I have a soft spot in my heart for Sharon Olds, but this feels like one of the Victim collections. Lots of interesting pieces, but unrelenting as a whI have a soft spot in my heart for Sharon Olds, but this feels like one of the Victim collections. Lots of interesting pieces, but unrelenting as a whole....more
Eh... I guess this book is occasionally clever? Stewart certainly knows his history, and gets in a good rib at seminal figures every twenty pages or sEh... I guess this book is occasionally clever? Stewart certainly knows his history, and gets in a good rib at seminal figures every twenty pages or so, but the majority of chapters/vignettes in this book were honestly a slog. I'll be sticking to the Daily Show....more
A couple of gems, but overwhelmingly full of stories that were "clever" more than moving in any way. Which I guess is an accomplishment, but I like myA couple of gems, but overwhelmingly full of stories that were "clever" more than moving in any way. Which I guess is an accomplishment, but I like my fiction to make me think or feel something besides "my but that sentence was craftily constructed."...more
Not actually the first time I've read through this anthology, but I had the privilege of seeing the tiny row house in Greenwich Village where this briNot actually the first time I've read through this anthology, but I had the privilege of seeing the tiny row house in Greenwich Village where this brilliant lady wrote and stepped into the Cherry Lane Theater which I didn't know she founded but still exists, and it seemed time for a revisiting.
Vincent never disappoints.
This collection is particularly heavy on the poems about death, sadness, and feeling lovelorn, but that suits me just fine. It'd be nice to have a little more acknowledgment that the woman had a bit of a Dorothy Parker streak in her as well, but honestly I could read the dreary stuff for days and not miss the snark a whit. Plus I always forget how openly queer her work was, long before "queer" was even a thing -- remember how there was a huge sexual revolution in the 20's that Americans choose to overlook completely? Vincent does. (Also she went by "Vincent" because she hated "Edna," you have to love this woman before even cracking the book open).
"Love has gone and left me, -- and the neighbors knock and borrow, And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse -- And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow There's this little street and this little house."
Tell me with a straight face that doesn't belong in the same canon as "And miles to go before I sleep. / And miles to go before I sleep." You can't. ...more
I don't have much to say beyond a resounding "meh." Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough to find the moral in each story, which I thought was the point oI don't have much to say beyond a resounding "meh." Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough to find the moral in each story, which I thought was the point of fairy tales? Or maybe the sensibility was just too foreign, and the drama of the plots eluded me. Or maybe these were just dark stories, and mediocre. I'm thinking something was probably lost in translation, both linguistic and cultural. Disappointing....more
I read the last Novella in this book because Eric and I were going to see an illegal piece of trespass theater based on it, and I got real nervous andI read the last Novella in this book because Eric and I were going to see an illegal piece of trespass theater based on it, and I got real nervous and decided I wanted to know all the spoilers so as not to have an actual heart attack during the show. I finished "The Albertine Notes" and instantly thought, this would be much more interesting as a piece of site-specific theater. And it was.
I don't really know why I kept reading... Moody's style doesn't do it for me. Maybe I just like being able to trust my narrators, or at least feeling really betrayed when I find out I can't. It seems like nobody's a reliable source in Moody's worlds, and I find it more petty and sad than interesting. Plus the prose just doesn't do it for me.
Anyway, maybe if you like working really hard for your fiction, you will get much more of a payoff from these stories than I did. Moody didn't make me want to work, so I still don't quite know what happened in any of the novellas, nor do I particularly care. Jeff Stark made the last novella into some great performance art, though, so there must be something to this guy. But somebody else should tap into it, not me....more
Butler begins her introduction to this anthology with a warning: she's never been one to write short fiction, because her ideas are usually too big anButler begins her introduction to this anthology with a warning: she's never been one to write short fiction, because her ideas are usually too big and too complicated to fit well in the genre. With the exception of the title story "Bloodchild," it seems like Butler knows herself pretty damn well -- none of them blew me away, although the two short essays sandwiched between new and old fiction were gold. It's Bloodchild and the Essays that salvage this collection as a 4-star for me.
In my very limited experience with science fiction, it would appear that every author worth his/her salt interested in the genre's subversive possibilities has his/her own "pregnant man" story. Or similar. You know, blurring boundaries of reproductivity defining destiny and mapping to certain traits of dominance and all that. Bloodchild is that story for Butler, and it is very, very good. I'll go light on the details since you should just read it, we're talking about a short story for Pete's sake. But Bloodchild really does ask its reader to reconsider very basic aspects of the human condition, whether they should be considered humane, and how we can continue to live with and love each other in either case.
The essays are perfect examples of what makes Butler's prose compelling. She pulls no punches, never makes you run for the dictionary or turn back four pages to pick up a muddled reference. She speaks with dead honesty but without condescension. When some asshole like Bukowski tells me I can't be a writer unless I've got the burning need to write, I want to tell him where he can shove his burning whatever. When Butler tells me the same thing in her essay "Furor Scribendi," I take some damn notes and start thinking about making a writing schedule.
Unfortunately, I can't find much praise for the other short stories -- they lack the complexity of the world of Bloodchild, which I assume mirrors the complexity of the worlds of her longer fiction. That is, I suppose, the downside of her no-frills prosity: absent the mystery elements of trying to decode a sci-fi world, Butler doesn't seem to be able to muster a whole lot of structural intrigue or interest. The one other story I'd consider a success is Butler's attempt to present a compassionate story of incest: again, an experiment that troubles the basic social mores we take for granted. But the story is set entirely in this world, and for all its merits, without the obfuscating challenge of integrating vocabulary and rules that are alien, the revelation of the story comes as no surprise, and the characters don't transcend that which is typically communicable in 15 pages or less.
The biggest success of this collection is that I want to go out and read Butler's novels immediately. And that's not nothing....more
The cover of this book refers to E.B. White as "inimitable," which is a word just vague enough in meaning to the modern ear to suggest the author is vThe cover of this book refers to E.B. White as "inimitable," which is a word just vague enough in meaning to the modern ear to suggest the author is venerable and quaint. I couldn't have chosen a better term. While a fair number of these short pieces are pointed and political, all have the tone of a high-brow dinner party among close friends -- strong convictions softened by a pleasant cadence and linguistic etiquette. It is hard to imagine a time when busy New Yorkers opened their magazines to give ear to articles on crickets and the interaction of smog and fog, but such a time must have existed, and Mr. White paints an appealing portrait of it.
One of the most fascinating (if anomalously surreal) pieces involves Mr. White taking a trip (fictional, I believe?) with Senator McCarthy to Walden pond, in order to suss out whether Thorough could be construed as un-American. White's politics are never naked and his portrayal of McCarthy stays safely short of blustering caricature, and yet the subtle undermining of the Senator's positions are playfully apparent throughout. At other times White is more forthright with his politics, as when he dedicated a column to (polite) outrage that the Board of Education was ceasing to recommend books that presented a biased perspective, in favor of balanced texts. White states forcefully that by their nature, all great books are biased, and that one achieves an education by reading many such opinionated tomes, rather than a single aggregate.
And not for nothing, but this is one half of the team responsible for Elements of Style. I've never seen a collection of sentences more effortlessly convey their meaning, without falling prey to the choppiness of intense conviction and emotion. And yet it is clear from the care of his writing that White loves New York, loves Emerson, loves some funny version of America that he happily conjures in all its imperfection. There is surely, surely something for everyone in this collection....more
I read this book piecemeal, an essay every few weeks through the late summer, fall and winter until I came to the last piece in the collection "The FiI read this book piecemeal, an essay every few weeks through the late summer, fall and winter until I came to the last piece in the collection "The Fisherwoman's Daughter." It knocked me flat on my back in January and I still haven't recovered. Le Guin begins by tackling the "Books-or-Babies" theory of 19th century women novelists, and moves through her own relationships with Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and finally her mother and herself. The questions she asks are earth shattering: does the way we have defined the Great Writer necessarily exclude women? If so, is it permanent? Is there any way that women can write and work and raise a family and not be judged as "less than," or can they make the choice to do without traditional family without being ostracized as a freak of nature? Are these traits and values fundamental to the condition of womanhood/masculinity, or can they be changed through culture, and if so how, and what are we to do in the meantime?
There is some hope at the end of the essay, as Le Guin demands that we fundamentally define truth and value and greatness in order to accommodate the experiences of women and other oppressed classes who do not have the luxury of choosing writing as their only vocation. But there's still so much I haven't unpacked in this essay, and I want to read the whole collection again now that I've got a bit of a grasp on Le Guin's fictional work. Hopefully this review will be updated in a few months, but in any case do yourself a favor and read "The Fisherwoman's Daughter" as soon as possible. It is still actively changing my life....more
Reread because sometimes I get frustrated trying to think about being white and Eula's pretty helpful about that. Also generally brilliant, a book thaReread because sometimes I get frustrated trying to think about being white and Eula's pretty helpful about that. Also generally brilliant, a book that deserves revisiting every year or two....more
There's nothing quite as good as picking up the right book at the right time.
Michael Cunningham has been my favorite fiction writer since I read FleshThere's nothing quite as good as picking up the right book at the right time.
Michael Cunningham has been my favorite fiction writer since I read Flesh and Blood sophomore year of college. He is the perfect model of the value in writers of all genres starting with a solid foundation of poetry. Even his best-known novel, The Hours, is steeped in Virginia Woolf on every page. (I for one count Woolf as a poet above all, but I'll admit to personal biases there.) Cunningham's prose is, in a word, beautiful. The fact that this collection is devoted to the legacy of Walt Whitman makes it all the more so, as Whitman's unabashed jubilation, hyperbole, simplicity and specificity work their way through all the book's scenes and dialogue.
Specimen Days is a collection of three novellas, each taking the point of view of one of the three main characters: a princely man named Simon, a misshapen and damaged boy named Lucas, and a woman named Catharine who is slow to reveal her significant depth to the others. The novellas all start in New York City in various stages of history (the beginning of the industrial age in which Whitman wrote, a post-9/11 present, and a semi-distant future in which literal illegal aliens have come to Earth to perform service jobs), and end with the protagonist, in one manner or another, escaping the city.
I wrote before that I needed to reread this book because I hadn't known enough Whitman to appreciate it before. As it turns out, I also didn't know enough New York to appreciate it. Cunningham renders both beautifully, and has left me with a list of sites I need to visit to understand the strange history of this town. Central Park, the Bowery, the Navy Yard and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory all appear in each of the novellas, ebbing and flowing in influence over the characters as they did over the culture of the city.
What really stands out to me after this reading is the essential question Cunningham asks through the three novellas: what is the purpose of poetry in a world growing ever-more mechanized, isolated, and emotionally cold? Each story gives its answer, and I am enamored with all of them. Poetry, once deeply learned, speaks for us in moments when we cannot untangle our feelings enough to form our own words. Poetry is bone-truth, truth beyond rhetoric, truth proved by resonance. Poetry done right is the great equalizer: none of us understand it fully, but all of us may feel it fully.
It's a funny thing to write one's Ars Poetica in the form of a series of novels, but for Cunningham it seems to sense. He's a story-guy. So he's telling us stories about when and how poetry can matter, in prose which incorporates chunks of poetry and is pretty dang poetic on its own right. Works for me, Mike.
I love this book so much more on the second reading. I hope to come back for a third sometime, maybe when I know New York and Whitman in that way of bone-truth. For now it's a pleasure to have Cunningham's words buzzing vaguely in my ears and on my skin....more