Category Archives: random reading

Twitter-length observation

David Foster Wallace in the book-length interview:

I mean, there’s so much stuff going on just in that little ten or fifteen seconds [in Schindler’s List–although this is in the middle of a long segment of: “Remember this part of that movie? That was awesome.”]. Inside of a movie whose central project ended up being, you know, dishonorable and cheating. But that’s the neat thing about–I mean that’s probably ultimately why novels and movies have it over short stories, as an art form. Is that if the heart of the short story is dishonest, there aren’t enough of the little flashes to keep you going. Whereas in a novel or a movie, even if the central project doesn’t work, there are often ten or fifteen great, great, great things.

I can’t seem to turn off looking for the flashes of dishonesty in otherwise great, great, great books.

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I may have to read Glenn Beck’s book.

When I was in the drugstore yesterday, browsing in the books and magazines aisle (I bought Game of Thrones in anticipation of the TV series, which I’d rejected a couple of times previously as too florid, but, as you can perhaps gather, I’ve lost all control of my bookish impulses.), I picked up the Overton Window and read from the middle, in which our hero makes out with our heroine and feels a passion unlike any he’s felt before, and then they talk about the tax code and go to the office where a meeting about the plot to ruin America was held.

I love it. It’s not as good as Ayn Rand–all hail the release of Atlas Shrugged Part I, which I will be attempting to convince my mother to see despite wretched reviews–but it’ll do. I’m not sure what it is about the fictionalization of these politics that make them suddenly not just palatable but delicious. These books are infinitely more revealing than their corresponding nonfiction in that they show us the kind of superhero the author imagines s/he’d be (or is?). It makes me feel sort of tender toward the writer–which Rand would find disgusting; I’m not sure whether Beck cares either way. There’s a hyperseriousness to these stories that makes someone think it’s perfectly appropriate to make one book (a long book, but still) into a movie trilogy. And that leads to this trailer:

I wish very, very much that I could tell you Glenn Beck wrote that poem, but no. It was Rudyard Kipling.

Do you have a favorite political-tract-as-novel? What exciting and strange propaganda am I missing?

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The Invention of Everything Else

It has romance with pigeons, Nikola Tesla, time travel, and historic New York, so it can’t not be charming. And it’s playful. But it’s leaving me with the sense that it’s anemic, contrary to all expectations, which I think is because I was never able to get a fix on its tone.

head statue up front thinks in text.

The narration felt like reading a comic book or movie storyboards, especially early on. Partially this could be because there’s a talking statue of Goethe’s head in the first chapter, and a giant talking head sculpture in Jonathan Lethem’s Omega: The Unknown (which I read all the way through with a similar joy in the parts that never coalesced into an understanding of the whole). But also, the present tense makes the setting seem very framed: as people approach and recede or pay attention to a particular object, I could almost see the panels on the page. There are a couple chapters that pull that cinematic move of introducing you to some people you’ve never heard of who then are affected by or affect our heroes/villains. The poor lady is calling for her cat, which never appears because THOMAS EDISON IS ELECTROCUTING IT, that kind of thing. And there’re a gleeful number of “SQUISH”es and “AHHHGGGHG!”s in a transcript of a radio play–an imitation of radio, obviously, but you don’t see radio.

I loved that about it, but ultimately found it uneven. We start out with a talking Goethe head, an embodied question that sits on park benches, and a two-page-long list of words beginning with S, but when later Walter (our protagonist’s father) is said to have “stared down through sewer gratings looking for his friend, thinking, perhaps, that he might have slipped,” I’m still left wondering “really?” (63). This is literally what he did months after his friend’s disappearance? Or does it indicate how colorfully and completely he missed him? Or fit in with Walter’s understanding of the world as an improbable place? Here and at other points, I don’t know. Once you believe in time travel, is all logic up for grabs?

Of course, the fact versus fiction of the time traveling enterprise is a big part of the book. The excursions to/in the machine always matter, but their literalness doesn’t need to. This is sketched in miniature when Walter and Louisa (our protagonist) go up onto the roof to await the arrival of visitors from Mars, as foretold by a radio show. The Martians fail to appear, and then:

To Louisa’s surprise the following morning, Walter was not disappointed after learning that the invasion was a fiction. It had been an adventure. It didn’t matter to Walter if it wasn’t true right then, because someday, he told Louisa, it would be true, maybe even someday very soon. (21)

There’s still a lot I’ve left out. Tesla has a sort-of romance with this couple that’s maybe the most moving and sad thing in the book. And the book overall had me seeing New York as a magical kingdom (which, it doesn’t take that hard of a push for me to see any place that way, but it’s always welcome). But for a relatively story-driven book in which so much happens, it’s hard to latch on to. It’s a string of awesome scenes; it doesn’t feel smooth. This may be Hunt’s intention, but in the end I felt like I was missing something.

Next up is, emphatically, Into Thin Air.

There’s still time to enter the pennies contest until some to-be-determined time later this week.

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I’ll never be a sci fi aficionado.

This is something I realize by degrees and then forget about. The idea that I’m just a few Philip K. Dick* novels short of total mastery of all alien planets and potential futures is alluring. I spent a couple years in high school reading Dune and Sirens of Titan** and William Gibson and… mostly fantasy, actually, which, I think my refusal to care much about the boundaries between the two, much less the distinction between hard and soft sci fi and the semantic battle between “sci fi” and “science fiction,” which may or may not exist only on the internet, is indicative of the ridiculousness of my aspirations to thorough familiarity with the genre… but these books and Star Trek and Farscape*** have taken up enough of my time, and been notable enough to the people around me, that I start to feel the tug of obligation towards the supposed canon and the Important books. I haven’t read any Arthur C. Clarke novels, for example, though he’s responsible for one of my favorite quotations. (Ah, I didn’t know it was a “law”. Number three.) And this is how I end up carrying around a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

This post was born in my head when I decided I had no desire to read 800 pages of mostly dialogue like

Hokum! Royal Governors, Kings–what’s the difference? The Empire is always shot through with a certain amount of politics and with different men pulling this way and that. Governors have rebelled, and, for that matter, Emperors have been deposed, or assassinated before this. But what has that to do with the Empire itself? (pg. 42, the first one I opened to)

and wondered why I’d bought the book in the first place, but just now, leafing through it, I was not unintrigued. I’m putting it in the bag of books to sell, before I become attached to the idea of wading through what appears to be a lot of unfun for the sake of knowing what happens, again.

*I highly recommend Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
**I highly recommend Sirens of Titan.
***I highly recommend Farscape.

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The Exceptions

I am not only reading what you tell me to. This started small and snowballed, justifications accompanying each slip.

1) Periodicals – The New Yorker, The Atlantic, One Story, Electric Literature, sundries – They’re not books. And if I don’t keep up with them, I’ll drown at my desk. The drown-at-my-desk factor ended up seriously irritating, leading me to turn from proper magazines to more minimal journals, and then to single issues (The Agriculture Reader #3, The Sonora Review with David Foster Wallace tribute) that weren’t, for me, periodical at all, kind of looked like books, and threatened to drown me more than books only insofar as they’re stacked on the desk instead of the bookshelf.

2) Children’s books – Mitchell is Moving – Are for children.

3) Comic books and comic book-like books – Buffy Season 8, Y: The Last Man, Kingdom Come, Gravitation, Northlanders, Everyday Matters, Fables, some Kabuki: The Alchemy before I lost the bag it was in, The Invisibles – Sometimes they’re periodicals. When they’re not, they’re full of (hopefully) pretty pictures and quickly digestible. In the case of the Invisibles, all 59 issues (approx. 1400 pages) of them. Although I may have given some less attention than I could’ve because they were pissing me off.

4) Freebies – AM/PM, Puro Border, Adderall Diaries, Tongue – If I don’t read them right away, the donees will know and cry. Although 2666 also falls into this category and I can’t quite face it.

5) Plays – Southern Baptist Sissies – Aren’t supposed to be read anyway.

6) Quickly digestible books – Sookie Stackhouse novels, The IHOP Papers – Anything that happens without my having to leave the house midway through doesn’t count. Robin Hobb may be on the horizon. They look a little chunky for me to make it through before I want a bagel, though.

7) Poetry – Letters to Wendy’s – Comes in bite-sized portions.

8) Plane reading – Columbine – The only rules that matter on the plane are issued by flight attendants.

9) Reading out loud – Infinite Jest, Sense and Sensibility back at the birth of the blog – Is there something wrong with how I’m reading/choosing books, that I love Infinite Jest so much more than almost everything?

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traveling book

I like Stephen Elliott a lot. So much so that one day I was reading an article about poker, midway through the third page, when I came to perplexed because I don’t care about poker, I didn’t remember how I’d come to be reading about poker, and I don’t read articles over two pages or about 1500 words online, as a rule. Happy accident or no, I was pissed off that the internet had hijacked my conscious intentions. So I scrolled up and arrowed back to find out that Elliott had wrote it, whereupon I thought to myself, “Okay self, it’s cool.”

So I was happy to get to read his new book before it comes out in September. He’s sending advance copies to be read and sent on, which you can find out about here. I had this to say about it over at goodreads:

So I’m fascinated by what people are doing when they say they’re not doing anything, and while that’s really not what this book is about, the first half of it gets as close to telling what happens in between anecdotes as a book can. And the references to Paris Hilton and Amazon.com and Radiohead, and the pictures throughout help make it feel contiguous to the world I live in in a way memoir often doesn’t. The rest of the content–the false murder confessions, trial, memories from childhood and attempts to parse them–I felt removed from but also needled by. I had “officially” decided not to care about the murder case in the first half, and the second changed my mind.

I also think it’s interesting how this intersects with Siri Hustvedt’s The Blindfold, which I’m in the middle of. The Adderall Diaries starts with an epigraph from Janet Malcolm–“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”*–and then keeps coming back to the question of who gets to own the story of a relationship or something else that actually happened. The second part/chapter of The Blindfold is about the main character’s relationship with these two secretive men, one of whom she agrees to allow to photograph her and ends up in a picture she finds monstrous. I became so angry on her behalf that I wanted to do them physical harm. I can’t help being superstitious about ideas lining up like this, in spite of the fact that that’s what they do. If anyone knows what it’s proof of, exactly, feel free to fill me in.

(The Adderall Diaries and Puro Border: both awesome in hodge-podgery. And there’s some reflection in The Adderall Diaries on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I’ve recently been hearing a lot about…)

 

* Janet Malcolm, eh? I should read Two Lives. Although I’m wary of a woman who uses “he” inclusively writing about Gertrude Stein.

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three books blurbed and sundries

So in the past months I read some books. I’m copying my goodreads comments, which I promise to stop doing soon if not immediately. Meditations in an Emergency:

There’s a sense in the more I-ish poems that I is adrift and alienated while you/Grace/the beloved/the world is a fixed thing. I (meaning me, not the poems’ I) think this is pretty typical, and compelling, but also I object on behalf of the non-I-stuff. All the poems I love most have a little bit of that going on, though. “For Grace, After a Party” is possibly my favorite and can be read here.

Puro Border:

I liked the spectrum of personal memoir to drier reporting. The breadth of subject and style are pretty amazing, as is the editing, in that the excerpts mostly don’t feel excerpt-y and there aren’t any pieces I wish I’d skipped, which is my usual anthology experience. There’s a lot of stuff in this, is my overall response. (What there is not is a map, which led to my getting lost in Google maps’ satellite images for an hour. Guys, did you know that San Diego is south of Los Angeles? Yeah…)

The Blindfold:

Catalog of ways to fuck with someone by claiming to know her. The last three episodes (in the book, which is not chronological) were vivid and psychologically acute, but the first seemed off, so I reread it after I finished. Still feels strange. 

I wanted to shout something triumphant after each one, but I couldn’t decide what was the right flavor of obnoxious. (BAM? Another one bites the dust? Et la?) There’s definitely something acquisitive about my reading, which I’ve embraced mostly because I can’t imagine killing it. Once in a job interview I chose to exaggerate the number of books I read in a year rather than my knowledge of AP style. (No job for me, but I also ended the meeting by chugging water so quickly I dribbled.) Anyway, that’s last poll’s winner and the prize book to pass on down, followed by my self-appointed runner-up.

witness the top-hat-wearing man

Somewhere in there was the day I read Gravitation and Southern Baptist Sissies. I love Samuel French scripts. They’re cheap and portable, they have a little top-hat-wearing man on them (behold!), and they remind me of when I was seven and I thought theater people were the height of cool. (I still think theater’s awesome.)

Reading Gravitation was funny because I didn’t know what genre I was in, so my thought process went something like this:

pg. 30: Oh, so they’re gonna make out.

pg. 66: He’s gonna spend a lot of time insulting him, then they’re gonna make out.

pg. 70: What’s with the weird reaction to the homophobic teasing?

pg. 70 #2*: So they’re not making out?

pg. 100: Maybe it’s about his acceptance of criticism and rise to pop stardom, or something.

pg. 125: Oh, bingo.

pg. 194: Huh.

* There are two page seventies, four pages apart. These are actual page numbers, if you want to take the journey with me.

It bears mentioning that in order to maintain this level of bewilderment, I had to basically ignore the fact that the book had a cover.

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