Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review of : Little Oceans by Tony Hoagland

An interesting, quiet little chapbook from one of my favorite poets. He has a longer book of poems coming out in February 2010. In this particular collection, he tackles a few global/political topics that seem to be a little out of his poetic range and some metaphors felt a bit forced. The last poem is a good representation of his style and my favorite of the collection:

"The Perfect Moment"

In the kisslike early summer twilight/under the weathered backboard/and the ragged net hanging from the hoop/and the ball swooshing through it/as a long sweeping motion of the wind/bends all the marshgrass down at once/but only for a moment/before it springs back up/and Kath comes out of the house/with the iced tea and the newspaper/folded to the page of the movie times,/I am thinking that if this /really is a perfect moment/ it is probably up to the person/with stage four lymphoma to say so/-but he is concentrating, setting up a corner shot/trying to get his backspin right.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review of : Richard Stark's Parker (The Hunter)

Richard Stark (aka Donald E Westlake) is the original crime fiction writer, and by original I mean like everyone imitates him, by original I mean when he was doing it, it wasn't cliche, it was authentic. He pretty much invented crime fiction.

BUT...even though that is true, this story still feels cliche and overdone. It can't be helped. The artwork was good, even great, but the story (itself redone by Hollywood several times...Mel Gibson as Parker? Pfft) is a tired, predictable revenge yarn that you've seen a dozen times before. But like I said, it's not Richard Stark's fault that people keep re-making his work.

Can we go back to pieces of art that weren't cliche when they were produced? Can we go back to the origin of cliche and be moved?

Review of : Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Mazzucchelli (who you may remember from such excellent comics as Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One) is quite simply, an amazing artist and storyteller. I've never seen anything like Asterios Polyp. Granted, I feel that I'm a novice when it comes to current graphic novelists. Well, not novice...but my knowledge base is limited. But this feels almost revolutionary. Okay, that's an insult to revolutionists but it certainly feels significant. What I mean to say is that Mazzucchelli has out done himself.

Asterios Polyp is the story of the aforementioned Asterios, a middle aged "paper architect", whose life begins to deconstruct after he loses his apartment in a fire. Asterios uses this opportunity to start a new life and embark on a classic "Greek-hero-tragedy" story arch, becoming a mechanic in some no name town. As the story unfolds, Asterios becomes a fully realized character in ways I didn't think were possible in graphic novels. Only in Chris Ware have I seen this kind of insight and empathy. Along with a compelling love story, Asterios Polyp touches on various philosophical and intellectual abstractions which are not only interesting but are also presented seamlessly by Mazzucchelli and don't feel contrived or pedantic. The art and story mirror one another on every page, with the artwork reflecting the words and the words reflecting the artwork. It's hard to list all of the reasons (and there are many) this graphic novel is worth your time.

All hail David Mazzucchelli.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review of : Invisible by Paul Auster

Paul Auster has renewed my faith in Paul Auster. I've been a little hard on him in the past but Invisible is certainly one of his better works. It has all the trademarks of any Auster novel. Story within a story, part mystery, part psychological character dissection. But there's something different about this novel that I can't quite put my finger on, something that sets it apart from his other work.

I'd say structurally, it is his most inventive but not annoyingly so. It's almost glaringly simple but in the best way possible. I enjoyed the subtle narrative shifts that Auster, the master storyteller he is, placed perfectly throughout Invisible. It's a little hard to talk about the novel without giving too much away. Typical of Auster, it is stories within stories, a book within a book, and towards the end, everything gracefully dissolves into a parallel reality, as the book you've been reading begins to quietly warp into something else entirely. I know this all really vague but, ya know, you should just read it yourself or something.

"A place that is not a place..." pg 282

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review of : The Art of a Beautiful Game by Chris Ballard

An unique glimpse into the work ethic of NBA players. Ballard's thesis is pretty much: NBA players (and I suppose professional athletes of all sorts) work way way harder than you think and that yes, they are very talented, but only the truly devoted rise to athletic superstardom, mostly due to the countless hours of hard work they put in off the court. I would say Ballard is of the new generation of sports writers, that is, the ones who look at sports (in this case, basketball) from a different angle, a la or or Chuck Klosterman (in some cases) or David Foster Wallace (in some cases), viewing sports as representative as more than just the sport. I welcome this new generation.

Also, I learned that Lebron James does Yoga and that Dwight Howard's grip strength was measured at 90 pounds per square inch, the same as a dog's bite. So, if given the opportunity, don't ever shake his hand.

Review of : The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

One of the things I loved about this novel is the language of Diaz: American English, Dominican Spanish, Jersey Street Slang, and Comic Book/Fantasy Nerd Slang. These are all on display, voiced through various characters, all threads essentially leading back to Oscar.

I don't want to water down the plot by summarizing it, so I won't. I knew little to nothing about the dictatorship (though according to Diaz, dictatorship does not give him justice) of Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo's essence suffocates the novel like some kind of mustard gas attack. His spirit is on every page. Diaz likens him more than once to the lidless eye of Sauron. The feeling of being watched by pure evil makes the funny parts even funnier and the sad parts absolutely devasting.

The fact that this won the Pulitzer but regularly references Lord of the Rings (in very specific ways), role playing games, Akira, Dune, and Dragonlance, is kind of remarkable. I probably picked up on 80% of the references but damn, there are some obscure ones in here.

Highly recommended, though may not be for everyone. It has a scattered time line that can be a little confusing and some may be frustrated by the non-translated Spanish phrases and words. More than a few reviewers couldn't tolerate his use of swear words, for some reason. But Diaz easily lives up to the hype that has come to surround his work. Check out his shorter fiction in Drown if you wanna get a little taste before jumping into his novel. I just hope we don't have to wait so long for his next piece of art.

Review of : Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

I love me some Chuck Klosterman. I may not agree with everything he writes but I love the way he thinks and what he chooses to think about. Highly recommended for anyone who likes to ponder fictional time travel, spying on your neighbors, the deleterious aspects of laugh-tracks in American comedy, the unifying traits of Kurt Cobain and David Koresh, and the state of contemporary advertising. If any of that sounds interesting to you, let Mr. Klosterman be your jaded, nerdy guide.

Review of : The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames & Dean Haspiel

Ames doesn't really bring anything new to the alcoholic narrative but Haspiel more than makes up for it with his art work. The story felt a bit rushed, which was both a pro and con. Pro because it kept the story moving, con because it didn't give much time for characters to develop. But maybe that was the point, that alcoholics move through life solipsistically, narcissistically, not letting the people in their lives develop into nourishing, stable relationships. Well, not narcissistically because that is a love of oneself and I'm pretty sure alcoholics are mostly full of self loathing. Though I guess narcissism also applys to just straight up self-preoccupation, so that works too.

But anyway, maybe the characters were supposed to be blurry, as if viewed through those dreadful "beer goggles". In the case of Ames, "Beer/Vodka/Cocaine/Heroin goggles". For the record, I hate the term "beer goggles" and I am ashamed for having used it. If only there was some sort of delete function on this dang alphabet board.

Review of : The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

NOT a how-to-write book but really I think I've read enough of those (though I may read a few more, a guilty pleasure). One of the best books on writing I've read. Lener captures the frantic, fragile, manic pysche of writers perfectly. I feel that the first chapter, called 'The Ambivalent Writer', was written for me. The second section, about the publishing process, was informative and terrifying.

"One day a long time from now, you'll cease to care anymore whom you please or what anybody has to say about you. That's when you'll finally produce the work you're capable of."
-J.D. Salinger, pg.76

"Rejection along with uncertainty are as much a part of the writer's life as snow and cold are of an Eskimo's: they are conditions one has not only to learn to live with but also learn to make use of...The gifted young writer has to learn that his main task is to persist."
-Ted Solotaroff, pg.18

Review of : Stitches by David Small

Beautifully illustrated. Small has kind of a sketchbook style that appears rough and unfocused but when you really pay attention, it is sparkling with amazing detail.

The memoir itself is remarkably sad. Small is born with sinus complications and his father, a radiologist, conducts multiple treatments involving crude x-ray technology and essentially gives his son throat cancer at the age of 12(?). David undergoes two operations to remove the growth on his vocal chords and as a result is rendered nearly voiceless. His parents decline to tell their son he had cancer and David stumbles upon the information on his own. His parents are less than supportive, borderline neglectful/tyrannical. This is a rather rough outline of the story but you get the idea. Beautiful to look at, heartbreaking to read. Highly recommended.

Review of : Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Something for everyone. The political/investigative journalist thriller? Post apoctalyptic? Sci-fi slave spieces (Bladerunner-ish)? Historical fiction? Screwball comedy? All of these genres are within the pages of Cloud Atlas and all are done perfectly. No doubt, Mitchell is a talented writer. I have a soft spot for writers who seem to possess multiple personalities, alternating voices at will. The stories are loosely linked to one another, in mostly small ways. Each could be read independently of the other. Short Story as Novel. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, An Orison of Sonmi-451, and Letters from Zedelghem were among my favorite sections. Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After takes some getting used to, language wise. Mitchell is just a really good storyteller. Interested to see how the Wachowski Brothers (who bought the rights) choose to screw it up.

Also, crime novelist Marcus Sakey remarked that Cloud Atlas replaced Infinite Jest as his favorite novel. I only know this because I had to go to one of his readings and sell his book. Well, that's his opinion and I predictably, unequivocally, disagree.

That being said, I look forward to reading more David Mitchell. Recommended.