You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘books’ tag.

It may be Super Bowl Weekend, but this year I’d rather stick my face in a book. I’m weary of hearing about Deflategate and other non-stories, so I’m stacking up my defense with books. Here are the books I intend to tackle this weekend; what’s on your list?

*The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermout
*Consider the Lobster, DFW
*Granta 124: The Travel Issue (summer 2013)
*No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin (I’m about 100 pages in)

Advertisements

The first book I picked up this year is Green Girl, by Kate Zambreno.  This has never happened to me before, but as I read it, it began to seem very familiar to me.  Familiar in the style, mostly, not as much in story.  And then it hit me:  this novel reminds me strongly of my own non-fiction work.

The protagonist of Green Girl, Ruth, is a lost soul.  She is having an identity crisis, sparked by a break-up and a death.  It’s the intensity of this crisis, the harsh internal gaze, the inability to keep up even the most basic of hygienic rituals, the masking of the internal turmoil, that grabbed me.  Maybe this looks so familiar because I know that state so intimately myself:  this is depression at it’s worst.  You get so steeped in it, you can’t see anything else.

Another similarity that struck me:  the use of repetition.  This is a device I use often in my own writing and appreciate when it’s done well.  Here, I think use of repetition serves the novel and the character very well.  Repetition can show how mired a person can become, how stuck in destructive thoughts and habits.  Thoughts can become symbols of illness, foggy, unclear, the brain trying to work out the crisis.  Rumination is said to be the brain’s way of problem solving, trying to work things out.

We see Ruth through her own foggy gaze, speaking about herself in the third person, evaluating herself through the gaze of her lost lover, who is still in the States.  Ruth has run away, literally, from her problems, run to the gray streets of London.  We don’t know much about Ruth, really, aside from her status as ‘green girl’ and her habit of making bad choices.  She seems almost apathetic about her life, another sign of her depressive crisis.  She is ‘dead inside’ or makes the appearance of it, pretends that she is dead, numb.

Then, a life-saving transformation:  a haircut.  It seems trite, trivial, but if you are at the bottom of a crisis, even a simple act such as cutting off all of your hair and changing at least your outward appearance can be a life-saver.  This is temporary, though, and the effects of it wear thin, soon.

There is a sense that Ruth needs ‘saving,’ that all of the green girls need saving.  Ruth is impressionable, a trait which shows strongly in the end.   And as much as I usually hate the endings of novels (this one being no exception), I had to wonder in the end what did I expect to happen to Ruth?  What other ending could there be?

The crisis of identity is a familiar theme, but I like the way Zambreno really lets her character wallow in it, because that’s really the only way to get through it.

Three non-fiction books and one short story collection is not necessarily a great mix.  I think the proportions are a little off, though, in truth, the short story collection reads like actual stories taken directly my childhood.  I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and Lorrie Moore’s collection Self Help reads exactly as the title suggests:  a manual for your childhood and early adulthood.  I love it, painful and uncomfortable as it is.

I just finished reading Alan Cumming’s memoir  Not My Father’s Son.  The title suggests some paternal issues, but it’s so much more than that.  There are many revelations in this book (none of which I will spoil here) and to a sensitive soul such as Alan, they prove difficult to navigate.  Cumming’s journey begins with the TV show “Who do you think you are?” — a show that searches out your roots, your genealogical secrets.  There are dual stories running throughout the book, as well as dual timelines:  the present (2010, during which he is filming the TV show) and chapters of “Then” which flash back to his childhood.  Cumming’s father was a brute of a man, abusive to his family in multiple heartbreaking ways.

What sets this memoir apart, in a spate of celebrity memoirs, is that Cummings is incredibly insightful; he has a strong sense of self. He is articulate without being self serving. Yes, he is emotional, but who wouldn’t be in the midst of the family revelations and drama he weathers? At an early age, Alan decides he will not feel shame about himself; this, to me, is in large part why he stays so strong.

Cummings writes short, descriptive episodes, writing dual stories about the present (which was 2010) and his childhood (only titled Then). There are some delightful photos throughout, and candid revelations. A quick, interesting read.

Two other outstanding books I’ve read recently: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Both incredibly smart, talented writers who put together two brilliant essay collections. (See also what Cheryl Strayed had to say in the New York Times regarding the “golden age for women essayists– why do we need a qualifier?)

Next, a return to fiction.  Can’t decide between Tartt’s A Secret History or Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay.  Any thoughts?

This has been my life the past few weeks. I’m reading two books right now that I highly recommend: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. Non-fiction is my genre of choice for reading and writing, though it can take a toll on me. Though light-hearted at times, both of these books touch on some difficult subjects.
I’ve also been submitting some non-fiction essays and hope to hear back soon. Or I’ll be wailing about rejection. Either way, I’ll report the results here!

Confession: I’ve only watched one single episode of The Bachelor. I don’t watch The Bachelorette either. It could be my relentless cynicism regarding romance. It could be that I’m teaching class on those nights that it graces the screen. Or, it could be that I simply do not care.

I don’t have anything against many of the various ways people look for love or companionship. If it’s arranged, if it’s online, if it’s on-screen — who cares? The means and ways don’t really matter in the end. If it makes you happy and fulfilled and doesn’t harm anyone, then go for it. But at the very least, be honest about your intentions and what you want.

Courtney Robertson fits none of the descriptions on the back cover of her book, “I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends.” She doesn’t come off as a villain, though she labels herself so. No, the words I’d use to describe her (based solely on this book–I never watched the show) would be vapid, shallow, materialistic. Nonchalant. Judgmental.

The purpose of this book seems to be that Robertson wants to show her real, true self. She wants everyone to know that she is not a bitch or man eater. She claims not to even know what the term means.

The problem comes when Robertson gets upset over the paparazzi talking about her sex tapes and drinking, which she is insulted by, while freely admitting to guzzling wine before show tapings and having made sex tapes. She doesn’t like that she is called manipulative, but also thinks she had Ben, the Bachelor, wrapped around her finger. So, while she isn’t a villain in the sense of a really evil person, she is sort of hypocritical.

As I said, I’m not a fan of the show. I’m not interested in back-biting or name calling. Courtney fits into a stereotype of what some folks think of when they think of LA: shallow, name-dropping, boring, money-obsessed.

This book reads like a dish-all tell-all rag. If you don’t watch the show, you’re not likely to get much from reading it. Though there are tips for wanna-be models and contestants for applying to the show.

I have a neighbor who might be going on the show; I’ll make sure to have her read this before she does, as a caveat.

Having just finished the nearly 800 page The Goldfinch, and feeling slight withdrawals from having had to go back to reality, I’m looking for the next great read.  There are stacks of unread books in my apartment; but how do I choose among them?  How do I decide what to read next? 

There are several ways one can break this down.  Genre, fiction or non, length, subject matter.  You could even decide based on where the author is from: Italy, Japan, Ireland, etc.  You could look at eras, such as modern, postmodern, etc.  Genre is another consideration: do you want fantasy, YA, thriller, memoir? Historical romance?  Regional?  Or do you want a classic author: Tolstoy, Dickens, Woolf?  Would poetry or short stories sate you? Graphic novels? 

Currently, I’m trying to decide between 3-4 books.  James Joyce’s Ulysses is still in the mix; I’ve considered trying to read it before Bloomsday, a goal I’ve held each year but never accomplished.  But, since I just finished a rather large novel, I might opt for something shorter, like Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, which I started a while back and never finished.  Then there’s Kafka on the Shore, Orfeo, and Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus.  

Another option:  reading several books at once.  Or flipping a coin.  

It’s a book lover’s existential crisis.  There are at once too many books and also not enough. 

In teaching literature, I often tell my students that literature reflects the times.  Look at the date of publication, I tell them, and consider the events of that time.  This is a barometer of sorts to measure the social atmosphere. 

The third Tiny Book of Tiny Stories was just published by IT Books (an imprint of Harper Collins), and I think illustrates my point. Many of these tiny, two-page stories are clever and tender, but there are sections of the tiny book that leave me wondering about the mental and emotional state of our nation as a whole.  There are stories of dejection and loneliness, and some that have a mood I can’t quite make out.  There is dark and light humor, but a feeling of isolation as well.  

But there is something about art that has the power to rise above the dejection, something that goes beyond our human condition and elevates us just enough.  If we didn’t have books or art or film, it would be so much easier to descend into whatever gloom might await us.  Art and poetry give us something to live for.  Something to work towards.  And in this case, something to work on together. 

I think the collaborative efforts from folks who wouldn’t ever get a chance to work together otherwise make this ongoing project just that much more intriguing and successful. If you’d like to contribute to the Tiny Books or just collaborate with some great artists and writers, go visit http://www.hitrecord.org/.

 

First of all, let me say that I unabashedly loved Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.  Cleverly written, great film.  I also confess that I loved the film version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  It’s tough to write about the tragedy of 9/11 and not delve into cliche, or let the novel become overwrought.  I actually liked the novel, for the most part, right up until the end.  Damn, do I have a problem with endings.  This particular ending is no exception.

Having lost a father at a rather young age myself, I can certainly relate to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  My father didn’t die in a national tragedy, but his death was still a mystery, still painful, still left me with questions.  There are lots of sons without fathers in the novel, and one grandfather without a son.  The women don’t seem to play much more than supporting roles here.  The main issue is the relationships between the fathers and the sons.  This theme takes the attention off of the 9/11 tragedy, which is good.  But you also have the Holocaust in the background, and a grandfather who doesn’t speak.  So the tragedy is everywhere, inescapable.

[Spoiler alert]  The narrator and protagonist, Oskar Schell, has a strong voice.  He’s an interesting kid, full of post 9/11 paranoia and phobias.  But his last act, that of digging up his father’s empty grave, struck me as all wrong.  Why would he do such a thing?  Why would his mother allow him to do it?  I find it implausible.  And just a bit pointless.  Everyone knows the casket is empty, so what is the point?

The last line of the novel is ambiguous;  normally this would delight me.  In this case, not so much.  “We would have been safe” (Foer, 2005). Safe from what?  Who?  Is he referring to the terrorists?  Or the thousands of other ways in which we, as humans, are not ‘safe’?  This notion of safety is not unfamiliar to me; I myself have a dozen or so phobias about being in a safe place.  I think my issue with this ending is that we all have different definitions of what we believe will keep us safe, or what constitutes that feeling of safety.  Certainly this definition has changed since 9/11.  Certainly, we have become a police state due to issues of safety.  Is it just the loss of his father that makes him feel less safe?  When he says “We” is he just referring to his family, or all of us?

I have to say, that although I didn’t like this novel as much, I do appreciate Foer’s style and editing choices.  Choosing multiple narrators and letters and some stream of consciousness works style-wise.  The so-called visual writing (photographs of doorknobs and people falling) is not so appealing; one wonders what the point is of that as well.  Regardless, I love that he pushes the boundaries of style, even if it doesn’t always work.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. New York:  Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.  Print.

In late 2009, in response to a Twitter message, I joined something called Bite-Size Edits.  The idea was that writers would upload stories and other contributors would make editing suggestions, which the writer would then accept or reject.  Hitrecord.org goes just a bit further.

Where Bite-Size Edits was more editing help, hitrecord.org is full-on collaboration– and not just text, but audio/visual files too.  Any kind of art is welcome– drawings, recordings, words.  But, as they warn you when you create an account, anything (including your profile pic, so think carefully!) is up for grabs.  Anything can be edited and re-submitted.  In fact, this is the whole point.

I am lucky enough to be on the list of book reviewers for a major publisher & therefore got a review copy of the latest from the hitrecord collaboration, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories.  It is indeed filled with tiny stories (some only six words) and whimsical illustrations for each.   The Tiny stories are reminiscent of the short-short story or the six-word memoir:  short, concise, and often laced with humor and wit.  Often poetic and sometimes dark, these tiny stories are just plain endearing.  I dare you to read this book and not laugh or nod in happy agreement at some point.

I was worried, as I read through the book, where all the writers & artists were listed?  At the end, there is a list of contributors and their record numbers.  Your records, I found out later, are your contributions.  Intrigued by the list of usernames and record numbers, I looked up hitrecord.org on the web.

After perusing the website for oh, say, 30 seconds, I immediately created an account on hitrecord.org.  As a writer, I have often collaborated with others.  It’s not always been pretty:  in grad school, my memoir class professor hooked me (a self-proclaimed atheist with a very sarcastic tongue) up with a young, religious and straight-as-an-arrow editor to work on a chapbook.  In my memoir, I talk about smoking weed and cursing god.  I don’t think my editor appreciated it.  As a result, the collaboration didn’t work too well.  But this type of collaboration– on the nets, and in a way anonymous– might just work.  It might work out just fine.

Any ‘record’ you post to the site– be it text, audio, visual, or any combination of these– is a record that can be downloaded and edited and changed by any other member.  It’s really freaking exciting to know that someone out there– someone you don’t know– can take something you started and turn it into something else entirely.  Open-source, creative, collaborative.  I love it.

And The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is the result of such collaborations between 83 members.  And they all get to share in the profits:  on the hitrecord.org site, it states explicitly the percentages shared with contributors.  It’s a pretty good deal.  And the book is simply charming.  Really.

Some of my favorite Tiny Stories in the book are the darkly humored ones (the egg who optimistically follows the orange off the kitchen counter)  or the ones that reflect something much deeper about our lives (the person who doesn’t get dressed anymore because they ‘don’t feel like it’).

These are the whimsical, witty, dark and delightful stories that make up our lives. This is the first volume of Tiny Stories, and I hear the 2nd volume is in the works. I can’t wait.

PS:  here’s a link to the Tiny Stories video made by Joseph Gordon-Levitt:  Watch Here.

I felt excitement the first moment I knew that I had been published in a literary journal while an undergrad.  I never knew a moment of regret or worry over it, although it was not the best poem I’d ever written. I was satisfied.

Not so with the publishing of my first e-book.  There was excitement at first, yes, closely followed by fear and anxiety.  I began to wonder if publishing the ‘traditional’ way was a more legitimate way than via e-book.  I began to doubt myself, my work.  I began to panic.  Did I do the right thing?  For myself?

My incipient dream:    to see my book, my pages, my words on bookshelves in bookstores.  On bookshelves in homes all across America, all across Europe.  Is this what writers dream of?  Do dreams have to keep up with technology & the constant flux of change in the world?  Why do we always want things to change or want to keep things from ever changing?

So, the e-book changes things a bit.  No hard-cover, no numbered pages.  No tactile experience; no smell.  No feel.  No weight of a newly pressed hardcover.  Just some words on a screen.

But is reading a text the same regardless of the source?  Do we read text messages, online magazines differently than novels?  It’s all just words, right?  I’m asking these questions because I’m not sure of the answers.

Arguments over the future of publishing aside, I feel like I’ve given birth, and am now in postpartum depression.  Teary, weary, worried.  Wondering how my words are being perceived by others.  How will they see my work?  What will others think of  me and what I’ve birthed?

They’re just some words on a screen, right?

%d bloggers like this: