The assignment: summarize each author’s main point in 20 words or less.
Or Haiku, perhaps?
The great war is done
Science is organized wrong
Memex does all things
The assignment: summarize each author’s main point in 20 words or less.
Or Haiku, perhaps?
The great war is done
Science is organized wrong
Memex does all things
I reflect fondly on your boyfriend’s Grey Goose bottle bong, and the incredibly strong weed that sent me to my first ever publishing job still stoned, and thrilled to have my very own rolly office chair to play with.
Also, on the lime green living room with the hammock in it, the mouse that lived in the leather chair, the Katrina fire pit, and the owl with the glowing eyes. The way my bathtub used to vibrate from the base on your speakers, the same song over and over again as you wrote it. The bouncy boxing party when the cops came, that terrible girl who climbed in the window and covered my bed with mud, the way you told her that Native Americans invented the dimmer switch, and the way she believed you.
I miss drinking whiskey and torturing the downstairs neighbor. Painting the living room Gothic Rose pink and listening to that one Be Good Tanyas album over and over again. Eating ice cream and watching Bride and Prejudice. Buying bargain bin underwear in Oakland and dancing at the KitKat Club. Even the time you flipped the breaker box for April Fools.
I do not miss the way you itemized the dirty dishes and assigned pantry space based on percentage of total rent. The way you walked through my office (also known as the laundry room) to get outside, even when I asked you not to. The way you ignored my advice then blamed me when things went wrong. That time you locked me out because I said your dinner party was terrible, which it was.
I do not miss your drunk hipster friends passed out in my bedroom, or the vomit dried to a crust in the bottom of the tub when I came back from a long weekend in Santa Cruz. I don’t miss your loud friends playing cards at 3:00 AM on Tuesday, or the way you never cleaned, or the notes you left, complaining about fruit juice on the counter even though the sink was packed with your dirty dishes. I never understood how your boyfriend just moved in one day. I thought your bike was stupid, and I still do.
I hated coming home early the Friday before a holiday weekend to find you passed out on the sofa surrounded by nitrous canisters, and the way you let your cat destroy my sofa, then tried to make me get rid of it because it was so shabby. I hated you for your preachy crap about cars and street parking, your awful “films” and your insistence that I ask you about your day. I hated that restaurant you worked at. I don’t care what you say; it’s a cult. I hated never knowing what might have drugs in it–like those Altoids in the dish in the living room, or those brownies I ate for breakfast once, when I was running late for a PPR meeting, leaving me, once again, stoned in an office chair.
I hated your tantrums, and your made-up stories about your own heroic encounters with famous people. I hated your oily hair, and the way all your texts were always tagged ‘urgent.’ Your crazy cats, who continued the destruction of my sofa and always ran away when I entered a room. Your horror movie sex noises, your disgusting contact lenses, the way your hair stuck to the walls of the bathroom after you blow dried it. Also the hair in the shower drain and the animal hair all over the floors. The sad sound of your dog, crying and flinging herself at the back of your bedroom door. The cat box in the hall closet. The way you never paid PG&E on time, ever, and the self-righteous way you tried to dick me out of my deposit. The dumb shit you said, and the fact that you never ever cleaned anything, except sometimes, after a party.
Good bye, good and bad. It’s hard to feel honestly nostalgic about anything so recent and so nuts, but somehow, I think I’ll manage…
Although I do sometimes make fun of Deanna Raybourn’s over-the-top Gothic stylings, I freely admit that I snapped up her latest, The Dark Inquiry, the day it was released and finished the thing in about a day and a half.
The mystery portion of the plot is not quite so dark as in previous installments–no elicit sex, no incest or mummy babies–no tigers even. The solution is, however, a bit more difficult to predict, largely because the investigation remains unfocused for much of the book, leaving readers uncertain of what to watch for, and because the author withholds a key piece of information about one of the characters until the heroine’s own moment of realization.
Raybourn has a gift for continuing the romantic storyline even after her hero and heroine have moved past the tortuous and drawn out will-they-won’t-they phase of the relationship–a very rare trait among writers if any genre. Her characters are married and ostensibly living happily ever after–but they still fight. And they fight about real things. Then they make up again, without necessarily resolving the underlying issues–almost like a real relationship. This underlying honest streak counterbalances the more ridiculous aspects of her work to some extent, making for surprisingly touching and serious moments in the midst of what is at heart escapist fiction for English majors.
Is there an arty chick under 40 who doesn’t have a certain soft spot in her heart for Francesca Lia Block–especially the Weetzie Bat books?
The first new addition to the Dangerous Angels series since 1995, Necklace of Kisses picks up with Weetzie at 40. After 20 years together, Weetzie and Max have somehow managed to loose each other in a haze of work and depression. So, Weetzie packs a bag full of her favorite clothes and goes to stay a pink hotel where she meets a spectrum of eccentric artists and struggles to heal and to find herself again.
This follow-up focuses on the relationship between Weetzie and her Secret Agent Lover Man, but readers will be glad to see all their old favorites–Coyote, Dirk and Duck, Ping and Valentine, Raphael and Cherokee, Witch Baby and Angel Juan (my personal favorites), and even the evil Jane Mansfield-style witch Vixanne.
The story isn’t as compelling and original–or as cohesive–as many of Block’s other books. Indeed, echos of Weetzie and Max’s separation in Weetzie Bat (1989), the first book in the series, may give long-time readers a slight feeling of de ja vu. However, there is enough new material here to keep readers interested and engaged, and the conclusion of the novel is, as always, enormously satisfying. It’s a comfort to know that, even twenty years later, love and art still save the day.
We’re going to do this before-and-after style. First, the photos of the empty house…
I am currently simultaneously reading Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (semi-literary, charmingly whimsical, overly ironic book club-style fiction), Dark Inquiry, by Deanna Raybourn (total masturbatory fodder for female and gay male former English lit majors whose soul sucking office jobs leave them unwilling to expend the effort required for reading actual Victorian literature–why can’t I look away!?!), and The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy (a counter balancing work designed to keep me from imploding in a cloud of purple sparkles). I’ll let you guess which of these three titles I’m most likely to finish first.
In fact, until yesterday I haven’t really had much time for reading, what with packing up all my stuff, moving it to a new house and then (beginning) to unpack it again. After the long weekend certain rooms are starting to look semi-presentable (bathroom, bedroom) while others (kitchen, office) have a pretty long way to go.
I have not even begun unpacking my books, except for the poetry and plays (by far the smallest section) and the old notebooks which I shoved, unopened, into the shelves beneath to my desk. I am fairly positive there won’t be room for half the fiction. I sold several big shopping bags full of old stuff to Green Apple and abandoned another whole bag at Borderlands–but then I went ahead and spent all my store credit (and then some) on a collected Rilke, the newest William Trevor, and a bunch of greeting cards for assorted upcoming family holidays.
Oh well. Pictures to follow (as soon as things are a bit more organized).
In Little Brother, Cory Doctorow tells the story of Marcus, a 17-year-old San Franciscan computer wiz caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and imprisoned, interrogated and terrorized for several days. After his release, Marcus sets out to take down the agency, protect the city’s rights of free speech, assembly, and privacy, and save his friend Darryl, missing since their arrest.
Little Brother is the first technophile novel I’ve actually semi-enjoyed (i.e. finished). It’s long-winded and a bit preachy and it seems to draw an inordinate amount of inspiration from Hackers and Season 2 of Jericho. And, like all techie writers, Doctorow spends easily half his word count explaining what things are and how they work, which, for the plot enthusiasts among his readers, isn’t exactly the best use of time and descriptive prowess.
Little Brother is, however, a fast, entertaining read, a great resource for reluctant readers, especially boys, and (within the limited world of YA fiction) it offers a valuable alternative perspective. Still, I’m left wondering–is there anything Neil Gainman won’t endorse these days?
I’ve loved Emma Bull since I first moved to Berkeley and the fabulous gentleman in The Other Change of Hobbit recommended War for the Oaks, a book I have pressed on pretty much everyone I know who’s likely to enjoy a modern urban fantasy featuring a hot guy who dresses like Prince and long descriptions of the main’s character’s band. So, I’ve been slowly acquiring her books for a few years as they come in and out of print and show up from time to time in the Green Apple annex.
Bone Dance is, like most of Bull’s work, well written and skillfully developed, structurally complex, and completely, fascinatingly bizarre, but (alas!) secondary to her one book that’s actually famous. (Isn’t it usually the opposite?)
Set in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate change version of Minneapolis, Bone Dance is told from the perspective of Sparrow, a genderless media enthusiast and technologist with mysterious origins. Our hero makes a living hawking classic films to wealthy collectors and mixing for a local nightclub. The rest of the time, Sparrow just tries to act normal and keep acquaintances at as much distance as possible. But lately Sparrow has started loosing time–waking up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of the night before, running into strangers who seem to have a bone to pick, and getting truly creepy tarrot readings from the friendly neighborhood Vodou priestess. The whole thing is very mysterious, but it just may have something to do with the Horsemen–psychic warriors capable of possessing, or “riding,” other people (like a horse, get it?).
Bull doesn’t hold her readers’ hands. There’s not a single pronoun relating to Sparrow in the first 3/4 of the novel (this could not have been written in the third person); she throws slang around, names people and places without explaining who or what they are, and expects us to catch on. After a while, we do, becoming acclimated to the unusual linguistic structure and the odd mix of eclectic classic movie quotes, noir references, vodou magic, and body-snatcher-style possession.
Incidentally, this one also features an endorsement from Neil Gainman (yep, he’s a whore…)
Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010) is longest 300 pages of mostly-dialog I’ve ever read. I think it literally took me six weeks, from my birthday in mid April to now, at the end of May, to work my way through this one. I actually considered putting it away without finishing, something I almost never do.
Not because it isn’t good. It’s actually pretty amazing–creative, insightful, revelatory in this incredibly sneaky, deceptively simplistic way, an incredible piece of craftsmanship. It’s good the way Schindler’s List is good; well done, but mostly not enjoyable.
The story is narrated in the first person by five-year-old Jack, a child raised entirely in Room, an 11×11 foot backyard shed where he and his mother are held prisoner by a man Jack knows only as Old Nick. At the beginning of the story, Jack feels safe and comfortable in Room–his daily routine includes meals and exercise, reading and chores, play time and no more than two television shows. But the realities of his situation are beginning to show through the safe world his Ma has created for him. At night, after Jack has gone to sleep in Wardrobe, Old Nick comes. Some days Ma is “switched off”–she stays in bed all day, and Jack is allowed to watch all the T.V. he wants. When Old Nick begins experiencing financial difficulties and providing fewer supplies, their situation becomes even more desperate.
In constructing Jack’s voice, the author gives herself some latitude, but her characterization is true to the narrator’s age overall. Like most five-year-olds Jack argues with his mother and has occasional tantrums. He experiences and expresses curiosity, anxiety and fear in authentic and believable ways. His constant one-on-one time with his mother has given him an advanced vocabulary as well as reading and math skills several years ahead of his real age. His emotional development, however, is complicated by the fact that he’s only really ever known one other person. This makes for an interesting juxtaposition and leaves plenty of room for growth later in the novel. My only complaint is that Jack always seems to know why he does things. In my experience, this is not the case with most children–or many adults for that matter. His capacity for self-consciousness and analysis is probably pretty unrealistic.
This is a well written, thoughtfully constructed book well worth reading. It’s harrowing and difficult, but it does end on a hopeful note.
Oh, yeah, I have a blog. It’s funny how I forget that until there’s something pressing I should be doing elsewhere. I finished Slammerkin over three weeks ago and never wrote a word, but now that I’m trying to avoid writing a mere hundred words on effective virtual communication for my library management course message board, I will happily write as much as I can here instead.
Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin is a gorgeous, stark, startling book, and possibly the most convincing piece of historical fiction I have ever read. Donoghue loosely bases her novel on the surviving scraps of the life of Mary Saunders, a true story (turned morality tale chap book) of a servant driven to murder by her lust for “fine clothes.” Donoghue’s story is rich and complex, though several of the plot points do in fact turn on Mary’s passion for the finer things, its really a story about class and ambition, ownership and control.
Donoghue has clearly researched the period exhaustively, but her work is free of the long, boring explanatory paragraphs that plague so much historical fiction. Much is implied through context; the rest we learn along with Mary as she is inducted first into the world of London’s prostitutes, then into the seamstress’ trade.
The early sections of the novel are somewhat rushed and not quite so compelling as the rest of the work. The story begins in 1861, with Mary, poised on the edge of her teen years and eminently dissatisfied–her home with her mother, stepfather and half brother is squalid, school is prescriptive and dull, and she’s both curious about and envious of the brighter, easier, more glamorous lives of the St. Giles whores she sees all around. Her fall from grace is abrupt and somewhat predictable; she agrees to trade a peddler a kiss for a single beautiful red ribbon, and ends up trading her virginity as well. In the course of a few pages, Mary is pregnant and cast out of her mother’s house to fend for herself on the streets on London, where she’s repeatedly raped and beaten, and, finally, rescued by prostitute Doll Higgins.
And this is where is starts to get good.
The two become close. Mary and Doll lead a wild, reckless, exuberant life. As whores, they roam the whole city with a liberty and abandon not open to “decent” women. They take pleasure in drinking and partying, in their gaudy clothes, in being together. The work is grim, but the girls are practical.
But when Mary develops a lingering, dangerous cough, she goes to the Magdalen Charity Hospital to recover–maybe even to straighten out and leave whoring behind. There, she becomes a skilled seamstress. However, the oppressive religious and moral demands of the place soon send her back out into the city where she stumbles into a fight and ends of fleeing for her life. With all other options exhausted, Mary heads for the village of Monmouth, her mother’s hometown, and talks her way into a job as a servant to her mother’s old friend, seamstress Jane Jones.
This is where it gets really good.
With Jane Jones, Mary finds the kind of companionship and mentorship that she clearly craves; the two become friends, almost family. Yet Mary is still ambitious and driven, she still longs to be more than a servant, still aspires to wealth, ownership, a life of ease, control over her own destiny–and she’s still willing to sell herself to get them.
I found myself seriously in need of some escapist fare this month, so I abandoned all pretense of reading actual literature and instead entertained myself with Patricia Briggs, Michelle Tea, and Deanna Rayborn.
As excited as I was for the March 1 release of River Marked, the 6th installment of Briggs’ uber-popular urban fantasy series staring Mercy Thompson, it took me quite a while to work my way threw this book. The story opens (inexplicably) when our heroine pays a visit to her friend Stephan and finds him doing less-then-well. From there, we move on to Mercy’s wedding to long-time love interest Adam, a planned elopement which turns into a surprise wedding and reception, followed by a sex-filled camping trip/honeymoon. It’s sweet and satisfying, but again, not especially relevant. This may serve the series as a whole, but it makes for a rather rambling and plot-less opening to this installment. The actual story begins about 20% of the way through the book, when couple discover a monster in the Columbia River.
Even though these are the books that have really put Briggs on the map, the series has just become too much for me…especially when I consider that all five volumes have supposedly taken place over the course of just 18 months. This poor character gets beaten and maimed almost to death in every book, not to mention raped and coerced in #4. I mean, how many bad things can happen to one woman in a year and a half?
As a follow-up to Valencia, I decided to check out Michele Tea’s Rent Girl, a collaborative graphic novel style memoir about the author’s years as a prostitute in Boston and, briefly, San Francisco. I loved the style and aesthetic of this book (even though a bizarre number of the illustrations were just pictures of Tea in various outfits, facing the viewer with this “let me tell you how it is” look on her face).
The prose was stylistically similar to Tea’s other work, but more focused on the topic at hand. The author spends little time discussing her own emotions, thought processes and even her own life outside work and the people she worked with. This book is interesting not because Tea offers compelling characters or a fully developed life story, but because she explains frankly and unabashedly what prostitution is like.
Overall, it was a good read, but not as absorbing as some of her other work.
After devouring the Julia Grey series back in November, I thought I’d check out Deanna Raybourn’s newest offering, The Dead Travel Fast, an atmospheric mystery/romance staring Theodora, an aspiring novelist who travels from Edinburgh to, yes, Transylvania to visit an old school friend. As the guest of her friend’s noble family, she meets all the characters you might expect–the darkly romantic and super hot count, his mistreated and ailing mother, the strangely hostile maid servant, and the friendly local physician–and stumbles into what may (or may not) be a series of supernatural murders.
I can no longer accuse this author of writing predictable mysteries. The conclusion to this one took me completely by surprise. Ann Radcliffe like, Raybourn creates a Gothic horror story, and then, challenges it with the most mundane explanation imaginable (given the circumstances). Personally, I find Julia Grey a more compelling character, but I enjoyed this novel.