Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington

The Hearing Trumpet was ohmygod 100% fucking amazing. I've been in this mode of reading about repressed and oppressed British ladies in surreal circumstances, and that describes this book, but only superficially. The main character, Marian Leatherby, is really old, living in a Mexico-type land, hanging with her outrageous and wonderful friend Carmella and essentially enjoying herself despite deafness and neglect. "Every week brings a certain amount of mild enjoyment; every night, in fine weather, the sky, the stars, and of course the moon in her season. On Mondays, in clement weather, I walk two blocks down the road and visit my friend Carmella." Marian's useless son ends this quiet life and puts her in a home at the urging of his terrible, also British, wife. How terrible to be in such a lush land and surrounded by prune-faced Brits! In the home, run by unsurprisingly avaricious and suspectly religious twits, Marian meets up with several other old ladies, all of whom are interesting, if not all benign. Conditions at the home degrade until Christian mysticism, murder and good, old-fashioned collective action shake things up, then down, down, down.

Besides just stewing in the wonderfulness of Carrington's sentences and delighting in her weird, but not one-dimensional characters, what I liked most about this book were its portrayal of old age as a high-stakes adventure where one's past is more than dead weight and friendship as not only a superficial past time, but a lifesaving relationship. I would trade all the snow in Lapland for a friend like Carmella...

Despite all I've said, subtlety reigns in this book. Marian is a mild and mostly passive observer and she tells this story with a sweetness that may distract from the author's absolute dissection of ideas of propriety, femininity, the body, human worth and the past. Her reality is not questioned by the book, though throughout the story several people deem her "senile" or vice-ridden or mad. If you read the intro to the book, or any other biographics on Carrington, it becomes clear why this theme is so important, but I urge you to wait until you've read the book and not let the facts fuck up the fictional truth.

I wish I could show you more of Carrington's writing, but the book has gone back to the library and Google-Booking around for quotes is agitating. Perhaps if everybody who reads this buys a copy from Exact Change we can pressure them into reprinting more of her work.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What do you do when everything is wrong?

Today would have been my brother's 27th birthday. I can't believe it; I can't believe that I am this old, that he's been gone so long, that he'll be gone for so much longer.

If you or someone you know is struggling with comforting a grieving person, check out this Dear Sugar column from The Rumpus. I think it is perfect.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Overqualified by Joey Comeau

My rides to work and school on the subway now seem to comprise all of my current reading time. I prefer something absorbing and a little escapist for these rides, as the train is sometimes crowded, loud and/or smelly and I need something that pulls me in.

So, the other day I pulled Overqualified, by one of my favorite comics writers and birthday twin, off of the unread shelf and ran to the train. When I finally settled into my molded plastic seat, I expected to get a little jolt of work-sucks catharsis before I hit the office.

Instead I got hit with a dead-brother story—a grief story—told in increasingly desperate and bizarre cover letters to companies. Despite the profusion of profanity so loved by my generation, including this bookending gem: "'Live for today, you retarded little shit. The end is near,'" I found the story touching, if a little slight. The main character, Joey Comeau, yes, Joey Comeau, goes through many of the stages of grief I remember: self-destruction; the desire to experience everything; the desire to experience nothing; anger; mythologizing; flailing regret; etc..

His degeneration is somewhat comic, which is where the book trips a little, but the book also contains lines that mirror the kind of thoughts that both anchor us to the past and give us some path for the future. "I love the feeling of running down stairs. It's an activity the body was made for, something that feels perfect and correct." The letter to Absolut Vodka is probably my favorite. It ends like this:" I am applying for a job, because I don't think you understand what to means to be cool or strong or invincible. You of all people should know. That is what alcohol does. It makes you strong. You can fight anyone. You can seduce anyone. You can drive faster than death." I don't think this is by accident, so I wish Comeau had whittled away at some of the bombast and deepened his main character a little.

ECW Press's treatment of the book is lovely. The paper is thick and the cover art by Comeau is striking. And the letter on the cover is dated with my brother's birthday.

Bonus: A shout out to a web comic-er Ryan North and his penis are included in a letter to Yahoo.


Hi to new followers and twitter folk. Please comment when it moves you; like a network TV comedy and rigidly-defined gender roles, bloggers need comments to live.

Speaking of twitter, through the feed of M K Reed, I found out about Tessa Brunton's comics. They looked familiar and it turns out a read a piece by her a few years ago. Good story, no? Anyway, I am loving these comics, especially Brunton's attention to the small pattern--polka dots, leave and wiggly lines are everywhere in her work and they add a sweetness to the work that I love. Plus, she has a favorite podcasts section on her site.


Better than cut any day.


My subway rides have been filled with The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It took me about a third of the way in to get into it, but now I am enjoying the swirl of spices, plant names, opium smoke and righteousness that blows through the book.

I've been lucky with my reading recently. More reviews soon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Still loving The Hearing Trumpet. I will be finished soon and was ruffled by the fact that unless I want to spend tens of dollars to buy a copy of her older work, my only other options for reading more Leonora Carrington is one copy of one book of hers in the BPL. Will somebody please, please reprint her other works?

While researching my reading options for Carrington, I looked more into the catalog of Exact Change, the publisher of the copy of The Hearing Trumpet that I am reading. They publish a ton of stuff that I am interested in, including the recent indie craze, Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet. I am thinking of picking up that and The Death & Letters of Alice James: Selected Correspondence by Alice James and The Heresiarch & Co. by Guillaume Apollinaire. If anybody has any suggestions, let me know.


A few nights ago, B came home very late. He went to his computer and, through my sleepy haze, I heard the sound of files being transferred at a rapid pace. What could he possibly be doing after a long night of sport and jazz?

Turns out, he was blogging.


Oberlin College has a 97-item online mail art collection. I was very excited about this until I actually looked at the collection. What is really available on the internet is basically a catalog record, with uninteresting and barely helpful object metadata exposed and only a thumbnail image available. Some entries have links to biographies of the artists and postal data, but the tiny representations of the pieces make it useless for anyone not able to make it to Oberlin to check out the physical collection. (But do check out the very good collection overview to learn about and see more mail art).

I am spending a lot of time thinking about digital collections right now for school. Mostly I've been thinking about what putting a collection on the open web means. How much do we need to take into account the needs of the remote, and possibly casual, use when thinking about displaying metadata, offering quality representations of works and driving users to physical locations? This is a frustrating question for me. I believe that researchers should be doing the research, but I also think access is vastly improved the more data about an object is attached and available. And if your objects are visual, you've gotta have good representations--otherwise I really don't see the point of putting more than an excellent finding aid on the open web.

What do you think?
(via Letter Writers' Alliance)