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raining here in New Orleans; I could be doing homework but am instead choosing to sit around being surly and looking at mixtes on the internet. Just got back from a long-car-trip Thanksgiving (~12 hours in a car each way NOLA to KY) and thus am craving bike rides. Since it’s raining and blah outside this means not so much riding my bike (after all, the aforementioned homework) as reading bike blogs. 

I had my last med school interview while I was at home, at the University of Kentucky, in the rain. It’s a good school with a huge brand-new hospital. Classes only last from eight to noon your first two years so you have afternoons to study. The girl next to me was wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit and had a Bumpits in her hair. When we left the girl I walked out with said: “I can’t wait go to home and put on sweatpants.” I stood on S. Limestone in the rain in my black pencil skirt and black blazer with a rainbow umbrella and put my heels on a pink X that was spray-painted on the sidewalk. A house on the street had thick leaves all over their yard, and for some reason the red, orange, and brown against the green looked extra saturated in the lack of other colors, the asphalt, the sidewalk. 

I felt disappointed. 

My boyfriend’s second-choice school is going back home to Oregon, to have to live in Portland and go to Portland State. You know, a city, where everyone rides bicycles, and there are cute things everywhere and all kinds of mid-twenties hipsters doing whatever makes their little artsy hearts happy. There are good and bad sides to this, of course, but I am tired of trying to be objective about this: living in a rural area is pretty terrible. I know. I did it for eighteen years. You’re isolated, you don’t have a lot of friends and none that live close to you, you entertain yourself, you shop at department stores in suburbs you have to drive an hour to get to and you feel dazzled by the selection when you get there. Eating at Red Lobster is exotic because it’s expensive and seafood and you don’t live anywhere near the ocean and for that matter, you don’t live anywhere near the Red Lobster, either.  Maybe once a month you go to the movies. You go to work and come home every night and watch television, because there’s nothing else going on anyway. The center of your social life is your church, or work if you’re lucky to be working with other people you like/get along with. 

It’s not what I want anymore. I’m tired of being okay with it.  I am jealous of my friends—what, that ridiculous 70% of that Tulane population, and 99% of my friends—that went to private school. I didn’t. I didn’t get special attention; there was none to be had. I did the best with what I could. I am jealous of my friends who were from big cities, who had drama departments and art departments at their schools, who had neighbors they could go visit, and small theatres and local bakeries and restaurants and parties and bicycles and new bookstores and used bookstores and record stores and art galleries and coffeeshops. We don’t. I never did. 

I’ve been struggling all through college not to be bitter about it, but I am. I dated someone who made fun of how uncultured I was, who looked down on me and was embarrassed to go to nice restaurants with me because I couldn’t pronounce the names of food. I AM UNCULTURED. Everything I know about culture I had to learn myself from the internet. I didn’t have it growing up. I still can’t eat rice with chopsticks and feel stupid and embarrassed when I inevitably drop it all over myself trying. I don’t know how to order sushi, I never ate sushi until I came to college. I don’t know what wines go with what foods because they aren’t even legally allowed to sell alcohol where I live. I’ve never seen a Shakespeare play performed, where would I have? I’ve never seen a ballet, or an opera. My written vocabulary is much, much greater than my spoken vocabulary and I pronounce words wrong. I’ve only read them, after all.

Which is what I did have, really. I read everything. I still read everything someone hands me, everything I get my hands on, I read indiscriminately and don’t buy books unless I’ve already read them. And that was fine for eighteen years (probably more like sixteen). But it’s not fine anymore, and I don’t want to go back, and I don’t want to get used to it again, and I want to do things with my life. 

It is disappointing. Kentucky loves to dress down. If you can wear sweatpants and a tshirt you do. In high school I wore jeans everyday; I sometimes wanted to wear a skirt, but felt embarrassed when I did, like I stuck out in the hallways because no one else was. They still don’t. It’s like daily life isn’t worth getting dressed up for, isn’t really worth putting in a lot of effort. And in the rain and grey of Lexington, waiting on the side of the road in uncomfortable shoes, watching all the people in their cars and no one smiling, it seemed all more depressing than I could stand.  
abigailnicole: (Default)
 what's he building in there

a playlist I made a while ago of malicious songs, for halloween. 

1) What's He Building - Tom Waits
2) Prelude (the Family Trip) - Marilyn Manson
3) Is There Anybody Out There? - Pink Floyd
4) Lullaby - A Perfect Circle
5) Slide - The Dresden Dolls
6) Devils and Gods - Tori Amos
7) The Widow - the Mars Volta
8) Climbing Up The Walls - Radiohead
9) This Devil's Workday - Modest Mouse
10) Posed to Death - the Faint
11) The Dreaming - Kate Bush
12) Teflon - the Mars Volta
13) the Nobodies - Marilyn Manson
14) Welcome to Bangkok - Brand New
15) House of Wolves - My Chemical Romance

download the .rar


abigailnicole: (Default)

the equinox
me, taken by my boyfriend, september equinox 2011
(I like very few pictures taken of myself and this one I like a lot.) 



today the weather is cold (cold, so cold, it was 58 when I awoke and is all the way up to 64 now) and wonderful and instead of enjoying it I am inside completing secondary apps for medical school.


they say things like

"Give an example of personal feedback in the last few years that was difficult to receive. How did you respond?"


"The most meaningful achievements are often non-academic in nature. Describe the personal non-academic accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?"


"Describe a problem in your life.  Include how you dealt with it and how it influenced your growth."


which are of course the kind of things on secondary applications. It is just exhausting to answer more than fifteen "DESCRIBE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE FROM THEN UNTIL NOW AND YOUR FUTURE PLANS AND WHY" questions at a time. I don't want to talk about timelines (please don't mention/ask) and goals and the various medschool "what? why do I wanna do this? WHAT IF I DON'T" freakouts I've had over the past few months, especially summer. There is no past and no future and there is only the purity of color and the way the wind sometimes feels like fabric against your skin, and the way the ends of your hair split into such fine pieces that you can only see them as golden lines in the light. 

Since reading Gravity's Rainbow it is harder for me to worry about little things. I think this is a good thing. I have a sense of perspective which certainly makes my mental state better: there is no bomb going to be dropped on me. How can you worry about wordcounts and deadlines when a.) there is no V2 rocket hanging over your head and b.) you know something beautiful and meaningful exists in the world? I cannot. I am calmly giving this my best shot, telling them what they want to know, and leaving it at that. Sometimes I need to stop and make tea and bake a cake and go to lunch or ride my bike around in this lovely weather and that is just how it is. I will work on it and get it done on time. 

I need this equanimity now. Last night I dreamed both my thesis readers came to me and said: "we need to read your thesis RIGHT NOW" and awoke relieved that I had a solid 50 pages to give them, with specific spots marked that I was working on and writing for. I saw one of my thesis readers last night, on Magazine Street. It was Art for Art's Sake, which is an event where the dozens of art galleries on Magazine street have open houses and each one has free wine and food. I walked up and down Magazine for three hours and lost track of how much wine and how many tiny sandwiches and tiny desserts I ate. My professor was walking into a little gallery near Napoleon and I said hello, asked him how he was enjoying the art. "I just got here," he replied, to which I said: "Well, you better start on the refreshments!"  My mother has raised me to be a charming, hospitable person who is capable of making small talk, and she is a wonderful perfect lady. 

Our favorite exhibit (mine and my boyfriend's) was at a little art school near Jefferson, which I've walked past many times but never entered. One room had 3D paintings--sculptures that hung on the walls and came out from them, unpainted clay that came out from the wall. Many of them were distorted, like photos taken with a wide-angle lens. One had death walking through the streets, second-line style, in a suit with an umbrella. Another had a nude woman standing in front of a mirror: on the other side of the mirror was another sculpture of a woman, standing in the same position, in a room full of 3D objects. I wanted it to be lit from within. The woman was connected to the sculpture only by the slightest connection at her elbow: she hung there, torso suspended in air, held in place only by her reflection. 

Yesterday I wanted ginger ale and so came home and made my own ginger soda: this is very easy. You boil equal parts sugar and water and however much you feel of sliced ginger, then add seltzer water. When I opened the seltzer water it spewed all over my clothes (the first long-sleeved shirt of the season) and I was upset for all of five minutes. When I checked the ingredients on seltzer water it said the following: "CARBONATED WATER." The CO2 diffused and the water evaporated. I took a nap on the square of sunshine on my bed and my shirt dried. Are all my problems so small? 
abigailnicole: (books)
The first lull of the semester? Call it that? After the tests and papers and projects and presentations and I’ve finished my test and read up to chapter six and finished Gravity’s Raibnow again (more on that in a minute) and have thirteen copies of my scene and thirteen copies of an essay and read “Consider the Lobster” and finished my statistics homework and have one whole hour between my classes when I don’t have to work. Tonight I have to write a syllabus, read some. No. I have to take the night off is what I have to do.

Sunday I got stung by a wasp on both my ankles, climbing an observation tower on the levee with B’s professor and Will Sampson. We all got stung. I rode my fixed gear on the ~20 miles we did, up Jeff Davis for work, down through the Quarter, the Marigny, the 9th, out to the Chalmette battlefield to roll eyes at the phallic monument jutting up into the sky. Something happened here. Height will commemorate it.

Last night I woke up at 2:30am, dragging my ankles along the roughness of my sheets to scratch, scratch, scratch, pulling my toenails along my ankles and reaching down with my fingernails, trying not to go too deep but the itch, the maddening 2:30am and pacing around the tile floor in a red sweatshirt with ankles on fire. At work yesterday my right ankle was so swollen I limped home, B went to the library without me. Instead I laid in bed and finished (for the second time) Gravity’s Rainbow.

It has lost no power. The texture of the words across the page becomes a tangible thing, a force. Gravity’s Rainbow is a process, not a book, it is an experience and you, You, YOU are in it, there are Pointsman’s dreams and they are written in second person, you are dreaming of white flowers in the black city of London. You are on a train where people are stealing your bread, where you are screaming state secrets out the window hoping the Schwarzkommando will hear. You are appalled by the absurdity. You are lying in bed under a sheet and your feet are throbbing and itching and you feel your tongue pressing against the inside of your lips with the words.

“There were men called “army chaplains.” They preached inside some of these buildings. There were actually soldiers, dead now, who sat or stood, and listened. Holding onto what they could. Then they went out, and some died before they got back inside a garrison-church again. Clergymen, working for the army, stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation. It really happened. It was quite common.

In one of the streets, in the morning fog, plastered over two slippery cobblestones, is a scrap of newspaper headline, with a wirephoto of a giant white cock, dangling in the sky straight downward out of a white public bush. The letters


appear above with the logo of some occupation newspaper, a grinning glamour girl riding astraddle the cannon of a tank, steel penis with slotted serpent head, 3rd Armored treads ‘n’ triangle on a sweater rippling across her tits. The white image has the same coherence, the hey-lookit-me smugness, as the Cross does. It is not only a sudden white genital onset in the sky—it is also, perhaps, a Tree…” (693-694)

This is, after all, the last time you are inside Slothrop’s head. You leave him there and that is all you see of this man who was your main character, your protagonist, your hero, for so long. “He doesn’t remember sitting on the curb for so long staring at the picture. But he did.” And so did you.

There is a quality inherent in trying to write about a book and analyzing a book that, for me, must fall off. It is what I have come to associate in my mind with the House of Leaves quality: the moment when you stop analyzing the narrative and the narrative starts ensnaring you. When does a story take control of its reader? Gravity’s Rainbow is a book about paranoids. Paranoids. It contains Proverbs for Paranoids, Songs of Paranoids (657), even Katje as an anthropomorphic version of Paranoia herself, “(a grand old dame, a little wacky but pure heart).” With a story that absolutely forces you to believe in Them, to acknowledge the existence and power of a They, you are implicit. The narrative has you. You do not have it. And when you read


Then something happens.

Last week I went with Angie to get her tattoo colored in, drove her to Frenchman street and sat in Electric Ladyland, with the trim all in red and the walls covered with sketches of pinup-girl-style-tattoos, read her bits aloud. The Anubis part, for instance. At the end of July I sat in Erik’s living room, further down Frenchman, and read him the story of Byron the Bulb. Then it was storming and B had left town for weeks and I was feeling at the end of my rope and when I finished the book, that same day, in the living room with the rain and Erik truing his wheel, I was finished. At Electric Ladyland I kept running into these small segments, the flak, the detritus, the shrapnel of plot bits as the Rocket fell. Last night I was lying in bed, holding the book very tightly, stopping to text

“They were taking off clothes, tearing checks out of checkbooks, ripping off pieces of each others’ newspaper, just so they could soak up some of John Dillinger’s blood.” (741)

Blicero: “His future card, the card of what will come, is The World.”


The Heath grows green and magenta in all directions, earth and heather, coming of age—

No. It was spring.” (749)

“ ‘I don’t think that’s a police siren.’ Your guts in a spasm, you reach for the knob of the AM radio. ‘I don’t think—’ ” (757)

It makes perfect sense and I lose coherence. I cannot write a paper on this.

I have been not myself. Who have I been? Braden got his wisdom teeth removed and I made him mashed sweet potatoes and a smoothie, trying to help and failing, feeling my own inadequacy, thinking food I need to make some food and my mind coming up with nothing, standing in the kitchen looking at pots and pans as if meals will just come out of them. That week I lost the battle with entropy, dishes piled up and my shower got pushed back another day, two more days. I am trying to regain control. Today I wore teal, with black and white stripes. On the way to class the trees outside Cudd Hall were losing pink blossoms in the wind. My car sits under one of these trees and becomes littered, here at the end of summer, with pink, decaying flowers. I do not appreciate them; instead I find a lot to complain about. My ankle is swollen, it hurts to walk, I have too much reading to do, I am hungry and I am afraid now of hunger and what it will do to me, I need to call my parents, I need to clean my house, my room, the kitchen, my car, myself, to sew the rip in these pants. “Entropy,” I said on the bike ride, yelling over the wind. “It used to be a god and now it is scientific fact. We are fighting entropy daily,” speaking to Will Sampson, going down the back road near the blue Florida bridge. My neck, shoulders, and arms got sunburned. On the final ride back down Freret street I was just so tired, I went on alone to go home and put my face in the bathroom sink, feel the water running across my cheeks. In class I find my gaze drifting out the windows. I do not really want to listen to my classmates describe their interpretation of PMS and the military, or my teacher say, once again, “Physical Chemsitry was the Organic Chemistry of my day,” even though I like her and she means well. It is hard to worry about paying your electricity bill when you are reading Gravity’s Rainbow.

On page 672:
“Thanatz was really asking: when mortal faces go by, sure, self-consistent and never seeing me, are they real? Are they souls, really? Or only attractive sculpture, the sunlit faces of clouds?

And: ‘How can I love them?’”
abigailnicole: (Default)
Yesterday I finished my new handlebar bag/purse after 10+ hours of sewing. Made it on our bike ride to Winn Dixie with light bulb + 1lb bttr + tin foil, and then Zotz with camera + notebook + wallet + cell phone + ipod (purse essentials) and Mason & Dixon besides (which is quite impressive). It needs some structural support to keep it from sagging and some reinforcement on the D rings but overall I am really pleased and proud.

Have some pictures--

Purses are really detail oriented and this one is no exception. It's got a plastic inside liner sewn into the bottom and a removable one at the back to give it support, as well as one in the flap. The outside is black vinyl and the inside is red cotton canvas, with two pockets on the front inside as well as the pocket for the removable back liner. Front flap has a snap, which is cute on a purse but as a handlebar bag it really needs a strap from the flap to the back to stop it from sagging forward. (I have since this picture trimmed the plastic and pinned it in place.)

You can also attach a strap to the D-rings on the side. They were out of strap material and hooks at Hancock Fabrics so currently I'm using a strap from a different purse. Eventually I'll update to a matching strap of the same fabric. Right now the D rings just have a 3inch strip of fabric sewing them to the purse and I'm really afraid it's not enough support, so will probably update it later.

I've been planning this for a while and looking at various handlebar bags. My favorite was this one from Acorn, but it's still more handlebar bag-ey and not very pursey, so ultimately I just made a purse with two big straps on the back. My directions for sewing a handlebar bag: get a purse that will hold its shape well and has a removable shoulder strap, and sew two big pieces of webbing with velcro on them to the back to go over your handlebars.

This is a purse-replacement that conveniently goes on my handlebars, not a touring bag. It won't hold a U-lock, doesn't have a map pocket or back pockets or any outside pockets. That being said, it is the right size to fit perfectly on my new drop bars and hangs down just enough to fit stuff and not hit a tire, and I am not using a decaleur. It is something I wanted to make and after two long days of work I have made it! It is not quite done yet but it is still a useful & pretty thing I have made with my hands and I am really pleased.

Also you may note my new drop bars (unwrapped), as well as my new pedals and straps, which are from Plan B ($5), MKS Stream Platform Pedals (~$25), and PowerGrips respectively. The dude, who is sweet and nice and amazing, ordered some cloth tape from Rivendell for our handlebars which will come in this week and also be nice for not gripping metal as I've been doing all week. I've been going much slower than usual--last Thursday I got and installed drop bars and took out my back brake, and Friday put on new pedals with foot retention, and this week it's been like learning to ride a bike all over again. One brake! Weird handlebars! My feet are somehow stuck to the pedals! I almost got hit by a taxi (the cyclists' worst enemy) in the French Quarter but other than that it's only been slow fall-overs.

The only problem is that my bike setup now includes an unfortunate amount of toe overlap. Like, a lot, like making a slow left turn (not even a U-turn) makes my feet hit the pedals. This is very frustrating and I have already crashed once because of it. Between pedal strike and toe overlap I can really only ride in a straight line. I guess if I wanted to go back to freewheel I could get rid of the pedal strike but no matter what I am stuck with the toe overlap. Okay bicycle, I get it, you only want to go in straight lines forever.

abigailnicole: (books)

I've read Italo Calvino before--for my creative writing class I had to read If On A Winter's Night A Traveler--which was a bit silly and sort of fun. Invisible Cities is his more famous book, so when someone left it in my living room I took it on vacation with me and read it.

In many ways it reminded me of the 500 Phenomena in the City of Calgary, which I read earlier this summer. The frame story, which I got bored with real quick, was of Marco Polo telling Kubla Khan stories of the different cities in his empire. These parts are full of descriptions which I found really obnoxious, the sort of "maybe we're not really telling each other stories at all but only dreaming that we're in a garden telling stories" and the "maybe we're talking, maybe we're using sign language" ambiguity is only frustrating, not enlightening.

But the stories of the cities themselves are lovely and really fun to read. Each one has some element which is entirely fantastic which is what reminded me of the 500 phenomena style. One of the cities is entirely underground, having earth instead of air, and Calvino says that if you put an ear to the ground you can sometimes hear a door slam. One of the cities is suspended high in the air and all the citizens spend their time looking at the shadow the city casts on the forest, contemplating a world of their absence. And it's charming. Supposedly all these cities somehow reflect Venice? Whatever.

This reads like a book of what would happen if a poet heard of city planning for the first time and decided to try his hand at it. It's charming and the cities' descriptions are just the right touch between mystical and creepy. If you like weird cities, give it a go. Just good luck getting past the Marco Polo frame story.
abigailnicole: (Default)

biiiiiiiiicycles. Here is the History Official between me & my bicycle---

I had a bike. it was a sad chain-superstore-bike my grandparents got me and I rode it around occassionally the first two years of college. when I moved off campus I had to ride it more often and unsurprisingly it got stolen (as it had a terrible lock). I was not super sad about this because I was never very attached to this bicycle. It was red. 

I did not buy a new bicycle right away. I had a bunch of friends in the Tulane Benevolent Societyfor the Propagation of Assorted Tomfoolery and Other Sorts of Peculiar and Otherwise Absurd and Baffling Nonsense (really guys? is that your only website? that and a facebook group? And Phil Schapker is still listed as your contact?), also known as the Juggling Club, who are also in charge of bicycles at Tulane. I don't know why either. They just decided. There is an official Tulane Cycling Club, for people with carbon-fiber bikes and racing uniforms and sporty racing things, and we make fun of them and joke about chasing them around and beating them with our U-locks. I say we. I have staunchly denied being a member of the Juggling Club at every meeting I attend and I still say we. Sigh. 

Anyway, for some reason the Juggling Club runs the bike help desk. TUPD confiscates all bikes left on campus over summer, and they gave them to juggling club, who rented them out. So for $30 I rented a bike for the semester from my friend Phill (now the Tallest Man in Cambodia) and rode around a cruiser, a High Flyer, spray painted this awful shade of green with white stripes (thanks Juggling Club), until I got hit by a car at Thanksgiving. I was thus bicycleless for the rest of the semester. 
At this point in my life I knew three things:
a.) I wanted another bicycle
b.) I wanted it to be sparkly gold. 
To be clear. In March, just after Mardi Gras, I bought another bicycle--the lovely, lovely Torker U-District, from Gerken's Bike Shop on St. Claude. It is a lovely bicycle and I love riding it but it is not gold and sparkly. SOMEDAY, when this one wears out, or I buy an older cruiser with a bad paint job off Craigslist, I will sand it down and take some outdoor vinyl from my mother's graphic design shop and I WILL HAVE A SPARKLY GOLD BIKE. I just need to get this off my chest now. 
the Torker is a great bike but it is not perfect. It has several perfect features, liiiiike--
a flip flop hub. I did not know what this was when I bought the bike. In fact when I bought this bicycle I knew nothing about bicycles! Almost nothing!  I have three friends who are very knowledgeable about bicycles (aforementioned Phil & two others) and a significant other who is slightly more knowledgeable than I. By our powers combined....
New Orleans is a city full of bicycle commuters, and in the parts of it I bicycle through there's a really strong DIY attitude about bikes. I had a weekly standing date at Plan B, for example, the free bicycle clinic that I highly recommend you go to all the time ever just in case your bicycle might ever need anything. (I may write them up later more extensively). This means you learn a lot about bicycles and how to fix them when they are broken pretty quickly. If you can't change your own tube when you get a flat you cannot really survive in this city, much less bike over Jeff Davis. 
So I learned about my flip-flop hub quickly. In short, a flip-flop hub has room for gears on both sides. In my case, I have a 16-tooth single-speed freewheel on one side, which is the typical pedal-and-coast thing, and a 16-tooth fixed gear on the other. 
I am not nearly cool enough to ride fixie and I do anyway. My trackstands are abysmally short-lived. I am working on it. By the end of summer I'll try to get them down. (breaking my ankle kind of stopped all the practicing I was gonna do in june & july.)  My bicycling long-term goal is to ride to the beach, camp overnight, and ride back. 

I love this bicycle but I  am doing some things to it, which I'll tell you more about once I do them. With my first real paycheck of the summer I got myself a back rack and am soon ordering some straps for my pedals (please ride strapped/clipped in on fixies, it is much safer. Do not do what I did and ride around for three months without them), and eventually going from straight to drop bars. Sometime in August. 
and someday. Someday. Someday, I will have a gold bicycle. 
abigailnicole: (Default)

A lot of my blogging has gotten less personal than it used to be. I’ve been keeping a blog since I was thirteen and started exploring the internet, leaving my messy stamp all over it for eight years now. If you see an abigail-nicole on any website, there’s a high chance it’s me. And while I never resist the urge to throw parts of my life out over the internet the parts I share have been getting smaller and smaller.

I’m Nicole. I write fiction. I review books. I sew, and knit, and quilt (once, a performance that has yet to be repeated). I’m 21 years old, 5’9” and 140 lbs, brunette, top-heavy. I really love being an adult. I don’t watch cable television and I don’t often see films in theatres. I peer into microscopes, I bake, I do a little bit of cooking (mostly my significant other does that now, he’s better at it than I). I’m lactose intolerant and love organic chemistry. I bicycle around, usually for fun, but seriously for about eight months now. I’m applying to medical school, I am graduating college, I am living in New Orleans and I am from a small town in Kentucky and I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life.

I like oversharing. Usually I only blog when I’m bored (because writing about yourself is a flattering distraction) or busy (because it’s a form of procrastination), but I’m going to try to do a better job this semester. As a result, expect to read a lot about biochemistry, statistics, Thomas Pynchon, Tulane University, virology & ophthalmology, baking, bicycle commuting, living in New Orleans, and generally being in college. I like talking to other people and hearing about their lives and I use the internet just as often for “tell me about _______” as I do for anything else, so sometimes I will write “tell me about _____” posts as well as photos, fiction, essays, thoughts, general journal entries, etc.

I am online mostly at twitter, tumbr, livejournal, dreamwidth, facebook, google+, ravelry, and last.fm. Feel free to friend me here, and if you see an abigail-nicole lurking around other websites, feel free to pick me up there as well. and always, thank you for everything.
abigailnicole: (books)

after it took me the better part of two months to finish Gravity's Rainbow, I knocked out Freedom in a week and Flatlander in two days. I don't think this has anything to do with how fast I read and everything to do with Thomas Pynchon.

Flatlander suffers from the worst case of SciFi Cover and Back Blurb I've ever seen in a book period. Picking it up on the dude's recommendation, I expected to actioney space adventure with no characterization and typical plots. Most plots are typical. I make a game with myself out of guessing plots. I expected to hate this book.

What I did not expect was a collection of futuristic, scifi, noir detective short stories with plots so tightly woven they are works of art. It is noir and charmingly so. Do not look for complex character emotions or life-changing decisions. Gil Hamilton, our psychically-third-armed hero, is the classic gritty and cynical detective, pushes us into future universe with matter-of-fact exposition smoothly blended into details of the detective story. In my scifi class we talked a lot about how a book introduces you to its futuristic world, and there's a really interesting connection here with how a detective story gives you all the details you need to be able to follow the crime and investigation. They're integrated almost seamlessly; I was watching for the transition and never noticed it.

I am not a huge follower of detective fiction or classic detective plots but I can tell that Niven is, and he does them well. He knows what he's doing and makes sly winks to it in offhand comments by Gil about traditional 'locked-room' murder mysteries (of which there are two in this book) and tricks with mirrors. If I knew anything about classic detective stories and were a fan of them, I would notice these things immediately and they would make me giddy with joy. As it is, I notice them, know I'm supposed to get them, and really just feel appreciation for his mastery of the genre and how to twist the plot itself.

And it's so dorky. In a clever, fantastic way. At one point during "Patchwork Girl" a character mentions the safe word being 'halogens' then goes on to wryly add "then name all of them". "ARM"'s resolution is based entirely on math after a murder is committed inside a time-compression machine. Conversation is plot-driven but fast-paced and pushes the story forward. In a way I'm really surprised that this is a book of short stories--each case is a stand-alone episode, with Gil referring to other events in his own life, but no overarching threads reach throughout the whole book. I'm still surprised that a book of really clever scifi detective stories made its way to mass market paperback.

This book was, after laboring through my last two books, positively a joy to read. It was fun, it was light, it was clever and fast paced and charmingly noir. If you like detective stories or science fiction or are interested in how plots fit together, pick it up.
abigailnicole: (Default)

my roommate's boyfriend lent me Franzen's highly-acclaimed Freedom and everyone but me seemed to be enamoured with it. It has lots of hallmarks of being considered Good Modern Fiction (in Updike-ian style): fully pathetic-and-admirable human characters, a multi-generational family story, a bitter worldview, and a political agenda. Which is all fine except it reminded me why I don't like Good Modern Fiction: I don't watching characters make trainwrecks of their lives in books, I don't like seeing them be pitiful and terrible and writhe in self-pity for pages and pages (oh god, there were points where I stopped and just flipped through), I don't like so much blatant political agenda in my writing. When your narrator is saying that obnoxious people on a train are like the Bush administration in America, I stop caring. I flip ahead. I give up. Writers who insert their political philosophies into the narrative in such a blatant, arrogant, unflinchingly enraged way make me move on. It's not the way to get a point across, Franzen. I understand you hate Bush, but making your writing this heavy-handed is doing nothing to convince me to your point of view. It's annoying me and making me glad I didn't buy your book, and makes me not want to read more.

And there were parts of this I like, despite the Good Modern Fiction part. I'm really glad it had a happy ending: if it hadn't I would have been unsatisfied and disgusted with this book instead of merely annoyed. I'm glad the characters made amends. It would have been really easy to end with things in complete disarray, as a kind of terrible moralizing "well, these characters have behaved awfully throughout the whole book, look at how miserable they end up". But instead the characters have a chance to make amends--and they do. Joey gets his wedding ring back, Patty learns to live on her own, Walter apologizes to his neighbor, Richard writes Walter all the songs he wanted. It saved the book for me. I still have no intention of picking up any of Franzen's other books, but I don't totally regret reading this one.
abigailnicole: (books)

I have very little to say about Gravity's Rainbow about this point in time. In my Pynchon class we're only reading three books and this is one of them, at which point I'm sure I'll have plenty to say. Thomas Pynchon is a man who makes the most sense when you are done rereading the book for the millionth time: that being said, with this first go-round through Gravity's Rainbow all I could really tell you was the sequence of events in the plot. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don't.

Which doesn't keep the prose from being beautiful, as in the
She is the British warm that protects his stooping shoulders, and the wintering sparrow he holds inside his hands. She is his deepest innocence in spaces of bough and hay before wishes were given a separate name to warn that they might not come true, and his lithe Parisian daughter of joy, beneath the eternal mirror, forswearing perfumes, capeskin to the armpits, all that is too easy, for his impoverishment and more worthy love.

You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you’ve found life. I’m no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are “yours” and which are “mine.” It’s past sorting out. We’re both being someone new now, someone incredible…

which is the kind of beautiful, sappy romanticism I can't decide is beautiful (yes) or Pynchon making fun of sappy romantic prose (also maybe a yes). Considering that most love in the book is obsession, torture, sexual, and a power play it is really hard to tell how much Pynchon feels sympathy for Roger Mexico's true love and how much is satire.

There's also a wonderful amount of organic chemistry, that comes together and ties in all the different bits of drugs, sex, rocket navigation control, plastics, and even interpersonal relations. Control: the paranoia is about not being able to be in control of yourself, the organic chemistry passages are about controlling the smallest things to get them to do what we want, the sex scenes are about control, even the blatant passages where characters are struggling with how to control the flight of the 000000 rocket. This book is a hole that gets bigger the more you stick your head into it, and soon I will have my head all the way inside it twice a week.
abigailnicole: (dreams)
So this isn't a book, but it fascinated me enough that I wanted to give it some attention nonetheless. If you are unfamiliar with the internet's habit of making up terrifying monsters and then making terrifying videos about them or /x/ or creepypasta then all you really need to know is that people love to make up ghost stories and put them on the internet and they can be bloody frightening.

Often these stories are not well done and that is part of what makes them frightening: the very fact that they're told as if by someone you knew, unprofessionally and with imperfect grammar and sketchy details, lends them amateur credibility where more professional scary stories often come off sounding fabricated. My encounter with the Marble Hornets' Slenderman videos a few months ago may have made walking through my house at night impossible for a couple of days in that "wow, amateur horror videos on youtube can still be TERRIBLY FRIGHTENING" way. It is really great! If I love anything in literature it is subtlety, and for a monster meme to succeed it has to be creepy in a subtle way, a makes-you-check-your-closet way. It's like there's weird competition built in to this unofficial ghostwriting collective, and whatever monster makes it to the top of the internet's consciousness does so because it's a good one.

Which is all to recount a conversation I was having with Faine, anyway. She will actively seek out scary things while I do not and sends them along to me sometimes: the latest one she sent me was a novella called 200 Phenomena In The City of Calgary.

The concept is that it's almost a how-to manual, and in that sense it reminded me of a video game: each phenomenon, three or four paragraphs long, describes a location or scenario in the city of Calgary. It is written in the second person imperative: you must go to this location, at this time, and give this item to this person and say these words. Usually there is a reward attached (which makes it feel even more video-gamey), such as the gain of some mystical power or object you will need to finish some phenomena, like obtaining the Key or objects you can use to defeat Them. In the end of many sections there is a warning about that particular phenomenon, what will happen or not happen or what you should definitely avoid or must do to leave unharmed, which gives each section a sinister note that sometimes feels forced and sometimes enhances the creepiness of the whole.

The plot (insomuch as there is one) unfolds really slowly which actually I found really satisfying. At first the phenomena seem unconnected, as if someone really is just writing about weird supernatural events in the city of Calgary. Eventually there come to be recurring themes: a TV you find in a hotel room will show you a channel where They are torturing people, and as you keep going you have to learn Their secrets, secrets of torture and mutilation. Themes of torture run very strongly throughout the piece, especially focused around violence with blades. One of the little end-note warnings, for example, is

And you will have to kills subtly and quietly. If you cannot smile and murder while you smile, your days are numbered.

which is the same level of direct warning that you can take as either very subtle or very heavy-handed depending on how you read the tone. Eventually you learn a little about the narrator and other 'acolytes' completing this same quest and series of actions, though you don't really know why. I wish there were some kind of climax at the end, a confrontation with Them, but the last phenomena offers you instead only one possible way to safety.

One of the things Faine and I were talking about is why Calgary? Presumably the author is from Calgary. I said this piece could do with a good copy editor (as we are both copy editors) but really what it does is make me want to write one for New Orleans. I know nothing about Calgary; these hotels, the +15s, the Viscount Bennett Center, etc. could be entirely fictional and I would not know the difference. I know New Orleans well and it has a lot of real places that would be entirely suited to this type of bizarre combination of interactive horror story and place description. The barge at the levee, the pipes that go down into the street, the abandoned churches downtown, hospitals with entire wards that have been walled off and untouched since Katrina, empty skyscrapers, old industrial warehouses that are now in various states of disuse. All of these things are really in New Orleans and would really make for great ghost stories with whatever bits of urban legend and traditional ghost story you want to put in around whatever frame story you like. It would be tons of fun to write and I am only sad it's already been done with a less interesting city.
abigailnicole: (books)

Before I read Snow Crash I had a conversation with my scifi professor about how the best time to read cyberpunk critically is right now, about thirty years after its initial publication, when it's just starting to show its age and all the cool plot elements have fallen out of style. This is especially applicable to Snow Crash because so much of it is based on things being really cool--you know, things like sword-fighting computer hackers and teenage skateboard punks and motorcycle ninjas with atomic bombs in their sidecars.

I mean, there is a plot to Snow Crash and it does rely very heavily on being cool. I've read Stephenson before (The Diamond Age) and so it was natural for me to compare this to The Diamond Age and there was a clear winner. It may have something to do with the levels of hype--multiple people told me The Diamond Age was not as good as Snow Crash and that I couldn't read the best Stephenson first--and I disagree entirely.

The problem with Snow Crash being 90's teenager cool is, of course, that we are no longer teenagers in the 90s (I never was). I do not, at this point, really care all that much about skateboarders and sword-fighting computer hackers or think of them as the epitome of an alternative social class structure which I aspire to. Much of the book is geared to an audience which is only lessening in number. I am not a teenage boy and so I think a lot of this book--which was the interactive cool factor with lots of action and dialogue--was kind of lost on me. I commented that this book would make a good video game, with very set rules and lands and levels and realms. It would be super easy to divide. The battles are already set in the text and planned out. It has a lot of structure (which is not a bad thing, it's very well structured in that regard) and relies on the structure of the world to carry the story along, and it doesn't do a lot of clever things with plot twists or story or character development.

That being said. There is a lot of substance here, and the language/programming connection is clearly what Stephenson is interested in, which is great because it is really interesting! Ancient religions + language modules in the brain + computer programming is still actually a good thing to write a book about! I am interested in these things and the connections you make between them also! I just wish it was more subtly introduced--the 100+ pages of pure exposition of unbroken dialogue between Hiro and the Librarian where they are just lecturing the reader annoyed me. I would love this to be more incorporated into the story and not just dialogue to fill in space between the next fight scene. Because Stephenson has clearly done his research here and knows about language models and Chomsky and how learning a language programs the neural growth of the brain, and connects this into a lot of Sumerian religion stuff (that he could have made up, I have no idea, my ev psych class didn't cover Sumerian religion the way it covered language modules). This is all really educated! I wish it did more in the story than just explaining the motivation for the featureless bad guy!

I did love certain things about Snow Crash, don't get me wrong. I love power couples in literature, first of all, and they are SO HARD to come across. Find me a really good couple who are devoted to each other, not evil, and don't get broken up in the course of a really good book and I will love that small part of it. There was no reason for Raven and Y.T. to get together and I WAS SO HAPPY WHEN THEY DID. The scene when she is on the Raft, spooning out mush to the other faceless slaves and clever and alone and Raven comes in and they just walk out together? Yes please. The resonance hits because the feeling of being faceless and lost in a a sea of strangers with no way out is so closely tied up with loving your rescuer, regardless of who they are. It's a personal resonance but it works for me in a way Hiro and Juanita don't, in a way their relationship seems plot-driven and devoid of chemistry. I wish I felt resonance for Hiro Protaganist (Neal Stephenson, really, you named your two protaganists Hiro Protaganist and Yours Truly? Go home) that I felt for Y.T. because for most of the story Hiro was just there. He was a great sword fighter and hacker. Okay. I'm behind him intellectually but not emotionally. I don't connect to him. This could be, again, me being outside the demographic (of teenage boy), but I wish that connection had been there.

There is also definitely something to be said for the order you read books affecting how you perceive them (another conversation I had with my scifi teacher). Reading Cloud Atlas made me aware of how much I hated Luisa Rey and thrillers in general, which sensitized me to the thriller-ish elements in Snow Crash. It made me realize what I love about literature is the small clever bits, not massive action-movie sequences, that I like the clever stuff not the cool stuff.

Which is why The Diamond Age is better than Snow Crash.

The Diamond Age is all clever stuff. Where the constituent parts of Snow Crash make me go "ehhhh" the constituent pieces of The Diamond Age are ALL MY FAVORITE THINGS. Little girls + fantasy lands + princesses + fairy tales + (interactive!) books + Victorians + ninjas (I like them more than samurai, don't ask me why) + Shanghai + the same interesting ideas about computers and society, plus more interesting about computing power and sex ARE MUCH MORE INTERESTING than punks in LA. The Diamond Age is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story and this make is necessarily more classic and less cool than Snow Crash. It is more heart because it is about a child and the timeline is much longer. Perhaps I am just the intended audience for The Diamond Age and not for Snow Crash (in this case Stephenson wrote one book for me and one for my little brother, which is pretty cool I guess). Whatever the reason, if you are like me and prefer your books warm and clever instead of cool and brainy, choose The Diamond Age over Snow Crash.

Now I am rereading Love In The Time Of Cholera that I read last summer at the beach! Then I think I will be prepared to read Gravity's Rainbow (IF ANYTHING CAN PREPARE YOU) and am excited for it, if not perhaps mentally ready.
abigailnicole: (books)

read quite a bit of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas on the riverwalk in the Quarter one day after work, watching barges go under the bridge. About three sections in I actually flipped through the book (I don't do this usually, for all my love of spoilers. I told yall about how when I read Trainspotting I just opened to the first page and didn't expect it at all and went: "Wow! This is a page! What a page!", so of course I didn't bother reading the Table of Contents? Who does that?!) and realized what the format would be. And man, the format of this book ruined it for me.

Because Cloud Atlas is six little books nestled inside each other, each making vague references to the one that came before it. And the problem with these six books is that they are very different--The Pacific Voyages of Adam Ewing is a British empire travel narrative, Letters from Zedelghem is an early twentieth-century epistle from omg the best narrator ever who is a charming constantly-broke composer, Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery is a mystery-thriller and I hated it, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is weird British slapstick comedy, An Orison of Sonmi-451 is straight-up dystopia, and Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After is oh, I dunno, a future reverting back to primitivism and (to me anyway) the most imaginative part of the book. Maybe I just don't read very many so-far-in-the-future-we've-lost-civilization narratives.

When I say they don't interact.....they really don't. Each section vaguely mentions the one before it: for example, Robert Fobisher finds this half-ripped up journal that is The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing but that's about as far as it gets, one of the Luisa Rey characters has Fobisher's letters, Sonmi-451 watches a movie about Timothy Cavendish. But all of these connections feel artificial. The stories of the individual narratives themselves could be woven together in a much more interlaced way and the heavy-handed references could be taken out. Mitchell tries to connect them in smaller, more subtle ways: all of the main characters have a comet-shaped birthmark, for example, and each of them ruminates about a cloud atlas at some point in time. The cloud atlas is really only successful in Leters from Zedelghem and Luisa Rey immediately following, because Fobisher composes a piece of music that ends up being his life's work called Cloud Atlas Sextet, which Luisa Rey finds in her section. The rest of the time the reference to a cloud atlas is just flowery, meaningless wordplay. It doesn't have to be meaningless, and I wish it interacted with the story more, but it doesn't.

I mean, the language of this book is very pretty. But then sometimes oh god it's not. Letters from Zedelghem is oh man, just delicious to read, full of charming wit and interesting story and everyone loves Fobisher, just so much, because he's great. He is. A charming, talented, gambling, constantly-in-debt, running-from-his-parents, bisexual suicidal composer whose extravagant wordplay feels exactly right in context. But Luisa Rey killed me. I dislike heavy-handed thrillers and I don't think I've ever read a thriller that wasn't heavy handed. Really, when there are sentences like "The scientist's thoughts run from Rufus Sixsmith's death to the fear that his secreted-away copy of the Sixsmith Report might be found, to Napier's warning about confidentiality" (128) I just want to throw up my hands. How do thrillers get around this, this super-clunky and terrible use of language and blatant narrative plot-pushing? A sentence this awkward from the same man who wrote:

Gardener made a bonfire of fallen leaves--just came in from it. The heat on one's face and hands, the sad smoke, the crackling and wheezing fire. Reminds me of the groundsman's hut at Gresham. Anyway, got a gorgeous passage from the fire--percussion for the crackling, alto bassoon for the wood, and a restless flute for the flames. Finished transcribing it this very minute. Air in the chateau clammy like laundry that won't dry. Door-banging drafts down the passageways. Autumn is leaving its mellowness behind for its spiky rotted stage. Don't remember summer even saying good-bye.

I blame the genre.

And I think because of Half-Lives I have this problem with Cloud Atlas: it comes off sounding a bit like it's making fun of genre fiction. Like David Mitchell is going: "That genre? Whatever, I can write that" and then doing so with varying degrees of success. So I feel like if I loved Letters from Zedelghem, it's because I'm the type of reader who loves epistlary 1910 genre fiction, if I loved Sonmi-451 it's because I'm a typical scifi fan, like he as an author is forcing me into being a certain type of reader. Maybe Luisa Rey is a good example of a mystery-thriller and my distaste for the genre just overwhelms it, because Sonmi-451 is a really interesting dystopia...but by the time I got there, I felt like he was just taking all the tropes of the genre and winding them together to make the next part of this book. Which was my problem with those two sections specifically, Half-Lives and An Orison of Sonmi-451. I felt like Mitchell was just taking tropes of those genres and sticking them together in ways that necessarily make a good thriller or a good dystopia. I like the other sections much better because they feel less formulaic, of I am less familiar with the genre of British empire fiction or 1910-epistle or post-apocalyptic primitivist future (I don't even care about Timothy Cavendish's slap-stick British escapades in a nursing home). They were just there. I can see why the melding of these genres into one narrative made critics go crazy for this book, but I personally would rather just read Letters from Zedelhem or An Orison of Sonmi-451. Maybe there is someone who could appreciate this entire book, but it's not me.
abigailnicole: (Default)

April 9th. My first real bike ride to the french quarter with my new bike and we went all the way across the bridge to sit on the levee in the ninth ward. I rode with Braden and Erik and we passed graffiti that said


spray-painted on the side of an old brick building. They ride faster than me and I yelled it at them, reaching my hands forward over my handlebars. At the levee Erik read poetry from The Hour Between Dog and Wolf. On Esplanade we sat outside a convenience store and ate a Hubig's, drank beer and coconut juice, orange soda.
At the river there was one of the wide, lit-up boats with a red paddlewheel, and the music was jazz projected all the way across the Mississippi river water to where we sat on the rocks. I stepped from rock to rock, the wind blowing back my skirt and hair. The wind was warm, like an embrace.
Outside the convenience store two people were riding a tandem bicycle built to look like a banana and an old woman muttered "BYWATER KIDS" as she passed. When the pie was through we walked down to Washington Square. I made Erik hold my beer so I could go play on the swing set. Eventually he drank it. A little girl came to me and told me she was three. "Do you want my swing?" I asked her and she said yes so I gave it to her, hoisted her into that lopsided duct-taped piece of plastic held together with rusty chain, and pushed her. On Frenchman they were filming a movie.
Riding down St. Claude through the eighth ward everything smelled like fried food and that scent of summer. When my tires went over the fine metal mesh of the St. Claude bridge, I could see the water below. The lights began to blink and after we had passed they rose the bridge so a boat could pass through the space where only moments earlier our bicycles were, our bodies were. When I bought whiskey the woman at the counter asked me how I was feeling, smiled, told me to have a nice night. I did. The wind at the levee alternated warm and cold, leaving ripples of goosebumps across my damp, sticky skin. The lights of the business district on the water were beautiful and the riverboat passed slowly by, a blur of light in my camera across all that dark water.
At the bike help desk we'd made a run for free food on the LBC quad, spooning the thick chocolate-chip-flavored-ice-cream into our mouths. I recognized the woman who fed me.
At the levee Erik offered me sips of whiskey, a pint of Jim Beam from a glass bottle. He held still while I photographed him.
I do not know about bicycles but I held parts while Phill worked, wiped bike grease on my green skirt.
In the humidity my hair escaped in small, curly tendrils that cling everfine to the curved skin on my neck.
On the way back down St. Claude we stopped at Hank's, got four pieces of fried catfish, a peach pie, and an orange for four dollars and forty four cents, and ate on the stoop outside. I screamed when a cockroach crawled across my lap and Erik laughed at me. I ate the fish standing up, and it was warm and peppery on the inside of my mouth.
The light slipped behind the horizon.
On the back streets we rode fast, delighting in the feeling of wind across our shoulders.
When we stopped for coffee it was Erik's turn to recognize the woman who fed us. She gave us a cappuccino at a corner cafe in the Marigny and I ate the foam off the top with a spoon. The last time I was at this cafe was with JR, in his blue button-down and mirrored aviators, in the very miserable days when I was still in love. I did not recognize it until I was sitting at the same table, the same chair I was in one year ago. I am not her now.
In the French Quarter at night the sky is never dark, only the deep shade of navy they call "cerulean" in clothing magazines.
At Hank's on St. Claude a man came over to tell us stories about the country club, "bathing suits optional", and asked for a hook of Jim Beam. We gave it to him.
On the walls of the coffee shop the palm fronds looked like the legs of millipedes creeping across the gray siding.
At the levee when I took photographs only the sky is visible, all the rocks a line of blackness spreading diagonally through the frame. "This is the Ninth Ward," Erik said. "These are the levees that failed." Two young boys passed me, both on bicycles.
At the coffee shop we took the table without the umbrella and someone had left four brown cigarettes lying on the mesh-metal table. I put one in my purse, for luck, and Erik smoked one. There were fleur-de-lis spray painted on the trashcans. I skipped lunch and went to work instead.
This morning an anonymous person sent me flowers, to my work, and I engaged all my friends trying to figure out who it could be. I couldn't bike them home and left them, in water, in the bike shed. They were purple and white and wonderful. "Why? Because you're like a parfait: beautiful on many levels and everyone loves you," the typed card said. It was signed "Love," but the name was cut off.
At the river I could see stars, the old moon lying in the new moon's arms. "Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts," I said, eating catfish on the stoop of an abandoned house.
Outside the R-Bar, a man named Josh told me: "My sister's getting married tomorrow."
Women were drunkenly singing on Royal Street: "YOU LOVE US," they shouted. I do.
Three of the boys who have been pursuing me examined the card and the flowers, but none confessed. I received no phone calls or text messages until all the light had gone away.
Biking home the air was cool and Baronne was dark and soft. The wind pulled me back on my bicycle, warm and insistent, as if it were saying SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN. "It's okay, I know, I understand," I shouted to it. We took the cigarettes home, stuffed leftover bread into our mouths. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I am grateful for this day.
abigailnicole: (books)

sometimes I realize that inertia has gotten the better of me--I didn't notice until 1pm today that my hair was still in the ponytail from last night and not until five minutes ago that I've been rain-soaked more recently than I've showered, that the same CD has been on my iPod for the past four days nonstop. I began reading Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany, sitting in the blue chair in my living room and drinking a kettleful of Earl Grey. This book is what I want to talk about.

Usually I hold off writing book reviews until I finish the book and really what I do is not review anyway, I just talk about some things I was thinking about as I read the book. Tonight as I ran my fingers over my scalp absently and held the book against my knees it was something approaching sequestration: I think I need some romantic time alone with this book, so we can really get to know each other without any distractions, undress each other and get a good look at each other, have a serious heart-to-heart, as it were.

Samuel Delany. I've read you before, you know, I read Trouble on Triton and was duly unimpressed by your last-sexist-in-Utopia narrator. I read Left Hand of Darkness too, you know, and was unimpressed by leGuin's constant masculine pronoun, and I'm glad you got that little sideways jab in at her, calling all intelligent citizens "woman". I don't know how I feel about Marq Dyeth yet, I'm only on chapter 3. Lemme first talk about your prologue.

The prologue to Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (what a stupid title) is more of a novel than some entire series I've read. I got done with those sixty pages and stood up, put the kettle back on, made another few cups of tea. I was high-strung and agitated because THIS PROLOGUE. I am the queen of spoilers, I love telling the endings of things and I feel like I can't tell the end of this prologue. It begins with the main character becoming a slave (a rat, in the novel's slang). Eventually he is sold off to be a sex slave to a woman who gives him access to all the knowledge and understanding through access to an illegal, computerized databank of General Information, and this newfound intelligence entirely changes his life. After three days with this woman, the authorities seize them both, cut him off from the General Information, and return him to the corporation he was a slave for because individuals owning slaves is illegal. And then the book starts.

Delany is a master of detail and this book is packed with so much detail. I felt like The Diamond Age (the last comparable scifi novel I read in terms of scope and quality) was packed with details in the typical, overwhelming science-fiction way that is mostly authors just being clever and showing you their worldbuilding thoroughness and not really important to the plot (though Stephenson is brilliant and maybe 40% [which is quite high among scifi] of his worldbuilding is important to the plot [PARENTHETICAL PHRASES YOU'RE WELCOME]). Delany spends pages and pages describing the books he reads while he has access to the General Information, the volumes of poetry and prose and folklore, then later reveals he's only gone through the list of titles of 'feminist' literature for thirty years time. The way this knowledge completely transforms the character is astounding. He interfaces with the GI through a glove on his right hand--even when he's returned to captivity and has lost the intelligence and memories of the things he learned from the General Intelligence, we get secondhand, heartbreaking reports of him standing in the utility closet, wearing one glove and "staring across the sand like they were waiting for something to come over the horizon...he was right there, at the head of them, in his one glove, with this funny expression on his face; if he was a man and not a rat, you would have thought he was going to cry..." (56).

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT. I wanted to call my professor up and just say: "Look, Bellin, what have you done, what have you done, this book, you have put it into my life and do you know what that means? What is this thing you have introduced?" (to which he would respond: "Um, how did you get my number? Look, we should probably just talk about this in class tomorrow.") I went into the kitchen and lamented to my roommates and all the present boyfriends about it. I'm having much the same response to it as I did to The Diamond Age, which is to say covering my face and putting corners of the book in my mouth as if to devour it. An intensely emotional one.

I don't want to write my Shakespeare paper (for all my love of bears in A Winter's Tale), I don't wanna read Songs & Sonnets (for all my gushing, english-major necessary and totally deserved love of John Donne), and I don't wanna read cell biology (for all that I love receptor tyrosine kinases). I don't. I want to sit in this chair and drink more tea and read this entire book and not eat until I'm done, maybe ride my new bicycle to rue de la Course with Erik to slouch in the old rickety tables and drink coffee while the back of my mind goes over and over Helplessness Blues---

--and some of this is just the time of year, SPRING FEVER. it is the time of year when your mind is thinking about other things and forgets to brush its hair or that doing schoolwork is important. It wants to write long personal essays about books (I still haven't written about Drown or The Bigness of the World or The Left Hand of Darkness; they're all for school so I feel justified in not). it is the last day of march, right? the only time I can talk about MARCH MADNESS, being as mad as a march hare & all the tea that goes with it. And right now Samuel Delany's particular brand of sexy, gender-bending, political, crazy ambitious science fiction is what's got my buttons unbuttoned, so let's see how the rest of this homework goes and if I do stay up all night devouring this book in tiny bites to sustain myself.
abigailnicole: (Default)

spent all yesterday and today reading The Diamond Age, first at work then IN A BIKINI BY THE POOL on the first official pool-lounging day of the year. even went swimming, my life is awesome. I've been studiously avoiding my forty pages of cell biology and concentrating on the last two hundred pages of this book instead.

The Diamond Age is one of those books that made me stop eating while I read it because it is delicious. Remember my chocolate-cake/Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell analogy? The same. One and the same. Being excited about how good it is and constantly telling everyone around me as I read how good it is play-by-play. Things that are delightful to read, that are lovely and intricate and well-plotted and well-thought-out and just delicious. I keep putting corners of the book in my mouth. Someone loaned it to me and I feel like I will just surreptitiously not mention it and hope they never ask for it back (or else just scour used book stores until I find a copy). Spill coffee on it, accidentally drop it in the pool. Hide it under my pillow. Pretend like I've lost it. It is a book I would buy because it bears rereading, it's interested in plot and programming in a very complex way that would be rewarded by rereadings.

AND IT IS AWESOME. Neal Stephenson is so much smarter than me I wanna find him and study writing at his feet, apprentice myself out. I love stories about fairy tales, and interactive books, and Victorians, and chemical structure, and ninjas, and clever heroines and it's like this book was tailor-made to be about ALL MY FAVORITE THINGS AND 100% PERFECT IN ALL OF THEM. It made me wish someone would actually do something clever like this for all these fancy reading devices we have now (I wrote an article on this last semester for the paper) and this is exactly what I want done with it. This is a book about clever people doing clever things with technology and it always wants comparisons to whatever we are doing now. I wish I had it when I was sixteen or eighteen. I CANNOT EXPRESS MY LOVE ENOUGH.
abigailnicole: (books)

spent all day reading Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich in bed. It's for class; I'm purposefully avoiding reading the copy of the Diamond Age in my purse until I finish this, Cymbeline, and Drown (Junot Diaz) ie THE HOMEWORK. I'd read one of these stories before--Saint Marie, via Michael Winn, who is taking an American Literature class that apparently reads a lot of Native American literature and consequently passes some of it onto me. Obviously this book is about Native Americans--Chippewa--and does the multi-generational thing that I'm more used to seeing in Latin American literature. I suppose any work that takes place in a culture with huge extended families that live in the same area and interact on a daily basis in a tightly-knit way (ie, not the white suburban lifestyle) will have these same kind of similarities.

What struck me about the end of this book was the forced meetings of lovers and wives, and made me think of other books with that same sense of the inevitability of the lovers and the wives meeting. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez specifically but in a weird way that book I never stop thinking about Howl's Moving Castle, the way in which you must accept someone's past to love them now. The way if you love someone for a very long time you do not, can not, keep secrets from them and so eventually everything comes out. Specifically Love in the Time of Cholera which is the most obvious book about love. This one isn't as pretty, because it's written largely through first-person narrators in dialect and so the narrative voice can't be as fantastic and flowing, but there's still that sense of the kind of hyperbole in characterization. The kind that is hyperbole because it would happen in real life, but is too fantastic for fiction. In Love Medicine, as Love in the Time of Cholera, there's a specific sense of age, of love growing old:

And that's when I saw how much grief and love she felt for him. And it gave me a real shock to the system. You see I thought love got easier over the years so it didn't hurt so bad when it hurt, or feel so good when it felt good. I thought it smoothed out and old people hardly noticed it. I though it curled up and died, I guess. Now I saw it rear up like a whip and a lash.

from "Love Medicine" (229-230), the titular short story.

Here Nector burns his lover's house down after she marries another man. Once he is senile and too old to know her anymore and she is blind from the fire, his wife Marie comes to her house to put drops in her eyes so Lulu (the lover) can see. "There's a pattern of three lines in the wood" (293) the wife says before she puts the drops in the mistress' eyes. Acceptance. It makes me want to seek out the women who have loved the men I have loved, to see what we have to say to each other. There must be something.
abigailnicole: (books)

It's the middle of the semester, the time when I get bored talking critically about themes in books (for example, "performance and role-playing in Trouble On Triton") and instead think about other things related to books. Trouble On Triton is one of those books that is good (well-written, objectively good, that is), probably very classic scifi, futuristic, crazy genderbending, and kept in print by a University press. What all this leads me to think of, of course, is not what Delany wants me to think about (I assume that's genderbending, roles of sex in common perception, and the overall role of the self in the society and just what a role is, anyway) but instead what happens to books when they go away. When books are good but not popular, when they are important but not easy to read, what happens to them? Whey they are good enough to be published but not good enough to succeed?

People don't read a lot. I read a lot and I haven't read very much at all. Books become popular through a combination of luck and good press and then they die. This is what English majors hate thinking about--that someday literature will be dead simply because no one ever thinks about it anymore. The desire to archive things, to save every piece of art ever, is strong in us. We cling to charred Medieval manuscripts, we save every piece of old english poetry we can get our hands on but it is not read. Does beautiful prose still matter once it has stopped being appreciated?

Trouble on Triton is not appreciated. It is difficult to get into, it is a little too smug and clever (especially in the appendices, ugh, stop it). It is so alien that it is difficult to read. But it is a good book, it is a clever story, it is an interesting world that has developed on the moons of Jupiter, Neptune, and Saturn, but it is mostly dead. And when I was reading it I understood how it got that way, how the inaccessible quickly fades from the public minds, and the inevitable decline of this book was forefront in my mind.
abigailnicole: (bad day)
the Valentine's day story I wrote in October in anticipation of the holiday.

Februa )


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March 2013


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