Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In the e-queue:

An Education, Lynn Barber
Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, ed. Robert Chandler
Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan, Piers Dudgeon
Clever Girl, Tessa Hadley
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin
The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, E. T. A. Hoffmann
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell


An Exclusive Love, Johanna Adorjan
Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life, John Bak
Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine, Russell Braddon
The Tightrope Walker, Dorothy Gilman
Mortal Love, Elizabeth Hand
The Course of the Heart, M. John Harrison
Disaster Preparedness, Heather Havrilesky
Peter and Alice, John Logan
Red, John Logan
Egg & Spoon, Gregory Maguire
The Fame Lunches, Daphne Merkin
Rooms, Lauren Oliver
Belzhar, Meg Wolitzer
Sleepwalking, Meg Wolitzer

Monday, September 15, 2014

There’s this idea of the tortured artist, or of a link between depression and creativity—is that true and necessary? If so, how do you make meaningful art after recovery, if you’re no longer tortured?

Well, I don’t know, maybe you don’t. I’ve been sober almost 25 years and anything anyone’s ever bought from me has been written when I was sober. If I hadn’t been, I would’ve been like David, swinging from a fucking noose. That really cuts down on your creativity. [Laughs]

When was super depressed, I wasn’t working—I was always too depressed. Hemingway did his best work when he didn’t drink, then he drank himself to death and blew his head off with a shotgun. Someone asked John Cheever, “What’d you learn from Hemingway?” and he said “I learned not to blow my head off with a shotgun.”

....You’re present when you’re not drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. It’s probably better for your writing career, you know? I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist. It comes out of that Symbolist idea, back to Rimbaud and all that disordering of the senses and all of that being some exalted state. When I’ve been that way, I’ve always been less exalted than I would have liked.

....Blake said, “we are put on Earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love.” And I think, quote-unquote, “bearing the beams of love” is where the freedom is, actually. Every drunk is an outlaw, and certainly every artist is. Making amends, to me, is again about freedom. I do that to be free of the past, to not be haunted.

- Mary Karr
Imagine walking into a place, say a mega-chain copy shop in a strip mall. It's early morning, and you're the first customer. You stop under the bright fluorescents and let the doors glide closed behind you, look at the employees in their corporate-blue shirts, mouths open, shuffling around sleepily. You take them in as a unified image, with an impenetrable surface of vague boredom and dissatisfaction that you're content to be on the outside of, and you set to your task, to your copying or whatever. That's precisely the moment when Wallace hits pause, that first little turn into inattention, into self-absorption. He reverses back through it, presses play again. Now it's different. You're in a room with a bunch of human beings. Each of them, like you, is broken and has healed in some funny way. Each of them, even the shallowest, has a novel inside. Each is loved by God or deserves to be. They all have something to do with you: When you let the membrane of your consciousness become porous, permit osmosis, you know it to be true, we have something to do with one another, are part of a narrative—but what? Wallace needed very badly to know. And he sensed that the modern world was bombarding us with scenarios, like the inside of the copy shop, where it was easy to forget the question altogether. We "feel lonely in a crowd," he writes in one of his stories, but we "stop not to dwell on what's brought the crowd into being," with the result that "we are, always, faces in a crowd."

That's what I love in Wallace, noticed details like that, microdescriptions of feeling states that seem suggestive of whole branching social super-systems, sentences that make me feel like, Anyone who doesn't get that is living in a different world. He was the closest thing we had to a recording angel.

- JJS on DFW
What are you doing on this side of the dark?  
You chose that side, and those you left  
feel your image across their sleeping lids  
as a blinding atomic blast.  
Last we knew,  
you were suspended midair  
like an angel for a pageant off the room
where your wife slept. She had  
to cut you down who’d been (I heard)
so long holding you up. We all tried to,
faced with your need, which we somehow  
understood and felt for and took
into our veins like smack. And you  
must be lured by that old pain smoldering  
like woodsmoke across the death boundary....

- Mary Karr

a paper doll to call my own

Illustration by Leo Espinosa in the New Yorker

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pride and Prejudice - Having a Ball 2013

Re-enactments are often mocked, but I found a lot of this fascinating, especially how the physical details emphasize themes in the novel (the bits about Elizabeth and Darcy dancing together, &c). (I still find period food mostly horrifying, tho. Especially the jellied dishes.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

please please please don't kill my show

Edouard: What you know about implants makes you uneasy.

Sonya: They nudge you. They change how you think, what you accept. You record instead of bear witness; store data, not remember feelings. It's....

Edouard: Inhuman.

- Continuum S3 E7, "Waning Minutes"

Friday, September 12, 2014

Grauniad - 'the essential new fiction from the big names in 2014'

ooh! I love these lists (I love lists of any kind). Let's see.

The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis
"Throughout his career, Amis has had a fascination with the Holocaust-- " PASS " -- following the progress of a love affair in Auschwitz and taking us into the minds of Germans -- " I SAID PASS.

Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
Love Atwood, altho I'm not quite as fond of her short stories. But is it true there hasn't been a collection of those since 2006? Hunh. Well she's been busy turning out MASTERPIECES (the MaddAddam books).

Amnesia, Peter Carey
Cyberhackers? //wilts OTOH I love Carey's writing -- but often find his female characters hard to take. More probable than most of the "possibly maybe" books, tho.

Outline, Rachel Cusk
"She presents their narratives in an artless, affectless style, passing the occasional comment but otherwise fostering the illusion – for illusion it is – that she is leaving her material unshaped." Iiiiiiii don't think so.

Perfidia, James Ellroy
'brings the two sides of his work together: the period crime-writing of LA Quartet, with its highlighting of police misdemeanours, and the wider politico-historical concerns of his subsequent Underworld USA trilogy, a "secret history" of the years from 1958 to 1972.' Writers "bringing together" differing parts of their work rarely turns out well. I liked Black Dahlia and My Dark Places and absolutely everything else he ever wrote was a wash for me.

The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber
"Evangelical Christian Peter leaves a world collapsing into environmental chaos to take the word of the Lord to a distant planet" No. "Becomes increasingly estranged from his wife and his own planet"? REALLY. YOU DON'T SAY. HOW SURPRISING.

Let Me Be Frank With You, Richard Ford
NO. NO, NO, NO, NO NO NO. I FUCKING HATE THESE BOOKS. WHY IS HE WRITING MORE OF THEM? WHY ARE THEY SO FAWNED OVER? GAHHH. I remember trying to read The Sportswriter and finding it so horrible and giving up in just total disbelief that this writer got such great reviews. And then it happened all over again with Independence Day! I would rather chew tinfoil than read his stuff.

The Peripheral, William Gibson
Probably not. Among all those other "books to read" are some Gibson books that sound better than this.

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah
Continuation of Poirot -- NO. Hate most continuations, really hate Poirot. Now if it were Miss Marple....

Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
No. I don't like his fiction and the idea of his trying to write from a female POV makes me shudder. I also find writers who suddenly become slightly famous and then can write about nothing other than fame quite boring.

J, Howard Jacobson
"It is set in the future, after some catastrophe. The title itself is a mystery" -- no. Anyone writing dystopian fiction after Atwood these days is a simpleton.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel
Sure! why not. Don't think I've ever read her short stories, tho. But this might be another "too many books, too little time" thing.

The Children Act, Ian McEwan

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
Probably, altho I've been meaning to read his other books for forever and haven't started yet.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
"a naturalistic coming-of-age story in the vein of his 2001 novel Norwegian Wood" -- ehh. I like Murakami when he's being fun and whacky, not mopey and twee. Probably not, there are just too many other books to read.

Us, David Nicholls
"a will-they-won't-they male-female romance" No.
"located firmly in middle age" No.
"narrator Douglas, a staid biochemist, battles to save his marriage" NO.
If I never see another goddamn novel narrated by a middle-aged male schlub puzzled by his Free-Spirited Wife who does something Whacky to Win Her Back, I will die fucking happy.

The Dog, Joseph O'Neill
"a middle-aged New York lawyer, fresh from the collapse of a romantic relationship" See above.
Extra bonus fail points for "brilliantly entertaining antihero"; you say "brilliantly entertaining antihero," I say "dull asshole."

Lila, Marilynne Robinson
Loved Housekeeping (before it was reprinted and fawned over, even! //hipster), didn't like Gilead, if this really is about the preacher guy's wife instead of the boring preacher guy, just maybe. Have a lot of other books to read, tho. But Housekeeping is one of my favourites.

Shark, Will Self

How to Be Both, Ali Smith
I dipped into this already and found the "medieval" narrative voice very jarring. But I love Hoban's Pilgermann, so I keep feeling guilty I don't like this. But I just don't. I'll keep trying with it, but not for too long.

Nora Webster, Colm Tóibín
Ehh, maybe. It depends on how well he can do a female viewpoint, I haven't read much of his stuff. The Master-worship schtick puts me off.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters
Read it already, loved it, happy it's getting a lot of good reviews.

the worst is not So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'

If we've learned anything during the Bush Years, it's that we're not safe, and nothing is sacred. But we've also learned that there's no such thing as paranoia — that, if anything, we haven't been paranoid enough, as even the most terrible events turned out to be mere portents of more terrible events to come. We've learned, in other words, learned in our bones, that It Can Get Worse. But the question remains: Can we? Can we get worse? Have we hit bottom yet, as a people? I mean, look to the future: It's not simply that there is such a variety of apocalyptic scenarios looming on the horizon, from the economic to the environmental, from Peak Oil to Peak Water to Peak Food; it's that our Peak Lifestyle is implicated in just about all of them, and we know that our Peak Lifestyle is the one thing we're not going to give up without a fight.

And so give this to global warming: It's another test case. Because over the last eight years — since our president rejected the Kyoto Protocol in March 2001 — what we've done with global warming is what we've done with the war on terror and the war in Iraq and the authorization and outsourcing of torture and the creation of a security state and the creation of an insecurity state, in terms of the marketplace: We've lived with it. We've gotten really good at living with things during the Bush Years, at tolerating the intolerable. And while this may sound like another tip of the hat to the incredible resilience of the American people, it's not: Resilience, after all, is not what's required in crisis when the crisis is partly of your own making. Responsibility is. We have heard of the Tech Bubble of the Clinton Years, the Housing Bubble of George W. Bush. Well, the bubble that we're living in now — still — is the bubble that's all our own. It's the Moral Bubble, and it will not be pricked until we take responsibility not just for the forty-third president's actions but for our inaction — for all the agreements we've made without awareness, for all the awareness we've come to without vigilance, for all the times we've touched the easy, insulating button of our assent.

- Tom Junod, Esquire, February 2009

Thursday, September 11, 2014

this book is purely awful, but

Indeed Reagan said [after floating Proposition 1 in 1973] he'd like to see constitutional tax limitation at the federal level, and proposed an amendment "requiring that no congressman can introduce a spending measure without at the same time introducing a revenue measure to pay for it." (The Invisible Bridge)

That's the world we're living in now, yeah. Because in 1978 Proposition 13 passed and not only cut property taxes but required a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses to raise taxes. Must've been Tim Eyman's pin-up boy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

half a love is twice as bad

more snapshots of Cap Hill via @jseattle

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Rolling Stones version has been one of my favourite covers ever since I first heard it in college in about 1989 and within like thirty seconds Dusty fucking blew it away. Yowza.

Monday, September 8, 2014

from 'Griftopia,' Matt Taibbi

Greenspan's rise to the top is one of the great scams of our time. His career is the perfect prism through which one can see the twofold basic deception of American politics: a system that preaches sink-or-swim laissez-fair capitalism to most, but acts as a highly interventionist, bureaucratic welfare state for a select few.

Greenspan pompously preached ruthless free market orthodoxy every chance he got while simultaneously using all the powers of the state to protect his wealthy patrons from those same market forces. A perfectly two-faced man, serving a perfectly two-faced state. If you can see through him, the rest is easy.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Well, is that what you went to college for? Is that all? What about success?

Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.

- Ursula K. Le Guin
It is hard to tell a really gripping tale of how I wrested a wild-oat seed from its husk, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then I scratched my gnat bites, and Ool said something funny, and we went to the creek and got a drink and watched newts for a while, and then l found another patch of oats. . . . No, it does not compare, it cannot compete with how I thrust my spear deep into the titanic hairy flank while Oob, impaled on one huge sweeping tusk, writhed screaming, and blood spouted everywhere in crimson torrents, and Boob was crushed to jelly when the mammoth fell on him as I shot my unerring arrow straight through eye to brain.

That story not only has Action, it has a Hero. Heroes are powerful. Before you know it, the men and women in the wild-oat patch and their kids and the skills of the makers and the thoughts of the thoughtful and the songs of the singers are all part of it, have all been pressed into service in the tale of the Hero. But it isn't their story. It's his.

- Ursula K. Le Guin

Blue, the most human color

The top panel of Rothko's "Blue, Orange, Red 1961" (I think that's the name) comes close too but it's a little drab. (You would not believe how much I bore family and close friends and casual acquaintances and strangers at the bus stop with My Search For This Colour. It's like that Isak Dinesen story. Surely there must be some of it left from the time when all the world was blue.)



I am so fucking picky about this colour, you would not believe it. DARK blue. But not FLAT dark blue. Not navy. Not indigo. That blue right there. Cobalt? Ultramarine? Lapis? Bristol blue? Twilight blue? Rothko blue? Whatever, there it is.

(True to me being a weirdo I think this is more some kind of shifting light frequency than a stable colour, because one of the few places I've seen it is in the freaking Bruce Springsteen video for "Streets of Philadelphia" -- hated the movie, great song though -- at about 2:18 in when he's walking with the bridge in the background.) (And of course the damn screencap doesn't fucking capture it at all. SIGH.)

Saturday night summer dinner

Super fucking messy omelette (getting used to new pan) w/garlic, onion, red bell pepper, zucchini, cheese

Super fucking messy omelette (getting used to new pan) w/garlic, onion, red bell pepper, zucchini, cheese; side of baked home potato fries, garnished w/strawberries and pineapple.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

she is just so good

They stopped there and went through what seemed to him to be an endless, fiddling rigamarole of off-loading cargo, taking on passengers, holding the boat while the passengers went hunting for the youngest member of their family who had wandered away;  no, wait, Mr Slow-Toad and his worthless wife and family want to get off here after all. Luggage? Good heavens, sir, we did have luggage! Let's send the slowest waiter onboard to look for it while we all stand here and talk.

- Barbara Hambly, Fever Season

(....fuck, why aren't these movies? Setting: awesome, dialogue: awesome, characterization: awesome. Fuck, about all you would have to do is adapt the story and since they're serial novels she's careful about setup and continuity anyway. Location shoots in Louisiana and you're all set.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

love is a mixtape

With soundtracks proving an obvious extra revenue stream, record companies and TV/film producers are understandably keen to jump on any opportunity to “extend their brand” via the music featured in shows. Not wishing to miss a trick, book publishers are also actively working with novelists to build soundtracks for their books. A quick search on Spotify reveals the number of punters willing to do the legwork in compiling their own literature-inspired playlists, from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 to 50 Shades of Grey. More authors will no doubt be encouraged to follow Nicholls’ example and create their own compilations: an ingenious way to extend their character’s stories beyond the printed page and – as Nicholls himself says: “a distraction from real work.”

- Grauniad
Their relationship is unsatisfactory from the start, limited to letters and to snatched meetings on the fringes of family gatherings. The couple are doomed by the very respectability from which their class has gained so much, for they have none of the liberties of the very poor or the very rich: where the moneyed customers at Julia's workplace can indulge in sexual liaisons and divorces, she and Leo have difficulty simply in finding a place in which to make love. Her great fear is that the increasingly suspicious Herbert will present himself at the shop and – that most lower-middle-class of calamities – "make a scene". Her biggest resource, fatally, is her imagination.

- Sarah Waters on A Pin to See the Peepshow

(compare Marcel Berlins' utterly smug and blind summing-up:  "Edith was a prolific reader of cheap romantic fiction, and had an excitable imagination" -- !)
Sooo much Tumblr Raeg (™). //hides in embarrassment -- The internet is just no good for me. Or I'm no good for it, one way or the other.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

and then as if in punishment for having had the temerity to feel mostly recovered and taking a short walk two days in a row, BAMMO, in the middle of the night, nose fully congested and also streaming, voice hoarse, throat raw and slick, sneezing fits, headache, ear congestion, the fucking works. Exhausted but when I lie down or even just try to nap half-upright on the couch it feels like I can't breathe. Have now been sick since about the 25th. Think this is now also a full-blown sinus infection, which means going to the low-cost clinic and trying to wrangle a 4- or 5-week-long antibiotic course out of a new doctor, which NEVER goes well. Oh God, why me, &c &c &c. Bleah.

And this exact thing is always what baffled teachers and employers and "IRL" friends, back when I had those. But how can you be out sick for two weeks? they would always ask, genuinely stumped. It's just a cold. Yeah, for the bastard whose germs I got, it's just a cold. For me it turns into something else.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

9,000th book added to LibraryThing

Moscow in the Plague Year: Poems,by Marina Tsvetaeva

–O look!—that fresh elderberry branch
Is like a letter from Marina in the mail.

-- Anna Akhmatova

Monday, September 1, 2014

books read in September 2014

Fiction is in red.

139. The Secret Place, Tana French
140. Budayeen Nights, George Alec Effinger
141. A Thousand Deaths, George Alec Effinger
142. The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (that was fucking AMAZING. wow)
143. Fever Season, Barbara Hambly
144. Graveyard Dust, Barbara Hambly
145. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (reread) (I think)
146. Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, Matt Taibbi
147. The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, Rick Perlstein (awful. Awful. Awful. I should have remembered how awful Nixonland was)
148. Margrave of the Marshes, John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft (wonderful. Frequently in tears. Also frequently laughed) 

all 2014 booklist posts

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A-puttin' on his little red shoes A-pointin' a finger at me

the place of secrets

She came looking for me. Most people stay arm's length away. A patchy murmur on the tip-line, Back in ’95 I saw, no name, click if you ask. A letter printed out and posted from the wrong town, paper and envelope dusted clean. If we want them, we have to go hunting. But her: she was the one who came for me.
Awww yeah that's good old French right into the vein, slide it in nice and slow....suddenly my day is brighter than ten thousand fucking suns. SMELL YOU LATER.

10% in: Moran: aww! Bit of a cautious lad. I like him. (But not like RICHIE, OMG, RICHIE, WHERE DID YOU GO. Broken Harbour fucken BROKE me.) And Holly! what a tough cookie. Daddy's girl indeed.


....omg who am I kidding, it's a Tana French novel, everyone is going to get fucked over.

ETA: 35% in: Tana, if you partner up Moran and Antoinette the way you did Scorcher and Richie, and then shatter them apart the way you did Scorcher and Richie, I will never ever forgive you, I don't care how much of a kickarse writer you are. MY HEART CAN'T TAKE THAT AGAIN.

//reads on with enjoyable dread

40% in: all you people bitching about the "supernatural" element and how it's not supposed to be in a police procedural (including the "top" reviewer at GoodReads, who is a fucking idiot): you don't know how to read. It's always been there. It was there most strongly in the first book, In the Woods, yes, but, yes, it was also just there, in the last book, Broken Harbour. It's part of what French does. So if you're slagging off her for including that because it seems so unbelievable or uncharacteristic or out of key -- you're missing a lot.

(I had several paragraphs about Tana French on Goodreads and how she uses the supernatural -- I thought it was in a review of In the Woods -- but apparently not. argh. I really need to cut and paste all my GR reviews over here. And delete them there.)