Saturday, October 31, 2009

the trials of a yes or no question

While the results of my current poll (see sidebar) are quite interesting, I need a larger pool of data to make the answers mean more. I know I have more than seven regular readers, so if you stop by often and read my reviews, please vote in the poll!

I'm going to leave the pols up a few more days to facilitate more responses.

And, if you have more to say than yes or no, leave a comment on this post.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Tales of Woodsman Pete: With Full Particulars by Lilli Carré

I love Lilli Carré. Before I read Tales I had only seen short work by her and had been entranced by her loopy line work and slightly sad narratives.

Tales provides not only the feel I associate with Carré’s work, but also a deeper look at one character, the jauntily bearded Woodsman Pete, though episodes packed with whistling birds, monologues on companionship and taxidermied animals. Folk heroes Paul Bunyan and Babe also make an extended appearance, perhaps as an example of the kind of relationship Pete could enjoy, if he didn’t seem to want solitude so much.

One of Bunyan stories leads to a tale of lands covered in salt, where the inhabitants use the mountains of white stuff to preserve the things they think are worth it. The trouble is the mountains shift and people begin to lose the things they hoped to retrieve, and instead reach into the salt with only the barest hope to find them, eventually doing a kind of cultural penance for what becomes purposeful loss. Amazing.

I like that Pete, with his skinny legs and giant beard, is not all twinkling eyes and eccentricity. When confronted by other living things, he is dangerous, and all the “holes” in his tales take on an unsettling cast.

Carré uses a few different styles in this book, but the most prevalent (and my favorite) is her usual expressive thin lines with minimal shading. This is not to say that when she juices up pages with inkiness that it doesn’t look good too. Pete’s small details change from episode to episode, but it works as the tone of the stories shift a bit too.

For seven dollars, this book packs quite a bit of fun that you can return to from time to time--especially if you are feeling lonely. Or maybe a little vengeful...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Adam Roberts writes an in-depth review of the exciting-sounding The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany & Austria that manages to be personal, informative and funny all at once, over at Strange Horizons.


Research, research, research-- that's what I am up to my ears in these days. While I group around for a thesis statement for two papers, the onions burn and the to-read pile towers dangerously over my bed. I am going to avoid even discussing the to-review pile.

Why don't you peruse my 2009 reading list and tell me what you'd like me to review next. Lurkers revealed will take precedence. Now is the time to unveil!


Today I am going to write the first letter to my grandmother addressed to her nursing home. I have very little to say to her, but I will try to make this missive as sunny as I can muster without gagging. If I had some pictures of myself to send I would, but film... well, you know.

By all accounts she is not adjusting well to the change. Unsurprising, but the fact that she has Alzheimer's makes each day a new experience of waking up in an unfamiliar place. Hopefully she will enjoy my letter each time.

The Great Perhaps: A Novel by Joe Meno

The Great Perhaps is about a family of people that aren’t doing so well not doing so well. At first one thinks that the book is going to focus on the sad sack father, Jonathan Casper, whose head is so far up the ocean’s butt with his obsessive study of the colossal squid that he can’t see that his family needs him. Then we discover that not only is he a giant nerd, but that he also has a terrible epilepsy, now treated, that is triggered by clouds. Straight away, this is not a character that I really like. He has too many “wacky” things in his basket for me to see beyond them, though Meno does try to humanize Jonathan by providing some episodes from his youth and the perspectives of the other characters.

It’s the perspective of so many other characters, interesting at first, which ultimately tears this book apart. Not only does Big Daddy J get a part, but so does his wife, Madeline, their two daughters Amelia and Thisbe as well as his father, Henry. I like Henry’s character the best, despite some quirkiness-tics by the author. He is in a nursing home, becoming increasingly more silent, and planning not only for his escape, but for his legacy—a group of letters explaining telling his story to himself. It was a great conceit, amply fleshed out in passages from Henry’s childhood, time in a German-American internment camp and young manhood. I’ve been digging on older characters recently, but, despite my current interest in seniors, I think I would always have wanted more of Henry.

There is a section of Amelia’s, big sister and high school radical wannabe who thinks that college will save her, that perfectly captures an occasion in many a young woman’s life—the sad blowjob. It is kind of perfect.

After Chapter Five, when everyone has had a chapter, there are sections titled Additional Remarks of a Historical Significance (and further permutations of that title), that tell tales of different ancestors of Jonathan--all male and all defeated. If this book had focused on Jonathan (or one of his antecedents or decedents or a relationship between two of them), these stories might have fit in better, but instead distract from the main narrative and don’t add anything to the characters. That said, the settings in these passages were lush, even if the characters aren’t, and perhaps all of them would have worked in a companion book of related short stories or something.

The strangest thing about this book is that, with some plot differences and characteristic swapping, I felt like I already read it. The Sleeping Father does the multigenerational family drama with a dash of fantasy thing better. TSF also is haunted by clouds, lame dads, religious daughters, angry wives, medical environments and many shades of sex. It was the echoes to Matthew Sharpe’s book that brought me the most pleasure, which is unfortunate but true.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

we shove the holes in the polls

I am looking for some feedback about my readers' behavior. Please check out the three poll questions on the sidebar and let me know how being a tryharderlander has effected your habits.

You have eight days.

If you've got something more than yes or no to say to my questions, please leave a comment here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The update I know that you have been dying for: All of the books contained in my four-tiered shelf have been added into LibraryThing. This does not include the stacks on top of it, the stacks around it and the piles scattered throughout the apartment.

This certainly has been a good way to figure out what I have and what I don't. Why I kept some things and got rid of others is a mystery likely born of moving around and stashing my books places that I am not. The bookswaps I've had since moving to NYC have also contributed to my strange collection.

So far less than half of my books have been cataloged (no comics either), but I plan on continuing and weeding as I go. I hope to sell/swap the stuff I don't want anymore and buy more small press books.

Perhaps I am not facile with the software yet, but I am finding it very difficult to get good suggestions from LT. So, any suggestions besides scanning the lists of books that my friends put on Goodreads?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

3 smells

On my table sits a single-stem of lily that, now that it has opened, sends the fragrance of B.O. throughout my apartment. Perhaps, in the wild, smelling like something rotten would draw exotic pollinators to this dark purple flower. In the apartment, it makes me laugh to get a whiff of something so unexpected as I whirl around trying to get something done.

It was given to me at my birthday party by friends, who actually showed up, unlike the Philly contingent, and who could not know that that smell reminds me of the city I left behind.

It smells bad, but it’s complicated.


Speaking of Philadelphia smells, when the wind blows my backyard is filled with the ancient stench of ginkgo trees making babies. That dragged-through-dog-shit smell is shuffling through bright yellow leaves on close streets in the fall, making teenage mistakes and having teenage fun. It is cold noses and smoky scarves and combat boots on pavement. It is empty and full at once and I wish certain people were here to share it with me.

Fun fact: Green or yellow, ginkgo leaves are one of my favorite things.


Apple without the blossom means delicious food and cold mornings and unexpected abundance. It means green and read and yellow. It is a joke and a gift. It is another year with you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Let's stop talking about hair and maybe talk a little bit about homework. Not my homework, which is amorphous and mounting, but the homework that high school and college kids hope to finish by googling the title of a book and copy n pasting. This type of thing is one of the uggles one must put up with when putting writing on the internet, but still, when combing my stats, it still annoys me. Actually doing the reading is much more interesting, though I will admit that what qualifies as interesting for me may not correspond with the average teenager.


Tonight as I cycled home from school, using avenues with bike lanes, I had yet another confrontation with people who just can't bear to be on the sidewalks with all those other people. I believe this inability to view a biker's safety as a higher priority than walking faster than the sidewalk allows is a sort of egomania.

As I was tearing up Eight Avenue, after making my way through the laneless nightmare that is 40th-42nd Sts., I pulled over to the mushroom head emblazoned track and soon encountered a flock of douchebags, khakis pressed and ties flying, in a vee formation spread over my lane. I said to them, "Hey douchebags, nice walking in the bike lane." They waited for me to pass a ways and yelled a rousing, "Fuck you, dyke!"

Class incarnate, they were.


I got my first graded assignment of grad school back today, an analysis of LibraryThing's cataloging abilities.
I got an A.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I cannot get a haircut without it turning into a 20s bob. No matter how much blowing and scrunching gets done, the next day I still have a little helmet of hair.

Right now I am reading Like Son, a book with a bobbed woman on the cover.

What will people think?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Low Moon by Jason

I was so excited for the release of Jason’s newest book that I dragged my ass down to the Strand to wait in line during his book signing. I was early and chose two books for me and SEC. When I got to the table, all intelligent remarks left me and I just grunted out my name and waited to see what Jason would draw in my book.*

Low Moon is a handsome hardcover of five short stories. Already a bit of disappointment—I want to see Jason attempt a sustained narrative. For the sake of this review, I’ll just have to get over that and focus on the content. “Emily Says Hello” and “&” are further explorations of hardboiled tropes by the author. Both include men that are killing to get closer to a woman, and, despite the dubious morality of the noir world, neither gets more than a distortion of love. Unfortunately as a reader I don’t care either way really because the characters aren’t given enough of a story to create investment.

“You Are Here” and “Proto Film Noir” play with temporal funny business, much like Jason’s longer work I Killed Adolph Hitler. "Proto Film Noir" is a one-note gag about an unkillable husband that is meant to provide comic relief, but just sits there. "You Are Here" uses alien abduction to facilitate a story about finding one’s lost mother too late to stop a familial cycle of broken relationships. The father in the story spends his life building a rocket to go find his bride. I really like Jason’s fat, riveted, spacecraft, but the pathos here did not quite penetrate my hull. Again, he did it better in I Killed Adolph Hitler.

The title story is a western set in a past where chess, not gunslinging, is the true test of masculinity. The main character, the sheriff, is a simple man with a drinking problem and a secret whose like is upended when his last chess challenger gets out of jail and saunters back into town. It’s okay.

Compared to Jason’s longer work, Low Moon feels like a bunch of B-grade material jumbled together to meet a deadline.

* He drew a sheriff wearing a deconstructed pirate hat. Sigh.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Last night I finished my issue of Conjunctions 52: Betwixt the Between: Impossible Realism [there is no permalink as far as I can find]. I wrote about it a little here, and wanted to mention that the remainder of the volume was just as satisfying.

I really enjoyed "Flat Daddy" by Shelley Jackson. She took the words from a 2006 edition of The New York Times and created a story about families, rebellion and the search for free expression. At first the gimmick seems ludicrous with sentences like "cheese has holes and so does this page," but Jackson is able to craft a compelling story within the constraint. I really wish she'd write another novel.

"The Familiars" by Micaela Morrisette is a creepy tale about motherhood, growing up and most sinister, seduction. Her ability to slowly ratchet up the tension in the misty, lonely setting while keeping the story grounded is what makes it so good.

Patrick Crerand's "A Man of Vision" is a really twisted tale of fundraising and ancient beasts. That's all I am going to say, except that this one did not turn out like I thought it would.

There were a handful of duds, but any one of these stories would hold up in less stellar company. I can't wait for the next issue.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

other places, other things

My buddy Goodloe Byron, the cat that designed the cover for Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown, has had an article written about his process over at Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes. In his delightfully self-effacing way, Bryon describes his thoughts about different versions of a cover he made for Matt Stewart's Twittered, and to be published by Soft Skull Press, novel, The French Revolution. If you've ever wanted to know what goes into choosing a cover for a book, this is the article for you.


The new issue of Bookslut has a column by Charlotte Freeman on cookbooks, financial panic style, which of course never end up being entirely about the recipes. She mentions one of my favorite books, M.F.K. Fisher's restrained How to Cook a Wolf and two others by Patience Gray and Elizabeth David that I will have to get my hands on. I find books like these to be very heartening, as they are survivor stories with (mostly) happy endings. Isn't that what we all wish for?


As a child, I thought often about messages sent and messages found, probably as a result of reading many, many mystery novels and living in a neighborhood bereft of civic pride and strewn with all sorts of written trash. Here, Quigley's Cabinet pulls together an excellent list of messages in bottles. I've always dreamt of finding one, maybe washed up on the rocky banks of the Schuykill or in a shark's belly, but I am probably too uptight about the dying oceans to send one now.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

writing about the big ugh

Writing about grief is difficult. For me, not only is there a resurgence of incredibly unpleasant feelings, but the writerly nag of being precise with my language and not repeating myself. For instance, when I have a day like this, I get very specific physical sensations like nausea, pain in my chest and weight on my body along with anger, fear and extreme sadness. I don’t want to say over and over that there is a hole in my heart, though that is the best description, because that would be boring and belongs in a private journal, nor do I want to describe to readers what it is like to want to throw up—they know.

What I do want to do is write openly about grief in a culture that is ashamed of it. I want to help grieving people by showing them that they are not alone, that their feelings of loss are not excessive or insane. I want to help the loved ones of grieving people understand that it just doesn’t go away and how memories haunt objects, places, smells. I want to show how grief affects a depressed person; how I feel a little uncomfortable with the fact that, because of the medical care I’ve received and the hard work I do every day, I feel better than I ever have in my life, despite this sucking wound. I want to talk about how sometimes, (rarely now), grief and depression do a little dance that would have me hanging from the rafters if not for my new-found patience to ride it out. I want to honor my brother and the gifts he gave me by striving to write well and help others that need it.

I want to write my survivor story.

Thank you to all the strangers and friends that have written me over the years to support my writing on this unfun matter. Thanks to all the people who come here to read about books or comics and stick around for all of it. This biggest thank you goes to the people who have lived this with me and who continue to do the hard thing in order to make life easy.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ever had a day where there is shit on the breeze and you can’t get the badness of out your hair? I am having one of those today.

In my dream last night, I was by a large river, swimming in the water with family of friends. Little kids were splashing around, diving for bright fruits and fish in the water. My brother was with me there. He had a flower behind his ear and we were talking about how awful it was that he was dead—that he could only be alive in certain places, but that he would disappear when I needed him, later. All the laters. We also discussed why he had to wear a hairpiece. Wasn’t it crazy that his head was so damaged in the accident that they needed to replace parts of his black brush cut with fuzzy bits of fake?

Ha ha.

Upon waking this dream dialogue was so heartbreaking, so wrenching, that the usual daze of the morning was replaced with a blinding, grinding vision of loss. I’ve been trying to shake it all day but all the days since his death have been subsumed and I am right back there again, living that first day without him, flashed-back to my bloody rebirth into a life I never wanted to live but have to, every day, until I too, die.

Even now, I am still missing, in every sense.