Monday, August 31, 2009

Here is a terrible picture of a beautiful print by Eleanor Davis that I just got back from the framing place.

Davis and her husband, Drew Weing, are two of the best cartoonists working today. You can find her work all over, but I am hoping for more minis soon.

The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns

I picked up this book at Housing Works a few months ago during one of their epic sales. It was attractive not only for its publisher, NYRB, but because of the introduction by Kathryn Davis, a writer that I love and whose work I’ve plowed through in the past two years.

Though the introduction is a bit too straightforward and quotes too heavily from Comyn’s own introduction, I’m glad to have read it because Davis uses the perfect word to describe the voice of the book’s main character, Alice: spellbound. Thought the prose is not as eerie as the book’s copy would have you think, especially not for a reader of magic realism or science fiction or new wave fabulism or or or, the voice used feels barely connected to earth and though Alice is quite observational and insightful, her thoughts seem to brush daintily on the grotesqueries of her life and not leave a mark: “It was after breakfast, and I went into the dining-room to clear away the remains of Father’s kippers. The sun came slanting in through the window an touched the mantelpiece, where the monkey’s skull used to lie.”

The story has the structure of a fairy tale with its dead mother and evil stepmother, unpleasant chores and threatening monsters, its hints at uncertain parentage and ladies locked away. But still, there are dogs to be walked, friends to visit and cooking to do and Comyns strikes a good balance between the fantastic and the mundane, moving the story along with believable actions by believable characters. Alice seems like a real young woman, but living in a time long before the 1959 publication, giving the story an otherworldly setting for a modern reader.

My favorite thing about The Vet’s Daughter is the sense of place that Comyns seems to effortlessly set in each phase of the book. Dreamlike, the story leads you through the rooms that Alice inhabits and hint strongly of the characters within. Her father’s house changes from oppressive and horrible while he is there, to curious and comfortable when he is not. Her protector’s house if full of Christmas novelties and cheery but cheap things, but ultimately proves unable to contain Alice’s strangeness. IN a place that is a refuge for Alice, the steel skeleton of the house hints at the sad and strange history of the inhabitants. The detail of Alice’s steps ringing out as she goes down the stairs in that house is mentioned off the cuff, but hints at the hard-to-keep secrets that live there.

I also enjoyed all the natural details Comyns uses. Naming the woodlouse and the cricket, feeling the sun, or lack of it, in every setting and hearing the cries of a deranged parrot or the scratching of a Cochin hen through Alice give her a connection to the earth that is never explicit but contrasts greatly with that of her looming, uncaring and violent veterinarian father. It’s a subtle touch and I really appreciated it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I am a woman in a man's world. There is no denying that fact. Among other things, I love comics, literature, horror movies, comedy and, well, the company of men. Sometimes these things don't mix; I have often been treated to "jokes" about women that barely hide condescension, or worse, bitterness, taunted with sexist sayings just to watch my anger rise (as if nothing like that has ever affected my life or hurt me, as if my suffering is a laff riot), or, treated like a magic gift from Roddenberry for liking cool/nerdy stuff, but only until my serious interest raises serious conversation about sexism in our shared spheres.

When one of these discussions does get off the ground before being dismissed as unfun (god forbid!) it usually devolves into me arguing that sexism exists and is pervasive, somehow completely avoiding exploring the uncomfortable topic until I peter out, exhausted from asserting my reality to uninterested folks.

And all this from friends and peers. That doesn't seem right, now does it?

So, all you fine gentlemen, take a read of this great essay and before you react, really think on it. Then, next time you want to play devil's advocate with the facts of someone's life, hopefully you'll think better of it.

PS- Don't read the comments on the original article. They will make you want to burn out your eyes.

Edited to add:
Here is another response by Chesney at Ditty Meow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stuff: Library Edition

Historical Memory: The Library in 1956, followed by a discussion with members of Radical Reference
"Toute la mémoire du monde" (All the
Memory of the World) | Dir. Alain Resnais |1956 | short documentary on
France's Bibliothèque nationale
"Storm Center" | Dir. Daniel Taradash | 1956
| McCarthyism, red-baiting, and censorship in an American library,
starring my favorite bug-eyed star, Bette Davis
Sliding scale: $6/$10/$15
Tuesday, August 25, 7:30 pm
Brecht Forum - 451 West St (between Bank and Bethune Sts), Co-sponsored by Red Channel


I have so many fines owed to the NYPL, despite the fact that I could have renewed the three books I recently got online. In fact, I did renew them, just later than I should have. Despite the double-digits due, it was totally worth it. Now, can someone loan me twenty bucks?


The orientation for my program is on Wednesday and I start classes in a week. I've been spending much of my time applying for internships, collecting notebooks from far corners and perfecting the vision of what I want to get out of this program. As someone with a lackluster academic background, this program is a double-challenge to me. As an adult, I feel much more prepared to dive in and give over to the lure of learning. It certainly helps to be healthier and happier. Thanks to everyone that has helped me from the discussion phase to the now; you don't know how much I owe you.

What are you tryharderlanders uo to this Fall?

Friday, August 21, 2009

things, many things

Eroyn Franklin won the Xeric in 2009. Her work is intricate and fun, and her auto-bio Xeric book, called Another Glorious Day At The Nothing Factory, is arted with cut paper. I also do cut paper work and love to see how others slash n' paste. Her bio contains this perfect line: "Eroyn is generally a very happy person, but there are deep chasms in places where chasms shouldn’t be," which is exactly, exactly the thing.

In case you needed more prodding to give up some cash: YA and science fiction criticism author Justine Larbalestier on why she loves Strange Horizons and why you should donate to their fund drive.


Did you know that there is a museum dedicated to letters and manuscripts in Paris? Now you do! Thanks Letter Writers Alliance!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

She’s Such a Geek! edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders

I picked this up because I like the editors’ work on io9. Here they’ve collected essays on loving stereotypically geeky (and male) interests like math, science and internetery. I love essays, so I was hoping for some passionate writing about the subjects to which, years after education in them was easily available to me, I finally see the allure.

The book is divided into six chapters: growing up nerd, high tech, in the lab, geek, interrupted, games and superheroes. Essentially, all the stories belong in “geek, interrupted” first and foremost. All these women’s stories of loving whatever nerdy thing they love involve interference by sexism in its various guises: parental expectations, harassment, rejection by peers and lovers, casual put-downs, academic glass ceilings and self-confidence issues. The best ones, like Newitz’s “…When Diana Prince Takes Off Her Glasses” and Wendy Seltzer’s “The Overloaded Activist,” take a firm idea and see it through with a mix of analysis an anecdote. The majority, however, are linear biographies without much craft. Many focus on the trouble of getting a lover who understands and respects a brainy lady, and the inclusion of so many of this type of story was both a sad statement on the romantic mores of our times and frankly a little boring. They pile up and bog down the interesting bits of scientific description scattered throughout the collection. As a non-science type, I wanted to hear what they actually do and why it is so different from, say, being a lawyer.

The excellent introduction by the editors set my expectations high. The rest of the book left me to wish that they had exercised their whittling skills and cut the bloat by presenting essays that worked--not only as individual stories but that fit together into a larger picture of the wonderful women of science.

Addendum: When I say this title in my head, I hear it to the beat of the Go Go's We Got the Beat. Say it with me now: She’s Such a Geek! She’s Such A Geek! She’s Such a Geek! This is more annoying than charming. This is my own problem, but a problem nonetheless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla

When I ordered this book from the library I expected a novel. What in the buzz I heard about The Withdrawal Method led me to believe this, I am not sure, but obviously I wasn’t reading too closely. I also forgot that this book of 13 short stories was published by Soft Skull Press (no longer of New York, sadly, but with the same crappy website). These two things weren’t the only surprises.

The first story, “The Slough” is a two-part affair with a character named Pasha struggling through a changing relationship. Oh no, I thought: young author, same name character, relationship story equals boredom with possible disgust. However, the author’s quietly assured descriptions, like the inhabitants of a park on a gloomy day being “ambitious folks… young couples pushing strollers or middle-aged women being dragged around by dogs,” and “improbable bed-sand” littering former lovers’ beds. This story also takes on the irreality of the illness of a loved one; the first half is a surreal telling of a girlfriend shedding her skin, the second is about a girlfriend in the hospital, dying from metastasized skin cancer.

I am glad I persevered because The Withdrawal Method contains some amazing stories. In “Pushing Oceans in and Pulling Oceans Out,” a young girl with burgeoning OCD and a handicapped brother struggles with the desire to control, and turns an Easter egg hunt into something a desperate scream of a test. Malla writes in first person here and it he gets the tone--tentative yet gossipy, annoyance battling fear--exactly right. There are sharp details like nobody’s business: my favorite is that the girl calls her father “my dad Greg” in her mind.

“Respite” is another man-woman relationship story. Womack unknowingly disappoints his lady by spending a lot of time on his novel, asking her about her work and basically just being himself. When his girlfriend pleads for him to “do something,” he decides to do some volunteering, choosing to care for a dying boy one day a week. His physically intimate, repetitive work is explained in loving detail by Malla and worked effortlessly into the relationship story. It’s magic.

Alternate present gets a go here to with “Being Like Bulls.” Set on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, years after the attraction has been turned into a multinational garbage dump, the story focuses on Paul, a second-generation immigrant living off his dead parents’ investments and moldering in the dead stock of their souvenir store. The story is a subtle, beautiful take on obligation, the emptiness of a landscape bereft of nature and hope and the tensions of a globalized world.

Check it out now. I hope this guy puts out a novel soon.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The best surprise a gal could get, courtesy of Amanda Well-Tailored

Friday, August 14, 2009


Have you ever needed to see something beautiful, but not even known it? Then, when it happens, you suddenly feel a weight lifting from your shoulders and feel stupid for not even thinking that a bit of awesomeness could do you good? Irina Troitskaya's work is today's cure. She has all kinds of art and a nice blog too.

Anyone want to translate her comics for me?

Thanks Zoologix!


Have I ever told you guys about the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library? Their Historical Collections and Services department does amazing work by bringing truly brain-smashing medical images and scholarship to the masses by actually utilizing web technology. Some exhibits are a little clunky (and named after Police songs), and others are better, but all are worthwhile. Work sometimes brings me to them, but even after I am out of the medical writing sphere, this will continue to be an awesome resource for old-timey WTF.


My main man has a blog where you can hear his musical stylings. If you need a bright boy on keys, give him a jangle.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Check out my review of I Still Live by Annie Murphy over at inkstuds.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I've been reading short stories. Lots and lots of short stories. I keep flitting in and out of all these different worlds. Snow and zoos and kids and dads and dads and cancer and beaches and love. I usually hate this sort of reading experience, but, perhaps because of the heat and the transitional time, I am really enjoying it.


Reading RASL by Jeff Smith is the antidote to comic book malaise. Though his main character looks disconcertingly short-limbed sometimes, the story is solid and the art is moves everything along. Dimension-jumping has unexpectedly become a theme in my reading the past few months. It's a concept that I'm finding more interesting than time travel or space these days.

RASL and the excellent Poison the Cure (part 3 needs to come out now) are the only two scifi comics that I have ever enjoyed.


Strange Horizons is having another fund drive. They offer so much goodness for free, they pay their writers, and they obviously need a makeover, though I don't think any of this money is going to cosmetics. Donate now! If you do, let me know!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Check out my review of Corinne Mucha's My Every Single Thought over at inkstuds.

Hell by Kathryn Davis

I picked this up in Austin at Half Price Books. Luckily for me, it seems that Austinites actually like to read, so the pickings were good for fiction.

Hell is like a fever dream. Reading it feels like dropping into the stream of consciousness of a desperately lost ghost, one that uncontrollably flitting through space-time and doing the best it can to cope. After awhile this restlessness got tiring for me. While I loved the idea of hell as a horrible confusion instead of a fiery pit, there was one to many elements jostling for attention in the story to make it work for me.

The POV shifts between several characters: a young girl in the 50s, dollhouse dolls, a nineteenth- century chef and a Civil War bound-to-be widow named Edwina. The chef voice is overblown and food obsessed, and was a dissonant element. The whole cooking thing didn't really fit in with the details of the other sections and I wish had been left out. Edwina’s story is a lead weight on the narrative and I couldn’t wait to get through her chapters. Even with all these, a bit of a mystery story emerges, involving the aforementioned young girl and the murder of her frenemy, and that’s the story I really wanted to read. That her loss of innocence is not exactly as it seems was quite compelling; I love how Davis writes about girls and women. Her Hell is fueled by the unspent energy of the lives these women could have lived.

Bonus: Hell mentions both the neighborhood I grew up in and spends a good bit set near the creek where I have spent countless hours having fun, both mild and wild.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Today: Pouring buckets tour of Park Slope and Prospect Heights.

Highlight 1: The sun coming out while we ate in the echoingly empty, but still poorly staffed Zaytoon's on Vanderbilt.

Highlight 2: Visiting Unnanmeable Books' new location.
Photo by Brownstoner

The store is bright, cozy and stacked. There is still a ton of small press gems, new and used, and a small selection of self-published stuff. I picked up a dollar book, (sadly, the prices are still about $2 more/book than I'd like to pay for casual book shopping), the reaction-packed namedThis is Not Chick Lit edited by Elizabeth Merrick. Despite the terrible cover, it contains original stories by a bunch of writers I am interested in like Aimee Bender, Samantha Hunt and Lynne Tillman. I am glad I found it.

The questions I'm left with is why, why, why doesn't Unnameble have a website and should I move to Prospect Heights?