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Favorite Reads 2012

December 27, 2012

Mount AnalogueMount Analogue by René Daumal
My favorite read this year. Playful and soulful. Daumal died before he finished it, so it ends in mid-sentence, which is itself a perfect analogy of the accessible yet impossible Mt. Analogue that is at the center of the book.

There but for the by Ali Smith
An engaging novel about language, society, the overlooked, and so much more. Almost no plot to speak of, this novel sounds academic, but is actually a riot to read.

Piano Stories by Felisberto Hernández
The story ‘Stray Horse’ alone makes this one of the best books ever. The inner-life of objects, memory, and the battle between versions of the self slowly sprawls itself across this long meandering story. What a delight.

Gazelle by Rikki Ducornet
What I loved most about this book is that it showed me the real world in a magical way. It’s not magical realism, it’s just a magical perspective. I felt like a kid again.

Midwinter Day by Bernadette Mayer
A long poem written over the course of one day, this book hijacked my own thought patterns and made me live under the haze of its strange continuous rhythms of mundanities and insights. Awesome.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Re-reading this has been an eye opening experience on how much I missed the first time through (in my 20s), and how much more emotionally close to home these people’s lives and stories are now. I was totally blown away and need to revisit all of Woolf’s catalog now.

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard
Philosophy written as a form of poetry, using the poetic image as a reverberating medium, Bachelard attempts to examine our deepest associations to those most intimate and secret spaces we’ve created in our imaginations. One of the most quotable books I’ve ever read.

I have longer reviews of these books and many other ones on Goodreads.

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Some Reflections on Dolls

February 9, 2012

I’ve been reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Rodin and Other Prose Pieces. The title essay is great, of course, but some of the shorter lesser-known essays are also quite good. I especially loved  ‘Some Reflections on Dolls’ which you can read online here. The essay feels a little like a writing exercise at first, but whereas most essays of this kind may be merely academic, Rilke is able to take this metaphor into strangely moving territory. Here are some quotes:

“Fed like the ‘Ka’ on imaginary food, when it seemed absolutely essential that they should be given real food, they messed themselves with it like spoiled children, being impenetrable and incapable of absorbing, at any point, even a drop of water in their extreme state of well-enough known solidity”

“as it was their habit, during the day, to be lived unwearyingly with energies not their own.”

“When one thinks how grateful other things are for tender treatment, how they recover under it, indeed, how they feel even the hardest usage to be a consuming caress, provided only that they are loved, a caress which, no doubt, wears them away, but beneath which they take, as it were, courage which permeates them the more strongly, the more their body gives way (it makes them almost mortal, in a higher sense, so that they are able to share with us that grief which is our greatest possession)”

“I know, I know it was necessary for us to have things of this kind, which acquiesced in everything. The simplest love relationships were quite beyond our comprehension, we could not possibly have lived and had dealings with a person who was something; at most, we could only have entered into such a person and have lost ourselves there.”

“It made no response whatever, so that we were put in the position of having to take over the part it should have played, of having to split our gradually enlarging personality into part and counterpart; in a sense, through it to keep the world, which was entering into us on all sides, at a distance.”

“It was silent then, not deliberately, it was silent because that was its constant mode of evasion, because it was made of useless and entirely irresponsible material, was silent, and the idea did not occur to it to take some credit to itself on that score, although it could not but gain great importance thereby in a world in which Destiny, and even God Himself, have become famous above all because they answer us with silence. At a time when everyone was still intent on giving us a quick and reassuring answer, the doll was the first to inflict on us that tremendous silence”

“Are we not strange creatures to let ourselves go and to be induced to place our earliest affections where they remain hopeless? So that everywhere there was imparted to that most spontaneous tenderness the bitterness of knowing that it was in vain? Who knows if such memories have not caused many a man afterwards, out there in life, to suspect that he is not lovable?”

“The child must accustom itself to things, it must accept them, each thing has its pride.”

“Beginners in the world, as we were, we could not feel superior to any thing except, at most, to such a half-object as this, given to us the way some broken fragment is given to the creatures in aquariums, so that it may serve them as a measure and landmark in the world around them. We took our bearings from the doll. It was by nature on a lower level than ourselves, so that we could flow towards it imperceptibly”

“dumb soul of the tube of the good little trumpet: how amiable you [were] and almost comprehensible.”

“Sexless as the dolls of childhood were, [the doll-souls] can find no decease in their stagnant ecstasy, which has neither inflow nor outflow.”

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Favorite Reads in 2011

December 15, 2011

Trying something different this time… I’m going to actually list these in a somewhat loose order of personal significance. Full reviews of all books mentioned can be found on My Goodreads page.

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
in which a difficulty is earned not by modernist wordplay, but by tackling mercurial and impossible ideas head on, and not without humor. A novel of ideas that is (among other things) also an argument against ideas (or at least against systematizing or simplifying them).

My Friends by Emmanuel Bove
in which the most simple, self-evident language is contained in a perfect novel of quiet humor, sadness, and crystallized beauty; a criminally underread masterpiece.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk
in which the life of one uncompromising SOB is laid out, showing all the seeming contradictions therein, which in the end turns out to be the perfect vehicle for his ideas (or perhaps the idea itself). A thought provoking book, in which I saw many parallels to Musil’s musings.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
in which the trick of hopping around randomly is ultimately trumped by the non-trick of great writing. As one Cronopios put it, this is a very serious game, one that you can put your whole life into.

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
in which a frustrating amount of things keep getting added to the to-do list, though nothing that truly matters is ever addressed; the uneasy feeling produced by this novel rings true for me, and in the end, though nothing is solved, I feel refreshed as if emerging from an ineffably sad dream.

The Atoms of Language by Mark C. Baker
in which a linguist explains the curious logic of all languages, how even the most radically different ones are made up of similar ingredients in different ratios. Also: find out why English is more similar to Indonesian than any other European language.

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
in which Ms. Kalman charms us with her drawings of dodos and superfluous tassels and ladies with big hair from the back and hats hats couches hats. A year of jottings and journalings by a quirky and interesting woman.

g-point almanac: passyunk lost  &
g-point almanac: id est by Kevin Varrone
in which is found the best contemporary poetry I’ve read in the last 5 years or so.

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
in which time-lapse photography is transfigured into written form, the episodes building one on another like a photograph superimposed, significances becoming apparent that aren’t there for the myopic characters themselves. Surprisingly affecting.

Speaking of the Rose by Robert Walser
in which sentences are like contortionists, able to keep your interest in all ways but what is actually being said (and sometimes in that way too).

A Few “I Must Also Mentions” (in no particular order):

  • How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
  • Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson
  • In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent
  • Winter’s Journal by Emmanuel Bove
  • Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
  • Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
  • Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
  • The Tanners by Robert Walser
  • Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh

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A City Apart

August 15, 2011

I’m quite ignorant of politics in general, and even more ignorant of politics in other countries, but recently I’ve been wondering about the riots in England. To an American who knows nothing of the context, it seems quite puzzling. But reading some articles online, it seems to make more sense:

Edinburgh might wall off its poor in Muirhouse or Leith, and Oxford might try not to think about Blackbird Leys, but in London, Manchester/Salford, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham—the cities that erupted on Monday 8th August—the rich live, by and large, next to the poor: £1,000,000 Georgian terraces next to estates with some of the deepest poverty in the EU. We’re so pleased with this that we’ve even extended the principle to how we plan the trickledown dribble of social housing built over the last two decades, those Housing Association schemes where the deserving poor are ‘pepper-potted’ with stockbrokers. We’ve learnt about ‘spatial segregation’, so we do things differently now. Someone commenting on James Meek’s great London Review of Books article on parallel Hackneys mentioned China Miéville’s recent science fiction novel The City and The City, where two cities literally do occupy the same space, with all inhabitants acting as if they don’t. Miéville set it in Eastern Europe, but the inspiration is surely London.

This is illuminating.  But is this situation any better than over here, where we mostly segregate the poor from the rich so as to avoid conflict?  That is equally disturbing. Neighborhoods are cut off from each other, in little pockets of comfortable isolation. Less conflict, maybe, but also less awareness.

Reading about the riots has reminded me of a great passage in The Tanners by Robert Walser that I was reading just yesterday:

How reprehensible it is when those blessed with commodities insist on ignoring the poor. Better to torment them, force them into indentured servitude, inflict compulsion and blows—this at least produces a connection, fury and a pounding heart, and these too constitute a form of relationship. But to cower in elegant homes behind golden garden gates, fearful lest the breath of warm humankind touch you, unable to indulge in extravagances for fear they might be glimpsed by the embittered oppressed, to oppress and yet lack the courage to show yourself as an oppressor, even to fear the ones you are oppressing, feeling ill at ease in your own wealth and begrudging others their ease, to resort to disagreeable weapons that require neither true audacity nor manly courage, to have money, but only money, without splendor: That’s what things look like in our cities at present (p. 172)

Walser writes in a stylized hi-falutin manner (often for comic effect), so there is a jarringness, at first, to his diatribes that sound exaggerated when taken outside the context of his books (the speakers often waffle back and forth between hilarious extremes, i.e. he usually delivers a completely opposite speech the next day), but ultimately there is something very truthful in what is said.

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Favorite Books Read in 2010

January 1, 2011

(full reviews of all these books can be found on my Goodreads page)

NONFICTION

The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski
in which Ryszard shows us Africa around the end of colonialism (not that it ever ends). He makes it a great read as it is satisfying in many ways: as history, as memoir, as anthropology, and as travel writing.

Kabloona by Gontran de Poncins
in which Gontran, being French, and the year being 1938, travels to arctic Canada to study the Eskimos and writes this piece of anthropological gem, both interesting as a study of his whitey attitudes and as a study of the local population and their strange habits. This one is special, people… a highly entertaining book.

Broadsides from Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell
in which each chapter is lovingly dedicated to explaining away one little critter, often as common as the daddy longlegs or the less heard-of camel cricket which I’m sure lives in your basement as we speak, although “explain away” is inaccurate as there’s still so much we just don’t know about them.

ALMOST NON-FICTION

Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
Vertigo by W.G. Sebald
in which Winfried Georg, being German, being inscrutable, lulls me into deep meditative conversation in which I stop caring what is being talked about. He often writes from a very serious place, of memory and architecture and place; his fiction is a combination of essay, memoir, old photos, and a lot of walking.

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
in which Chris and husband decide to woo an acquaintance, Dick, by writing him love letters. This novel, which is obviously thinly veiled nonfiction, soon leads to a series of postmodern investigations taking the form of epistolary novel, feminist manifesto, art criticism, tell-all memoir, critical theory, personal essay, and diary. Bonus: makes for great reading in the men’s locker room.

FICTION

Recollections of Things to Come by Elena Garro
in which magical realism was written before magical realism was even defined. And oh she does it so well, so much better than mr. marquez. This story, a political one but not in an annoying way, is told by the town itself. It is a devastating story, and one that made me read nonstop.

The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil
in which you will think it is another coming of age boarding school novel, but this one searches so deeply it reminds me of Rilke’s poetry, in its ability to wrestle with the most complex spiritual, philosophical, and psychological themes.

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
in which Fate smiled down on me and told me I had to read it as the copy I bought for $5 in Chicago was SIGNED by JB himself with the note: “for Jimmy or be that James”. A novel about religion but also about many things, he goes down deep into the empathy of every character and the result is powerful.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Sun City by Tove Jansson
in which Ms. Jansson writes about childhood and old age with equal skill and a light touch; this writing serves its function without an ounce of fat. The episodic tales unwind around flawed yet human and lovable characters.

The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda
in which she writes about devastation in a series of incremental impressions from a naive character, but one whose grief, though she doesn’t understand it herself, also catches the reader by surprise.

Skylark by Dezs? Kosztolányi
in which a very ugly daughter and her parents have their routines disrupted when said ugly daughter leaves to visit a relative. A funny, sad book.

Pan by Knut Hamsun
in which Mr. Hamsun outdoes his own masterpiece Hunger, having written here an even better, more complex portrait of the mind’s infatuation and raw feverish irrationality.

SHORT FICTION

Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist
in which so much is merciless and violent, and the people in these stories, poor things, are moved around by cosmic forces into monsters without their knowing it, swept up in the reconfiguration like a bit of bread in the bowels. The Marquise of O… in particular is one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

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Time of the Doves

July 31, 2010

time_of_the_dovesI read this book for the Spotlight Series (which puts the spotlight on small press publishers by having bloggers read and review a book by a small press that they have chosen to feature for that month. The current spotlight is on Graywolf Press).

Time of the Doves
by Mercè Rodoreda

“And as he was talking he’d run his fingernail along the crack in the table and dig out breadcrumbs that had gotten stuck there, and it seemed strange to me that he’d do something I did sometimes but that he’d never seen me do.”

This book is about the experience of something big in the body of something small, small as a woman named Natalia. Because all big experiences, even marriage, even children, even war, even despair—because all of these big things are also little things, or it comes one little thing at a time—doves and eggs and the name Colometta or the smell of hydrochloric acid.

And though something big can be forgotten, can be silenced, can be inside deep like termites going from inside out instead of outside in, something small like blue lights or a cork or a picture of some lobsters, they stay with you in tiny shards just quiet-like. This book is about how to forget them.

“I’d learned to read and write and my mother’d gotten me used to wearing white clothes. I’d learned to read and write and I sold pastries and candy and chocolates and bonbons filled with liqueurs. And I could walk through the streets like a human being surrounded by other human beings. I’d learned to read and write and waited on people and helped them…”

All these small things are like a cork to stop up the big things but the big things get through anyway. The things not said, because it’s too painful, or simply because our narrator is not very eloquent. She’s in-eloquent not because she’s stupid but because she’s not totally aware of her feelings, at least through most of the novel. But that doesn’t mean she’s not able to move you, the reader, all the more for it.

So that’s what this book felt like—just tiny experiences that slowly build up, with a whirlwind of characters and things and thoughts all written in a style that seems slightly dizzying because the sentences are long but not complicated, they are long in the way a Frank O’Hara poem is long, where you run out of breath by the end of the sentence with that inexplicable breathless urgency.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was glad that Spotlight on Small Presses gave me the extra nudge in the rear-end to finally read this wonderful Graywolf Press book (since it was already on my “to read” list).

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2666

May 3, 2010

Reading 2666 is like trying to appreciate the Sistine Chapel from up close. I wanted constantly to step back in order to get some bigger-picture perspective, and because it is so hard to do this with a work of literature (basically you have to contain the whole thing in your mind and try to imagine it from afar) it makes certain sections (let’s say almost all of it) frustrating, or slightly unsatisfying. But by the end, you start to see some connections, though they are not simple connections. It is more like a feeling of a worldview, than any kind of easy conclusion. If there is any big picture, it is very hard to encapsulate without trying to re-tell the whole thing. Or drawing rather meaningless diagrams, as I have done below:

2666

This makes sense to me, even though I feel like I’m still leaving out a whole bunch, and even though it might not make any sense to anyone else.

I don’t think it is a great novel, although I think its strongest point is creating an internal logic so full that it approaches madness. I think the book lacks some basic things like joy, humor (there was humor, but not the type of humor that sustains one in the act of reading), and characterization. The people in the book seem flat and do not develop; they are almost like chess pieces Bolaño uses to illustrate his points. On the plus side, the book is unlike any other book I’ve read and its strengths are very different from those that I’m used to. I feel that this is a very difficult book to think about in terms of “good” or “bad”. I honestly did not enjoy reading most of it, but I did feel compelled to continue. There is a sense that I am not immersed in the novel’s world, but am only reading a synopsis of ‘what happens’, almost like reading a list of ingredients. There is something enticing about lists to me, perhaps that’s why I kept reading.

2666 Group Read Experience:

I was excited to read 2666 partially because of the Group Read aspect.  I like that there is not one forum for discussion, but rather everyone uses their own modes (whether it be twitter, blogs, forums, GoodReads, etc.).  But while I found a lot of interesting perspectives, the book seems so open-ended that I started to not really get too much out of these perspectives, but instead felt an overwhelming sense of becoming a book-hermit.  This book especially, while going outward, has a spiraling down and inwards feeling to me, akin to becoming slightly insane and illogical.  What I didn’t expect was that I liked not explaining or reading others explanations the more I got into the book, and felt a sense of guardedness towards the experience of reading rather than an expansion outwards.  My gut feeling is that this would have been different with another book.  I can’t explain why.  I remember after finishing The Brothers Karamazov, that I wished to discuss it with people.  But with this book, I didn’t have that feeling at all.  Partly, I think any discussion of this book—which seems to have an infinite number of nodes for making connections—would be at least 80% bullshit, but maybe that’s the cynic in me speaking.

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The Part About Amalfitano

February 15, 2010

clothesline_2666_sm

There’s a Group Read going on for the book 2666, and I’ve been following along on the forums and stuff, but here is my first blog post about it.  I’ve never read Bolano before and I find it alternating between engaging and frustrating.  Often, I have no idea what he is trying to get at mainly because there is just so much there.  He throws so much at the book (it is 900 pages long) that it seems inevitable to make connections, but are the connections really there?  Or is it just the result of there being so much there?

I kept most of my comments on The Part About the Critics on the forums or to myself, but here are a few things I noticed about the Part About Amalfitano (please excuse the messiness of these notes)

Parallels with Part 1: Right off we start in a similar territory as part 1.  Instead of the critics going from Europe to Latin America to look for Archimboldi, we have Lola going to ??? looking for the poet.  Interesting: Amalfitano says there is no way she really met him since he introduced him to her.  So (knowing this) the long passages where she writes of meeting him and making love to him at a party read to me almost like one of the dream sequences.  Also: parallel with part 1 in that a woman (Lola in part 2, Norton in part 1) is leaving/abandoning a man (or 2 men, in part 1) and writing to him/them from the new location.

What strikes me about these looking-for-a-writer scenes: these people don’t know who they are, and they are invested in this other thing that defines them, because they can’t define themselves.  The critics write ABOUT Archimboldi’s writings.  It seems like a modern condition Bolano is highlighting, wherein people’s identity is so lost and so caught up and dependent on others… but it’s dependent on others not in a close-knit-community kind of way… there is a very ego-centric, selfish neediness in their searches and reliance on some kind of literary hero.

Character notes: we know so little about these characters… who is Lola and what is her background, why did she suddenly leave so mysteriously?  Who is Imma and what is her motivation for going along with Lola?  We know very little about Amalfitano, though this section is about him… it gave him a page or two and then went head first into Lola’s adventures.  Only later in the section do we get more into his head.  Also: Lola is an interesting choice of name… traditionally Lola is a name of a prostitute or a drag queen… just based on many songs with the name Lola in it… I’ve actually thought about this before encountering the name here.  It’s interesting here considering Lola’s relationship with the poet is through sex, and also how she implicitly allowed the guy who hangs out at the cemetery to pay her for sex.

Stylistic notes: why is part 2 suddenly devoid of paragraph breaks? Except in the last page, where Yeltsin speaks in the dream to him, that is the only paragraph break.

“Madness is contagious”

Neighbor’s fort-like walls w/ broken glass on top.  This part compares Amalfitano to a medieval lord.  I found this metaphor kind of curious, and out of nowhere, but Bolano returns to it a few times.

A quote:

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions.  They named the pain of others into memories of one’s own.  They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, breif, and eternally elusive.  They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility.  They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight.  They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.

p. 189.  If you didn’t know he was talking about Amalfitano’s ideas on jet lag, you’d think he was talking about the role of novels like 2666 here.

Testamento geometrico:

“three books ‘each independent, but functionally correlated by the sweep of the whole’” (sounds like 2666, with its 5 independent parts)

“the friends’ last names had been printed in capitals while the name of the man being honored was in small letters.” (ego?  sounds familiar to the Critics)

Book hanging on line = symbolism too much? i.e. literature meets the elements/real world.  For those of you wondering, yes I did hang 2666 on the clothesline in the photo above.  It seemed a good tribute.

“We’re not animals” Rosa says, about the book hanging on line

“I take it back” p 191, weird rhetorical device here.  Anyone get this?

Random thought:
I think Bolano is trying to say you can look to art and literature for your answers all you like, you can worship art and forget what you were looking there for to begin with, you can become a professor of literature and scrutinize a piece of text for years, you can even follow the writer, the originator of the art, the questions, but there are some things–in the real world–that you can never understand.  (like the murders)

chincuales – 1 flea or bedbug bites 2 a restless scratcher 3 a restless mind

Books It is interesting that in the first part about the critics, we don’t get any sense what Archimboldi’s books are like.  And yet in the second part, we get the nitty gritty of 2 books Amalfitano is reading.  At least more nitty gritty than the ones mentioned in part 1.  The book on Araucanians is described in detail in terms of how Amalfitano is reading it, and I found especially interesting his imagination while reading it, imagining even scenes of the writer trying to publish the book and get a discount (which goes into this region of is-it-imagined or did-it-really-happen-this way).  p224.  The other book of course is the geometry book, which he hangs out in the elements (also a way of reading?).  And which pervades his thoughts in a totally different way, perhaps influencing him to draw geometrical shapes with names of thinkers at different intersections of these diagrams.  Maybe Bolano is highlighting the way Amalfitano is “reading” these books and how it is different and unconventional compared to the way the critics are reading their books (which aren’t even worth mentioning in depth).  Perhaps Amalf. is the active reader as envisioned by Cortazar, and referenced on p. 224.  And then he goes on to imagine Kilipan to have not existed at all, he imagines him as all these other people writing under the name Kilipan.  This person who was just made so real to us a second ago by the same imagination.

Young Guerra:
Not sure what I think of this yet.  Or how he fits in.  He’s a little off his rocker.  But then so is Amalfitano.  Is it just 2 ways of being mad/dealing?  Lola was a little mad too.

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2009 Reads

January 6, 2010

Novels

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira, and…

How I Became a Nun by Cesar Aira

in which Argentinian writer (and we all know about them Argentinian writers) takes us on adventures involving surreal shape-shifting narratives, philosophical insights, and much attention to language (yes, it’s well translated).

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

in which I emerge from a fog of folklore and historic tangents infused w/ personal memories of a little boy Malte (read: Rainer in feeble disguise) all grown up and wandering the streets of Paris having excessive thoughts on death, poverty, and ghosts.  WTF, Rainer?  Is this really what you call a novel?  Whatever, at least it’s fucking great.

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

in which a bunch of pirates end up accidentally kidnapping a bunch of kids.  Poor pirates.  These kids are merciless.  Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.  I recommend this book for people who love kids.  Bonus: many animals, death, and various other perfundities.  Is that a word?

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

in which two serious ladies engage in various random acts of nonconformity in order to escape from their dull lives.  Many strange people met on the way.  Funny and charming and sad and indeed.

Frances Johnson by Stacey Levine

in which one, Frances Johnson, is introduced wherein she is worried about various contrivances say her warts or some other thing or where oh where her bicycle takes her.  A very experimental novel, but also a touching and soft one too, which is nice to know: that that is still possible I mean.

Stoner by John Williams

in which a most boring college professor’s life is recounted in bibliographic and chronological order which sounds really boring but actually I have no idea how it snuck up on me and was just the most powerful book ever and made me cry and cry and cry.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

in which a little girl grows up in the slums, and finds ways to be positive around every corner, and somehow almost always evading sentimentality.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

in which Gustave my man Gustave writes his tercid prose is that a word tercid?  does it mean turd-like?  Well, no matter, this book that bowled me over with passage after passage, is about a woman who is never satisfied and almost never happy.  Sweet lord, what a book.

Moviegoer by Walker Percy

in which something happens in New Orleans inside of the head of Binx Bolling who happens to have some ideas in there as well, and they knock around, and this book came out.  Funny, I remember hardly anything about this book anymore.

Non-Fiction

The Story of Mary Maclane by Mary Maclane

in which Mary Maclane, a nineteen year old girl stuck in Butte Montana in 1901, writes a sort of definition of herself… or a manifesto, of sorts.  She is a genius!  She has a “peripatetic” philosophy inside of her “wooden heart”.  She has a crush on a lady friend.  She worships Napoleon and has 17 portraits of him.

Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny

in which the true story of Mary Bell, an 11-year old girl who killed 2 boys ages 3 and 4 many years ago, is finally revealed through intense writing and recounting of the events that followed the events preceeding, as well as through personal interviews with Mary Bell, who is now out of jail and has children of her own.  Did I mention “intense”?  This book is enough to give you a fever, and make you think twice about why children do the things they do.  Was Mary Bell evil?  Or was something else at work here?

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

in which the secret of happiness is revealed to be a state of mind achieved through unriveted attention, well-defined goals, clear feedback, and the perfect level of difficulty (not too hard, not too easy).  A very interesting book, which doesn’t just stop at the science, but includes very human elements.

Breaking the News by James Fallows

in which the horrid state of journalism is detailed in every way possible.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you realize that this book was written during Clinton’s era, and that things have gotten much worse with Fox News, Reality TV, and a bunch of other things that I don’t even want to think about.  Someone kill me now.

Poetry

Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell

in which Rainer Maria Rilke is very poet-like in the traditional sense of being inspired by angels while holing up in a castle for ten years.  The Duino Elegies blew my mind, and I can’t believe I had not discovered Rilke until 2009.  Get this translation, especially, it is superb, if I can say that.

The Making of Pre by Francis Ponge

in which Francis Ponge, being French, labors over the phenomenological atoms of rivers and plains, coming up with a meadow on which theoretical swords are crossed and yet one is felled in practice.  Mr. Ponge, you killed me on the Pre, but this is a very interesting read.  Bonus: lots of words vehemently crossed out.

Isle of the Signatories by Marjorie Welish

in which nobody else got it but I did and started reading it all the way from the bookstore till I got home.  Something about words or signs and what they pointed to, and how pretentious that is, and how like an academic with a tenure track going round and round.  But more visceral, in my opinion, more stabby.

The Romance of Happy Workers by Anne Boyer

in which no word is the blip of its own passing, and Anne Boyer is a woman of sufficient means moving over the page with slight curtsies because, well, just because.  I think I’m turning into Dawn with this review.

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Surprise + Traffic Jam

January 4, 2010

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