Monday, January 28, 2008

I need these.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Still working to churn out the 2007 reviews for you. In the meantime, I have been reading magazines, thinking about numbers, dreading the GREs (just a little) and making various soups, stews and breads to make up for the fact my apartment's radiators are broken.

Also, over at Topic, there is an excellent essay by Amy Shearn.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A good essay on dads and movies and "the last_______."

How awesome to rediscover Strange Horizons today.

Edited to add:
A story that captures the pain (and inevitability) of doing something you never thought you would do. Something you never thought you would have to do.


Wow. I came expecting something else and got exactly what I needed today. This is why I love the internet and mourn zines. (via journalista)

Size matters, and it was better in the old days.

"I have to take your head to Home Depot and use your eyes to buy tools."

My man's worst nightmare, or the best TV movie ever made? I think it is both!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Doesn't this sound fantastic? (via bookslut)

After reading Michael Dirda's take on John Crowely's Aegypt series I got really excited about it. The library stocks a few of Crowely's titles and I put a hold on one. When I think I have time to really concentrate on a complex, dense story, I will go for the series.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Spook Country by William Gibson, Veronica By Mary Gaitskill

Both of these were titles I really looked forward to reading. And, while I was reading them, I certainly enjoyed them. When I finished each, I was left slightly disappointed.

Before I launch into my paltry discussion of these novels, I should also mention that both books are gone from my life— Veronica back to Amy Ambulette and Spook Country who knows where.

Spook Country
by William Gibson
As readers of this blog know, William Gibson’s first three novels, as well as Burning Chrome, were big influences on me. When Pattern Recognition came out a few years ago, I was delighted and very pleased with the way Gibson managed a present-day setting, as well as how he handled a female lead character. Spook Country also has a lady in the lead and Big Ant again plays a role in the plot. Instead of playing with ideas like his best books do, Spook Country feels a lot like a straightforward mystery, bumping from plot point to plot point, with a little techno-weirdness thrown in to satisfy Gibsonheads. There were many characters in this book that had significant back story brewing right under the surface, including the former rock star main character, the ethnic-mashup crime family woven throughout the LES and the pill freak mysteriously held captive by someone who seems to be a grownup playing a war game. I really wish Gibson had focused more on one set of characters, or left out some of the detail. My attention felt pulled in too many directions which overloaded me and distracted me from the main question of the book “where is the box?” Of course, that might have been by design as all the plots don’t come together satisfactorily and end up feeling like a poorly conceived fusion restaurant.

Veronica By Mary Gaitskill
Gaitskill makes stories that are so woman-centric, yet so sharp and oozing, afterwards you wonder why this is a rarity. Veronica sets out to be such a tale what with the 80s, the modeling, the AIDS and the escaping that never quite removes the main character from her lack of self. I guess that’s the thing; the person telling the story comes through only hazily, I couldn’t see her at all. I know, I know, but this book is about the friend, Veronica; it is even named after her. Except, except that how can I care about Veronica, Gaitskill’s perfect, heartbreaking creation, if I don’t really care how she affects the main character? How?

Still I loved this book’s description of various locales (Gaitskill is great with smells and colors) and attention to how people with unpopular diseases live, today and yesterday.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Book Swap 1, 2008

Last week I invited the bookiest best from my friends and acquaintances to get rid of books they don't want anymore and get anything that rouses their imagination, all for free.

I was too dumb and tired to think to take photographs during the actual event, but luckily my partner in crime busted out the camera late in the evening to capture the what-it-is of the book swap:

Note participant's work clothes and glazed look.

Leftover books.

No more condiments.

Doing it right.

See what you missed being all "tired from work?"
Amy Ambulette's haul here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A new blog that makes me feel happy to be alive:

A Good Poop
Safe for my work, at least.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius That Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

This little book was a book swap find that was a delightful way to fulfill one of last year's goals-- read more nonfiction.

I loved this book. Because it is set in the 1700s, mostly in England and involves science it manages to ramble through many of my favorites settings: the wacky Royal Society, pirate-ridden seas and old-timey political intrigue. The man who found "The Longitude," as it was called in the old days, was named John Harrison. His story is the kind Americans (even me!) like best: poor boy with big brains makes good. Not that it was easy, the race for the 20,000 pound prize for finding "a method to determine longitude to an accuracy of a half a degree of a great circle" took 40 years and was crazy vicious. Stargazers and tinkers (including Harrison, a clockmaker) chased each other, Captain Cook makes an appearance and Harrison's clocks still run today.


Edited to add: sorry about the crappy photo!

Monday, January 07, 2008

When the spider plant flowers...

I feel a little better.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Life of the Party by Mary Fleener and Dignifying Science edited by Jim Ottaviani et al.

Another ladies of the 90s find, I went looking for Fleener’s
work after seeing a link to her photo blog on Journalista. Life of the Party was put out by Fantagraphics in 1996 and features 26 “autobigraphix” that focus on life in California. She says on her website that her first solo comic was a tribute to Nora Zeale Hurston and she decided to illustrate her wild stories after being inspired by Hurston’s stories.

My first exposure to Fleener was in, what else, Twisted Sister II. That anthology reprinted “Boogie Chillun,” Fleener’s story of falling for a surfer. Her black and white, cubist-on-a-bender style perfectly emphasizes the rabid surfer mentality. So many of her comics deal with some sort of rabid mentality, usually cocaine or sex related, that I can’t imagine these stories shown in any other way than Fleener’s exploding faces and jerking bodies. This is not to say that much of her drawing isn’t realistic, from nicely-rendered stretch marks in “The Jelly” to coastline and shoe stores in “Hush Yuppies,” the details make these stories affecting.

I am not quite sure why I am drawn to the sex, drugs and crazies stories these days. I have certainly experienced enough of all three to not need a by-proxy experience. Perhaps it is the fact that in the 80s and 90s cities weren’t popular. Artists could stick around, be bad and really contribute to a place without having to be a piece of history first. They actually had time to fuck around, make mistakes and make art! There is an energy in Fleener‘s stories that is lacking in my life right now and just opening this book is like licking a battery for my soul.

After enjoying Life of the Party, I went looking for more Fleener comics on the internets and found Dignifying Science. Fleener and a few other lady artists I had heard of were listed as illustrators so I snatched it up.

Turns out, Fleener’s piece was a single illustration of Emmy Noether, a German mathematician, for the back cover:

My copy was a library discard and seemed to have been bound wrong in the last section, resulting in some cut-off words, but even so, I enjoyed reading about the science folks and all the hardships they overcame (or didn’t quite). The art is black and white and the styles change by piece. Lea Hernandez’s piece on Barbara McClintock (genetist) looks nothing like Jen Sorensen’s piece on Lise Miller (physicist). There are some good notes at the end that shed light not only on the subject’s lives, but on the artists’ methods.

One question though, what the fuck in is Hedy Lamarr's hand on the cover?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Great things

Dooce has an excellent essay on living with depression. She has written about this topic before, and I have linked to it, but, once again, she has turned out an intelligent, honest and thoughtful piece on a condition that defines my life. Her husband wrote an essay on being a depressed person's partner that is worth reading too.

Over at the Freebird site, Peter Miller is really kicking out the blog.

Creepy, but amusing, gift ideas.

The lesser books of 2007.

Just to get the rest of the 2007 reviews rolling, I thought I would do a round up of the books that remained to be reviewed that I didn’t really enjoy.

The Mystery: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson- This book certainly worked ok as a mystery, but the detective’s back story was unwieldy and the coincidences that drive the plot became increasingly transparent as the book went on. Other than the description of the detective’s beautiful dead sister who wore perfect 1940s clothes to dress up her drab life, I don’t remember much.

The Steampunk, sans steam: The Iron Council by China Mieville- I enjoyed Perdido Street Station and this book is set in the same world, after PSS, I think. Hard to tell really, because it was so boring I couldn’t pay too close attention. Since this book involved golems, puppet shows and a giant train, you’d think I’d like it, purely in a fangirl way, but no. The numerous battle scenes lacked all tension and too many characters seemed to stretch Mieville’s ability to mete out distinctive characteristics that don’t seem false or overdone.

The Birthday Gift: Mortified edited by Dan Nadelburg- MattMo got this for me for my last birthday. It is a compilation of embarrassing stories from the authors’ past straight from middle school and high school diaries and notes with some commentary by the grown-up authors. I read through the entries quickly because they all blurred together into one exploitative clusterfuck. Why are my peers so obsessed with how dorky they were when they were kids. We were all like that in some way; middle schoolers are never cool. Though it may be great to share our misinformed views with our friends and loved ones (vulnerability makes us more loveable, doesn’t it?), I think it shows a lack of creative ability to simply reprint some marginally silly artifacts and then plead with the audience to reject (and then embrace) the ghosts of Starter jackets past. Then again, people need to pay the bills. It's too bad when it shows.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

19 books unreviewed for 2007. Working on that...