Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stuck in the Middle of a Big-Ass Book...

And I couldn't be more excited about it!

Now if I said the same thing last week, I'd have been talking about Curse of the Lonely Wolf Girl; which was both a big-ass book and so much of a direct sequel as to have nothing of interest going on.  But now, I'm in the middle of Shadowmarch by Tad Williams: and its awesome.

I'm absolutely raving about epic fantasy and I didn't think I'd ever do that again considering my most recent reading failures in the genre.  I can't wait to 'talk about' this book!

It's eight hundred pages long and I'm at four hundred twenty.  So while I am at the middle the 'stuck' is only in reference to the fact that making progress reading a book this size is difficult to visibly measure.

Never fear; I'm reading.  Soon I'll be blogging about what I'm reading.  I'm in the middle of something good and I'm going to revel in it for however long it takes to get to the end.

Friday, March 14, 2014

SHAZAAM!

As to not deprive my massive readership any longer I figured I'd post some examples of what I'm reading since I'm not posting about what I've read.

The General Law of Oblivion

Mr. Proust called it: the beloved gone so long
you forget what he/she looks like,
no matter portraits, photos, or memory,
which is the best tool for forgetting.
Though one cannot deny
its genius, Mr Proust's prose
kills me, it loops
me over and out.  Is it just French novelist
who don't know how to end
a sentence and so love the semicolon ("the period
that leaks") they can't write two lines
without one?  And I am so godamned tired
of hearing about that cookie!
As if he were the first (first fish were!) to notice
the powers of the olfactory!  But
about the General Law of Oblivion
he had it zeroed: "It breaks my heart
that I am going to forget you," he said
in a last letter to a friend.
The length and music of that sentence
is perfect, in English or in French.

#
Put the Bandage on the Sword and Not the Wound

It must hurt, too, the sword, heated to red (exactly: burnt
orange) hot, beaten and beaten, hard,
by a strong arm
and a hammer
up and down its long body, plunged
in icy water,
then beaten again
and the grinding, the awful grinding
of stone on steel
before the thick and bitter taste of blood
on its lip.

#
Midmorning,

accompanied by bees
banging the screen,
blind to it between them
and the blooms
on the sill, I turn pages,
just as desperate as they
to get where I am going.
Earlier, I tried to summon
my nervous friend,
a hummingbird, with sugar
water.  The ants go there first.
Now, one shrill bird
makes its noise too often,
too close: ch-pecha, ch-pecha-pecha.
If he'd eat the caterpillars
)in sizes S to XXL!) eating my tomatoes,
we could live as neighbors, but
why can't he keep quiet
like the spiders and snakes?
I spoke to an exterminator
once who said he'd poison
birds but he didn't want me
to write about it.  I have not
until now, and now starts up
that black genius, the crow,
who is answered by the blue
bully, the ubiquitous, the utterly
American, jay.

#
Three poems from Thomas Lux's (did I do that right?  The 'x' apostrophe thing looks odd and even sounds funny.) God Particles.

You're welcome.  :)

(Three poems and a smiley face?!  Wow, I'm being super generous today.)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Month in Review

As far as reading is concerned a lot more got done this month than last.  I finished The Name of The Rose which freed up reading energy to dedicate to other things.  Divergent was probably my favorite book of the month despite all it's quarks.  The runner up to the month's favorite was The Best American Poetry American Poetry 2006 edited by Billy Collins.  This particular volume was far more inviting than other installments I'd read in the series.  I felt anyone could pick up the collection and enjoy the majority of what was their without having to know a secret password, handshake, or offer a blood sacrifice.  I'm looking forward to checking out many of the authors whose works were included.  I read a collection by Collins, Horoscopes For The Dead, and somewhat surprisingly, it did nothing for me.  At all.  I'll certainly be checking out other collections he's edited and I'll probably give his own poetry another try at a later date.  One Of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies and The Lucy Variations rounded out my reading for the month.

So in terms of published words, I read five times as many books as last month.  That at least sounds good.

I can't find my previous draft of this post and I can't remember all that I wanted to talk about.  The only other issue that comes to mind was coming across a lot of articles dealing with gender 'isms' in retail representation of books.  I think Marion's thoughts are universally upheld if only (sadly) wholly ignored in retail presentation.  Don't be fooled by this title "I Don't Need no Women in my Fantasy" about 'isms' in fiction.  Fair warning: it was writen by a man.  There's more than trace amounts of whining in this article and complaining about 'the media' and, essentially something as pathetic as 'The Man.'  There is also some mind-blowing statistics and revelations presented and you should definitely read the full articles attached within the article I've linked to.  Here's the pile-on argument stating more of the same (of which I've the exact same experience though in music publishing.)        

And finally this post on Fantasy-Faction about the Hugo awards and their host this year; best summed up by So @wossy has stepped down from hosting the Hugos at #Loncon3. Great to see that genre folk hate rudeness but are fine with cyber bullying.  I imagine Neil Gaiman and the awards committee throwing their hands in the air and saying, "F--- it…"

Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm Talking about 'One of those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies' by Sonya Sones

Don't even begin to ask me where this book came from.  I've been trying to figure it out myself.  Perhaps it's a novel; perhaps it's a book of poems.  Perhaps it's journal kept by a teenager at the time of some extraordinary changes with a few interspersed epistolary sections.  I don't know.  

It works.  And it reads really fast; as in infuriatingly fast.  And there's way too much italics.  (And it's slightly redundant as teenagers really don't have much to say.)

'American Airlines Flight 161

I'm not that depressed, 
Considering that this 
Gigantic silver bullet with wings
Is blasting me away from my whole entire life, 
Away from Lizzie Brody, 
My best friend in the world, 
Away from Ray Johnston, 
My first real boyfriend.

Not that depress, considering I'e been kidnapped 
by this monstrous steel pterodactyl
And it's flying me all the way to L.A.
To live with my father
who I've never even met
Because he's such a scumbag
that he divorced my mother
before I was even born.

I'd say I'm doing reasonably well, 
Considering I'm being dragged
three thousand miles away from all my friends
And my school and my aunt Duffy
And the house I've lived in ever since I was born, 
Three thousand miles away from my mother, 
And my mother's grave, 
Where she lies in a cold wooden box
Under six feet of dirt, 
Just beginning to rot.  

I'm not that depressed
considering that I'm trapped
on this jumbo poison dart
Shooting me away from everything I love, 
And there's this real weird guy
Sitting in the seat right behind mine,
Who keeps picking his nose 
And eating it.

Depressed?
Who?  Me?'

Pages 1-2

That is how the whole two-hundred and seventy page book is written with the exception of a few emails.  It was initially a bit jarring, but--right after immediately--it read like a novel with awkward poetry presentation.  Perhaps that's how all poetry is supposed to read… 

Ruby is the most stereotypical teenager I've come across in fiction in terms of her personality.  Her mother dies (we only kinda learn of what and how) and she goes to live with her father she's never met but knows very well.  Her dad, Whip, is a mega-movie star; think on the scale of Tom Cruise sans the psychosis.  

She hates everything about her new life only because everything is different from what she previously knew.  What I liked--what felt real--was how she had to constantly remind herself that she was miserable.  The weather, the house she is living in, the friends she makes girls and boys, and especially Whip, Ruby has to wake up and tell herself every morning that its all horrible if only on some obscure principle only known to fifteen year olds.  

Despite the title, this is a 'happily ever after' book.  I don't say that as a bad thing as the realism was never sacrificed to achieve that end.  

Its fast (really fast; I had to make myself stop reading twice because I hate that breathless feeling while reading; it's supposed to be a relaxing endeavor for me) it takes about an hour to read; and I'm about as slow as they come.  

It's fun and shallow.  


I'll have another please.    

Monday, February 24, 2014

Divergent by Veronica Roth

From the first page to the last, the world of Divergent left me scratching my head.  It takes place in some weird-ass version of Chicago that is never explained.  Usually I like little to no exposition: BOOM!  The story starts and goes, no need to get bogged down in the details.  In this regard the story works fine, but the setting never jelled with me and in a story that is so intrinsically tied to it's world, I was left feeling a bit empty and confused.    

There are five factions and one's faction determines everything about the individual: their friends, jobs, lifestyle; everything.  Beatrice chooses a different faction than that which she was born into.  Her faction of choice, Dauntless, is rife with problems but I'll get there latter.  The factions each embrace different ideals and fulfill different roles and are supposed to work together for the greater good of all or something; I'm was never really sure about that last part.  

The story is of Beatrice, Tris, being an initiate in Dauntless.  They learn to jump off buildings, jump off of moving trains, shoot guns, and beat the crap out of people.  (Everyone in Dauntless is shot and beaten, which is fine, but I do question whether the author has ever shot a gun or knows anything about physical combat.)  The other part of the story, the reason why there are sequels, has to do with political intrigue and fighting among the factions.  It was never explained or even hinted at how things came to be as they were, this raised a lot of questions on my behalf and I felt like rather than undergo the difficulty of providing answers or fleshing out her world such matters were ignored.  

It's an intimate story, all about Tris, but I couldn't help wonder: What's happening in Denver?  Do they have factions there?  The Country?  The world?  Cause who would put up with this?  Why has no one left Chicago and most pressing, what happened prior to Tris' story to leave things in that state they are in?  Perhaps the answers are forthcoming… 

Weight classes exist in combat sports for a very good reason; that is why there are pound-for-pound rankings.  Imagine an eight year old girl (this is effectively Tris at sixteen or there abouts).  This girl is made to be Serigo Martinez's sparring partner for most of the book.  Now imagine Sergio not holding back.  She's sore in the morning but other than that, she's fine.  No one shoots a gun with an eye closed assuming they have two.  I could go on--at length--with some credibility issues concerning Tris' initiation but, no.  

I had no real idea as to where the story was going.  It's always good to hint at the ending, or at least I feel it is.  While the narrative never felt like it was wandering, I did at times try to figure out what was going on in a not-good kind of way.  

The ending was awesome.  Lots of action, energy, and everyone got shot or beat up eleven-teen times.  (Actually Tris was shot and or beat up at all points in time in the book--she even has knives thrown at her because she's extra awesome.  The two shirts she owned said 'target' and 'punching bag' across her chest, respectively.)  

My biggest gripe is that this is the kind of story where far too many problems--perhaps all of them--are solved with a gun.  "Just keep shooting people and all you're dreams will come true."  When I got out of grad school I wrote a few novels all of which deal with shooting a lot of people in the head.  Roth is far superior than I at both writing a novel and the shooting-in-the-head bit, but just because she does it well doesn't mean it's a premise to hang one's hat on.  By the end, it felt a bit like Rage Against the Machine screaming "Killing in the Name Of" and I'm thirty-three so I'm kinda over that stage of life…     

Despite what I may term short comings, or faults many of the novels aspects that weren't given a strong enough foundation to shine on their own came together in the story's romance.  I saw it coming (everyone who reads it will), I couldn't explain why, but it really worked.   

There is a healthy dose of Hunger Games here and that is certainly not a bad thing.  It's tense in moments, and a lot of fun at all other times.  It should be a phenomenal, testosterone, driven action movie.  If you've ever needed a strong, young, not pretty, female heroine who can take a beating better than any video game final boss, look no further than the whipping post Tris was tied to in Divergent.       

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

I am without doubt the worst person alive to leave comments on this particular book.  (Or at least one of the worst people.)  I bring too much personal life experience to the table to read a fictional tale about a classical pianist's teenage years with an objective nature added to which I'm kinda in love with Sara Zarr.

I'll try to be good.  Or 'nice' or something…

The library copy I read has been censored for profanity by a previous reader who apparently found some of Zarr's language inappropriate.  While it's sad that someone would take a felt tip pen and thoroughly blot out words in a book that isn't theirs, filling in the blanks did make for fun reading.  Every now and then reading a sentence was like reading some of those letters that Yossarian had to edit while not-injured and dodging the war.  "My dad bought me this for the museum fund-raiser.  Kinda            don't you think?"  I'm guessing Zarr, went with 'slutty' but given the freedom to interpret that which had been scratched out, I went with 'whoretastic.'

I read this book in about two hours; that's how much I liked it, but I had to indulge a lot more than an occasional scratched out word.  Lucy is sixteen years old and has just recently walked away from the life of a brilliant, classical pianist: traveling to competitions, concert engagements, recordings, and being pimped out by her grandfather to achieve a dream that he has long nursed for someone in his family.  After being betrayed by her family over a not-so-insignificant-matter she, wants to be 'normal.'  Go to school, have friends, not have her life dictated and planned out for her, to not have to wonder if she even likes playing the piano or if it's just the way her life has always been and she knows nothing else.

All of my problems with Lucy are from my life's experience and I couldn't really picture her in the game to the extent that Zarr wanted her to be.  It felt to me Zarr had done surface level research in what is a far more esoteric world than she ever imagined.  While Lucy's story and situation were certainly plausible she never came close to passing the eye test in terms of being a classical musician at her stated age, and more specifically, ability level.

There was a mention of Lucy going to a piano and adjusting the pedals.  The pedals are fixed and can't be adjusted in any way.  Perhaps she meant the piano bench.  There was a moment when Lucy is in a mini cooper with her two best friends--who aren't musicians--and she plays classical music.  I've only driven a mini once (it was an absurd amount of fun) and it was really loud.  Not the car for listening to classical music in.  Furthermore, if you put on classical music in a car with other people who have no time for classical music you essentially get beat up about it.  There is no arguing this last bit.  Lucy has quit playing the piano; hasn't touched it in eight months then on two weeks noticed puts together a Brahms sonata she hasn't played before for a performance only to--spur of the moment--play something else.  On no planet does this happen.  Ever.  Both Lucy and her little brother Gus who has taken up where she left off, don't really practice enough.  Practicing becomes compulsive: hearing Gus stress about his hour a day for the level of performance he was supposedly at was laughable.  Her family is super rich and they have a rebuilt European grand from the eighteen hundreds.  Modern pianos happened around the 1910's-20's when Steinway and Chickering finally got things so right that everyone else adapted what they were doing.  Her family would have eschewed the history of her great Uncle's piano in light of a Bosendorfer, Bechstein, Grotrian or Steinway.  Finally--kinda--Will, Gus' teacher, doesn't really teach.  What was said during lessons was unlike any lesson or masterclass I've ever taken part in.

There was some drunk piano playing as well.  Unless, you learn to play the piano or any instrument while drunk, called a conditioned learning response (like me with bowling) you will suck donkey balls at playing the piano when drunk.  Elio's drunken moment in Call me by Your Name was far more accurate in terms of playing while under the influence.  (But then again, that book was perfect...)  Zarr also doesn't talk about music in a way that pianist do.  If you just heard someone play, afterwards you may say, "I loved our Liszt!"  But if you're talking to other pianists, no one would ever say, "I'm playing a Chopin nocturne."  Because everyone's next question would be, "Which one?"  You state key and opus immediately after you say Chopin nocturne; all of this hurt believably.  My last musical gripe (promise!) is Lucy at sixteen playing the Mendelssohn d minor.  It's not a matter of difficulty, but why would she choose that piece?  Not the violin concerto but the piano one.  Because at that age, unless you've played every other concerto there is you're not gonna pick Mendelssohn d minor.  This bothered me so much I called some grad school friends for their response as well.  Both of these friends are also piano performance majors.

What Jennifer said.  "No I haven't played that.  Why would I?  Maybe if I'm recording both just to get it out of the way for posterity's sake.  Why would anyone play that?"

What Jay said.  "You mean the violin concerto?"
"No, piano concerto in d minor.  Mendelssohn."
"There's a d minor piano concerto?"

Granted, I think Jay was joking but even that joke proves my point.

My musical complaints aren't only because I think I know the subject matter better than the author, rather how she presents the material puts some serious dings in Lucy's credibility.  It was these issues that held me back from buying into the story.

Music aside, the most difficult points to swallow was her relationship with her family.  She falls out of favor with her family, especially her Grandfather, as she gives up on piano.  But I never found any tangible complaint to justify their continued hardship.  I couldn't imagine her family not supporting her decision to stop playing.  Furthermore, her parents damn near neglect her.  She is a spoiled rich kid sure, but the degree to which they don't keep tabs on this girl stretched belief.  Added to which the options for a sixteen year girl to get in trouble in San Francisco after discovering freedom after being chained to a piano for twelve years was more than I could take.

My eyes rolled a lot.  And that has never happened to me in a book by Sara Zarr.

The story is about Lucy's longing to play again only not in the manner or extent to which she previously played.  Will, Gus' teacher, coaxes and prods and is a wangus in general .  Will's relationship with Lucy felt very, very real.  I don't know how she couldn't come to see that he was an asshat.
 
Zarr's strong points are what she is always good at doing.  Her depiction of Lucy's family, their wealth, and San Francisco are all so clear with such minimal, almost accidental, effort is phenomenal.  I still love Zarr's voice.  I still wish she'd write about something other than a teenage girl fighting an intangible anxiety.  Musical deficiencies aside, it's a hard book for me to talk about as I'm so biased toward liking Zarr that I'm inclined to forgive a pretty weak to insubstantial plot tension just because the book was fun and easy to read.

Please do read Sara Zarr!  But start here, or maybe, here.




I spent all day reading.

That's what I did yesterday.  I started and finished The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (commentary coming soon).  I read a bunch of poems from three different collections; why I can't read one to completion is beyond me.  I started reading Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I also probably spent two hours reading online about my beloved Tarheels and how we are going to stomp on The Enemy tomorrow night.

I still don't see myself leaving commentary for poetry; at least not any time soon.  I shouldn't leave commentary for The Lucy Variations but I'm not strong enough stay away.  I'm fifty pages into Divergent and have no clue as to what is going on and it's kinda awesome.

So yeah, I did other stuff yesterday than read, but for the most part that was it.  I could do with another one of those days soon.