Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories by A.M. Holmes

In this book of eleven stories, I liked one, the last in the collection. I’ll choose to tell you about that one, “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero,” a sad and inventive tale about Nancy Reagan and the aging of a marriage.

I always wondered why an actress would give it all up to be married. Of course Ronald Reagan became governor of California and later President, giving Nancy plenty of places to get dressed up and put on a false face, but I think her sacrifice for his image only really became clear after his Alzheimer’s was publicly announced and with him, she retreated from public life. “‘Removed from public view”— that’s how they describe him on his Web site. He was removed from public view in 1988, like a statue or a painting. She will not allow him to be embarrassed, humiliated. She will not allow even the closest of their friends to see him like this. They should remember him not as he is, but as he was. Meanwhile, the two of them are in exile, self-imposed, self-preserving.”

Many, many of the sentences use repetition, which is such a great way to evoke what life with an Alzheimer’s sufferer is like, both because of the routines used to keep the person anchored in time and the mantra of the partner, the reasons to stay, the reasons you still love the person who doesn’t recognize you. In “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” Nancy deals with her exile with shopping trips, exercise and multiple Internet personalities. Although this last coping mechanism provides some of the story’s excesses, overall, Homes uses Nancy’s web activities to give depth to the character, in the form of fear: fear of her husband’s disease and fear of disappearing herself.

Even though this is a story that peeks behind the “Hollywood magic,” it is still conscious enough of the theatrics of their lives to appeal to readers not feeling so charitable towards the duo. Probably most vicious is the vision of the pompadoured ex-president dressed up like a clown, led by his nurse to shake hands with children in a mall parking lot because “he still gets great pleasure from shaking hands, pressing the flesh.” Or is it the sundown, impromptu minstrel show he decides to provide the nurse and his housekeeper (from “the islands”), covered in shoe polish and lipstick, blabbering on, oblivious to the audience’s shock?

As for the rest of the stories in Things You Should Know, I couldn’t muster a single feeling for any of the characters. It’s too bad. I was prepared to be blown away. Maybe I read the wrong thing by A.M. Homes?


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis
What is This Thing Called Sex? edited by Roz Warren
The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories by John Kessel
Roadstrips edited by Pete Friedrich
Matilda by Mary Shelley
Ananthem by Neal Stephenson
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Budda, Vol. II by Osamu Tezuka
Budda, Vol. I by Osamu Tezuka
The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman
The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso
Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso
A Journey Around My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy
The King's Last Song by Geoff Ryman
Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross
Things You Should Know: a collection of stories by A.M. Homes
The Goddess of War by Lauren Weinstein
I Killed Adolph Hitler by Jason
Snake Oil by Chuck Mc Buck
The Keep by Jennifer Egan
You Ain't No Dancer, vols. 1 & 2
Sundays 2 by various artists
Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner
Wall City by Alex Kim
Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson
Indelible: A Collection Brought to You by Women of CCS
High on a Hill by Sarah Oleksyk
No One Tells Everything by Rae Meadows
The Melancholy of Anatomy by Shelley Jackson
American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman
The Killer by Jacamon & Matz
The Seas by Samantha Hunt
The Brief History of the Dead: a novel by Kevin Brockmeier
pistolwhip by Jason Hall and Matt Kindt
Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
Lone Racer by Nicholas Mahler
Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Signifcance edited by Joshua Glenn & Carol Hayes
House of Splendid Isolation by Edna O'Brien
Micrographica by Renee French
The Ticking by Renee French
Dori Stories: the complete Dori Seda
Famous Fathers and Other Stories by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Sounds of Your Name by Nate Powell

Sunday, December 21, 2008

mystery sounds

Yesterday, on the way back to NYC, exhausted and weary, I spent a few minutes browsing in the chain bookstore in Union Station. I was feeling sad, as well as tired, and didn't feel like reading the feminist fable I'd brought along for the trip. A good mystery would maybe solve my problem. I decided on Fingersmith by Sarah Waters after scanning row after row of rather-gouge-my-eyes out fiction. Promptly upon getting comfortable in my antiseptic-smelling seat, I entered ye olde pool of drool land, instead of Waters' world. I guess I'll save the award-nominated lesbionic historical mystery fiction for another dank day. Have you read it?


Today I felt barely better. The drizzly day and oversleep left me craving a good story, preferably one set in a land far away. Luckily I subscribe to Escapepod. After an only ok jaunt into space and mirror worlds, I decided to listen to a story by Michael Swanwick, a Philly writer that lives in my parents' neighborhood. In high school, we read some of his work in a seminar class on science fiction. Public school can be awesome, friends. Anyway, while I admired the inventiveness of his work, I was annoyed by the recurrence of what I found to be cliched sexual moments clothed in scifi duds and the recurrence of an idealized male character that dies tragically, only to be reborn somehow. Boys, boys, boys, so important! Ugh. In fact, when he visited our class, I asked him about it. I don't remember his answer. (Not all of his work is like this, at least, not that I remember).

It has been years since I've read any of his work. So when I saw his story, described as a ghost story or a locked room mystery or maybe detective fiction, I was intrigued. If it was bad, at least I'd have something else to brood about besides my own funk. Since audio fiction is really made by the reading, I was wondering how Swanwick's slang-ridden prose would translate off-page. I needn't have worried-- the reading by Cheyenne Wright was an example of how finding the perfect reader can elevate hearing a story into a fully absorbing entertainment.

So do you need a little engaging distraction from your rainy-day woes? Maybe a little sleuthing? Maybe some ogres? A Small Room in Koboldtown is the fantasy story for you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

wearing black

I won't be updating for a few days because I will be traveling to D.C. for my grandmother's funeral. She was an easy woman to be impressed by, an easy woman to admire, but a hard woman to love. Now that she is dead she will be reunited with her only love, my grandfather. In fact, she will be buried right on top of him, which is almost overwhelmingly metaphorical. She will be in the ground like so many of her friends, so many people better and worse than her. The most positive lesson I can squeeze from my memories of her is that old age doesn't have to be ugly or boring, especially if you are committed to always learning something new.

I didn't cry when my father called me to tell me that she had died, angry and doped-up, but I did when I saw my address in her writing on an envelope, my name in her hand.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'd rather be walking

Last night I finished a monster book that I have spent the last many nights enjoying before bed. Around midnight I hurried to finish brushing this and soaking that so I could dive into my covers and then into its.

Now I'm awake and contemplating the lesser of 2008's reads, thinking about how I am going to review so many book by 2009. Blahggle!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis

Because of a long ago suggestion from Amy Ambulette, I decided to pick up a book by Kathryn Davis. One aborted library loan and seven dollars later I had a compact hardcover from the Strand in my hands. I was facing a diner alone after I bought it and it ended up to be a very good thing because once I read the first page I was unfit for company.

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf manages to successfully be four books in one:
a) an exploration of small town life that is entirely without cliché
b) a mystery involving an unfinished manuscript that keeps you on the edge throughout the dense narrative
c) a character study of a wild woman grown old, Helen Ten Brix, that manages to not descend into caricature and provides a ton of material for reflection
d) an exercise in POV that manages to make dizzying time and place shifts seem seamless and effortless, all with a first person narrative

Here is a quote from early in the book that accidentally got me where the getting is good because it describes a feeling I have been trying to describe for a long time:
“I was wretched, heartsick, inconsolable. I cried and cried as you sometime do for the whole sorry universe, for the inexplicable machinery that set it in motion and then kept chugging away without regard for all of the tender shoots, as forlorn as these [aforementioned] green onion sprouts that lived and died in it.”

I loved this book and it made me wish I knew something about music since the narrative is obviously structured in a form that likely jumps out to those in the musical know. When you read it, and you really, really, should, you may feel that the moment that the story unravels from is a little too grand, a little crazy, but I feel that it fits perfectly as an action of Brix, a woman who spends her whole life trying to create another world and then finds that she can’t really escape it, even for true emotion.

I love how dense and delicious the book is. It certainly merits a reread in a cold month.


Both projects on DonorsChoose that I decided to support have been fully funded, partially by try harder readers.


What Is This Thing Called Sex edited by Roz Warren

“Do you think cake is better than sex?”
“What kind of cake?”
This painful joke screams from the internal organ-pink cover of What Is this Thing Called Sex: Cartoons by Women, an anthology from 1993, and yes, I bought it anyway. Because despite the unfortunate cover, this book is filled with great work from the ladies of the eighties/nineties, an obsession of mine. I was hoping that the visual horror of the book would cause a steep drop in the cover price, but those Strand folks are too clever. Collections like this one are a great way to find work by artists who didn’t quite make it through to today’s comics boom. In WITTCS’s case, though Nicole Hollander’s work graces many a limp Shoebox card these days, seeing Kris Kovick’s wickedly smart work (RIP. I only found out about her after her death, thanks to WITTCS contributor Alison Bechdel.) and Shari Flennigan’s bizarre take on old-timey comics was totally worth the cringe-inducing wait in the check out line.

Much of the work isn’t all that pretty—no sleek lines here. But, as In Andrea Natalie’s hilarious one-pagers, there is a raw sensibility at work that keeps these old cartoons feeling fresh and vibrant, even if some of them feature Ronald Reagan.

Beyond offering a few chuckles, WITTCS offers a window into the complicated lives of 80s/90s women, especially lesbians, and when examining lesbian life, the book leaves behind much of the kinda boring stereotypes about sexually unfulfilling men that bog down a few of the cartoons. (“Sex: A Dyke’s Dilemma” by Wendy Eastwood pretty much sums it up). S&M is a large concern, as is PCness and AIDS. Post-feminisism is warily acknowledged. It seems like many of these women found themselves in an On Our Backs world after fighting for an Off Our Backs life. A theme not entirely absent from the less-fraught aughts.

I liked this book. It made me think about sex and power. Potent!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The New York Center for Independent Publishing Independent & Small Press Fair 08

I wish I could offer an exhaustive report on this annual, awesome book fair. Instead I only managed to make it today and missed every single panel. I have a good reason, its B's birthday weekend, but even so, I wish I had carved out a bit more time for the fair. Besides being held in a dream-like library locale, the range of publishers is well worth the trip to Midtown.

What I did end up doing was visiting the Small Beer Press table and having a great chat with author and publisher Kelly Link and a newbie New Yorker who will hopefully leave a comment here and tell me his name. I picked up Endless Things (which sadly is the last of a series. Looks like I'll have some catch up to do before I can dive into this pretty volume) and Link offered me Carmen Dog, the book that inspired the James Triptree Jr. award.

Right next to the Small Beer table was Two Dollar Radio. I had never heard of them until I was googling around last night and a few of the books on their site sounded really good. I talked with the table guy there and bought two books (The Drop Edge of Yonder, which I think I'll either really like or absolutely hate, and 1940, a book to continue my recent interest in historical fiction).

Next over was a table with beautiful, but expensive books. A quarter of the table was taken by a letterpress stationary creator who made beautiful cards. I bought some with a simple, elegant design. Get ready, penpals!

At this point, it's getting very close to five, the close of the fair. Even so, I got to see my buddy Goodloe Byron who was surprisingly ebullient on three hours' sleep.

Talking with Kelly Link made me realize how many of the books I read this year are still unreviewed. Only a few more weeks to go before the year is out. How did that happen?

(Please excuse the crappy photo quality. You can see exactly what these books look like if you click on the links, know what I'm saying?)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In the course of my work...

I find awesome things. It almost makes up for the various minuses of my work life.


A blog about ampersands makes my heart happy. Also, my eyes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do you like games?

Wow. Look at that pretzel in the bottomish right. Then try not to look at everything else on this awesome site.

(via BibliOddessy)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


While googling around, trying to figure out what year I graduated from college, I found this.

Please enjoy and no, I will never give you your two dollars.