Friday, May 23, 2008

"Every story has a message, a set of ideas and emotions to convey. Every story has a subject, a style, an aesthetic. Every story is composed of this trinity, as well as a series of two-way highways that connect its diverse aspects. And every story is alive."

- from Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen

Game. Set. Match. Spike. Point. Snap.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I tried to read this "Who killed the literary critic?" article everybody's linking to, but I got antsy after reading the sentence "The signs are ominous, Laura" (which is in fact the opening sentence) and then gave up completely after I scrolled down and saw that the title for the link to page 2 of the article is "Why pay a professional critic when bloggers offer opinions for free?" Somebody wake me up when we all start acting reasonable about the whole thing.
Oh, and just out of curiosity, can someone who has read the books more recently than I have confirm for me that Narnia isn't really like the movies are making it out to be? Because I think about all the trailers for Caspian have done for me and some of my friends is they've made us want to crawl back inside the books and forget the movies exist.* Though maybe that's also because, with nostalgia, comes the crushing realization that adulthood means living in a world that sort of blows, at least lately. I don't know. Maybe I'll revisit the wardrobe after I finish Omega Minor. Or maybe I'll forge ahead with trying to make some good come of my media-buying hiatus** by trying to get the TBR pile down under a couple feet. Dreams.


* - Yes, that syntax is as tortured as you believe it to be. It's late.

** - Yes, I've had to make myself stop buying books, but also video games, realizing as I do that if you can measure play-hours against spine-feet, my Wii To Be Played pile is about as tall as my Books To Be Read pile. Unprovoked rant: It's a golden age for fans of video games, not just because the quality is so high, but the variety of available experiences is stellar, and, oh yeah, the world blows right now, which I think is what translates directly into the video game industry's current growth. People gotta escape, sometimes. There's something there that literature does not provide.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oh yeah, and: "Werner Herzog and David Lynch are teaming for "My Son, My Son," a horror-tinged murder drama based on a true story." More, linked mainly for the headline.
Jeff points to a new fiction writing contest that I was about to ignore (because, really, I somehow doubt contest judge Richard Ford will want to pick up the sort of thing I am likely to put down, but then, who knows) but then I noticed that beyond publication and cash, the prize also includes a pass to the literary festival sponsoring the prize (!), airfare to get there (!!), accommodations while you're there (!!!), and a public reading of your work (!!!!). I'm not sure if that means the winning writer reads their own winning work or if they bring in someone famous to do it, but either way--pretty cool. I'm not aware of any other contests that offer such things.

But then, I haven't looked, either. I tend to not submit to contests because all those entry fees quickly add up to a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but this would be the second contest this year that has snagged my attention.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The things I meant to tell you that I could tell you about Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen after having read 50 or 60 or so pages were a handful in number; but now all I want to tell you about Omega Minor after having read 100 pages is that, oh, this book is good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The struggle of Text against World. The World wins.

- from Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen

Yeah, it's like, when you have to go to bed, and you can't stay up all night reading a very long novel in a single go, even though the first twenty pages make you want to, very badly. Oh, please, please let this book stay as good as these first pages. I could deal with something so unputdownable.

(...Which, incidentally, and I hope this does not seem disrespectful to Ed's interesting post, but: "unputdownable" means--at least, in my head, in the world in my head, the one where things sort of make more sense, and everybody is a little bit happier--simply that a book creates tension the reader desires to have resolved. Like, right now. Whether resolution comes through actions and plot or meaning and ideas (or, both!) does not--ought not--matter. Which makes it easy to see there's no difference between so-called literary unputdownable novels and mainstream unputdownable novels--there are only differences between readers, differences between critics, readers and critics who exist in a society rooted in class and gender conflicts and binary oppositions, the kind in which one side or the other is always preferable, depending on which way you look at them. Which I think still gets me and Ed to the same point: you're pretty much douchey if you think the other guy or gal is douchey for genuinely liking what they like. But correct me if I'm wrong.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

If you're looking for some obscure books, SlushPile points to a Village Voice piece in which a bunch of authors suggest a bunch of titles I, for one, have never heard of. TDAOC dreamgirl Jennifer Egan suggests one. But then, I've still got this other little obscure book she suggested (see item #22) I need to work my way around to picking up.
Maybe if we all agree that the NBCC Good Reads thing ought to be considered more of a statistically-driven historical record than a real working list of active recommendations of lesser-known titles we can all accept what it is for what it is and find something else to complain about four times a year.

I am saying this as someone who hasn't read a single book on the Spring list. Were I more interested in staying completely current on the most visible, most widely discussed elements of the contemporary literary scene, I'd certainly use this list to help get myself there. Truth is I've only read one book this year published this year. It's a habit I ought to change, like all the habits I'll never quite get around to changing.
You know how you know there's bad parts of town that you never go to and so you never think about them until one day you think you're taking a shortcut when actually what you're doing is turning down a road that leads you to a place you know you don't belong, the kind of place you hear about on the news? The Internet has those parts of town, too, and though they may be less fatality-inducing, they're at least three times as scary. And all of our talk of this brow or that brow is nothing in the face of such pure, unadulterated browlessness. 'Nuff said, in that the saying is proof of the tale's survival.
Too be fair, I'd be, too.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Paula looked at him thoughtfully, sighed, and then they both jumped up at the same time and raced for the bath. Paul won and Raul went back to bed and took out a cigarette. A good beating...There were several people who would use a good beating. A beating with flowers, with wet towels, with a slow perfumed scratch...A beating that would last for hours, interrupted by reconciliations and caresses, the perfect vocabulary of hands, capable of abolishing and justifying the blows only so they could begin again between moans and final forgetfulness, like a leopard skin or a dialogue between statues.

- from The Winners by Julio Cortázar

The Winners is weirder than I initially thought it was going to be.

Not to second-guess myself, but I wonder how much real "connection" happens between characters in the book, through dialogue or otherwise. The game imagery that surfaces now and then is highly appropriate. The book is one of contrasts, of conflicts. Man versus woman, one versus another. Ship versus sea. Decision versus indecision. Love and fear. Earth versus sky. The known versus the unknown, safety versus danger. Making sense versus not making sense--the Persio interludes are not lightly read and feel increasingly incoherent, at least on an initial read.

The book, in fact, has not "renounced effects" or "formal beauty" as Paula suggests the new literature must, going forward: "'This new style could only come from a new vision of the world. But if one day it's accomplished, how stupid these novels we admire today are going to seem, these novels full of infamous tricks, chapters and subchapters, with well-calculated entrances and exits...'" Though, to be fair, while the book does feel calculated, in it's way, it's got the feel of a calculated sort of chaos. And the more of it I try to hold in my head at any one time the more it begins to splash around and resonate like a gong tumbling down a hill falling toward an oven overbaking a metaphor.

Grk. I really ought not to be allowed to think out loud.
Oh dear.

(I think what that post is doing is, in the terminology of my old lit crit studies, "shoring up dominant social ideologies about what literature 'is' and 'is not'," but I could be wrong.)
So it begins.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hey, it's been a while since we've been told that everything us writers are working for--like, you know, actually having people read our shit--isn't worth working for. Alright! High five!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I had to stop in at the bookstore today, and so as long as I was there already I figured I would take a look at Omega Minor, which I just recently mentioned, and so I did, and I read the opening page, and I promptly took the book up to the register and bought it. This despite my supposed resolve to stop buying books for a while in order to concentrate on getting through at least some of the now far, far too tall TBR pile. And because Omega Minor is a really fat book I'm going to have to read it as soon as I finish The Winners because if I try to put Omega Minor on the TBR pile that stack is going to topple hard, quite possibly severely damaging the entire infrastructure of Lakewood, Ohio, if not the very moral and social underpinnings of the country itself. So I mean, note to authors, moral of the story? If you want to avoid the waiting list, start your book like that. Kablooie.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Speaking of the absurdity of dialogue:

"All this talk is absolutely useless," [Claudia] said. "When I began to read novels, and I began very young, I always had the feeling that the dialogue was usually ridiculous. For the simple reason that the slightest incident would have put an end to these conversations or cut them short. For instance, what if I had been in my cabin, or you had decided to go on deck instead of coming here to have a beer? Why place any importance on an exchange of words provoked by the most absurd circumstances?"

"The worst of it," said Medrano, "is that it can be applied to every act in life, including love, which, until now, has seemed the most serious and fatal of our activities. To accept your point of view means that all of our existence becomes trivial, to toss it to the dogs of pure absurdity."

"Why not?" said Claudia. "Persio would say that what we call absurd is only our ignorance."

- from The Winners by Julio Cortázar

I think I like this book a lot more than I liked The Savage Detectives. And I think it just crystallized for me why that is, and I think it's because of the dialogue. Though Detectives is all first person narrative, it never feels like anybody is connecting with anybody else through dialogue, like speech is just a blunt act performed upon the reader, not something that exists in the world as described by the stories the book tells. Which is fine. I'm not speaking critically of it. But to pop out of that book and into The Winners, which--to borrow from the book's nautical theme--is very much a sea of dialogue, of people talking (albeit more eloquently and cleanly that anybody in real life does) to each other, or at least with and near each other, is to dive into dialogue with a fresh eye and a thirsty ear for the stuff. I find myself pausing to read passages aloud to myself to enhance the meaning of it. Hardly poetry, but perhaps poetic, in its way. Which of course raises questions of the unique musics of translations, etc etc etc., which I shall not delve into here.

I also won't go into the game imagery that surfaces now and then during the book. There's easily a paper to write about that, though, that's for certain.
The Winners feels like the kind of book you'd catch someone on Lost reading. It's really great fun, in that sort of existentialist people-don't-really-talk-like-that-but-I'll-go-with-it-anyways way. Would that I could stay up all night with it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008 has been awarded to the Belgian author Paul Verhaeghen for his novel Omega Minor, published by Dalkey Archive Press in November 2007. Paul Verhaeghen is the first author to have both written and translated the winning title and has therefore won the full £10,000 prize. The award, a partnership between Arts Council England and the Independent newspaper, was made in association with Champagne Taittinger in the UK. Past winners have included Immortality by Milan Kundera and Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the largest prize devoted to literary works in translation in the world, celebrates an exceptional work of fiction by a living author that has been translated into English from any other language.

I think I need to check this book out. (It was mentioned, timely enough, in the Scott Esposito article I recently linked to.)

More info at The Literary Saloon.
The me-approved books Zeroville by Steve Erickson and Remainder by Tom McCarthy are up for the 2007 Believer Book Award.

Given a vote, I'd have to side with Erickson. Two books I greatly enjoyed; one made me want to write like it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"I felt funny adding to the hype of an author that was so clearly over-hyped," Scott Esposito says about the way he "tried to use [Roberto] Bolaño’s moment in the spotlight to recruit as many readers as possible to his books."

Which prompts me to ask a question I've been thinking about for some time now: at what point does hype become overhype? When is an author too popular? "The Savage Detectives has sold 22,000 copies in hardcover," Esposito says, "a very modest success by the standards of publishing in general, but a great success by the standard literature-in-translation." Forget for a moment the fact that you can't even sell out a major league sporting event anywhere in America with 22,000 people, or that a single video game just sold six million copies in one week*. Is a readership of 22,000 for any author really too high?**

I know it's the unstated official mission statement of litbloggers everywhere to promote the success of lesser-known authors against authors that do attract wider readerships. Fine. But if we're ever successful at it--by which I mean, if litbloggers alone can cause a book to sell over 22,000 copies, just to throw a number out there--will we then feel obligated to shut up about the author completely, knowing that he or she has "made it," is officially "overhyped"? Do we, collectively, have a love-hate relationship with the readerships that make books known? If the Litblog Co-op had "worked," would it have had to have destroyed itself anyway?

I hereby propose that we banish the notion of overpopularity from the litblogosphere. Surely it's an idea that can do well on its without further help from us.


* - No, I didn't buy it. Yet. I plan to, though. And if that means my opinions mean less, then, in the words of Happy Harry Hardon, "So be it."

** - Which, by the way, I should point out, would be a perfectly desirable number of readers for anything I might ever put out, myself. Let me choke to death on the fumes of my own hype machine: I will survive it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Don't tell my boss, but: it looks like it's time to polish my resume. (Via.)
It's funny that I would finish reading The Savage Detectives, during which reading I posted this quote ("Lately I've noticed a disturbing tendency in myself to accept things the way they are"), before picking up The Winners by Julio Cortázar again, from which I previously posted some quotes, including a line that suddenly smacks of increased resonance ("It's not that I'm against amusement, but every time I want to enjoy myself I must first lock up the laboratory and throw out all the acids and alkalines. I mean that I must surrender and give in to the appearance of things").

Reality, eh.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Problems. Life is full of problems, although life was wonderful in Barcelona in those days, and problems were called surprises.

- from The Savage Detectives

Problems were called surprises. What a wonderful line. Were I tempted to do that thing a critic might do--pick a line with which to unlock or unravel an entire text--that might be the line I'd use to begin unlocking or unraveling The Savage Detectives. It might also be the line I'd use to unlock or unravel many other things in this life, such as the writing of a novel, but that's neither here nor there. Mostly because it is everywhere.

I'm almost done with Detectives. I like it. Not as much as I guess I'm supposed to like it. But it's been a good book, overall. I'm looking forward to the ending, which I suspect is going to be a good one.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Here's a question for the writers in the crowd, or the folks who pay more attention than me to the things said by writers: how does influence happen? I'm looking for examples, I'm looking for specifics. I'm not looking for "Oh I guess I had some influence from T.S. Eliot and John Grisham but I did my own thing, yeah, wank, wank," but for like, "I tried to do this, and this is what I did when I did it in order to do it, otaku-wonk!" That sort of thing. Maybe I'm asking the wrong question.

It's like, the thing I'm writing now, working now, I can say it was influenced by Zeroville by Steve Erickson, very specifically, in that his book uses this rapid succession of short, numbered sections, a technique I stole (because yes at heart influence is basically theft), and then modified, in that part of the book uses ridiculously short sections, and the other part of the book uses only moderately short sections, averaging roughly thrice the length of the average section lengths of the other part. Because there needed to be some distinguishing stylistic characteristics between the two parts of the book and that was a pretty fundamental way to do it while keeping the parts in the same palette. And then I can say the current chapter is actually influenced by John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor, not in that it's a pastiche of seventeenth century historical fiction, but because of something he said about the book in the intro to the reprint, which is that he wanted it to feel like a narrative explosion following his much shorter and much terser first two novels. Which I liked, I liked that idea, so I've made this chapter a strategically placed sort of narrative explosion, because, why not? And I think it works, I think it has an effect. Even though it's obviously not as brilliant as Barth, but.

You might say my anxiety about this topic is blooming.