Friday, December 31, 2010

RIP 2010

Overly knotty language repels me. If I don’t understand a beginning stanza, I will often just amble off to something easier. I can be a fickle squirrel who avoids the nuts that are hardest to crack.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for immediacy. A between-the-eyes blam of an opening line can be a sign of authorial confidence, and for me that’s as good a reason as any to bond with a book—or, well, portions of a book. It doesn’t even have to be a blam that brings my random scanning to a pause—it’s often a whisper.

I don’t harbor any guilt about the philosophy of Just Flipping Around—they’re only books, after all, and I can do what I want with them. But I have noticed, in conversations with friends of mine over the years, that a lot of people cling to a Clean Your Plate approach to the printed word. If these erstwhile valedictorians don’t dutifully read a book straight through, they feel they are doing something wrong.
Jeff Gordinier, Link

Happy New Year!

This is a post dedicated to the poor pitiful books that I did not finish in 2010.

Not all of them are poor and/or pitiful. I just didn't finish them. I'm really not one for putting certain books or authors down. If I can't get past a few chapters in a book, then it's just not the book for me. Someone else might get more out of it than I. But life is short, and I can't waste it on what doesn't work for me.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. No...I know I'm lazy. Lethargic is my middle name.

Books not finished in 2010:

Adulthood Rites, Octavia Butler
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace -- too infinite
Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Hamann -- I know! I even wrote a post about it.
Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier
The Queen of the Damned, Anne Rice -- surprising letdown from first 2 books
Neuromancer, William Gibson -- I'm going to try this one again next year...
The Dispossessed, Ursula LeGuin -- I'll also be trying this one again...
Dune, Frank Herbert -- Ditto. Seeing a pattern?

Here's to a more prosperous and committed 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Modern Stone Age Non-Nuclear Family

I was going to point out the historical inaccuracy of the Flintstones celebrating Christmas, but then I realized it's a cartoon where cave people speak English, bowl, and use birds as record players.

I've been on a non-fiction kick recently. Which is a first for me, since I've been an all-fiction chick since...Green Eggs and Ham, most likely. But I finally decided to listen to Sam-I-am, and dive into reality a bit. Now I like non-fiction. In a box. With a fox.

So I just finished reading Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, which presents several controversial ideas regarding human sexuality. Although they really needn't be controversial. Most are fairly obvious.

The book's biggest focus is around proving that humans aren't naturally monogamous. The authors use scientific data and anthropological studies of prehistoric and modern humans (and primates!) to back this up. Overall, it's very convincing.

Plus I learned plenty of new Jeopardy! worthy facts. Including more knowledge concerning gorilla genitalia than I really care to know (I can't unread what I've read!). One interesting tidbit was on the Mosuo society in China, which sports a matrilineal culture. There, they don't even have words for "marrige" or "rape" (interesting coincidence, eh?). Instead, they have "walking marriages," which is a replacement for the serial-monogamy cycle we tend to uphold in the west (marry/divorce/depression/rinse & repeat). They cut through that boloney and just do the "Hey, let's have sex! With whoever we want! Really, no biggie!" It's one of those fascinating cultures where you're like, wow. Why didn't WE think of that?

The book also got me on a pre-historic streak. Now I'm reading Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, which has been kind of boring and offensive so far. Probably won't be quoting it anytime soon. Also The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, which has been much more interesting.

But what I appreciated most about the book was it's insistence on the separation between love and sex. That there's a difference between the chemical and the emotional. That sexual exclusivity doesn't equal love. That you can love someone without being "faithful." It's a difficult subject, for sure, and everyone has their own opinion on it. But just how much of that opinion is you speaking, and how much of it is the society you happened to grow up in? We've had the the prince-and-princess, happily ever after, standard Disney fare shoved in our faces for generations. Of course we think monogamy is natural.

Unfortunately that same argument gets a little bit creepy towards the end of the book, when the authors start seeming like bitter divorcees, trying to convince women that they should be totally okay with cheating husbands. And I really wish they addressed the issue of pregnancy more. In an entire book about sex, they barely mentioned its biggest side-effect: babies. They really should have taken that into more consideration when addressing sexual reluctance (in both sexes). Because...babies! It's 2010 and we still have accident babies, don't-ya-know *Palin wink*.

So here are some passages:

No group-living nonhuman primate is monogamous, and adultery has been documented in every human culture studied--including those in which fornicators are routinely stoned to death. In light of all this bloody retribution, it' hard to see how monogamy comes "naturally" to our species. Why would so many risk their reputation, families, careers--even presidential legacies--for something that runs against human nature? Were monogamy an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, as the standard narrative insists, these ubiquitous transgressions would be infrequent and such horrible enforcement unnecessary.
No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.

If the independent, isolated nuclear family unit is, in fact, the structure into which human beings most naturally configure themselves, why do contemporary societies and religions find it necessary to prop it up with tax breaks and supportive legislation while fiercely defending it from same-sex couples and others proposing to marry in supposedly "nontraditional" ways? One wonders, in fact, why marriage is a legal issue at all--apart from its' relevance to immigration and property laws. Why would something so integral to human nature require such vigilant legal protection?

From savoring saliva beer or cow blood milkshakes to wearing socks with sandals, there is little doubt that people are willing to think, feel, wear, do, and believe pretty much anything if their society assures them it's normal

Freedom (from war) is just another word for nothing to lose--or gain.

Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving our jealous, is like asking whether H2O is naturally a solid, liquid, or gas. The only meaningful answer to such a question is: it depends.

Before the war on drugs, the war on terror, or the war on cancer, there was the war on female sexual desire. It's a war that has been raging far longer than any other, and its victims number well into the billions by now. Like the others, it's a war that can never be won, as the declared enemy is a force of nature. We may as well declare war on the cycles of the moon...

In this ongoing struggle between what is and what many post-agricultural patriarchal societies insist must be, women who have dared to renounce the credo of the coy female are still spat upon, insulted, divorced, separated from their children, banished, burned as witches, pathologized as hysterics, buried to their necks in sand, and stoned to death. ...

If psychiatrist Mary Jane Sherfey was correct when she wrote, "The strength of the drive determines the force required to suppress it"...then what are we to make of the force brought to bear in the suppression of the female libido?

Christmas Poetry, Oh Noetry!

Just pretend you are Marty McFly and you have traveled back in time in your DeLorean, way way way back to the distant date of December 25th, 2010. Things may seem strange and outdated (remember cassette tapes!? sheesh!), but just avoid your creepy incestuous mother and you will be fine.

Do that and this post will make sense.

Why hullo there! Merry Christmas to you! Because it is Christmas today. It is not two days after Christmas. So there!

Here is a poem for you. A poem for Christmas day. Even though only the last two lines justify it as such.

I Did This to My Vocabulary

The moon is my alibi. My tenders throw hissy fits.
My scalp’s at the foot of the precipice.
My lume is spento, there’s a creep in my cellar.
You can stand under my umbrella, Ella.

Who put pubic hair on my headphones?
Who put the ram in Ramallah?
I’m just sitting here spinning my spinning wheels—
where are the snow tires of tomorrow?

The llama is burning! My heart is an ovary!
Let’s chase dawn’s tail across state lines,
sing “Crimson and Clover” over and overy,
till wonders are taken for road signs.

My fish, fast and loose, shoot fish in a kettle.
The boys like the girls who like heavy metal.
On Sabbath, on Slayer, on Maiden and Venom,
on Motörhead, Leppard, and Zeppelin, and Mayhem . . .

By Michael Robbins, Link

And here is an Emily Bronte poem that is Christmas-y (because I say so).


There should be no despair for you
While nightly stars are burning;
While evening pours its silent dew,
And sunshine gilds the morning.
There should be no despair--though tears
May flow down like a river:
Are not the best beloved of years
Around your heart for ever?

They weep, you weep, it must be so;
Winds sigh as you are sighing,
And winter sheds its grief in snow
Where Autumn's leaves are lying:

Yet, these revive, and from their fate
Your fate cannot be parted:
Then, journey on, if not elate,
Still, NEVER broken-hearted!

Bolded is what I submitted for BronteBlog's Christmas Contest, wherein you submit a Christmas-y Bronte quote to win wonderful goodies. The contest ends on December 26th, so you better hurry! (Because today is December 25th! Not the 27th! You can still participate*, perhaps!)

So Happy Festivus to you and yours, and may your stockings be filled with plenty of fruitcake and re-giftables (seriously, who gives a copy of Paul Blart: Mall Cop on DVD as a Christmas gift? I have a feeling I was at least the 4th person in line to get it. Anyway. Merry Xmas grandma! Hope you enjoy!**)

* No. No, you can't.
** No. No, she won't.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Internet Lovelies

It's snowing outside and all winter wonderland-y, which usually puts me in the Christmas mood. Unfortunately all that "goodwill towards men" has left me broke. Goodwill costs money! And I can't I pay back my student loans with holiday cheer. I've tried!

But maybe some internet quotes will lessen my Scroogeyness.

Teens have issues with object permanence. As in, every object is permanent. Every pain is everlasting, every pang of loneliness and despair will be with them for the rest of their lives. Teens can’t process the future...With no real experience other than misery and despair, it is hard to imagine a future that isn’t just more of the same. “He had his whole life in front of him,” confused bystanders might say. And yes, that is exactly the problem.

The (sad, sad) implication is that adulthood is some sort of prison, with all of those boundaries previously tested re-established in an incredibly confining manner. And while society desires conformity, it’s the adult who has the brain plasticity, the support, and the means to actually traverse those boundaries in a sane and balanced way. He or she just chooses not to, and calls this an impossibility. Adam Phillips writes in his essay, “Truancy Now”: “A part of this testing, this experimentation, that begins in adolescence and, if things go wrong, is given up on in adolescence. But the adolescents who give up on this fundamental project in adolescence may turn into adults who secretly envy adolescents; who believe that adolescents are having the best kinds of life available.”

Jessa Crispin, Link

I don't know if you noticed, but there was a quote within that quote. It was like literary Inception...

The twelve-year-old me had different taste in fiction than I do. She loved nihilism and muscularity. Camus was her favorite, but she had a lot of patience for John Updike and John Irving and Elmore Leonard. Suburban Florida was her Paraparaumu. She clung to her books until her fingers turned white. If she showered one morning and woke up in my body, in my city, in my life, she would be really mad at me for complaining. She would be so excited by my apartment in the Village, where I can stay up as late as I want and not go to school the next morning. She would like my clothes. She would love being able to read whatever she wanted, watch whatever she wanted, order pizza at midnight and drink lots of coffee. I know she would think it’s terrible that I don’t wear lots of makeup, shop at Esprit, use mousse, and read Vogue. I bet, if she had a choice, that she would pick the guy I said No to today over the guy the adult me has been missing so much. But in general, she’d be grateful. She’d think I’d been doing a pretty good job.

Elizabeth Bachner, Link

Oddly, I feel less weird taking part in the make believe of religion, than I do in the absurdness of nationalism. At least religion has people who throw lightning bolts and shit.

comment by chris r, Link

Jay Leno, not Conan O’Brien, is the future. Why? Because Leno is more devious, sinister, and craven. These are things to aspire to be. Jay Leno would reach through your skin and deep into your stomach to fetch an undigested Skittle if he were hungry for one. That’s the spirit of Ruthless 24/7 Careerism in a strawberry shell. Make a deal with Russia to not invade Russia and then, when Russia least expects it, invade Russia.

Jim Behrle, Link

If I, 28-year-old Lindy West were to be suddenly transported back into the body of 11-year-old Lindy West, but with my current adult brain, would that not be the creepiest child of all time? I'd just be running all over the place, drunk on gin and tonics, screaming expletives and trying to have sex with adult men.

Gross. Narnia is weird. (I love it.)

Lindy West, Link

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Free Reads!

First up is Machine of Death, an anthology of speculative short stories all based around the question: what if there was a machine that could accurately predict your cause of death? The resulting stories are hilarious, touching, disturbing, and not surprisingly, philosophical.

Yes, the book inspired by the above Dinosaur Comic is philosophical.

Also, you can read the entire thing for FREE right here! Looks like the internet is good for something, right?

My fav stories from the collection are "Flaming Marshmallow", "Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions", "Almond", "Not Waving But Drowning", "Prison Knife Fight", "While Trying to Save Another", and "Heat Death of the Universe". All of the titles are predicted deaths. Death by flaming marshmallow sounds like an interesting way to kick the bucket. And death by bucket kicking would just be ironic.

Here are some passages:
From "Almond", by John Chernega:
I'm a little intrigued by the idea that someone in town knows he is going to die. The rest of us are going on with our lives, worrying about paying bills or finding a good school system for the kids, but this one guy is nervously eyeing the mixed nuts aisle in the grocery store, or whatever. He's got that little insight that no one in town (except me) knows about. I'm Alfred to his Batman, except I don't know what's on his card. Just that he knows what's on his card. Unfortunately, I can't think of anyone in comics who knows that someone has a secret identity, but doesn't know what it is.

From "While Trying to Save Another", by Dalisa Chaponda:
"I don't believe in fate, God or anything. It's all random. Sure, the Death Machine can punch a hole through time and can predict the result of the randomness. That doesn't make it any less random."

From "Miscarriage", by James L. Sutter:
The city is beautiful at night. Long after the sun goes down, when the last rays have left the horizon scorched and aching, the buildings show their true shapes, silhouettes against the black with lights that twinkle orange and red. These are not the buildings, not anymore--rather, they're the buildings' ideas of themselves, the barest sketches. The burned-in after-image of a skyline put to bed.

With the fall of dusk, things simultaneously expand and contract. The streets open up, and familiar drivers can run like rabbits in warren, every turn practiced a thousand times and unimpeded by hesitant outsiders. It's a delicate dance. The people thin out, and suddenly the extra interactions--the vacant smiles and nods that mean nothing--are stripped out as well, and every meeting becomes one of significance. You see only who you want to see, and if you see someone else, it's because you wanted to see them and just didn't know it. Or they wanted to see you.

From "Heat Death of the Universe", by James Foreman:
Too much order is worse than too much chaos. We evolved in chaos. We survived chaos. Life thrives in chaos.

From "Cassandra", by T.J. Radcliffe:
"...knowledge can't be created out of nothing, and in this case the price of knowing one thing is the inability to do anything about it."

But most hilariously (if that's not a word, it is now), an organized internet campaign on October 26th managed to skyrocket Machine of Death to the #1 position on Amazon, beating out Glenn Beck's new POS. And of course Beck was furious. Har! This is what he had to say about it on his show:
And then, the #1 book - TODAY, at least - is Machine of Death. And it's a - collected stories about, you know, people who know how they're gonna die. Haowww!

So you have DEATH - I know it's called Life, but what a life it is, really! It's a culture of death! OR, 'How do we restore ourselves?'

These are the - this is the left, I think, speaking. This is the left. You want to talk about where we're headed? We're headed towards a culture of death. A culture that, um, celebrates the things that have destroyed us. Not that the Rolling Stones have destroyed us - I mean, you can't always get what you want. You know what I'm saying? Brown sugar. I have no idea what that means.

I have no idea what Gleen Beck means. I don't think anyone does. But he speaks loudly so whatever he's saying must be true, right?


I wrote it in large capital letters, so it must be true.

In other free literature news, you can read a poetry chapbook by Steve Roggenbuck entitled i am like october when i am dead for free right here.

Here are some of my fav poems:
i dont care about reading a poem

who do you think i am, robert frost?

i have never been in the woods and i hate walking

i have two sunflowers wilting on my bookshelf

thats it

thats all

the poem is done, get out

if you call me, i wont answer

i am sitting under the moon inside of a wheelbarrow

And that is all for Free Literature day here at Virtual Margin.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No Quotes!

Not in this post anyway. Just bookish news and way too many videos.

So, author Rebecca Skloot was at my alma mater last night, giving a lecture on her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Which is an excellent read. One of those books that you try to recommend to people, and the conversation goes like this:

"So what's it about?"
"Medical ethics and microbiology."

But being the kind of non-fiction that it is, there's nothing too quotable about it. Thus the no quotes.

Anyway, I got to go to her lecture and have my copy of the book signed. So I have my first autographed book ever! Woo! The local news channel did a story on her appearance:

And here's a video of the author when she was on the Colbert Report:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Rebecca Skloot
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

But being back on my old stomping grounds (I don't remember too much stomping, more like zombie-walking between classes...), I had to visit the library. Oh, library. I spent more time in you than in my dorm room. And I had to visit section PR4169...yep, that's right, the Bronte section. Where I spent my entire senior year.

And then...I awoke this morning to find this waiting for me!

Joy of joys! Another film adaptation of my favorite novel! Not that I had a problem with the last (oh my word, was it really made 14 years ago?), but I'm always open to different takes on the story. Not with Wuthering Heights, though. They always screw that one up. Don't get me started. You'll open up a can of literary nerdom that can never be closed.

March 2011, eh? Okay. I'll try my best to stay alive until then. I'll take a short hiatus on skydiving and shark wrestling.

The Bell Jar

Another book scratched off my "things I should have read in high school or college but somehow didn't" list. The Bell Jar probably wasn't the greatest thing to read after all the seriousness and suicide-talk in Richard Yates. But sometimes you get stuck in a theme and all the books you pick off the shelf seem to reflect one another. I started to pick up Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted a few days ago, but stopped myself. What is it about fall and winter that makes you want to read depressing material? Why are all the Oscar pictures shown in the dead of winter instead of the summer? You'd think we would try cheering ourselves up in bleak weather by watching/reading a bunch of fluff, and save the drama for the beach. Maybe I should read another of those zombie/classic lit mash-ups to lighten the mood.

From the The Bell Jar:

...I imagined Buddy saying, "Do you know what a poem is, Esther?"
"No, what?" I would say.

"A piece of dust."

Then just as he was smiling and starting to look proud, I would say, "So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you're curing. They're dust as dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a whole lot longer than a hundred of those people put together."

And of course Buddy wouldn't have any answer to that, because what I said was true. People were made of nothing so much as dust, and I couldn't see that doctoring all that dust was a bit better than writing poems people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick or couldn't sleep.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

And I'm not sure why I like the passage below so much. Maybe because I could see it sitting completely by itself, without the context of the rest of the novel, and still making sense. Or maybe it's because I love the phrase "silver and full of nothing".

"I'm so glad they're going to die."

Hilda arched her cat-limbs in a yawn, buried her head in her arms on the conference table and went back to sleep. A wisp of bilious green straw perched on her brow like a tropical bird.

Bile green. They were promoting it for fall, only Hilda, as usual, was half a year ahead of time. Bile green with black, bile green with white, bile green with nile green, its kissing cousin.

Fashion blurbs, silver and full of nothing, sent up their fishy bubbles in my brain. They surfaced with a hollow pop.

I'm so glad they're going to die.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Internet Lovelies

Internet Lovelies : Way too many Jessa Crispin quotes edition.

Because I liked Jesus’ Son, and because I liked it in a way that made me feel less weird about being alive, I felt like I could trust other people who expressed similar enthusiasm. This is not the same thing as both of us liking pancakes. Everybody likes pancakes. Good for everybody. I’m talking about the kind of Liking that feels like a holy relief. The kind of Liking that involves being a teenager and realizing the other dude with all the acne in your Earth Science class also has a Neutral Milk Hotel t-shirt, which makes you much faster friends with him because you feel like you can let your guard down. Because you feel like he might also understand what it feels like to walk around on what you perceive to be (granted, based a lot on immature self-romanticizing) your fucked-up wavelength. So this kid tells you about The Violent Femmes or Harry Nilsson, and you want to check them out. Not because you want to know all about this kid’s summer camp experience in sixth grade, when he accidentally swallowed a frog skull and peed on Jessica Yurtface while he was trying to do the rope course. If he tells you that, you’ll sympathize, but you don’t really care. What you care about is that his way of shivering before the world seems similar to yours, and he seems to have similar taste in self-indulgent shivering sessions, which seems really important because there doesn’t seem much else to do besides die, have babies, and flip pancakes. So you go on the fucking internet and you download Nilsson Schmilsson.

Mike Young, Link

The idea that as a literary person there are a certain set of books you must read because they are important parts of the literary conversation is constantly implied, yet quite ridiculous. Once you get done with the Musts — the Franzens, Mitchells, Vollmanns, Roths, Shteyngarts — and then get through the Booker long list, and the same half-dozen memoirs everyone else is reading this year (crack addiction and face blindness seem incredibly important this year), you have time for maybe two quirky choices, if you are a hardcore reader. Or a critic. And then congratulations, you have had the same conversations as everyone else in the literary world.

Jessa Crispin, Link

Hey look, the Death Eaters! Anyone ever see Eyes Wide Shut?

The 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature has been selected, but you'll have to wait until next Thursday to find out that it's Montenegrin pamphleteer Djuradj Dapčević, an author so obscure he has never heard of himself.

Michael Schaub, Link

It follows that when kids learn to hate at home the next place they express it is in school. Ten percent of all hate crimes occur at schools and colleges. If hate is learned, then it lies on the shoulders of our schools, church officials, parents, teachers, and communities to teach our young kids acceptance before they continue hurting each other, and before they become adults who will likely pass their hatred to the next generation.

Jason Mannino, Link

Ah, but the tea party folk are imbued with the spirit of the Constitution, as if the ghost of James Madison impregnated them in their sleep with his mighty quill of liberty.

comment by CapnFatBack at Wonkette, Link

In the young adult literature I grew up on it is Best Friends Forever, it is Nothing Shall Ever Come Between Us. A force stronger than nuclear fission seems to be needed to separate those girls. Then that force shows up, in the form of the XY chromosome. Suddenly those girls are not held together by mysterious forces; the bonds between them dissolve and are re-formed between boy and girl. And so it goes for the rest of our lives.

and from the same essay...

We look for ourselves in fiction sometimes, in the same way we are fascinated by our genetic forebears. We search for the source of our quirky nose in crumbly photographs. We wonder if our tendency to throw things against the wall can be explained by long ago Viking blood. And sometimes we want to recognize something of ourselves in the books we read—our loves, our work, the way we sally forth into the world—to tell us we are part of what came before. Because I have found my one true love—she just happens to be a woman. And we are not "into that." Since then I have noticed that in the books I read, female friends are the underminers, or the sidekicks, or secretly in love with you, or two-dimensional foils, or sleeping with your husband (or your father). They are secondary storylines, there to wipe away heartbroken tears, provide comic relief, meet for occasional happy hour cocktails that are pink because that stands for girl power. I do not see myself and Honeybee in those books.

Jessa Crispin, Link

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Haunting of Hill House

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

So begins Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House -- a perfect Halloween-y read.

In the majority of gothic novels, the setting plays a vital role in the development of the story. In fact, it's pretty much crucial. Find me a gothic novel without a towering castle, crumbling ruins, or a locked chamber. But in very few does the castle itself become a character. In Jackson's novel, Hill House takes on its own identity. The characters are practically swallowed by the mansion. You may run away from Dracula (or at least run into the sunshine), but you can't outrun what surrounds you.

And since horror writing works best by very gradually building up fear, I can't really pick and choose short passages to show you how scary this story is. There's no equivalent of "BOO!" in literature. So at the risk of being haunted by Shirley Jackson's ghost (or her publisher's), here's a rather long section that nonetheless illustrates how great a writer she is:

Sitting up in the two beds beside each other, Eleanor and Theodora reached out between and held hands tight; the room was brutally cold and thickly dark. From the room next door, the room which until that morning had been Theodora's, came the steady low sound of a voice babbling, too low for words to be understood, too steady for disbelief. Holding hands so hard that each of them could feel the other's bones, Eleanor and Theodora listened, and the low, steady sound went on and on, the voice lifting sometimes for an emphasis on a mumbled word, falling sometimes to a breath, going on and on. Then, without warning, there was a little laugh, the small gurgling laugh that broke through the babbling, and rose as it laughed, on up and up the scale, and then broke off suddenly in a little painful gasp, and the voice went on.

Theodora's grasp loosened, and tightened, and Eleanor, lulled for a minute by the sounds, started and looked across to where Theodora ought to be in the darkness, and then thought, screamingly, Why is it dark? Why is it dark? she rolled and clutched Theodora's hand with both of hers and tried to speak and could not, and held on, blindly, and frozen, trying to stand her mind on its feet, trying to reason again. We left the light on, she told herself, so why is it dark? Theodora, she tried to whisper, and her mouth could not move; Theodora, she tried to ask, why is it dark? and the voice went on, babbling, low and steady, a little liquid gloating sound. She thought she might be able to distinguish words if she lay perfectly still, and listened, and listened and heard the voice going on and on, never ceasing, and she hung desperately to Theodora's hand and felt an answering weight on her own hand.

Then the little gurgling laugh came again, and the rising mad sound of it drowned out the voice, and then suddenly absolute silence. Eleanor took a breath, wondering if she could speak now, and then she heard a little soft cry which broke her heart, a little infinitely sad cry, a little sweet moan of wild sadness. It is a child, she thought with disbelief, a child is crying somewhere, and then, upon that thought, came the wild shrieking voice she had never heard before and yet knew she had heard always in her nightmares. "Go away!" it screamed. "Go away, go away, don't hurt me," and, after, sobbing. "Please don't hurt me. Please let me go home," and then the little sad crying again.

I can't stand it, Eleanor thought concretely. This is monstrous, this is cruel, they have been hurting a child and I won't let anyone hurt a child, and the babbling went on, low and steady, on and on and on, the voice rising a little and falling a little, going on and on.

Now, Eleanor thought, perceiving that she was lying sideways on the bed in the black darkness, holding with both hands to Theodora's hand, holding so tight she could feel the fine bones of Theodora's fingers, now, I will not endure this. They think to scare me. Well, they have. I am scared, but more than that, I am a person, I am human, I am a walking reasoning humorous human being and I will take a lot from this lunatic filthy house but I will not go along with hurting a child, no, I will not; I will by God get my mouth to open right now and I will yell I will I will yell "STOP IT," she shouted, and the lights were on the way they had left them and Theodora was sitting up in bed, startled and disheveled.

"What?" Theodora was saying. "What, Nell? What?"

"God God," Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, "God God--whose hand was I holding?"

Aaaaand scene. That whole section would work great on its own as a short story.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN READERS! All...all two of you. :-D

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sad facial expression

Finally got around to reading Tao Lin. I've had Shoplifting from American Apparel on my wishlist forever, but Richard Yates became available as an e-book, which sealed the deal. Richard Yates is not about Richard Yates. Or it is. I haven't read anything by Richard Yates yet so I can’t tell. My eyes can only scan and interpret symbols on a page/computer screen so fast, and the entirety of human knowledge and literary creation is before me. So just...just hold on.

I felt a little like a stranger stumbling into his work. Because hey, I’m not a hipster, or vegan, and I’m not working on an MFA. I don’t belong here! But here I was, and by page 38 I had given up. I despised the main character to an enormous extent. Which sounds weird because it’s weird to hate Haley Joel Osment to an enormous extent. The plot, by the way, is about two depressed young adults, 22 year old 'Haley Joel Osment' and 16 year old 'Dakota Fanning', who Gchat and start a long distance relationship. By page 38 I hated the book. I hated the fact that it was an e-book and I couldn’t sell it to a used bookstore or throw it out the window. I considered printing out a copy and then throwing the copy out the window.

The next day I started reading again. It had affected me. Tao Lin’s prose is probably best described as ‘flat’ or neutral. In many ways it’s like reading a screenplay. Or maybe a twitter feed (especially since we're told every single thing the characters eat). And the dialogue is primarily conducted through e-mail and Gchat. Which, by the way, Tao Lin portrays perfectly. I read this part and was blown away by how much it resembled AIM conversations with my friends:

"When." said Haley Joel Osment.
"I don't know. Soon. I will talk to fried Nicholas Sparks cheese beast."
"That is good," said Jaley Joel Osment. "Cheese beast."
"I kept looking at 'cheese beast' and ignoring the rest."
"Me too," said Haley Joel Osment.
"Let's refer to her as cheese beast now," said Dakota Fanning. "Like tape man or headbutt girl."
"Sometimes we can call other people cheese beasts too," said Haley Joel Osment.
Dakota Fanning said the name of a person and said the person was a cheese beast.
"Cheese beast is good," said Haley Joel Osment.

But behind his 'flat' prose are highly emotional conflicts and characters. Haley and Dakota are the kind of people who proclaim everything to 'be fucked' at every opportunity. Who threaten suicide non-chalantly. The kind you roll your eyes at, but still worry over, and secretly sympathize with. Jackie Wang put it best in a post on HTMLGiant about emotional excess:

Since crossing over into my 20s, I look at teenagers and feel kind of embarrassed for them. They lack emotional filters. They’re so direct about their suffering. They’re making themselves look pathetic. But really–I kind of envy them, their lack of restraint. It must be really freeing to be that open without feeling the urge to censor yourself...

...we are still these over-feeling and fucked up human beings, and we have these little pimply and confused teenagers inside of us yelling and demanding a voice but we hush that voice–we have co-workers and editors and readers that are always eyeing us, looking for the places where the seams of the adult bodysuits are coming undone.

I love emotionally excessive lit, but mostly in the gothic genre. Characters in gothic plots have extreme emotions because they're thrown into extreme situations. Confronted with the surreal, the sublime, the supernatural, the walking dead, immortality, pure evil,...giant helmets... no wonder the characters break free of their enlightened restraint, succumbing to ultimate despair and fear, running screaming into the night. But it's so much more disturbing to come across characters who feel this way all on their own.

"A fucked person enters an unfucked situation, and the situation immediately becomes fucked. It's the person that is fucked," said Haley Joel Osment. "Obviously."

"Situations can't be fucked because they are situations," said Julia.

"We are profound." said Haley Joel Osment. "Where is our Nobel Prize."

I stopped reading because I hated Haley Joel Osment. I continued reading because I identified with him. I didn't like this. Haley is in a relationship with someone who he thinks doesn't care. Who says one thing and does another. Here are some things he says that I marked:

At each moment you can either kill yourself, try harder to detach yourself from people and reality, or be thinking of and doing what you can for the people you like. Those are the only 3 choices at any moment.

"You shouldn't 'should' anything," said Haley Joel Osment. "Just think about what you do that you do without thinking to do it, like stopping to pee, why do you want that more than what you say you actually want? It can only mean that you don't actually want what you just typed. You are extreme when you cut yourself or starve yourself but not when it comes to me."

He says what I've always wanted to say. And anyone who knows me well enough knows why. But it's a guilty thought. It's a selfish thing to feel. I feel like a selfish person asking someone else not to be so selfish. In another post by Jackie Wang on her own blog, she writes:

Sometimes, my partner is very far. I become totally unfamiliar to her: I turn into a weird alien sitting next to her that she knows nothing about. This upsets me a lot, because I feel like I am always present—I don’t have those moments where I doubt our love, or the reality of her. And sometimes when she gets hung up on a death-oriented discourse, I refuse to accept this. I say, you can’t “love” me while being obsessed with death. The film made her so upset because it showed her what it was like to be on the other side of the death discourse—to be the lover of someone who does not want to live. But I can understand her side as well because I get depressed too—we all are in the slumps sometimes. But even when I am in it, I want to get out. I reject it and refuse to integrate it as part of my identity because really, I want to live. And I want to want to live. To be in the world.

Which after reading I mouthed 'Yes,' feeling a moment of connectedness, realizing someone else has experienced what I've gone through.

There's a section of the book I really wanted to post here, to show you how well the author portrays an extremely emotional moment using neutral prose, causing it to have even more impact. But it's rather long and I don't feel like being sued today. Plus, I suppose it would be a spoiler. However, I want to say that I'm glad I finished the novel. Tao Lin's work is masterful, it just took me reading the entire thing to realize it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Final Frontier

Most girls my age in 1995 probably had posters of Jonathon Taylor Thomas or Leonardo DiCaprio up on their bedroom doors. I had a NASA poster depicting the Andromeda galaxy. I've been fascinated by space for as long as I can remember. I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up...alas, being decent at math seemed to be a pre-requisite (damn you, long division! You crushed my dreams!)

In fact, the only part about eventually kicking the bucket that really bothers me is knowing I won't live long enough to go into space. But who knows, maybe technology will be advanced enough in 2065 that they can launch my geriatric ass to Pluto if I so desire.

So of course, I loved reading Mary Roach's new book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, which is all about the human side of space travel. And you won't believe all the problems the sheer factor of weightlessness presents. Figuring out how to eat sandwiches becomes a multi-million dollar ordeal. And as with any addictive non-fiction book, I came away with all these little interesting factoids that I've been showering on my annoyed friends and family for the past week.

Like, did you know that NASA briefly considered a one-way trip to the moon? As in, "we'll drop you off here, and then pick you up in a few years. Or whenever we actually develop the technology to launch a craft off the lunar surface..." (Side note: some astronauts have volunteered to travel to Mars without a trip home. Side side note: I would totally be willing to go on a suicide trip to Mars. NASA, call me!)

And, did you know that NASA did a series of "limited personal hygiene" tests before Gemini VII, wherein they locked people in a room wearing spacesuits for 2 weeks without allowing them to bathe? (Side note: NASA, I am NOT willing to do this). Gemini VII, if you don't recall, required 2 astronauts to sit in a capsule the size of the front seat of a VW Beetle for 2 weeks while orbiting the Earth. High price for the best view in the world.

Or, did you know NASA pays test subjects $17,000 to lie in bed for 3 months so they can study bone deterioration? If I ever get laid off...

But the entire book is fascinating and highly recommended. Here are some passages:

Quote from Ralph Harvey on giving a tour at NASA:
"I opened this one door and it was like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. There were these rows of long, low freezers. They all had a little light on them that's blinking, and a temperature readout, and a piece of tape with the astronaut's name. I'm like, Shit, they stored the astronauts in here! and I quickly got the people out. I found out later that was there they stored the astronaut feces and urine." Harvey can't recall the room number. "You have to stumble onto it, that's the only way you can find it. It's like Narnia."

On the need to send actual humans to Mars:
We live in a culture in which, more and more, people live through simulations. We travel via satellite technology, we socialize on computers. You can tour the Sea of Tranquility on Google Moon and visit the Taj Mahal via Street View. ...But it isn't anything like reality. Ask an M.D. who spent a year dissecting a human form tendon by gland by nerve, whether learning anatomy on a computer simulation would be comparable. Ask an astronaut whether taking part in a space simulation is anything like being in space. What's different? Sweat, risk, uncertainty, inconvenience. But also, awe. Pride. Something ineffably splendid and stirring. ...

The nobility of the human spirit grows harder for me to believe in. War, zealotry, greed, malls, narcissim. I see a back-handed nobility in excessive, imptractical outlays of cash prompted by nothing loftier than a species joining hands and saying "I bet we can do this." Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. Let's squander some on Mars. Let's go out and play.


Every now and then, you do come across astronauts who describe an anxiety unique to space. It's not fear...It's more of an intellectual freak-out, a cognitive overload. "The thought of one hundred trillion galaxies is so overwhelming," wrote astronaut Jerry Linenger, "that I try not to think about it before going to bed, because I become so excited or agitated or something that I cannot sleep with such an enormous size in my mind."...

Cosmonaut Vitaly Zholobov described looking at a star while on board the Soviet space station Salyut 5 and grasping in a sudden and visceral way that space is a "bottomless abyss," and that it would take thousands of years to travel to that star. "And that's not the end of our world. One can travel further and further and there is no limit to that journey. I was so shocked that I felt something crawling up my spine."

I feel the same way whenever I view Hubble's Ultra Deep Field image taken back in 2004. It was taken from a pixel in the sky, and it contains 10,000 galaxies. I think about that, and realize that nothing I do is all that important, or special. Which is actually pretty comforting. Maybe because I know there's nothing I could do that could screw up anything THAT badly. But it makes you realize how silly humanity can be. We put our priorities in the wrong things. Treat each other poorly. Put our faith in the material and petty, when it's obvious by this picture that your diamond ring, your manicured lawn, your hate, ideologies, cults, and wars mean nothing in the face of 100 trillion stars.

But Carl Sagan said it a lot better than I can. From his book Pale Blue Dot, he muses on a picture taken by Voyager 1 of the Earth from beyond the orbit of Pluto:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. ...

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

I think to say a picture speaks a thousand words is a vast understatement.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Internet Lovelies

I find it impossible to read one book at a time. I'm always juggling several, unable to keep my mind focused in one direction for too long. This is why I will start a book in, say, August, and not finish it until about October...2015.

Oh, and that's not just with books. That's with everything. I wish I could find a hobby and stick with it. One thing I could pour my heart and soul into and never stray away from. Instead I have too many interests, with no way of becoming fluent in any of them. A Jill of all trades (except math). Oh, I like books. And film. And music, and comics, and photography, and astronomy, and cooking, and what the hell, maybe I should just quit my job and start an alpaca farm tomorrow!

No. No. I'll just quote stuff from the internet until I'm able to finish something with ACTUAL margins.

If you go to Niagara Falls to jump off and are caught, you will be forced to admit yourself to a psychiatric ward, for which you will be made to pay $1600 for a single night.
If you smoke two packs a day, on the other hand, you will not be locked up. Smoking more won’t change that. Drinking won’t change that. C & A don’t have the glamour of heroin or crack cocaine, they’re boring, grubby, legal, lethal little habits, the things that get you through whatever you have to get through. And if you look back over a year, you see that there was always something to get through, you spent the year getting through what you had to get through. Maybe that’s the boring, grubby little life that makes jumping off a cliff look a good idea in the first place. But that’s your problem. The reason suicide attempts look exciting, the reason they justify locking people up, is that the worthlessness of a life is inadmissible as a reason to stop trying to get through it. Your friends and fans won’t see you dying by inches, and they won’t see themselves killing you by inches either.

Helen Dewitt, Link

Dear Barack,

For a long time, you were my pretend boyfriend. You filled the hole in my heart left by John Kerry and Al Gore (even the tiny hole left by Wes Clark).
But now, I need to break up with you. This is the final straw.
I gave you a pass on the lack-of-actual-jobs thing (George’s fault!)
I was willing to give you another month or so on Afghanistan (You didn’t start the fire!)
But this is it. Gay Marriage is a civil rights issue. This is not hard. There’s a right decision and a wrong decision and you are on the wrong side of the line on this one.

So goodbye.

Your former best girlfriend,

ps. You are being replaced with the original pretend boyfriend, George Clooney. He’s for gay marriage. Probably for reasons I don’t care to know about.

comment by hockeymom at Wonkette, Link

Aristotle, who saw friendship as essential to human flourishing, shrewdly observed that it comes in three distinct flavors: those based on usefulness (contacts), on pleasure (drinking buddies), and on a shared pursuit of virtue—the highest form of all. True friends, he contended, are simply drawn to the goodness in one another, goodness that today we might define in terms of common passions and sensibilities.

Daniel Akst, Link

I also know that deciding there is one thing or one way of life that is going to make you happy, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is utter bullshit. Nothing will kill you faster than disappointment, than "But why not?" It will also, and this is the bizarre part, make you cling tighter to those exact things that are not working. You will offer a billion reasons to yourself, to those around you, why you need this, why change is not possible. There is no time, look at all those things I would need to do, it wouldn't work anyway.

Jessa Crispin, Link

I just remember being profoundly disappointed with the Internet. Here is this land of infinite space, yes? No restrictions, absolutely limitless. And yet no one was doing anything...But anyway, boredom is the mother, no, wait, maybe the creepy uncle of invention. If I had a day job where all I had to do was tap away on a keyboard, make them think this spreadsheet was totally complicated and took a really long time, then what else could I do? Catching up on the news only took like an hour. That left seven. This is why people comment (and thereby becoming insane) or become Facebook addicts. There is nothing to fucking do at your day job on the Internet.

Jessa Crispin on the origins of Bookslut, Link

If I didn't have an MLS I would never have been able to get the job as head of Adult Services / Reference. That of course means I never would have had the opportunity to yell "Put your penis away, that is inappropriate." across a crowded computer room.

Comment by mdoneil at LISNews, Link

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story

Finished Gary Shteyngart's new novel, Super Sad True Love Story.

The cover makes me think of Twister.

I love dystopian fiction. And I love the words/phrases/names the authors come up with for our future societies. 1984 had Big Brother. Infinite Jest had Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, and acronyms like M.G.M (Militant Grammarians of Massachussets) and A.F.R (Les Assassins des Fauteuils Roulents [wheelchair assassins]). Super Sad True Love Story's vision of the future includes the American Restoration Authority (respresented by an otter mascot), OnionSkin Jeans, AlliedWasteCVSCitigroup, and the new texting acronym JBF (just butt fucking).

These parts are hilarious. Cynicism, satire, and social commentary abound. But at the heart of the story is the main character's struggle with his own mortality. And that's where I'm pulling the quotes from:

The children are our future only in the most narrow, transitive sense. They are our future until they too perish. The song's next line, "Teach them well and let them lead the way," encourages an adult's relinquishing of selfhood in favor of future generations. The phrase "I live for my kids," for example, is tantamount to admitting that one will be dead shortly and that one's life, for all practical purposes, is already over. "I'm gradually dying for my kids" would be more accurate.

Keep your heart. Your heart is all that matters. Throw away your shame! Throw away your modesty! Throw away your ancestors! Throw away your fathers and the self-appointed fathers that claim to be stewards of God. Throw away your shyness and the anger that lies just a few inches beneath. ... Accept your thoughts! Accept your desires! Accept the truth! And if there is more than one truth, then learn to do the difficult work--learn to choose. You are good enough, you are human enough to choose!

Today I've made a major decision: I am going to die.

Nothing of my personality will remain. The light switch will be turned off. My life, my entirety, will be lost forever. I will be nullified. And what will be left? Floating through the ether, tickling the empty belly of space, alighting over farms outside Cape Town, and crashing into an aurora above Hammerfest Norway, the northernmost city of this shattered planet--my data, the soupy base of my existence...Words, words, words.

You, dear diary.

A month ago, mid-October, a gust of autumnal wind kicked its way down Grand Street. A co-op woman, old, tired, Jewish, fake drops of jade spread across the little sacks of her bosom, looked up at the pending wind and said one word: "Blustery." Just one word, a word meaning no more than "a period of time characterized by strong winds," but it caught me unaware, it reminded me of how language was once used, its precision and simplicity, its capacity for recall. Not cold, not chilly, blustery. ...
"It is blustery, ma'am," I said to the old co-op woman. "I can feel it in my bones." And she smiled at me with whatever facial muscles she still had in reserve. We were communicating with words.

The last one was from the ending, which I really appreciated. The novel imagines a future where words aren't important. Books are deemed "smelly" and are no longer available, and text is "skimmed" entirely for informational purposes. Emotions are expressed almost entirely through acronyms. And face-to-face talking is called "verballing". It's kind of disturbing. But it's the future we're heading towards, so buckle in.


Here's the book's trailer:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Immortal Gardener

Double post!

While reading Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead last week, which in many ways deals with the question of what makes one immortal, I was reminded of a passage I read once, about how a gardener remains immortal, but someone who only mows his/her lawn isn't. I stretched my mind trying to remember where I had read it, and it finally dawned on me that it was in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The book-lover's book of books. I located my old copy on the shelf, scanned the marginalia and excessive underlining, and voila! Here's the quote:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

Ray Bradbury <3

So here are some more poignant passages from one of my all-time favorite books:
The sun burnt every day. It burnt time. The world rushed in a circle and turned on its axis and time was busy burning the years and the people anyway, without any help from him. So if he burnt things with the firemen and the sun burnt Time, that meant that everything burnt!
One of them had to stop burning. The sun wouldn't certainly. ... Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people's heads, any way at all so long as it was safe..."

...don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.

It's not books you need, it some of the things that once were in books. The save thing could be in the 'parlor families' today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself.

The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time where flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.

Montag looked at the river. We'll go on the river. He looked at the old railroad tracks. Or we'll go that way. Or we'll walk on the highways now, and we'll have time to put things into ourselves. And someday, after it sits in us a long time it'll come out our hands and our mouths. And a lot of it will be wrong, but just enough will be right. We'll just start walking today and see the world and the way it really looks. I want to see everything now. And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after a while it'll all gather together inside and it'll be me. Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face, and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it's finally me, where it's in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day.

The Brief History of the Dead

The idea behind Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead is fascinating. His novel imagines a world where the dead "live" after long as someone in the living world has memories of them. Things turn complicated when a virus sweeps the living world, and the land of the dead grows smaller in turn. I kept thinking the whole time while reading, "Aronofsky should totally direct a film adaptation of this." Or Christopher Nolan. Though there's not really a place for many explosions in the plot.

So here are some passages:

The dead were often surprised by such memories. They might go weeks and months without thinking of the houses and neighborhoods they had grown up in, their triumphs of shame and glory, the jobs, routines, and hobbies that had slowly eaten away their lives, yet the smallest, most inconsequential episode would leap into their thoughts a hundred times a day, like a fish smacking its tail on the surface of a lake. The old woman who begged for quarters in the subway remembered eating a meal of crab cakes and horseradish on a dock by Chesapeake Bay. The man who lit the gas lamps in the theater district remembered taking a can of beans from the middle of a supermarket display pyramid and feeling a flicker of pride and then a flicker of amusement at his pride when the other cans did no fall. Andreas Andreopoulos, who had written code for computer games the wholet forty years of his adult life, remembered leaping to pluck a leaf from a tree, and opening a fashion magazine to smell the perfume inserts, and writing his name in the condensation on a glass of beer. They preoccupied him--these formless, almost clandestine memories. They seemed so much heavier than they should have been, as if they were where the true burden of his life's meaning lay. He sometimes thought of piecing them together into an autobiography, all the toy-sized memories that had replaced the details of his work and family, and leaving everything else out. He would write it by hand on sheets of unlined notebook paper. He would never touch a computer again.

That was what insomnia was, after all--an excess of consciousness, an excess of life. Ever since she could remember, she had treated her life as an act of will, the you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to philosophy, but she couldn't will herself to fall asleep. The only way to fall asleep was not to care whether you fell asleep or not: you had to relinquish your will. Most people seemed to think that you fell asleep and then started dreaming, but as far as Minny could tell, the process was exactly the reverse--you started dreaming and that enabled you to fall asleep. She wasn't able to start dreaimng, though, because she couldn't stop thinking about the fact that she wasn't already asleep. And anything that called her attention to that fact made it more likely that she would keep thinking about it, and a million little snowdrops of nervous tension would bud open inside her, and thus she wouldn't start dreaming, and thus she wouldn't be able to sleep.

What a mess.
That last one's for me. bastard.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dear Reader

Finished Villette many weeks (months?) ago, but just now getting around to writing this post. After finishing all 600 pgs (glorious in its single spaced, 8pt type), I decided to revisit Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic, remembering that they had written a chapter on the novel. Their work was CRUCIAL when writing my undergraduate thesis. If you're interested in reading some eye-opening criticism of Eliot, Austen, Milton, Dickinson, and Mary Shelley, I couldn't recommend this book more.

Here is what Gilbert and Gubar have to say about Villette:
Villette is in many ways Charlotte Bronte's most overtly and despairingly feminist novel. ... Jane Eyre, though rebelliously feminist in its implications, used a sort of fairy tale structure to enable the novelist to conceal even from herself her deepening pessimism about woman's place in man's society. But Lucy Snow, Villete's protagonist narrator, older and wiser than any of Bronte's other heroines, is from first to last a woman without--outside society, without parents or friends, without physical or mental attractions, without money or confidence or health--and her story is perhaps the most moving and terrifying account of female deprivation ever written.

But what reminded me that I needed to write this post was reading this entry over at Powell's blog:

Even Virginia Woolf considered Villette to be greater than Jane Eyre and it is easy to see why. ... Here Bronte was able to hone and perfect her technique within the framework of an adult fairy tale with a cast of highly complex characters. Villette is Bronte's darkest, most complex novel and its heroine, Lucy Snow, is the anti-Jane.

Funny that they would cast both novels as fairy tales. The non-Disneyfied fairy tales of once upon a time were, of course, very tragic and disturbing (Der Struwwelpeter, anyone? Bluebeard!?) So this classification kind of fits the bill. Fairy tales and gothic lit intertwine in really interesting ways. They both use the fantastical, surreal, and sublime as metaphors for real life situations. (Then again, I guess they've been doing that since the dawn of writing. The first poets and storytellers were totally sci-fi and fantasy writers, amirite?)

So here are some more lovely quotes from Villette that, despite all my talk of doom and gloom, aren't so depressing. I promise.

How seem in the eyes of the God who made all firmaments, from whose nostrils issued whatever of life is here, or in the stars shining yonder--how seem the differences of man? But as Time is not for God, nor Space, so neither is Measure, nor Comparison. We abase ourselves in our littleness, and we do right; yet it may be that the constancy of one heart, the truth and faith of one mind according to the light He has appointed, import as much to Him as the just motion of satellites about their planets, of planets about their suns, of suns around that mighty unseen centre incomprehensible, irrealizeable, with strange mental effort only divided.

How could you read that and not instantly fall in love with Charlotte Bronte? I've had a crush on this dead woman since sixth grade.

Whatever my powers--feminine or to the contrary--God had given them, and I felt resolute to be ashamed of no faculty of his bestowal.

It is right to look our life accounts bravely in the face now and then, and settle them honestly. And he is a poor self-swindler who lies to himself while he reckons the items, and sets down under the head--happiness that which is misery. Call anguish--anguish, and despair--despair; write both down in strong characters with a resolute pen: you will the better pay your debt to Doom. Falsify: insert "privilege:" where you should have written "pain:" and see if your mighty creditor will allow the fraud to pass, or accept the coin with which you would cheat him. Offer to the strongest--if the darkest angel of God's host--water, when he was aked for blood--will he take it? Not a whole pale sea for one red drop.

Okay, well that's a little depressing.

I always, through my whole life; liked to penetrate to the real truth; I like seeking the goddess in her temple, and handling the veil, and daring the dread glance. O' Titaness among deities! the covered outline of thine aspect sickens often through its uncertainty, but define to us one trait, show us one lineament, clear in awful sincerity; we may gasp in untold terror, but with that gasp we drink in a breath of thy divinity; our heart shakes, and its currents sway like river lifted by earthquake, but we have swallowed strength. To see and know the worst is to take from Fear her main advantage.

Which is what I keep trying to tell my 4-year-old niece, in regards to spiders. Face your fear...and you'll find out they're just small, fuzzy trapeze artists.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Internet Lovelies

IT'S FRIDAY! And all that jazz. I copied these a long time ago. Completely forgot about them. But that's why I'm doing this blog! So I won't forget the nifty things I've read. Yes, even on the internet.

Traditional librarians are like cats, which explains the affinity. They sit quietly in a corner dreaming about chocolate and yarn. The twopointopians are more like puppy dogs. They run around enthusiastically and bark a lot, and are easily distracted when shiny gadgets and squirrels pass by them.

Annoyed Librarian, Link

Real life villains don’t always fit the visual bill as if sent over from the casting department. The real villains aren’t necessarily swarthy, shifty eyed guys wearing turbans or sombreros, swinging from monkey bars with AK’s in their teeth, draped with bandoleers of bullets. Most of the really, really bad guys look like Tony Hayward, like shitweasels with silk neckties, Gucci shoes and MBAs.

Bob Higgins, Link

Most of the people I really, really like went through a slightly freakish Mystery Science Theater 3000 phase at some point...MST3K is a near-perfect cinematic/television experience for people who are not humorless assholes.

Lindy West, Link

I grew up watching MST3K. <3
Every morning, as the sun pours through my bedroom windows and spills across my bed, I awake, the promise of a new day stretching before me like a stupid thing that leads to some goddamn whatever. Ugh, I think.

Shalom Auslander, Link

...fame is the worst drug of them all. At least crackheads only urinate on themselves; fame addicts piss on everyone.

Shalom Auslander, Link

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Anthropology 101

I've come to the sad realization that I spend more time reading book reviews than I do reading actual books. Then I end up buying 3 books for every 1 I read. My Amazon wishlist looks like the inventory of a Barnes and Noble.

Regardless, glowing book reviews lead to finding wonderful books, and the blogs have been set all aglow over Hilary Hamann's Anthropology of an American Girl. Previously self-published in 2003, it's recently been re-published and finally gaining some recognition. I'm only a measly 150 pages into it, but by page 35 I had already bookmarked several passages.

The sea is an international sea, and the sky a universal sky. Often we forget that. Often we think that what is verging upon us is ours alone. We forget that there are other sides entirely.

If she could no longer be called beautiful, she possessed something better--a knowledge of beauty, its inflated value, its inevitable loss.

I preferred the apocalyptic terrain of cities--the melting asphalt, the artificial illumination. Unlike Jack, I looked forward to the future. At least when things are as bad as they can get, they can't get worse. the future would be untouchable, hypervisual, and intuitive, a place where logic and progress have been played out to such absurd extremes that survival no longer requires the application of either.
"Notice how all it takes is the Force to blow up the entire Death Star?" I would tell Jack. "The future won't be jet packs and space stations; it'll be aboriginal. The language of the physical will atrophy. Our minds will coil inward, and our eyes will grow large to see beyond the seeable. No one dies in the future. We'll all preserve ourselves to be reconstituted."
"That's the whole fucking problem," Jack would say. "I don't want to live forever. I'm having trouble with the idea of Tuesday."

"You're old when you learn that needs are to be eclipsed by civility. You're old when you join the sticky, stenchy morass of concealed neediness that is society." You're old when you give up trying to change people because then they might want to change you too. When you're young needs are explicit, possibilities endless, formalities undiscovered, and proofs of allegiance direct. If only there were a way to keep the world new, where every day remains a wonder.
"Jack," I said. "Remember how easy it used to be? Remember when friends used to cut themselves and share blood?"

In school eyes are everywhere, there are twice as many eyes as bodies, and in our school there were about a thousand bodies. Highschools offer nothing compelling for all those eyes to regard, nothing other than the vista of teenaged bodies, which is sort of the entire fucking problem.

Boys will be boys, that's what people say. No one ever mentions how girls have to be something other than themselves altogether. We are expected to stifle the same feelings that boys are encouraged to express. We are to use gossip as a means of policing ourselves, This way those who do succumb to the lure of sex but are not damaged by it are damaged instead by peer malice. We are to remain united in cruelty, ignorance, and aversion. We are to starve the flesh from our bones, penalizing the body for its nature, castigating ourselves for advances from men that we are powerless to prevent. We are to make false promises, then resist the attentions solicited. Basically we were to become expert liars.