Friday, September 28, 2012

trip book style

I took a most relaxing vacation. I missed SPX and the Brooklyn Book Fest and Theo Ellsworth and everything, but I promise that I did my part in between redwoods, oaks, MUNI, METRO and fish watching and fish breakfasts.

blurry enough?
Since we stayed in Silverlake for two nights, I had to check out Secret Headquarters. I barely made it ot of there with adding tens of pounds to my already book-laden luggage. Because I cannot drive I must walk and this sends me to Fairfax when I am in L.A. Not only does the lovely and talented Chez Mo live very near, but the Farmer's Market, Family Bookstore and Cinefamily are all on the row. Nothing grabbed me at FB, but I paced and dug until I pulled up HAV by Jan Morris. The intro by scifi legend Ursula K. LeGuin sold it.

When several people tell me that I'll just love something, I start to feel a little uneasy. This usually means that the something is something horrible. I guess I just give off that vibe.  So, when we hopped on the Expo line to Culver City I was a little apprehensive. The Museum of Jurrassic Technology did not disappoint, however.  I picked up No One May Ever Have The Same Knowledge Again: Letters to Mount Wilson Observatory 1915-1935, edited and transcribed by Sarah Simons. This book not only arouses the urge to write letters, but also contains some sweet telegram spam:

Most of the time between LA and SF involved nature and driving and basking. I read my airport-bought The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It was sufficiently distracting, but ultimately bloodless, despite pretending to be a romance. I spent most of my time breaking into a new journal with entries describing warm weather, drawing pictures of my luggage and listing the various plants I saw that day for our leather-clad, cyborg, future kids.

I finished The Night Circus by San Francisco. At Borderlands Books, I traded it in for a bit of credit and picked up the anthology Firebirds Rising edited by Sharyn November and the Tachyon Press chapbook A Flock of Lawn Flamingos by Pat Murphy. Firebirds Rising is YA, an unpleasant surprise that I could have avoided with a closer reading of the cover. The troubled teens helped pass the flight back and included two stories that I really liked by two weirdo masters: "Quill" by Carol Emshwiller and "The Wizards of Perfil" by Kelly Link. A Flock of Lawn Flamingos was a sweet and simple ode to troublemakers. I read it on the way to work my first day back to Midtown, letting the story take me back to California.

Now that I am back, life has taken a sad and shitty turn, so I especially relish the worry-free reading and writing time I had.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Torch by Cheryl Strayed

I spent much of Sunday night discussing this book so I won't go on here. Suffice it to say that I liked Torch, but felt that my knowledge of Strayed's biography, learned from her fantastic essays and Dear Sugar column, detracted from the story itself. It was not what I expected; I felt that the book lacked the balance of brutality and compassion that characterizes Strayed's nonfiction work. The addition of sensual details, especially relating to the rural setting, would have added some of that back in.

However I wanted to share this passage from the book about forgiveness:
Years passed. She was thirty, then thirty-five. Slowly, stingily, she forgave them without their knowing about it. She accepted the way things were—the way they were—and found that acceptance was not what she imagined it would be. It wasn't a room that she could lounge in, a field she could run through. It was a small and scroungy, in constant need of repair. It was the exact size of the hole in the solar eclipse paper plate, a pin of light through which the entire sun could radiate, so bright it would blind you if you looked. She looked.
This passage waves to the wrestling Forgiveness Twins, Impossibility and Necessity, while foreshadowing the incomplete forgiveness that hounds the characters after Teresa, the character who's forgiveness of her parents is examined in the above passage, dies unexpectedly.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak

I read this like a pelican eats a fish. Why I gulped it down so fast I'm not sure, because How to Get Into the Twin Palms is about a woman changing herself to capture a man and I usually don't care for that story. But, despite the simple plot, there is something very much not straightforward to this story. The book's first line, "It was a strange choice to decide to pass as a Russian," alludes to this and though the following sentences seem to give reasons why the main character, Anka, chooses to do just this and more, they don't provide easy answers.

There are a several things going on in this novel. Despite being framed as a way to "crawl out of [her Polish skin]" and find out, between Russians and Poles, "who was under who," Anka's desire to get into the titular Twin Palms nightclub seems less like a desire to escape a specific ethnic identity and more as a particular way to obliterate self. When it comes down to it, Anka feels like she is nowhere and nothing. The fact that her search seems like a whim, a way to pass her recent unemployment, makes the mercenary quality of her plan--find a Russian man, seduce him, gain access to the inexplicable charms of the club--distressing and, as she begins to succeed, it gets weirder. Anka is unpleasant to spend time with. She is prickly and seems fascinated by a chinzy excuse for paradise; sitting with her as she decides to ruin her life is hard only because you keep wanting something more interesting to be revealed in her desperateness. Anka is the dark side: boring without being sweet, self-destructive without being artful, strange without being intruging.

At its heart, How to Get Into the Twin Palms is the story of a breakdown. It is also a story about being 25 and unmoored, about being an immigrant, about what happens when the money runs out, about being a woman, about sex and relationships. Most potent is how the book examines modern American womanhood. Anka herself is consumed with beauty and courtship rituals so unexamined they read as ridiculous and disgusting, and she herself finds the reality of the body as something to be fought against. The character of Mary, a lusty, oversharing, and unraveling old lady who attends the bingo where Anka is occasionally employed, is a reminder that loneliness and desire aren't assuaged by age. Mary is a specter in Anka's life and Anka begins to hate her for her needs, the same needs that Anka wants to satisfy for herself. The two women's exchanges are some of the most satisfying in the book because of their unexpected weight.

I don't know if it is because I just got back from another quasi-disturbing trip to LA, but the importance of the LA setting crept up on me only after this visit. Anka is always scraping at her skin, dyeing her hair and doing the laundry with stinging stinky chemicals, with dinged faith that change will happen this time."The box said Spicy Ginger... I put on a shower cap and caught myself i the mirror.  I looked ridiculous, but this was it. I knew this was what I finally needed. I would look ravishing fresh and new." Also to this point is the exchange between Anka and a regular-guy-type fireman who is in LA to fight wildfires:
"What's your problem," he asked.
I wasn't sure how to answer.
"I don't know what's yours?" I said.
This place. This place doesn't make sense to me."
"It's alright. Takes some getting used to." I let pool water into my mouth and pushed it out again, for effect. "There are places you should see."
Even after some time, I can't quite pin down my feelings about How to Get Into the Twin Palms. As usual, Two Dollar Radio's production is beautiful. Examining my reactions to Anka and her world gave me a lot to think about and sometimes that is enough.

Waclawiak will be in conversation with Vanessa Veselka(author of my favorite book from last year, Zazen)  and Sarah Mcrary on October 11th @ 7pm @ Melville House.