Friday, February 29, 2008

I like part 2 more.

Okay, since Atonement is broken into parts, I guess I'll comment on each part.

I just finished Part 2. I know Moonrat said the first section was her favorite, and Cyn said she snoozed through part 2. But I actually liked it MUCH better than I liked Part 1. I couldn't STAND Part 1. The self-indulgent thoughts of all the characters really annoyed me and I barely had the patience to read through everything because I didn't want to have to stay with them. Ugh. I mean, honestly, if I weren't the kind of person to stick with a book til the end, I would have dropped this book somewhere in Part 1.

But Part 2 felt like a completely different book altogether. Maybe it's something to do with me - maybe I like books detailing war. Or maybe McEwan's descriptions and observations on the war seemed a lot more purposeful and important. But I found that I could actually enjoy myself with this section. I actually took the time to slow down and read everything and soak in what Robbie Turner was experiencing. I mean war images are so common, and yet there was something sad and mesmerizing about reading through all that tragedy. The Flemish woman and her son. The gypsy woman and her pig. The saving of the RAF. The food eaten secretly under a coat. It resonated with me much stronger than that first section did. And I think it's because here, the self-indulgence was okay. It was merited! He's in war! Whereas the first section, if I had to read anymore about how depressed Briony was about her stupid play, or how bad Emily's migraines were, I was going to shoot someone. They were so unsympathetic. Annoying, trivial thoughts written in a way that it was impossible to care about them enough to want to read through the rest. But in Part 2, I really become attached to Robbie.

So there you have it. If the book can continue on this track - not necessarily the war, but this kind of tone and style, and stay away from the incredibly annoying self-indulgence, then it might redeem itself in my eyes. Because Part 2 actually affected me. I thought it was well-done.

Reading recap.

I forgot to tell everyone that I went to a low-key reading on Wednesday night at Kettle of Fish, in the West Village. It's organized by a guy at Writers House.

Three authors with novels-in-progress went up:

Mitch (and I forgot his last name now)
Raina (and I want to say Kelly, but that could be wrong, because that name comes to mind only because she's a Newsweek writer I pitch to often at work)
Vanessa Hidary

All the pieces were sort of urban but fun, almost lyrical. First was actually my fave -- the guy looked kinda scared to be up there, but I think he did a good job. He read an excerpt from his novel in progress, a kid who's got some smack hidden in his shorts who ALMOST gets caught by the cops. He paints a clear picture of the world, a grittiness, but it's still funny and honest. I liked it a lot. Plus, there was something endearing about how nervous he was up there. I'd be 10000x worse.

Second chick did an excerpt from hers - about a woman who gets over heartbreak by becoming an assassin basically. It's a "Dear Diary" excerpt. It's funny, and honest and cute. I liked it, though the Dear Diary concept seems the tiniest bit silly. But I suppose the concept in itself sort of is. She was a pretty good reader too.

Vanessa was great in that her pieces were also funny and had a certain rhythm to them that I really enjoyed. She's originally a spoken word artist, or so I hear, so she read REALLY well, and it was like she was telling us all a story. My one critique was that her "excerpts" felt like creative non-fiction/personal essays. And that's okay, except that she presented it as a novel.

I don't have much to say about this. I really enjoyed myself. I always do, and it's nice to see works in progress, over the super accomplished mega-authors at BN readings. I'd definitely keep an eye out for this Mitch guy's book one of these days. Though that's tough since I don't know his last name. Ha.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why McEwan is making me REALLY UPSET.

I'm halfway through Atonement - meaning I just finished part 1. And I have some strong feelings on it already. Mainly, I HATE Briony.

Okay, I know, maybe I'm sort of meant to. I mean she's this kid who thinks she's precocious and knows more than she does and fucks everything up. But if there's one thing that makes me angry, like in a way that makes me feel upset and uneasy and unhappy, and not in a good-oh-that's-so-tragic kind of way, it's injustice. It OUTRAGES me to see people accused of something they haven't done. So Briony with her self-centered nosiness PISSES ME OFF. And I knew what was coming. I knew because McEwan feels like it's really nice to toy with you and tell you from the outset of the chapter, that she's about to commit a "crime". A tease that feels unnecessary and actually makes me impatient. Because I just want to GET to the crime and stop dragging it on with your pretty language! Anyway, knowing it was coming, I actually cheated and skimmed through the last 30 pages of the section, because I just COULDN'T BEAR listening to Briony's self-serving thoughts anymore, and I just wanted it to be like pulling off a bandaid. OVER.

The problem is also, I'm impatient. I don't actually have the attention span to sit through words and words and words when something IMPORTANT is happening. Like, just hit me with it, man!!! This is NOT THE TIME!

My problem is, I think while McEwan's prose is GOOD, objectively, and well-done, it's a little stiff for me. It's stiff without being lyrical or beautiful, and for someone lazy like me, that doesn't translate well. I can coast along on long descriptions/internal/expos done lyrically, because it's like music. But that stuff done formally, well, it feels like work. And sometimes I'm okay with doing some of the heavy-lifting, but only when the moment is slow. Those suspenseful chapters with Briony??? NOT SLOW. Just move it along and GET TO THE EFFINGPOINT bc I KNOW what you're getting at!

I'm sorry. I feel strongly about this, because I was feeling so uncomfortable and increasingly outraged by Briony as time went on, that the closer I got to the offending description of her crime, the more I cringed and could no longer bear to stay with it. And I think it has a lot to do with my outrage at injustice, and how I don't like to be led around for so long if you're going to make me feel this way. I mean 150 pages in feels unseemly to set up an inciting incident. But that's just me. I think I feel angry that he's been making me feel this way for so long, and now has promised me only just as many pages to make me feel better (if he does indeed decide to go that route).

Okay. I'm done. On to Part 2.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How I know my baby sister is growing up (or I'm getting old)

me: what are you reading these days? (expecting her to say some ya novel)
sis: i just bought atonement, balzac and the little chinese seamstress and memory keeper's daughter
me: ..... hey i'm reading atonement too! are you sure it's not too stiff in language for you?
sis: ya i'm reading that now. it's okay so far. makes me feel weird that my baby sister (we're 12 years apart) is reading things i'm reading. Which means we can have a book group.

Also... i just finished reading the first sex scene in Atonement. And the delicate description of the word cunt. I don't know how I feel about my little sister reading that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Academy loves the Coen brothers too!

Congrats to the Coen brothers for huge wins at the Oscars. I also liked how Cormac was there. He seems like a force to be reckoned with. Hahah.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Best advice ever.

As moonrat knows, I've been having a lot of trouble lately with the novel. Because it's PISSING ME OFF that's why. Because I like having things somewhat orderly, and it's not BEING ORDERLY. It's resisting. I'm getting overwhelmed by possibilities. I also don't know where it's going.

So luckily I subscribe to Nick Hornby's feed, which features some good advice from elsewhere.

I am TOTALLY DOING THIS from now on.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

When you eat from the tree of knowledge...

OMG. I just finished reading Flowers for Algernon, which I sped through in the past couple of days. Yeah I know everyone else read this in high school. But I didn't. And. Oh god.

The book is easy to read. Written as a series of journal entries, we get a window into Charlie Gordon's life and thoughts as he transforms from a mentally disabled, simple-minded soul to an intelligent one, wrestling with his past and the his new understanding of the complexity of humanity.

It's well-done. The gradual change in Charlie is seen through syntax, spelling, punctuation, but also through complexity of thought, comprehension of emotions, consciousness of self and others. I'm convinced by the story. This setup was an intelligent choice by Keyes, and worked extremely well.

The reason I picked this book up at all is because my parents always talk about it, and I've never read it. When I was young, I watched the movie, Charly, and I remember my parents were crying - even my dad teared up. I have vague memories of certain scenes but that's about it. But they'll bring it up all the time. "That really really sad movie Charly, it was from that book, Flowers of something or other." So I read it.

It's heartbreaking. Really really really heartbreaking. At the end, when you witness firsthand his deterioration, back down to his childish spelling and thought processes, it's so painful, it's too much to bear. And yet, you sense that he's still gained something from this. Learned something.

I was thinking about this in terms of a character arc. A classic character arc says that the protagonist leaves the story changed from the person he was in the beginning. And yet the sad sad thing about this is that he regresses. He changes, but then he regresses to his former state. The only thing is that one wonders if he's a better man in some ways - that his simplicity allows him to be compassionate, and not, as we see through the course of the book, self-centered and arrogant. It makes you wonder about what one person says in this book - when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, did they become what we are? Arrogant, self-pitying, even cruel at times? Is that what it means to have so much self-awareness? Intelligence is nothing without emotions and love, is what this book says, ultimately. So then why do I feel so heartbroken for Charlie at the end?

Maybe it's THIS PASSAGE right near the end (sorry for anyone who has not read this):

I dont no why Im dumb agen or what I did rong. Mabye its because I dint try hard enuf or just some body put the evel eye on me. But if I try and practis very hard mabye Ill get a littel smarter and no what all the words are. I remembir a littel bit how nice I had a feeling with the blue book that I red with the toren cover. And when I close my eyes I think about the man who tored the book and he looks like me only he looks different and he talks different but I dont think its me because its like I see him from the window.
--[Flowers for Algernon, pg. 310]

This book is so sososososo sad. I want to watch the movie again now that I'm older, but I almost can't bear to.

News and the problem of anonymity.

So, my story is posted up. Yay! And I was all like, HOORAY! And going to post up a link. But then I remembered something: I'm anonymous on this blog. And posting up a link would give it away.

Now, unlike Moonrat, I don't do it because I work in publishing and it's a delicate issue. I do it because I've had NOT anonymous blogs before, and I don't like being found by people I know (even if some people I know read this blog). I do it because it offers a certain cocoon. Not because I don't trust you guys or anything, but things are just a little different when you don't give yourself away on a public forum.


But let's make a deal: when I finally make it big - say, sell my book - I'll go public. Because, well, I'm going to have to publicize my book somehow right?

Now if a couple of you are dying to read my crappy short story, maybe we can work out an email friendship. You know. Away from my Google-ability. :)

Also!!! I got my first reply from a school last week, and it was an acceptance! Not from my top schools, but a school I wouldn't mind going to. So that's exciting! Will keep you all updated :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book within a book!

I just finished The Blind Assassin on my plane ride back from LA. Omg, what an effing AWESOME book.

I'll admit - in the beginning, I was kinda wondering where this was all going, how it would tie together, and I even found it the teensiest bit slow at times (only a little bit). I mean, the writing was always very good, but it was kinda like hmm, okay, so? Yes, it's a vast history of her life... so?

But by the end, it was like, oh DAMN. It makes me want to go back and reread everything else very carefully. Of course, I started to guess what was going on 2/3 of the way through, and yet my guess, while in the right direction, was still not completely right. It was like... maybe Laura wrote it about IRIS. Then: maybe Alex wrote it and Laura FOUND it and left it for Iris. Also, the big thing with Laura and Richard totally caught me by surprise. Yum.

My one (okay two) criticisms, if you can even call it that, is that 1) I wanted the story within a story to actually be about the blind assassin! I really liked that sci-fi world and I totally wanted the love story between the blind assassin and the mute girl to be played out 2) The newspaper clippings didn't always do it for me. They were marginally interesting, and gave you some hints of what was going on before they were mentioned, but I didn't know how necessary they were.

But other than that, I have to say, this book was really clever, well-crafted, well-written, etc, etc. And the story between Alex and Iris broke my heart by the end. Iris' predicament and how stuck she was in her life really hit home for me. When you get to the end and realize that she'd been writing this all along, it's so very sad, the idea of this poor woman, trying to record down the one thing that makes her happy. It was all so very tragic. Dark too, which isn't what I expected at all.

This book also totally makes me think about the things I could do with my book. Hmm hmm. I love books with separate pieces like this. Some people find it jarring, but I love piecing everything together.

Very very very good.

P.S. My story is up! It actually feels kind of... weird. Like in a creepy-I'm-second-guessing-myself sort of way.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

P.S. on the writing

I'm woefully stuck. I'm hitting that place where you lose steam and start going crazy while working on a novel. I have no idea wtf I'm doing.

I'm won over my Johnson.

I am sitting in Starbucks in Los Feliz, LA. Yes, I'm in LA and I am soaking up the sun and loving it. Especially since when I left NYC, it was snowing/sleeting/raining. God, I totally get how people come live here and NEVER leave. I spent the day roaming around the streets (on foot, of course, because I don't *really* know how to drive), and shopping and going into indy bookstores and boutiques. And yet somehow I end up in Starbucks.

Anyway, since the flight was SEVEN hours last night, I finished Tree of Smoke. Yay!

You know what? So these are my final thoughts about the book now that I finished. The book, for a long time, seemed sprawling, a little aimless, and I kept wondering how it was going to come together, if it was ever coming together. I have to say that the last 150 pages really won me over. My criticisms against the book are that I still felt like some parts dragged, even in the end, and it didn't all tie together nicely as I would have liked for it to. BUT, Johnson's writing is so touching at some points, it didn't matter.

The storyline I had the most trouble with in the beginning - that of Skip - became really compelling towards the end. His mother's letters were so heartbreaking, seeing how he had to deal with his Uncle's death, and his letters to Kathy in the end. It was just so so so raw.

Most disappointing, I'd say, is how the Houston brothers story sort of petered off into nothing, especially because I'd found them the most compelling to start off with. They just disappeared for 100 pages.

But the thing is that it DOESN'T tie together neatly, because WAR doesn't. The endings of all the characters were so tragic, because they all sort of end up as fuck-ups, and it's kind of like.... that's what war does to you. It fucks you up so you can't function in society. And everyone involved in this war remained completely fucked up. Because after everything in the war, the regular world seems completely stupid. At least that's what I gather from these characters. It's a tragedy, really. A tragic book.

There are so many parts of the book, especially towards the end, that I just thought, damn, Johnson is AMAZING. Because the way he breaks your heart is so unique, so fresh, so DIFFERENT. The way I feel when I read something he's written that's poignant is completely different than how I feel when I've read other books. There's something boozy and off-kilter about it, that makes you think of being left in yellow dust. That's what I think, anyway. I wish I had marked everything I liked, so I could rewrite it here... but it'd be too much anyway.

So my final verdict for this book is this: it took a LOT of patience. And I think it could have been edited with a touch closer hand, because I did have some trouble pushing myself through sometimes. And the parts with the translated Dr. Bouquet things, I was just like, what? Skip, next. So I think it's a little sprawling and a little difficult. But it was worth it for me in the end. The gems are totally worth the parts where I had to plod through. In fact, I'm already starting to forget how I felt when I originally was on the fence on this.

But because it was difficult for me to read, I'm going to give this a good instead of a great. It won me over in the end, but it was a rough road.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The things you can do with a prayer.

So now that things are slowing down and I'm getting well again, I can start picking up my books again. So after a good month's hiatus, I'm back into Tree of Smoke.

So far I've had mixed reactions to this book. Part of the reason it's taking me so long to get through is because it's a huge hardcover, and mostly I don't opt to carry it around with me, cutting down my reading time. But beyond that, it's also that it doesn't keep my attention as much as Harry Potter, which therefore means I don't feel pushed to carry it around either.

There are parts I really love. And then there are parts where I'm lost and confused. Times when I'm not sure what the agenda is (but then again, it does a good job of emulating the lostness of this war... an aimlessness). But because it's Denis Johnson, I keep going, and I'm rewarded for my diligence and patience.

For instance, I just read a beautiful section, a story told to Skip by an old woman about a mother and child waiting for a father that has gone to war. I won't relate the whole tale here, but it's on pages 330-332, and it is really a wonderful tale. A story like that reinvigorates my belief in Johnson, that he knows what he's doing.

And then there's this section that I just read that I think is a masterful little piece of writing, craftwise. I love the movement, the strategic choices that he makes (I'm always thinking strategy, thanks to my classes):

"Will you pray? Will you pray with me now, son?"

"Go ahead."

"Dear Lord, dear Redeemer, dear Father in Heaven," she said, and he removed the receiver from his ear thinking if the Holy Spirit ever came to South Vietnam, he'd probably get his balls shot off.

Over at the bar he saw men drinking whiskey from glasses with ice. An officer in fatigues stared down at his fingers while they shredded his cocktail napkin.

At this moment he thought suddenly of Sergeant Harmon:

Oh, my Lord. He wanted water.

"Son," his mother said, "are you still there?"

The dry, cracked lips - thirsty, parched. Signaling with his tongue.

"Thanks for the prayer, Ma," he said, and hung up the phone.

He tipped his beer and drank it away and sucked out every last drop. It was the best he'd ever tasted. The worst and the best.
--[Tree of Smoke, pg. 325]

I just really like how he moves through this. How so much happens in this moment while his mom is saying a prayer and he's not listening. You can visualize it, hear the static of his mom talking while he holds the phone away and watches the men in the bar. Watch his face change as he is reminded of the Sergeant. And then the way he sucks down his beer. I don't know, I thought it was so well done and affecting.

So the jury is still out on this. I think it's inconsistent -- I vacillate between indifference and then suddenly being really drawn into the characters and situations. I think I actually need to concentrate hard on this book otherwise I'm often in danger of daydreaming, and suddenly a page has happened and I wasn't even paying attention. But the parts that capture me, I really really appreciate and love and they make me smile. So I'm going to say that it's still worth it. It's just hard for a lazy reader like me to be patient sometimes.

More later.

I love the Coen brothers... and other book movies.

This just in: Coen brothers are filming an adaptation of Yiddish Policeman's Union. I haven't read that yet, but now I am going to have to, because I love the Coen brothers and they were brilliant with McCarthy. [And Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is an AWESOME movie.]

Also, books I must read so I can watch the movies: Atonement (which is lying on my shelf) and The Other Boleyn Girl. I don't generally read historical fiction much, but the movie looks good. And I keep hearing good things. So those are next, I suppose.

Okay bye.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Finally finished.

It seriously took me months, mostly because I kept getting sidetracked, bu I am finally finished with Umberto Eco's Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.

Well, I had 100 pages left to finish for the past few months, and I finally just pushed myself through it. Surprisingly, there was one chapter that flew by pretty fast, war intrigue mixed with some interesting religious/existential philosophy. Then there was a little section on Cyrano de Bergerac which was also really interesting. But the rest, I must say, wasn't too enthralled with.

The problem to me is that the book just seems so highly self-indulgent. I know it's probably really academic and I'm not the target audience either, but all the references to outside texts, comics, etc, it's too much and too dense. I went along with it in the beginning because I thought it would all come together with some other purpose, but it seemed to be an exploration of self within the confines of this literature. And I just tired of the plotlessness after awhile.

So that's why it took me forever to read. Maybe one day I wil sit down and try Name of the Rose but I'm a little put off by Eco after this read, so that'll have to come much much later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Effing illness.

I was all excited because I thought now that my event is over (and football season too), I would get a lot done this week in terms of writing, reading, etc.

It was not to be.

My immune system has done a complete collapse. I went to class on Monday, which was probably a mistake, but because I was being critiqued. And I went home to find that I had a fever and promptly lay around delirious for hours before I finally dragged myself to the kitchen in search of fever reducers at 4 in the morning.

I lay on my couch all day today, sleeping, watching the ticker parade for the Giants, and more sleeping, getting up every so often to see how my rice porridge was doing.

The only reason I'm okay now is because the 12 hours on my Aleve that I took at 4 pm today hasn't worn off yet. But the aches are coming back.


Monday, February 4, 2008


Sort of book related:

This tibit from NYTimes Paper Cuts--

#11 on bestsellers is......

My favorite part is if you scroll down and it says: "Better Together-- Buy this book with New York Giants: 2008 Super Bowl Champions by Sports Publishing today!"

Also, other people who view this item go on to buy the "Lost" DVD sets. Anyone else find that hilarious? Heheheh.

I'm taking more joy in the Pats loss than I expected to. I think I got so caught up in the Cowboys losing that I forgot how much I wanted the Pats to lose.

A self-indulgent Super Bowl post.

So I couldn't decide who to root for. I'd been thinking about this for two weeks now, and I kept flip-flopping. In any other situation, I always root for whoever is up against the Patriots; in any other situation, I always root for the Giants as long as it doesn't affect the Cowboys too much. But this Super Bowl matchup made it difficult for me to want to root for either team, because, well, the loss to the Giants left a really bad taste in my mouth. We all remember how depressed and devastated I was, right?

Anyway, right around kick-off, I thought, oh what the hell. I need to swallow my bitterness and root for New York, because at the end of the day, I'm a New Yorker, and I really do hate the Patriots. So throughout the game, I outwardly rooted for the Giants. But I do have to say that partly it was because I never thought they'd actually win.

Well, as the game stayed close, this little seed of discontent made itself known, and I sorta realized that maybe I almost wanted the Pats to win. Why? Because the Patriots winning was a foregone conclusion. It'd suck if they won, but I already prepared myself for that. I was in NO WAY prepared to have the Giants win and have to live with Giants fans all around me gloat. So even though I continued to cheer for the Giants as they managed to pull through, I was suddenly VERY unsure of if my cheers were reflective of what I was really thinking.

Then the Giants won. And I didn't really have much of a reaction except disbelief.

Then I saw the shot of Peyton looking so happy and proud. And, I love Peyton Manning. Not the way I love Romo, but I have a soft spot in my heart for him.

Then I saw Plax cry happiness.

Then I started hearing the shouts of joy from the streets below.

Then I walked to Times Square to pick up my bus, and witnessed, firsthand, the joy of New Yorkers. People were crowding on to the street, hanging out of their cars, chanting, hugging strangers, dancing in the middle of the road. Police had to crowd control because people were going CRAZY. [I took pictures.]

And that's when it sorta hit me. Okay, my team didn't make it to the Super Bowl. And I love my Cowboys, I really really do. But I also love my city, truly love New York City. And this was such a New York City moment, to have people so happy like this, streaming into the streets, sharing in absolute joy and being completely rowdy. And suddenly, I was totally fine with the Giants winning. Because it brought my city together. And sure, it wasn't my team, but it's the team I would have cheered for, if circumstances had been different and Dallas hadn't lost so devastatingly to them. It's the team I grew up with but didn't know much about. And it's the team of my city. And you know what? If the undefeated PATRIOTS can lose to the Giants, then it's okay that the Cowboys lost to them, right? Because it means that we weren't just idiots. It means that the Giants have learned to somehow play incredibly, and their defense is Class A.

So okay. The Giants won, and I'm at peace with this outcome. Because I got to witness something special tonight. Even if I never felt 100% part of it, I'm happy for my city, and the celebration that follows.

Now I'm just hoping Romo gets to start for Pro Bowl, now that Favre has pulled out. :)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I'm finally going to be published!

I'm back! Tons of fun stuff to talk about, including how I met a Jets rookie in the waiting area at the airport (we didn't even realize for awhile) and saw tons of celebs. But all in all, so effing tiresome. We didn't get SB tickets though, so I think we must have been the ONLY people getting on a flight from Phoenix TO New York today. We were so so so sad...

But anyway, I just wanted to say! One of my stories has been accepted into a small undergraduate (online I think) journal. Yeah, it's nothing big or poster worthy, but it's my very first acceptance ever! It's my very first being-published experience ever! [Press releases SO do not count.] I know nothing about this journal, but whatever, I'll take what I can get!!!!!

Tomorrow I'll have to go through my spreadsheet and withdraw from all the other places I submitted this story to. Part of me wonders if I could have gotten into someplace "better" because this is a story I really slaved over and loved/hated for the past year. But, whatever, it's going to see the light of day by people other than my two writing inclined friends and my writing classes, which is something.

I'm SO excited. This is BETTER than going to the Super Bowl. [Okay, that MIGHT be a bit of a stretch.]

By the way, David, I met a guy at the airport today who is a rep for some Giants guy (someone whose name I didn't recognize). He offered to invite me to the party he's going to throw if they win. Wanna come? *snicker* Also, TO was supposed to be around. I hoped to see him, but no dice.