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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!

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'

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.

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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?