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Sunday, December 19, 2010

3 for you and me

Yesterday B went shopping for his family for Christmas. I was along to advise, but in a bookstore it is difficult to simply observe and comment. We were in Williamsburg so we went to Spoonbill & Sugartown and Book Thug Nation. While S&S carries the nonfiction and eye candy that would fill my shelves if book money grew in shower mildew, BTN is a used bookstore after my own heart.

But, I sure do miss Clovis. It was somehow less serious than BTN and had more comics and zines than Unnameable. I would always forget about it, but then there it would be, holding down that corner spot on Bedford quietly being the one place I really liked to go in the neighborhood. Until the day it wasn't, of course.

***


I did buy myself a book last night from the book thugs--Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century. I heard about it on Amy H. Sturgis's superb column A Look Back at Genre History on Starship Sofa 164.

I love these segments for Sturgis's taste in history lessons and her hypnotic voice. She injects new life into tired genres (vampires for instance) by focusing on examples that I might actually be into. She certainly sold me on the unfortunately-named Varney the Vampire or the Feast of Blood, a penny dreadful available on all the best out-of-copyright sites on the web. Turns out I had an excerpt of it in an old Penguin anthology at my parents house.

Oh, old-timey horror, you're the best for hiding in the bathroom with!


***


I just ate several carrots, rinsed and skinned and cool to the tongue. The crunch was a sweet bit of escape from my nasty cold. I doubt I'll be doing any reading today but at least the food will be good.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My semester is over. Here is a picture from the NYPL Digital Gallery that perfectly illustrates my feelings:



Here are some things I've accomplished since last night:
1) Left the house
2) Didn't check my email for over five hours
3) Felt relaxed

A good start for the break, no?

Monday, December 06, 2010

2010 Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest

I've missed every con this year except MoCCA. This, the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest, is the other local show that I'm interested in and has happened to be on B's birthday weekend both years it has existed. Why do comics want to ruin my romantic life?



The gym of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg was packed and sweaty with the unfortunate haired and bespectacled. A little different crowd than usual, but seemingly very into what was at the fest. I wasn't able to check out any of the panels

I got there around 4:45 and by 5:30 several tables had sold out of stuff, which I guess is a good sign for them. I was there to get minis and prints, and I did much better on the mini side. Though there were a few prints I was interested in, so many of the tables were laden with this neon-impaired-child-melting-heads shit that I am just not into.

Here's my haul:


I got to see a ton of people that made me smile; most are not pictured here:
Mika Oshima, author of Dense Valley, as seen above


Travis Robertson & Joel Speasmaker


This seemed to be a Pepsi church, and I am really more of a Coke gal...


Finally Robin and I met in person. Did you hear the fireworks? The guy on the left was sassy, and is named Zack Soto.


Three people converse intensely about comics. Or something.


The green glow apparent in many of these photos was not created as an artistic nod to nausea or the rotting corpse of arty comics, but was in fact the color of the light in the exhibition room. Very flattering!

Monday, November 29, 2010

letters to I

Recently I started a correspondence with an almost-3 year old. So far we've had two volleys by mail. It all started because while we were visiting this charming child, went to a big girl's birthday and came home with two favors--a decorated megaphone and a little red mailbox. I thought it would be fun to slip a note into the box.



It was fun, for her and me. So, we've kept on doing it.

As I wrote to her father, I'm not just paying attention to one little girl,(though that's no burden), I'm furthering my serious agenda to bring back letter writing, to write myself, and to capture my history note by note.

*Sadly, the wax sealed letter in the pic above was set on fire when I tried to reseal it. I was able to save the stamps, though. The second draft is on its way!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Fleshy characters are all I desire when I need distraction. I want heavy adjectives that knock wetly against my head as I wade through a book. I want a book that sprawls in interesting ways and, even if it’s a fantasy, feels “real.”

So, perhaps I’m just not in the headspace to enjoy Berry’s noirish mistaken identity mystery. Set in a no-name city, the story follows Charles Unwin, a clerk in a monolithic detective agency called simply the Agency who files cases for a star detective. When the detective goes missing and Unwin is suddenly promoted, he decides to investigate his former detective’s disappearance. Pretty standard stuff this is, and though it gets wrapped in layers of fantastic happenings including mass dreaming and giant archivists, the story can’t survive on plot alone.

All we really get of each character is a tic (Unwin won’t relinquish his hat, his secretary is a narcoleptic, a security guard important to the case can’t remember anything) with a few bits of back-story stuck to it. This does not inspire involvement with Unwin, the missing detective or any of the other major characters, so it is quite difficult to stay engaged with the quest or to feel any urgency to return Unwin to his former, dull occupation and life. It doesn’t help that Berry’s dialogue channels the output of an untalented 40s screenwriter, as in this exchange:
“Detective Sivart?” he said.
“Yeah, Charlie,” said the boy.
“I can’t remember the name of this game.”
“It’s an old game,” said the boy. “Older than chess. Older than curse words and shoeshine. Doesn’t matter what you call it, so long as you know how to play. Everyone’s in on it, except one guy, and that guy’s ‘it.’ Okay?”
“Detective Sivart?”
“Yeah, Charlie.”
“I’m ‘it,’ aren’t I?”
“And quick too,” the boy said.


Much of the sense of fun that Berry tries to inject into the book with wacky scenarios is smashed flat by the overwhelming gray of the story. It rains everyday, places and people are described with affectless names, the intimation of oppressive by hints of labyrinth rules of the Agency—I get it, I get it—world building happening here! But without a little red blood, I don’t care.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2 things Unnameable

1) I got my first email from Unnameable Books today. It was full of information on their upcoming readings and events. Because I had a crappy morning, I pretended that its sweet, excited tone was just for me. Now I feel better.

(Sometimes these tricks are the carrot that keeps the pony moving.)

2) Adam Tobin, owner of Unnameable, is interviewed at Prospect Heights Patch in a new series they are doing about working in PH, inspired by Studs Terkel's classic book Working. "I really love going through piles of books and picking out the ones that I want. I really enjoy trafficking in them, moving them from the hands of one person into the hands of another person. And just coming across surprising things all the time."

photo from brownstoner

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This could be good

Avi Steinberg will be at Pratt Manhattan to discuss prison librarianship and his new book, RUNNING THE BOOKS: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.

Wednesday, November 17th
5:30 -7:00 PM @ Pratt Manhattan Campus- Room 610
144 West 14th Street

Interested folks MUST RSVP to prattsilssa@gmail.com by noon on Tuesday 11/16 to reserve a spot and get on security's list. They are very into not letting people into the building, so definitely RSVP w/ your full name.

From Publisher's Weekly:
“In this captivating memoir, Steinberg, a Harvard grad and struggling obituary writer, spends two years as a librarian and writing instructor at a Boston prison that’s an irrepressibly literary place... Steinberg writes a stylish prose that blends deadpan wit with an acute moral seriousness. The result is a fine portrait of prison life and the thwarted humanity that courses through it.”

I'll be in class that evening, but you should go and send me a report.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Brain savers

While I've been plugging away at school and other projects, I've had to maintain a stricter internet schedule than I'd like. However, there have been a few sites that have recently helped me keep sane. I thought I'd share them with you:

Final Girl
& The House of Self-Indulgence write about movies that I like in hilarious fashions, keeping me thinking while I can't watch movies.

Pure and hearty like beet soup, The Rumpus prods several of my emotion areas with good writing and the joy of experimentation. And, of course, Sugar is the sweet on top.

I turn to StarShipSofa for beautiful, occasionally confusing accents and extreme dedication. Plus SF of course.

Wendy MacNaughton's site is good for the eyeballs and re-humanizing.

Image from the NYPL Digital Gallery

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I miss you and I'll be back soon.

I'm doing a lot of reading and working for school, which is more enjoyable as the semester goes on. But there is SO MUCH WORK.

I'm reading Zero History by William Gibson. It's making me want to reread Pattern Recognition and Spook Country because I know that I am missing stuff.

Any bookstore recommendations for Middlebury, Vermont?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

birthday bonanza

I forgot to tell you about the best gift I got for my birthday. Sorry for leaving you on the edge of your seat.

On the day we left for Portland, two packages awaited me in the pile of crap that usually constitutes my mail. They were both from my Mom and contained an assortment of well-chosen items of practical use, well, practical if you are me. Which you are not. (I hope!)

My mother and I have been reading Muriel Spark books--picking up whatever copies we find in thrift stores and used bookstores and trading them back and forth. My mother was apparently doing some research because, several months ago, she told me that ol' Sparky had once written a children's book. And, get this, the illustrations were by Edward Gorey, friend to odd children everywhere! We jokingly put it on the wishlist at Unnameable Books and went on with our day.

You know where this is going:




My mother never ceases to amaze me. The above is an enjoyable example of that trait, and I try to relish those.

Monday, October 04, 2010

I review J.T. Yosts's Losers Weepers 1 & 2 over at inkstuds. Comment there!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Samuel Steward: Studs in the Library

Last Wednesday, instead of the usual class, we went to a talk being held downstairs at the NYPL with Justin Spring, author of Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. I read about the book and was cautiously interested.

When we entered the auditorium the image on the screen was a of a dusty black file box with a label reading Stud File in Germanic lettering. Does it get more enticing than that?



The presentation began with a slideshow by Spring, the author of the biography, to acquaint us with his subject. He included historical maps, family photos, pics of famous friends and fucks, hotel postcards, a pubic hair reliquary, hotel bills, erotic paperbacks written by Steward, homemade hardcore stationery and Polaroids filled with the usual thing. There was talk of a five-hour Kinsey interview, Hell’s Angels and unwritten novels. The unwritten codes of gay flirtation, safety and safety from safety. Plus we got to see some naked men. Not only was it exciting to learn how the author pieced together Steward’s life from Steward’s meticulous file-keeping, but the Q&A focused on Spring’s relationship with his dead subject and how living with a sex obsessive in your mind changes your view on your own sexuality.

Before the visuals went up, either Spring or the cohost, Honor Moore, stated that without rescue “our [LGBT] history is lost.” This is of course true of all of our history, and each history is a part of a larger and larger one until the histories get so expansive that they come back to you, yes, you. You or I. You and I.

Are you a loser or a keeper?

It’s complicated to save other people within yourself without losing yourself. This is something I've grappled with for a long time. I'm not sure how close to an answer I've gotten.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I am back from sunny Portland and several things have happened:
1) I turned 30.
2) I finally went to Guapo comics.
3) I ate Guamanian food at a food cart.
4) After too many years, I got to visit Retown and meet her main man.
5) I visited an American houseboat. I saw a bat!
6) I rediscovered the redeye rash.
7) I saw Brooklyn in pre-9AM. It was horrible with industrious movement.

More soon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

in and out of my brain

There has been talk in my twitter feed about inspiration, so I thought I'd share some of my recent inspirations with you. I tend to accrete viewpoints and styles in large bursts, usually because of travel or several days alone, and therefore outside of the motions of the everyday. Some influences (Studs Terkel, Marianne Faithfull, sailors' attire) are longstanding, others last a month, a year, and usually lead me to other, better thoughts.

Inspiring now:
Radiolab
Maximus Clarke interviews William Gibson on Maude Newton
The Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus, #25 on
Final Girl, especially her reviews
Nature Illustrated: Flowers, Plants, and Trees, 1550-1900 in the NYPL's Digital Gallery

image from NYPL

Monday, September 20, 2010

I don't understand what is taking so long. I mean, I have several pens and ideas and yet that perfect, emotionally punchful piece just hasn't leapt from my fingers onto the edit pile. It's Sunday and everything. The weekend was over hours ago and the hard work is supposed to be done.

I find it hard to go from living to writing so I just end up doing something in between. I think it's called twitter.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When I was a young woman, my idol was Studs Terkel. When I read Working for the first time my mind just blew up out of my head. Not because of any of the stories really, but because I found out that someone's job was to wander around with a tape recorder and listen to people. (Or at least that's how I imagined it.) Later I read Underground by Haruki Murakami, as well as several other books of oral history, loving them all. Sure you wonder about editing and transcription with those books, but I can suspend my disbelief to extract the magic in those stories. Committing to listen to an unedited recording has even more rewards. Luckily I get to do that in one of my classes this semester.

Speaking of class, I will be in one when this free event is going on, but you should go and tell me all about it:
“What is Oral History?”
Ronald J. Grele, is the former director of the Oral History Research Office. He is author of Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History as well as numerous articles on the theory and method of oral history. He is a past president of the Oral History Association, and was a founding member of the Executive Council of the International Association of Oral History. He writes and lectures widely on oral history and the nature of historical consciousness. Grele will talk about the theoretical origins of oral history as a field and practice. Mary Marshall Clark, current director of OHRO, will comment on recent developments in oral history theory and practice.

Sept. 16, 4:10 – 6:00pm
RSVP at site. Not sure if it's required, but that's a good bet.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

well, that was wet


We attempted Brooklyn Book Fest. I got to see my once-a-year bud Goodloe Byron and chat with Alexander at the South End Press table. I would have loved to have spoken with Gavin Grant, but instead just bought Small Beer Press books, which is perhaps just as good for him. Those books are Hound (I'm not sure my Mom will let me borrow the copy I gifted her), Meeks and two more copies of Mothers and Other Monsters for loaning (my frothing review here).

I stopped in on one panel, "Is Beauty Painful?," with Jenny Hollowell, Peter Hedges, and Matthew Sharpe. I was in it for Sharpe, but missed his reading, of course. Then a soda machine's fan went on rendering the Q&A inaudible. I wasn't able to find his new book in all that mist.

No Colson Whitehead, no Jilian Tamaki, no Jennifer Egan. And wet books everywhere. Blah.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Right now I am working on a zine for SPX. As far as I know it will contain no comics, but maybe that will change. I have several ideas in various stages of completion, none of which I am too happy with. Mostly this is about unhappiness. The problem is not only that SPX is so close, it’s that I don’t want to write this stuff. I don’t want to put myself anywhere near the still-howling chasm of my grief. This past week has already held too many snot storms and lingering illnesses.

Still, I am forcing myself to carry on with the work and complaining only to you, my internet.

How do you deal with writing things that are personally hazardous?

***


Being sickie sick sick has made me crave giant books. I ventured to Unnameable with B to feed my fever and picked up The Scar by China Mielville and Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs. Browsing was shockingly unpleasant so we left shortly after purchase, but there were so many things I wanted to look at. Sigh. The Scar is the escapist treat I expected, with fewer frantic world-building tics than Perdido Street Station and the Iron Council and more talk of pirate libraries. The prim but observant main character’s perspective is great, especially for one in such a dulled state as I.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Today we found a family of wolverines in the hall closet. I thought I had heard noises for some time but always dismissed them as house settling or wind shenanigans. Then there was the scat. I saw a few bone-filled piles in corners and ignored them, seeing instead dust bunnies and stray charcoal. A few times I thought I smelled expressed anal glands.

So, we ask ourselves, how did this happen? What was our failing? Did we leave the door open to a pregnant interloper when carrying too many groceries? Did I forget to put away a fresh kill? Are they eating the paper towels? So many ways to blame ourselves for the impossibly inevitable.

Of course it is the season for coming in. Nesting is hard to resist even for the undesirable.

Let’s not forget that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

so sick

Readers, I am sick. A legion of clap-infected hustlers have taken up in the back of my throat, my chest rattles in the effort to shake loose brownish mucous and yes, I have a fever. Antibiotics taken for an unrelated illness are adding that perfect touch of GI insanity to the proceedings as well. A full evening of Beautiful Katamari and the couch, as well as ministrations from the lovely B have left me feeling a bit better, but I still plan on spending most of today in bed. Having finished my reread of the delightful Momento Mori during the sleepless night, I am looking for a new book to read.

In more exciting news, here is Raina Telgemeier's poster for SPX 2010:



Preparations have begun for the trip and I can't wait to be there. I never thought I'd say that about Bethesda, MD, but there you go.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Right now I am reading three books: Momento Mori by Muriel Spark (reread), I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita and Amulet by Roberto Bolaño. The only one gaining any traction right now is Spark's. I guess it's all this rain.

***


Maud Newton's wonderful essay "On grief--and dying without finishing your book."
When your spouse’s parent dies, grieving is complicated. There is the grief you feel for yourself, for the loss of a person you (if you’re lucky) loved, and there is the grief you feel at seeing the person closest to you dealing with a nearly unfathomable loss. At times the sorrow is literally almost suffocating. These are clichés, but they are also realities, as is the fact that the passing of someone important to you causes you to think about the way you’re spending your own life.

I wish I could write as eloquently on this subject. But reading good writing always helps and since I've decided to work on this zine, I need all the help I can get.

***


Have we talked about doing a project? Well, now is the time.

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh

I’ve avoided writing about this book until now for reasons unknown to me, and now, after it has been renewed six times from the library, I think it is time to give it back so someone else can have a chance to read it.

In China Mountain Zhang, China has won the cold war and Chinese communism has spread the globe. In the 22nd century, the U.S. has had only a few generations since the bloody American Liberation War. Our titular main character Zhang was born to two revolutionaries in the aftermath. Though he is ethnically only half-Chinese, his parents have him genetically altered to look fully so, both as a tribute to what they believed and with hope of Zhang having a better life in a Chinese-run world. Even his name, that of a now-disgraced hero, reeks of the optimism of his parents. Despite this, he works as a construction tech in NYC—a dead end job—and spends his time off watching kite races, drinking and being unhappily gay in a society that does not tolerate homosexuality. In China, the land of opportunity, gayness is even more forbidden, but despite this, it is Zhang's hope to go there someday and do, well do something better than being a tech.

Wow, perhaps I hate writing plot summary so much is because I am so bad at it.

Our man China Mountain Zhang does get to go to China, after some plot twists that only strain credulity a bit. His end is a little too sweet for me. It feels like McHugh loved her creation so much that she didn’t want to see him permanently hurt. Even with the rosy sunset ending, I loved this book.

Two things really stuck out for me. In the China part of the book, Zhang meets a guy he is attracted to. He ignores it because, hey, who wants to get sent to jail? Then the guy begins speaking in a code that Zhang recognizes from pick ups in NYC and can’t believe his ears. The dated cheesiness of the exchange (like the 80s channeling the 1910s) worked in its favor because it got me thinking about the languages we create to survive in oppressive societies and how the internet is making that less possible and less needed at the same time.

Another was the mostly untold story of Zhang’s parents and other minor characters in the book. Those that help “reform” the U.S. in an effort called Cleansing Winds are now considered embarrassments and those that haven’t been killed or sent to camps keep quiet about their part. This has always been a compelling issue for me in the history of and literature about Communism and it was interesting to see it explored in this McHugh’s world.

*Despite the giant gun-looking thing, there is no interstellar combat in China Mountain Zhang. It's an ice melter!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

It's dreary here in Brooklyn, and if I hadn’t already, it would be a perfect day to read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. Perfect because it is set on a galing day in England, which reminds one how much worse it could be, and because it is a brisk little book filled with ridiculous characters that one is free to vigorously dislike.

I’ve been getting into these types of books recently. Often by forgotten women novelists, they provide a weird kind of escapism where I can revel in the details while indulging some misanthropy. Cheerful Weather was a gift from Amanda Well-Tailored. For precisely four B train rides into Manhattan, I was chuckling at the door of a freezing manor house instead of a stinky MTA car. Thanks, AWT!

The novella takes place on the titular wedding day of Dolly Thatcham and Owen, eight years apart. Dolly is getting wasted upstairs as the preparations go on around her, and her frequent nips from the rum bottle hidden in her voluminous dress lead inspire a kind of puttering melancholy that is fun to read about, especially if you’ve ever succumbed to such a mood yourself. The Thatcham home is filled with various family members being ridiculous, including my favorite character, chapped and puffy younger sister Kitty: “ ‘How are your lectures going?’ asked Kitty of Joseph, a kind of desperate intenseness in her voice and face. This was her style of the moment with the male sex.”

Leave the bizarre intro by Frances Partridge for after. Wouldn’t want Bloomsbury gossip and unhappy personal details to overshadow the story, would we?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Salon by Nick Bertozzi

Last week, before work I went to the MoMA with Amanda Well-Tailored. Besides the awesomeness of doing anything in person with AWT, I was struck by how weirdly the wander through mimicked my reading of last night--Nick Bertozzi’s The Salon.

The Salon focuses on the French Modernist art movement and the expats than ran in it. Bertozzi gives each a distinct (and funny) personality and look. I especially like Gertrude Stein’s balls-out Mama Bear and her sniveling brother, Leo, and the bottomless bravado pit of Bertozzi’s Picasso. The writing is such that the story works as a historically-glossed superhero story or a meditation on creation, greed and desire. It is both, and compelled me to consider picking up some bios on these previously uninteresting art idols.

The group not only makes and collects art, but also parties together and have found a drug that allows one to enter paintings—a seductive idea for this group. Unfortunately they are not the only ones drinking the blue stuff; an artist-murderer is pulling the heads off of Modernists and leaving their bodies with a tell-tale splash of blue. The mystery is a fun way to navigate the salons and backstreets of Paris. The art feels fluid and alive, perfectly conveying the vibrant world of paintings, in and out.

Though I had heard great things about the book from several outlets, but after reading the dismal Stuffed! last year, and seeing Bertozzi’s merely adequate art, I was a bit skeptical. I am so glad my library had a copy so I could try it. I am looking forward to checking out more work that he’s written and drawn.

*In additional The Salon news: the sad story of how Free Comic Book Day + Picasso's penis equaled big trouble for retailer Gordon Lee.

blast!

SPX 2010 and the Brooklyn Book Fest are on the same day!

Don't make me choose.

Which are you going to?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Last night's visit by the prog lady began with spaghetti limone dinner a la Little Frankies, moved on to a salon-style haircut (I strive for the very best!), and ended with a walk to Unnameable Books for a post-10 pm visit. Oh Unnameable Books, please get a website, or a blog or a twitter feed.

The place was mostly ours and all told we spent about an hour looking around and digesting all that starch. I picked up Jenny Diski's book Rainforest after trying in vain to remember where I heard her name before. Turns out that it was from this great essay on rape and Polanski. Rainforest is really good so far.

The prog lady picked up The Bathroom by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, a book about a man who never leaves his bathroom--perfect subject matter for the coming cold months. (Read some here. And look at that cover--what a beauty!)

We discussed Philly's gone-but-not-forgotten Big Jar Books and how much we missed it. Neither of us have been to the new store yet. She used to work there and I was a frequent, and then less frequent, shopper. I loved combing their shelves for Philip K. Dick books. In the edgiest years, it was one of the few places I could go with my mother and enjoy myself. One time I met a Frenchman outside and he bought me some Camus. Luckily he was a good kisser. How many times did I stop in to use the tiny toilet in the back and leave with a book that opened my mind?

No, really, guess.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Last night M and I went for a ramble around Brooklyn stopping for beers and books along the way. We stopped in Fort Greene's Greenlight, and though buying new books strains the budget, I bought a copy of Dylan Horrocks' Hicksville, which has been collected and reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly. I forgot that I had a frequent buyer account with them, as I am not a frequent buyer, but it was nice to add another lump to my sum. So many other books caught my eye, but alas, though I can't seem to stop myself from buying a book in an indie bookstore, there is a limit.

We decided to walk down Vanderbilt to tempt ourselves further with a trip into Unnameable Books, probably my fave bookstore in Brooklyn. One of my favorite things about it is that it is open until 11pm most days. We scanned and scanned and I got into a conversation with some fellow Muriel Spark enthusiasts. I picked up a copy of Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel, some SF for my weekend trip. I've read his Small Beer Press short story offering and several collections he's edited and am curious to read a longer work, and "time-hopping con artists" sounded like a good place to start.


***


The recent New York Magazine article on indie bookstores by Joe Keohane is a good read.

***


A few days ago I was supposed to meet Zane in Tribeca. In an unbelievable turn of events I was early, couldn't find the place we were meeting and wandered smack into an event at The Mysterious Bookshop by Akashic books promoting the newest entry in their ...Noir series, Indian Country Noir. The speakers got me excited for the series--none of the other titles have gotten me excited before. I guess I am just over unrelenting bleakness for now.

***


On Twitter I follow @BookCourt because I like great things. BC an amazing bookstore in Carroll Gardens that not only hosted much-missed-from-the-blogosphere buddy Amy Shearn's reading for her novel but also has ample seating and a cool staff. Their twitting by staff members is inspired:

#bookstorebingo "I dropped off my book several months ago. Wait, which bookstore is this?"

You know who I love? David Byrne.

Red Hot Chili Peppers? Really? Okay.


***


The moral of this post? Buy some freaking books already!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cast In Doubt by Lynne Tillman

Right now I am reading Absence Makes the Heart, a short story collection by Lynne Tillman. It’s really great so far and brings into perspective what I find compelling about Tillman’s work: She crawls inside of fictional people and seems to channel her first person characters. You forget that you are reading the work of an author. The main characters of the books I’ve read so far are experts of some kind, which shapes the kind of self-talk done by the characters.

In Cast In Doubt the protagonist is a seventy-something American expat named Horace living in a small town in Greece. He becomes obsessed with a young American woman, Ruth, who rents a rotting house across from him. He ruminates on his interactions with her, obsessed with his obsession, weaving in and out of memories of his past and observations of his present. He is also writing a book about his ancestors that is just not getting done, whereas ideas for his moneymaking project, a detective series, just keep popping up. I like Horace best when he is being catty about others in clever ways, just like a good elder-gay should.

Horace’s voice is strong and his history is rock solid—when he laments the repressed yet sexually charged forties you do too, even if it is with a little eye roll for the psychic indulgences of a privileged old man. And when the story gets turned about a bit there is shock and questions. Mostly Cast In Doubt made me want to drink gallons of the cold white wine so sensually described by Horace.

I liked the book, but feel a tepidness towards it, most likely because I cared less for Horace than I did for American Genius’s skin-obsessed inmate.

*No picture because I returned this ages ago. No library jail for me!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One, two, three things




Sarah Oleksyk is talking about artist envy, intimidation and inspiration over at her blog. Because she is such a great artist and writer I was initially surprised that she finds herself at the bottom of the self-work-hate hole, that embarrassing secret all creative people have.
&

Eryn Loeb is a thought provoking, smart and funny writer. The fact that she no longer writes the Girl, Interrupting column at bookslut sucks, but she is doing regular blogging at her own site.

&

In the face of the categories I've devised for my sidebar it can be difficult to decide where to put blogs that have excellent writing but don't have discrete topics. So, often instead of deciding where to put something, I just forget that the blog exists for several months, or, in the case of mimi smartypants, several years.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

What if a story about a Victorian lady dropped all that does-he-love-her jibber jabber and took our rulebound heroine from walking her grounds, recreating her own childhood, to her children (“They had sloping shoulders, both of them.”) and their blistering, raving deaths from small pox to gay Paris, literally and matter-of-factly.Well, then that book would be this:



Precisely written and a bit autobiographical (according to the introduction by Warner’s biographer Claire Harman), Summer Will Show is a political novel, a love story and actually quite funny. The main character, Sophia Willoughby, after finding out that her decorative but none too useful husband Frederick has hooked up with a wild woman in Paris, must then decide how she is going to live the rest of her life. Will she take to books or embroidery or maybe hump around a bit herself? In the end she decides to go to France to confront Frederick and ends up in the infuriating situation of having to reconcile with someone much less interesting than Minna, the woman he left her for.

So, Sophia falls in love.

Some of the Parisian parts drag a bit with Sophia’s observations of Minna’s revolution-obsessed life, but it is well worth the trip. Between this and the even more fun Lolly Willows, I can’t wait to read some more Warner.

An aside: Though it was written well after Queen Victoria left the throne, there are some exoticizing/straight-up racist thoughts thunk by Sophia about Minna and others are interesting with respect to how bigotry sounds today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Six

Some things I did today:

1) Wrote about leggings and big rigs
2) Had several dreams about phone calls that never happened
3) Saw this:


4) Planted a second round of basil and fennel seeds
5) Forgot several things several times
6) Practiced my cursing

What about you?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Several banal thoughts led me to this exciting conclusion: I miss interviewing people. Here on try harder, I've only managed three interviews over the years and that is a double order of stupid.

So, who would you want to see Q and Aed here?

Wide Eyed by Trinie Dalton

This is what summer feels like. Hot, sticky, a little raw, the stories in Wide Eyed, are first person West Coast tales—20-something wandering lit with rocknroll and a little bit of magic thrown in. The cover, by Dalton as well, tells you something about the inside:

If you read these stories all in a row, you might feel like you are experiencing several late nights in the same woman’s life: the boyfriend is always named Matt, animals are always important and L.A. is where it’s at or where it’s been. The woman is searching for a remedy for the things that aren’t right: In ‘Hummingbird Moonshine’ it’s a series of physical hurts, in ‘The Tide of My Mounting Sympathy’ it’s a lurking mentally ill sort-of friend. Even the structure of some stories recall list making or the organizing power of prayer by presenting thoughts on a top in several numbered parts. ‘Faces’ is the best of these; most of the others, though enjoyable, feel underdone.

My favorite story, ‘Animal Story,’ contains several talismans against loneliness. The main character is out in the desert, alone, her cat having been eaten by a coyote, and she is deciding how and when to rejoining society. In the meantime, she hosts parties for spiders and ants and plays Nintendo:
“Playing Burgertime gives you this false sense of staying busy, as if you are personally responsible for delivering meat to mankind. Staving off starvation of the masses is an overwhelming task that requires total dedication. Catching the stuff on the bun takes on religious significance, as if it’s manna flowing from heaven. Don’t fuck up and drop the lettuce crooked on the burger or it will drift off the cliff beside you. As you read this you think, Who cares about Burgertime? But when you are awake all night because it’s too quiet and there’s no cat the wiggle your foot on, your deluded brain mistakes the Chef’s duties for your own. You’ll be making burgers all night sometime—just watch.”

Most of these stories are sneaky like that. Yes, Marc Bolan, Freddy Krueger and unicorns make appearances, but Dalton doesn’t use them as emotional shortcuts. Many of the stories include dreams and memories, who better to guide us through than the figures that create and inhabit those spaces?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Last night, at the urging of the always awesome Zane Grant, I went to the release party for abort! #23, a lit zine, at Williamsburg's book thug nation. This issue was SF-themed and several of the authors were present to do readings of the stories--their own or otherwise. I enjoyed all the readings, with the minor exception of the first, by the zine's editor, Jonathan Spies. He was reading someone else's material and kept laughing (surely at an in-joke?), and it was jarring and a little bizarre.

I loved the rest of the readings which included an AC story in a strong Boston accent, some autobio poetry and a looping, wild, alternate-past NYC tale. The last I loved--the reading and the story, while one of my companions enjoyed the reading but didn't care for the story. I read my copy of the zine on the train, and while the story, 'The Slarnax and the Six Train,' by Jessie Gray Singer, was good, it lost the hypnotic quality with which the author's reading imbued it. My favorite story in abort! #23, Laura Waldman's 'The One with the Insides,' worked on the page and in the ear though each was different.

This experience got me thinking about how the experience of a story can change drastically depending on the medium. As you may know, I listen to a ton of audio fiction, all of it coming from the Escape Artists podcasts. They have consistently good stories and rarely have a bum reading. (Though there was this one guy who loved to render female characters in a grating falsetto. But that is another post.) Often I am entranced by stories on there that have problems that would sink them on the page because the readings are done with great skill, drawing out the best in the story. And somehow, somehow, somehow, hearing about dragons or elves or alchemists is fine to listen to, but impossible for me to read. Because I semi-regularly read SF in online venues, I occasionally encounter a story on the casts that I've read before and marvel at how hearing it can transform it, or even more amazing, when the reader seems to channel the sound of the story right out of my brain. However, when Maureen F. McHugh's 'Ancestor Money' (I review the collection here) popped up in my 'tunes, I deleted it right away, not wanting to supplant the drawl of the main characters voice in my head with anyone else's.

I rarely go to readings because so many of them are charged with anxiety. The readers are hoping for sales, or at least attentiveness, and the audience is praying the evening won't require more than two drinks to enjoy. Last night was a relaxed affair and I look forward to checking out more abort! and more book thug nation, where the dollar book rack beats any in town.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories by Gabrielle Bell

“But then, I’ve never felt so useful.”

The title story of this collection, first published in Kramer’s Ergot 5, is one of my favorite comic stories. Cutting sharp-eyed realism with fantasy, it showcases the unique cruelty that New York dishes out to newcomers, as well as the wearing effect romantic relationships can have on their participants. Bell has a keen ear for dialog in her fictional stories and here it serves to give us just enough back story to make the main character, Cecil, situation heartbreaking. The story is also in vibrant color and this adds a nice liveliness to the story.

The rest of the book is a mix of fiction and autobio stories with main characters that are like Cecil—underappreciated and harassed by life. However, none of the rest of the stories resonate with me. An overwhelming bleakness pervades much of Bell’s work, including this collection. Although I love the way she draws and her ability to tease out a telling detail I don’t enjoy spending time with her characters. The desire to give them all a violent shake is too distracting!

*photo from drawn & quarterly because I already returned this to the library

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

i've been meaning to tell you

1) L. Nichols (whom you may remember from her contest win) is making some great garden comics right now. I must confess to envy, over here with my unhappy cucumbers and stunted greens.

2) "Were I asked (and I never have been), I would have to say that William Gibson is my favorite science fiction author, mostly likely my favourite "genre" author of all time, across all genres not labeled "literary", though I think that after Pattern Recognition, anyone trying to keep his work in the science fiction ghetto is a fool." August C. Bourré is writing about William Gibson's work--all of it, which is making me think it might be about time for a long reread.

3) Mary Phillips-Sandy is right, as usual, about why we love books about "humdrum objects." Aren't you glad she started blogging again?

4) Speaking of tumblrs, Ira Marcks' Morning in the Atelier is a great photo blog that takes place entirely in his studio. Ink water spill, pen's-eye-view and more.
photo by ira marcks, of course

Monday, June 21, 2010

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

I loved the colors of Exit Wounds. All that red contrasted with muted Ikea colors really suctioned my eye to the page.

The story--a man, Koby, is contacted by a young woman, Numi, who claims his absent father was killed in a cafeteria bombing and convinces him to go on a reluctant journey to find the truth—had its weaknesses, especially in the character development and plotting areas, but it moved along swiftly and I kept wanting to know what happened next.

For an outsider, Exit Wounds gave some insight into Jewish life in Israel through characters’ casual conversation. There is a running gag throughout the book about bombings—where the Hadera bombing that that two are investigating keeps getting confused with a larger one in a town called Haifa-- that shows the way a culture accommodates regular, extreme, violence into everyday life by becoming matter-a-fact about it. We also peek into the food, topography and customs of Israel, including a very unusual scene, to my American sensibilities, in which a man identifies his father, a bombing victim, by his ears over CC tv, then requests a video of the body for his mother.

Sometimes Modan’s detailing of faces in Exit Wounds veers towards cartoon-y, which undermines the character work she does, especially with the women in Numi’s family. This jars with the serious tone of the work and pulled me right out of the story in some cases.

I borrowed Exit Wounds from the library, and based on it, would check out more of Modan’s work in the same way.

*photo from drawn & quarterly

Friday, June 04, 2010

no more hellos


On the train I saw a young man that looked like my brother. Shock, then sickening hope followed by a forced numbness—the same nauseating drill. I repeatedly tried not to look at him, to not think that thought. And, of course, I hated him.

I hated his face that echoed my brother’s sharp features. I wanted to punch in his gnarly teeth because they weren’t braces-straight. His lack of style was repulsive to me, and his clothes didn’t hide the body that was not my brother’s strong, young one. I hated him for existing when my brother doesn’t. I moved my seat so I wouldn’t have to see him, but I couldn’t get away from his (thankfully) New York-accented voice, saying stupid things, my beautiful, dead brother would never say.

On nights like this, I want to kill that part of me that is always searching for him because it will always be treacherous, waiting to ambush me.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I've been here the whole time

I am awaiting a desk. A beautiful desk, already owned by my family, is as impatient as I to meet, I imagine, but logistics get in the way. In the meantime I am butt-on-the-floor, contorted, not writing.



The rapidly swelling sidebar shows what I have been doing--well, the part that doesn't involve a love affair with my new video store. The Jansson and Tillman books I'm in or just out of are summery and run in shallow and deep currents, as appropriate to my recent moods. Even the Kathryn Davis book I abandoned in its last chapter a few months ago had a seasonal feel.

Despite what should be inspiration, my resolve to write is as weak as a melted water ice.

Is anyone else twisting in the summer breeze?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Check out my review of Chuck Forsman's Wolf over at inkstuds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

learn and relearn, library science style

1) I do not like reference all that much, but I love reader's advisory--obviously.

2) Metadata is really, really interesting. I'd like to sign up for its newsletter.

3) Butler Library at Columbia provides an intoxicating atmosphere of old money, untold secrets and intellectual vigor. No wonder all those undergrads want to hump in its stacks.

4) Poster-making is inexplicably considered a valuable thing for a graduate student to do.

5) The NYPL offers so many free services like reference chat, access to databases and old-timey eye candy that is feels like I are getting way with something every time I use their site.

6) Group projects suck baboon ass.

7) Librarians are geniuses.
Rest assured that its ass is angry about my comment, too. Image via the NYPL, of course

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Reading A Complicated Kindness reminded me a lot of reading Geek Love for the first time. It is fast paced, strewn with pain and humor and told in a captivating first-person narrative that makes the form seem easy. Though not set in the freak show circuit like GL, ACK does follow life in, in the words of the 16-year-old narrator Nomi, a “secret town” of Mennonites in Canada called East Village. She spends a lot of time considering her place in the Village, and the flow of her thoughts is very true: “That I belong in the frightful fresco of this man’s dream unnerves me. I wonder exactly happened in Menno’s world that made him turn his back on it…The mark of the beast? Streets paved in gold? What? Fuck off. I dream of escaping into the real world. If I’m forced to read one more Narnia series book I’ll kill myself.”


Nomi is angry, defeated, self-destructive, but mostly just sad. Both her sister and her mother have disappeared from town, leaving her with her good-hearted but befuddled father and a bad reputation. She has a plan to leave town too, like we all did at 16, and it is equally possible and fantasy. The main thing keeping her is her lovely dad, Ray, whose own depression at the loss of the other half of the family. I love the character of Ray; his unfunniness and Dadliness are dead-on renderings by Toews and his treatment shows the depth of her understanding of the heartbreak of living in both a faith bound society and in the world, the real world as Nomi would have it, at once when all you want to do is be a good person and have a good life.

The specter of excommunication, a concept that seems especially cruel to me, hovers over this story, and that is especially sinister since Nomi’s frothing uncle is the town’s religious head. As we learn more about the family’s history we can decide to see Uncle Hans as a damaged individual with a poor choice of coping mechanisms or just a complete asshole, or both. Hans shows well the unfortunate arc a life can take when a person chooses to transform an incidence of pain into a grudge against the world and how potent and scary that transformation can be in a religious context.

Women in East Village have it noticeably worse than the men and Toews engages this subtly. The fine line between being a child and being an adult is especially perilous in East Village, and I like that Toews exploits this by having Nomi left by her mysterious, vibrant mom at age thirteen (still a kid) and telling this angry, revelatory story as an outraged teen, near the age when her outrageous sister took off. Other women who can’t or won’t leave go sick like Nomi’s religious best friend, get drunk like her grandma or just go dead like her aunt, extreme reflections of the options available to women everywhere who can’t conform but can’t leave.

All this sounds depressing, but A Complicated Kindness is funny and vibrant too. Though she feels stuck, you know that something is happening with Nomi. All that teenage energy comes busting through the pages, and it is an inspiration and a warning at once.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Good

*Click to enbiggen*




this...turned into this
The roof is actually even more potty than this now that I've begin to thin and repot seedlings. Besides the vegetables you see here I am growing some sunflowers for B, and some zinnias for me. Between the two is nasturtium; I have several pots of those grown from seed. Will they actually flower?

&&&

From my parents' basement...
It shoots popcorn! It jazzes up the counter with its wild lettering! It only smells a little like burning wires! Bonus: giving it to me makes my parents seem less like hoarders.

&&&

This week was a bad one for stress, but a good one for art. My friend Pete not only brought his bad self to visit, he brought a housewarming painting with him:
One Day by Esther Pearl Watson

I keep going back and looking at it over and over. Especially the little socks.

&&&

More art arrived with Eva today. I commissioned a set of portraits for B's birthday awhile ago from Simon, and she graciously lugged them from Vienna to Brooklyn. They look so much like us that I had to redact! I thought that we'd put them in the bathroom so guests feel safe knowing that we are always watching.