Lots of names and dates. Worthwhile as a reference or for those who want a reading list of modernist writers living in Paris in the early part of the...moreLots of names and dates. Worthwhile as a reference or for those who want a reading list of modernist writers living in Paris in the early part of the century.(less)
Doug and I read this out loud to each other, alternating chapters. It lagged in places. Sometimes we cried. Obviously a must read for anyone who has b...moreDoug and I read this out loud to each other, alternating chapters. It lagged in places. Sometimes we cried. Obviously a must read for anyone who has been following this series.(less)
I read the 1969 Modern Library edition (rev. from the Constance Garnett translation). I'm not sure that this was the best edition to read, but I found...moreI read the 1969 Modern Library edition (rev. from the Constance Garnett translation). I'm not sure that this was the best edition to read, but I found it engaging enough. I was preparing for a trip to Russia and found Levin's consideration of farm production tools, methods and the peasant question particularly interesting. (less)
I endured this book due to my interest in the times following the revolution and found it inexplicably episodic and random. Not nearly the masterpiece...moreI endured this book due to my interest in the times following the revolution and found it inexplicably episodic and random. Not nearly the masterpiece I had been led to believe it was. (less)
Very poorly written. I only finished it because of my abiding interest in the subject matter. I found the bibliography useful, but that's about it. I'...moreVery poorly written. I only finished it because of my abiding interest in the subject matter. I found the bibliography useful, but that's about it. I'm sure there's got to be a better biography out there.(less)
Murmur, Laura Mullen’s fifth book, melds form—a fragmentary dance between prose and verse—with content—a sprawling meditation on authorship, readersh...more Murmur, Laura Mullen’s fifth book, melds form—a fragmentary dance between prose and verse—with content—a sprawling meditation on authorship, readership, genre expectations, and murder. The central conceit of the work is the detective story, which Mullen is at pains to undermine. To do so, she evokes a number of familiar, and unsolved, mysteries—The annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Jack the Ripper murders, scientific investigations into the fossil record. The tenth chapter posits “The Detective story is a kind of intellectual game.” The reader assembles the story, inhabiting the detective role and deriving satisfaction from the possibility that she is as smart and capable of completing the puzzle as the investigator. This chapter presents a series of tenets for the genre (“1. The reader must have equal opportunity for solving the mystery,” “2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader...”) that are immediately undermined by responses designed to undermine such strict guidelines. For example, in response to tenet #2: “As well, and most painfully, you didn’t give us a chance, since for one thing you were lying like mad.” The point, it seems, is that no case is so simply solved, so satisfying as the detective novel would have the reader believe. Suffice to say, this is no ordinary murder. The victim, a woman found dead at the seashore, complete with ripped gown, shredded stockings, and a gaping abdominal wound, is resurrected to assist the writer in telling her story. The author, ferreting out the narrative and cosseting her characters, is conflated with the detective. It seems as apt a metaphor for writing as any. Moments of absurd interaction across planes of reality and immateriality are the closest approximation of plot and character development in Murmur. They serve as concrete islands for the reader to rest on in what is otherwise a sea of abstraction. We are given many versions of the events surrounding the murder, and the most uncanny among them ring truest: “He takes her lipstick: leans close to the glass, making a mouth as if to kiss his reflection, while behind him she staggers to her feet, shoving the edges of the wound together, trying to close that hole as though her body were a shabby robe a bit too small, worn late into the day, food-stained, rumpled...” These interludes are clues to the reader that Murmur is not concerned with approximating the sort of heightened reality depicted in pulp novels of crime and passion. Rather, it is concerned with examining the unrealities of these stories and exposing our prurient societal fascination with gory details by, in turns, withholding and giving us what we want. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that the chapter entitled “Evidence” is an extended consideration of the story/essay binary. Later, in her chapter “L’aura,” Mullen notes, “(This tense, also called passe simple, passe defini, and passe literaire, is reserved for strictly literary narration and...also used in fairy tales and stories that involve an obvious suspension of belief. French children know, automatically, that a story told in that tense is a tale, not a true story.)”
I heard Tim Seibles read his poem “Bonobo” at the 2005 AWP conference in Vancouver. He was participating in a panel on “Transgressive” poetry and the...moreI heard Tim Seibles read his poem “Bonobo” at the 2005 AWP conference in Vancouver. He was participating in a panel on “Transgressive” poetry and the poem, which appears in Buffalo Head Solos, might be called transgressive in some circles. I’m a tad ashamed to admit that I bought the book based on Mr. Seibles’s very charismatic reading of this one poem which, on the page in the light of day, does not live up to the risks it takes. Mental note: never buy a book based on how well the author reads his/her poems aloud. While I’m still a little sketchy as to exactly what “transgressive” poetry is, it seems that the writers on the AWP panel all shared a distaste for “confessional” poetry and saw their movement as a more socially aware and engaged answer to more inward-looking poets of the past. In his introduction to Buffalo Head Solos, Seibles addresses his own level of social engagement in a series of reductive assessments of American societal ills, beginning with the marginalization of poetry and American poets’ willing acceptance of said marginalization. I wasn’t aware that anyone was arguing against excessive imagination in poetry, but that’s beside the point. To a certain extent, I agree with Seibles that poetry should take risks. In fact, I agree with many of the ideas in his introduction. For instance “Writing poems in SUV-America can feel like fiddling amidst catastrophe, but if one must fiddle shouldn’t one play that thing till it smokes?” and “Maybe we could measure more critically the distance that separates us from, say, a non-academic audience” and “We should pursue [readers] as though we are love-struck and cannot help it.” All are hip little encouragements to the writer struggling with placing a voice in the public arena, and I’m OK with that. What I don’t agree with is the unconsidered and moralistic appraisals of Americans’ mass media mentality. My beef with this book is mainly the tendency toward easy answers to tough questions and the wholesale lack of the very contemplative rigor that Seibles laments in his introduction. Seibles constructs a racism-capitalism-poverty triad through copious invocations of fast food restaurants and sitcoms. His use of these brand names is at times critical and at times complicit. There are some troubling assumptions that point to a very significant underlying racial tension, namely that whites have been the catalyst for all social ills (“a little rape here...a little genocide there”). Such claims ignore history and current events. Rape and genocide are the tools of every race and nation, unfortunately. In “The Matrix”, Seibles uses a quote from a movie that pulled in over $170 million at the box office as his epigraph, “The matrix is the world pulled over your eyes.” This could have been an extremely nuanced poem exploring the contradiction of a box office hit that urges viewers to be aware of the illusion they’re living. Rather, it’s a trite list of business jingles and pop phrases used to consider the nature of loneliness and, inexplicably, marriage. Seibles does have a flair for sound-driven, generative language. He seems to be mainly concerned with the value of utterance, the ascription of meaning onto sound whether it be instrumental music, a cow’s evening lowing, or the buzz of a mosquito. Unfortunately, these moments are buried in long passages of inconsistent dialect (the mosquito is personified as a southern black man, as is the cow, as is an oversexed cat—there seems to be a pattern here) and rhapsodized female genitalia. I stopped counting how many times Seibles referred to “tilting hips”, “honeyed” parts, and spread thighs midway through the book. So if “transgressive” means blush-worthy and more than slightly embarrassing, then yes, this book is certainly transgressive. I, for one, was hoping that “transgressive” might mean something more than that. (less)
I got off the bus from Bumbershoot around 1 AM, exhausted. Convinced that even the cars speeding past my window couldn’t keep me from this night’s res...moreI got off the bus from Bumbershoot around 1 AM, exhausted. Convinced that even the cars speeding past my window couldn’t keep me from this night’s rest, I opened the door to a stench of exceptional vileness. Not a dead stench, or a spoiled food stench. This was the stench of sewage. From a spot in the center of the living room I surveyed the apartment and discovered the source: the commode and the area around it were covered in yuck. I dialed up the landlord. The exchange went something like this:
“There’s shit on my floor.” Why mince words?
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you to fix my toilet, so there won’t be shit on my floor.”
“Have you tried a plunger?”
“What do you think?”
“And that didn’t work?”
After 20 minutes of this verbal badminton, I realized the man wasn’t going to get out of bed without a signed act of congress. He told me there was an all night Denny’s down the street should I need a toilet during the night.
So it was that at 2 AM, after multiple rounds of cleaning and yakking, I found myself seated in the kitchen on a kibble-filled bucket, a can of beer in one hand and Middlesex in the other.
“There was a place halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness where Tessie did her best thinking.”
I’d had two weeks to kill awaiting the arrival of all my worldly possessions. Plenty of time to determine that the kibble bucket was ergonomically preferable to the floor or my sleeping bag. With my front door situated not five feet from a four-lane road and one block from a strip bar whose patrons seemed to enjoy loitering in front of my building, the noise was like steel wool on my nerves, which were already shot from a marathon cross country drive with three cats, a dog, and a friend who was hitching a ride to her father’s funeral in St. Louis all crammed into my car. With no job, no friends, no furniture and now, apparently, no plumbing, this move was beginning to look like a profound error in judgment. The story of a 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodite proved a likely escape.
“When you travel like I did, vague about destination and with an open-ended itinerary, a holy-seeming openness takes over your character.”
I’d only brought one book on my trip west. Considerable thought went into the choice—it had to be an author with a proven ability to hold my interest. It had to be long enough to cover the duration of the journey. And it would need to stand up to multiple readings in the event of the delay of the moving truck or my inability to obtain a library card. As a creative writing major, I’d read The Virgin Suicides and marveled at the rotating first person narrative, the subtlety of the prose, and the fine edge between humor and poignance. Middlesex seemed a safe bet.
The book was my constant companion. After a day of fruitless job interviews, I could go home to Callie Stephanides and her family, safe in the knowledge that there were over 200 pages to go before I’d need to find a new distraction. But the new distraction had already found me. I hadn’t written anything longer than a grocery list in 8 years. With all the time in the world and a good book as your muse, aspirations can get pretty lofty.
“Even back then, the Great Books were working on me, silently urging me to pursue the most futile human dream of all, the dream of writing a book worthy of joining their number…”
I won’t say that Middlesex turned me into a writer or anything lofty like that. The first time I saw Singin’ in the Rain, I nearly concussed myself trying run up a wall. When I reached the last word, I closed the book. Waited five minutes. Began again:
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” (less)
I read Suzan's copy of this book while staying over at her house for Spring Break. Found it utterly engrossing, so much so that I had to Google Lucy G...moreI read Suzan's copy of this book while staying over at her house for Spring Break. Found it utterly engrossing, so much so that I had to Google Lucy Grealey and everyone connected with her. (less)
I enjoyed this short story collection as a whole but the quality of individual stories was widely divergent. I noticed that some (if not all--my memor...moreI enjoyed this short story collection as a whole but the quality of individual stories was widely divergent. I noticed that some (if not all--my memory is a little fuzzy) of the stories were the basis for episodes in the 1995 movie Four Rooms.(less)
This rather anachronistic, decidedly un-bowdlerized translation of Catullus' poems is my favorite of the translations I've read so far. It's overtly b...moreThis rather anachronistic, decidedly un-bowdlerized translation of Catullus' poems is my favorite of the translations I've read so far. It's overtly bawdy and poignant by turns.(less)