concluding remarks by Melaina Kampf.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Howevermany Books Challenge Round-up #3

Third verse, same as the second and the first. This'll at least make it look like I've been doing something with all this time I've spent not blogging.

This time, no lengthy intro. And away we go:

  1. Lydia Davis, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

    I found this book unmemorable and vaguely annoying. Except for the hiccups story. That one I found very memorable for being specifically annoying. I almost quit reading the book and I almost threw it out a window. I didn't, though.

  2. Land-Grant College Review #3

    I know, I know: I'm a bad person. I don't read enough lit mags. But I've now read all three issues of Land-Grant College Review, each of which has contained several excellent stories. From issue #3, I especially enjoyed "Appalachian Spring" by Evan Lavender-Smith, "War Buddies" by Joan Silber (which, I hope this doesn't seem sexist of me, and I hope it comes off like a compliment, but, I hadn't noticed the author's name when I started this story, and about halfway through when I looked at the author's name, I was surprised to see a woman's name, because the narrator of the story has a very convincing "male" voice, the sort that it's sort of surprising to find that it was faked, if that makes any sense at all), "An American Son" by Lewis Buzbee (this might have been my favorite story of the issue), "Outlier" by Mary Swan, and "We Found Ourselves in Toronto" by Brock Clarke.

    One of these days I'm going to spend a month or two reading nothing but other stuff written by the people who wrote my favorite stories in each issue of LGCR. That will be some good times.

  3. Mary Gaitskill, Two Girls Fat and Thin

    Mary Gaitskill's first novel, more accessible and immediate than last year's Veronica, but not as great as Because They Wanted To, her second collection of short stories. But still a darn fine book, I thought. Maybe you'll think so too, if you don't mind a book with some dirty parts in it. It's not a great book, mind you. But it certainly doesn't suck.

    I've got her first story collection, Bad Behavior, over on the To Be Read pile (which I may or may not have mentioned is now a collection of piles of books and shelves of books, but TBR-CoPoBaSoB isn't a snappy acronym), and I still plan on re-reading Veronica sometime in the next six months, now in part because I suspect I entirely or significantly disagree with Dan Green's smack-down of the book but I'm totally unprepared to say why or how or even what he got wrong about the book.

  4. Clive Barker, Weaveworld

    Now, I know what you're thinking, and you're thinking, "Darby, what were you thinking?" And I'll tell you what I was thinking: I was thinking nothing, nothing at all, or, more specifically, I was thinking, "I want to really, really not think for a little while, now." So I read Weaveworld. I just needed something fun for a few days, something with mysterious creatures in it. I needed, nay, craved a tale of chaos unleashed upon an urban environment. This book hit the spot.

    But then, check it: a couple days after I finished this book I was hanging with a couple friends, watching old reruns of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on the Gameshow Network--no, mind-numbing narcotic drugs were not involved in the evening's proceedings--and we watched this guy get to like the $500,000 question, and it was totally about the Rub' al Khali, and I knew the answer even before Regis read the choices, because I'd just read Weaveworld. It was pretty awesome.

  5. Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

    Annoyed and irritated the living hell out of me. Even though it was pretty at points.

  6. Kevin Brockmeier, The Brief History of the Dead

  7. Kevin Brockmeier, The Truth About Celia

    Kevin Brockmeier is up to something, and I think I'm going to like it more once he takes what he's up to and stops diffusing the majority of the suspense at the very beginning of the book. Yes, I know, these aren't meant to be "suspense novels," but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a sense of tension here, some sense of mystery to keep you turning pages. Because strictly speaking you can see the whole playing field at the start of the books, and you can see what moves are left to the players, and you know essentially where everything's going to wind up once you turn the last page. For lesser writers this would be a sort of immediate literary stillbirth. But Brockmeier has a way of writing really good, beautiful prose, and it's generally worth reading for itself. Still, for as much as I enjoyed both of these novels, I felt a bit wanting at the end of them, as if I'd just watched a pre-legendary baseball player taking practice swings--as cool as it is to see that, you kind of can't wait to see what's coming next.

    I'd personally suggest reading Brief History first because I think he gets closer to the home-run swing in that book than in Celia. There's more mystery to the world of the novel and more surprises to be found by the end of it. (Even though the character Laura's last chapter epitomizes the problems inherent in the "there's nowhere to go but where there's to go" fatedness quality of the book's plot. You're reading for the art of the writing, not the content of the text.)

  8. Douglas Coupland, jPod

    A big huge goofy sloppy delightful faux-pomo mess. I enjoyed it a lot.

  9. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

    A big huge goofy sloppy...I kid. Seriously one of these days I'm going to unleash a big huge post about my Summer of Dostoevsky project to date. But not today.

    I will say I liked this book a lot more this time than I did when I last read it a few years ago. Also it was even easier to like it once I was done with it and I could mentally gloss over the parts that are sort of blah blah blah whatever.

    And you ask: "Oh wait, you mean to say that not every word Dostoevsky wrote was mad-genius?"

    And I say: Blah blah blah whatever.

  10. Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Philip Sherburne, in his review of the Ellen Allien & Apparat album Orchestra of Bubbles (which, incidentally, is currently in the running for my Top Album of 2006), described the album as being "[l]ike some crazy amusement park ride, you feel yourself ascending and descending at the same time; it's a simultaneous come-up and come-down, a combo rocket takeoff and marshmallow-factory landing." I didn't really see the album that way--I thought it was just awesome music. But then my girlfriend had me read the Zen book all the kids love, and I felt exactly what Sherburne meant. The book really surprised me--I didn't think I'd care for it. But I found it interesting and it left me with a queer mixed feeling of inspiration and uncomfortable uncertainty.

    Then I found out what happened to the kid after the book ends (the copy I read was published before what happened, happened, and so I lacked the explanatory preface that I suppose later copies contained) and I got super depressed.


  11. H. D. F. Kitto, The Greeks

    It was mentioned in the Zen book, but it didn't make me insane, which is just further proof that I'm not a raving genius.

    Damn it.

  12. Josef Pieper, The End of Time

    I disagree with it.

  13. Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Television

  14. Michael Martone, Michael Martone

    A funny thing happened to me on my way to the last two LitBlog Co-Op Read This! selections.

    I initially skipped the Spring 2006 selection, Television, when it was announced, because, honestly, what I read about it, I was convinced I wouldn't care about it in the slightest. But then I relented and read it and found it oddly delightful. In that quirky French way some books have going for them.

    I then eagerly and immediately read the Summer 2006 selection, Michael Martone, because I was convinced I would love it. Turns out I was generally underwhelmed and often kind of bored. I sort of disliked the style of it a lot. Maybe I just read it the wrong day of the week. Dunno. Dan Green is quite enthusiastic about it. Keep your eyes on the LBC site for the upcoming discussion of the book.

  15. Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint

    Some part of me keeps thinking I shouldn't like Philip Roth. That has yet to stop me from liking his books, though. Not quite in a can't-get-enough-of-his-work kind of way, though. This is the third book of his I've read and I liked it. I'll probably read more of his books down the line, I'm sure. There's a chance I might like those books, too.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Upside, downside

Upside: I've finally seen Sonic Youth live.

Downside: I haven't blogged in a week.

Unrelated? Yes. Also unrelated is the new Stephen Dixon interview at Failbetter that I'm going to you point you toward. Pass your time thither until I get my act together around here. Fascinatining stuff what I've read so far. The first question already answers a question of my own:

McSweeney’s Books published the first volume of the “I.” series, I: A Novel, back in 2002, and at the time, you spoke of two more to come, the last a three hundred-page novel. When and why did you decide to merge them into one, and publish it as End of I.? What happened to the pages you cut—will you integrate them into a new work?

I didn't merge the last two novels of the I. trio into one. The trio became a duo when McSweeney’s rejected the second voume of the work, then called 2. They rejected it, they said, because they were cutting back on their fiction. So I removed 2 from the trio, rewrote it in its entirety (something I've been doing a lot with my work the last few years), gave the I. character a name, and submitted the work, as Old Friends, to Melville House, which took it in a couple of weeks. Then McSweeney's wrote, saying they were starting a new fiction series and they'd like to see 2. I said 2 was now Old Friends and unavailable, would you like to see 3, which was now End of I. and also entirely rewritten from first page to last? They did and they took it.