Tuesday, January 31, 2006

dark and dreary

Still postponing the A Long Way Down entry mostly because I don't feel like finishing writing it. I have to say that this easy, breezy book about suicide has got me thinking (ok, when am I never not thinking about this?) about depression.

Here are two recent, great posts about it by smart and funny people:


I have a hard time writing about the subject, mostly because it doesn't really help me feel less depressed. Sometimes my inability to endlessly expound on the subject that colors most of my life actually makes the depression worse. I could care less about books with depressed main characters, because depression is boring. Depression is intensely personal, incredibly painful, maginficently consuming and boring beyond the descriptive powers of silly adjectives. It takes an amazing writer (or a personal connection) to move me.

In later February, Bookslut will have a review of mine of a graphic memoir about a depressed teenager. I'm sure I will get some flak for criticizing the author's decision to record his illness in the (BORING) way he did. As I say in the review, there is a difference between a record of your depression and creating art about depression. I don't care if you are writing a long-running, autobiographical comic or a zillion-page bestseller. Art requires some sort of analysis or interpretation of a situation. Too hard, not your style? Write a diary.

I have to go right now and watch a German comedy about Holocaust survivors or somesuch for work. Fitting? You decide, because I don't care.

Monday, January 30, 2006

hi mom. yes i am doing fine.

I finished Hornby's A Long Way Down last night. I'd be lying if I said that I needed more tome to think about it before I posted my review. The truth is that I need to spend my fewer and fewer awake hours seeing and writing reviews for a place that does not challenge me and, I suspect, does not like the way I write.

This reminds me, are there any librarians in the house? I am considering going back for my master's in library science. I'd like to hear from any of you that have done/considered the same thing.

zines, again

I just finished smile, sweetheart #1 by Eryn Loeb. I usually scan the zine racks at any bookstore i go to, and this one hooked me by its cheap price and sweet, simple collages. Remember collage? My whole adolescent bedroom was one for a few years.

smile, sweetheart is an episodic tale of moving to NYC. The routine of moving every year, sidewalk shopping and the feeling of endlessly starting again are given a lot of attention. The differences between NYC and real places still occupies my thoughts, and I liked Loeb's easy and concise take on those themes and more. Her story about searching for dirt to refill a dying houseplant was only a few lines, but it told my millions of frustrations (and bewildered moments) in that paragraph.

I'm not surprised that housing is the theme here. In nowhere else I've ever been (or read about) does where and how you live carry so much weight. I hate it, but smile, sweetheart makes those lightening fast judgements seem less stupidly important and more of a part of the new language I'm still learning.

If you see this somehwere, buy it.
Speaking also of zines, I forgot to mention a Bonus! in That Old Ace in the Hole: my all time favorite zine, Dishwasher, got a mention in a very weird way. I miss paper...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nerd Vocabulary 101

Example of a "library coup":
I picked up a much-coveted-by-skinflints copy of Nick Hornby's latest book, A Long Way Down, yesterday during a routine trip to my local library. I was paying some fines and, as usual, I checked out the new books shelf to see if anything interesting had come in and there it was. The spine is already all bent up and gnarled. I have a week to read it (no renewals) so I'd better get on that. You know, after I write these reviews.

I am reading Already Dead by Denis Johnson right now. It is fantastic. The cover was designed by Chip Kidd- he's so hot right now- and I really don't see what all the fizzus is about. Judging a person's body of work by one example is so hot right now.

Blogs and productivity

Here's the thing about having a blob. I have two deadlines today, but I am here instead, writing about them instead of writing the actual pieces. I am an ass. I really need to get a job.

I also am looking to expand my nonfiction reading. Memoir, arcane and trivial histories and well-written books on architecture and urban planning will all be heartily embraced. Recommend away.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

book 7: That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx

It was the words "hog farming" that got me. I rarely read the covers of books, but when this one was a leftover at a bookswap, I kept it around, read Doppelgagner's review and decided to bring it on my trip. I'm glad I did. (Though, on my trip, I ran across some other Annie Proulx books while I was thrifting. I read the covers and then didn't want to read the books. Anybody want to change my mind?)

That Old Ace in the Hole is funny. It is very funny. It also manages to be smart, interesting and mild. I loved all the characters except for Bob Dollar, the protaganist. He is spineless and boring, like most 25 year-olds I know, and his descisions about work are drama-less and stubborn. Even so, he moves along in this Texas panhandle town, trying to buy land for a Denver-based hog farmer and taking us to meet the residents who are strange without being (F-)"quirky." I hate quirky. It is just a cover for poor charaterization skills, and usually plot holes too. UGH- but that is another post.

I think my favorite parts of the novel are about Dollar's Uncle Tam. Uncle Tam runs a junk shop and has a collector's passion for plastic jewelery. He works hard and is realistic about life, love and work. Proulx lets Uncle Tam just be there, no speeches, no unnatural demands on my suspension of disbelief. She is good at that. It made me wish I had an Uncle Tam to go estate sale hunting with. Since I do that with my dad and my friends anyway, my desire to be a neice was strange and kind of cool.

Reading this book took me to a place I've never been, will likely never go, and have no attachemnt to otherwise. But I felt like I was there, enjoying a hot evening in a dusty town, watching windmills and eating steak. I felt happy being there through Bob Dollar. I was satisfied when the book ended, and I felt a little smarter, a little more knowledgable about America, when I was done. Hog farming, who knew?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Just popping zits

I am working on a review of That Old Ace in the Hole for yall. For now though, my mind is taken up with all the reviews I have to write for work. Also, how that work is going to net me zero dollars, and how building up a portfolio is hard and annoying and how being a petulant bitch about it doesn't really help. Any job leads?

At my other job (which I am being intentionally coy about, don't be nosy), there is all of a sudden tons of work to do. This means that I will be chained to my computer for a few days, hear absolutely nothing for a week or so, then be all crazytron on my ailing laptop for a few more days hopefully doing some editing, likely writing tense emails.

In other news, my boyfriend, my friend Dave and I went to drown our sorrows in the schitzo pheremone stew that is the Strand on a Sunday evening. I get turned on just being in there, but I also get a little nauseous with all the possiblities. I bought two cheap books and will probably get around to reading them sometime in April because of my whirlwind freelancer's life. (the saddest story in the world) I will soon have some click click action for you, my loyal readers, so you can see what some of this "work" is. Exciting, no?

Friday, January 20, 2006

I have to read in bed

Also, the main reason I've been doing so much reading is that the house I am staying in depresses me. Not on purpose, but even so, I have been spending a lot of time in bed.

Because of our similar feelings on nighttime neccesities, I wish I was in bed with Doppleganger- but I doubt I would fit...Bonus: farts and camping!

Now, time for a little polyesther blanket bingo and Denis Johnson.

Lazy in Sunny CA

I have been reading a lot. I'll post about that later. I did end up buying more books while here on vacation, but I also perused the zine section of this spot (mind the beatniks!) and picked up Volume 7 Issue 3 of The First Line and onw pretty copy of Lost Positives. They were both good. I was surprised and pleased.


***Edited to ask what photocopied mayhem, or silkscreened anarchy is in your mental closet. Comment away book bitches!

book 6: Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch

I read most of this book on the airplane. This is not an airplane book. I should've bought a Star magazine.

In my search for some good speculative fiction (that word makes me think of my cervix-- a good thing?) I went to the library and picked the only book in trade paperback off the shelf. I went into Camp Concentration thinking it was relatively new, and realized only about a quarter of the way in that this book is from the late sixties. Seeing how the main character was jailed for being a concientious objector, I guess I should have taken a second and had a thought.

Anyway, this book was old, white and male, but still somehow entertaining. It is told in the form a journal, first a personal escape from the boredom of prison life, then a monitored narrative of the main character's observations his fellow prison-campers and the effects of a mysterious drug being used on the inmates. The plot is basically a Flowers for Algernon thing without the fourth grade punch in the gut, or the crappy film adaptation.(If you cried while watching this, I don't care).

I liked the idea of government-created superbrains in captivity, but Disch's take on guinea-pigism did not transcend a few jabs at the man, the ivory tower and poets. Too bad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Burned Out/ Blogger Sucks my Ass

I had a nice, informative post written about travelling, book buying and Cortazar, but It was erased. Here's the skinny:

I am bringing Camp Concentration, That Old Ace in the Hole, and two work books on the trip. I plan on buying more books when I am out there, mostly because I always do. Last time I spent a week or so in the bosom of my rapidly shrinking family I bought Blow-Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortazar in a used paperback shop in the town where I was staying. In it, I rediscovered 'Letter to a Young Lady in Paris,' a righteously awesome epistolary story that is still one of my favorite stories ever. I first read it in this, a collection well worth picking up, if impossible to find easily on the internets.

I read so much this weekend, and had an actual book-talkin bookswap last night, that I fear I fried my brain in regards to the written word. I've eased back in a little with some random chapters in The Gastronomical Me though. I love you MFK Fisher- you make me want to take boat rides and have lots of husbands and eat everything from everywhere. Too bad you are dead and therefore can't be my auntie.

Reading anything good?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Books for Airplanes and Family Visits

These are the books I am bringing to what is likely to be a stressful cross country trip:

Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch
Joe College by Tom Perrotta
Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl (maybe)

Any other suggestions? I want books that are funny, possibly removed from this place in the space/time continuum and won't make me horny (okay a little horniness is okay).

*** Editied to add that I'm going to bring That Old Ace in the Hole, and to say hello to Mike.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

book 5: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Holy shit, my jaw hurts.
Okay, so here's the story. I read Neverwhere last year (after hearing a bunch of you internet people wet yourself over it) and was sorely disappointed, so disappointed that I wrote it down (see comments). Good luck Anita!
Anyway, I went to the library on Saturday and saw Anansi's Boys on the new books shelf. I thought, God, I feel like shit. This will at least be diverting, and if it is stupid too, like Neverwhere, I can tear it apart on my blog. Tearing things apart always makes me feel better.

So I got it and read it in about 4 hours.

It was good, not great, not bad. Gaiman's main character is still annoyingly Arthur Dent-esque- the fumbling, boring everyman with a heart of gold- and his fate seems a little silly. The other characters are a little more original, but not much. Anansi's Boys is about what happens when the old gods have kids in the new world. There are witches and curses and seances. There is love, a murder and a trip to St. Andrews. And, because this is Neil Gaiman, everything is presented with an ineffable cheeriness, even the nasty parts. That's what hard about his novels- they are inventive, but you know how everything is going to turn out. Even so, it was fun to read, but I should have saved it for the airplane.

That was not the best review, I know. I blame my teeth and the fact that I can't turn up Sparks: Kimono My House as loud as it needs to be.

book 4: Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender

Go read this book now. Seriously, NOW. I finished this book of stories in a few hours. It's funny, I hated An Invisible Sign of My Own, a novel of Bender's that I picked up at a library sale last year. It bugged me with its heavy-handedness and some other reasons I don't remember now.

Willful Creatures is fifteen stories in three parts. One story, ' The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers,' was in a McSweeney's that I read awhile ago, and remember enjoying. The rest, I read so hungrily it was as if I hadn't finished Whistle Stop seriously ten minutes before.

'End of the Line' is a meditation on cruelty and loneliness, involing a tiny man and a big man. 'Debbieland' looks inside the mind of the woman that your middle school bully has become. It is not pretty.'Ironhead' is about a family of pumpkin heads. It made me cry, or rather, it reminded me of a part of the pain I carry around that I forgot for a second. That sucked, but repect that kind of power that Bender seems to be able to wield in stories that could be described (if you aren't very good at describing things) as modern fairy tales. In fact most of these stories have fantastic elements and yet feel as real as any book about college or WWII, or some other serious topic, instead of potato babies and crazy bitches (as main characters, not foils- but that's another post).

Bender takes on depravity with a refreshingly sinister and immediate voice. She also writes about hope in such a beautifully straightforward way I could just break down right here, right now and ask you to marry me.

Get this book now!

book 3: Whistle Stop by Maritta Wolff

Wow, that book was long. Okay, it wasn't so long, but it felt long. Whistle Stop is the story of the Veeches, a big, trashy family in small-town Nowhere, USA. They fight with each other, and ignore each other, and maybe sleep with each other.

This was Maritta Wolff's first novel. It has a lot of characters. Kenny, Mary, Carl, Sam, Molly, Jen & Josette, Jud and Dorothy all live in the Veech house, and Wolff amnages to give each a distinct personality. Other characters get significant page time at one point or another, which and manages not to be that distracting. There is not much of a plot, yet the pages keep turning. Since my family is tiny (two parents, one, now no, siblings), it was interesting to read about a household that had mulitple generations in it, and the way that the children's personalities seemed to be informed by when they fell out of Molly. I know being the oldest has, in part, made me the special person I am. [Shut up]

These people also smoke and drink like there is no tomorrow. Seeing as how it is set on the brink of the US's involvement in WWII, I guess this is appropriate. The youngest Veech child, Carl, is bitter and petulant. He is also lost, and craves escape from his town and the options available there. His story creeps around behind the other childrens' and was to me, the most affecting. He turns eighteen during the summer in which Whistle Stop is set, and though it is not explicitly mentioned, his future is likely blowing his small town for Europe or Asia, becoming a "man" by killing people. Haunting.

I liked this book. I liked its subtlety especially. But, when Wolff's last book, whose manuscript was been hidden in a refrigerator untill 2002, arrived at my library branch, I gave it back. I want to read the books in between, which seem to be out of print.

On to other things.

Also, I am teething. Because of lack of good dental care in my youth, I never got my two wisdom teeth removed and they are crookedly coming in through my unwilling gums. FUCK!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

book(s) 2: Comics Crazy

After a post-luch-date comics binge with my main man, I cam home and read 3 single issues of GirlTalk (a decade old, damn!) and Fancy Frogin's Sexy Forest, Fantastic Butterflies, two pretty, weirdo comics by James Kochalka and Bogus Dead, a compliation about zombies edited by Jerome Gaynor.

The GirlTalk's are fun, real and wrenching. They tell the stories that we sometimes hide but need to hear. It's not all pain though; these comics definitely show the spectrum of female experiences in a rockin way. More, more, more smart comix by women!

The Kochalka books are silly and slight, but that's cool. Plus, it's not everyday that abook about a tiny frog who loves his boner is printed in such pretty colors, right?

Bogus Dead is for zombie lovers. There were a few stand-outs here, but mostly the theme was taken too literally by the artists. Megan Kelso & Ariel Bordeaux had a nice takes on a zombiefied future, but overall there was too much ink spilled on brain eating for me. Overall: eh.

And for comics hilarity of an entirely different stripe go here. Hee hee!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

book 1: Hokkaido Popsicle by Isaac Adamson

The adventures of Billy Chaka (apparently) continue in this Japan-based dumb-noir about a reporter for a teen magazine out of Cleveland and his misadventures after the death of Japanese pop god Yoshi. Summarized enough for you?

Anyway, Whistle Stop was not tickling the synapses enough this week, so I turned to Hokkaido Popsicle for a little brain candy. In proper noir style, the main character (Chaka) is a tough-talking, good-looking reporter who can handle his own shit, with a checkered past and some unsettled love affair back home. The style is over-the-top Tokoyo pop blitzkrieg, which sounds a lot like something the main character would say. Chaka's telling of his own adventures in Japan sound very much like a music journalist struggling to come up with new words for "punk rock," or a new way to say "that album rocked." Adamson seems to have fun with this stretching of the metaphorical/ simi-alien/ phraseological muscles, but you can feel the strain in some of his descriptions. Much like the previous sentence...

There's strippers, technology, yakuza, crooked business men, a secret society and music (both real and imagined) galore. That's cool I guess, but Hokkaido Popsicle just isn't. The formula almost works, but doesn't. I think the target audience of music lovers will be annoyed by this book, mystery lovers will feel gypped and noir lovers would rather be reading cigarette ads from the 40s. Part of this for me is that no book is ever going to be Neuromancer again, and I just have little patience for tokoyo-worship by whitey, even if it is done with the proper apologies.

Anyway, read a magazine instead.

Highlight: Ween, my favorite band to reminisce to, gets a mention!

Monday, January 02, 2006

I feel like a loser

And what do nerds do when they feel like losers?
They bust out some useles facts!

According to Random House, this is what Whistle Stop is referring to in the title. According to my Google search, I am not he only one who wondered what it meant.

Sorry kids, I am just feeling lowdown because something I wrote was rejected for publication at a place whose standards for "journalism" aren't so high. I'm trying again fo them this weekend, but since I am still in my probational period, I don't have too much enthusiasm. All this for a byline?

I should get that tatooed on my forehead, so when I am kneeling before my next editor, he/she will be know I'm not really into it.

My Thoughts Exactly

Please go over to 50 Books and read Doppleganger's thoughts on reading and reviewing books. She is great!

And, yes, I commented because I am a clicky click click whore. Forgive me, I just want to be loved... Oh, and fuckfaces, I'd feel a lot more loved if you'd comment once and awhile.

I am in the middle of Whistle Stop right now. So far, I'd suggest this book for a nice bad weather stretch of reading. I am looking forward to finishing it so I can begin the 50, and putting numbers on my list like I like to do.