abigailnicole: (Default)

I know I've read three?! books now and not posted about any of them (Earthly Powers, Dhalgren, Fifty Shades of Grey) and now I'm talking about David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Because I'm reading it now and it's ehhh well it's DFW. DFW is a big deal. It's just how it is. That being said I don't have to like him, and in many ways I don't. I appreciate his essays. His fiction also becomes much like reading an essay, in that he's made an art of the self-referential writer-confiding-in-the-reader-about-writing as he goes. Everything is excess, is information, is giving too much and describing more and giving you options and showing you what he's doing. A desparate, self-conscious, writing for approval. His fiction is quite good, actually, and sometimes (oftentimes) I wish it were left to work its magic effect on the reader without his over-analyzing it for us. The best example of this is Adult World (pg 161). Fiction can have these very simple, very descriptive moments like:

She sometimes had bad dreams in which they were driving someplace together and every single other vehicle on the road was an ambulance.

This is what fiction does well: gives you details that are not, in and of themselves, telling the reader what to think, but provide an insight to the character's experience. We have fear, we have the symbol of the car, we have a mode of transportation, the sensation of speed and distance passing by quickly that compresses time, and the distance from the master bedroom to Adult World all laid out as a journey fraught with injury and danger, like the marriage itself.

And then you have this piece of fiction in (I) augmented in (II) with:

1c. Flat narr description of J.'s sudden pallor & inability to hold decaf steady as J. undergoes sddn blndng realization that husband is a Secret Compulsive Masturbator & that insomnia/yen is cover for secret trips to Adult World to purchase/view/masturbate self raw to XXX films & images & that suspicions of hsbnd's ambivalence about 'sexlife together' have in fact been prescient intuitions & that hsbnd has been clearly suffering from inner defecits/psychic pain of which J.'s own self-conscious anxieties have kept her from having any real idea [point of view (1c) all objective, exterior desc only].

Okay, I get it. It's metafiction, and this is what metafiction does. It's no longer about doing good writing, because there is plenty of good writing out there. It's writing about the act of writing good writing. How do you write a scene well? How do you structure a story so the audience sees it the way you want? How does POV, epiphany, character desc, etc, fit into this? If you go by the definition of "good writing doesn't draw attention to itself" you're missing the point. DFW lives [or not? RIP] to draw attention to the act of writing. Maybe he really is [was, RIP] a crazily insecure guy who needs to put those insecurities about writing into writing, and since he was also very smart and did it in a new, novel way, hit that sweet spot in metafiction popular culture where people became interested in this expounding-on-writing-as-you-write phenomenon.

And he's a very god writer. He is. There's no arguing with it. He has the most distinctive voice of any writer popular in the last few years; if you're reading DFW you know it. You spend time looking up words you don't know. You consider the relationship between reader and writer, and between writer and subject, in ways other books don't make you think about. It's important to read DFW.

That being said, oh god, this book. I woke up really content that I had three hours to sit inside listening to rain drip from the eaves, drink Earl Grey, and read from the couch, only pausing to listen to thunder. And I put the book down disgusted, insecure, upset, and feeling claustrophobic. If you read books to escape, to get out of your life, don't, dear god don't read DFW. Unless you want to become insecure, self-obsessed, repressed, and feel worse about humanity. He writes about horrible people--and admittedly the title is Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, maybe other books are better, but from what I've read of them, I get a sinking feeling not--and he writes about them compassionately. He describes shame so it is understandable, so you see it encroaching, describes depression and how easily it slips up on you, describes the selfish, mean, petty emotions of hideous people. I have to admit when I got the interview about rape I became uncomfortable, and when I got to "To know that another human being, these guys, can look at you lying there and in the totally deepest way understand you as a thing...as just a hole to shove a Jack Daniel's bottle in so far it blows out your kidneys--"
I stopped reading.

There are things you can and can't read and this is personal for everyone. I want to read and enjoy DFW, I really do. I think he has important things to say, says them in an interesting way, and has started an entire trend of writing (footnotes, oh god, footnotes) in modern fiction that is worth studying and perhaps even emulating (thought not to the extent it's been emulated). But if I have to read these books at the expense of my own sanity and mental health, I'm not sure it's worth it.
abigailnicole: (Default)

 this weekend, in light of my forthcoming endocrinology test (quick! ask me about the anterior pituitary!), I read Solaris, the infamously trippy, psychological-but-yet-still-hard-scifi novel by Stanislaw Lem. And then I watched the movie (the 2003 George Clooney, as the person who loaned me the book said she liked it better). 

And. There were parts of this book that I really appreciated--and one of them was how CREEPY it was. It's paranoid, and it makes the reader paranoid. You are Kris Kelvin, you're following his every thought throughout this whole ordeal. When he arrives on a space station to find the person who invited him there dead, and one of his colleagues uncommunicative and paranoid, the other locked in his lab, you start to get creeped out. You are just as confused as he is when the planet scans his brain and recreates an immortal simulacra of his dead wife. The fact that Snow and Sartorius are both unavailable--both physically, conversationally, and emotionally--for the entire novel makes it a very isolating one. You, the reader, are Kelvin as he has to try to figure out how to deal with his 'visitor' on his own. There are brief moments that are frightening in their details: the conversation Kelvin has with Snow, only to realize at the end that Snow is holding the hand of someone or something that is hiding in a cabinet the entire time. Creepy also is the fact that their 'visitors' cannot leave them--watching Rheya, not knowing why she did it, rip apart a space station door because she can't see Kelvin is a moment of real power in the narrative. It encases and includes the claustrophobia, the sense of confinement. 

I think I mention these things because these were things I LOVED about the book that the movie completely ignored. 

Solaris is a few things. It is an exercise in claustrophobia, it's a commentary on the nature of space exploration, it's a lot of fake hard science, and it's also a love story. The love story, while integrally a part of it, and for that matter an interesting part--his wife's suicide, the subtle way in which she goes from something he wants to destroy to something he wants to protect--is NOT the entire story (which, if you watch the movie, you will not learn). Of course the movie was going to get it wrong, I know, hollywood loves a love story, and telling bits of the story from her point of view was interesting. But I'm not sure why they left out all the things I mentioned above--you know, the super cool, super creepy stuff that could have made this a really visually interesting and scary movie--in favor of love scenes between two actors with awkward, barely-there chemistry. When Solaris the movie tries to be creepy, it has blood on the floor. There was just so much more to work with in their source material. What you end up with is a love story, randomly set on a space station, with some unnamed and unquestioned force bringing back his suicidal wife. And sure, you get some pre-Inception Inceptioney questions about 'how close is a memory of a person to the person's actual life' (duh, not very), but that's really not what Solaris was about. 

The premise of Solaris the book is that space travel (science fiction space travel, anyway) is about finding a reflection of man. Man goes into the stars looking for something like himself. Whether it be language, bipedalism, warm-bloodedness, M-class planets, single star orbits, a nervous system, a system of communication--whatever life we encounter out there must be like us, right? All the life we know is like us. We have a lot of attributes. Of course something in space will be like us. The 'hard scifi' part of Solaris--and a good third to half the novel is spent explaining this phenomena--is the fact that Solaris is a planet with an unstable orbit around a dual star system. The thing holding the planet in check is a giant, probably-sentient 'ocean' that can do anything.  It's not made of cells. It may be made of atoms or maybe neutrinos (I'm not sure how good Lem is on physics, considering this was a 1961 novel, but he tries real hard). It may be intelligent--it doesn't react the same way to stimuli when stimuli are given, anyway. This laundry-list of the ocean's attributes takes up a vast number of pages in this very short novel, turning it into (if you subtract the characters and just give Kelvin's reading and inner monologue) a scientific review of the Phenomenon of Solaris. It does get tedious. But reading the book you are never to doubt that what this book is really about is the ocean. 

And what is the ocean? Kelvin, by the end, is ready to theorize that it's a very young god; a sly way by Lem of criticizing humans for deifying anything they can't understand. The fundamental, and most interesting part of Solaris, is the question of the other. Other than human. There are still a vast, unaccounted-for number of things that humanity does not (cannot?) understand. And our reaction to the unknown--the human tendency to become small, afraid, mean, and protective when faced with what cannot be understood--is what's being examined in Solaris, just as closely as Kelvin examines the ocean. 
abigailnicole: (Default)

I wish that I had known before I read this book that Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is really creepy. I wish someone had told me: "Hey, this is an entire book written in dream-logic, and it works, but it's really creepy." So there's that.

some things about this book: it is slow. Very slow. Long stretches of time pass where the narrator (Toru Okada) simply sits on his couch, or goes for walks, or sits on a park bench, or sits at cafes. There is a lot of sitting. The most significant sitting happens when--spoiler!--Okada decides to sit, for three days, at the bottom of a well. I mean, there's action, too--the random scene where the main character assaults a random passerby for reminding him of the wife who left him--but overall there's just a lot of nothing happening.

And what you get from it more than anything is atmosphere. You meet other characters and hear their stories, and for the most part the stories of Creta Kano, Lietunant Mamiya, Malta Kano and even May Kasahara are far more interesting than our main character. If I had such a boring main character I'd go insane and throw up and follow someone else and Murakami sticks with him, persistently, stubbornly, clinging to his every move. And sometimes (usually) his monologues go something like

She seemed to have some kind of a clear image in her mind of how I should look. It took her no time to pick out what she bought me. I would have spent more time at a stationer's, picking out a new eraser. But I had to admit that her good taste in clothes was nothing short of astounding. The color and style of every shirt and tie she chose seemingly at random were perfectly coordinated, as if she had selected them after long, careful consideration. nor were the combinations she came up the least bit ordinary. (p380)

which sounds straight like, ugh, bad fanfiction. I do not care how long it takes you to pick out an eraser at the stationer's, why would you tell me this, do I need to know it? Magical woman magically buys you expensive clothes while you sit around doing nothing? Cool. Right. I believe it. NO. I say fanfic because this...this passive main character, who while doing nothing begins to have magical things happen to them, is very fanfic. It's very wishful thinking, and it clashes entirely with my experience of reality and it grates on me, rubs me the wrong way.

In fact, the entire book is best when the main character is not present. Then the simple writing turns from banal to beautiful, as in

This submarine has come up from the bottom of the ocean to kill us all, she thought, but there's nothing strange about that, it could happen anytime. It has nothing to do with the war; it could happen to anyone anywhere. Everybody thinks it's happening because of the war. But that's not true. The war is just one of the things that could happen. (p 398)

which is magical. When the narrator gets out of the way, the book becomes a dark wooden box full of small, delicate, ornate objects. Too bad the narrator is an ugly newspaper stuffed over these objects for most of the book. All the other characters actually tell the interesting parts of their story, while our narrator either can't seem to figure his out or won't tell us what's going on. Is he running a psychic detective agency/prostitution service/spiritual healer? Is he a dream-walker? I mean, we assume that much.

The end of the book--as a warning--is really creepy (especially when you're finishing it at midnight alone in bed). I wish all the people who told me this book was charming (how? what?) would have told me that. The dream sequences, because the book is written in dream-logic, make the most sense and have the most internal consistency, and provide the most poignant atmosphere:

"This place is dangerous. You are an intruder here, and I am the only one on your side. Don't forget that."

"Who are you?" I asked.

The faceless man handed me the flashlight as if passing a baton. "I am the hollow man," he said. Faceless face toward me, he waited in the darkness for me to speak, but I could not find the right words. Eventually, without a sound, he disappeared. He was right in front of me one second, swallowed up by darkness the next. I shone the light in his direction, but only the dull white wall came out of the darkness. (p 575)

It also reads a bit like a detective story--in the way that all these mysteries are presented, you--and the narrator--both feel like soon, there will be a fact handed to you, and that fact will act as a key, and you will be able to Figure This Out. There's even a little explanatory scene at the end, insofar as we get any explanations, but they're all rather vague. I've included excerpts, but if you're afraid of spoilers, don't be, because there is no big reveal to spoil:

I sensed the darkness around me increasing in density, much as the evening tide comes to fullness without a sound. I had to hurry. I didn't have much time left. They might come looking for me here once the lights came back on. I decided to risk putting into words the thoughts that had been slowly forming in my mind.

"This is strictly a product of my own imagination, but I would guess that there was some kind of inherited tendency in the Wataya family bloodline. What kind of tendency I can't be sure, but it was some kind of tendency--something you were afraid of...And your sister, I'm sure, didn't die from food poisoning. No, it was more unusual than that." (p 578)

I'd like to say the rest of the explanation gets more specific, or that this is the explanation for a big plot point of how Toru Okada's sister-in-law died--but it isn't. Those things don't really matter to the plot, as best as I can tell. (It's hard to interpret a book written in dream logic.)

And don't get me wrong: I like dream logic. The sequences when he is dreaming, dreaming of a hotel with endless rooms, labyrinthine hallways--I love those dreams, I have those dreams, and Murakami writes them well. They're creepy and suitably vague, and only in dream logic would sentences like "there is some kind of inherited tendency in the bloodline" be a solid conclusion to draw that explains your problem. The way that time moves slowly in a dream, the way events that happen in separate places, to separate people, or even maybe in separate timelines seem to be connected--all this is beautifully put into place in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and written well. There's just too much stuff in the middle: too much picking up clothes from the cleaners, too much brooding on the couch, too much reading junk mail and opening the fridge. This is how time passes in real life. We really do spend a lot of time waiting in traffic and opening mail and licking envelopes and doing unthinking, meaningless work. But that's not what I want to do when I read a novel, and sitting through the domesticity to get to the eccentricity feels a lot like a bore.

abigailnicole: (Default)
 the end of the year and I've been reading everybody else's year-end best-of lists (in order to figure out what I wanna listen to next) so here are mine:


two thousand, zero hundred, eleven


-Gravity's Rainbow. like, best book of 2011 hands down. also 1974, but it's makin a comeback for real. I heard Swamplandia and The Pale King were good too and maybe someday I'll have time to read them. Also there's a new Discworld book and it's even a Watch book, guys, read this because I can't till after finals.


-I don't remember watching any new movies in 2011 but I'm sure I did and I'm sure they were great. 


-Nine Types of Light, by TV On the Radio. No idea why this CD is getting very little love YES I DO AND IT HAS TO DO WITH MUSIC CRITICS BEING HIPSTERS and it's not ethereal enough for them or something? it's just like a rockin album that made my entire summer better. have No Future Shock and give it a listen 

-Shangri-La by Yacht, also that CD that you rode around and made you wanna bike fast all summer even in 4pm heat. LISTEN TO SOME OF IT

-Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes. I was so excited for this that when the single came out I listened to it on repeat all night 100 times in a row not joking even though I was asleep for some of those

-zach ywz (also on tumblr) made me download the tUnE-YrDzZZ cd and even though she's so super hipster ugh facepaint and feathers and of course you fucking love indian motifs but you make good music and I can appreciate that hipsters gotta emulate something even if that something is good music and cringe-worthy. I feel a little like this about YACHT too like man it's so trendy to hate on Christians and like dancing. I'm so conflicted about the music I like now, guys. anyway listen to this song but immediately switch tabs and don't watch the video because it's super stupid

-not conflicted at all about Young Blood Blues by the New-Orleans-based Hurray for the Riff Raff. 100% all around, winter depression in the best best way 


-omg I finally tried that bacon praline sunday at the Green Goddess because magicsauce and my life wasn't the same before

-we also drank tamarind juice all summer, which is pretty much like ice tea only made from a weird fruit that looks like crap. pics for truth

-braden (my boyfriend, hey he's on tumblr) just made me buckwheat meatloaf for the first time with his cranberry barbecue sauce and that was pretty excellent even though it was not a patch on his hamburgers he made this one time with crazy peanut-butter and egg and jalapeno and bacon and creole mustard and they were nuuuuuts and so delicious 


-hey everybody Plan B, that place I spent my summer, moved. go to their new location at 1024 Elysian Fields.

-I also went to Hanks on St Claude and it was pretty life-changing but it's just a convenience store with catfish that will change your life so it's not like they have a website or anything 




-I said I'd make some mittens so I'l probably knit/post about those over break

-I also said in a moment of pynchon foolishness I'd write a radio play called "Upstate-Downstate Beast" about grocery stores and monsters so let's see how that goes

-I've been wanting to do a noise-based postmodern radio show called bathtub tunes for a while now. six episodes, early morning kinda slot, for drunk/creepy times. I have plans for this and will let you know about them 

-I am still writing an honors thesis about time travel and a house in New Orleans if you are interested in any of these things

-I am also, fingers crossed, all things going well, entering medical school in August, 2012. 

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: (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: (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: (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: (Default)

tonight I came home and read I Love You More Than You Know, a book of essays by Jonathan Ames. It's the kind of book that makes you think about the essays you want to write and the details you want to include. Today I took two tests (I got an 89 on one and 90something on the other) and afterwards felt drained and went to work and drank a coke and talked to David Ewens. He told me my breasts looked nice in this shirt, which is a nice thing to hear after you are tired and cold and have just taken two tests that you felt bested you. Anyway, after all that I came home and read I Love You More Than You Know.

It's funny though I only laughed out loud a few times, mostly at the definitions. I read it in one sitting on the uncomfortable futon. I quite liked the bit on "Our Selves Between Us" even though it was sad, because everyone wants to be missed someday, and I liked "No Contact, Asshole!" because of the second to last paragraph. This reminds me of books of comedic essays which I would always read while on vacation with my family; I think because my mother loves Dave Barry and my grandfather loves Lewis Grizzard. There were more poop jokes in this one.
abigailnicole: (books)

instead of doing my homework, I started reading this book called The End of Mr. Y (by Scarlett Thomas) that I picked up at the french market for $2 because it looked interesting: the edges were stained purple and the back cover promised "a thrilling adventure of love, sex, death and time-travel." If you know anything about me, know that I will always spend $2 on a thrilling adventure of love, sex, death, and time travel.

I started it while I was sitting in my apartment bemoaning the lack of groceries and reading a book. This book is about a girl who is sitting in her apartment with no groceries reading a book. Once I started reading I finished it over a couple of days (days like today, where I should be studying for my two tests for tomorrow, or like yesterday, where I had people over). I really, really wanted to enjoy this book, (as much as I enjoyed Jonathan Strange) and in a large sense I did--the details are good, the main character is interestingly undefined, the questions it asks about consciousness, unconsciousness, religion, and evolution are questions I am interested in, and would very much like to be explored in fiction in a mature way. This was just all right. It is very ambitious and attempts many things, and some are more successful than others.

the love story is weirdly unsuccessful. Her relationship with Patrick, the terrible coworker professor who ends up paying her for dirty sex in a bathroom stall, feels more real than her perfect relationship with Adam. There are lots of interesting reasons for this and I wish they would be explored, which would necessitate giving us more on Ariel's backstory.

I am interested in reading more of Scarlett Thomas's books, to see if her earlier novels (this is her fourth) are more or less polished than this, if she has gotten more intellectually ambitious and authorially lazy or the other way around. Lately the world has been sending me several messages through the forms of cheap good used books I find in various places (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Trainspotting, The End of Mr. Y recently) and I wish this trend would continue for the rest of my life.
abigailnicole: (books)

This morning I woke from a dream where I was a Manhattan office-girl. In the dream I was summoned from my office by a pleading text from Claire and two threatening Scottish brothers. We went to a cafeteria-style diner and Claire wasn't there, but I woke up before I ever found out what they wanted.

It was raining and I laid in bed until one reading Ursula le Guin's The Dispossessed which, as I explained in a letter to Amanda, is overtly, unsubtly political and still good read: I've spent all day finishing it. (I get annoyed and bored with didactic novels that exist to espouse their political philosophy: I skipped the monologues in Atlas Shrugged and was really uninterested in Shevek's struggle between anarchism and "profiteering".) There are a few individual lines I've really enjoyed, this one being not so much about the anarchism/archism divide as the longing for home:

Anarres is all dusty and dry hills. All meager, all dry. And the people aren't beautiful. They have big hands and feet, like me and the waiter there. But not big bellies. They get very dirty, and take baths together, nobody here does that. The towns are very small and dull, they are dreary. No palaces. Life is dull, and hard work. You can't always have what you want, or even what you need, because there isn't enough. You Urrasti have enough. Enough air, enough rain, grass, oceans, food, music, buildings, factories, machines, books, clothes, history. You are rich, you own. We are poor, we lack. You have, we do not have. Everything is beautiful here. Only not the faces. On Anarres nothing is beautiful, nothing but the faces, the men and women. We have nothing but that, nothing but each other. Here you see the jewels, there you see the eyes. And in the eyes you see the splendor of the human spirit. Because our men and women are free--possessing nothing, they are free. And you the possessors are possessed. You are all in jail. Each alone, solitary, with a heap of what he owns. You live in prison, die in prison. It is all I can see in your eyes--the wall, the wall! (228-229)

being one of them, albeit in a really terrible scene. It's the sadness of realizing that your home is smaller and sadder than you remembering it being, while still trying to keep alive the ideas you held dear there. the last bit I like because of the first quote I twittered from the book when I was reading it in bed this morning: "Even from the brother there is no comfort in the bad hour, in the dark at the foot of the wall." Her obsession with possessions constituting that wall is not mine, and I can appreciate it while still not really wanting to get into the anarchism/communism vs profiteering/capitalism of the book.

Chapter ten, the grapes of wrath chapter, was almost painful to read during the really lovely bit about
The days were utterly peaceful, in the autumn sunlight, in the silence of the hills. It was to Shevek a time outside time, beside the flow, unreal, enduring, enchanted. He and Takver sometimes talked very late; other nights they went to bed not long after dark and slept nine hours, ten hours, in the profound, crystalline silence of the mountain night. (324)

But for all that love is not mentioned. He does not tell Takver he loves her, their relationship he does not even think of in terms of love and marriage is a foreign concept to him. In fact, when he speaks of love, it is only in terms of:

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, and that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our own hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give. (300)

Once again how her rhetoric about anarchists vs archists works best on a personal level, understood on the level of the individual. I wanted this book to continue to have the subtlety it did before the end of chapter seven, for Shevek to realize that it is possible to be happy under the State as well as under Odo's rules, for there to be an acknowledgment of the fact that there are different systems of government and none of them are perfect. We do get scenes describing the bad things about Anarres but only when it is like Urras (ie, acting like a government). Shevek is described several times as "libertarian", and I don't see much between "libertarian" and "anarchist" in the context of this book. He calls himself both. Ugh.

I'm harping on the politics so much because it bugs me so much, books which exist to propagandize their system of government irritate me. And this book is so much more! It is interesting and has really good of human struggle (as you can tell from my extensive desires to quote the parts I like). It is superbly structured--look for the stories that run in lines and the stories that run in cycles and how they parallel Shevek's theories, look for the beginning/ending symmetry and even the logical Urras/Anarres chapter sequences. It's a really good book. And the fact that it oversimplifies human nature and human governance as much as it does frustrates me. It makes Shevek's tale easy and gives the reader an easy moral out, it takes the path of least resistance. It is a short book, and if it did what I wanted it to it would be a much longer and more complex book, but I think it would be a better one.
abigailnicole: (books)

I enjoyed Starship Troopers a lot more than, say, my fiction class (this would be weird, right? except my story is up for workshop next). As the only other thing I have read by Heinlein was Stranger In A Strange Land which I ended up stopping because I was so disgusted by Jill's sexist rhetoric. In comparison Starship Troopers is wonderful! It is about a Space Marine (Mobile Infantry) and therefore very few ladies to be objectified and to say terrible things about the uselessness of women. And since it is written in first person the sexism that is present can be written off as a narrator who spends all of his time with men and thus idealizes women instead of Heinlein's actual sexism.

We watched the movie Thursday, a cacophonous movie that turned into a cacophonous party which was a lot of fun and loud explosions. They are not very similar but both are quite enjoyable. I don't know how Johnny Ricco could possibly have a more American jaw and I wish Neil Patrick Harris was in every movie.


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March 2013


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