Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pastoralia by George Saunders

Six stories of lost folks, best taken separately. Like in Persuasion Nation’s near-future world, many passages of Pastoralia are written in a choppy run-on patois that sounds like was poorly translated from a Germanic language wrought in nightmares. The dialogue is peppered with phrases that remind me of advertising jargon, and many of the constructions are illiterate, evoking the separation that Saunders’ characters feel from their hostile environments.

In the first story, “Pastorialia,” the main character is a theme park employee who spends his days imitating a caveman, doing everything form skinning and cooking one goat each day to grunting and using hand gestures with his cave mate instead of the stilted and desperate English that they speak. The park has come on hard times, and the main character is being pressured to rat out his cave mate Janet because of her “very verboten” practices in the never-visited cave, such as smoking and doing crosswords. He is a miserable schlump, but he is trying to do the right thing in a place where he is very alone and his stimuli can’t be trusted.

All the characters in Pastoralia are losers. Either hapless and not to blame, or mean and perverse, the losers just got to me. Often, whatever I was to take from the story got lost in the overblown patheticness of the characters’ plight and Saunders’ funny and occasionally brilliant writing is wasted setting up filling out these people.

The third story, “Sea Oak,” was my favorite. It takes place in a franchised, microwaved, Walmart-i-fied alternate present. When a family of idiots (in a land of idiots) loses their aunties, the only really responsible one in the group, life doesn’t really change. When she appears in the apartment, rotting and obscene, they take the direction she never gave in life, at least for awhile… This is where Pastoralia’s formula worked best. The main character’s sadly limited insight (especially as a product of his environment), gives reality to the setting and makes the surprise of the zombie aunt manageable. His flatness as a character didn’t bug so much because we weren’t meant to care about what was going on in his mind.

Each paragraph is packed with words, over explaining and inflating the situations and thoughts of the characters, which gives the prose a flatness that is at first exciting, then increasingly dull as the collection wears on. All said, this collection is very similar to Persuasion Nation, without the sci-fi edge, and I liked it much less.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Here I am wondering where the most ideal place in my apartment is to begin simultaneously puking and shitting. I think a room with tile, no? Not that that is likely to happen, but at this point I kind of wish it would. I have a feeling the nausea is a distraction tactic, a move to not-so-subtley move my attention from the unnamed terror inside.

In fact, I had a dream this morning where the exact action described above was happening to me in a wood paneled group shower/toilet/computer lab, but joining me was not one of the young ladies I shared my art museum/dorm room with, but my friend Matt Mn. He was sitting right behind me, near the toilet, cracking jokes and I kept thinking, "Get out of here! Get out of here! I am going to poop! Why is he still here?" He was funny though.

All this to say that I am not feeling well and my recent reading been mostly work-related. Well why don't you write up some of those books you already read, you say?

Nobody likes a nag, I say back.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Beacuse of an untimely, terrrible instance, I am even more argh-ful than usual today, interneters.

Luckily, Locus magazine is providing much reading pleasure with things and links like these:

_Yesterday's Tomorrows
_Ed on Phil
_Chabon and a bunch of words that make me want to read The Road
_ a big list

Soon I hope to leave this ultimate tragic intervention behind, expell the usurpic, territorial interlopers and have a better day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wednesday that Should be Tuesday

Today I have cramps. My back feels like a soccer ball after a particularly vicious, and perhaps not very high-scoring, middle school match. The internet is conspiring with my back to keep me doubled over in pain and angst, taking forever to do such things as load pictures of unfortunately dressed starlets on Go Fug Yourself (sometimes not even loading them at all!) and refreshing my empty email box.

To distract myself, I wander around my house peering at my plants. I want to repot them all, start over kinda, but most are still in their dormant stages and to do so would be both cruel and disappointing. Besides, many of them are still recuperating after my trip out West when their babysitter decided to do the equivalent of dropping LSD and deciding to make a turkey. Next time I will better consider my plant choices, since my babysitter choices have really been made for me. But, the snow is melting and making charming dripping sounds near my window and I can see the green tips of my bulbs blooming in the back and the rotten pumpkin slowly collapsing on itself near the door. With a birthday gift certificate I ordered some plants that will come in the spring and have a list of other stuff I want to get for the closest approximation of a year-round garden I can do. Some window boxes would be nice too, all I need is some wood and the freaking charger cord for the drill driver. Deep breath.

In celebration of non-freezing temperatures, I took a walk yesterday, then a bus ride, then another walk and ended up at the Strand. I found luck on the dollar rack with The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe. Then I went inside and found many more books and decided on two:

Warburger, international comics about war, with an intro by Alexsandar Zograf
The Great Short Works of Franz Kafka, including the Hunger Artist, a story I have been looking for in vain since last year, where some works are listed gigantically in the table of contents, perhaps indicating that they are greater than the other great works.

I would like to exercise today too, but the sun is already on its way down and I haven’t been able to hobble over to the shower or the kitchen yet today, Deep breathing helps, and Advil would help too if I had something in my stomach. Oatmeal it is.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"The Interstitial Library's Circulating Collection is located at no fixed site. Its vast holdings are dispersed throughout private collections, used bookstores, other libraries, thrift stores, garbage dumps, attics, garages, hollow trees, sunken ships, the bottom desk-drawers of writers, the imaginations of non-writers, the pages of other books, the possible future, and the inaccessible past."

Perfect. A project that I wish I had thought of.

I love Shelley Jackson's mind. Christine Hill must be amazing too.
I've subscribed to the KGBbar Live Readings podcast. I love listening. Why do I never make it out on lazy Sundays to the bar to hear stories and drink beer?

My favorite part of the podcasts are how at the beginning of each the director of the Sunday Night Reading series asks the guests to turn off their cell phones and pagers. Pagers!

I mean I knew those East Villagers were knee deep in 80s nostalgia, but...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thank goodness that the British Adventuress is back.

Words and Numbers

Sometimes stats lead you to very nice things. This blog popped up on one of those inexplicable, poorly designed link-collector pages devoted to cadavers because she reviewed Stiff as well. Most of the page was taken up by links to an Australian corpse sex abuse scandal. More Coffee Please is about books, babies and working from/on da home. Canadians don't do corpse abuse! I was once linked to from another of these sites dedicated to popping zits.

I get a lot of hits from my pomade entries including the alarming "threat to murray's pomade" from yesterday. Also from the lame crackhead/Whitney Houston joke I made a million years ago. Many people are looking for pictures of Whitney. Did she do something sad or scary? Get back with Bobby B? Sing?

Many folks looking for hot man on man stories, or those with a yearning to connect come here for "mfm." In tryharderland MFM can only be Maureen F. McHugh, and man action needs no euphemisms.

Recently my nomination by Amy MoonlightAmbulette (she is a nominee too) for a BOB has brought many new folks to here. Hi! Voting begins March 2!

My favorite search so far is this one from the first few months: "leonard lopate anal sex." So simple, so beautiful. I hope you found what you were looking for, hopeful Googler.

Now, I have some regular readers (I know!) that have never stepped foot in the comments. Who are you? Why do you like to tantalize me with your cipherous locations and IP addresses? Now is your chance to make it right, UK reader, LA reader, and whomever else I am leaving out. Make good. Leave comments. That goes for you too.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I want to take very class this place offers.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

I am halfway through Pastoralia by George Saunders and it is everything I expected. My big venture outside netted Pastoralia, Z Channel, and some soup makings.

Walking out of the cold into the library felt so good. I returned my embarrasingly overdue copy of Stiff and my million-times renewed copy of OPRH and perused the sale rack. Nothing.

Right after the steps up to the first floor of my branch is a cricle of four upolstered chairs. If you wallk in around 2:30 or so, the chairs will be filled with four to six teens, being kinda loud and talking about dumb stuff. Sometimes they have books and occasionally a silence descends on the group if one of the alpha-females decides she really wants to get her homework done. Around this time, the computers are filled with kids too. I always spy on what they are doing and it is usually email or some kind of complicated networking site hoo-ha. It reminds me a little of being a kid and hanging out in the downtown Borders by the zines, waiting for that Xeroxed message meant just for me, but messing around and causing some trouble in the meanwhile. I am glad to see those kids in the library, but I wonder how much they are actually getting out of meeting there. What this neighborhood needs is a good coffeeshops so the nerd-type teens can get all caffinated and shoot horomones at each other somewhere where silence isn't so encouraged.

I am thinking about how to best approach writing about Half Life. The book really rocked me while I was reading it...

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Where to start? First, this book was suggested to me by Mary Millwhistle’s weekly reader page. I liked her concise review and since she is the nonfiction reader ands writer extraordinaire, I thought I would use my library card to buy a little resolution fulfillment.

Considering my history, I would think a book about dead people, real ones, would not be at the top of my list for a fun read. Luckily, Stiff is not about dead people, it is about dead bodies, a distinction made in Roach’s introduction:

“There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say. Ah, but there is. Being dead is absurd. It’s the silliest situation you’ll find yourself in. Your limbs are floppy and uncooperative. Your mouth hangs open. Being dead is unsightly, stinky and embarrassing, and there is not a damn thing to be done about it.

This book is not about death as in dying. Death, as in dying, is sad and profound… This book is about the already dead, the anonymous, behind-the-scenes dead. The cadavers I have seen were not depressing or heart-wrenching or repulsive. They seemed sweet and well-intentioned, sometimes sad, occasionally amusing. Some were beautiful, some monsters. Some wore sweatpants and some were naked, some in pieces, some whole.”

All the bodies in this book were donated to science and Roach explores the many diverse directions that this direction can take. Your head could end up on a plate in a bland conference room for plastic surgeons to practice on, you could be used as a crash test dummy or thrown out in a field to see how fast you rot. She is in control of every sentence and the result is at turns surprising and brain-stuffingly factual, and always funny. As Mary mentions, Roach’s use of footnotes in superb.

Roach leads us through bizarre historical examples, graphic first-hand experiences with corpses and a menagerie of folks who deal with the dead daily. She also relates the current trend to remove cadaver use from medical schools and labs. Stiff convincingly illuminates why this will be a tragedy for students and scientists who are trying to make life safer, or just more interesting for the living. Who would’a thunk it?

I read this while my boyfriend’s parents were in town, leaving us little to talk about. It was worth it, and if I weren’t so afraid that the library police are going to come and kneecap me soon, I would keep this book out even longer and read it again.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gold Stars

I nominated moonlight ambulette for this, because, as I so eloquently said, "it is great."

She then nominated me. Aww.

Go second that emotion and don't forget to vote!
Last night brave friends weathered the winter mix all the way to my house for a bookswap, an event which maybe goes better by book potluck as there is no actual swapping. For the first time in its two-year run we actually talked about books while eating chili, drinking wine and sampling delicious desserts brought from Brooklyn.

Topics touched on:

-Who has the most beautiful thighs of the zodiac?
-Interpretive dance book and record reviews. (Come on Bryan, we could have a variety show!)
-Who wants a copy of Peter Pan? (No one, that’s who).
-Why Aaron Cometbus should stick to nonfiction.
-New jobs. Congrats moonlight and millwhistle.
-Where is B?
-Jim Thompson and Stacey Keach. Subtopic: Stacey Keach’s harelip.
-Sad comics, hating Jews.
-Writing, writing, writing.
-Our nice framed prints are by Katie Muth. She is nice in person.
-Wrestling for recipes.
-I know you but you don’t know me.

I snagged some awesome titles:
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Crash by J.G. Ballard
Edison & The Electric Chair by Mark Essig
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
And for its important contribution to science: Sun-Sign Revelations by Maria Elise Crummere, Book Club Edition

I have two stacks left over that I will either freecycle or donate to Housing Works.

Thanks to everyone for coming, being fun and making my book swap dream finally come true.
This makes me want to read Melville even more. Is a "sensation puff" like the foam bubbling off a certain first novel?

Confidence Man, Confidence Man, where are you in tiny paperback, Confidence Man?

Monday, February 12, 2007

No-Lovin' Books

I am back in NYC, finally. I have been a bad blogger, I know, but it was all I could do to answer emails the past ten days. Luckily the always wonderfulDoppelganger had this idea about date-given books to help me ease my way back onto the internet.

Like the big D, this list will be largely theoretical for me too since I have had very few formal dates to speak of. But in the long, friendly courtship, there is plenty of time to recieve books. Here is my list of "you've got to be kidding" presents, both real and imagined:

1- Like D, a book by Charles Bukowski with the addition of William Burroughs & Hunter S.- so you like to drink, do drugs and be generally destructive/self-destructive; hmm, that sure sounds like fun. Worse, you don't do any of the above, you just fantasize about a dissapated life. I don't quite know why, but I have always associated a love of thse guys so rabid that a man would assume that I had never heard of them with being a real dud in the sack.

2- Anything by a Beat, especially Kerouac- get a fucking job!

3- The Fall by Albert Camus- This book gets extra barfs because it was given to me by a Frenchman. He was cute and all, but obviously had no imagination. While that may not have been the biggest impediment to getting to know each other better, it made me not really want to respond to the hilarious and passionate email he later sent to the bookstore where we met. [Hey Steve and Margs, remember this guy?]

4- Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick- dude, I told you about this book when we were 15. Plus, it's not even that good.

5- Ishmael by Daniel Quinn- You have absolutely no idea who I am. Just because it has a monkey in it doesn't mean it is good. Also, you are wearing sandals that I hadn't noticed before; also, you are drooling.

6- Any self help book- It's called self help, ya dig? So keep it to yourself.

I'm sure if I think about this long enough, I can add more to the list, especially those personal anecdotes you guys so enjoy.

What gift books make the blood flow back to your head?

ETA: a "books that make me wanna do ya" list is in the works. Edited also to make this entry slightly less ughster.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

far away

Hello from a wireless hotspot in beautiful Menlo Park, CA. I am practicing being a grandaughter while I still have a chance and mostly enjoying it.

Related: anyone know any good bookstores in sanfran? And don't say "city lights," because duh! and also doi!

Related: if you want to make me happy, write me some comments/emails. It gets lonesome here under the orange trees.
read me at the february bookslut here. the review is a bit disjointed, but so was I when I wrote it.