Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Right now I am working on a zine for SPX. As far as I know it will contain no comics, but maybe that will change. I have several ideas in various stages of completion, none of which I am too happy with. Mostly this is about unhappiness. The problem is not only that SPX is so close, it’s that I don’t want to write this stuff. I don’t want to put myself anywhere near the still-howling chasm of my grief. This past week has already held too many snot storms and lingering illnesses.

Still, I am forcing myself to carry on with the work and complaining only to you, my internet.

How do you deal with writing things that are personally hazardous?


Being sickie sick sick has made me crave giant books. I ventured to Unnameable with B to feed my fever and picked up The Scar by China Mielville and Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs. Browsing was shockingly unpleasant so we left shortly after purchase, but there were so many things I wanted to look at. Sigh. The Scar is the escapist treat I expected, with fewer frantic world-building tics than Perdido Street Station and the Iron Council and more talk of pirate libraries. The prim but observant main character’s perspective is great, especially for one in such a dulled state as I.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Today we found a family of wolverines in the hall closet. I thought I had heard noises for some time but always dismissed them as house settling or wind shenanigans. Then there was the scat. I saw a few bone-filled piles in corners and ignored them, seeing instead dust bunnies and stray charcoal. A few times I thought I smelled expressed anal glands.

So, we ask ourselves, how did this happen? What was our failing? Did we leave the door open to a pregnant interloper when carrying too many groceries? Did I forget to put away a fresh kill? Are they eating the paper towels? So many ways to blame ourselves for the impossibly inevitable.

Of course it is the season for coming in. Nesting is hard to resist even for the undesirable.

Let’s not forget that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

so sick

Readers, I am sick. A legion of clap-infected hustlers have taken up in the back of my throat, my chest rattles in the effort to shake loose brownish mucous and yes, I have a fever. Antibiotics taken for an unrelated illness are adding that perfect touch of GI insanity to the proceedings as well. A full evening of Beautiful Katamari and the couch, as well as ministrations from the lovely B have left me feeling a bit better, but I still plan on spending most of today in bed. Having finished my reread of the delightful Momento Mori during the sleepless night, I am looking for a new book to read.

In more exciting news, here is Raina Telgemeier's poster for SPX 2010:

Preparations have begun for the trip and I can't wait to be there. I never thought I'd say that about Bethesda, MD, but there you go.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Right now I am reading three books: Momento Mori by Muriel Spark (reread), I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita and Amulet by Roberto Bolaño. The only one gaining any traction right now is Spark's. I guess it's all this rain.


Maud Newton's wonderful essay "On grief--and dying without finishing your book."
When your spouse’s parent dies, grieving is complicated. There is the grief you feel for yourself, for the loss of a person you (if you’re lucky) loved, and there is the grief you feel at seeing the person closest to you dealing with a nearly unfathomable loss. At times the sorrow is literally almost suffocating. These are clichés, but they are also realities, as is the fact that the passing of someone important to you causes you to think about the way you’re spending your own life.

I wish I could write as eloquently on this subject. But reading good writing always helps and since I've decided to work on this zine, I need all the help I can get.


Have we talked about doing a project? Well, now is the time.

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh

I’ve avoided writing about this book until now for reasons unknown to me, and now, after it has been renewed six times from the library, I think it is time to give it back so someone else can have a chance to read it.

In China Mountain Zhang, China has won the cold war and Chinese communism has spread the globe. In the 22nd century, the U.S. has had only a few generations since the bloody American Liberation War. Our titular main character Zhang was born to two revolutionaries in the aftermath. Though he is ethnically only half-Chinese, his parents have him genetically altered to look fully so, both as a tribute to what they believed and with hope of Zhang having a better life in a Chinese-run world. Even his name, that of a now-disgraced hero, reeks of the optimism of his parents. Despite this, he works as a construction tech in NYC—a dead end job—and spends his time off watching kite races, drinking and being unhappily gay in a society that does not tolerate homosexuality. In China, the land of opportunity, gayness is even more forbidden, but despite this, it is Zhang's hope to go there someday and do, well do something better than being a tech.

Wow, perhaps I hate writing plot summary so much is because I am so bad at it.

Our man China Mountain Zhang does get to go to China, after some plot twists that only strain credulity a bit. His end is a little too sweet for me. It feels like McHugh loved her creation so much that she didn’t want to see him permanently hurt. Even with the rosy sunset ending, I loved this book.

Two things really stuck out for me. In the China part of the book, Zhang meets a guy he is attracted to. He ignores it because, hey, who wants to get sent to jail? Then the guy begins speaking in a code that Zhang recognizes from pick ups in NYC and can’t believe his ears. The dated cheesiness of the exchange (like the 80s channeling the 1910s) worked in its favor because it got me thinking about the languages we create to survive in oppressive societies and how the internet is making that less possible and less needed at the same time.

Another was the mostly untold story of Zhang’s parents and other minor characters in the book. Those that help “reform” the U.S. in an effort called Cleansing Winds are now considered embarrassments and those that haven’t been killed or sent to camps keep quiet about their part. This has always been a compelling issue for me in the history of and literature about Communism and it was interesting to see it explored in this McHugh’s world.

*Despite the giant gun-looking thing, there is no interstellar combat in China Mountain Zhang. It's an ice melter!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

It's dreary here in Brooklyn, and if I hadn’t already, it would be a perfect day to read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. Perfect because it is set on a galing day in England, which reminds one how much worse it could be, and because it is a brisk little book filled with ridiculous characters that one is free to vigorously dislike.

I’ve been getting into these types of books recently. Often by forgotten women novelists, they provide a weird kind of escapism where I can revel in the details while indulging some misanthropy. Cheerful Weather was a gift from Amanda Well-Tailored. For precisely four B train rides into Manhattan, I was chuckling at the door of a freezing manor house instead of a stinky MTA car. Thanks, AWT!

The novella takes place on the titular wedding day of Dolly Thatcham and Owen, eight years apart. Dolly is getting wasted upstairs as the preparations go on around her, and her frequent nips from the rum bottle hidden in her voluminous dress lead inspire a kind of puttering melancholy that is fun to read about, especially if you’ve ever succumbed to such a mood yourself. The Thatcham home is filled with various family members being ridiculous, including my favorite character, chapped and puffy younger sister Kitty: “ ‘How are your lectures going?’ asked Kitty of Joseph, a kind of desperate intenseness in her voice and face. This was her style of the moment with the male sex.”

Leave the bizarre intro by Frances Partridge for after. Wouldn’t want Bloomsbury gossip and unhappy personal details to overshadow the story, would we?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Salon by Nick Bertozzi

Last week, before work I went to the MoMA with Amanda Well-Tailored. Besides the awesomeness of doing anything in person with AWT, I was struck by how weirdly the wander through mimicked my reading of last night--Nick Bertozzi’s The Salon.

The Salon focuses on the French Modernist art movement and the expats than ran in it. Bertozzi gives each a distinct (and funny) personality and look. I especially like Gertrude Stein’s balls-out Mama Bear and her sniveling brother, Leo, and the bottomless bravado pit of Bertozzi’s Picasso. The writing is such that the story works as a historically-glossed superhero story or a meditation on creation, greed and desire. It is both, and compelled me to consider picking up some bios on these previously uninteresting art idols.

The group not only makes and collects art, but also parties together and have found a drug that allows one to enter paintings—a seductive idea for this group. Unfortunately they are not the only ones drinking the blue stuff; an artist-murderer is pulling the heads off of Modernists and leaving their bodies with a tell-tale splash of blue. The mystery is a fun way to navigate the salons and backstreets of Paris. The art feels fluid and alive, perfectly conveying the vibrant world of paintings, in and out.

Though I had heard great things about the book from several outlets, but after reading the dismal Stuffed! last year, and seeing Bertozzi’s merely adequate art, I was a bit skeptical. I am so glad my library had a copy so I could try it. I am looking forward to checking out more work that he’s written and drawn.

*In additional The Salon news: the sad story of how Free Comic Book Day + Picasso's penis equaled big trouble for retailer Gordon Lee.


SPX 2010 and the Brooklyn Book Fest are on the same day!

Don't make me choose.

Which are you going to?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Last night's visit by the prog lady began with spaghetti limone dinner a la Little Frankies, moved on to a salon-style haircut (I strive for the very best!), and ended with a walk to Unnameable Books for a post-10 pm visit. Oh Unnameable Books, please get a website, or a blog or a twitter feed.

The place was mostly ours and all told we spent about an hour looking around and digesting all that starch. I picked up Jenny Diski's book Rainforest after trying in vain to remember where I heard her name before. Turns out that it was from this great essay on rape and Polanski. Rainforest is really good so far.

The prog lady picked up The Bathroom by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, a book about a man who never leaves his bathroom--perfect subject matter for the coming cold months. (Read some here. And look at that cover--what a beauty!)

We discussed Philly's gone-but-not-forgotten Big Jar Books and how much we missed it. Neither of us have been to the new store yet. She used to work there and I was a frequent, and then less frequent, shopper. I loved combing their shelves for Philip K. Dick books. In the edgiest years, it was one of the few places I could go with my mother and enjoy myself. One time I met a Frenchman outside and he bought me some Camus. Luckily he was a good kisser. How many times did I stop in to use the tiny toilet in the back and leave with a book that opened my mind?

No, really, guess.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Last night M and I went for a ramble around Brooklyn stopping for beers and books along the way. We stopped in Fort Greene's Greenlight, and though buying new books strains the budget, I bought a copy of Dylan Horrocks' Hicksville, which has been collected and reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly. I forgot that I had a frequent buyer account with them, as I am not a frequent buyer, but it was nice to add another lump to my sum. So many other books caught my eye, but alas, though I can't seem to stop myself from buying a book in an indie bookstore, there is a limit.

We decided to walk down Vanderbilt to tempt ourselves further with a trip into Unnameable Books, probably my fave bookstore in Brooklyn. One of my favorite things about it is that it is open until 11pm most days. We scanned and scanned and I got into a conversation with some fellow Muriel Spark enthusiasts. I picked up a copy of Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel, some SF for my weekend trip. I've read his Small Beer Press short story offering and several collections he's edited and am curious to read a longer work, and "time-hopping con artists" sounded like a good place to start.


The recent New York Magazine article on indie bookstores by Joe Keohane is a good read.


A few days ago I was supposed to meet Zane in Tribeca. In an unbelievable turn of events I was early, couldn't find the place we were meeting and wandered smack into an event at The Mysterious Bookshop by Akashic books promoting the newest entry in their ...Noir series, Indian Country Noir. The speakers got me excited for the series--none of the other titles have gotten me excited before. I guess I am just over unrelenting bleakness for now.


On Twitter I follow @BookCourt because I like great things. BC an amazing bookstore in Carroll Gardens that not only hosted much-missed-from-the-blogosphere buddy Amy Shearn's reading for her novel but also has ample seating and a cool staff. Their twitting by staff members is inspired:

#bookstorebingo "I dropped off my book several months ago. Wait, which bookstore is this?"

You know who I love? David Byrne.

Red Hot Chili Peppers? Really? Okay.


The moral of this post? Buy some freaking books already!