Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Last night, at the urging of the always awesome Zane Grant, I went to the release party for abort! #23, a lit zine, at Williamsburg's book thug nation. This issue was SF-themed and several of the authors were present to do readings of the stories--their own or otherwise. I enjoyed all the readings, with the minor exception of the first, by the zine's editor, Jonathan Spies. He was reading someone else's material and kept laughing (surely at an in-joke?), and it was jarring and a little bizarre.

I loved the rest of the readings which included an AC story in a strong Boston accent, some autobio poetry and a looping, wild, alternate-past NYC tale. The last I loved--the reading and the story, while one of my companions enjoyed the reading but didn't care for the story. I read my copy of the zine on the train, and while the story, 'The Slarnax and the Six Train,' by Jessie Gray Singer, was good, it lost the hypnotic quality with which the author's reading imbued it. My favorite story in abort! #23, Laura Waldman's 'The One with the Insides,' worked on the page and in the ear though each was different.

This experience got me thinking about how the experience of a story can change drastically depending on the medium. As you may know, I listen to a ton of audio fiction, all of it coming from the Escape Artists podcasts. They have consistently good stories and rarely have a bum reading. (Though there was this one guy who loved to render female characters in a grating falsetto. But that is another post.) Often I am entranced by stories on there that have problems that would sink them on the page because the readings are done with great skill, drawing out the best in the story. And somehow, somehow, somehow, hearing about dragons or elves or alchemists is fine to listen to, but impossible for me to read. Because I semi-regularly read SF in online venues, I occasionally encounter a story on the casts that I've read before and marvel at how hearing it can transform it, or even more amazing, when the reader seems to channel the sound of the story right out of my brain. However, when Maureen F. McHugh's 'Ancestor Money' (I review the collection here) popped up in my 'tunes, I deleted it right away, not wanting to supplant the drawl of the main characters voice in my head with anyone else's.

I rarely go to readings because so many of them are charged with anxiety. The readers are hoping for sales, or at least attentiveness, and the audience is praying the evening won't require more than two drinks to enjoy. Last night was a relaxed affair and I look forward to checking out more abort! and more book thug nation, where the dollar book rack beats any in town.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories by Gabrielle Bell

“But then, I’ve never felt so useful.”

The title story of this collection, first published in Kramer’s Ergot 5, is one of my favorite comic stories. Cutting sharp-eyed realism with fantasy, it showcases the unique cruelty that New York dishes out to newcomers, as well as the wearing effect romantic relationships can have on their participants. Bell has a keen ear for dialog in her fictional stories and here it serves to give us just enough back story to make the main character, Cecil, situation heartbreaking. The story is also in vibrant color and this adds a nice liveliness to the story.

The rest of the book is a mix of fiction and autobio stories with main characters that are like Cecil—underappreciated and harassed by life. However, none of the rest of the stories resonate with me. An overwhelming bleakness pervades much of Bell’s work, including this collection. Although I love the way she draws and her ability to tease out a telling detail I don’t enjoy spending time with her characters. The desire to give them all a violent shake is too distracting!

*photo from drawn & quarterly because I already returned this to the library

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

i've been meaning to tell you

1) L. Nichols (whom you may remember from her contest win) is making some great garden comics right now. I must confess to envy, over here with my unhappy cucumbers and stunted greens.

2) "Were I asked (and I never have been), I would have to say that William Gibson is my favorite science fiction author, mostly likely my favourite "genre" author of all time, across all genres not labeled "literary", though I think that after Pattern Recognition, anyone trying to keep his work in the science fiction ghetto is a fool." August C. Bourré is writing about William Gibson's work--all of it, which is making me think it might be about time for a long reread.

3) Mary Phillips-Sandy is right, as usual, about why we love books about "humdrum objects." Aren't you glad she started blogging again?

4) Speaking of tumblrs, Ira Marcks' Morning in the Atelier is a great photo blog that takes place entirely in his studio. Ink water spill, pen's-eye-view and more.
photo by ira marcks, of course

Monday, June 21, 2010

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

I loved the colors of Exit Wounds. All that red contrasted with muted Ikea colors really suctioned my eye to the page.

The story--a man, Koby, is contacted by a young woman, Numi, who claims his absent father was killed in a cafeteria bombing and convinces him to go on a reluctant journey to find the truth—had its weaknesses, especially in the character development and plotting areas, but it moved along swiftly and I kept wanting to know what happened next.

For an outsider, Exit Wounds gave some insight into Jewish life in Israel through characters’ casual conversation. There is a running gag throughout the book about bombings—where the Hadera bombing that that two are investigating keeps getting confused with a larger one in a town called Haifa-- that shows the way a culture accommodates regular, extreme, violence into everyday life by becoming matter-a-fact about it. We also peek into the food, topography and customs of Israel, including a very unusual scene, to my American sensibilities, in which a man identifies his father, a bombing victim, by his ears over CC tv, then requests a video of the body for his mother.

Sometimes Modan’s detailing of faces in Exit Wounds veers towards cartoon-y, which undermines the character work she does, especially with the women in Numi’s family. This jars with the serious tone of the work and pulled me right out of the story in some cases.

I borrowed Exit Wounds from the library, and based on it, would check out more of Modan’s work in the same way.

*photo from drawn & quarterly

Friday, June 04, 2010

no more hellos

On the train I saw a young man that looked like my brother. Shock, then sickening hope followed by a forced numbness—the same nauseating drill. I repeatedly tried not to look at him, to not think that thought. And, of course, I hated him.

I hated his face that echoed my brother’s sharp features. I wanted to punch in his gnarly teeth because they weren’t braces-straight. His lack of style was repulsive to me, and his clothes didn’t hide the body that was not my brother’s strong, young one. I hated him for existing when my brother doesn’t. I moved my seat so I wouldn’t have to see him, but I couldn’t get away from his (thankfully) New York-accented voice, saying stupid things, my beautiful, dead brother would never say.

On nights like this, I want to kill that part of me that is always searching for him because it will always be treacherous, waiting to ambush me.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I've been here the whole time

I am awaiting a desk. A beautiful desk, already owned by my family, is as impatient as I to meet, I imagine, but logistics get in the way. In the meantime I am butt-on-the-floor, contorted, not writing.

The rapidly swelling sidebar shows what I have been doing--well, the part that doesn't involve a love affair with my new video store. The Jansson and Tillman books I'm in or just out of are summery and run in shallow and deep currents, as appropriate to my recent moods. Even the Kathryn Davis book I abandoned in its last chapter a few months ago had a seasonal feel.

Despite what should be inspiration, my resolve to write is as weak as a melted water ice.

Is anyone else twisting in the summer breeze?