Friday, June 22, 2007
[I don't really want to embed this into my blog, so here is the link.]
No comment. Seriously.
And with that, I leave you all for a week. One week spent on the beach, getting some good reading and writing in. At least, that's the hope.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I read on this blog that Simon & Schuster has started this website to publicize their books... but --- through videos.
I remember now, also reading about how Ian McEwan had a trailer going for his newest book. A BOOK trailer!
I don't know what to make of this. Are we becoming that ADHD that in order to convince people to read, we have to entice them with videos? There's something slightly ironic in there I think. "Watch a video on why you should read this book!" I don't know, I find that kind of funny.
It's not a bad idea though. I haven't watched any of the videos on BookVideos.tv (I'm currently taking a break from the crazy to-dos I have at work) but they look like they're author interviews, and in this day and age, people love to get their hands on "extras" like these. If a book had a dvd with multimedia extras, I bet people would love it (well, there's a bad idea for you). Apparently these videos are also on youtube, which means it will show up on google searches and technorati searches and the like for people looking for stuff on their favorite author's newest book.
I'd be interested to see the marketing department's reports though, of how site traffic and youtube views impact bottom-line sales. [I think I've mentioned before that I've worked on a viral marketing campaign that also involved videos. At the end of the day, that's seriously all the brand managers are doing. Some fancy calculation that shows conversion from click-throughs to sales.]
Okay back to being a cube slave.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
It's one of Oprah's picks for summer reading this year. Her version has nice uneven pages, a softcover jacket flap, a pretty cover, and a supposed racier translation. I have the budget version. Not even the Constance whatever-her-last-name-is translation, but the other translator, a copy I got from the Strand for like $3. I hope this difference won't make my experience with the book any worse.
Speaking of though, with classics like these, how important are the translations? Do people have a preference in who the translator is? Has anyone ever read two different translations of the same thing and decided one was better?
In any case, I hear the book is wonderful. So I'm going to attempt to attack it. This may mean that I don't read anything else for awhile, but that's okay. Gotta read this someday right? Might as well be now, when I'm sort of being leisurely with my time.
I think it's funny that Oprah is endorsing classics though. Good for her, but nonetheless, still kind of funny.
Fine, on Moonrat's insistence, I will get the new translation instead. But I don't have it now, so I will hold off on reading Anna Karenina until I do. Henry Miller it is.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Good storytelling stems from honesty. Even if its fiction, if the heart of it is something honest, then it will resonate with people. The purpose of fiction then, isn't to tell things as they actually happened, but to capture the truth found beneath the chain of events. To somehow illuminate them and bring them to the surface. If that means making up the events, that's fine. The purpose is, ultimately, to tell a false story about a very true thing. I think Tim O'Brien does a very good job of discussing and showing this. In the end, it doesn't matter how many of these stories were true or how much of it was true. He's done this amazing job of capturing the sort of things that happened in the war, the kind of fears and emotions and experiences they lived through and the aftermath.
I think that's what I appreciated most about this collection. The way he explores all of this, not just the events themselves, but what he, as a writer, is doing at that very moment. How all of this comes together. What all of it means. As a writer, I write to make sense of things. I try to tell it as it is through my lens. We try not to pass too much judgment, but just to show it as it is. And to sort out our own world, save ourselves in away. Pull out the truth that is sometimes buried under our own burden of facts that don't contribute to understanding.
This isn't so much of a review of the collection as it could be, but this is what I got out of it. That's what's especially staying with me now that I've finished.
My opinion: not as good as Kite Runner, but still quite good. I didn't bawl the way I did over the first, at least not until the very very end (pleas of forgiveness and redemption come too late always tug at my heartstrings a little. How could I not? It was tragic. The missed chance thing is so tragic to me), but I still found the story compelling. Although, my complaint is that there's just WAY TOO MANY crappy things that happen to these people. And maybe that's the truth, but it just sucked when hope after hope was dashed. Tragedy after tragedy was piled on. I was like, come on Hosseini, throw me a bone here!! Or them, throw them a bone! It made me anxious because I felt like, god, how much more could possibly go wrong before things turn up?
That aside though, I love some of his descriptions - a cloud that was draped on a moon like a veil - that one in particular I remember. The way he ends chapters just right - "For one last time, Mariam did as she was told" - stuff like that. He knows how to craft things so that, with a less skilled writer, it would come off as too melodramatic (as it was now, it was teetering on the edge), but with his style I was willing to accept it, because he crafted it in such a heartbreaking manner.
So yes. I liked this book (I mean I read it in one day). Now that that's off my list, I can start reading the reviews for it.
What's next? Hmmm.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Craft-wise, I think I've already said I found it a tad confusing. Back and forth, not really sure who we were focusing on, etc. And man, what a bloody book.
I liked it. I didn't love it, but I liked it. McCarthy is a really good writer, but I guess the subject of the matter wasn't that interesting to me, and while I cared what happened, I just didn't care enough, or rather, I wasn't made to care enough to make up for my lukewarm-ness of the subject. Don't get me wrong. I thought it was well-written, I still think McCarthy really makes you think about things, and has a style of prose that is unlike anything else I've read. I love his style. I love his writing, his descriptions. How the whole thing occurred in slow-mo, even when it was an action sequence. I guess the plot itself wasn't all that compelling to me.
BUT. I still want to read Blood Meridian anyway. I also have a feeling I was reading this book during a period of time when I was feeling a little too burnt out to be reading it.
By the way, though, there were some really sweet, touching passages in there with the sheriff and the way he talks about his wife. And the end with his uncle. Part of the things I wanted to talk about but currently am too braindead to do. I'm sorry. I totally got lazy and am not doing this book justice. If I have time, I'll do a re-post.
Next book? Not sure yet. I may take a break and do something easy, something I can just fly through without really thinking. We'll see.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
But I bought this week's issue - the summer fiction issue - because it holds a bunch of big names - Denis Johnson, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz, to name a few. I'd heard Johnson's piece "1966" was fantastic, and was forwarded a bootleg copy, so I went ahead and forwarded that along to someone else I know who likes Johnson, asking him if he'd read it yet. He replied and recommended the Miranda July piece instead. Highly.
Okay. I confess. I don't know anything about Miranda July. In fact, her name only sounded vaguely familiar because NYMag's Agenda email sent out something about her reading recently (I guess to promote her new book). I'm not sure if she's someone I should know (and certainly, I will now be keeping an eye out), but I am not nearly as well-read as I should be, so maybe it's just me. I don't know her. Her name means nothing to me. I can't connect her with anything. So, her story would never have been a story I flipped to first.
Had it not been for the recommendation by someone whose literary taste I trust implicitly.
So. Sitting on a bus back to Jersey at 2 am. Under a dark orange glow of a small bus light, I start reading. Somewhere on the second page of the work, I smell the acidic, unmistakable smell of bile and leftover pizza - oh yes, someone upfront puked straight into the aisle (as an aside, don't you hate that? I mean, if you're going to puke, can you do it in the back so that we don't all have to cross over your chunks as we exit? But anyway...). Nonetheless, I keep reading. The girl next to me is eating Baked Lays. But I forgot I'm hungry. Windows open and cold air whips the corners of the pages. People are grumbling. But I am reading.
Third page - starting from the obscenely large bold W down to "No."
"And I'll know what you mean. We'll know the secret meaning." My heart gives a little tug.
I asked myself if I would kill my parents to save his life, a question I had been poising since I was fifteen. My throat catches, feels my heart just squirming.
It was him. Except that it wasn't him, because there was no voice in his eyes; his eyes were mute. He was acting. I said my line. And then it all cracks. Just a little bit. A missed breath not taken. A missed beat not in rhythm. Nothing lost, nothing that anyone would regret not having occurred. But for a second there, for that one and a half columns of words - I was bought.
I don't want to talk about this, or deconstruct it, or tell you what I think it meant or why it touched me the way it did. I don't even want to tell you the plot if you haven't read it yet. I just wanted to record, for myself, for a second, what cut through to me early this Saturday morning, through the puke and the chips and the smells and the sounds and the wind and the dark and the ghetto orange-y glow. Just a column and a half of words, and if you really want to be precise, I was bought by about a paragraph. Why do I want to be a writer? It has everything to do with these few lines right here.
The story is "Roy Spivey". The author is Miranda July. The magazine is The New Yorker and it is the June 11/18 2007 issue. Read it. I don't know if you like what I like, but if you have a chance, please read it.
2 am and I was sold. 2 am and I was lifted and crushed all at the same time - maybe I'll never do this for someone else/all I ever want to do in life is do this for someone else.
And that, my friends, is me dropping out of character for a moment here.
p.s. But I did just check out her website for her new collection. And maybe it's because it's late, but it cracked me up.
Friday, June 15, 2007
- Age: 45
- Annual Household Income: $88,525
- Educational Background: Bachelor's Degree
- Where She Lives: A Large City (Population of 500,000 or more)
- Family & Professional Situation: Married, works outside the home and a member of at least one professional, social or service organization.
Book Buying Habits:
- Last year, she purchased an average of nearly 28 books - for herself and others.
- She spent $280 on non-fiction titles and $147 on fiction titles.
- She bought 1.64 audio books and 1 E-Book.
- The average woman in the study is a $500-a-year customer for publishers and booksellers.
- A third of her book purchases are online but she likes to visit her local bookstore and spends 39.2 minutes per visit.
- Her favorite categories included: "Mind, Body & Spirit," "Biographies/Autobiographies/Memoirs," and "Religion & Spirituality."
- Her least favorite include: "Antiques & Collectibles," "Sales," and "Sports & Adventure."
- Sixty percent of the non-fiction books she purchased in the last 12 months were paperback.
- On a regular basis she gets book recommendations from friends and associates
- She is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to purchase non-fiction titles because of a recommendation from a friend or associate
- While browsing she is strongly influenced by a book's back cover copy and its table of contents, but she is not very influenced by quotes and endorsements placed on the book.
- She is more likely to visit an author's website than a publisher's website.
- Book reviews in national newspapers influence her more than reviews in local or regional newspapers.
Useful information to keep in mind, no? Or at least just plain interesting.
So because of that, I'll hold off on commentary, and give some book-to-film updates:
1. Atonement by Ian McEwan - I sort of started this, but didn't get past the third page before deciding to switch to McCarthy. Anyway, it's opening the Venice International Film Festival. [Variety]
2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - I haven't read this, and for some reason, I haven't felt inclined to, despite all the hype. Oh well, maybe one day. Anyway, looks like they found their screenwriter for the film adaptation. [Variety]
Wow, seems like I'm posting a lot more news over my own readings these days (which is what this blog was intended for). Eh. Whatever.
[As I blogger, I leave the "real" writing to other people. I just leave tibits and snippets linking to "real" news. *snark snark* Yay for Variety!]
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I don't really take offense to the fact that this reporter did a teensy-weensy bashing of book blogs and the bloggers themselves. Hey, I accept that. If I wanted to go into book reviewing, I'd probably dismally fail. As it is, I consider this a hobby. I won't be book snobbish enough to do this as a living and believe people should listen to me. I mean, seriously, I'm not even reviewing. I'm just ruminating. I don't have the time to dig deep the way real reviewers do.
However, I do think there's certain realities here. Blogs are big. Web is big. Book reviews... not so much. I'm not undermining the value of a book review - I enjoy reading smart, thoughtful reviews of books I'm really into. I love interviews with authors. I love learning about the books I love from people who really know books. It makes me smarter. But I'm not everyone. I'm a booknerd. I'm someone who actually cares that much. But your Joe Schmoe (or Jane Schmoe as it may be) probably doesn't. He probably just wants to know what book he should pick up for his next train ride.
"In fact, despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn't. The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature... Literary criticism is only worth having if it at least strives to be literary in its own right, with a scope, complexity, and authority that no blogger I know even wants to achieve. The only useful part of most book blogs, in fact, are the links to long-form essays and articles by professional writers, usually from print journals."
Most people I know don't pick up book reviews for "literary" literary criticism. Most people I know want to know - is this good? Should I read it? Will I like it? Is it for me? Who cares about scope and complexity? I mean, I do, but does the majority of people? I don't believe so. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.
Francine Prose's comment about a book review not being the FDA Advisory Panel cracked me up though. Too true, too true. As someone in the pharmaceutical industry, I know this kind of scrutiny too well. That is exactly a big problem of reviews I think. It's not appealing to the reader. It's trying to accomplish something too high and lofty, to a point where people in the know might appreciate, but it does nothing for readers. Reviews should be for the readers.
From all these posts, you might think I'm anti-book-reviews. I'm not. Just because I don't read them to choose my books, doesn't mean that I'm against them. I recognize their importance, and actually, the fact that they're getting cut from papers makes me very sad, because to me, it symbolizes the path that literature is taking in our culture. The loss of importance. I'm a book lover, so I can't hate on reviews - they add something to my experience when I'm through. They bring something to the debate. They raise the stakes for me. They help me understand something better. Nonetheless, I recognize that as a matter of marketing, reviews are no longer an effective tool. And I think that's where this distinction lies. It all comes down to money, folks. We don't do for the sake of the aesthetic and art anymore. And when it comes to $$$, reviews are on their way out. Blogs bring books to the masses, and we look at reviewers as those old dodgy aunts who don't really understand us anyway.
[Okay, so that wasn't that short.]
My favorite parts, perhaps not surprisingly, are the chapters where the sheriff is just essaying or monologuing or whatever it is. I love his little insights, his thoughts. He makes me stop and think, every time he says something. But more on him later.
Just wanted to post up this section, towards the end, because it made me think:
Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A person's path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning.
She sat sobbing. She shook her head.
Yet even though I could have told you how all of this would end I thought it not too much to ask that you have a final glimpse of hope in the world to lift your heart before the shroud drops, the darkness. Do you see?
Oh God, she said. Oh God.
She looked at him a final time. You don't have to, she said. You don't. You don't.
He shook his head. You're asking that I make myself vulnerable and that I can never do. I have only one way to live. It doesnt allow for special cases. A coin toss perhaps. In this case to small purpose. Most people dont believe that there can be such a person. You can see what a problem that must be for them. How to prevail over that which you refuse to acknowledge the existence of. Do you understand? When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That they should have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way. You're asking that I second say the world. Do you see?
Yes, she said, sobbing. I do. I truly do.
--[pgs. 259-260, No Country For Old Men]
Fatalistic, eh? A lot in here though. A lot to chew on. Unfortunately, it is 12:45 am, and I am dead tired. So I can't talk about this. But I thought it was worth thinking about. Just to ruminate. I'm getting to the end of the book where now I'm being forced to think about this whole journey I've been on with Mr. McCarthy.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I do. I remember I had to read it in middle school, back in the days when I threw my books carelessly around, didn't hesitate to dog-ear the cheap pages, and felt like it was okay to write notes in margins in bleeding blue ink or underline sentences in hot-pink highlighter, just because I was reading this book for school. Regretfully, my copy of Ishmael has been defiled this way, including my name scrawled in huge black block letters on the side of the book (you know, the opposite of the spine, where all the white pages push together?).
Anyway though, I do remember owning a copy of this book, reading it, and even discussing and possibly writing a 7th grade essay on it. But I could not tell you at all, what this book was about, other than that it was about some African tribes. I'm sure it was very important at the time in my development as a young person trying to understand the world's cultures, but really, the two books that made any impression at all on me in that class (aptly named "Foundations") was Ishmael and the play Inherit the Wind.
So I thought, that's not a problem! I'll go to my shelf and find my old copy (because I never threw out any of my old books) and thumb through it. Maybe looking through a few pages will jog my memory! Well, sitting front and center on my shelf was another Achebe book - Arrow of God (another book that I have no recollection of), but I didn't see Things Fall Apart. And let me explain my bookshelves here. They are not your average bookshelves. They are falling over with books. Brimming with books. About to collapse from the sheer weight of the multiple-tiers of books I have, over the years, forced upon their wooden planks with the skill of a Tetris player. If I have new books, I will find a way to fit them onto these two shelves. Which, by the way, my mom reminds me were the first pieces of furniture she ever bought and built by herself, back when she was 22 and living alone in a studio. Yes, these shelves are that old. It says something about the quality of furniture back then.
So, no, I can't find the book. Because if it's anywhere, it's buried behind levels of other novels and textbooks that have since entered my life. So, no. I still have no idea what Things Fall Apart is about. I still don't remember why it was (is) such a highly acclaimed piece of literature.
But does that make the fact that Chinua Achebe was just awarded the Man Booker International Prize any less noteworthy for me? For some reason, no. Why do I care? I don't know. Maybe because even though I can't for the life of me remember the book, Things Fall Apart's name alone conjures up memories of my young education. Or maybe I just like that an author whose name I recognize won an award. Or maybe because the book is so old, and about this topic that doesn't really get that much coverage, that I think it's a nice change up. I'm not sure exactly what this prize looks for - the website says that it's only given twice a year, and this is only the second award given - but it's nice to see some international fiction being recognized. You know, diversity and all. Bring the people of the world together. Share things. That sort of thing. As a writer, there's only so much you can do by way of contributing to the world (something I struggle with a lot), but I think this medium as a forum to foster understanding and urgency is important.
So, okay, I can't recommend the book, except that it's something important enough that I read it in a class other than English. It was important enough that we used it to study cultures and foundations of civilization. I think that shows something essential. Shows its resonance. When your book stops being just a work of fiction, but transcends to be a model of something interdisciplinary, speaks something greater, in a way almost academic, even if (especially if) its for young minds.
And oh, thanks to the NYTimes blog for alerting me to this. Yes, I leech all my news from other sources, but who doesn't?
I mean good god, calm yourselves people, before you pee in your pants. My question is, have any of these people ACTUALLY read the book yet? Is it that good? (I guess one of the people said they did, and passed, but I guess the comparison to the one-with-the-scar is just too hard for people to resist) Oh, the power of buzz....
This is when you remember that, even if you write for the love of the art, in the end, it really is ALL about money, and that's all anyone will ever look at it as, except for you. Ugh. Sellouts.
[No, I'm not just a teeny bit jealous. Not at all.]
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Minot helped write the adapted screenplay, and I think it's interesting how she says that it's like delving back into the raw material. I like that. I think we forget as readers that often times there's a lot of backstory that never even makes it into the novel for whatever reason, plot or length or whatever. Writing the adaptation meant she could go back to that stuff, to that world, and see if there's things she can pull to the front.
Interesting also is how Cunningham says "There's no reason to hire me if my job is just to do what Susan did, only in a movie." Back to when we were talking about this before, it's true - a movie should have its own take on the material. I never used to be someone who liked that - I always got mad when movies didn't stay faithful to a book I loved (okay, I still kinda get mad), but I can see from a filmmaker's perspective why that doesn't make sense. It's a retelling, so it should change, because it's own piece of art in its own right.
Just interesting things to keep in mind...
As a publicist who may or may not like to try her hand at book publicity one of these days, I find that it is increasingly difficult to control and effectively create buzz with positive messaging across all industries, no matter what kind of product you are selling. Consumers these days don't need us to tell them what to like anymore - they have a plethora of other options to go after. What used to be reading newspapers or magazines plus taking recommendations from your friend at school, or your local book club, now involves forums like online chatrooms, communities, blogs. People that consumers are more prone to trust than, say, your highbrow professional. I work in a very different industry than publishing, but I believe this is a general trend across everything - as publicists, we have to create new and more inventive ways to reach our audience and convince them. Old models don't work anymore.
So books for example. New York Times and New Yorker have these long-standing reputations, for instance. Their reviews are important to the industry. And sure, I'm sure some of this trickles down to consumers sometimes, affects the most literary of consumers. The high-brow intellectuals. Maybe even book snobs like me. (Okay, seriously though, I try not to be a book snob, I'm not well-read enough to be one) And it's impressive to say that a book is acclaimed by the New York Times. Any consumer will hear that and be like "ooooh". But they won't know the name of the guy who's reviewing, and frankly they don't care. They actually care more about Oprah (if you're a middle-aged woman) or, actually, what their best friend thinks of it, or their coworker, or whatever. At the end of the day, the reviews may or may not convince a person to buy a book, but I'm willing to bet that it'd have to be a book that they've heard someone else mention already. Someone whose taste they trust, be it someone they know personally or some group or online forum they belong to where it had been mentioned. To me, the reviews become an intellectual exercise. I read a book I liked, and then I read the reviews to see what someone else thought, what someone who reads books for a living thought, just to compare notes and understand better this novel I just read.
Let me think about this - most of the books I have on these lists here have been books recommended to me by other people at some point in time or other, or authors who have been well established, (how they became well-established is another question, and you can argue that back then, it was due to something like reviews or whatever), with the remaining due to me spending hours browsing the bookstore or reading blogs of other readers online (or industry news online because I'm a nerd), looking for new, potentially risky buys, interesting books to add to my collection. I consider myself a pretty avid reader, and while I'm not a person of particularly discerning (or is it discriminating?) taste in that I generally like most fiction that has been well-written, I think I can also tell what kind of taste my friends have in books after I've known them long enough. They turn to me for book recommendations because I'll read just about anything, and pick out the stuff I think they'll like for them to read. I've done a lot of the backend research for them in terms of books because I like it. I read - not reviews, but other buzz news - and I'll pick up the book, and I'll recommend it. But I'm an AVID reader, who likes being nerdy like that. My friends could care less, and they're probably the majority. So who do they listen to? People like me, who actually enjoy doing research on books.
I'm not saying word-of-mouth is the only way to go. There's product placement in the stores; i believe book covers are a HUGE part of it; even placement on the website. And yes, like Moonrat said - this is largely due to the BUYERS. They decide where it goes in the store, where it is on their website. They help build the buzz, and THEY read the reviews. I guess what I'm saying is I feel it's a little archaic. With more options to find information than ever, the consumer doesn't need the big wigs to tell them what they like, nor do they always trust them either. Blogs are important. Word-of-mouth is important. Being on Oprah and the Today Show is important (that's a little more traditional, but it's not a review, per se) . It's all about buzz, it always has been, but the way you build that buzz has been changing over time. Do I have a solution? Of course not - I'm a lowly peon of a publicist for something not even publishing related. I'm just saying, is all. Speculation. I could be completely off-base. Maybe real book publicists would laugh at me. Who knows. That's just what I think.
As an aspiring author who hopes to one day make it through the hoops and get on those shelves, of course, I'm wracking my brains trying to understand this industry, and what exactly needs to be done to get the word out there. Oh, you can bet, if I ever make it that far, I will be pulling out my PR knowledge to do anything and everything I can to give my book legs.
*note: I realize though, that this is all very cyclical. Everything ties into each other. Why does the book show up at all? Buyers? Editors? Agents? Of course it comes down to the fact that the material has to be good and someone has to believe in it a heck of a lot. But beyond that, why is it that some great novels never make it to the front of the store?
 I'm thinking about this again, and you know, it's not that I don't think reviews DON'T affect the consumer AT ALL. Sure, they're the professionals, the way we use doctors to give our stories and products more leverage and grounding in my field. But I guess it really does depend on who your target audience is and who you're trying to sell to. A lot of people don't read reviews. I don't know how to get the snowball rolling, but I'd guess it really depends on the book and what you can make of the platform right off the bat.
Similarly, I don't read book reviews for the most part. If I do, it's for books I had little intention of picking up. Once in awhile, I'll read a portion of a book review, just enough to realize that the book sounds interesting enough that I might want to read it, so I stop reading the review right there. The exception to this are those tiny one paragraph blurbs you might find in People magazine. Those tend not to give away too much, and just give stars, so it's a safe bet.
Recently, I mistakenly started reading the NYTimes review on A Thousand Splendid Suns, and since then, have not been able to avoid synopses of the damn book that is still waiting to be read. I want to read it as my beach read, but I'm starting to feel like I need to read it before the plot is all but completely given away. As it is, I already know more than I like.
The thing is, part of the joy of reading a book is not knowing what to expect. Having little or no expectations, and figuring it out as you go along. I recently partook in this "debate" of sorts on McCarthy's The Road, which, if you've been paying attention here, is my #1 favorite book since I read it. Frank at Absolute Gentleman has a severe loathing for the book, as evidenced by his blogs, and he was having some back and forth with one of his friends, Tim. I had to be a nosy person and butt in, and one of the things that came up was this expectation, based, apparently, partly on reviews. And I think part of why I love this book so much is that I had no expectations on what it should be about. The back cover gives you little to work with; I hadn't read any reviews - all I had was a recommendation to read it, and it caught my eye at Barnes. I dove into it with nothing - not even a preconcieved notion of what McCarthy is supposed to be like, and because of it, I came out LOVING the book. I came out with my own ideas of what the book meant to me.
My point being, I generally don't read book reviews before I read a book because I think it spoils it. [I realize I'm being a little hypocritical here, because when I talk about books on my blog, I give it all away, but I don't consider myself a "reviewer", but someone who is trying to discuss what appealed to me about the book. After all, I'm doing this for myself, and not for the masses, nor am I getting paid to do this, nor is anyone really looking to me for book recommendations and opinions.]
Sometimes though, I sort of wish I could read the reviews. Just to get recommendations. I tend to read book reviews after I've read a book, if I really loved it, or was thoughtful about it, then I want to know what other people thought. But not usually before.
Anyway, this was a long-winded post though, to bring up NYTimes Book Review's new blog, Paper Cuts, launched yesterday. Their most recent entry gives you a very quick overview of reviews done by papers across the country (and the UK too), giving you the only thing you really want to know: is it worth picking up? I like that kind of review. That's all I want to know. Check it out.
Monday, June 11, 2007
The only reason I say this is because I'm always reading other people's blogs, and they write about writing all the time. I try to not share anything too personal on this blog for good reason though.
I went through some of my old writing (and by "old" I mean all the stories my mom has saved in a folder since I was age 4-16), and it cracks me up. I almost want to share some of it.
Okay, but that wasn't the purpose of this blog. I should start a new blog if I'm going to be that crazy. No one wants to hear me rant about writing anyway. Nabokov is much more interesting.
[Was in the office by 7 am - which meant getting up at 5:45 - because I was told we all needed to be in. I came in, and no one was there but me! They all showed up at 7:45. RAWR.]
p.s. I have stuff to say about No Country For Old Men, but I'll wait on it a little bit.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
I just carried home these two books, along with delicious meatloaf and mac&cheese Moonrat sent me home with, in a Yellow Rat Bastard shopping bag. Which two books, might you ask? Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales For Girls by Danielle Wood and The Luxe by Anna Godbersen. I will toss both on the list and read them asap so as to give Moonrat my full review (and thereby removing her responsibility of reading the damn things while she's still trying to edit Charlotte over there... or possibly just ruining them for her).
Thanks, Moonrat, for sending me home with two of my favorite things in the world: food and books.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
The story is about how he tries to feebly run away to Canada after his draft. He struggles with this decision, whether or not he should go to war or run:
During that long summer I'd been over and over the various arguments, all the pros and cons, and it was no longer a question that could be decided by an act of pure reason. Intellect had come up against emotion. My conscience told me to run, but some irrational and powerful force was resisting, like a weight pushing me toward the war. What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame. Hot, stupid shame. I did not want people to think badly of me. Not my parents, not my brother and sister, not even the folks down at the Gobbler Cafe. I was ashamed to be there at the Tip Top Lodge. I was ashamed of my conscience, ashamed to be doing the right thing.
--[pg. 51-52, The Things They Carried]
So interesting, because we normally think of "running" as the cowardly thing to do, but here, he identifies that to his conscience, he knows that running would be the brave thing. To force yourself into exile, leave behind your loved ones, your country for good, because you do not believe in the war, cannot kill. And yet he can't do it. This turns the whole notion on its head in a way - we all know that going to war isn't a fun thing, that many would run "cowardly" away from it. But why is it cowardly? Is it just because of fear of death? Many of us are also just wired to feel that killing is wrong. So does that make a person cowardly, or brave for standing up for what his conscience tells him?
In the end, he can't take the plunge. He can't make it over the border to Canada. And why? Because he's embarrassed. "I couldn't make myself be brave," he says (pg.59), "It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that's all it was."
We think of soldiers as heroes, and yes, they are, I'm not denying that. They're doing their patriotic duty, and they are brave in a way I could never be. But for some people, who don't believe in killing, who can't justify killing for a cause they don't believe in, that's not heroism, is it? I love that O'Brien gives us this side of the argument, against what we generally think of.
I love how he ends this:
The day was cloudy. I passed through towns with familiar names, through the pine forests and down to the prarie, and then to Vietnam, where I was a soldier, and then home again. I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war.
--[pg. 61, The Things They Carried]
The one thing I find interesting about his collection is that, it's supposed to be this work of fiction, based on his experiences, but he talks about himself in the first person, mentions he's a writer, and even dedicates the book to the people mentioned in here. So I find myself constantly wondering what part is fact and what part is fiction.
Anyway, last night I read the third story, "Spin" which really, is a story about memory and story. This idea of all these stories tied in with your memory.
I don't want to spend too much time talking about this, but I just thought I'd highlight the couple of passages in which he talks about memory and story:
I feel guilty sometimes. Forty-three years old and I'm still writing war stories. My daughter Kathleen tells me it's an obsession, that I should write about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony. In a way, I guess, she's right: I should forget it. But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for awhile, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That's the real obsession. All those stories.
--[pg. 34-35, The Things They Carried]
It's interesting how he talks about this issue, and then brings in all these little mini-vignettes, snapshots of memories that stay in his mind, little stories he could have run with and blown up bigger, but doesn't. He lets them be what it is, but it doesn't diminish the fact that they exist. In fact, "Spin" isn't really a story, but just that - his memories and material just hanging loosely there. A rumination of bits and pieces and images from his past. Isn't that how we as writers start anything? Just a little bit of something. A snapshot that grabs us. An incident that we can't forget. An emotion that was too strong to let go. And like he said, then we pick the one that compels us to go for the ride.
Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.
--[pg. 38, The Things They Carried]
Why do we write? Why are we compelled? Sometimes it may just be as simple as telling a tale that needs to be told, and hoping to immortalize it.
Friday, June 8, 2007
I also try to alternate between 1) foundation classics 2) acclaimed contemporary lit 3) contemporary stuff that's sort of just for fun.
Since Lolita is sort of a classic-ish, I'm due for something conteporary. Acclaimed or not. Soooo... okay so I don't know what to read next. I have No Country For Old Men in my bag right now, so I guess I may just go ahead and read it. Been reading some blogs about McCarthy recently, so maybe I'm in a Cormac mood.
But anyone else have any suggestions based on what I have up on my list?
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
This was a really really good read though. I was hesitant for many years to pick this book up because I felt weird about the subject matter. I remember my ex-boyfriend in high school was reading it, and I just thought that was a little "gross" of him. He's not much of a reader though, which makes me wonder why the hell he was reading it. But anyway.
A great use of language, is the obvious thing to say here. Superb use of rhythm, poetry, alliteration, and just general descriptions and overall environment. I'm sure I missed many gems while reading through this time (but will catch the second time around). For certain, I didn't quite catch on who the mystery man was, but I probably didn't read as closely as I should have. Knowing now, I want to go back and pick up the clues.
So I said in my last post, that I was becoming unsympathetic towards HH. But by the end of the novel, I became extremely sympathetic to him. Maybe it was because he seriously had lost everything, and truly believed he loved her. Him reminiscing, realizing that Lolita was lonely, that they never talked, that she'd rather have had her mother around whom she did not get along with, than to be with him, I felt that incredibly sad in a way. For both him and her. His realization that he had robbed her of her childhood. And when he gives over so much money, even when I thought maybe he would go crazy and kill her, he doesn't, doesn't have the heart to, he loves her so much. He hands her the money and bawls like a big baby. And that makes me so sad for him. Makes me think that deep inside his twisted neurosis, deep inside his illness and perversion, he might have some part of him who really is good. A part of him that truly does love her beyond obsession of the flesh.
And oh, the ending. It broke my heart for some reason. The way he wrote to this Lolita from the dead, since this was not to be published til she died. After all was said and done. It transformed him, at least in my eyes, from a horrible monster to a very very pathetic, sad, old man. It ends with a heartbreaking last paragraph, perhaps the one time we see him be a father, dispensing fatherly advice, and loving her apparently with clarity and genuineness:
But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of the blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H. H., and one wanted H. H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.
--[pg. 309, Lolita]
Incredible opening, incredible closing.
The afterword by Nabokov is a pretty good read too. Interesting things he addresses to critics comments. I especially liked towards the end, his description of what this book does for him. As an aspiring writer, I can relate to process he's taken, the way he feels towards this little masterpiece. And I especially like what he says here:
There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray's assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.
-- [pg. 314-315, Lolita]
Matt said to me once that a story is simple. We were talking about The Road and he said it was such a simple tale, but so powerful. And so now, sometimes I get stuck on writing, I try to parse it back to simplicity. Of course a plot is complex. Of course lines weave and characters have layers and there are metaphors sometimes or symbols or a big issue. But inherently, a good story has a basis of simplicity - something we all understand, something that captures humanity. Art does that, captures states of being human, something universal. It doesn't need a moral, necessarily, because there are things we all inherently can relate to. A story like Lolita doesn't need to be a cautionary tale of sorts, because we already know the fundamentals. A story is better, I would argue, without an overt moral (think of the movie Crash here), because there are different parts of life that would speak to us. The point being, I read those words of Nabokov, and thought, this is a true writer. I nodded my head in agreement.
By the way, some of his afterword had me giggling aloud on the subway home. Namely, the three things people can't write about. How witty. I think people were looking at me like, why is that pervert giggling while reading a story about a pedophile?
Anyway. Yes. Good read. I love it. Must read again. And, definitely will read more of his works.
Well, so apparently the famous recluse doesn't take any of the prep (and just hasn't seen enough media light to get any practice). So I guess the interview was no good.
I'd like to see it though. Wonder where I might catch it. YouTube?
Kind of a shame though, if it really is anti-climatic as it all sounds.
It's okay. The Road is still my #1 favorite book. And I got No Country for Old Men lined up next (a guy at Starbucks who was reading it said it was really good). Since the Coen Brothers are making a movie based on the book (and apparently early reviews from a Cannes screening were favorable), I think I better slip that into the mix before November, when it's apparently slated to come out.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Just read NYMag's Vulture blog article, rating galleys. The image, of course, first caught my eye. I don't particularly care for all of the books pictured stacked (*ahem* Jenna Bush?) but seeing an author you recognize is always exciting. At least for a book geek like me.
Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke) - It took me a couple reads of Jesus' Son, his well-known short story collection which seems to be a staple in contemporary literature, but I enjoyed it so much after a few runs that I'm curious to see what he is like, novel-length. [I also want to get his poetry, but that's an aside.] Definitely getting this when it comes out.
Alice Sebold (The Almost Moon) - Whose Lovely Bones was an enjoyable read, and Lucky, her memoir of rape, touching. I wonder what the conceit is here. Her first novel was so creative and interesting, that I wonder if a typical drama might be hum-drum. But still!! How can one resist? This I am definitely picking up too, though paperback might be a good idea.
Philip Roth (Exit Ghost) - American Pastoral was a good read, although not one of my favorites. I probably wouldn't get this immediately, mostly because this is the last of his Zuckerman novels, and I haven't read any of the rest. I also have some of his other books I want to pick up first. Nonetheless, I feel like a huge author like him deserves some excitement and hype. So here I am, jumping with glee. Well, sort of. Does it count if I just type it?
Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) - I confess: I haven't read anything else of his aside from a short story we read in class last term. I really enjoyed that story, and have been thinking of picking up the collection when I get through the rest of the short story collections I have to get through (and haven't touched yet). Yet here is another short story writer, becoming a novelist. And since I really liked the story I read, and have seen the name floating around, it totally sparked my attention.
I can't really talk about the books, obviously, since, uh, I know nothing about them other than what's out there already. But just thought I'd contribute to the hype about books I'm excited about.
Oh, how I wish I could have snagged galleys for myself. Dammit! I'm totally in the wrong industry!!!
Having said that, I decided to take a break (what? I'm on deadline? It's 6:30? what? work?? what's that???), and because a friend of mine was asking me about books and stories today that she was thinking of buying from BN, I thought I'd post my top 10 novel picks + top 5 short story picks.
Top 10 Novels
1. The Road - Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy's simple post-apocalyptic tale was so hauntingly beautiful, the nameless little boy a ray of hope for all that is good in humanity in the face of a disintegrating society. Saved me at a point where I felt incredibly cynical of all that I try to stand for.
2. The History of Love - Nicole Krauss. Her sophomore novel was unconventional and required an odd suspension of disbelief, but held an uncanny sense of nostalgia all throughout. Written simply but poetically, I fell in love with not just the characters, but the wonderful lines that rang with truth and heartbreak.
3. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline l'Engle. I read this in fourth grade I think and was captivated by the "tesserect" concept and tried to wrap my head around the idea of time being the 4th dimension. But what really drove it in was the way they defeated IT posessing Charles Wallace. It blew my little 4th grade mind away.
4. Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini. Only because it was the only book I've ever read that made my heart hurt so much that I had to put it down, take a few deep breaths, take a break, before picking it up again. Such a sad, beautiful little tale of betrayal, regret and friendship.
5. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card. I'm normally not a big sci-fi person, but this hardly qualifies. I mean it does, but it's smart and inventive. A great story that demonstrates how human psychology works, the need for compassion and understanding, and how we fight to survive. Plus, the strategies of the games are really fun to read too.
6. Ishmael - Daniel Quinn. Not so much a plot driven book than a fictional creative conceit as a vehicle for Quinn's ideas on the Earth and our responsibility as humans living within this ecosphere. I loved the interpretations of Biblical passages as a different take on creation myths. The idea of being a "giver" over a "taker" kept haunting me, and made me want to be more socially responsible.
7. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. Creative love story. I enjoyed this especially trying to piece everything together, looping back, seeing how it all fits, following each multiple POC, and slowly figuring out the inevitable ending. I also was impressed because the time plot was remarkably consistent, and I have a peeve for time plots being inconsistent.
8. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult. By far the best of hers I've read (Tenth Circle sucked), it raises an interesting ethical dilemma, but does so through the eyes and guilt of multiple narrators, leading you to question your own sense of morality and judgment, forcing you to think about how gray lines can really be.
9. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden. I love this book, the way it delves into old Japan on the brink of modernization, the intricate details and following the fall of the geisha world. Easy, fun read.
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling. Okay, this was my favorite Harry Potter book. It actually makes my top 10. I'm a dork, I know. But this one was the best one by far (we'll see when 7 comes out).
Runners-up: Norwegian Wood, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Remains of the Day, Unbearable Lightness of Being, Einstein's Dreams, and soon, Lolita.
Top 5 Short Stories
1. "Children of the Sea", from Krik? Krak! - Edwidge Danticat. I love the conciet of this story - letters written by two young lovers, but letters that never get seen by the other, and yet they still somehow parallel each other quietly. Tragic yet beautiful, despite the tumultuous, bloody circumstances in which the letters occur. Everytime I need to get myself in the right mood to write, I read this story and it touches me.
2. "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning", from Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami. Short, simple tale, but resonates. This idea of the winds of fate. This idea that sometimes we only get one chance. The sadness behind it. And to think, it's all just a ploy by some guy who sees a beautiful girl that he thinks is the one for him.
3. "Asleep", from Asleep - Banana Yoshimoto. Blue is what I think of when I read this. Swirling fog of sleep. It's written just like how it should, giving you that slippery feeling. All at once dreamy and suspended and strange, I can't help but love this story of sleeplessness and too much sleep and all because of the uncontrollable uncanny things that happen around us.
4. "Emergency", from Jesus' Son - Denis Johnson. I wrote about this before on this blog, but I really enjoyed this one from the collection, the snow, the bunnies, the vulnerability of the narrator, struggling to figure out where he is all of this. Being saved or being a savior. That sort of thing. And us just going along for the ride.
5. TBD. Quite honestly, I said 5, only because it's a nice round number, but I'm still trying to decide. Haven't yet come across another one that I totally love. So I'll let you know.
Okay. After numerous breaks (I was editing that damn media list for an hour and a half), it is now 7:45. Which means. Time to go home.
p.s. Blogger won't let me list the 25 different tags that belong to this entry. So um, I'm throwing it all in "General book babble". Apologies for the disorganization (I know, no one really cares about that except me).
Monday, June 4, 2007
In any case, for anyone who is interested in him, tomorrow's reading:
Where: 92nd Street Y (Lexington near 92nd)
When: June 5, 8 PM
Cost: Under 35 - $10, other tickets - $18 (advanced tix online)
Oh, scratch that. According to Andrew from the 92nd Y (check my comments), more tickets are now available. Thanks, Andrew!
What really drove this home for me was the section where he imagined getting Lolita pregnant and preying upon their daughter, and even their granddaughter. I mean, as if pedophilia weren't enough, but incestuous pedophilia? That made my stomach turn, and it was hard to go on.
And yet, HH still does not waver in his writing. Even as his words become increasingly sinister, they still pulse with poetic fluidity. Isn't it amazing what someone good with words can get away with?? It screws up your judgment entirely.
I think Nabokov is really quite amazing in the way he is handling this. I don't think everyone could get away with making a sex offender seem this sympathetic for this long, and still maintain a perfect voice of composure in the face of objective insanity.
Many pages to go - I'm dying to know how this all ends up.
Friday, June 1, 2007
I love it.
Nabokov's writing is lyrical, intelligent, coherent - although obsessive, it is also collected, thus depicting Humbert Humbert as someone, although objectively lecherous, completely sympathetic. I find some of the passages simultaneously disturbing yet erotic. Does that make me a pervert, or does that make Nabokov a great writer? As in, for a second, when Humbert is going on and on, I almost believe in him, until I pull myself out of his world and think about it, and realize what exactly he's talking about, and how objectively, it is utterly reprehensible and perverse. Even as he is having insane, awful, mean thoughts, I am drawn into his obsession and logic.
And I've been noticing the way his sections are broken, the unconventional, the interjections, the asides. I like that, I really like when something isn't straight-up linear and organized and yet it still works. Partially because I'd like to be able to get away with something like that one day.
Yes. Very good. This book has so far not been a let down whatsoever. All the hype is well-founded.
I'm going to post a little on Ghostwritten since I finished it a week ago and haven't had time to sit down and write about it. What did I want to say about it?
The book overall, is a really interesting creative concept. Each section has its own story, its own character, and it's really fun to sit around looking for the pieces of the puzzle, identifying the connectors between each person. That being said, I felt that even though perhaps voices and styles changed somewhat between each section, I could always hear the voice of the author lingering on top of each one. That is to say, I wasn't completely convinced of the individuality of each character. I guess it was more like this - even though the tone shifted from snarky to sentimental, depending on if we were hanging out with a Brit or a spirit, it was just like the same person, trying on different hats. So that, I wasn't too happy about.
However, there were parts that I really liked, as I had mentioned previously. And especially, in the Japan pages, I was reminded heavily of Murakami in its stark tone. The sort of sci-fi aspects were interesting and kept an element of surprise and a suspension of disbelief. The final chapter (or second to final, I guess) with the radio dj was really fun to read, even though it definitely worked in sort of a vaccuum - I always heard the dj voice with no description or setting - I guess fitting considering it was radio.
And the way it tied together - well, I got the overarching thing, but being the literary fiend I am, I was searching for the importance of each individual character and their story in relevance to the explosive culmination at the end (literally). I'm not entirely convinced it runs consistently through every section, which makes me feel a little duped, or like I was reading short stories. I want them to be more heavily related - or if they're not, and the point is the coincidence, for that to be somewhat better done too. Maybe I need to look at it more carefully, but it didn't come together for me well. I left the book a little disatisfied, though I saw the ambition and the intent behind the book.
So I guess my review is this - for a freshman novel, it's ambitious and pretty well-written, and extremely creative. I liked it, but I didn't love it. I didn't think it hung together as well as was intended. That being said, maybe I just didn't read as closely as I should have.
I've been following along with trickles of BEA news through my various blogfeeds - NYMag, Publisher's Weekly and their associated blogs, and agent blogs I happen to be subscribed to. Lots of interesting news, though some of it on books and authors I don't know much about and probably don't care quite as much about either. But nonetheless.
I'd love to go to BEA. Free books? Well, why the hell not? I have a little bit of an addiction. Industry peoples? I'm a decent networker. Drinking every here and there? Believe me, I'm expert at this. But since I have work and I can't shell out the money required to just SHOW UP at BEA for fun, I'll have to be content with licking up the rambles oozing out from my various voices from the inside.
Oh funny though, apparently there was some panel on media reviewers vs. book blogs. I'm not much of a reviewer - since most of my "reviews" are spoilers and are almost certainly purely for myself, or for other people who read the book to see what I got out of it rather than recommendations - but it's interesting to see how people think of blogging as there are some really LEGIT review blogs out there. Apparently, the vote is a yay [on a forced decision of yay or nay]. This is the first truly interest dedicated blog I've ever kept (of the many many blogs I own and have maintained), so it interests me.
I also like this recent post on a high-tech, long-distance book signing. A little creepy, but interesting.
Okay, but would anyone like to smuggle me into BEA? I'll dress up as a stack of bad first novels. Wait, I think that might get me kicked out instead.