Saturday, April 24, 2010

Abandonment issues, chapter 2666

I've been feeling unexpectedly harsh toward a lot of books lately. Too much time in the corporate sector? Too much time thinking about ways to get messaging across in the shortest, most efficient manner possible? Or is it too much time taking design classes, too much heeding of the notion that design, presentation, of text, of content, is largely about helping people not read (which I think I may have picked up from Ellen Lupton's Thinking With Type though my copy is on my desk at work so I'm having a hard time confirming that).

I don't know. Point is, I've got this clip of Al Pacino in the movie Heat running through my head every time I pick up a book anymore, in which he politely requests an informant to respect the value of his time. Please, book, recognize that I come to you as someone with a million other things I could be doing: teaching myself JavaScript, learning to draw, figuring out how white space works, leveling up in Final Fantasy, reading Twitter, angsting over eBooks, waiting to die. Recognize, book, story, text, that the world you and I inhabit today is not what it once was, when we may have met when I was a child, or even just five years ago. There are limits, now, and time is running out. Use what of it I offer you well. Please.

And, I don't know, a lot of the time, lately, the last year or two, it seems like I feel less return on my investment. I've probably abandoned more books in the last two years than the thirty that preceded them. Used to be I wouldn't quit a book if you held a gun to my head. These days, I'll drop a book if you wave a tasty sandwich at me from across the room. And if the sandwich is bad? Who wants to look back? There's other things on the other side of the room. Always other things.

My most notable failure to complete of late is 2666. Which leaves me convinced that if there is such a thing as Team Bolaño, then I might as well be the captain of Team, Like, I Don't Get It, Man, because, like, I don't get it, man. I think there might be something in your water that is not in my water because I've read all of The Savage Detectives and 650 pages worth of 2666 and I'll tell you flat-out I have no desire to read even one more word the guy has written. I'm not saying I won't, I may try again someday, or I may get curious about what happens in the last third of 2666, which I could now safely read as a nicely sized novel in its own right. But I certainly don't feel like I'm going to want to read enough Bolaño to "get it." (I'm sorry, guys, but I shouldn't have to read other shit to find out what's going on in what I'm already reading. Maybe if I was 12 and impressionable and thoughts cults were, you know, sort of cool, maybe?)

The thing about it is is that I don't think 2666 is a bad book, I think it's just generally too bloated and too revered for its own good. I found the opening section about the critics largely pleasant enough of a read; the second part, I, uh, don't remember all so well; and the third part pretty rock-solid, interesting stuff. But then we come to the fourth part, the part with all the murders in it, the part everybody talks about when they talk about this book, the part I felt was meant to change the way I see fiction, the part that would move me and disturb me and leave me dizzy and dazzled for days.

That part bored me to tears.

Which, how did that happen? I know I'm talking about myself as much as the book, here; there's a reason this is a rambling, generally unrevised blog post and not a piece of formal criticism. You couldn't pay me enough to go back into that section to do an actual formal critique. I just didn't like it, didn't feel engaged by it, didn't feel like the book was making any effort to make actual art of the events its portrayed. I know, I know, I'm probably not sophisticated enough of a reader, or critical enough, or attentive enough; I was probably the wrong audience. But then I'm still left here questioning what it is I was supposed to get out of this: the long-winded reminder that killing people is bad? That it's weird that sometimes things can't be done about it? Huh?

I know there's others who feel the same way and I know there's plenty of people who do not. I know this book has affected people deeply, but I don't know why; I don't know if it's stylistic or just the content, because the content and the presentation left me cold. Cold enough to quit a 900 page book after I was over two-thirds of the way through it; as decisions go, it sucks to decide this preceding effort is no longer worth what payout may come.

It's not the only long book I've felt some measure of distaste for lately. More on which topic anon, perhaps. I also recognize it's inherently silly to write a long rant about a long thing that I felt wasted (to some degree) my time while, with the other hand, I start picking up and reading a William Vollmann book (Imperial, which I've finally begun, with the vague intent of tackling fifty-or-so pages a week, ish). It's also not a slam against length in literature, either; I still want long books, I just want them to be awesome long books, books that justify their weight. There's a book I'm reading now, The American Girl, by Monika Fagerholm, a book that's about 500 pages long, and though it would be fair to call it over-written, I would call it over-written to a specific stylistic intent, which I'm finding generally agreeable, agreeable enough to keep going in a day and age of my life when "keeping going" is no longer a certainty. I've also caught myself wondering if I'd still like some of the long wandering books I've read in the past if I came across them today, in my current mental state, and I think that, even now, if I were reading Infinite Jest or Against the Day or just about anything I've liked by Stephen King for the first time--well, okay, maybe only the Dark Tower books, a lot of his other stuff would probably drive me nuts, though I do still look forward to reading Under the Dome, as I feel like I could use an epic page turner--that I'd still dig on 'em pretty firmly. Style making substance palatable and substance supporting style to worthwhile effect. So hopefully there's better things around the corner but I'll forgive myself for feeling gun shy when it comes to doorstoppers for a while.

And, uh, end rant.

Abandonment issues, chapter one: Professionalism!

I ask, "So what book are you going to read next?"

She says, "I don't know. You pick."

"I can't pick every book you read."

"Yes you can. This is what's good about having a boyfriend who's a pseudo-professional literary blogger."


(For those keeping score at home, after a thin threat to set her up on a date with Proust, I handed her The Pets by Bragi Ólafsson. At least that will give me half an hour to come up with the next suggestion.)

Friday, April 23, 2010


One of our assignments in my current design class was to redesign the covers for a set of three books by a single author. Kind of up my alley. Kind of. Sort of. Anyways. I took on Kazuo ishiguro. Here's my take on his first three novels; click through for the larger-ish versions.

A Pale View of Hills - Cover Redesign

An Artist of the Floating World - Cover Redesign

Remains of the Day - Cover Redesign

These were terrific fun to do--a chance to really dig in to the idea of minimalist design and get a sense for just how it actually works. Thanks to my friend Ann for loaning the handwriting--mine wasn't up to the task. There's inside flaps, too, but I stole the author photo off the Web, and I'd hate to get sued for it.

Friday, April 02, 2010


...I've all but given up on 2666--I got bored, huh?--and I've loved Joshua Mohr's second novel Termite Parade, and I've started reading Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Good Squad and without even being all that far into it yet I think I want to call it the most intriguing Egan book yet, and I'm reading a long slow burn of a book for a review so I won't say anything else about that, and I've got a couple other books I've been handed which I've started and which I've paused on and which I am looking forward to starting back up again once this bit of this and that is in the can, and I have a lot of other business I want to cover, and also I guess Blogger is dropping FTP support so I've got a month to get my long-delayed new blog up and running, what?, and I also did a project for school in which I redesigned the covers of Kazuo Ishiguro's first three novels, and though I think it turned out pretty decent, I'm a little bit wondering how I feel about posting it, since I steal photos from the Internet for it and even though it's technically student work I worry I'm going to get sued out of existence, and also I saw this cover Chip Kidd did not use for The Unconsoled and I felt a deep despair that I could ever do anything good, ever, because that's some sweet shit, is what that is.

In other news, this is about the coolest thing ever.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Waste of oh nevermind

Probably as good a time as any to mention I do post more visual things here, at least sporadically, though I've a vague intent to increase the frequency in the coming weeks. And I put short-short things and links here. Because it is 2010 and I have submitted to the "140 character bitch goddess," natch. It's also probably as good a time as any to mention that I'm about a third of the way through 2666, and now there's this dawning sense that, oh, hey, there might be something at stake here, and I've kind of caught a bit of a tailwind, which means I might sometimes read more than, oh, five pages at a time. Also, other things.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I was going to link to that picture of Lady Gaga in front of the flaming piano but then I thought better of it because I'm not really worthy of so much awesome at any one time

For those keeping score at home, the move happened. Those of you who took that square in the betting pool: congratulations, you win the pot! Also, those of you who took the "No" box on the "Will Darby's new pad include a working phone jack, and, hence, Internet, out of the gate" sheet, you've doubled my nothing. Way to go! You get less blogging from me, right now.

Meanwhile, somehow, I've managed to start reading three different books at the same time. I usually don't do this sort of thing. But I am now. One of them is 2666--ahem, #2666. I'm into the second part, the part about not the first part, and I'm finding the book overall alright, alright enough that I want to say more about it, just, you know, not right now.

Because I'm also reading Kazuo Ishiguro's first three novels again, each for the second time, for a school book cover design project. I picked the first three because it's almost like cheating, in a way, since they're so related thematically already, it ought to be easy enough to find a common thread to connect the covers (in any such scenario my cover for The Unconsoled is nothing but a shattered pane of glass) but also because they're the books I'm less emotionally wrapped up in of his, though, of course, I'm halfway through A Pale View of Hills and I'm all ga ga for it and I'm like, how am I going to visualize this in a way that will, you know, work? Like, perfectly? Because, duh, when in doubt? So, right.

There's also another book I started I want to get back to because I got a good vibe off it and there's also another book I need to get into because I get to review it and I'm excited about that, at least for now. I'm also trying not to be excited about it. It could suck, still. These things happen. Lessons learned, kids.

Anyways, with luck, I'll be backing to lacking technical excuses for not blogging by the end of this week. Unless.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Situation, critical

Even the TBR Pile is packed*. Let the nervous vomiting commence.


* - Mostly. Savagery is simply not an option.

Monday, January 25, 2010

And that point is now

There may come a point in your life when you need to transfer your Internet service to a new address. Word to the wise: avoid that point, if at all possible. For in the depths of the Internet service provider's Web site doth madness and despair lay, waiting, and willing. Add to that the fact that I just broke my wireless router anyway and I'm about ready to go monk-like at the new and improved TDAOC World Headquarters. Except not really because all this Internet isn't going to Internet itself.

So not much to report around these parts at the moment. The 2666 group discussion has begun; I might find a moment to contribute something rational to it. Or I might just note that it's right now one more heavy object that has to be transported through space by hand this week. Oops. On the upside, at least it's not Darger. (The Girl and I had a weirdo-documentary rock-block on Sunday, watching 30 Century Man (about Scott Walker, which confirmed for me that as interesting as he may be, his music is crazybones and warranted little more than the three minutes I once offered it in somewhat good faith) and In the Realms of the Unreal (about Henry Darger, who was nuts but at least in a self-contained way; I'm convinced he could have done some fun stuff with Daniel Johnston, had they ever met, and been able to rein in the crazy long enough to do something with it, with each other).)

Meanwhile: boxes.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My cat could probably whip him one good, anyways

In so far as I take any great interest in Joshua Ferris, it is in seeing him fail. Based on a lot of hype I picked up Then We Came to the End around the time it came out in paperback and I couldn't finish it because I thought it was a terribly dull and contrived take on things I already know. ("Maybe there's good reasons why most people write using familiar narratorial points of view," I thought. "Maybe there's good reasons why most people don't write about really boring shit," I thought. "Maybe there's good reasons why I'm putting this book down now," I thought.) I might resent him for it a little more than I ought to--I mean, the guy didn't exactly murder my cat or anything--but still, it's one that stuck with me, for some reason, to some extent, and while I don't wish him explicit harm, I'd wouldn't mind if he somehow reconfirmed my preconceptions.

So now his new book is coming out and the early word is not kind. Which, now, has me perversely and reversely interested in trying out the new book: maybe if I disliked the Ferris that everybody liked I'll really like the Ferris that nobody likes? Well, no, I probably won't, but, chances are.

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

TDAOC World Headquarters is, in more ways than one, in the process of moving. In part, this means a new mailing address, rather soonish. If you have interest in sending things to me in the real world, drop me a line.

In the meantime, it's all packed boxes and unpacked style sheets around here. And some rampant nostalgia. And a lot of Netflix, to help combat the urge to go tearing through the boxes, looking for CDs and books that I haven't touched in ages, but which I desperately need to handle right now. And a little bit of Bolaño. And the TBR pile, which I refuse to pack or even think about packing until the last possible second, because, A, one can not live on Bolaño alone, and, B, amidst the chaos and the nostalgia and the change and the moving and the shaking, one must have stability, something large and consuming and indefatigable.

So--see clause A above--I've started reading The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao, which has made for some remarkably smooth reading, considering its subject (wrongful imprisonment in a 70s-era Chinese prison camp and the attempt to establish a normal life, or at least a life, after said experiences). It's hard to say anything terribly intelligent about it at the moment--my comparisons might seem forced and/or laughable; who am I to speak of the universal?--but I can say it's well-written and that I like it so far. And I will leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Me & Dan Rather: Kicking Your Ass

Another reason I've been thinking I need to move on, is that I'm tired of the Internet. I find the Internet exhausting. It's not just that I spend so much time on it, but that the content of it is just exhausting. Right now, I can get just about anything I want or need, information-wise. All I have to do is open a new tab in my browser, put some words like "italian art" or "refrigeration mechanics" or "anime fiends who dress up as huge-breasted anthrokitties" and I'll have at least some information on the topic of my choice. I have access to samples of just about any type of music I might feel like listening to but won't, the opinions of easily 48 billion people who I can't keep up with, a million recipies for romantic dinners I'll never get up the energy to cook, and more news than I could ever expect Dan Rather to read to me even if he were granted immortal super powers and the television equivalent of academic tenure. So I guess you could say that, when I say I'd like to move on, what I really mean is, I'd like to yank the DSL cable out of the wall and go outside and sit in a dandelion patch for a while and think about nothing in particular. But, I live in Cleveland, it's the middle of January, and the dandelions aren't due to bloom for about five months, so until then, the only possible response to this quandry is to move on to the creation of a new blog. Which, despite the presence of who knows how many logic pretzels by this point of this post, makes some sense to me, though not enough to really warrant a detailed explanation....

But, honestly, I don't know, for sure. Mostly I'm looking for a change. Something different, sometimes. So, you know, tune in, if you like. It's quiet here right now. I'm kind of cool with that. It's a nice change, for now.

That was me--Little Tiny Baby Me, sniff, it's like I almost knew how to use language!--exactly five years ago, the day I started this blog. Which, you know. Was a while ago. And also! Wasn't so much a while ago! Because how little has changed! The Internet got a little more drop shadow and/or round-cornered! Dan Rather may or may not be immortal! It's a different kind of quiet around here! I have failed to take over the world! See, nothing. Nothing has changed. Which is hilarious and awesome. But okay. Things could have gotten worse! They didn't get worse, did they? It's so hard to tell. Timelines. Etc.

Anyways, here it is, five years later, and I've got jack-all to say for myself. I won't pretend this blog isn't anything less than the single most awesome point of incredible on the Internet; false modesty rests poorly on my shoulders. No, we've had good times, you and I, and if I was ever not a little bit good for you, which I totally never wasn't, it wasn't because there weren't reasons lacking. Negation negation is the new post-modern footnote. Mark my words. Or don't. Not.

Anyways. Where was I? Ah, oh yes: attempting to gaze at my navel through the billowing rolls of my own success.

The truth is, you need me. You need me because sometimes, it just needs to be quiet around here. You need someone on the Internet who isn't afraid to just shut up once in a while, for a while, someone willing to criticize the entire blasted mess we've made by saying absolutely nothing at all about it. The Internet isn't going to shut up about itself, you know. The form in which my silence precedes me may come to change--for even the devoted apathetic occasionally need to cleanse themselves in the wholesome flames of new style sheets and the questioning of unknown assumptions--but there I'll be, between the notes, giving them space to breathe. Internet, I am your white space. This is your independence day.

And if, along the way, I convince a few people to read some Stephen Dixon or Adrienne Miller, Kazuo Ishiguro or Jennifer Egan, John Barth or Julie Orringer or any of the other authors I've liked at least well enough along the way to say a hopefully well-received kind word or two about, then, well. Something happened. And I can't take it back. Sorry.

Either way and in the meantime, here's to five passed and five to come. (Months? Days? Weeks? Who knows! Internet! You fickle mistress!) Take a few minutes out of your day to raise high your glasses to me and to thank me for all I've not yet failed to do. I'm gonna go kiss the mirror. Baby, we'll be fine.

Monday, January 11, 2010

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So, I started 2666 over the weekend, and got about forty pages into it, and my hasty initial non-analytical snap judgement (pre- any informed mental developments generated through the not-quite-here-yet group read conversations, which, judging by the links, one might truly begin to suspect could safely be called a web read) is that those might be among the most smoothly unremarkably decent pages I've read in some time. To be clear: a book can not be judged on 40 pages alone. To also be clear: nothing about those pages leapt from the book's binding to perform salacious acts upon my person. Which certainly means nothing bad about the book; I did in fact enjoy those forty pages; I will almost certainly read at least another 40 pages, perhaps even sooner than I might expect. But nothing about them has pierced through a hype-built desire to remain a little bit (honestly and for the good of the thing) still-yet-skeptical about the whole thing. In any event: onward.

And by perfect I mean perfect

Stephen Dixon has a new short story up at Matchbook. It is incredibly short and absolutely perfect. It reminds me, after having not read his stuff in a while, why I love his stuff so much. If it is at all indicative of the kind of Dixon we can expect to see in the contents of the upcoming collection What Is All This? then May can not come soon enough.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

It's probably ridiculous of me to even contemplate trying to do something like this--what with full work days and a new semester of school starting up shortly and the urge to occasionally drink a beer or spend time not looking at bright shiny screens for occasional ten minute intervals (ignoring completely for the moment that right smack dab in the middle of all of this Final Fantasy XIII comes out in America, which, whatever, I'm a nerd, sorry, and I've got about a hundred hours of my life I need to have a good reason not to remember in minute detail when I'm an old and crusty bastard)--but there's a group read of Roberto Bolaño's that's-what-she-said long novel 2666 starting up a couple weeks from now. I bought the hardcover around the time it came out, because I am sometimes optimistic, and even though I wasn't goo goo gah gah over The Savage Detectives the way I figured I was supposed to be, I did find the opening couple pages of 2666 oddly enchanting, when I stood there reading them in the bookstore, convincing myself I might as well just go ahead and buy the hardcover because the paperback had come out at the same time and it was a box set split into three volumes and that's for wimps and sissies, and then here we are a year later and an actual less-costly real-paperback one-volume paperback edition comes out and oops, wallet fail, ahem! and the book has sat in various locations around the apartment ever since, taunting me with it's being really popular but also that's-what-she-said huge and full of women being murdered, a subject I find about as emotionally and mentally entertaining as one dog trying to make another dog have babies, but what do I know, maybe? (While the Bolaño book remains the size illustrated above, the cat, tiny at the time, could now safely bench press the thing. Big cat.) Long story short, despite the universe and even myself telling me I should read the book, I haven't, and I was starting to think I maybe just wouldn't, because, really?, and now here we are, a year later, and even Stephen King has read it and liked it and that dude just published a 1000-plus page novel and what have I done with myself in that time other than make excuses? Well, okay, I have done stuff, but still. I have made stuff, even though some of that stuff has been excuses. Maybe I'm nuts. Maybe I'll actually try this time. (Via Twitter, basically.)
I've pushed past the dog sex. (It is sentences like the preceding that every blogger should be so lucky as to have to write, at least once, in their blogging careers.) Whether out of some sense of obligation ("If I can't read this book, what can I read?") or desperation ("Oh gods, I may never read again"), I felt I had to, and it's okay that I have, because The Mysteries of Pittsburgh quickly becomes pretty much basically entertaining again, like, a paragraph or two after the canine coitus. (Finger tip lick, second point drawn in the air above my head.) Though the dogs keep coming back up. Which, fine, I'm not there to watch it anymore. Things do get a bit dicey around a game of Twister, when it's pretty obvious that Little Tiny Baby Michael Chabon was all about flexing some descriptive muscles ("I am so hot right now," he says to himself, while somewhere nearby, a few states away, Little Tiny Baby Wayne Coyne says the same thing while splashing about in fake blood and a stack of boomboxes the size of God), but, halfway through the book, I'd place pretty good odds in favor of me actually finishing the thing, which, well; sweet. Sweet enough. And it really is okay. Because for every overtly self-interested flake of linguistic dandruff, there's the enthusiastic head-scratching that brought it to the light, and if I'm in need of anything these days, it's some enthusiastic head-scratching. Or better shampoo? I don't know.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I will say, the one book I have been having good fun with lately, when I've remembered to pick it up during small moments of nothing else, is Michael Bierut's Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design. That's probably as much though because I can read about the maximum number of pages at a time that my attention span allows for right now and feel like I got something close to a complete thought out of that time. Also, I could totally listen to that guy say "Helvetica. Period." on repeat for days without growing tired. Okay, maybe only minutes. Still. Period.
The Millions has posted its preview of the anticipated books of 2010. I have to imagine that if there are any two books that are going to get me back around to getting on the reading bandwagon again, they'd be The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (whose story collection How to Breathe Underwater I really liked) and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (whose everything I everythinged, duhs). It's too bad but probably for the best they don't come out until May and June. I probably shouldn't hit those things un-warmed-back-up. Oh, there's also a David Mitchell book (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) coming out in June, which for some reason I'm just irrationally nervous about. And, oh, hell, there's the American release in April of the short story collection What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy, who, love. Yikes. What a year to be a mess.
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Things that are actually awesome include the old typewriter my girlfriend got me for Christmas. She knows me and my odd likes well. (For those of you out there--and I know there are those of you out there--who enjoy yourselves some good typewriter porn, here's the rest of the set.) It's a beautiful piece of equipment, in damn fine shape, with a handle still on the case (I do wonder if it's the original handle or if someone gave it a refurb along the way, but still, awesome either way; the case itself is in fairly stunning shape for however old it is) and there's this scent, this, metal, age, time scent, that kind of makes you want to take up whiskey drinking and manly writing. (Or at least whiskey drinking.) It's even got an end-of-bell line, a feature I'd figured was made up by the movies, being not-there on the other typewriter (a '20s era (?) Royal Junior Portable (with round keys! ee!) which I'm sure I have pictures of somewhere but can't find right now) in my now-two-piece-strong collection. There's more charm between the two of them than I know what to do with. Well, I suppose I could try actually writing on them, but....
Kids, if I haven't been writing, it's because I haven't been reading. I've picked up and put down more books in the last month than I have in the previous mumble mrnrmms. That includes both Blood Meridian and Our Mutual Friend, two books that I'd picked up and put down sometime in the last decade, both of which I picked back up in the last month, thinking maybe they'd actually work for me this time. Neither did. Though I did make it about ten pages past the points I'd originally abandoned them. At this rate, woo, some day, maybe. I've also set down A Game of Thrones, which I picked up, thinking, maybe what I need are some dragons and kick-ass sword fights and, like, elf chicks, or something? And then I got 250 pages into the book and I find out all the dragons are extinct, I guess, and there's no Liv Tyler to be found in a thousand miles? I mean, not that the book is bad--I'm generously telling myself I'm only pausing on this book rather than quitting it--but, still, I mean, no dragons. Just a bunch of assholes being political toward each other. No thanks, CNN, I will not engage with you for my light entertainment needs. So then yesterday I started reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh because I like Michael Chabon a good deal and because maybe I needed to forget about big books for a while (did I mention I tried to read Ada, or Ardor by Nabokov on an empty brain and physically died 20 pages in?) and Pittsburgh comes from the area of the To Be Read piles that my girlfriend has dubbed "the cute little books" section, so, win, right? And it's been going alright--"Yes," I tell myself, "what I do need right now is an old-fashioned tale told by a horny young man who is trying to figure life and girls out but mostly girls of the manic pixie variety, because they are dreamy and mysterious and life is genuinely an interesting thing"--and I've been floating along okay but I just hit some dogs fucking, and it's like, really, Little Tiny Baby Michael Chabon? Dogs? Fucking? I don't know. Heartfelt sigh.

So, you see, I'm at a loss. They don't grow doctors who can look inside you and fix the part of you that's broken your ability to read, and I'm sure my insurance wouldn't cover that option anyway, so I'm stuck. And I'm wondering if the Internet knows what to do, how to literally flush out your brain in such a way that you want to actually start using it again, in a concentrated long-term no-blinky-blinky-lights sort of way, because all these hours spent watching episodes of the original Star Trek series (which is both as cheesy and far better than I remember it being) and playing Fallout 3 (which really does kick a lot of ass, actually) don't seem to be doing it. Should I eat more soup? Is soup good for this? I can't eat more soup. The soup train is full. Tremble.