Friday, December 29, 2006


After reading this blog (via theproglady) I remembered on of the books that blogger ate!

It was The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia (1961).

I loved this book, and not just because it is a sexy NYBR edition, with an excellent and curiously tender intro by George Scialabba, but because I love a good, weird crime story. I chose this one from a few other possible NYRB splurges at the Strand because I have never read any Italian crime fiction. Somehow in my mind wanting to read this got linked up with my enjoyment of Magritte novels and Murakami (!) and seemed like a better and better way to spend my money.

Luckily I was right. The story concerns a murder, obviously a mob murder, in a small town in Sicily. When a Northern Italian police investigator (I still don’t really understand the Italian police rankings) is sent down to solve the crime, he finds that the people of the town don’t seem to want the rime solved.

While TDTO spends a lot of time remarking on the character of Southern Italians, and their insistence on the nonexistence of the mob, the main draw of the story for me was reading about the town- the food, the conveyances, the clothes, the habits of the police and townspeople. I also liked how when Sciascia has members of the mob in conversation about “business” there is no attribution; as the dialogue goes on personalities are revealed. Because these are shadow personalities in a way (everyone knows who is in the mob, but no one speaks about it), this was an amazingly effective way to tell without telling and ratchet up the tension at the same time.

So, 54 then.

a couple of quick things...

- I forgot to tell yall that I had a blogaversary on Dec 1. try harder is a little over one year old. This was my first post.

- Shelley Jackson's Half Life is waiting for me at my pretty, little branch library and I am so excited.

- Yesterday I met Austin English, creator of Christina and Charles, an excellent comic that I wrote about before. He remembered reading my post which was a surprise. I told him how much I liked it, but, of course called it "space" instead of C&C. He corrected me and gave me some good suggestions of what to buy. More proof that cartoonists as a group are very nice.

Monday, December 25, 2006

These are beautiful and not badly priced.

I am a fan of the subscription concept, but I rarely have enough up front money to make it work for me. What an excellent gift idea...

That reminds me, I have to reup my subscription to the fantastic and awesome VQR. You should get one too.

How to be Good by Nick Hornby/ Christmas

So it is Christmas for many folks out there beyond the wilds of the internet. I am still sick and things are taking a sad, surprising turn towards UTI country. I cannot express how upset this makes me without audio.

I’d like to finish writing up my 2006 books before the year is over. In that spirit, here is a review of How to be Good by Nick Hornby.

I go this book for free or under a dollar. Whether at a bookswap or a library sale, I know not. It had been languishing on my shelf for a long time before I grabbed it some night when I wanted to be entertained.

About: a failed marriage and its unexpected quasi-resurrection
POV: female, first-person
Favorite paragraph: “ ‘Anything you need help with? I mean your old man’s not Brain of Britain, but he is not bad at English. Writing and all that.’ And he chuckles, we know not why.”
Sufficiently nasty, sad and real, yet light: Almost. I enjoyed this book, but it lacked a completeness that I felt in A Long Way Down.
Ending: Properly ambiguous
Funny bits: Many, but they seemed rather rote.

I liked the exploration of why we put up with the things we put up with and the lengths that people will go to avoid change. I wish the main character were less sketchy. I can’t picture her at all but we see all the events through her eyes, making the whole book seem less genuine somehow.

Overall: meh

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me/ Accidental Round Up

I wish the sun would not go down today. It is so bright and warm. Even though by streaming into my window it illuminates the funky sick house that is my apartment now, it is making my brain feel better.

I am in the last hundred or so pages of Pure and Radiant Heart. Oh Lydia, you have a big imagination and great follow-through. More people should read your books. In fact, I would say that you are under read.

PRH will likely be the last book I finish this year. According to my list (and including PRH) I have read 53 books this year. That number does not include:
_Books I read for review purposes. Usually I have linked to these reviews.
_Books I almost finished (like all but one story of I am Not Jackson Pollack by John Haskell and the second novel included in this collection)*.
_Books I pick up and pick down throughout the year like The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher.
_The books I lost (and then couldn’t remember) when Blogger** ate tryharder.

I think I did pretty well. And so many of the books were actually good!

I could have done without a few books. Another list:

_Hokkaido Popsicle by Isaac Adamson because it was only marginally fun.
_ Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis for the same reason.

I hesitate to add the other crappy books I read this year because I read a few of them to find out what the author’s style was (I’m looking at you THUD!) and others because my brain just needed the literary equivalent of a fluffy pillow and a lullaby (cough-Anansi Boys-cough).

Hmm. I guess that was the round up. Maybe we do more listy-list later, baby? Oh, don’t make that squishy-squishy face! You looka lika Pekinese!

* Class Trip was excellent. So was The Moustache, but I just put it down and didn't pick it back up.
** You suck.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I hate your santa

The holidays sure seem to fuck people up. Normally rational people I know get all strung out about buying gifts for their family and friends and it depresses me. Seeing all this compulsitory gift giving makes me mad, especially when my friends feel the need to spend spend spend just so your greedy peeps can judege how much people love them by the amount of crap under their tree. Sorry, but your families suck if they make you feel like that.

If gifts don’t mean something, they should mean nothing at all but be incredibly useful.

So, in the spirit of self-disclosure, I thought I would tell you some of my favorite mean-nothing gifts to get any time of year:

- A big box of name brand trash bags
- Socks
- Stickers
- Stationery
- Paper towels, kitchen towels and bath towels
- Manila folders
- Magazine and journal subscriptions
- A job

Of course they do mean something I guess; people who know these are my favorite things besides books, money and handmade art are actually thinking of me when they wrap up the paper products.


I guess I am just a bitch.
No surprise there.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Here is the thing about the internet:

Someone I didn't know is dead
. A lot of people loved her. A while ago, this someone loved someone. They died. She wrote this. I found it, but I can't even tell her thank you.

She is a stranger but she knows my thoughts. Knew my thoughts. Was a stranger.

It is hard when someone disappears.

I Like You by Amy Sedaris and other things

Ever feel that a mountain of paper was going to overwhelm you in a wave of bills, magazine offers and letters never replied to? Ever have that feeling while pounds of bloody snot rockets from your face and you have no voice to curse with?

Just wondering.


I Like You by Amy Sedaris was a birthday present, sadly given after I was already deep into throwing a crappy party. When the party starts at 4:30, show up before 10, know what I’m saying?

The book is big and pretty. The photographs of Amy are fun and remind me of the intriguing entertaining books from the 70s I have seen in the thrift store- where the food is poorly lit and there’s always an orgy around the corner. The illustrations were doodly, but not doo-doo-y. The shtick is Jerri Blank plus Sedaris clan, which was kind of disappointing because I like Jerri, I really do, but I like her confined to her short Comedy Central show.

The most helpful parts of the book are the sections on how to be a good host and how to be a good guest. People don’t seem to get that the responsibility for a good party goes both ways. Please keep the graphic descriptions of your “fungus problem” and unexplained and unclaimed bleeding to yourself (unless you are me. I am hilarious when I harp on gross medical stuff, as evidenced by this blog). The invitation requirements she sets out are helpful to an inept host like myself as well. It was fun to read and I might refer to it again if planning a party, but I will never make any of the food (except perhaps the cupcakes) that Sedaris so lovingly diagrams out for us.

I wish I could add quotes but finding the book, opening it and making editorial decisions about which lines t choose and how to describe them seems so hard. So hard.

I never made it to the KGB bar lit event last night. Too much anger and mucus. Did anyone go?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

so sick

Well, less today, but still sick.
I spent yesterday watching Dead Ringers, accidently rereading 100 Demons, diving further into the immensely enjoyable Pure and Radiant Heart and trying not to die.

I picked up PRH at the library last week when I realized that I needed a novel, a really big novel, to fall into for awhile. No more short stories! I am liking it so far. Any suggestions for more gigantor novels?

Also, has anyone read Melville's The Confidence Man? I was thinking of trying it...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Blechdel

What can I say that hasn't been said already?

Go read this beautiful, densely detailed, smart, sad, funny, amazing book now. Buy it, borrow it, steal it.

If you like memoirs, if you like comics, if you like "the classics," if you have ever been gay, if you have ever had sex, if you have ever been changed by reading, if you have ever had parents, or been a kid, read it.


I think my feelings are clear.

Report to the Men’s Club and other stories by Carol Emshwiller

This is another SBP book. I have to say that I may have done it a disservice in reading it too quickly and along side Maureen F. Mc Hugh’s collection. In fact, I know I did.

Emshwiller’s stories, taken all together, leave the scent of mountain air and the feeling of impending doom. She has many stories about raising governmentally created killing machines as children, or taking them as friends, in worlds not entirely unlike our own. There is a lot if first-person storytelling here, maybe even all the stories, which is a personal dislike of mine. If you read a collection like this too fast, all the voices blur into one really annoying voice, in this case, a strange mix of old-timey Western and spacey, animal consciousness.

Taken separately, I think the stories would stand out on their own. One I really liked was a short one called ‘Nose.’ It was about a person who is thinking about their nose, about how their nose really runs their life. “It’s because of my nose. I stay in because of it. I go out because of it. My whole life is because of it.” I liked how Emshwiller took a thought like that and spun it into a whole, while pretty short, story and made her nameless character a real person.

I still want to check out her other books. I’ll keep you posted about that.
Next Wednesday, go to KGB Bar's Fantastic Fiction reading with Justin Corter, Brian Evenson and Ira Sher. Evenson's been getting so much good press for his book Open Curtain (from Coffee House Press)- sigh- another book to try to get from the library and then break down and buy.

I don't know the other writers, but scary stories are best on winter nights. Space! Skunks! Mormons!

It's free, people.

Who's coming?

Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh

Ok, time to stop reading blogs, magazines, and various other crap I have lying around the house and write something for you. I recently discovered that I don’t know when to use “lie” and “lay.” All I know is that I am usually quite wrong. This was pointed out to me by a terrible primetime cartoon, so I guess I should add ‘stop watching TV’ to my stoppin’ list. TV should never make one feel bad about oneself, it should only foster feelings of superiority and/ or delirium.


MOM by MFM is delicious, fantastic and is likely the best short story collection that I have ever read. The structure is one reason for my panting topic sentence-- the tone of each story fluctuates through the book so the stories don’t run together, the subject matter and types of characters change (sometimes delightfully drastically) with each story and the writing is so intelligent, you’ll be spinning new brain threads for days after putting it down. MOM stands up to at least one reread (that’s all I have done so far), so it is worth owning and loaning. Also it is from Small Beer Press, which means you should buy, buy, buy from this fantastic small publisher now, now, now.

Ahem. Ahem.

So what are the stories actually about? Well, let me start by say that MFM is a science fiction writer. After that sinks in and creates all kinds of WRONG and STUPID stereotypes in your head, let me crush those ideas by saying that MFM writes about life in a beautiful and sometimes painfully acute way. Also in a weird way. Perfectly weird.

The book opens with ‘Ancestor Money’ a story about a long-dead American woman named Rachel whose Heaven is disrupted by a shiny, red and beautiful letter from dead-China informing her that she has received some ancestor money from a granddaughter she never met. Mc Hugh manages to make her character real in those circumstances; my favorite detail is how Rachel’s illiteracy (not uncommon for a Kentucky woman born in 1892) was “one of those things that had solved itself in the afterlife.” In Rachel’s afterlife, many things had solved themselves, quietly, and because of her personality, which is revealed just enough by Mc Hugh to make the story work, that is the perfect heaven for her.

The next story, ‘In the Air,’ is a unique take on haunting wrapped in a chick-lit story. It surprised me.

As the stories go on a few recurring plot points emerge: Alzheimer’s disease, lost children, running away or being forced to leave, the terror of new beginnings. Whether in a story about post-Civil-War Southerners shipped out to the Okalahoma territories as punishment for owning slaves, or a tale about a remote, communistic community on a harsh planet, Mc Hugh’s themes are present and insistent, without clouding her imaginativeness.

One story where her imagination really caught mine was in ‘Interview: Any Given Day.’ This is science fiction at its best, my friends. MFM gives us a world where rejuvenated baby boomers develop a viral disease that is devastating to actual young people. It is sexually transmitted. The story is told as if it were viewed on a webpage, in pitch-perfect NPR (here NPI, National Public Internet) format. The faux-hyperlinks were surprisingly un-annoying and the format (which isn’t actually all that unusual looking) adds something great to the story. Read it now.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Today I am writing various things to get away from some personal sadness and dark-daytime-weirdness. I am reading the internet to feel impersonally depressed, part of a group (see booky folks links), and just plain distracted.

I have crusty pimple freckles that I am also avoiding, as well as bathing and doing some editing.

For a month or so I have been dreaming often of being on America's Next Top Model, either as a contestant, a judge or a former contestant, wearing gold lame and eating ramen. Maybe I should watch it tonight to further my agenda of distraction.

Also, I could go to Mo Pitkins here in NYC to see another Grace Reading Comics Showcase. That would be fun.

(Secretly, secretly, it is not working. I am raging and wet inside with grief and anger and longing. Nothing helps much.)

Stranger Than Fiction by Kelly Link

I am trying to catch up. I have had so much luck with reading the past couple of months and I want to tell you about it before I forget everything.

This book has gone back to the library and I can't remember titles. I loved it. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than Magic for Beginners. STF is a lot easier for me to read, maybe that’s it, the stories are shorter and maybe because the reader has to work less. That quality doesn’t distract from the intelligence of Link’s tales, though, and even if it did, the fun of this book would trump the difference. I would recommend that you read this slowly so that the stories don't blur together.

It is definitely worth a read. Enjoy.


Ed Champion has a recent interview with Kelly Link (#82) on the bat segundo show. Sadly, too much of it is bogged down by talk about genre and labels and there is a little too much Ed in this one. For me, it was worth it to hear Link drop little tidbits of trivia about book covers and travelling and attempt to discuss her work.

read me

I have two reviews up at the now debugged December issue of Bookslut. The whole issue is looking tasty, so go, now and read it all.

Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

Before landing on every high school reading list with Brave New World (which I should really reread) Huxley wrote Antic Hay, a book about richish do-nothings and their hangers on in London in the early 1920s. Everyone is post-university so there are quotes and Latin and Greek phrases galore to wade through, most of which matter little to the plot, luckily.

The main character, Theodore Gumbril, is a not-so-young man on the verge of doing something. Something to do with manufacturing and selling pneumatic trousers. Then a bunch of stuff happens, a bunch of exquisite sentences describe the stuff that happens and in the end there is nothing.

I did like the book. I did! I read it during the bulk of our renovations, mostly on the toilet, mostly to be transported elsewhere. It did the job. But, the mores and lifestyles skewered here are not mine (or my parents’) so a certain amount of detachment (present whenever I read Waugh or Greene or whatever old, dead British drole-doller) latched itself onto me when I read through the tales of drinking, being bad and breaking hearts.

One character stood out. Gumbril’s father, Gumbril Sr. is a lost man, an architect with no one willing to build his projects. In one passage his giant model of London, built as if Christopher Wren’s plans had been entirely executed, along with some touches of Gumbril Sr. himself, is a worthy literary creation and I like that Huxley allows Gumbril Sr. some of the best lines.

This book is well worth a read if you want to get away from it all, just don’t expect to remember much of it later. Actually, I think that is a result that the wild, wacky kids of Antic Hay could get behind.

Mc Sweeney's 18: an irresponsible review

I read this over a couple of sleepless nights in the old apartment. I wanted something that would put me to sleep after giving my brain something to chew on. McSweeney’s 18 is a small, brown paperback with fourteen stories in it.

Since it has been very, very long since I read this thing, I can’t promise a responsible review, but I will tell you about the few stories I remember.

The first story in the book, “The Stepfather” by Chris Adrian, is about a huge family of children, all named with “C” names and all fathered by one of an ever-expanding group of men that their mother becomes romantically involved with. Each time a new one arrives at their home, he becomes the new stepfather. One of the kids, (I keep saying ‘kids’ but the characters range in age from toddler to grown-ass man), dies and his death tears through the family like one would expect. After the brother dies, in a horrific way that worms around in the brain, each of the children reverts to self destructive behaviors (bulimia, S&M porn-making, being timid, dating abusers, being abusive) that show Adrian playing, enjoying writing outrageous things for their own sake. Surprisingly, this does little to distract from the solemnity of the story when a line like this precedes it: “How stupid, after all, to think that something like that could improve a family. Better and more reasonable to believe what was easier, and more sensible, that it was a ruination that would reflect through time to wreak further and greater ruin, that every one of Calvin’s hundred’s of wounds would reach forward to be born again into the declining future." While “The Stepfather” is gimmicky and not amazing, I liked it, behind all the alliteration and sexual proclivities of the various family members, there is a somewhat sweet story about siblings and how they work.

“My Hustlers” by Edmund White was a giant waste of time. An old man looking back on his sexual development, and the the cocks he has bought. BORING.

“Happiness Reminders” by Rachel Haley Himmelheber is an experiment in keeping a lot from the reader and slowly winding threads of story together into a “we are all connected, ain’t we” potholder. I liked it, but it wasn’t entirely successful.

“Bad Habits” by Joyce Carol Oates is a tense, funny, nasty story about child murder from a child’s point of view. It is not as vicious as some of her recent, horror-like short stories in the VQR have been, but very compelling anyway. I always thought I didn’t like her stuff, but her recent short stories blow me away more often than not. So creepy!

Deb Olin Unferth’s “Deb Olin Unferth” is too silly.

The rest I don’t really remember. I think I like all of them to varying degrees, so late at night. That is how I always feel about Mc Sweeney’s anthologies. They are fun to read, but the stories don’t quite make it. All about the journey and what what this n that. Still, it is disappointing upon reflection.

Monday, December 04, 2006

five things

1) Did I mention that I loved Bugbear#1 and Mattie & Dodi? Well, I did. M&D was powerfully good at portraying an unusual family dynamic. Eleanor Davis is a master of facial expressions and body posture. The whole thing felt very, I don't know, alive.

2)I hate those phony breathers you get the day after you've completed a bunch of writing. It feels like a rush of relief, when in fact you still have a million other things to do, just things where the deadline isn't tommorrow.

3)This book is beautiful and I want it. In fact, all the books of Chris Van Allsburg are so creepy and wonderful, that when I bought one for my as-yet-unborn son of a cousin, I almost bought a few more for myself. Alas, more pressing concerns require my money these days.

4) But, despite those tricky "more pressing matters" I am very close to dropping a Jackson and some change on a bunch of minicomics from shortpants press. Damn internet book reviews, always making me buy stuff. If only publishers would realize what a good book blog/site does to an avid reader/cheapskate... and then pay us for it.

5) Since I did not write a Thanksgiving post detailing what I am grateful for (maybe later), I wanted to tell all four of my readers how much I appreciate your comments, recommendations and support. Thanks!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Via bookslut:

Perhaps the coolest idea for gift giving right now (and giving to a cause that sounds pretty good).

See a movis with Bitch's Lisa Jervis!
Get a tattoo designed by Jennifer Camper!
Get a character named after you in the next Thisbe Nissen book!
Have Dorothy Allison record your outgoing voicemail message!

and more. The auction ends on Tuesday, so hurry up.