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.      

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Something New

I'm gonna start talking about books.  Figure I'd do something new…

I got this idea from a blogger who wanted to talk more about books without adhering to the rules and form that governed her book reviews.  I've never studied what makes a good book review and I don't care to start now.  I know how I do mine and that's good enough for me.  That said, sometimes I read something that I want to talk about but I don't even want to go through the motions of doing one of my own commentaries.  So…

I'm gonna start talking about books.  I don't merely wanna say it will be more causal, as my commentary are as lax as they come, but it will be decidedly different.  A probably shorter.  I'm starting with How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall.  I'm sitting down to finish Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell now (because God, someone make it stop; PLEASE!)  Those will be the first two.

I'm gonna start talking about books.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Reading Resolution

This post is Maria's fault…  She called me out.  NO!  Of course I had no plans on sharing this list: that's why I left it out!  But, here it is; I'm doing it for the fans.  A concrete, documented list to point at should I fail.  (All jokes of course Maria; kinda.  Not really.)

On average I get through 45-50 books in a year.  My goal for 2014 will be to make sure that in addition to any other reading that the following ten books are read (or at least attempted).  They have been hanging around for too long, and I've been actively avoiding some of them.

In no particular order:

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano.  I know nothing about this book; which is exactly how I like to start reading a novel.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.  I think Chabon may be my favorite living author and yet I haven't read his magnum opus.  I should be excited but for some reason I'm apprehensive about starting this.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  I know nothing about this book other than the fact that Diaz with lots of awards and publishes very little.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  The press loves this book and Mantel.  I've never talked to a real person who read it and enjoyed--or hell, even got through it--or even another blogger for that matter.  I'm ear-marking this to be one I start reading and end up putting down.  Six-hundred pages of English history sounds like a tall order for anyone to write compelling fiction about.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.  This one I'm looking forward to.  It may be the first on the list I read.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I love his short stories.  I know nothing about this novel.

The Magus by John Fowles.  Possibly my favorite deceased author.  Seriously looking forward to it but daunted by the size.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I don't know why, but despite liking The Shadow of the Wind this book has a 'reader repellent' on it.  Every time I get close to picking it up something pushes me away.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  I know nothing about this book.

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster.  A phenomenal writer who happens to wear me out.

So, those are my ten.  Read any of them?  Do I have some good stuff ahead of me?  Some fail?  Anyone wanna join in and read along as to keep me motivated?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Books of the Year 2013 and of Things to Come

Time for my favorite post of the year!  This was a good year for me in terms broadening my reading and, better still, I wasn't merely reading new-to-me stuff for the sake of doing it, rather, I actually like poetry.  A huge thank you to The Parrish Lantern for many a good suggestion in that category.  An unofficial goal for next year will be to continue to seek out new poets that I like, just as I do with fiction.    

I read all of seven books of poetry this year and if I learned nothing else it is that poetry slows me down more than fiction.  Why this is I don't know for certain, but I'd guess it has something to do with my inability to quickly pick up on the obvious important stuff upon first reading.  

I finished eight short story collections which I'm pretty sure is a record for me.  

I finished thirty novels; forty-five total 'books.'  

This is officially not a "Best Books of 2013" list.  I've only read three books from this year.  As such, these are the books that stood out to me--enough to merit some special designation--at the end of my year of reading.

Favorite work by a new to me Author

Poetry.  Thanks to Ted Huges for Crow; Thomas Lux for Half-Promised Land, John Siddique for Full Blood, David Lloyd for Warriors.  I don't yet know what I'm doing in reading poetry nor do I feel confident to talk about what I like and why, but I do know what I like, and I'm hoping to find more of it in the coming year.  

The "Dear God, Why did I put up with Reading this Book" Award

The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman and Among Others by Jo Walton.  I'm pretty sure nothing happened in either one of these books and I like it when things happen… Both books certainly have their fans and that's fine by me, but I didn't see the attraction to either.

Biggest Surprise

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  I've no idea why this hit me as hard as it did but I loved every word---at times against my own volition.

Stories that I can't get out of my mind

"Kiss me Hardy!" is a phrase from Code Name Verity that I'll probably never get out of my head.  It was a great story--and a well written one--that I didn't care for.  It just wasn't for me but yeah, I don't think I'll ever forget it.  

Everybody has Everything by Katrina Onstad is a story that so many of us experience everyday: how could it be forgotten?  The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King from Wastelands is a short story that manages to combine sentiment, wit, and the end of the world all in twenty pages.  I don't think I've ever read a novel of his but wow is he good at short stories.  The Matter of Seggri by Ursula K Le Guin in The Birthday of the World--for me--is quiet literally unforgettable.  It made me think and see things in a new ways until my head hurt, and it was a pleasurable pain at that.  I'm partial to Sara Zarr (okay, honestly: I'm in love with her) so year I remember Story of a Girl very well.    

The Best Book I Read in 2012

Happily, I'm skipping over the 'favorite' category as it gave the judges and viewers such fits last year.  

There are three books in the running: The Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin, Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown and Soon I will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.  I've said enough about each of these books already so follow the links for more: read them all.  They are all great.  

It's been six months and I still get ridiculously excited thinking about Perfect Escape.  I loved it.  I wanted to be in the car on this road trip to yell at people and fix everything.  When it was over all I wanted to do was undergo the anxiety of being with them more and reading it again.    

So what's coming next year?  I won't be surprised if there is a good bit of science fiction, and books in a series.  I've also singled out ten books that I absolutely must read this coming year if only because it seems I've been avoiding them for a long time.  They are all really big and scary looking with lofty reputations.  If I were to make a new year's commitment--which I'm not--it would be to make certain I get through those ten before 2015.

Happy New Year.