Sunday, December 18, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Joan Didion has the same rare and inimitable style as Dame Rebecca West. She coolly observes the scene around her, and when she makes a pronouncement on anything--whether it be Jim Morrison, the Hoover Dam, shopping centers, or her own neuroses--she does so like someone ringing a clear, pure bell. It sounds, and it seems final; it seems bare and essential. I don't know how she manages to do this in such an economy of words, but she does. This collection of micro-essays comes together and does more than simply sketch the end of the sixties in Southern California; it does something more rare, imparts a flavor, a re-animation. One imagines Didion slipping into the background of any scene wearing huge glasses, able to seem both invisible and authoritative. I hope this bell continues to sound.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
This is certainly a love story. This is about being in the right place at the right time (but surely chance meetings with Janis Joplin and Sam Shepard and William Burroughs say just as much about what kind of magnetism Smith herself must possess).
I wept through the end of Just Kids; I found it very moving as a testament to a friendship and a person and another artist. When do we become an artist? Is it when we declare it? Is it when we've been recognized for our art? Is it when we dedicate ourselves to it? Is it simply when we believe it of ourselves?
I also thought about poverty as a purifier for Smith and the circle of creatives around her in NYC during this remarkable time. I've never been comfortable with giving up material comfort for art. Smith and Mapplethorpe begin as young ascetics, and yet they're getting things done; they're making the connections they need to succeed. I believe it's a function of my background: once comfortably middle to upper middle class, forever hoping to keep that standard. But it's not hard to feel a sense of envy or nostalgia for Smith's romantic vision of art-as-sustenance, for this brave girl showing up in New York with nothing but a few possessions and a belief in where she needed to be, and making a go of it. She demonstrates blistering courage. Of course I don't have regrets, but it is provocative to consider the paths of others, especially someone like Patti Smith who began not even sure what medium would be hers, but was so clearly meant to be a VOICE, and now, successful memoirist.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you are the kind of person who thinks finding a crumbling old manuscript in a dank monastery that turns out to be a fascinating glimpse into a nearly-vanished pagan philosophy on living written in verse would be cool...then you and I have a lot in common, and we both like this book already. We are also both nerds, and that's okay. We should probably travel together in order to avoid irritating our companions.
Greenblatt is clearly a scholar of considerable erudition on the Renaissance and European art and thought. While very engagingly written, I do sense that Swerve was written for the general reader rather than a more specialized audience. Perhaps because I have studied and written on similar subjects in the past, I yearned for more overtly scholarly writing (which does NOT have to be boring--The Age of Wonder and its endlessly-entrancing digressions comes to mind). I would have been happy to read several hundred more pages, especially about the ripple effect in Renaissance art that Greenblatt cunningly traces back to the discovery of Lucretius' poem. More than anything, I realized that going to the primary text--"On the Nature of Things" itself--will be the key to serious explorations of this subject.
So, on the hunt I go, but with some delightful background knowledge to buoy me.
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Monday, October 24, 2011
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Sometimes when you are trying to express the worldview and interior, like, tone of your characters, it becomes necessary to write in the passive voice, and then you are writing all of the descriptions of action in the passive voice, and you are relying on that technique pretty consistently. And could it be repetitive? Is asking a lot of questions in a row something a hippie might do? Does that seem like a realistic trope? Yeah, man, because they've got a shaggy dog style of talking and thinking and appending to their thoughts with more and more filler and more and more interjections.
It is possible you are annoying your readers with these stylistic tics, despite the fact that there are vivid characters, strong dialogue, and some appreciated ribald humor in your book.
Whatever, man. Let's get high.
(Drop City recommended for entertaining and briskly plotted look at a band of flower children trying to hack out their Utopian farm ideal in Alaska. Caveat: the annoying prose style cited above.)
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Allow me to illustrate for you: let's say I am baseball player with a decent hit (no idea why I would choose a sports metaphor given my lack of knowledge about sports, but bear with me). I head to the field, or, erm, the batting cages to practice my swing. Except, I don't practice my swing at first. Even thought it's afternoon and there are other people around practicing their swings and catching and pitching and waving my way, I'm not ready yet. I think about getting a hot dog and then I DO get a hot dog. While there, I do a bit of a condiment taste test. Oh, yeah, sauerkraut is disgusting. Now I remember! How hilarious. I find someone to talk about condiments with. Actually, you know, the more I think about it (alone now with just my thoughts and the hot dog), there's something so relatable about a hot dog; something that taps into a shared experience of America, ya know? Hot dogs. They tie together the tipsy person on the street corner at 2 a.m., the weekend weenie roaster, and anyone with a functioning microwave. I even made a hot dog solar cooker when I was eight years old using tinfoil! At this thought, I tear up. And, suddenly, I am filled with the conviction that HOT DOGS are where the meaning really lies. Why have I wasted my time on something so comparably esoteric? My pastime is neither delicious nor sandwiched by an oblong bun. It's a fool's pastime. You know what? Maybe I should get into hot dogs. I've always liked them, after all. Almost as much as hitting.
(time passes...like, maybe, five minutes of time)
Anywhere, where was I? Oh, hot dogs? Yeah, I'm not going to finish this one. They are soooo unhealthy. I can't wait to hit a perfect ball. THAT'S what I really want to do. But first I need to have this conversation about why astroturf is weird. Yes, I know, I've said it before, but this is an essential conversation, and it clearly needs to be had. I have different points than yesterday. Like, maybe one slightly less rehashed point about the qualities of fluorescent greens as illuminated by floodlights. So, I chat about astroturf with whomever happens to be handy. Odd how that guy that sweeps the edges of the field always seems to be on the other side of the field whenever I'm in the mood to have this discussion.
Man, where has the time gone? I am EXHAUSTED! It must be all those fine motor skills I used wiping that ketchup off my shirt. Wait, was that five hours ago?! I guess that astroturf conversation was pretty gripping. Or maybe when I was wandering around trying to find the bathroom....? Regardless, I don't even know if I have the energy to hit today. I mean, I hit a few yesterday, right? Some people have never even been to a major league game before! Hitters like me are rare, after all. I can probably pat myself on the back just for, you know, dreaming of hitting a homer now and again. Or you know what? Even driving here. I mean, I put my bag in a car and I drove here. That's pretty good, right?
So, I start getting my gear together and start heading off the field. I notice that all my other teammates are gone; even the guy that sweeps the edges of the field is gone. Someone is turning off the floodlights, one by one, and darkness whooshes into each portion of the field where the lights have been shining. Finally, there's just one lone floodlight still going--perhaps they've left it on for me and are even now waiting for me to get the hell off the field.
Except I'm not. Suddenly, I'm ready. Drop my bag to the ground. Get my bat out, and magically, a ball pops my way from somewhere off in the darkness (don't think too much on the details) and I swing and swing, the cracks of wood meeting canvas echoing throughout the stadium. And one or two of those hits might even be good (I'm not totally sure, since they're flying off into unlit stadium stands, but whatevs). It feels good, though. It feels really good, like--
--and the last floodlight is switched off. Crap. And I had a really good metaphor for that feeling, too.
That, in short, is my writing work ethic if I were actually a baseball player. You might not want to pick me for your team, but I am still going to finish this novel. One page, one day at time.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
E.L. Doctorow's "A House on the Plains"--So creepy and well-done in its incremental reveal of disturbing information. Pitch perfect voice.
Melissa Hardy's "The Heifer"--Not as striking as some of the others, but great prose and a bit of comedy, too.
Alice Mattison's "In Case We're Separated"--A more traditional relationship story, but very well-done, with a poignant ending.
Jill McCorkle's "Billy Goats"--Worth a read for the communal narration.
Alice Munro's "Family Furnishings"--Of course. And extra intriguing for its glimpse into autobiographical details of this master's life. The finest story of the collection, in my opinion.
The stories by Akhil Sharma, Mary Yukari Waters, and Tom McNeal--all excellent family stories. Quite different from one another, but I enjoyed all three.
Jim Shepard's "Love and Hydrogen"--Sent me straight to Google afterwards to read up on the Hindenburg disaster. Probably my second favorite of the collection. How does he do it?! He enters the past and makes it new, fantastical, and wonderfully human. No small feat when one chooses to write about already word-saturated events.
Also liked Arthur Miller and Leonard Michaels' stories. So, actually, I suppose I'd recommend almost all of the stories.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Like a banana going soft on your counter, smelling overwhelmingly--cloyingly--of itself, there seems to be something too intense about the prose in Justine, too intense about the destructive love affair it desultorily describes and discards.
I had to throw out the banana. I couldn't finish it.
If that sounds vaguely phallic to you, then I see I've hit the right tone for Durrell's prose. It's a shame, because I can honestly say that his writing in Prospero's Cell--a magical travelogue/sketch diary about the isle of Corfu--was some of the best I have ever read. Just incandescent. The prose here, however, feels bloated. I suppose it mirrors its subject somewhat: Alexandria. Can a city be bloated? Perhaps with trash and tragedy and poverty--the Alexandria inhabited by Justine and the narrator.
Read until you reach the famous line about cities taking on a new meaning once you love someone within the city. Then, honestly, you don't have to continue.
(I may actually pick Justine up again, since it does provide an interesting version of the metafictional novel. It wasn't right for me this time around, however.)
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
From an email written to a past landlord:
The past couple of days, I've been noticing an unpleasant smell in the living room area. I couldn't figure out what it was, since there's nothing in there but the usual things, but I think I may have figured it out. It seems like there might have been an animal underneath the house that died and that's what the smell must be--it's a familiar one, and only really strong in one part of the room. Anyway, I don't know if there's anything that can really be done except wait for it to go away, but I wanted to let you know that I do think there have been some kind of animals beneath the house. Occasionally, I've heard loud scratching/hissing coming from underneath the bathroom tub. Did previous residents ever mention this? Well, I know that's a bit unsavory, but thought you might like to be aware.
Thanks a lot and hope you are having a nice weekend.
Friday, August 26, 2011
So...I have decided to publish some of the self-important ramblings I've found while careening through my hard drive, mainly because I still like them, and also because if not here, where?!
Where are the love songs for our living? Why do I need to find a partner when I have been so well-fostered as a child, set on my tender feet with careful palms.
Mother, this is for you. That I know the proper way to make the bed, and that even though I am lazy and don’t pull all the fabric properly on the last corner, I know how it should look – as fine as oblivion. You’ve taught me that.
Father, this is yours. That your coats always carried the cold in them when you came home from working, and when I hugged you, I’d feel it in surprising little pockets. I’d come away pricked with sawdust, which smells like work itself.
Sister, remember when we fed the horses, and I was too skittish, afraid of those great muzzles, but you were not and held up your hay with bold arms, tiny as they were.
Brother, that once you fell in a stream and I jumped in after you and I held you and the current went around me, and it was not a deep stream at all, and still, I thought only of your preciousness.
You are the ones who matter.
I love you beyond reckoning, beyond reasoning. If there is a mineral at the base of this flesh, it is sedimentary of your making, and I am pressed of your strata.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Piano Music for the Stormy-Hearted
The grand, and the crescendoed. The fingers, bone-white and ivory. The hearts of deep metal and the eyes of flashing summer and the faces of gods. Oh, the chest cavity and orchestra; the deep tuba of the last act, the violin on the night path. The cymbal crash when love is sighted. The weeping of the clarinets.
Live with no note too somber, no trill frivolous. And my God, play the keys off it. Wear the pedals thin.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If Patrick Leigh Fermor were to hold up a sign while hitching on the highway, it might say: "Lovable scamp. Gives good prose. Charming conversationalist. Will cheerfully eat or drink anything you offer. Will feature you in book."
I would totally give him a ride.
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Monday, July 11, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
Formal Inquiry is playing June 10-12 at the Velocity Dance Project at 1621 12th Ave, 7:30 p.m. For more information about tickets and also to read the very delightful Formal Inquiry blog, click here. See you there!
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia by Brian Hall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is incredible--the feats of understanding and compassion that can be achieved simply by talking to people. This remarkable book holds a glass to the multiple voices of the Balkans, just as the former Yugoslavia was beginning to dissolve into violence and genocide in the early nineties. Hall, like a novelist, presents us with people and their stories first. He asks difficult--sometimes explosive--questions of those he meets while traveling throughout what is now Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. He doesn't give us an easy "answer," but he provides us with portraits, and in so doing, troubles the notion of nationalism and ethnic divisions everywhere, not only in the "impossible country." It is a deeply moving, lovingly written book.
Prospero's Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu by Lawrence Durrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When the Northerly wind blows, find solace here, in some of the most beautiful writing you could read. You will taste the olives. You will feel the sunshine. Corfu of the late 1930's will come alive. And you will even learn some things about Greece, and about silence.
"Presently the carbide lamp is lit and the whole miraculous underworld of the lagoon bursts into a hollow bloom--it is like the soft beautiful incandescence of a gas-mantle lighting. Transformed, like figures in a miracle, we gaze down upon a sea floor drifting with its canyons and forests and families in the faint undertow of the sea--like a just-breathing heart."
--Durrell, "Ionian Profiles"
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Saturday, May 7, 2011
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
More traditional performing space, however, will dominate the center of Barnstorm, where a raised stage holds court among low tables and chairs (the image I always have for cabarets myself). On this stage, a variety of acts will titillate, provoke, and engage Seattleites, with acts ranging from electronic music to tango to a multimedia play featuring cartoon stereotypes. Bond wanted to make it clear, though, that in the spirit of true cabaret, the audience for any of these pieces is decidedly not supposed to sit in an attitude of polite, golf-clapping appreciation. Oh, no, no, no. Think raucous laughter, conversation, and well, generally having a fabulous time. QHRN Productions aims for an audience that blends with the performers and crosses that aqueous space between self, art, and the consumption thereof. In that spirit, a section dubbed the "soft spot" has been created in the style of a cozy sitting room in order to pull cabaret attendees back from the wooden stage and into something else--perhaps a transfixing piece of artwork, a conversation with a stranger, or maybe even a kiss. Here's hoping.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Funny pocket: dear, lined in ermine. Silvery, with a silky feel. Slide into you like a tongue over the teeth: accustomed to the old drops and crags, but not the slick, hard surface which is suddenly new and sheer. Suddenly alliterative; suddenly in a fine shape. Playful like a bird with its questing beak, moving seed to the side, and moving seed to the other side. Metaphors winging up with all their associations, unspooled, suddenly saved. Months of things hoarded, moving up in an unseemly parade. Like Noah and his menagerie: two by two of timbre and shade. A trope on parade. And hope on parade.
Rare, precious, timely you came. Invocation to play; invitation to praise.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
The author, Frederic Morton, does an excellent job of creating brief but incisive anecdotal snapshots of the strata of Viennese society, from high to low, and the many people, some destined for greatness and infamy, who strolled the Ringstrasse during that fateful year. It is remarkable how many geniuses--thinkers, writers, composers, playwrights--lived in the city at that time: Freud, Mahler, Brahms, Strauss, Klimt, Herzl, Schnitzler, etc. Towards the end of the book, a great scandal occurs involving the liberal Crown Prince Rudolf and his teenaged mistress, and even though Morton sometimes overreaches in connecting this event to everything that would follow in modern life, in many ways he does have a point about rising nationalism, hysteria, and other afflictions of the "modern" era that dog us even now.
Content-wise, this is all very enjoyable and informative, but I feel I must issue a warning about the author's rather florid and repetitive writing stye. His wording is as rococo and baroque as the lavish imperial buildings of the city he describes. It's sort of like Cogsworth (oh, he of Beauty & the Beast fame) narrating an entire novel. If you can handle that, then Nervous Splendor is definitely worth a read.
Now on to the beginning of Black Lamb, Grey Falcon!