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.