Saturday, December 31, 2005

Another one for the list...

This made me want to read Counting Heads by David Marusek. Like I noted down there, I've been looking for some good speculative fiction (sci-fi to you oldsters) for the new year having read almost none this year.

Has anyone read this?
Any other suggestions?

Any book that imagines a near/alternate future in a clear and original way would do it for me.

Come on kids, make it happen for me.

Oh and Happy New Year.

***Edited to add that I just ordered it from the public library. Who knows when it will arrive at my tiny, underlit branch, but it is on the list now boy.

Friday, December 30, 2005

More on a Friday of shit

Waking up on the wrong side of the Murphy bed is very good for the reading. I'm about a quarter of the way into Whistle Stop by Maritta Wolff. It's reading great so far, but maybe I'm just in a depressed, going-nowhere-town kind of mood.

Yeah, that's it.

Anybody else read this?


I finished L.A.Confindential today. It was an intricate, compelling book that I can't say I liked very much.

Here's the thing. I'm a sensitive gal, and even in this age of gangsta rappin and recalmation and irony irony irony, I fucking can't stand hearing the word "nigger." Same goes for its more dated antecendants. This book is full of that word and others, so much so I felt abused after a certain point. To me, there is nothing more ugly and hurtful than a mind full of hatred and fear, especially one with a cop's mouth attached. Rapid-fire racial epiteths take the joy out of reading/hearing any work for me, no matter how well crafted, or well observed it is.

Yeah, yeah, I get that Ellroy was going for authenticity-- 50s cop slang is a varied and colorful languauge, and I can see why it would be amazingly attractive to an author to immerse himself in it, flog it for all its exciting quaintness- the "real" side of the Bogie coin. I'm sure cops talked that way, and do today in some places. I know he wanted the brutality of a cops life in a famously white-washed time to come through for the reader. But let me tell you folks, in the end I just couldn't dig it.

Ellroy rockets the story along with greatly nuanced POVs-- his celebrity gossip rag prose is some seriously well-crafted shit. It was a good ride through a world of mobsters, crooked cops and politicans, diners, dive bars and whorehouses, but something was just wrong. For all its smarts, L.A. Confidential was missing, uh, let me get a little B-movie here: heart. You can't write a love letter (even if its a love letter to violence and a time long past) without love. Instead we get a feeling that Ellroy was trying to out-write his demons and purge himself of a world that held only despair*, by spewing out all the hate he could muster, and giving hmself a total boner in the process.

*James Ellroy's mother was murdered in Hollywood when he was a little boy. Her killer was never found. I look forward to reading his memoir, My Dark Places, about it. Thanks to Ms. Void for reminding me about that book...

The Whole 50 Books Challenge

I was thinking about the whole reason for this blog today. I'm not exactly sure where the 50 books in a year challenge came from and I don't care enought to find out. I also know that when I first heard of it I thought, "Now that's something I could easily rock."

I still think that. I also think that the whole reason for doing it for me has more to do with starting, and hopefully maintaining, an intelligent, if occasionally expletive-ridden, conversation about books with strangers and friends alike. Books are a big part of my life- not so much with the people I know, and no amount of bookswaps in the world is going to change that.

So let's talk about it. What are you reading? Why? Are you gonna do fifty books this year? It's time to make some bold statements friends...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The Christmas is over, and life has returned to normal in my house. This is good, but what is not good is this: I am sick! I am filled with snot. I am filled with coughs. I am filled with sadness that my deadlines are still undead, but it is hard to keep the boogers off of the keyboard while I tap tap the work out.

I'm glad I have this book. It is so cute I could die.

I managed to read a few chapters of L.A. Confidential, which I'm still feeling ambivelant about. The other books were touched, but not rocked. I did read all of the two titles mentioned in my last post. Here's the breakdown:

Queen of the Black Black by Megan Kelso
This book was so, so good. Find it if you can. Each comic is a separate story, mostly focusing on ladies of the nineties and their troubles. Surprisingly , Kelso also turns her art towards a handful of middle-aged men and women for stories of regret and (in one case) redemption. Very fun- it held me until 4 AM one night.

Magic Boy & the Robot Elf by James Kochalka
Er, um... I enjoyed this, but I doubt I will pick it up again. The pages themselves look so good, you want to tear them out and eat them, but the story is wandering and weak. The promise of the words "robot," "magic," and "elf" in the title sadly did not coalesce into what I was hoping for. Even profanity was underused.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Presents to Myself

Yesterday I went to the Strand, love, and got myself two comics at a nice discount.
I'll be enjoying them, while avoiding my other obligations.

Queen of the Black Black by Megan Kelso by Highwater Books
Megan Kelso also put together the excellent anthology Scheherazade: Comics About Love, Treachery, Mothers, and Monsters, and her contribution to the book, The Pickle Fork, is heartbreaking. Despite the controversy, it is still worth finding and buying. Her intro is awesome and I'm sorry that such a book had to cause so much trouble for her.

Magic Boy & the Robot Elf by James Kochalka by Top Shelf Productions
This is apparently his first graphic novel. I am currently in love with his SUPERFUCKERS single issues. Hooray for cursing!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Blues

The books keeping me company this holiday will be:

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
I really can't get into this book so far. I love hardboiled stuff, especially with an undertone of dread, but this is trying too hard maybe? It's a shame because you can sense a real intelligence underlaying the story.

The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher
Biographical writing from simply the best food writer I've encountered.

Hokkaido Popsicle by Issac Adamson
This will be a mystery, I picked it up at a library sale for $1, and it don't look so hot Bill Murray.

Whistle Stop by Maritta Wolff
I ordered this on a whim from the library. Wolff was writing in the 40s and I've been looking to expand my reading of women authors from that time. It looks good.

Whatever's in the bathroom
A book an ancient Greek thinking, some comics, some short stories and an old issue of Star, all fecally-endowed I'm sure.

A few pages here, a few pages there, some figgy pudding... whatever. All fuel for my war on Christmas.

When My Brain Melts

I turn to kid's books. Here is a great list on a great website. I loved Harriet the Spy and The Mixed-Up Files... and still wish my brother and I could run away together and live in the Met. We wouldn't have come back. (I miss you, baby boy. I hope you are resting in peace).

Despite the lure of the brainy protaganist, I have to say I mostly loved spooky stories as a kid. This was pre-Goosebumps, and I had not yet discovered Christopher Pike and his ilk, nor the evil grip of V.C. Andrews and Anne Rice (thankfully I got over that bullshit quickly- take note, goths). My favorites were by John Bellairs. I would go to the library each week to borrow a new one, and always always covet a copy of my own. I collect them now when I find them, both to heal the poor child within and for the kickass Edward Gorey cover illustrations the old editions have.

My current favorite kid's books are the Captain Underpants series and (duh) the Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven't read either in awhile, and I have bought any in forever. I always feel kind of bad when I gleefully pluck them from thrift stores shelves, therefore keeping them out of the hands of children, but I still do it anyway.

Too bad, short arms!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Winter, Failure and McSweeney's Boys

I am not feeling so hot in my mentals today, kids. I am working on some work, but sloooowly, and a feeling of failure has crept into the afternoon. While I sat in the bathroom, thinking about why my hair has to look so bad right now, some words of Philip B. Blended Beauty wisdom came to me:

"Winter has its own version of beauty bleakness." So true.

He goes on to let us begraggled readers know that, "I love baths during the winter. They cloak the body in a sea of warmth and scents."

The scent of desperation, perhaps? Oh Philip B., why can't every winter day be filled with bottles of Chocolate-Pumpkin Conditoning Hair Milk and an evening rubdown with Honey-Maple Hot Oil?

This lowdown feelin also led me to investigate two strikingly similar passages in two books by McSweeney's-related heavyweights, Michael Chabon and Nick Hornby, in an effort to feel productive.

From Wonder Boys:
"It pleased me for a moment to believe I would; but in the very next instant I knew that with death in my body my only desire would be to curl up on the Honor Bilt with half a kilo of Afghan Butthair, roll numbers, and watch reruns of The Rockford Files until the girl in the black kimono came to take me away."

From About a Boy:
"These were people who could not control themselves, or protect themselves, people who, if only temporarily , were no longer content to occupy their own space, people who could no longer rely on a new jacket, a bag of grass, and an afternoon rerun of The Rockford Files to make them complete."

Are we readers of fine contemporary literature to believe that these two channeled a weed-fueled, rerun-watching souless-loser subculture separately, a destiny left when the authors moved on to other projects? Or is it more likely that McSweeney's meetings are hazy gatherings, lit only by the flickering face of James Garner?

I suggest a close reading of both novels on your own. Please alert me of any further clues...

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Book That Nobody Wanted

In honor of the much maligned transit strike, I'm going to tell another sad story:

Since the first bookswap I had in NYC there has been one book that's stuck around, mysteriously never making it into the freecycle bag. I give you Blended Beauty.
Oh Philip B., let's eat our Orange-Coconut Body Moisturizer together! But when I leave you for David B., don't cry, just have a bowl of Herbal Carrot Blemish Treatment and start the first day of the rest of your life.

Seriously, David B., je t'aime! Call me!

Getting Paid in Ham

Since I am avoiding reading a really good book for which I am writing a review for which I get paid in more books, I present you with a link to this book. Colson Whitehead has captured both the freelance writer's worst nightmare AND written the only portrayal of interning at the Village Voice I have ever read. (The intern thing is spot fucking on, by the way).

So read this book, even if there are too many characters and it drags a little in spots. Then read The Intuitionist and thank my ass in the morning.

I'm glad I don't write for Hormel.

Why? You Don't Write Letters...

Even though it happened last week, I am today mourning the loss of a sheet of stamps stolen from my notebook at the Eastern Bloc Cafe* last week. The thief left my almost entirely unused sketchbook, ignored the temptation of reading the three letters tucked in the back, and didn't even take a souvenir drawing for him/herself. Instead they stole an almost full sheet of stamps and turned the book over to the management.

What could this person possibly need those stamps for? Sending in the bill for their Fashion Bug credit card? Trading it for a tiny crack rock? Sticking on a card to grandma, begging her for the usual $5 Christmas check?


Anyway, I needed those stamps to send letters to relations and thank you cards, one to my friend Dave, who illustrated this book. He is very talented and looks painfully cute in a tux.

*not its real name


Ok, censorship.

I know if I wasn't allowed to read without boundaries, I would either be dead, much less confident or married to my highschool sweetheart (see dead). I'm not being hyperbolic. Reading has taught me most of the things I know. Reading has refined my thoughts on friendship, my body, love and death. I am a better writer because of being able to read everything I wanted. I am a better person really, because I can now command language to show the world my needs, my desires, my anger and my sadness. I don't need to use my fists. I can make people think. I can tell the people I love them over and over, and hopefully surprise them each time.

Now this is about a school that did not bow to the pressures of its community and hopefully shows its students what being an adult is about. It is also about a group of writers that cares more about kids' minds than their parents or school seems to. Thanks to Pamie for finding this (and being spectacular about keeping the library in the minds of the cool kids).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More Sad Ladies...

Apparently there is a newer short story collection edited by Wendy Martin called
More Stories We Tell.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Suggestions please

I'd love more suggestions in these categories:

Speculative ficiton
American women writers 1940s-1960s
Graphic novels
Early American History
Themed short story collections

Thanks yall.

Sad Ladies Give Good Pen

Last night I finished We are the Stories We Write: The Best Short Stories by North American Women Since 1945 again for the first time. The collections spans 1946 to 1987. I can't remember where I found this book, possibly from a great trash score which netted some delightfully lame records and lots of feminist studies books, or from a bookswap. Did you give me this book?

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this anthology. I skipped the intro by editor Wendy Martin (a lesson on the opposition that women writers have faced from the day the first picked up a pen), and dove into the stories. I will read the intro, but later, on the toilet.

My favorite stories were:
Janus by Ann Beattie
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates (surprise!)
An Interest in Life by Grace Paley
Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason
The Blackguard by Mary McCarthy

I had read a few of the other stories in other collections, but I'll no doubt be unable to find the books I first read them in (stupid New York deleting my dreams of a well-appointed jhome library). I haven't read many of these women before, but their names echo through thrift store memories and other people's houses, and I feel like I should have. Each story presents a real sense of place; this book is excellent for the settings alone.

Strangely, the feeling I was left with when finishing this book was of travelling away from a dry, dusty place, where I was once loved, but now silently resented. I'm sure my current attempt to read L.A. Confidential will cut that shit short.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Chronicles of Narnia- one more way to turn kids against reading

Just a quick note spurred by too much TV watching:

The new Narnia movie(s) scare me. I read the books when I was a kid and hated them. The girl characters were dumb and whiny, and basically caused many of the problems the boys then had to fix.

The characters had nothing to recommend obsession (a key force in my childhood reading) and spent their time on tasks I could not imagine caring about in a snowy land of suckitude.

Hopefully the movie strays from the source material with respect to the girl characters, but I doubt I'll go find out.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Noguchi, Chess and New Books

On Sunday, I went to the (very far from the subway) Noguchi Museum to see a panel of authors read from their books about chess. Jennifer Shahade was the main draw (of course), but Paul Hoffman and J.C. Hallman certainly held their own. The basement "education" space was relatively full, and interested folks drifted in as the reading went on.

Besides Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport & Hallman's Artist: Genius, Obsession and the World's Oldest Game, Paul Hoffman read from a forthcoming book about his own obsession with chess as a kid. He dropped a few lines about his father being a speed-readiing pathological liar with a photographic memory, and how that was hard to compare to as a boy. Sounds good...

After the reading I walked through the museum towards the exit and realized anew that modern sculpture often looks like fossilized dinosaur turds. Who knew?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Small Press Book Fair--- UNFAIR

This weekend I got a call from a friend that just had a kickass book published. She was flyering the Small Press Book Fair on 44th St. and asked if I wanted to stop by. Because I am so so slow, I missed her, but I did get to check out the mysterious and cool The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen building. So many rooms and shelves- it's the kind of place I live in my dreams.

Anyway, Soft Skull Press was nowhere to be found which made me cry like an old man (the saddest crying of all) since I was looking forward to buying a few of their recent titles at cheap bookfair prices. Instead I ended up with:
Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin by The Feminist Press
alphabet city by Michael De Feo + bonus book, Too Fat to Fly by Yuko Kundo by Ginko Press
one copy of quantify #6, a personal zine

Yes, I know you're all tearing up a little now for the money that was burning a hole in my pocket. It's okay, feelings make us human.

I did get to meet Ayun Hayden of East Village Inky fame and briefly rap with her about lice. That was very fun, even if then one of her compatriots accused my boyfriend of stealing a button.

But, where were the comic books?????

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Beginning of the list

The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester
Joe College, Tom Perrotta
A Changed Man, Francine Prose

All these nabbed at a library sale. Gotta love the New York Public Library

Starting in January

I will be posting on books. Old, new, but mostly old books which hopefully will hone my review skills, as well as entertain the internets.

Any book suggestions?