Friday, May 21, 2010
There have been a recent spat of Budweiser commercials promoting their new beer, Golden Wheat, which is supposed to be a German style, cloudy wheat beer (I'm not exactly sure why Budweiser thinks that their demographic wants a cloudy beer because their whole thing is, ya know, the opposite of that) and there has been something about the television commercials that I haven't quite been able to put my finger on, in terms of them not making sense.
If you aren't familiar with the tv spots, they involve a work place office romance between a human sized bottle of Bud Light (which is just a guy in a Bud Light bottle costume)and his love interest, a female human sized bundle of wheat (which is just a women with sexy legs in a bundle of wheat costume). Now, through the commericial narrative, provided by various interviews with their office co-workers, we come to understand that it was just a matter of time before Mr. Bottle of Bud and Miss Bundle of Wheat hooked up, cut to numerous shots of them bumping into eachother, doing the act of what can only be assumed as sex in the company elevator and also the beach for some reason. That premise sounds like classic Budweiser advertising but what I don't quite understand is that are we, the consumer and viewer, to believe that the current end result of their courtship is Golden Wheat? As in, is Golden Wheat their offspring?
Because what I believe is unclear but also insinuated by the good people at Budweiser, is that Golden Wheat is somehow a melding of the two separate entities, Bottle of Bud and Bundle of Wheat, creating a new product together. What is left out is the simple, implied reproductive science: Golden Wheat is the love child of Bottle of Bud Light and Bundle of Wheat. That can be the only logical conclusion. So if this is the case, that Bud Light and Bundle of Wheat copulated and then gave birth to this new Budweiser product, which is now being hawked at us, well, isn't this kinda of screwed up? Am I the only one that finds this particular marketing avenue bizarre? That because Bottle of Bud and Bundle of Wheat hooked up and screwed eachother in the elevator and on the beach, we, the thirsty public, can now reap the benefits and drink their kid? Come on, ya gotta admit, that's kinda weird.
I had medium level expectations heading into this one. I knew people liked it and that maybe I would like it too but it wasn't like this looming monster of a classic that I was almost obligated to enjoy and I'd be a fool of a took if I breathed a bad word about it. I find it hard to bring myself to read those kind of books because they're most certainly going to be a let down.
Now, with this short, delightful book in question, I rather enjoyed it. It wasn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, though I'm not sure if flawlessness is necessarily a good thing or even something worth aiming for, as a writer. I think part of its umm I guess I'll say 'charm' is its length. It clocks in at 120 pages and it's a small book, like physically small, dimension wise, so it's really probably more like 40-50 "real" pages. So it's like a long short story. If it had been longer I think it would have lost whatever attraction it holds. So, no more, no less. It is perfect in that way, contained, though not really concise.
The narrative sort of parallels the conceptual art of one of the main characters, Sophie Calle, in that conceptual art, at least in my understanding, is more about the idea of the art than it is about the actual finished product. Art of Idea, or something. So the ideas that emerge through the narrative and that Bouillier dutifully tries to flush out, was ultimately the most entertaining portion for me. And I don't think Bouillier's personal life can be ignored upon reading, and in fact I think it adds more layers to the text. Like I didn't even know Sophie Calle was an actual person and conceptual artist (which she is) and that Bouillier actually did go to her birthday party as a mystery guest( and brought a very expensive bottle of wine as a gift) and that they would go on to become lovers (I think they call themselves 'lovers' in Europe, not boyfriend and girlfriend). And that Bouillier would end the relationship which would in turn cause Sophie Calle to produce a piece of conceptual art called 'Take Care of Yourself', based on his break-up email. I find that kind of reality blending fun.
And for those of you who think the author's personal life shouldn't have any bearing on the reading of the text, I say...well, maybe you're right some of the time, but maybe in this case, or cases like this, when the writer intentionally uses his or her life to construct art, then maybe we should add that to the pile of interpretation. Why not?
Also, an interesting factoid: Calle asked writer and filmmaker Paul Auster to "invent a fictive character which I would attempt to resemble" and served as the model for the character Maria in Auster’s novel Leviathan (1992). This mingling of fact and fiction so intrigued Calle that she created the works of art created by the fictional character, which included a series of color-coordinated meals. (lifted from a nifty webpage called Wikipedia)
"And all at once I saw why our societies use gift wrap: not for the sake of surprise but rather to cover up the fact that The Gift is based on a lie, as we inevitably discover every time somebody gives us something, yes, and we open it and, after that mircosecond when we expect the fulfillment of our deepest desire, disgust and sadness wash over us and we smile as fast as we can and say thank you, the better to bury our chagrin at never once in all our lives receiving something more than what we'd hoped for. And this evanescent joy, forever disappointed, remains incomprehensible to us." pg. 34
"I'd already kissed her cheek, closing my eyes and clenching my fists and fighting the urge to seek her lips and find and open them and taste her tongue and lose myself there the way I used to do- and so to put an end to this charade I placed the bottle in her hands, saying, "From the mystery guest." And I hope no one ever has to smile the way I smiled then." pg. 54
"I told her it was funny, none of these celebrities really look very much like celebrities to me. To me they looked more like little bits of bread bobbing around and sinking in a bowl of milk." pg. 63
"For the first time someone had captured the impossible demand that women make on men, and men's impossible acquiescence, and this curse that separates them, which is familiar to us all and weighs down on us like a kind of despair and-- I was sorry, I was talking too much and I hadn't even seen the film." pg. 112
Sunday, May 16, 2010
He done did it to me again. I love everything that pours out of George's weird brain. I'm starting to think that he's less a satirist (a term that is quickly making its way onto my Words That Look Ugly and I Hate Saying and Typing Them List) and more just a damn fine fiction writer with his ear pressed against the metaphorical American ground. These stories would be super dark and sad (which they are) if they weren't also so damn funny and thoughtful. And I've said this before, but the stories are usually dark, sad, funny and thoughtful at the same time, which of course is remarkably awesome and the reason that I fantasize about writing stories myself.
My Favorite Stories: CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, Isabelle, The Wavemaker Falters, The 400-Pound CEO, and Bounty.
Check this Saunders story: Al Roosten
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
That's what I'm talking about, Lydia! You totally redeemed yourself from How the Dead the Dream, which I'm sorry, but that was a little disappointing. But this! This collection is worthy of praise. Don't listen to all the sayers of nay, talking shit about your 'gimmick' of celebrities and animals. It's something different and you carried it through each story beautifully. Congrats on the Pulitzer nod (or is it a nod if you win? Maybe you just got a Pulitzer 'wink'). Also, is it pronounced 'Mill-it' or 'Ma-lay'? Either way, you're still great. Call me.
Favorite Stories: Sexing the Pheasant, Girl and Giraffe, Sir Henry, Jimmy Carter's Rabbit, The Lady and the Dragon
You've gotta read these poems aloud to yourself if you really want to appreciate them. Well, that's probably true for most poetry, but the sound in these just struck me as particularly awesome. Because silently reading these in your brain voice, you can't hear the slant rhymes and the rhythm and the music of things.
Nod to Micah for the gift. I thank thee.
We must select
the silences we live by
and I won't let this be mine.
So resume your idiotic
song, and mitigate
this nothingness. Help me
find a voice among the feathers
and make of the night
a delicate thing.
To be honest, I'm not sure I could explain why I liked this novel. Uniquely structured, told almost entirely in dialogue, a dash of footnotes hither and thither, a few transcripts, film summaries. Inventiveness coupled with great storytelling goes far with me. Of course, the novel would nothing without the film summaries...and what are we supposed to do with these film summaries? As a reader, I mean? Not sure yet. Let me think on it.
Also, unfortunate cover. Just really unfortunate.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
About half way through this book I realized that I wasn't particularly enjoying it but I was already half way through it and Baker writes in such a way that makes for easy reading and it was a slim 240 pages so I figured, what the hell, I'll just finish it. So I did. And I didn't really like it all that much.
There were brief glimpses of brilliance, per usual of Baker and his observant powers that are microscopic. But they weren't enough to hold my interest in the main subject: poetry. Now, it's a very specific kind of poetry the main character is pondering (who is struggling to complete an introduction to a poetry anthology), which is mostly the history of poetry and I'd heard and read enough of that in college. Poets like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Mary Oliver, Longsfellow, Poe, Louise Bogan, and Roethke are talked about in length. And the dissection of poetry, the importance of the 'rest' at the end of lines, the clinical part of poetry. To some this may be of interest. And many reviewers have remarked that even people with the slightest interest in poetry will enjoy this book...but I disagree. I have a more than slight interest in poetry and I did not enjoy this book. Well, I enjoyed the parts that were not about poetry.
Maybe I'm being too hard on you Mr. Baker. This is all personal preference. You wrote a fine book about poetry which I imagine is a hard thing to do. You said some concrete things about poetry which I also imagine is a hard thing to do.
Some quotes? Why not.
"If you have something to say, say it. Don't save it up. Don't think to yourself, I'm going to build up to the truth I really want to say/ Don't think, In this poem, I'm going to be sneaky and start with this other truth over here, and then I'm going to scamper around a little bit over here...No, slam it in immediately." pg.9
"There's no either-or division with poems. What's made up and what's not made up? What's the varnished truth, what's the unvarnished truth?...There's no nonfictional poetry and fictional poetry. The categories don't exist." pg. 52
"Because so often I think when I'm writing a poem that I need to start in some specific spot. Where I begin becomes so important that I never begin." pg.195