Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong by K J Parker

I finished 'A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong' by KJ Parker last week.  It's a short story from the collection Academic Exercises.  It felt very much in line with Purple and Black and Blue and Gold, which is a good thing.

There's two main characters, and Parker chooses to follow the less interesting of the two; not sure if this is a twist or not but it certainly makes for some 'uphill' reading.  One is a brilliant but apathetic, musician, turned murder; the other his teacher.  As the student goes into hiding, never publishing again, for fear of immediate recognition and capture, the teacher passes off his students work as his own and watches his status soar.

It's a good story but in every way, to me at least, feels a bit like an early work newly published.  Particularly the end feels off when our bad guy--who has proven to be genius in more areas than just musical composition--just gives up and things come to a very abrupt end.

Music was my primary point of contention.  I've covered this ground with other fiction that I've reviewed, but there was horribly off commentary that made me give up on believability.  There are some topics that a writer can't casually research and then write about in any convincing way.  The story happens in a secondary world that in many ways feels like western Europe.  Since it's all made up, I guess I'm supposed to forgive everything.  But every reader brings certain knowledge to the table and I couldn't turn my mind off.  Reference to a certain page count of manuscript for a symphony made me laugh out loud, as did passages of how music was copied in this time before modern publishing.  A composer referencing their own, 'slow movement' as opposed to saying, 'the Andante, or Largo' (what any musically inclined person would have said) made me roll my eyes.

Yeah, it was a good piece of writing and a story that felt like ground work for Blue and Gold, but as I always seem to say when music and literature come together: assume you don't know what you're talking about unless you actually do…

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Month in Review

I did a lot of reading this much; most of which wasn't to completion.  I started and put down two books by John Green (one of which felt familiar and I may have tried to read in the past), one by Sara Zarr (which I never thought I'd do) and a book of poetry which was a bit too much 'whatever' for this neophyte.  

In addition to starting and discarding lots of fiction, I also did the same with about five non-fiction books.  I'm still trying to wrap my head and hands around bookbinding.  I perused about six books from the library.  Most all that I came across were written as text books for the aspiring professional; as such they were completely un-helpful to me.  I'm not there yet, I'm a beginner trying to get my feet wet and gauge my interest.  I did glean one great passage from one of the books, to paraphrase ' a text is needed to explain all the details and issues that a master craftsman may take for granted in explaining what he/she is doing.'  I've been involved in music long enough to hear the truth in those words.  It's why we ask questions during a lesson.  

Of the books I got my hands on the two that I'm keeping--that appealed most to me and my immediate curiosity--are Bookbinding Basics by Paola Rosati, and Simplified Bookbinding by Henry Gross.  If you're interested I'd say start with the former then the latter.  Neither have expectations of you spending thousands of dollars or having access to professional equipment nor do they try to get you working with leather and silver filagree on page ten.  And as a note to future craftsman who may think of making an instructional manual on bookbinding: The pictures really, really help.  

Moving on to things I read and finished the list is unsurprisingly short.  Openly Straight was fun.  And I kinda loved County O by Robert Hedin and will be tracking down more of his poetry soon.    

Regrets of the month: I didn't go to any event at the Decatur Book Festival, and I haven't read Lev Grossman's new book yet.  

I'm pretty sure that's it.  Like I said, I read a lot; I didn't finish a lot.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

It will be easiest if I come out at the start and say that I love just about everything about this book.  Because I learned while reading, coming out and saying it at the end cheapens a bit of the commentary that precedes.

Rafe doesn't like labels.  He is openly gay and after two years of high school he only wants to be a boy; not a gay boy.  He feels there is more to him as a person than to be forever identified by his sexual preference.  He doesn't want to go back in the closet; just hide out in the threshold for a while.

I'm not sure if this idea qualifies for high concept but it is both socially aware and very very, fresh.  Rafe enrolls in an all boy boarding school on the other side of the country essentially to carry out an experiment: what exactly does being gay mean to him and can he be gay without being defined by the word.

No one knows Rafe is gay at his new school.  He's not denying that he is; he's just not telling anyone.  He finds himself playing football and soccer and hanging out with guys that he would deem jocks, and having the time of his life.  He becomes a jock.  And then he starts to question the labels and labeling that he ran away from to being with.  Gay; Straight; Jock; Nerd; Winner; Loser; weirdo; etc…

There are lot of really good ideas being expressing in this book.  Rafe's situation, where he's lying to himself and everyone else by omission.  Bryce, the school's token black kid, and his depression.  And my favorite discussion at the end where much was said about marching in parades and why some people choose to do so and others don't.  The book is more than merely a great title.

However, I didn't think any of the conflict was fully indulged.  I couldn't tell if the author wanted to suggest thoughts to the reader and let the reader go from there or if he felt his points were made and so he'd move on to the next one.  (That is certainly not how I felt.)

The story focus on Rafe falling in love with Ben.  There are extremely close and Ben is starting to wonder how close 'close' can be.  Rafe knows what he wants but he's stuck between telling the truth and pissing Ben off, or keeping his secret and dealing with the anxiety of knowingly lying to someone he truly cares for.  The relationship aspect is really well done.

My primary complaint is Rafe's sheer intelligence and the fact that he never saw himself as aggressively vapid and shallow as he views everyone else.  He labels absolutely everyone--right down to all the stereotypes of being named Kaitlin, Brittany, or Ashley--and is happy to do so as long as no one labels him gay.  He definitely carries a bit of 'high and mighty' greater-than-thou attitude on his shoulders and does so with no regard for how much a jerk he may come off to anyone else.  In essence he 'struts.'  My dislike for his character should not suggest that he was poorly drawn, but I certainly didn't love him as much as his eccentric hippie parents do.

"A lot of the kids, Steve included, seemed to be writing that down, and I almost laughed.  It was like, 'This isn't going to be on a test,' dummies.  Listen.  Stop worrying about memorizing things you don't even understand.  I turned my eyes to Scarborough, and I watch as he saw the same thing I did.  I could see that the class's silence was even more disappointing to him."  Page 142  Scarborough was the teacher twenty something years Rafe's senior.  

He even gets worse than that…  I kept thinking that in addition to realizing that he couldn't suppress such a large part of his identity that Rafe would realize something to the affect of "Hey!  I'm a shallow sixteen-year old prick too!"  Because I felt that would have had more emotional impact on his growing up process than suppressing his sexual preference.  

There's a second narrative in the book, one that Rafe writes for his English teacher, Scarborough, who is the only person on campus that knows he's gay.  It deals with Rafe looking back to how he got here and draws so much attention to itself that it was almost as if the author wanted to explain--and even worse, justify--his writing style to reader while the reader was reading the book.  Happily, these sections were short.  

My final gripe is dialogue and what I always say about well-written 'chatty' books and why I stay away from them.  The dialogue is perfect.  P-E-R-F-E-C-T.  Which is as far away from real human speech as one could possibly be.  No one in this book--not a soul--ever reflects and says, "ya know what I should've said/done/acted thusly…"  They have the perfect, witty reply, snarky remark, clever comment queued up to go at any given time and it's wholly unrealistic.  Konigsberg's characters are very well drawn but about as believably sixteen as Cassandra Claire's.  

So I've done some complaining, cause that's my style, which means I liked it.  I checked this book out from the library, but since I believe in supporting the authors I really like I've since bought my own copy.  

Oh, and Rafe, at your age--or any age--if you ever find yourself in a novel again, you only get to say 'non sequitur' out loud once.  Or preferably never…  SINCE NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT!  

It's only August but this is probably my book of the year.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tie-Over Poetry

To keep you entertained until I post my comments on Openly Straight (hopefully tomorrow) some poems by Robert Hedin from his collection "County O."

     --for William Pitt Root

Owls glide off the thin
Wrists of the night,
And using snow for their feathers
Drift down on either side
Of the wind.

I spot them
As I camp along the ridge,
Glistening over the streambeds
Their eyes small rooms
Lit by stone lamps.

Last Poet

This man is a lover
Of canyon walls.
The first to read by moon alone.

During the day
He lives away from the sun,
Prone in the cool dirt
Under ledges,
Revising that one long last narrative line
On sheets of mica.

Now is the time
He chooses his closest friends:
A piece of jagged rock,
A cricket who's run out of songs.

Near evening
He makes his way to a precipice
And scours
The stones for scratches
Other than his own.

And as the moon curls over the rim
He recites his work
From memory,
Then listens as the canyon reads back
Again and again.
And then he claps
And the whole canyon applauds.


At the end of the open road we come to ourselves
                                            --Louis Simpson

All right, Louis
                         we're here
We're here at the end of the open road,
At the end of our ellipsis.

A wind and slight drizzle hide
Any other footprints.
They curl the road
Around our feet,
Sweeping it back into itself.

Louis, in the darkness we think
We see trees, giant sequoias
That break around an open marsh,
And are compelled to give them green,
To give them sway,
A hard mossy bark,
Rain dripping from their leaves.

Listen.  A bullfrog's call.
Smell the wet calm in the air.

We wait for the moon,
For the song of the white bird

Any backdrop
                        of light.


At this speed our origins are groundless.
We are nearing the eve of a great festival,
The festival of wind.
Already you can see this road weakening.
Soon it will breathe
And lift away to dry its feathers in the air.
On both sides the fields of rapeseed and sunflowers
Are revolting against their rows.
Soon they will scatter wildly like pheasants.
Now is the time, my friend, to test our souls.
We must let them forage for themselves,
But first--unbuckle your skin.
Out here, in the darkness
Between two shimmering cities,
We have, perhaps for the last time, chance
Neither to be shut nor open, but to let
Our souls speak and carry our bodies like capes.

That last one reminds me a Khalil Gibran for some reason.  I think Owls is simply amazing and the type of thing most people wish they could write with they say they want to start writing poetry.  There is some heavy word repetition and imagery as well but for the most part I've really enjoyed this collection.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Month in Review

July has been full of books; that said, I've only read two.  It's usually my wont in an effort to get myself out of a funk to buy or check out a ton or stuff, looking for inspiration and to get out of my reading rut.

I only bought one book, and honestly I forgot I purchased it.  Academic Exercises by KJ Parker was one I pre-ordered a while ago and when it arrived it was a very pleasant surprise.  Her novels haven't really worked for me, but I love her short stories so I'm hoping for the best.

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh was a birthday gift.  This is without doubt the coolest looking book I own.  To the point where I feel bad for those with e-readers as they never got to see it.  Cool as it is, I admit to having to take this dust jacket off when I actually sit down to read it, but damn, it's cool.  It's also sci-fi, which I probably never would have picked up of my own volition but I know the giver of this gift knows my taste so I wouldn't be surprised if I love it.

I checked out five young adult novels from the library, each of which could feasibly be read in a day or two, all of which I'm excited about.  Lastly I got three poetry books from the library ranging from 'thick' 'medium' to 'thin.'  I read slowly.  I read poetry very slowly, so I've no plans to get through this small stack quickly, but hopefully I'll find some good stuff.

As to what I've actually read in July, there isn't much to report.  I knocked out a few more stories from Better living Through Plastic Explosives and I'm about halfway through Love in a Time of Cholera--which is the huge and dense and dense and huge.   My most odd bit of reading this month was A Street of Clocks by Thomas Lux, a poet who I really like and has been my 'go-to' since discovering I liked poetry, except I didn't care for anything in this collection.  It's a collection like this that really makes me wish I could express myself better about poetry so I could say what didn't work for me, despite all the books critical acclaim.  Oh well…

Much as I'm excited to skip to the new stuff, I really want to clean up loose ends and finish Better Living Through Plastic Explosives and Love in the Time of Cholera, that said, August--usually my best reading month of the year--has potential.    

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm Talking about Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters

In which people saunter, seethe, and swagger way too much… 

I read this book in a day; which felt great as I've had problems reading anything--let alone to completion--in a a long time.  I finished the book, which means I liked it; I spent most of the day wishing I liked it more.  

It's the story of a girl, Holland, coming out.  And out and out and out and out…  (No seriously, she comes out on every page to the point where I started wishing she'd do something else.)  It hasn't aged terrible well; nor does it feel super dated.  I have an older sister who is gay, out and proud so a lot of the conflict felt luke warm to me, but I'm trying to keep personal experience out of my mind.  I really wish this book started on page seventy-nine instead of page one.  But yeah… I finished it; I liked it.  

Peters' must have had a sketch pad on which she jotted down the fifty most tense, nerve wracking plot scenarios she could come up with; this entire list she came up with was awesome.  Then she pared the list down and managed to cram as much as she could into the book by dialing back on all that made each scenario awesome to begin with.  

'Should have started on page seventy-nine," aside, I don't know how this book didn't have more momentum and power.  A teenager coming to terms with sexual identity while in a healthy and positive sexual relationship with the opposite sex, and being the most popular, image-conscious kid in the school.  It reminded me of Michael Chabon's short story Son of the Wolfman that I felt fell flat even though it was working with such strong material.  

I erased about twenty paragraphs in writing this next phrase: I never bought into Holland being gay.  At the snap of a finger, she sees a girl.  Learns this girl is gay.  That's all it takes. Now, Holland is gay.  Her character wasn't that shallow, but it wasn't much more substantial either…   All the problems--inherent to the story's framework--that could have been exploited but weren't: Seth, Holly's boyfriend, their eventual fallout and all the other subsequent boys she has to fight off; her family stepsister, stepfather; the student body president bit did nothing for the story even though she can identity a hate crime and bullying when she sees it; why use any of that material?  

At the end of the day Holly didn't strike me as a three dimensional character, thus made for a very week protagonist.  

There is a great story in here somewhere (starting on page seventy-nine) but I didn't feel it was ever uncovered.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Month in Review

I can't skip this post for June since I actually, ya know…, read some stuff.  Not a lot but some and considering my recent reading dry spell we'll take 'some' over nothing.

I read Torn Away at the start of the month and finished it so quickly that if feels like a year since I read it!  I also loved the book--which I kinda knew I would before I started reading.  With only a month  since I finished, I can already say that it hasn't stuck with me the way Perfect Escape has.  And while I think it would be foolish to say Jennifer Brown has already written her best book, I would tell anyone who wanted to get into Brown to do so, but save Perfect Escape for last or last--ish.

Today, I finished The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon.  If you've read my blog before, you know I love Chabon.  So how did his first novel go over with me?  To quote the much more literarily expressive than I Marion Deeds, I finished reading and said, "Huh?"

I got both the book and what he was trying to express or communicate, but if I read the book and didn't know it was Chabon I never would have ever guessed that he wrote it.  It's good, and not because it's dated but I'm sure it was even better when it first came out twenty years ago.  There were a few beautiful passages and descriptions that are shades of who he would later become, but none of the characters felt grounded.  I didn't mind all the characters being a caricature of themselves (or at least that's how they came off to me) or super pretentious and knowing I'd never hang out with these people in real life, but what killed me is they weren't real.  None of them felt like flesh and blood beings.  They were great vessels for ideas and living embodiment of concepts and ideals but that was all.

I love Michael Chabon and I'll read anything he writes (no, seriously; I will.) but all I'll say about this book is, "A writer and change/develop/grow a lot in twenty years."

I'm still about halfway through Better Living Through Plastic Explosives it's great but not really what I'm feeling right now.  I may read the remaining stories at a later point in time to appreciate them more than my current stupor will allow.

Since I'm blogging again, I wish the google sidebar thing where I post my 'most recent commentaries' links worked like it used to… Oh well.  Also, I've been giving a lot of though to re-reading stuff.  I've been doing so, as so many of the new-to-me-books I've picked up as of late have been misses that I'm thinking, 'Why not revisit the good stuff?'

I think I'll make a list, not merely of books I liked but ones that I really feel would benefit from a second (or third) visit and then after doing so I'll see if the idea of reading what's on the list still seems appealing or if I need to keep forging ahead.

Nonetheless, I'm reading again which feels good.  Scouring my shelves for more quick and dirty; fast and easy stuff for right now i.e. not Garcia-Marquez, Krauss, or Fowles which is the kinda stuff I own that is staring at me.  I think it's helped me that I'm not setting reading goals a month in advance like I usually do.  When I'm on a roll, doing so is a motivator and helps me read even more, but when I'm not, the opposite is also true.

Lev Grossman's new book is out in August…

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Something Different

Can I talk about a movie?  I don't usually do that.  It's based on a book I read, so it should be okay to talk about.  Right?

For me, movies are usually always awesome: they go from zero-to-WIN in less than three seconds;  classic to gold; to platinum and then 'instant vintage' about ten minutes in, or in some cases before the opening credits are finished.  This is because I have no expectations when going to see a movie.

I'm weird and I know it--un-American in many many ways--but, all things considered, movies are not a medium of story telling that I enjoy.  So how is it I love most all of the movies I see?  Well, I only see about two or three a year so it doesn't take much to get me excited.  I don't sample enough to be critical; I don't have much grounds for comparison.  X-Men "Let's kill off all the old cast" was awesome.  Maleficent "The bad guy wusses out and becomes the good guy and what the hell was that rape scene doing in a Disney movie?" was awesome.  Divergent (book commentary here) was epochally bad.

Divergent was awful.

It was just like the book; verbatim, which is odd as I didn't particularly care for the book but neither was it as painful as watching that movie.  Same problems, same complete lack of direction or forward motion, same "what the hell is going on in this world and why is anyone putting up with it?" except the book takes about two hours to read; in my comfy chair, and libations to ease the occasional pain.  The movie takes three hours to watch and sometimes the person next to you sneezes…

Obviously I'm wrong right?  The movie made truck loads of movie, they are already filming the sequels (right here in Atlanta, Georgia), and I'm sure it's gonna help launch old girls career if The Fault in Our Stars doesn't manage to do so.  But still… it was bad…  I'm not a film critic; neither do I aspire to be one.  I don't care how much money it makes.  That movie was like pop music specifically catered towards 14-17 year olds that anyone, ANYONE, could 'sing' because the track can't fail; only in film form.  

Divergent was awful.


Did you see it?  Did you like it/love it?  Tell me why!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where's the Story?

I find myself reading two books at once.  Usually when this happens it means I started one, it's doing little to not much for me, so I start another.  This is the first time I can recall reading two books at once where the above isn't the case.

I don't think I'll be leaving comments for Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner as I've already found so many reviews online that state my feelings better than I could, but I may talk about it.  It's the kind of literary fiction that people who don't like the genre point to: not because it's 'not good' in some vague way (it's actually amazing) but because there aren't stories being told.  

I started The Mysteries of Pittsburg yesterday and it's flying by.  The ease in reading has nothing to do with the plaudits that come with being Michael Chabon as opposed to being anyone else Gartner, rather Chabon has a narrative going, a story.  After reading half of Gartner's collection, picking up Chabon is the first time I've ever condoned seeing 'A Novel' on the cover of a book.

I get it now.

I understand because I've now come to see that not all works of fiction are novels, or in Gartner's case not all short stories collections are narrative stories in the typical sense.  I don't want to turn this into an author vs. author and even if I did I'd be the first to point out Chabon's near inability to wrestle a story out of Jews With Swords as he fell further an further in love with his word play and himself page by page.  (And if I were Chabon I'd be totally in love with me too.)  All that said, I like stories.  Settings; characters; narrative; plot; tension; conflict; resolution.  Ideas are great and so is social commentary--Gartner has a lot to say and does it extremely well.

But with the points she's trying to make and concepts she wants the reader to think about, many of her stories feel like essays shoehorned into short stories.  (As if one of those two genres has substantial sales clout on the other… )  "Okay, this is good.  Now just add some characters names and try to craft some narrative direction."  I'll talk about it a bit more when I finish.  

But I like stories.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making The Same Mistakes Again...

I put down a book two days ago.  Actually, I dropped it on accident and it landed on the floor, the book mark came out, and I haven't bothered to pick up the book since.  I don't know why this is so hard for me to admit to myself and then act upon, but I just can't read high fantasy like I used to when I was a kid.  I know this to be true, through and through, and yet I have to periodically reaffirm this assertion which has already been proven.  I want to but I can't.  I need to get my fix with cheap TV and "B" movies: they serve to hit me up with my dose of guilty pleasure, are just as painful, and are completed in a much much shorter time.

I do not think that my reading hiatus had anything to do with the book I was reading at the time that I went on break; it was merely coincidence that it happened to be fantasy.  I was loving every part of the story; I don't think there was anything bad with the book; but something about 500 pages of 700 and three more books to go to finish the story just overwhelmed me to the point of running away despite my good intentions and enjoyment.

I can't do fantasy of this kind, and I'm vowing to never attempt to do so again.

I'm going to read Inkdeath and finish that series at some point in time.  Not because I'm a completionist but for whatever reason that series has stuck with me.  So long as the narrative doesn't prove too stiff, I'll keep at the Earthsea series.  Other than that, I'll have to keep the fantasy novels I read to the contemporary kind: more Lev and Austin Grossman than Tad Williams; not because I feel one writer is better than another rather I just can't do the latter.

Fantasy short stories I can do because they usually have a more pointed and concentrated story to tell than the expansive stuff that makes me cringe.  

I'm reading again, and I even seem to be blogging again, but don't expect too much fantasy commentary.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

"At this point, I could believe almost anything.  People think a tornado drops down on a cow pasture or a trailer park and everything is fine.  They never think about things like infected cuts and broken legs and old ladies crushed by air conditioners in their bathtubs.  They never think about orphans."  Page 176-177    

Can't you feel the happy and positive energy exuding from the words above?  

Jersey Cameron, survives an F5 tornado in her small town of Nowhere, Missouri.  A great deal of other people in her town didn't; including her mother and sister.  As is the norm for Jennifer Brown books what would seem like the climax happens on the first page and where the narrative ends up from there is the unique ride that is reading to the end of one of her novels.

So much of Jersey's identify is communicated so quickly in this leisurely reading three-hundred page book that I was winded after five pages.  How's that so, you ask?  Because on page one we are told everything in her life gets knocked off the planet by an F5 tornado.  If getting five pages in was a rush, the rest of the book was exhausting. 

The tornado takes everything about her life and identity away; absolutely everything.  (And unless you've survived one of these horrible instances before, be prepared to be overwhelmed and humbled by how much 'everything' encompasses.)  After the tornado takes her mother and sister, her house and her town, she watches it take everyone else that had been important in her life away in it's wake.  There's no communication.  None.  There are missing people.  Her friends are gone; the boy next door is gone1; her step-father finds himself incapacitated to do the duties of his station and be her parent2.

So she goes to live with her biological father, who she has never met or seen in a picture and things start to get really bad.  Like, worse than a tornado bad…  It's a bit of a Cinderella story.  It's a bit of a coping with PTSD story.  And in the oddest way, being a Cinderella PTSD person makes Jersey, and vicariously the reader, appreciate what they had even more, and to a higher degree, what's left.  Even as a jaded, bitter "I know what's coming next" reader it's really, really hard to see any positive signs in Jersey's life, and yet as she has absolutely nothing, when she's willing to look it's not hard to find something positive because she's literally got nothing.  

She has to start over, and she has to make do, and do the best she can with what's she's got, because as she's constantly reminded; she doesn't have options.  

From having read two others, this absolutely felt like a book by Jennifer Brown and I love reading her novels and seeing her develop as a writer.  (There were about twenty pages at the end I didn't like, but that was it.)  In some ways Torn Away is a book that rehashes some of her old standby staples she always writes about, in other ways it's new and different.  One issue I missed that I'm so accustomed to getting from her is how her protagonist deal with relationships.  Jersey's story is easily Brown's most intimate of the novels I've read: everything is about, her her her her her.  And that's not a bad thing, only I was surprised.  

I'd always felt Brown's strongest quality lie in her interaction with characters: volatile Kendra and her mentally ill brother Grayson; guilt soaked Val vs herself, her family, her therapist and the world.  Jersey is alone.

This isn't a light-hearted, easy, or fun book to read, nor is it difficult or a chore in anyway.  It's sad and not in the 'this author is manipulating my emotions in a cheap way to get an effect' kinda way either.  Things get bad and then progressively worse.  I don't think Brown does 'happily ever after' endings.  More like 'We've been through some shit and there's still more ahead, but I think you got it from here…'  It was a very Sara Zarr like book.  (How awesome of a thing was that to say?)  

I've never once gotten the story I expected from the premises of a Jennifer Brown novel.  She is amazing.  I thoroughly enjoy her books.  I hope I never get what I expect from a Jennifer Brown novel.

1)  The kid next door was a particular source of anxiety for me and the reason why I finished reading so quickly.  He was such a huge symbolic character for Jersey and I couldn't stand the heartburn of worrying about him.  Read it; let me know if you felt the same way.

2)  Ronnie, was easily the most oddly sympathetic character I'd ever come across.  Bizarre in every way.  Even as he's kicking Jersey out of his life, and she is begging him to let her take care of him she forgives him.  It's a character like this that makes me say, "Wow… Brown looked into to how tornados effect people more than even she wanted too…"  Ronnie.  Wow.    

Friday, June 13, 2014

Big News!

Today, I read a book.

Well, I should say, "Today, I finished a book."  I book I started yesterday no less.  I wasn't expecting this announcement to shake up the world, but it's big new to me considering I hadn't read a book in months.

Even better news: the book was awesome and I've written up comments for your intent perusal.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Back-ish, by Popular Demand

I'm only working two jobs now; that's down by one from a few weeks ago.  Reading has kinda gone on hiatus in favor of sleep.  I haven't had the frame of mind or energy to sit down and read in a while.  Hopefully that will change, but I really don't see it happening until next year or so.  Whenever I do sit down to read I think I'll be looking at a lot of small or smallish books that go by at a quick pace to help me get a sense of completion.

It's not so much a reading funk and certainly not that I've run out of books of interest.  Hell, I've got a book by Nicole Krauss at home from the library that I haven't read, and she's my favorite writer ever, that I haven't found the strength to even start.

But in the realm of starting to read again, and short things that go by quickly, I do have a copy of Jennifer Brown's newest novel, Torn Away.  It's never taken me more than a few days to get through her books and they are consistently awesome (so I assume; there are two that I'm kinda staying away from...).  So I may find some time in the coming days to knock this out.  I also want to finish whatever the name of the book by Tad Williams that I was reading a month ago.  I got about half way through it and was actually enjoying it, but then fizzled out on reading energy.

Not to say 'I'm back' and reading like normal, but I haven't fallen off the planet either.          

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


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.


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.

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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I've learned so much about myself since I started my second stint of actively reading for pleasure.  Back when the world was young and Methuselah owed me money--my high school days--I read everything. Michael Crichton and John Grisham were my favorite.  I read thrillers incessantly and I was probably averaging a book every two or three days.  Somewhere along the way I came across high or epic fantasy.  It wasn't until after college that started paying attention to what I was reading; what other people thought about what I was reading; and how the books I was reading were classified.  What I've learned is that if the word 'fiction' has to be modified, the book is generally not for me.

The Name of the Rose is undoubtedly 'historical fiction.'  Fiction, implies the story and all that elements that make that up.  Historical implies a very specific time frame and most likely a culture that the reader won't be immediately familiar with.  The problem, for me, when 'fiction' has to be modified is very tricky.  14th century Italy is the time, and monastic life is the culture.  I like a story to focus on the fiction and not whatever may be modifying the word.  So for me, quickly ingratiating me to the setting and indoctrinating me to the culture is essential.  I'm not sure Eco succeeded on the 'quickly' part but what he lacks in urgency he overcompensates in believability; and for me, I was completely okay with that trade.  

The story is a very standard murder mystery.  An extraordinarily wealthy monastery is turning up corpses in a fashion that seems to conjure the Apocalypse and coming of the AntiChrist.  The murders revolve around some very worldly secrets among the monks, a book that questions accepted truth and philosophy, an amazing library that is built more to conceal knowledge than share it, and a very base jealousy.

William of Baskerville, an ex-inquisitor, arrives just after the first murder and with his astonishing powers of reason and logic, and the thorough assistances of his companion Adso, begins to unravel the mystery.  The Holmes and Watson aspect of the novel couldn't be stronger.  

The 'historical' part of the novel is where I, and perhaps others, began to get a bit bogged down.  Eco writes in exhausting detail.  About everything…  There is life and vitality and color in his writing--it's never boring--but he goes on to an extent that far surpasses the need to make he believe in the time and place he writing.  It's no where near as bad as Tolkien, I never wanted to cut myself or cry blood while reading, but particularly in the begining where he can go on about the minutiae of monastic life at the expense of sharing even a hint as to why William is traveling to this monastery at all is a bit odd.  It's not rambling and it wasn't an info dump: it was too much of a good thing and my gut says Eco fought his editors who probably wanted to make some cuts.  At times, the maze that's supposed to be the library feels a bit more of a stifling quagmire than an arresting labyrinth.  It's all so (overly) well done that at times the book really does feel like a memoir of real and true events.    

The primary historical matters being discussed were Christ's earthly possession--should he have had any--and the church's stand point of poverty.  A saving grace was the novel's end when the fiction and history came together, and eventually went up in smoke.    

The book's title is perhaps the most interest point to mention when talking about the book and one can't divine any mean of the title from reading the novel.  It was only in reading the foreword, which I read, afterward, that the author shares some hints as to what the title means.  It is the 'name,' idea, or thought, of a thing that makes a thing special.  Not the object itself.  True possession isn't possible; 'You can't take it with you when you die.'  Like a rose, nothing endures for ever.  In terms of the book the 'rose' could be the monastery's library, human vanity, wealth, or a beautiful woman Adso once knew.  It's a rather dangerous, and a bit depressing, philosophy to live by.  

It's not an easy book to read, and a very difficult on to appreciate (I know I missed a lot).  It's not for everyone, but on every level I did think it was an extraordinary book.   

Check out Maria's take on the same book.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow in Hot 'Lanta; Again…

Subtitled: How one metropolitan city of more than seven million can be shut down before the snow even begins to fall.

Queue the extended Allman Brothers instrumental; this is gonna take a while.

 I'm going to attempt not to rant.  I'm going to make a concentrated effort to not vent my frustration at specific people.  However, winter in the state of Georgia is bad enough to turn me into one those people that fly south until spring.  Please note that the previous sentence is absurd and I'm being serious.

I left work early today as my employer presented my co-workers and I with an interesting choice.  Another one of those crazy, never seen before winter storms was coming through… just like two weeks ago.  And the building can't afford to shut every department down solely because people can't get to work.  (Which will factually be the case for many.)  Added to this, there are shows scheduled there Thursday through Sunday that are at near capacity.  So, we could leave at the end of the day and go home and then in the matter of safety, stay home until we thaw out from the ice.  (It's supposed to be 60 degrees by Friday.)  Or, we could leave now, go home, pack a bag, come back, and they would check us into the hotel across the street so no one would have to drive.  This option is either an expensive overreaction, a beautiful gesture by my employer, both, or the only choice the CEO had to offer in light of how poorly the negligible storm of two weeks proved to be handled.

And by 'handled' I mean wholly ignored.

Two weeks ago, I left work instead of sleeping there like thirty or so other people did.  That would have been the smart thing to do but I'm stubborn.  It took me seven hours and fifty-four minutes to get home, and I had to finish the last six miles on foot.  All that due to ice and two inches of snow.

Tomorrow the same people will be in public office that were in office two weeks ago (incidentally the same people that were in office in 2011 during the ice storm).  How will they react?  We don't know yet, but I feel certain they will react.  They can't ignore the storm and say, 'We'll melt out of it in two days,' like they essentially did two weeks ago.  Last time, people wondered how this could happen when the storm had been predicted for five days, if the people are made to wonder 'How could this happen again?' those people may well be made to resign.

So the chain of overreaction begins.  What's the cost of overreacting for a storm?  Probably millions, but we've all seen, or experienced the cost of not doing anything.  And so schools are already shut down (wisely), a state of emergency has already been declared, there is no more food at the grocery store.  The line at the liquor store wouldn't make sense even if it was New Year's Eve.

And it hasn't even started snowing yet…

The primary problem is one of perception versus reality.  'Hot 'Lanta.'  What do we know of this place?  We know that June-October is 'miserably hot with a high chance of drowning in your own sweat if you're out-of-doors for more than two minutes.'  We know the Braves will win the National League East then lose in the first round of the playoffs.  We know traffic at spaghetti junction will be awful if we're traveling during daylight hours.  What people in all walks of life in Atlanta don't know is that winter happens once a year--every year--and last for precisely three months.  Winter in Hot 'Lanta.  Sounds odd but I'm trying to tell you it's nothing new.

In Atlanta there is no such thing as a 'freak winter storm' or 'bizarre weather pattern that lead to cold weather' or whatever other ridiculous headlines, newscasters and media folk present.  We are used to being uncomfortably, or comfortably, hot for nine months out of the year; to the point where at least half of the population doesn't own clothing for winter or even if they do they wear their summer clothes in February thinking they can influence the weather and make it warmer by wearing sandals, a tee-shirt, and shorts and thinking positively and warmly.

Winter is not some far off distant threat, or impending doom of an untold future: winter, isn't, coming.  It's here.  Now.  And it's right on time.  Just as it was scheduled.  Please plan on winter happening once a year for three months; every year.  It always has.  It always will.

So I'm packing a bag to sleep across the street from my job for three nights.  It's annoying.  Now imagine how my employer feels knowing that thirty employees were stuck in the building just as they were and now offering to put us up for days.  I'm not talking cost, because I honestly think they are nonexistent to negligible, but… it's annoying.

There is value in doing things right the first time; setting a good precedent is a residual benefit.  What we, the people of Atlanta, are experiencing now is the exact opposite: the trickle down effect of a massive overreaction that has to take place in a good-will effort of over compensating for prior negligence.  It's a headache for us all and it's not the fault of the weather.

Winter happens in this city--just as summer does--every year.  Snow, and more specifically ice, is anything but a rare occurrence.  It's obvious there are no more boy scouts, or at least not in government positions.  Could we at the least remember--and apply--their motto?

"Be prepared."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Month in Review

Oh yeah… This thing… Better all-kinds-a late than never or something…

So, work is trying to run me into the ground and has been somewhat successful.  This is the first time I've had a chance to blog in about two weeks.  I've tried before but I literally couldn't keep my eyes open long enough.  I started this post yesterday but was interrupted by my nephew urgently needing to explain the history of Spiderman as understood by a three year old.  

So January was exhausting for a host of reasons.  I usually get a lot of reading done when I feel overwhelmed with other things.  When overwhelmed I don't have as much free time; I usually apply the time I have to reading.  That has still held true for me.  I did a TON of read in January, however most of it didn't come by way of published books.

I read seven novels for people in my writers' group.  I offered substantial feed back for two of them.  This was fun in a way, yet very very time consuming.  Only two of those books were really really good, and I hope that in short time they will be available for all to read, the rest needed a bit more work, but I still enjoyed the process and effort in my attempt to help.  If nothing else, I damn well best be on Santa's "Good" list come December.

In terms of published books, I finished some stuff from last year; read a handful of poems from a handful of collections; and knocked out the majority of The Name of the Rose.  Much to say on that book soon…

So yeah… not much to report.  A lot of reading that I can't really count towards my year-end book tally but I'm okay with that.

An aside: Atlanta doesn't do snow very well.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Audience Participation Poetry!

So I can admit that in reading The Best American Poetry 2006 Edited by Billy Collins that I skipped to Thomas Lux's poem first.  Among other topics mentioned in his introduction, Collins says he likes to laugh.  I've said before that I think humor is a trademark of some of the best fiction out there with no regard to genre.  Perhaps it holds true for poetry as well.  

How cool is this?

Eyes Scooped Out and Replaced by Hot Coals by Thomas Lux

The above, the punishment, the mild
but just punishment, symbolic,
the great advancement our planet
most needs.
The procedure is painless,
using methods currently available
only in cartoons.  Polls were taken,
it was voted upon overwhelmingly in favor.
The justness of it,
known in the bone
by each of our nation--is undeniable.  Thus, it is proclaimed,
on this day anno domino, ect., I, the final arbiter
and ultimate enforcer
of such things (appointed by the king!), make official
and binding, this: that the eyes shall be gouged out
and replaced by hot coals
in the head, the blockhead,
of each countryman or woman who,
upon reaching their majority,
has yet to read
Moby Dick, by Mr. Herman Melville (1819-1891), American novelist
and poet.

Lux's note on the poem:  "I think of 'Eyes Scooped Out and Replaced by Hot Coals' as an audience participation poem, i.e., readers may replace the book mentioned in the poem with a beloved book of their choice."

The nature of the poem, and subsequent punishment, suggest that when filling in the blank one can't nominate a book published yesterday.  I think I would have to go with The French Lieutenant's  Woman, but I could just as easily say The Color Purple, or Notes From Underground, or I, Claudius.  I mean really who could pick just one book?   

Two questions: how would you fill in the blank and seriously how cool was that poem?

Now, read it again for full effect.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A productive Day

About two weeks ago I started volunteering at the library.  The branch I'm working in has gone from 32 to 11 staff members over the course of a year.  Shelving is the top concern and from what I've been told--at this particular branch--100% of the shelving is done by volunteers.  Now if you can't already tell, I've outed myself as an incomparable nerd: I'm volunteering at a library…

I'll throw in the salt: I kinda like it.

It's a very relaxing environment and I'm around books for a few hours.  I'm not doing much shelving though.  I would think it's normal to attract bookish people with a volunteer position at a library, in my brief experience this is highly detrimental to getting anything done.

I see books that look interesting, authors who I always meant to look into but haven't, and I discover new stuff faster than I can make notes to look into it later.  I was there for about two hours today.  I'm not sure how well my time was spent in regards to doing the library a service but I did leave with six books, to go with the seven others I already have checked out.

One of the librarians who has known me for sometime, and who knows my reading tendencies, asked if I was planning on reading anything of these particular books anytime soon.  She is the same librarian who makes special notes for my books I get that can't be renewed and must be returned within two weeks.  I told her yes, and I was being serious.  "I plan on reading them all tonight."

I meant that, but it's a bit like Thanksgiving dinner when my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  I have such good intentions.

In effort to keep my poetry interest alive and well and not solely focused on Thomas Lux (which certainly isn't a bad thing) I was doing so researching into finding other poets that may be of interest to me.  I learned a very interesting assertion: in some literary spheres 'accessible' in relation to poetry is a bad word.  I roll my eyes at that but what do I know?  It would seem accessible poetry is synonymous with "Billy Collins;" a poet that regularly gets six figure deals because (the horror) he apparently writes stuff that people want to read (the shame).  So of the stack of six books I left with today, it should be no surprise that one is a book of his poems, which I plan to read first.

Another of the six is The Best American Poetry 2006 of which Collins was guest editor.  Assuming Collins is both good at what he does and of interest to me this collection has the potential to be a gateway of sorts for in diversifying my poetry interest.  

A glass of wine and a book is my order for this evening.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I'm Talking About Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

This was far too mushy for me.  This is too mushy for anyone…

I really liked the premise for the story: awkward, not cool kids from the wealthy part of town, teenaged first love.  For the most part, everything felt genuine--except the for the host of times Park opened up and Eleanor kinda walks all over him… and then he kept coming back to her.

I also really didn't like Eleanor's stepdad, not because he's an asshat and we're supposed to hate him, but because I was never given a strong enough reason to justify his asshatry.  I wasn't wanting to be endeared to him, or cheer for the bad guy, but I didn't think he was believable in any way.

Neither was Park's dad.

"Hey, Dad.  I'm gonna steal the car and drive my girl friend a few states away."

"Sure son.  Let me give you some cash and road beers for the trip."

Cause that happened speaking of unbelievable parenting.

Park wasn't near as well rounded as Eleanor; he was a bit too perfect; too pretty; too much of everything (hence the mushy.  Hell, I was in love with this kid about two-thirds of the way through…).  Eleanor is insecure about her weight and we have to be reminded of this on every other page.  Park is perfect.  Eleanor has super unruly red hair and we have to be reminded of this on every other page.  Park is perfect.  And so it goes…   Despite the alternating third person point of views, which worked very well to my surprise, I did feel the narrative was trying to endear the reader to Eleanor more so than  equally to both.  My fancy way of saying 'girl book,' not to say Eleanor was a cardboard cutout character because she wasn't.  

The ending was awful, and if I'm to be honest, had some very strong elements of realism too.  I can completely understand why those who loved it loved it, but unless you're in the need for a good cry and jonesing for the cutest sixteen year old boy in a book ever; pass.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm Talking About How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall

About a paragraph into this novel I said to myself, "This is gonna be good."  Thirty pages later I was thinking, "This is gonna be the best book I read this year."  And then I kept reading… and things changed.

What is striking at the start is that the narrative (at least one of the four) is in second person, and doesn't come across as obnoxious.  The next striking thing is how beautiful Hall's prose can be.  Reading her fiction feels good.  If you read it out loud (I'm opening myself up to unheard of realms of dorkiness by saying this) it sounds good.

There are four narratives, chronologically out of order but interwoven and each easy to interpret.  An English landscape artist recalls his life while struggling with his own life threatening situation; an Italian still life painter reflects while cancer has its way with him; a blind girl shows us how she sees the world; and a curator self destructs after an accident takes the life or her twin brother.  Everything matches up and makes sense, initially it felt like Nicole Krauss, (what higher compliment can I give?), but nothing actually happens.

It's difficult to see that nothing happens because Hall's writing is so pleasing, but the pages wear on and to me it became clear that a beautiful writer didn't have a real story to tell.  Musings, pretty prose but no story.

Susan dealing with the death of her brother was the only element that was strong enough for a novel.  We find that Danny died on page one so I'm not giving anything away.  It was amazing to see an event that usually functions as a story's climax (death of a primary character) function as the starting point.  Watching her struggle to deal with the loss and complete lack of him would have worked nicely for an entire novel.  It was visceral and scary.  (And does not end well… )  The other three stories were brilliant and beautiful and work very well too.  But a novel needs conflict, tension, on every page.  Pretty words alone don't get it done.

I'm gonna check out Hall's sic-fi, she's won every award there is, at some time.  Honestly, I'll probably check out everything she's written because she's kinda amazing.  I'll hope to encounter the same prose with much more story.