Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
227 pages
published by Vintage

It's hard not to like Didion's writing style. It's lyrical and thoughtful. Cyclical yet straightforward. And especially with this book, you just want to give her a hug. Her ruminations on her husband's death border on the cliche but she gives grief new literary life with her obsessive excavation of her memories of the night her husband died.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: Hot Pink by Adam Levin

Hot Pink by Adam Levin
256 pages
published by McSweeney's

I haven't read Levin's The Instructions yet but it's on my bookshelf and after reading through a galley of his first story collection, Hot Pink, I'm eager to dive into His Big Book. Though the influence of George Saunders comes through from time to time, Levin's stories are something else entirely. Violence is commonplace. Love is sincere but confusing and misguided. And of course they're all funny.

Review: Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi by Craig Thompson
672 pages
published by Pantheon

Brutal and beautiful. The sprawling narrative is a tad overwhelming but forgivably so. But seriously, the artwork is pretty astounding. Thompson is mostly known for his book of equal heft, Blankets, which is a great graphic novel in its own right but Habibi is clearly his most mature and imaginative work to date.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Coming of Age in Hollywood

A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O'Brien
155 pages
published by New York Review of Books (Classics)

The charm of this slim book comes almost entirely from the narrator. He is young, intelligent, brash, observant, funny and a son of Hollywood.

I enjoyed the novel all the way through but the last few chapters is what did it for me. It is essentially a coming-of-age story and O'Brien gives us an ending that is both open ended and undeniably satisfying.

NYRB Classics rock.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

By All Accounts I Should Love Philip Roth

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
274 pages
published by Random House

I've never really understood why I don't like Philip Roth. It seems that I would. But I've read American Pastoral and most recently Portnoy's Complaint and I'm still luke-warm about him. I guess I was expecting to enjoy him because of his storied neuroticism but maybe I've become tired of that dance.

Roth has great moments but I feel they are few and far between. This novel is sexually outrageous and sometimes funny but ultimately forgettable.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Andrew Bird, NORMAN soundtrack

Listen to the new score by Andrew Bird for the film NORMAN on his Facebook.

Tomas Transtromer Wins Nobel, Saves World From Total Destruction

The Swedish poet, Tomas Transtromer (pictured above) just won the Nobel prize for literature. And no one in America has ever heard of him. I can poke fun at him because I'm half Swedish. It's okay. We're cool. Me and Tomas are cool.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Another New Book for Me!

Just picked this up. Super excited.

Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Books for Me!

Some books I just picked up at Half Price Books after trading in some old books:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
Frog by Stephen Dixon

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Audio of "The View From Mrs. Thompson's" by David Foster Wallace

On this tenth anniversary of The Horror, listen to David Foster Wallace read his essay from Consider the Lobster, The View From Mrs. Thompson's.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

All Roads Lead to Michigan

After American Salvage, Q Road is probably Bonnie Jo Campbell's strongest book. I recently interviewed this past summer for Knee-Magazine, so I had the chance to read her entire catalog.

Q Road is a novel told from multiple view points, with each chapter devoted to a single character. As the story moves along, the characters lives begin to intermingle. It is at once about a small Michigan township and of course, like any great story, it is also about the world. While the novel is heavy on characters, Campbell doesn't take the easy way out and leave readers with no plot to latch onto. Let's just say it involves fire.

If you haven't read Bonnie Jo Campbell, then you're missing out.

Northwest Living

Livability by Jon Raymond
272 pages
published by Bloomsbury USA

I read this because it contained the basis for two films I rather enjoyed, Old Joy (titled Old Joy in the story collection) and Wendy & Lucy (titled Train Choir in the story collection). Overall the stories were kinda middle-of-the-road. Characters tended to be a bit flat and sometimes the stories felt a bit MFA-ish. There was just an overarching tone or voice that I feel I've been reading in contemporary American fiction and I don't like it.

But check out the two films directed by Kelly Reichardt. They're excellent. She also directed the recent Meek's Cutoff, which looks amazing and I think Jon Raymond did the screenplay.

I had high hopes because the movies were so great, but I really shouldn't compare the two. I also picked up his novel, Half-Life, so maybe that will be better.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

He's A Poet and He Doesn't Even Know It

Love-Lies-Bleeding by Don DeLillo
published by Scribner
112 pages

I had taken a small break from DeLillo after having read his most well known work, White Noise. I was a bit disappointed with it and figured I needed some space, so to speak. Getting back into his work, I'm reminded why I love his prose and dialogue.

Of his three plays, Love-Lies-Bleeding is the first and only I've read. It is sparse territory, taking place in the south western desert of the United States and contains only four characters/actors. The main character, Alex, is an aging artist who has just suffered from a massive second stroke and as such, is in a "persistent vegetative state." So his estranged son and ex-wife have come to convince his second, younger wife to let him die. Or help him die, which is the matter at hand. It examines issues of mercy, mortality, and what it means to actually live in this world.

Its language and dialogue are meditative. Those familiar with DeLillo will recognize his style instantly. Repetition. The naming of things. The dialogue that sounds natural but in reality, no one would ever say. The poetry of his words. It foreshadows Point Omega both in its setting, mood, and tone. Love-Lies-Bleeding doesn't differ greatly from his novels style-wise and it very well could have been just another one of his novellas. But his words still give me the chills.

Of DeLillo's 18 published works (excluding Amazons by Cleo Birdwell), I have five works left. Three novels (End Zone, Great Jones Street, and Ratner's Star) and two plays (The Day Room and Valparaiso).

Archived Suicide

Suicide by Edouard Leve
published by Dalkey Archive Press
144 pages

I don't know why I'm reading this in the summer. Maybe because if I read it in the autumn or winter it would simply be too much. But I came across this slim novel while looking through Dalkey Archive's catalog and its beautiful cover caught my eye. And then I read how the author killed himself shortly after handing in his final manuscript, entitled Suicide. Well, that was pretty much all I needed, seeing as how, like many literary types, I am weirdly fascinated with all things suicide, especially when it comes to writers. The tortured souls and what not. Not quite sure what it is about suicide that so interests me. The finality of it. The tremendous psychic pain. The willful act of taking yourself away from this world. Not sure. Ruminations for another time.

But with Suicide, Leve introduces us to an unnamed narrator as he (the narrator) creates a fragmented picture of a friend who had committed suicide years before. It is all told in the second person through moments, small and large, in the friends life. It is a stark portrait, funny at times, devastating at others. Perhaps a sort of suicide note from Leve, perhaps not.

Monday, July 25, 2011

David Foster Wallace Is Still Awesome

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
1,079 pages (including endnotes)
published by Back Bay Books

My second reading is complete and...well, it's still amazing. The first reading, five years ago, was difficult, I'm not gonna lie. It took me a while to get through it the first time. That is not to say that it wasn't thoroughly enjoyable the first time around, it was just a bit bewildering at times. But this second reading was much quicker and utterly transfixing. As I read along, the layers of complexity kept revealing themselves and my prior confusion was replaced with a hazy clarity.

DFW has created in Infinite Jest something entirely unique and endlessly entertaining. It challenges me in ways I didn't think literature could and engages me with the language and story in ways I didn't think possible. I think I'll read it for a third time in another five years and see how it holds up. I suspect I won't be disappointed.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Down and Down and Down The Rabbit Hole

Logicomix by Apostolos K. Doxiadēs, Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie Di Donna
352 pages
published by Bloomsbury USA

I'm sure questioning the very foundations of mathematics was a very hot topic back in early 1900s, and it certainly was interesting to jump down the rabbit hole with Russell but there wasn't enough character development within the narrative for me to care enough about the logic/math hoopla. They put forth tremendous ideas, such as the play between madness and the quest for absolute truth, or the complexities of "the map" vs. "reality". But I don't feel that they were fully explored, or really explored at all. If they had, I think they would have found more character, more humanity. One last jab: the story relied far too much on epiphanies to move plot along. Seems like every other section had a miraculous Eureka! But maybe that's how it was. But maybe not.

The understated artwork carried the story but the logic and math-speak was a bit much at times which is 100% my weakness. I wasn't going to read this but then I came upon a damaged copy at my book shop so what the hell, ya know?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Infinite Jest Update

I'm a little more than half way through my second reading of Infinite Jest. It's astounding, really. Sometimes I have to put it down and just stare at the room. I have to take a small break though because I'm scheduled to interview the amazing Bonnie Jo Campbell in the coming weeks, so I want to read some of her earlier stuff.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Re-Reading Infinite Jest

I'm re-reading Infinite Jest (along with most of my book store co-workers) and if anyone wants to join in on the fun, I've posted our reading schedule below.

Date Page #
2/21 63
2/24 94
2/27 137
3/2 168
3/5 210
3/8 242
3/11 284
3/14 316
3/17 358
3/21 390
3/24 432
3/27 464
3/30 506
4/2 537
4/5 580
4/8 611
4/11 653
4/14 685
4/17 727
4/20 759
4/23 801
4/27 833
4/30 875
5/2 907
5/5 949
5/8 981

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is This What Represents Chicago?

Granta 108 (The Chicago Issue)
256 pages published by Grove Press

Apparently this issue of Granta, issue 108, based entirely around Chicago (both in content and authorship), is the highest selling issue of Granta of all time. So, you're welcome, Granta.

But. But. This issue was kinda lame. The Chris Ware cover art is the best thing about the whole thing, which is strange because taking a look at the table of contents, there are some pretty impressive names. Just to name a few: Aleksandar Hemon, Stuart Dybek, Don DeLillo, George Saunders, Richard Powers, and the token Chicago writer, Sandra Cisneros. I mean, come on, those are some good names. But the results fall way short. I don't know what it was. Disappointing. Don't waste your time. Read the aforementioned authors but just read their books.

I Learned This Word While Reading A Book, Vol. 83

opprobrium- harsh criticism; public disgrace arising from somone's shameful conduct.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zombies and Dead Dialogue

The Walking Dead (Compendium One)
1088 pages
published by Image Comics

I read the first issue a while back and I wasn't very impressed. I bought this compendium for my wife for Christmas because we've been watching the new AMC series. So, I gave the graphic novel another chance. Well, not much had changed. The graphic novel (much like the new series) suffers from some pretty terrible dialogue. Unfortunately, there is a lot of talking. I kept reading pretty much because I wanted to know what would happen.

The World Is A Dark & Lonely Place

The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq
272 pages
published by Vintage

It took me a while to finish this book though not because I didn't like it. Just a bad reading month, ya know? Lots of stuff going on. Life, etc.

We follow two half brothers (that is brothers who share a mother) through almost their entire lives. One, a cold, molecular biologist who can't experience pleasure or love and generally goes through life alienated from the human race. The other, a self-absorbed charmless yet oddly lovable horn-ball who endlessly searches for genuine human connection after surviving a tormented childhood.

The overall mood of the narrative is pretty dark and hopeless, which is a bit hard to take at times. Kinda in the way that Vonnegut was pretty dark but he was also very funny. The last third of the novel lost a little bit of the energy that the first two-thirds had, though that could have been because the first two-thirds dealt mainly with Bruno (the lovable horn-ball), who had a more interesting story.

This book caused an "uproar" when it was published in France, probably due to the weird "master race" cloning/genetic ideas that were presented. The book ends kinda strangely from the view point of the future dominate race of genetic clones that the molecular biologist of the story helped pioneer.


"I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there's nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him, I haven't a clue what he might do when he's older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will have no value- he will live in another universe. If a man accepts the fact that everything must change, then he accepts that life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience; past and future generations mean nothing to him." pg.140

"Unhappiness isn't at its most acute point until a realistic chance of happiness, sufficiently close, has been envisioned." pg.203