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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall

So, I’ve been thinking about female separatists recently. It has come up in a variety of ways—cookbooks, magazine interviews, friendly conversation—and I read this book right in the middle of this topic cloud. On the surface, the idea is very compelling, and to Daughters of the North’s main character, known only as Sister, the freedoms she imagines she will find in such a place are too seductive to resist, though we know from the first page of the book that she ultimately does not find what she is looking for.

Daughters of the North is set in a near-future England where a failing government has herded the population into work camps to produce fuel, and regulates all aspects of life. The threat of death or worse pervades the everyday. Sister wants out of the cruel, meaningless grind, and, almost as if daring herself, begins preparations to leave the camp, ditching her husband and “official” status in the process. Using childhood memories and a few squirreled away newspaper articles, Sister crosses the rugged and beautiful Northern English landscape, perfectly evoked by Hall, to Carhullan, a farm commune of women, long separated from the mainstream. I really enjoyed this section of the book because I think it shows perfectly how dehumanizing conditions twist people and how fear can be triumphed.

Though DotN does examine the failings of utopia, what I found more interesting was how Hall plops us inside of Carhullan and describes its inner workings to show both the beauty of an achieved dream and the dangers of idolatry and hatred. The plotting is brisk and you never, with the exception of some painful dialogue, feel thrown out of the story because of the themes or characterization.

I thought this book was excellent SF. Read it now.

2009ians

An inconsistent reviewing year, with many of my favorites left unreviewed.

* Lucinella by Lore Segal
* The Raw Shark Texts By Steven Hall
* The End of the Story by Lydia Davis
* How Far is the Ocean From Here by Amy Shearn
* The Shadow Year by Jefferey Ford
* Ghost Comics edited by Ed Choy Moorman
* Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis
* Mind Over Ship by David Marusek
* Logogryph by Thomas Wharton
* My Brain Hurts: Volume Two by Liz Baillie
* Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall
* Like Son by Felicia Luna Lemus
* The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno
* Low Moon by Jason
* Fugue State: Stories by Brian Evenston, Art by Zak Sally
* How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet
* My Alaskan Summer by Corrine Mucha
* The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns
* She's Such A Geek by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders
* The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla
* Animal Crackers: Stories by Hannah Tinti
* St. Lucy's School for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
* The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
* Jan's Atomic Heart by Simon Roy
* Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
* The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
* The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis
* Capacity by Theo Ellsworth
* Affinity by Sarah Waters
* Pinnocchio by Carlo Collodi
* Haweswater by Sarah Hall
* Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
* My Brain Hurts: Volume One by Liz Baillie
* Waterbaby by Cris Mazza
* The Only Problem by Muriel Spark
* Mc Sweeney's 30
* Labrador by Kathryn Davis
* Awesome by Jack Pendarvis
* Stripburek: comics from the other Europe by various artists
* The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories by Susanna Clarke
* Hell by Kathryn Davis
* Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand
* The Summer of Love by Debbie Drecshler
* The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter
* The Woods by Tana French
* Tales of Woodsman Pete by Lilli Carre
* Kramers 7 by various artists
* The Tent by Margaret Atwood

Monday, December 28, 2009

stuffs

Two great stories from the Escape Artists brood:

Tuscon, butches and myth:
The Petrified Girl
by Katherine Sparrow

AI, cold, revolution: Littleblossom Makes a Deal With the Devil by S. Hutson Blount

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Dinner parties can be trying for all involved, but if you are a jerk to your hostess, you deserve what comes. "Caroline and Evelyn" by Darryl Ayo

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In the mail bag:
- An amazing package from Simon Haußle filled with delightful gifts for B and I. It had a tortured journey from Vienna (twice) because the post office can't tell a European one from an American seven, even when common sense could have solved the whole issue.
- Some sort of tree survey today. Not sure what that's about, but it sounds exciting.
- A passel of holiday picture cards from people with children. Cute!

In the out tray:
A thank you, a letter and this:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The End of the Story by Lydia Davis

Since a bunch of her books arrived at once on the hold shelf at my library, I’ve been on a bit of a Lydia Davis tear. This book is her only novel and it was published in 1995, though the book feels like it could be set in the 1970s.

Like her short stories, The End of the Story is feels very much like an internal monologue happening in an unidentifiable time, cold and fluid. The main character is trying to write a novel about a love affair she had with a man 12 years her junior, a student at the college where she worked. She tells the story in bits, interspersed with ruminations on the relationship and on writing the relationship. It’s difficult to get a firm grip on the narrator, but passages like this one give you some idea, and also make you (me) laugh with recognition: “At first I thought this novel should be like the sort of novel I admire… In that novel, the characters only walk in and out of rooms, look through doorways, arrive at apartments, go up and down stairs, look out windows from inside, look in windows from outside, and make brief remarks to each other that are hard to understand.” At least if you think what kind of books a person likes tells you something about them, as does the narrator.

In fact, she wonders if what and how her former lover read was what drew her him, one of the many possibilities she ponders. The fact that she has to wonder should tell you something about this book. In fact, the relationship seems quite trivial, and the man quite lame, despite all the thinking about it—since this book is really about writing and memory, it almost doesn’t matter. When the narrator reflects on the larger trajectory of her life, it all seems to follow from the obsession with the story she is trying to get out. Davis has a certain cutting way with these passages and they feel very real: “There seemed to be three choices: to give up trying to love anyone, to stop being selfish, or learn how to love a person while continuing to be selfish. I do not think I could mange the first two, but I thought I could learn how to be just unselfish enough to love someone at least part of the time.”

Despite the distance I felt from the characters, I really liked this book. I wanted to slog through the thoughts and be immersed in a struggle I find really intriguing. The end was really well done and effectively pulls you out of the head of the narrator while confirming that that is where you’ve been all along. Cool.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Density by Fall '09 Contest Winner L. Nichols

I first found L. Nichols' work in the great mini Jumbly Junkery #2, picked up on a whim from Rocketship. I really liked her take on the contest's inspiration--the wheezy beard on that guy cracks me up. She says: "I'm an MIT engineer turned illustrator/designer. I live and work in Brooklyn, NY in an old factory building near the water with a dog and two cats to keep me company. Every single day I post something new to dirtbetweenmytoes.com. Generally, this means comics, but on the weekends it's illustrations/drawings."


Click for a larger image!

when the day is long

Two from Strange Horizons:
I have never been a father or been in contact with inscrutable aliens, but I imagine it would be a lot like this. "All the Anne Franks" by Eric Hoel

The always thought-provoking Matthew Cheney on returning to meat-eating. This guy writes like I wish I could.

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How to draw a baby when she is stuck to you from Lauren Weinstein. I am loving her new-mother sketches.

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These Christmas cartoons
from Kate Beaton made me laugh even though this time of year makes me want to gouge out my eyes and yours.


(image via Morbid Anatomy)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

exhale

I will announce the winner of the contest on Monday.
Exciting!

((()))
'

I am going to spend the dregs of my free time today writing thank yous and perhaps a letter or two. Is it perverse that I like writing thank you cards? I remember thinking it was a chore when I was a kid, but now I guess I only tend receive thankables from people I care for, so it is much more fun now.


I also used to think my relations actually talked amongst themselves and would write little notes within my thank yous telling the recipient to "say hi" to my aunt or grandma or whatever. My mom made me rewrite those notes.

((()))


Some little wishes:
To see all the people I miss in the next few weeks.
To be rocked to sleep by the surety on a train on tracks, destination in mind.
To find yoga clothes that do not offend me.
To muster the will to write everyday.
To get more comments from you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

A while back I was doing research on SF/Fantasy/Horror awards and came across The Shadow Year, which won 2008 Shirley Jackson award, the 2009 World Fantasy award, and was nominated for a Locus Fantasy award. It sounded intriguing and as you can tell by my shot of it, it was available at my library.

I read this book in two days, which speaks both to my enjoyment of it and the kind of book it is. Reviews compared this book to Stephen King’s work and I found this to be true in the most enjoyable way. There is a short passage in the book where the older and younger brother and their friends find a nudie magazine, and then sort of freak out, is very real and very King, as is the setting—a small town, a somewhat timeless American past, an amorphous taint spreading over the seasons.

The book concerns two brothers (the middle child is the narrator) and their younger sister, Mary, who is both very strange and also the least interesting character in the book. In fact it is her quirk, streaming math with imaginary friends, which may be at the crux of the strange and awful going-ons in the town. This was the disconnect in the book for me. I am all for a vague menace, it certainly heightens tension and gives a book a more universal spookiness, but here the connection between Mary’s powers (for lack of a better word) and the occurrences her brothers experienced did not feel thought out. Her entire character felt tacked on, and I don’t think it was an engineered blindness of the narrator as an older sibling ignoring the intricacies of a kid sister’s life.

Still, I enjoyed the book as a whole, especially the feeling of being out in the dark nights of the town, running alongside the kids as they stalked what was stalking them. Ford’s treatment of the mother’s alcoholism should be mentioned too. He sets up some great dinner table scenes with the kids and the mom that really showcase a child’s understanding of adult problems.

Some of Ford's other books look good as well and I think that I will check them out when I want a breezy, scary read.

**More**
Large-Hearted Boy's booknotes post about The Shadow Year was worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis

Even as I feel the hot breath of the New York Public Library puffing down my collar, I don’t particularly want to give up the books I have of theirs in my possession. Among these is SJII, a collection of short stories that was first published by McSweeney’s, though I have flimsy Picador edition.

A ton of these stories are short shorts--the titular “Samuel Johnson is Indignant” is one sentence--which makes quoting them hard. I like that many of them are filled with a kind of tired fun, which mirrors my mod these last few months. In “Finances,” a story about worth in love, a man and a woman argue: “If I give all I have and you give all you have, isn’t that a kind of equality? No, he says.” Of course, on paper, a relationship is never worth it; you can almost feel the sigh of the author. Most of these shorties are the thoughts of cold narrators, or statements that feel like they’ve dropped from the lips of slightly nasty characters that seem so bland on the surface, such a as a woman who calls her sister down the stairs because she finds it amusing to watch the sister struggle to move her weight down them. Maybe they have names and genders, perhaps a profession (writers and teachers, mostly), but no features that poke out and stay stuck in the mind.

The two stories that I enjoyed the most, “In A Northern Country” and “The Furnace,” were both longer works with characters that throbbed. When I say I enjoyed them, I guess that I should also say that they were not enjoyable topics and in fact made me feel a little sad. But it is that absorption into a story is what I crave, and both delivered. “In A Northern Country” is about an old man in search of his brother, who sets off to a strange country with a dying language, only to become lost himself. I could feel the cold seeping in through the drafty lodgings the man found and the struggle to keep his memories in line with this unwanted, nightmarish present. “Furnace” is about an adult woman who keeps an unusual correspondence with her increasingly out-of-it father. As he looses his detailed stories of life to his daughter, she struggles to record them and not forget, as he is doing, a task that seems really out of place in her everyday life. I loved the descriptions of the notations he made on newspaper articles sent to his daughter. Without a ton of words, Davis is able to give us a feeling of this man, a really warm touch in a chilly book.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

things, recent

Though I have no love for Woody Allen, this interview with the man who drew his comic strip is really amazing. Stuart Hample has been in comics for a long time and has a long memory. My favorite part might be when he misplaces his glasses in the middle of the episode...

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Is it just me or is the redesign of Journalista! very unsatisfying? I'm not sure that a new unveiling should reveal less information, especially if what is being unveiled is the preeminent blog on the subject. I know that The Comics Journal is still working out putting everything on the web, but come on.

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Right now I am reading a book that I think will be perfect for a friend of mine. Even of she doesn't like the way it is written, the plot, such that it is, touches on something she is working out in her life right now. For my own part, once I got into the rhythm, the book has been an enjoyable way to spend rainy nights and subway rides.

Have you ever had the experience of reading the perfect book for somebody else? Did you suggest it to them? How did it turn out?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Contest Update

I am extending the contest deadline until the 13th of December.

Send in your entries!

Spin me a narrative inspired by this search term gem:
"hard won wisdom being honest true asshole."

As always, any bloggable form is acceptable. Email me your entries.
The winning entry will be published here, and you will win a box of amazing from tryharderland.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Babies are Love

I wanted to take a quick break from writing my (last!!!!!!!!!) paper to let you know about a sale over at my favorite scifantastic publisher, Small Beer Press.

But this is not just holiday fun. For each book that you purchase, at least one dollar will go to the hospital that has been keeping Ursula, the awesome daughter of SBP's Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, alive for the past few months. Yes, keeping her alive and ensuring that she grows up healthy once she is out of the dark and scary preemie woods.

Please read more about Ursula, the hospital, another cool fundraiser in Boston and the sale here.

I definitely getting Interfictions 2.
If you are crazy and don't have Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh you can get the hardcover for $9.95!

Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival or Winter Has Begun

After spendning the afternoon completing some items from B's birthday checklist, we took the dreaded G train to Metropolitan and set out for the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Fest. It is a testament to his love for me that he spent part if his birthday braving the wintry mix to spend a humid half-hour in a church basement with me to look at comics.

Since I wasn't planning on attending, I didn't really know where to look first. I ended up just wandering around in a daze looking for faces of folks I only see at conventions. I ended up having a nice chat with Chuck Forsman and Melissa Mendes and they generously gave me examples of their recent work, including the awesome Wolf by Chuck and a cool wordless comic called Warmth by Melissa. She also gave Bill the perfect birthday-themed comic for a man who never wants to do any "special"on his birthday. When I told them that I was writing a paper concerning the library at CCS, they seemed unsure whether to laugh. Ah, library school, always a hit at parties!

I ran into Robin Enrico, who was just as impressed with the turnout as I was, and looked around for a few more folks that seemed to have split early. Much of the work I looked at had screaming silk screened covers, popping with aggressive colors, which is neat, but I am a gal in need of a little more narrative. Thanks for making me feel old. I didn't end up picking up any books by unknown folks, one of my favorite things to do at conventions, or catch any of the panels; I am going to blame unpreparedness.

I did however get issues 7 & 8 of Jumbly Junkery by L. Nichols. I have the first two issues somewhere and upon flip through it seemed like her work had evolved over the issues I missed. Inside covers much like the ones mentioned above are several short stories, mixing autobio and philosophical ponderings, dashed with a healthy dose of cat shenanigans. Though I dislike cat comics in general, Nichols' work for me. I really enjoyed talking with her and her wife about scifi shows and greatly enjoyed the recommendations she made. I will now give Fringe a spin on hulu when I get the time.

Our time at the church ended on a nice note when we discovered that no one had stolen our umbrellas. I am already looking forward to the next one.

Friday, December 04, 2009

señora moves

Tonight I had the weirdest book swap so far. I hurt my back last night and this morning was greeted with a day of slightly less pain, slightly more range of motion. It took me four hours to clean two rooms. Sweeping involved almost yogic flexibility and I am not even going to tell you about shimmying into my clothes for the evening. I worried over not having enough snacks, since I couldn't cook due to my back. I busted out the good wine and finally sat down to summon my elusive inner hostess. Then, except for one early arrival, no one showed up.

An hour later, a handful of good friends appeared, late as usual, and after a few back-n-forths about books, we ordered some food, chatted about everything and watched one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I removed my shoes, then unzipped my pants. Good times.

But, but, but--

What happened to everybody else?



More freshly-purchased toilet paper for me, I guess.

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Six more days to send me your contest entries. Here are the details again:

Spin me a narrative inspired by this search term gem:
"hard won wisdom being honest true asshole."

As always, any bloggable form is acceptable. Email me your entries.
The winning entry will be published here, and you will win a box of amazing from tryharderland.

DEADLINE: December 10, 2009


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Not only is Saturday the birthday of my favorite person, but two neato art things are happening:

The first Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival:
There will be some European vendors there to check out along with the usual art comics crowd.

Paths Less Traveled is opening at Giant Robot NYC, featuring work by Allison Cole, Julia Rothman, Daria Tessler, and Jing Wei.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Despite appearances, not a Rastafarian dog abuser

To build on my last post:

Between the weed smoke wafting up through the floorboards and the howling dogs in the apartment above, I am having a little distraction problem in my workspace. I usually work at my desk in my book-laden bedroom or at my magazine and mail-strewn table. I sit in one of a few uncomfortable chairs--and they've got to be near a plug because the built-in obsolescence of my laptop's battery is in full effect. On a pretty day I get souped up by the sun, but recently the drear is getting to me. When I am writing, I prefer quiet. Let me tell you, the stimulating powers of avant jazz don't knock the words loose, no matter what some people think. But, if I am doing research or making a spreadsheet or something, it's talky podcasts all the way.

How do you do what you do?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Just checking in to tell you that things will be quiet here until the end of the week. It is the ass-end of the semester and showing it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

likes

I am required to do a lot of listening these days. Sometimes I am a good listener, and other times I am a "good listener."

I've also been trying to disappear a little, perhaps in response to October's frantic socializing. Night before last I finished Nine Ways to Disappear and I think I picked up some tips.

^^^^^^


The Bright Side Project gives away small business art treats everyday for the price of a well-written comment. Much of the stuff is a tad girly-nesty for me, but I am a fan of all the stationery picks.

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A longtime friend and I have recently started a snail mail volley that keeps me excited about opening my mailbox each day. It kind of reminds me of senior year of high school, when most of my friends were already away at college and kept me informed through breathy letters at least once a week. It was wonderful at a time when so much wasn't.

Over at Viva Snail Mail!, paper correspondence is product, muse and news. I wish she would update more.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

whine

Guuuuuuuuuuuys, I feel so craaaaaaaaaappy.
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

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Grease 2, cut for TV, isn't helping.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Logogryph: A Bibliography of Imaginary Books by Thomas Wharton

On a whim I picked up this small, beautiful book from Gaspereau Press at the library. Besides the obvious care that went into making the book, and the idea that this is a book about books unwritten was very appealing to me. I expected something like A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem, which is a book of reviews of books that were never written (I need to reread this), but instead, Wharton’s approach to “imaginary” books explicitly includes imaginary worlds as well.



Malevolent books figure heavily in the collection. From three different stories:
“The novel swallows all that down without thanks and demands more.”
“It jumps and thumps on your bedside table after you’ve turned out the lights…” “Doggedly you read on, but eventually this novel that is not a novel loses you in turn…”
Unfortunately these stories all blur in to one featureless glob of nothing special and the few that contain more than cute turns of phrase get lost in the shuffle.
Stories of readers and societies driven mad by their literary activities are also favorite topics, as are the occasional description of the literary lives of fictional cultures, which I really enjoyed. Wharton is at his best when he allows characters to dominate: the stars of Atlantean literary history, the European monk being seduced in Mexico and the Canadian family poisoned with unfulfilled hopes. The last are the most human in the collection, and when I discovered that they were going to be a reoccurring subject I kept hoping that the next story I read would be about them. In these stories his writing is lush and beautiful, and his masterful setting and characterization appear effortless.

I don’t expect flash fiction to deliver any of the digressive delights that novels can. I do expect the form to take an idea, use powerful language to lodge it in my brain and leave me wanting to fill in the blanks. Instead I got a little bored. The bloodless, repetitive stories with book-as-_____ seem to be there to create a world for the titular mythical beast to saunter through, but instead leave big, blank spaces on the map.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shelley Jackson is reading and answering questions at Pratt at noon on Friday.
You'll be there, I assume.

Here is some of my writing about Jackson's work. The short version--I love her.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Oh and I just wanted to let you know that everyone, previous winners included, are allowed to enter the newest contest.

For more on that...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Look what came in the mail today:



"Hybrid Histories" is a topic I've been thinking about a lot recently so I am excited about this.

While Sunday can be a communication wasteland, opening the box on the first day of the work week is an act of anticipation for me. I wrote a letter to an old friend today and I hope that he gets a nice surprise from it, thought the contents are perhaps not as delightful as the method of delivery.

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I renewed my PO Box for another year. Hint, hint.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Check out my review of Grant Reynolds' Comic Diorama over at the 'studs.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mmmmmetrics

I'd need a spin doctor with super strength to transform these poll results into something significant, but it did provide a nice glimpse into how eight or nine of you respond to what I write.

The fact that 77%, (7/9), of respondents have bought something based on one of my reviews was really cool. See advertisers, tryharderlanders are itching to spend money on your literary goods! Barring the possibility that I have some readers that hate me so much that they buy everything that I pan, this percentage shows me that that you guys trust my opinion--the holy grail for a needy blogger. After this mind-bender of a question fatigue set in for one poll taker, so the other two questions have a smaller pool of answers, but no less interesting results.

Happily, I could rouse 62% (5/8) of you from your filthy futons to visit a comic or book store based on my recommendation. I hope you found what you were looking for. As a person who finds it very difficult to leave the house sometimes I'm glad I can inspire somebody to brave breathing the same air as other humans.

I am a little surprised that so few of respondents, 25% (2/8), have ever checked a book out of the library based on on of my reviews. What's keeping you from the place? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

wide angles, sharp elbows

I think I might be patient enough now to begin enjoying poetry. The question is, where to start? Something like this sounds really good (from goodreads):

Scary, No Scary (Perfect Paperback) by Zachary Schomburg
Kevin Sampsell said: "Schomburg's newest is a whole new weird world full of birds, trees, and ponds. And the water in those ponds seems to be infected with something, because it turning people into half-animals and making the spooky wind sound like a depressing Galaxie 500 song. Another great step into the unique world of Schomburg."

Any suggestions? Do I have to start going to poetry readings?

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Recently I've been browsing the NYPL Digital Gallery for inspiration. I love to look at costume illustration and architectural photography. Are there any digital archives or libraries that you look at?



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Nothing brightens up a foggy day like a contest. So, here's the new one:
Spin me a narrative inspired by this search term gem: "hard won wisdom being honest true asshole."

As always, any bloggable form is acceptable. Email me your entries.
The winning entry will be published here, and you will win a box of amazing from tryharderland.

DEADLINE: December 10, 2009

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Check out my review of Susie Cagle's Nine Gallons over at inkstuds.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

the trials of a yes or no question

While the results of my current poll (see sidebar) are quite interesting, I need a larger pool of data to make the answers mean more. I know I have more than seven regular readers, so if you stop by often and read my reviews, please vote in the poll!

I'm going to leave the pols up a few more days to facilitate more responses.

And, if you have more to say than yes or no, leave a comment on this post.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Tales of Woodsman Pete: With Full Particulars by Lilli Carré


I love Lilli Carré. Before I read Tales I had only seen short work by her and had been entranced by her loopy line work and slightly sad narratives.

Tales provides not only the feel I associate with Carré’s work, but also a deeper look at one character, the jauntily bearded Woodsman Pete, though episodes packed with whistling birds, monologues on companionship and taxidermied animals. Folk heroes Paul Bunyan and Babe also make an extended appearance, perhaps as an example of the kind of relationship Pete could enjoy, if he didn’t seem to want solitude so much.

One of Bunyan stories leads to a tale of lands covered in salt, where the inhabitants use the mountains of white stuff to preserve the things they think are worth it. The trouble is the mountains shift and people begin to lose the things they hoped to retrieve, and instead reach into the salt with only the barest hope to find them, eventually doing a kind of cultural penance for what becomes purposeful loss. Amazing.

I like that Pete, with his skinny legs and giant beard, is not all twinkling eyes and eccentricity. When confronted by other living things, he is dangerous, and all the “holes” in his tales take on an unsettling cast.

Carré uses a few different styles in this book, but the most prevalent (and my favorite) is her usual expressive thin lines with minimal shading. This is not to say that when she juices up pages with inkiness that it doesn’t look good too. Pete’s small details change from episode to episode, but it works as the tone of the stories shift a bit too.

For seven dollars, this book packs quite a bit of fun that you can return to from time to time--especially if you are feeling lonely. Or maybe a little vengeful...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Adam Roberts writes an in-depth review of the exciting-sounding The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany & Austria that manages to be personal, informative and funny all at once, over at Strange Horizons.

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Research, research, research-- that's what I am up to my ears in these days. While I group around for a thesis statement for two papers, the onions burn and the to-read pile towers dangerously over my bed. I am going to avoid even discussing the to-review pile.

Why don't you peruse my 2009 reading list and tell me what you'd like me to review next. Lurkers revealed will take precedence. Now is the time to unveil!


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Today I am going to write the first letter to my grandmother addressed to her nursing home. I have very little to say to her, but I will try to make this missive as sunny as I can muster without gagging. If I had some pictures of myself to send I would, but film... well, you know.

By all accounts she is not adjusting well to the change. Unsurprising, but the fact that she has Alzheimer's makes each day a new experience of waking up in an unfamiliar place. Hopefully she will enjoy my letter each time.

The Great Perhaps: A Novel by Joe Meno

The Great Perhaps is about a family of people that aren’t doing so well not doing so well. At first one thinks that the book is going to focus on the sad sack father, Jonathan Casper, whose head is so far up the ocean’s butt with his obsessive study of the colossal squid that he can’t see that his family needs him. Then we discover that not only is he a giant nerd, but that he also has a terrible epilepsy, now treated, that is triggered by clouds. Straight away, this is not a character that I really like. He has too many “wacky” things in his basket for me to see beyond them, though Meno does try to humanize Jonathan by providing some episodes from his youth and the perspectives of the other characters.

It’s the perspective of so many other characters, interesting at first, which ultimately tears this book apart. Not only does Big Daddy J get a part, but so does his wife, Madeline, their two daughters Amelia and Thisbe as well as his father, Henry. I like Henry’s character the best, despite some quirkiness-tics by the author. He is in a nursing home, becoming increasingly more silent, and planning not only for his escape, but for his legacy—a group of letters explaining telling his story to himself. It was a great conceit, amply fleshed out in passages from Henry’s childhood, time in a German-American internment camp and young manhood. I’ve been digging on older characters recently, but, despite my current interest in seniors, I think I would always have wanted more of Henry.

There is a section of Amelia’s, big sister and high school radical wannabe who thinks that college will save her, that perfectly captures an occasion in many a young woman’s life—the sad blowjob. It is kind of perfect.

After Chapter Five, when everyone has had a chapter, there are sections titled Additional Remarks of a Historical Significance (and further permutations of that title), that tell tales of different ancestors of Jonathan--all male and all defeated. If this book had focused on Jonathan (or one of his antecedents or decedents or a relationship between two of them), these stories might have fit in better, but instead distract from the main narrative and don’t add anything to the characters. That said, the settings in these passages were lush, even if the characters aren’t, and perhaps all of them would have worked in a companion book of related short stories or something.

The strangest thing about this book is that, with some plot differences and characteristic swapping, I felt like I already read it. The Sleeping Father does the multigenerational family drama with a dash of fantasy thing better. TSF also is haunted by clouds, lame dads, religious daughters, angry wives, medical environments and many shades of sex. It was the echoes to Matthew Sharpe’s book that brought me the most pleasure, which is unfortunate but true.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

we shove the holes in the polls

I am looking for some feedback about my readers' behavior. Please check out the three poll questions on the sidebar and let me know how being a tryharderlander has effected your habits.

You have eight days.

If you've got something more than yes or no to say to my questions, please leave a comment here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The update I know that you have been dying for: All of the books contained in my four-tiered shelf have been added into LibraryThing. This does not include the stacks on top of it, the stacks around it and the piles scattered throughout the apartment.

This certainly has been a good way to figure out what I have and what I don't. Why I kept some things and got rid of others is a mystery likely born of moving around and stashing my books places that I am not. The bookswaps I've had since moving to NYC have also contributed to my strange collection.

So far less than half of my books have been cataloged (no comics either), but I plan on continuing and weeding as I go. I hope to sell/swap the stuff I don't want anymore and buy more small press books.

Perhaps I am not facile with the software yet, but I am finding it very difficult to get good suggestions from LT. So, any suggestions besides scanning the lists of books that my friends put on Goodreads?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

3 smells

On my table sits a single-stem of lily that, now that it has opened, sends the fragrance of B.O. throughout my apartment. Perhaps, in the wild, smelling like something rotten would draw exotic pollinators to this dark purple flower. In the apartment, it makes me laugh to get a whiff of something so unexpected as I whirl around trying to get something done.

It was given to me at my birthday party by friends, who actually showed up, unlike the Philly contingent, and who could not know that that smell reminds me of the city I left behind.

It smells bad, but it’s complicated.

***


Speaking of Philadelphia smells, when the wind blows my backyard is filled with the ancient stench of ginkgo trees making babies. That dragged-through-dog-shit smell is shuffling through bright yellow leaves on close streets in the fall, making teenage mistakes and having teenage fun. It is cold noses and smoky scarves and combat boots on pavement. It is empty and full at once and I wish certain people were here to share it with me.

Fun fact: Green or yellow, ginkgo leaves are one of my favorite things.

***


Apple without the blossom means delicious food and cold mornings and unexpected abundance. It means green and read and yellow. It is a joke and a gift. It is another year with you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Let's stop talking about hair and maybe talk a little bit about homework. Not my homework, which is amorphous and mounting, but the homework that high school and college kids hope to finish by googling the title of a book and copy n pasting. This type of thing is one of the uggles one must put up with when putting writing on the internet, but still, when combing my stats, it still annoys me. Actually doing the reading is much more interesting, though I will admit that what qualifies as interesting for me may not correspond with the average teenager.

$$$



Tonight as I cycled home from school, using avenues with bike lanes, I had yet another confrontation with people who just can't bear to be on the sidewalks with all those other people. I believe this inability to view a biker's safety as a higher priority than walking faster than the sidewalk allows is a sort of egomania.

As I was tearing up Eight Avenue, after making my way through the laneless nightmare that is 40th-42nd Sts., I pulled over to the mushroom head emblazoned track and soon encountered a flock of douchebags, khakis pressed and ties flying, in a vee formation spread over my lane. I said to them, "Hey douchebags, nice walking in the bike lane." They waited for me to pass a ways and yelled a rousing, "Fuck you, dyke!"

Class incarnate, they were.

$$$


I got my first graded assignment of grad school back today, an analysis of LibraryThing's cataloging abilities.
I got an A.
Hooray!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

hairdid

I cannot get a haircut without it turning into a 20s bob. No matter how much blowing and scrunching gets done, the next day I still have a little helmet of hair.

Right now I am reading Like Son, a book with a bobbed woman on the cover.

What will people think?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Low Moon by Jason

I was so excited for the release of Jason’s newest book that I dragged my ass down to the Strand to wait in line during his book signing. I was early and chose two books for me and SEC. When I got to the table, all intelligent remarks left me and I just grunted out my name and waited to see what Jason would draw in my book.*

Low Moon is a handsome hardcover of five short stories. Already a bit of disappointment—I want to see Jason attempt a sustained narrative. For the sake of this review, I’ll just have to get over that and focus on the content. “Emily Says Hello” and “&” are further explorations of hardboiled tropes by the author. Both include men that are killing to get closer to a woman, and, despite the dubious morality of the noir world, neither gets more than a distortion of love. Unfortunately as a reader I don’t care either way really because the characters aren’t given enough of a story to create investment.

“You Are Here” and “Proto Film Noir” play with temporal funny business, much like Jason’s longer work I Killed Adolph Hitler. "Proto Film Noir" is a one-note gag about an unkillable husband that is meant to provide comic relief, but just sits there. "You Are Here" uses alien abduction to facilitate a story about finding one’s lost mother too late to stop a familial cycle of broken relationships. The father in the story spends his life building a rocket to go find his bride. I really like Jason’s fat, riveted, spacecraft, but the pathos here did not quite penetrate my hull. Again, he did it better in I Killed Adolph Hitler.

The title story is a western set in a past where chess, not gunslinging, is the true test of masculinity. The main character, the sheriff, is a simple man with a drinking problem and a secret whose like is upended when his last chess challenger gets out of jail and saunters back into town. It’s okay.

Compared to Jason’s longer work, Low Moon feels like a bunch of B-grade material jumbled together to meet a deadline.

* He drew a sheriff wearing a deconstructed pirate hat. Sigh.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Last night I finished my issue of Conjunctions 52: Betwixt the Between: Impossible Realism [there is no permalink as far as I can find]. I wrote about it a little here, and wanted to mention that the remainder of the volume was just as satisfying.

I really enjoyed "Flat Daddy" by Shelley Jackson. She took the words from a 2006 edition of The New York Times and created a story about families, rebellion and the search for free expression. At first the gimmick seems ludicrous with sentences like "cheese has holes and so does this page," but Jackson is able to craft a compelling story within the constraint. I really wish she'd write another novel.

"The Familiars" by Micaela Morrisette is a creepy tale about motherhood, growing up and most sinister, seduction. Her ability to slowly ratchet up the tension in the misty, lonely setting while keeping the story grounded is what makes it so good.

Patrick Crerand's "A Man of Vision" is a really twisted tale of fundraising and ancient beasts. That's all I am going to say, except that this one did not turn out like I thought it would.

There were a handful of duds, but any one of these stories would hold up in less stellar company. I can't wait for the next issue.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

other places, other things

My buddy Goodloe Byron, the cat that designed the cover for Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown, has had an article written about his process over at Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes. In his delightfully self-effacing way, Bryon describes his thoughts about different versions of a cover he made for Matt Stewart's Twittered, and to be published by Soft Skull Press, novel, The French Revolution. If you've ever wanted to know what goes into choosing a cover for a book, this is the article for you.

!!!!!


The new issue of Bookslut has a column by Charlotte Freeman on cookbooks, financial panic style, which of course never end up being entirely about the recipes. She mentions one of my favorite books, M.F.K. Fisher's restrained How to Cook a Wolf and two others by Patience Gray and Elizabeth David that I will have to get my hands on. I find books like these to be very heartening, as they are survivor stories with (mostly) happy endings. Isn't that what we all wish for?

!!!!!


As a child, I thought often about messages sent and messages found, probably as a result of reading many, many mystery novels and living in a neighborhood bereft of civic pride and strewn with all sorts of written trash. Here, Quigley's Cabinet pulls together an excellent list of messages in bottles. I've always dreamt of finding one, maybe washed up on the rocky banks of the Schuykill or in a shark's belly, but I am probably too uptight about the dying oceans to send one now.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

writing about the big ugh

Writing about grief is difficult. For me, not only is there a resurgence of incredibly unpleasant feelings, but the writerly nag of being precise with my language and not repeating myself. For instance, when I have a day like this, I get very specific physical sensations like nausea, pain in my chest and weight on my body along with anger, fear and extreme sadness. I don’t want to say over and over that there is a hole in my heart, though that is the best description, because that would be boring and belongs in a private journal, nor do I want to describe to readers what it is like to want to throw up—they know.

What I do want to do is write openly about grief in a culture that is ashamed of it. I want to help grieving people by showing them that they are not alone, that their feelings of loss are not excessive or insane. I want to help the loved ones of grieving people understand that it just doesn’t go away and how memories haunt objects, places, smells. I want to show how grief affects a depressed person; how I feel a little uncomfortable with the fact that, because of the medical care I’ve received and the hard work I do every day, I feel better than I ever have in my life, despite this sucking wound. I want to talk about how sometimes, (rarely now), grief and depression do a little dance that would have me hanging from the rafters if not for my new-found patience to ride it out. I want to honor my brother and the gifts he gave me by striving to write well and help others that need it.

I want to write my survivor story.

Thank you to all the strangers and friends that have written me over the years to support my writing on this unfun matter. Thanks to all the people who come here to read about books or comics and stick around for all of it. This biggest thank you goes to the people who have lived this with me and who continue to do the hard thing in order to make life easy.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ever had a day where there is shit on the breeze and you can’t get the badness of out your hair? I am having one of those today.

In my dream last night, I was by a large river, swimming in the water with family of friends. Little kids were splashing around, diving for bright fruits and fish in the water. My brother was with me there. He had a flower behind his ear and we were talking about how awful it was that he was dead—that he could only be alive in certain places, but that he would disappear when I needed him, later. All the laters. We also discussed why he had to wear a hairpiece. Wasn’t it crazy that his head was so damaged in the accident that they needed to replace parts of his black brush cut with fuzzy bits of fake?

Ha ha.

Upon waking this dream dialogue was so heartbreaking, so wrenching, that the usual daze of the morning was replaced with a blinding, grinding vision of loss. I’ve been trying to shake it all day but all the days since his death have been subsumed and I am right back there again, living that first day without him, flashed-back to my bloody rebirth into a life I never wanted to live but have to, every day, until I too, die.

Even now, I am still missing, in every sense.

Friday, September 25, 2009

linky loos

Michael "Needs to Blog" Schaub again points us to the good stuff: Ellen Wernecke on The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. TMOP is a book that holds a place in my heart and was the first book by Michael Chabon that I ever read. The cover art was so ubiquitous at used book (and thrift) stores that I used to frequent that just seeing the colorful cursive script sends me back to my late teens. I love it, but I never need to read it again.

aaa


This is a few weeks old, but Robin's interview with Jerry Moriarty over at Inkstuds is super interesting, really funny and just good radio. Moriarty is a treasure trove of comics, art and NYC history and delivers all his stories in such a genuine manner that you just want to take him out for a falafel.

aaa


This story is so, so good in a way--almost equal to the amount of bad that the 90s in Philly served up.

Who cares about books? Let's look at deformed heads!

So, how did you find my blog? Did you Google an author and find one of my reviews? Perhaps you followed a link from another site touting my awesomeness. Maybe you even looked for me after we met somewhere.

Or, maybe, like the people below, you just poured your heart out to the internet and got stuck with me (search terms in bold):

makeminebig.com- Do not send money! It will not work!
in exile, self-imposed- Yes, there are many lessons about creating this condition on tryharder. How to relieve it, not so much.
short excitement stories- The short ones are my favorite.
deformed head- Hmm…
deformed heads- Urr…
deformed heads pic- Just heads, or would you be fine with something else?
deformed head picture- Oh, ok. Deformed heads it is.
pictures of deformed heads- No need to get all fancy and use a phrase; you still won’t find such pictures here. Try Morbid Anatomy.
deformed brain picture- Well, that’s a whole nother thing…
adults with deformed heads pictures- I think pictures of children with deformed heads would be much cuter. No? Ok.
i think my head is deformed- You think? Be decisive.
i have a deformed head- That’s better.
i was born with deformed head, can i find love?- You are obviously not the only one. That’s something at least!
take deformed pictures- Here’s a thought: how about you take a normal picture of a deformed head? Lots of folks are looking for those.
how to surprise a gal- Maybe with a pic of a deformed head? They are very popular right now.
child bottoms voyeur- This is why Germans have a bad reputation.
shaved from head to toe- This is why New Zealanders should.
school quotes to make you work harder or try harder- How about “We don't pay anything, but you'll get a byline!”
how do i get my child to try harder- See above.
pray on my ass- hott.
what are in a nerds vocabulary?- Start with subject/verb agreement and go from there.
stories of strip tease contest- Those types of stories are full of drama.
frankenhooker where is my- … Garter belt? Chainsaw? Face?
how to try harder to make love better- I’m not sure that Googling is the best first step for this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

When I read the discussion over at Citizen Beta, I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of How the Dead Dream. I am used to Millet being funny and exact, her stories steeped in the research behind them and the book they were describing seemed much more vague and traditional.

Instead of presidential obsessions and ghost physicists, Millet looks into the life of a money-obsessed boy named T. who turns into a calculating man with few attachments, the kind of guy who thinks things like this: “The market made a fool of you by giving you what you wanted. But this did not make him resent I; it merely earned his respect. From the day you were born you were called upon to discern what to choose.” I don’t read many books with unlikable protagonists so I was interested to see how T. and I would get along.

Of course, this being a novel, things have to change. T.’s emotional stillness is shaken up by increasingly uncomfortable events, culminating in a desperate bid for peace in a wild and dangerous landscape where money means nothing. The problem with this book is that I could anticipate every dip in T.’s fortune and even the means of each; it was boring to have guessed right every time. Millet seemed to want to give T. some depth and humanity with these turns in his fate and his subsequent actions, but it didn’t really work for me.

Millet’s writing kept me reading once I gave up on anything unusual happening with the book, but by the last section I just wanted to move on.

Monday, September 21, 2009

cannibalizing the listserv

The original content portion of tryharder has been meager recently. This will likely continue until I get some reviewing and school obligations out of the way. Of course, whenever I make a statement like this I end up unaccountably belching out reviews...

^^^


Save the Words is a site for hopeless wordlovers and fans of the obscure and Samuel Johnson groupies. Use it well, my friends.

^^^

Diorama-rama!
The New York Times reports on books in the wild:
"It’s Only Natural, This Thing for Books"

If my books were free to exist in another habitat I think many of them would choose subway platforms and laundromats.

^^^


I wanted to catalog a collection of mine that could actually be finished during a sitcom, so I chose our cookbooks:

The books that are mine and both of ours are tagged in two collections, B's books are tagged in one collection. When I search my entire holdings, everything comes up. I think it works.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I've been inspired by a recent school assignment to put my library, even in its diminished state, onto LibraryThing for cataloging purposes. I'm not sure if I have to make it public; if I don't, I might just keep it to myself for awhile.

Does anybody use it for your own library? For your work's library? For your group's library? Let me know!

Edited to Add:
Damn, this is addicting. I've only done 35 books so far and I could stay up all night...

Monday, September 14, 2009

There are no words for this.

From the Philadelphia Free Library's website:
"All Free Library of Philadelphia Branch, Regional and Central Libraries Closed Effective Close of Business October 2, 2009."

The Inquirer covers it here.

Scare tactic or not, I grieve for my hometown.

In fact, I am so disgusted and dumbfounded I can't even write a proper eulogy.

Edited to add:
Here's how the FLP suggests that you help.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Today is Fall


The first toad lily of the season. Pretty, but, a harbinger of cold weather.



A letter to a friend. You should write one too.



Making barley iced tea. Delicious.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"I'll be the mommy superhero and you'll be the daddy superhero"

I'm glad that that 3 year-old picked up on my daddy superhero vibe. Next time we'll not only save B and the baby, but the world!

&&&&&&&&


Check out this great blog, The Deal With Disability, by Eva, a woman with cerebral palsy. She can't talk, is in a wheelchair and rocks a short haircut that seems to be very confusing to the people she meets. Her very presence seems to be so confusing, in fact, that people act like assholes to her all the time. So, to set them (and us) straight, she has strapped a video camera to her chair and presented videos of her daily interactions, with commentary.

While it may hurt to see yourself reflected in some of the targets of her camera, Eva's writing is really funny and her blog provides many teachable moments.

&&&&&&&&




Quigley's Cabinet would have earned a place on the sidebar with just this entry on photographs, discovered in an estate sale, of vegetables taken by a proud English gardener of the fruits and vegetables he raised. But, she also blogs about giant insects, Cronenberg-movie inspirations, and dolphin-abusing eccentrics.

Monday, September 07, 2009



I am experiencing information overload. I have a few hours to finalize some research for a presentation on Tuesday and my brain is just stuck. My picker seems to be broken and I am having a hard time choosing what to include and how to structure the presentation. This is not a huge assignment, but as the hours count down, I am having the familiar feeling of wanting to think about other things while these notes hang like cinderblocks from my brain’s legs. It feels like now would be the perfect time to do so many other things, in fact almost anything else, a dangerous thought on such a beautiful fall evening.

The seduction of that “anything else” has been a traditional skidmark in my skivvies; I often choose moments—baking pumpkin bread as the sun goes down, reading a book under the fan, the complete satisfaction of taking a nap with the radio on—instead of the larger goal, such as making money or passing that class. These choices have left me with many forgettable moments of reprieve, but very few blocks with which to build my life. As I get older this has become increasingly unacceptable, but still, here I am typing this instead of that.

Wish me focus, kids.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I just put a bunch of these onto a list in my nypl account to order later. Old stories, the way it was, the same old shit on a different day thing isn't doing it for me right now.

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV


Eleanor Davis just announced a new kids' adventure comic called The Secret Science Alliance. The art is great; check out the hideout. Don't you want to live there?

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV


I just finished a letter to an old friend. Sitting here looking at the stack of mail going out today I was reminded of a time, about eight or so years ago, when another old friend let me look through an archive of letters I had sent him. I expected to be reminded of stuff I had forgotten in the ensuing years, some small bits of gossip or observation that I could enjoy again, and perhaps I could see if my writing had developed at all in the intervening time.

Every letter was the same. The same turns of phrase, the same to-do lists, the same complaints were in each envelope--spanning roughly 2 years of writing. At first it was eerie, then very sad. It was the perfect metaphor for those years of inertia and a stern warning about lost time.

These days my letters are a bit more lively, I hope. There is certainly a lot going on. On a good day I can work some of it out on the page before my hands cramp up into claws. And, if I ever get to see another archive of my letters, years from now when the garden is overgrown and the bookshelves permanent, I'll know how I got to that glorious future.

Now, I've got some reading to do.

ADDENDUM!!!
Right after posting this, I went to the mailbox and found the perfect letter about letter-writing from my maple leaf lady friend. I can't wait to write back.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My first day of classes was today.








Hooray!

Monday, August 31, 2009


Here is a terrible picture of a beautiful print by Eleanor Davis that I just got back from the framing place.

Davis and her husband, Drew Weing, are two of the best cartoonists working today. You can find her work all over, but I am hoping for more minis soon.

The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns

I picked up this book at Housing Works a few months ago during one of their epic sales. It was attractive not only for its publisher, NYRB, but because of the introduction by Kathryn Davis, a writer that I love and whose work I’ve plowed through in the past two years.

Though the introduction is a bit too straightforward and quotes too heavily from Comyn’s own introduction, I’m glad to have read it because Davis uses the perfect word to describe the voice of the book’s main character, Alice: spellbound. Thought the prose is not as eerie as the book’s copy would have you think, especially not for a reader of magic realism or science fiction or new wave fabulism or or or, the voice used feels barely connected to earth and though Alice is quite observational and insightful, her thoughts seem to brush daintily on the grotesqueries of her life and not leave a mark: “It was after breakfast, and I went into the dining-room to clear away the remains of Father’s kippers. The sun came slanting in through the window an touched the mantelpiece, where the monkey’s skull used to lie.”

The story has the structure of a fairy tale with its dead mother and evil stepmother, unpleasant chores and threatening monsters, its hints at uncertain parentage and ladies locked away. But still, there are dogs to be walked, friends to visit and cooking to do and Comyns strikes a good balance between the fantastic and the mundane, moving the story along with believable actions by believable characters. Alice seems like a real young woman, but living in a time long before the 1959 publication, giving the story an otherworldly setting for a modern reader.

My favorite thing about The Vet’s Daughter is the sense of place that Comyns seems to effortlessly set in each phase of the book. Dreamlike, the story leads you through the rooms that Alice inhabits and hint strongly of the characters within. Her father’s house changes from oppressive and horrible while he is there, to curious and comfortable when he is not. Her protector’s house if full of Christmas novelties and cheery but cheap things, but ultimately proves unable to contain Alice’s strangeness. IN a place that is a refuge for Alice, the steel skeleton of the house hints at the sad and strange history of the inhabitants. The detail of Alice’s steps ringing out as she goes down the stairs in that house is mentioned off the cuff, but hints at the hard-to-keep secrets that live there.

I also enjoyed all the natural details Comyns uses. Naming the woodlouse and the cricket, feeling the sun, or lack of it, in every setting and hearing the cries of a deranged parrot or the scratching of a Cochin hen through Alice give her a connection to the earth that is never explicit but contrasts greatly with that of her looming, uncaring and violent veterinarian father. It’s a subtle touch and I really appreciated it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I am a woman in a man's world. There is no denying that fact. Among other things, I love comics, literature, horror movies, comedy and, well, the company of men. Sometimes these things don't mix; I have often been treated to "jokes" about women that barely hide condescension, or worse, bitterness, taunted with sexist sayings just to watch my anger rise (as if nothing like that has ever affected my life or hurt me, as if my suffering is a laff riot), or, treated like a magic gift from Roddenberry for liking cool/nerdy stuff, but only until my serious interest raises serious conversation about sexism in our shared spheres.

When one of these discussions does get off the ground before being dismissed as unfun (god forbid!) it usually devolves into me arguing that sexism exists and is pervasive, somehow completely avoiding exploring the uncomfortable topic until I peter out, exhausted from asserting my reality to uninterested folks.

And all this from friends and peers. That doesn't seem right, now does it?

So, all you fine gentlemen, take a read of this great essay and before you react, really think on it. Then, next time you want to play devil's advocate with the facts of someone's life, hopefully you'll think better of it.

PS- Don't read the comments on the original article. They will make you want to burn out your eyes.

Edited to add:
Here is another response by Chesney at Ditty Meow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stuff: Library Edition

RIGHT TO THE CITY FILM SERIES
Historical Memory: The Library in 1956, followed by a discussion with members of Radical Reference
"Toute la mémoire du monde" (All the
Memory of the World) | Dir. Alain Resnais |1956 | short documentary on
France's Bibliothèque nationale
"Storm Center" | Dir. Daniel Taradash | 1956
| McCarthyism, red-baiting, and censorship in an American library,
starring my favorite bug-eyed star, Bette Davis
Sliding scale: $6/$10/$15
Tuesday, August 25, 7:30 pm
Brecht Forum - 451 West St (between Bank and Bethune Sts), Co-sponsored by Red Channel


??????


I have so many fines owed to the NYPL, despite the fact that I could have renewed the three books I recently got online. In fact, I did renew them, just later than I should have. Despite the double-digits due, it was totally worth it. Now, can someone loan me twenty bucks?


??????


The orientation for my program is on Wednesday and I start classes in a week. I've been spending much of my time applying for internships, collecting notebooks from far corners and perfecting the vision of what I want to get out of this program. As someone with a lackluster academic background, this program is a double-challenge to me. As an adult, I feel much more prepared to dive in and give over to the lure of learning. It certainly helps to be healthier and happier. Thanks to everyone that has helped me from the discussion phase to the now; you don't know how much I owe you.

What are you tryharderlanders uo to this Fall?

Friday, August 21, 2009

things, many things

Eroyn Franklin won the Xeric in 2009. Her work is intricate and fun, and her auto-bio Xeric book, called Another Glorious Day At The Nothing Factory, is arted with cut paper. I also do cut paper work and love to see how others slash n' paste. Her bio contains this perfect line: "Eroyn is generally a very happy person, but there are deep chasms in places where chasms shouldn’t be," which is exactly, exactly the thing.
#####


In case you needed more prodding to give up some cash: YA and science fiction criticism author Justine Larbalestier on why she loves Strange Horizons and why you should donate to their fund drive.

#####


Did you know that there is a museum dedicated to letters and manuscripts in Paris? Now you do! Thanks Letter Writers Alliance!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

She’s Such a Geek! edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders

I picked this up because I like the editors’ work on io9. Here they’ve collected essays on loving stereotypically geeky (and male) interests like math, science and internetery. I love essays, so I was hoping for some passionate writing about the subjects to which, years after education in them was easily available to me, I finally see the allure.

The book is divided into six chapters: growing up nerd, high tech, in the lab, geek, interrupted, games and superheroes. Essentially, all the stories belong in “geek, interrupted” first and foremost. All these women’s stories of loving whatever nerdy thing they love involve interference by sexism in its various guises: parental expectations, harassment, rejection by peers and lovers, casual put-downs, academic glass ceilings and self-confidence issues. The best ones, like Newitz’s “…When Diana Prince Takes Off Her Glasses” and Wendy Seltzer’s “The Overloaded Activist,” take a firm idea and see it through with a mix of analysis an anecdote. The majority, however, are linear biographies without much craft. Many focus on the trouble of getting a lover who understands and respects a brainy lady, and the inclusion of so many of this type of story was both a sad statement on the romantic mores of our times and frankly a little boring. They pile up and bog down the interesting bits of scientific description scattered throughout the collection. As a non-science type, I wanted to hear what they actually do and why it is so different from, say, being a lawyer.

The excellent introduction by the editors set my expectations high. The rest of the book left me to wish that they had exercised their whittling skills and cut the bloat by presenting essays that worked--not only as individual stories but that fit together into a larger picture of the wonderful women of science.

Addendum: When I say this title in my head, I hear it to the beat of the Go Go's We Got the Beat. Say it with me now: She’s Such a Geek! She’s Such A Geek! She’s Such a Geek! This is more annoying than charming. This is my own problem, but a problem nonetheless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla

When I ordered this book from the library I expected a novel. What in the buzz I heard about The Withdrawal Method led me to believe this, I am not sure, but obviously I wasn’t reading too closely. I also forgot that this book of 13 short stories was published by Soft Skull Press (no longer of New York, sadly, but with the same crappy website). These two things weren’t the only surprises.

The first story, “The Slough” is a two-part affair with a character named Pasha struggling through a changing relationship. Oh no, I thought: young author, same name character, relationship story equals boredom with possible disgust. However, the author’s quietly assured descriptions, like the inhabitants of a park on a gloomy day being “ambitious folks… young couples pushing strollers or middle-aged women being dragged around by dogs,” and “improbable bed-sand” littering former lovers’ beds. This story also takes on the irreality of the illness of a loved one; the first half is a surreal telling of a girlfriend shedding her skin, the second is about a girlfriend in the hospital, dying from metastasized skin cancer.

I am glad I persevered because The Withdrawal Method contains some amazing stories. In “Pushing Oceans in and Pulling Oceans Out,” a young girl with burgeoning OCD and a handicapped brother struggles with the desire to control, and turns an Easter egg hunt into something a desperate scream of a test. Malla writes in first person here and it he gets the tone--tentative yet gossipy, annoyance battling fear--exactly right. There are sharp details like nobody’s business: my favorite is that the girl calls her father “my dad Greg” in her mind.

“Respite” is another man-woman relationship story. Womack unknowingly disappoints his lady by spending a lot of time on his novel, asking her about her work and basically just being himself. When his girlfriend pleads for him to “do something,” he decides to do some volunteering, choosing to care for a dying boy one day a week. His physically intimate, repetitive work is explained in loving detail by Malla and worked effortlessly into the relationship story. It’s magic.

Alternate present gets a go here to with “Being Like Bulls.” Set on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, years after the attraction has been turned into a multinational garbage dump, the story focuses on Paul, a second-generation immigrant living off his dead parents’ investments and moldering in the dead stock of their souvenir store. The story is a subtle, beautiful take on obligation, the emptiness of a landscape bereft of nature and hope and the tensions of a globalized world.

Check it out now. I hope this guy puts out a novel soon.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The best surprise a gal could get, courtesy of Amanda Well-Tailored

Friday, August 14, 2009

link-a-dink

Have you ever needed to see something beautiful, but not even known it? Then, when it happens, you suddenly feel a weight lifting from your shoulders and feel stupid for not even thinking that a bit of awesomeness could do you good? Irina Troitskaya's work is today's cure. She has all kinds of art and a nice blog too.

Anyone want to translate her comics for me?

Thanks Zoologix!

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Have I ever told you guys about the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library? Their Historical Collections and Services department does amazing work by bringing truly brain-smashing medical images and scholarship to the masses by actually utilizing web technology. Some exhibits are a little clunky (and named after Police songs), and others are better, but all are worthwhile. Work sometimes brings me to them, but even after I am out of the medical writing sphere, this will continue to be an awesome resource for old-timey WTF.



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My main man has a blog where you can hear his musical stylings. If you need a bright boy on keys, give him a jangle.