Franzen, we know you've been busy writing the Great American Novel and all, but you are overdue for a new collection of essays that embraces (or at leFranzen, we know you've been busy writing the Great American Novel and all, but you are overdue for a new collection of essays that embraces (or at least nods towards) the 21st century. Several of these essays claim a date somewhere in the 90's, but I swear his ode to rotary phones could be decades older. Has he not been introduced to the cell phone? He speaks of Touch-Tones as cutting edge communication devices. In 1995 he gave away a television that appears to have doubled as side table; how long did this antique crowd up his closet? Decades. Is it really forsaking something when that thing has been obsolete for ages anyway? More kudos for giving up that HD flatscreen that is actually tempting. Anyway, I'm crazy to hear Franzen's thoughts on the collision of technology and "high art" in the form of an ereader, a manifestation of Franzen's multiple contradictory notions of art and social/cultural relevance.
Franzen is full of contradictions, and what makes him so likable to me is his full willingness to admit them. "At the heart of my despair about the novel had been a conflict between a feeling that I should Address the Culture and Bring News to the Mainstream, and my desire to write about the things closest to me, to lose myself in the characters and locales I loved." He's drawn to write both a Contract novel and the Status novel, a relationship of an author with his reader versus a relationship between the work and the genius works of our literary canon. He's both sympathetic to Oprah's ability to bring literature to television viewers, and he's an "ego-blinded snob" and a complete asshole. He's a smoker who hates it when other people smoke. He resents sentimental portrayals of himself as the Midwestern author, and yet voluntarily submitted his own personal space as a set-piece for a phony coming-home.
I jumped in to this book looking for answers to the questions I put to him during my reading of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, namely, can a person truly elevate their cultural understanding and artistic appreciation despite the gun at their head pushing their nose in a book? What if it's not a gun; what if it's pizza? (No reference here to Guernsey -- it's Pizza Hut's social charity of the late 90's, I believe...)The gods of commerce want you to read, and you'll be rewarded -- with pizza. Why do the gods of commerce want you to read? Well, it looks good in the ad space. Eh! says it worked for her, so I'm not going to knock it. Franzen tells us there are two kinds of serial readers -- those who have or had at least one serial-reading parent, and thus learned the habit through mimicry, or those who are just naturally "socially isolated." Not "anti-social," those are the techie nerds who find sanctuary in an inanimate world. Social isolates look for community in a fictional world of personalities, either because they have no realworld community of their own, or it doesn't fit their expectations. OK. So what's happening on Guernsey? No one here has demonstrated a serial-reading parent. Is this a group of social isolates? Well, this is a "society," (A group of social isolates doesn't even make sense), they are not feeling cut off from their own community, yet their community has been substantially "cut off," with all these Nazis around. Is the society fleeing the real world for the consolations of the imaginary? If so, I didn't see the authors writing it that way; most of the characters just seemed to have had a dormant identification with the works of Seneca or Wordsworth, and it wasn't until this experiment that the identifications were discovered. Really? Sentimental fairy dust, if you ask me, or, probably, if you were to ask Franzen. So I'm glad I came to this collection looking for answers; I got more answers than I knew I was looking for. I enjoyed everything Franzen has to say about reading, however contradictory he poses it. His treatises on post offices, prisons, cigarettes, all interesting, if not already a bit too dated. His defense of reading difficult fiction, such as Gaddis, is both inspiring and equally off-putting, perhaps the same pleasantly contradictory experience I'll have in reading Freedom....more
This book is so much fun! Creative, upbeat, and, impressively, really very smart. Willis references all kinds of Victorian arcana (as well as lots ofThis book is so much fun! Creative, upbeat, and, impressively, really very smart. Willis references all kinds of Victorian arcana (as well as lots of historical battles, famous historical figures, and literature from all over Western Civilization). The time travel aspect is quirky, but doesn't weight the story down with clunky why-we-can-time-travel explanations. I've heard that most of Willis' books read the same way, but that really doesn't bother me because she does it so well. She's got a new one coming Feb 2, and I'm excited to revisit these characters she created way back in 1998. Also, was compelled to read Three Men in a Boat -- her largest and most frequently used reference, and I find it as delightful as Willis must. She certainly let Jerome flavor her Victorian style. I'm recommending this to my Jasper Fforde fan friends. I think it's got the same clever literary hijinx, but these characters, at least to me, seem more willing to show their 3-dimensionality. ...more
Overshare? Why, yes I will, thank you. For a condensed review: This is a great memoir, not just about Rent, but about grief and love and honesty. ForOvershare? Why, yes I will, thank you. For a condensed review: This is a great memoir, not just about Rent, but about grief and love and honesty. For way more information about most-likely-irrelevant-to-you connections I made to my own experience, read here...(view spoiler)[I was raised on a steady diet of musical theatre. My dad spent most of his career behind the stages of Broadway and off-Broadway productions, and he met my mother in the touring company of Cabaret -- he the stage manager, she a failed actress doomed with a committed heart to the stage, playing a walk-on trombone player in a sexy beaded leotard. By the time I came around Dad had settled in to a stable position with 20th Century Fox, and Mom found her niche in writing and raising me. But most evenings found me and Dad curled up on the chocolate-brown shag carpeting of the den, surrounded by the highest tech audio equipment available in the 1970's, blasting the torch songs of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Carol Channing at their highest volume. Maybe it goes without saying that Dad was a little eccentric. Always his daughter and eager to please him, I was also a bit of a set-piece for him, dressing me in vintage gowns with ostrich plumes, choreographing sets to "Sam, You Made the Pants to Long" for my gymnastics class, and parading me at cocktail parties filled with theatre/film people I didn't realize were famous at the time. I sometimes think that if the biology had been right, I'd have been a knockout gay boy. It's possible he thought that, too. I did a lot of theatre in high school and college, even pursued a theatre degree for a few years, and nearly died from anxiety every time Dad showed up for a performance. He was extremely critical with every show he saw, and always blatantly straightforward with his opinions of my performance. I think he was proud of me but also very scared that a life in theatre, a life I told him I wanted, was too fraught with rejection for my sensitive soul to survive. But I knew that when he said I did well, I probably did. Theatre was our connection, and as I continued through school and found other fields to pursue, I always felt closest to him in a theatre, or any room with a musical soundtrack playing through the speakers. In 1991 he moved to Eastern Europe. A new stage of his life had begun, bringing his eccentric weirdness to the hapless villagers of Transylvania. I missed him terribly. His connection to the theatre world was pretty much severed, and I tried to keep him up to speed with my new favorites. He gave his seal of approval on a few, which made me enjoy them even more -- especially Wicked, the kind-of forgotten now Freudiana, and, of course, Rent. I like to pepper my netflix queue with a good dose of musical theatre, mostly to relive that connection I had with my father. Rent came in my mailbox last week. I waited for an afternoon when I was alone, afraid that my vulnerability to my dad's memory and the overwhelming heart of the story and music might embarrass me in front of friends and family. True to expectations, I cried as I watched it, then watched the dvd documentary special feature and cried some more. My boyfriend came home and caught me drying my tears. Sweetly, he asked to watch it, too, so I saw it a second time and cried some more, just to be sharing it with someone I love. I knew I had an old used copy of Rapp's memoir on my shelves somewhere, and I dove into it as soon as the credits rolled. No, that's not true. First I had a smoke to compose myself, and my boyfriend did something incredible. He's a really smart and sensitive, thoughful guy, but he almost never talks about movies he's seen or fiction he's read. I think he was raised to feel defensive about his personal feelings and emotional responses, coming from a household with such huge differences of worldview and philosophies. He hates confrontation and the vulnerability of verbalizing emotion, a theme I saw a lot, by the way, in this memoir. Anyway, Aaron came outside and said, "That was beautiful." Of his own free will. He said that, even though his life was nothing like the lives of the characters, he could identify with each one of them. It moved him. His comment moved me. So the memoir starts with some great behind-the-scenes action of the studio production of Rent and the life of a NY actor. Fun stuff. Then we're introduced to Rapp's family, and his mother's illness takes center stage. As we understand their relationship we also learn about Rapp's attempts to come out to his mother and his early experiences with homosexuality. We frequently return to renthead-mania, as he continues with the off- and on-Broadway run, but it really just syncopates to the story of his mother's long and painful demise and Rapp's struggle with his own grief. I didn't know that's what I was getting in to, and, on this most emotional evening, I began to feel the sorrow of my own father's death. And, because I love to overshare, I'm going to tell you about it: Dad died in 2006, when I was 33 years old. I lived in Iowa, he lived in Romania. He died of heart failure due to HIV-related complications. I was told he'd died over the phone. He was such a long, long way away, and the news split me in half. I'd been preparing for his death since I was 13, but it didn't make it any easier. Dad contracted HIV sometime in the late '70's. He told me about it in the mid '80's. And, the anomaly that he always is, he miraculously survived for 20 more years, without ever developing AIDS. Who knows what made his chemistry resistant, though he took the drug cocktails available, and allowed doctors to prod and experiment with new drugs and regimens, but his auto-immune system eventually gave up, attacked by circulation problems, heart conditions, severe arthritis, and just a general, undefinable, manic-depressive craziness that conquered his brain. But those were 20 long years of bracing ourselves through every illness, every depression, every doctor's visit with -- this could be it; this could be the end. It took Rapp's mother a long time to find her peace, and it took Rapp a lifetime, as well. Rapp writes so honestly and nakedly about his love, his fears, his faults, that I felt right there with him. His writing gets a bit flowery, with all kinds of energy and electricity flowing and jolting and careening through his body at every opportunity, but I didn't mind so much. As an actor, he's very plugged in to emotional response, and I enjoyed his visceral descriptions. And I loved, loved his honesty. When he performed well, he told you; when he was a fool, he admitted it. When he kissed a boy, he admitted that, too, and his example of living honestly and bravely will be just the right medicine for a generation of readers, once they realize that this is not just a book about a musical. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is what happens when prisons don't employ librarians...a bunch of male offenders pick dreck like this. Now I want to read The Notebook, only to fThis is what happens when prisons don't employ librarians...a bunch of male offenders pick dreck like this. Now I want to read The Notebook, only to figure out how to sell a novel in one week for a million dollars. If this guy can do it, anyone can. I'm thinking the secret is: exploit tragedy to its extreme, and continually refer to what a good Christian you are. And be a huge UGLY AMERICAN and then be kind of proud of it.
Yes, Micah, you definitely deserve to be the one guy in centuries they allow to have his photo taken on ancient sacrificial stones, making fun of an entire civilization. You are that cool.
************************************************************************* So it's a few days later, and I've now attended our book group discussion. I was also honored to attend IMCC's First Annual Volunteer Appreciation Event, in which all volunteer programs were invited to a lovely ceremony, with food and drink, and an opportunity to socialize with offenders that valued the volunteer opportunities made available to them. What an awesome experience. IMCC is lucky to have a community of generous and intelligent support, ranging from an insider/outsider chorus and songwriting group, Job Club, Writers' Group, Master Gardeners, Incarcerated Veterans, Parenting Group, AA, and Stories for Dads, not to mention lots of spiritual/religious support. There was so much love in that room, so much pushing and striving for a better life, over 200 volunteers were honored, and 200 offenders were present to give their thanks and show the work they were so proud of. One offender, presenting a certificate to Stories for Dads, spoke of how, because of that program, his three-year-old child had her only opportunity to hear his voice, and how that was enough to push him to be a better father upon his release. It was truly a moving event, and has inspired me to keep working for this community, knowing that whatever benefits we can bring are truly appreciated. The offenders that were present are not just people determined to take charge of their own lives, but work everyday to inspire their peers to do the same, and they are really the people that deserve an appreciation ceremony. So, with all this in mind, is it any surprise that my book group colleagues found a lot of value in this book (remember, this is a review of Three Weeks With My Brother?). A couple of them couldn't finish it because it hit too close to home. What they identified with is Sparks' feeling of loss, losing his parents and sister. Many of my colleagues have no family to return to upon their release -- loved ones have either died during their incarceration, or abandoned them as lost causes. Through this perspective, I can appreciate what they see in the text, and Sparks' optimism and values can be a real balm for someone who is seeking a new take on life. And if this book helps a man feel less lost in the world, than I'm glad it's out there. I don't retract my criticisms, but I'll concede this -- every book its reader, and hallelujah for the power of narrative....more
Maybe more of a 2-star "it was ok", but I can't bear to give Dan Simmons anything less than a 3. It started out gang-busters -- unusual narrative persMaybe more of a 2-star "it was ok", but I can't bear to give Dan Simmons anything less than a 3. It started out gang-busters -- unusual narrative perspective, spooky, portentous backstory. Then we meet Clare Two Hearts, and I'm pissed as hell to be spending time on her. And Duane's voice keeps shouldering in on the narrative -- clever in the beginning, disruptive by the middle. I get that device, in the end it makes a kind of sense, but Clare can go hang. If she's a red herring, too many words are wasted on her, and if there's more to her, I don't have the energy to parse it out. Though I wasn't blown away by this one, I still recommend it to any Simmons fan. Regardless of the genre he chooses, he's a master at atmosphere and interior complexity. He pulls it off so much better in his more recent work -- Drood, Terror, but you can faintly see how he's honing his craft in this earlier work. His characterizations of Dale and all the Elm Haven citizens (except maybe Duane) are spot on and mesmerizing. Just Clare, what the f?...more
A while back, while reading Mr. Peanut, I was distracted by a small side-story of two lovers who meet in a Hitchcock seminar. Regardless of these charA while back, while reading Mr. Peanut, I was distracted by a small side-story of two lovers who meet in a Hitchcock seminar. Regardless of these characters and their roles in that story, I became increasingly jealous of their enrollment in such a course. I never got to study Hitchcock in school! But I want to! I do! Spoto's Hitchcock bio (this one, I mean. He's also written two more) was the perfect overview of Hitchcock's films and his at times creepy, pathetic, inspired and always melodramatic persona as genius director. I was fascinated with Hitchcock's slow evolution from introspective new kid to generally respected director to legendary and untouchable commander of his realm. It was a good lesson in how, as we grow older, we become concentrated caricatures of ourselves; Hitchcock only became more lugubrious, more opinionated, and more fat as he aged. And, if Spoto is to be believed, more viciously obsessed with his leading ladies the more sexually abstinent he remained. Also, here's the kind of stuff I just eat up like candy, and most of you probably already know already, and I probably knew, too, but promptly forgot, and can enjoy just as much the second time around: --Tippi Hedrin is Melanie Griffith's mom; Melanie was four years old at the filming of the The Birds, and Hitchcock gave her a doll dressed as her mom (green dress), nailed into a little doll-sized box. --Anne Baxter is Frank Lloyd Wright's granddaughter. --Carole Lombard might have been Hitchcock's own first superstar, if she hadn't died in a plane crash at the age of 33. Of course I've been watching a few more Hitchcock films than usual lately. I really recommend 39 Steps, and watch for all the sexual double-entendres you wouldn't usually expect in a suspense drama of its era. I watched The Trouble with Harry last night, and was really thrown by just how weird it was. Shirley McLaine makes her film debut here (Hitchcock discovered her on the stage), and she is just...high. I'm pretty sure she's high the whole time. Her later embrace of New Age really doesn't surprise me in the least. This bio was long on a chronological study of Hitchcock's character, but short on film analysis. Of course, that was Spoto's intention, so I can't fault that. But I'll certainly be reading more about the films themselves. Talking about long, have you seen Spoto's backlist? Enormous. And he's still doing it -- his Joan Crawford just came out last week. ...more
Back in a classroom after 17 years, I felt awkward and inept concerning my ignorance of PowerPoint. I may have seen PP presentations back then, but IBack in a classroom after 17 years, I felt awkward and inept concerning my ignorance of PowerPoint. I may have seen PP presentations back then, but I didn't put much thought into the software, just tried to focus on the content and let the presenter take authority for the presentation. I was never called upon to present one myself. This year my 7th grade son created a PP presentation on Burkina Faso, his first initiation into PP. Having pretty much no information on Burkina Faso going in, I found that after his presentation I still was coming up short. I understand they cook with potatoes. Well, it's 7th grade, what do I expect? The answer is, I should expect my son to come up with some valuable information and transfer it to his audience (for me, I'm a pretty blank slate here). Having some familiarity with my son, and now having some familiarity with the inherent limitations of PP, I realize that it was not entirely my son's fault that his presentation taught me something vaguely about potatoes. The format dumbs down information, fashioned more like a commercial than a teaching tool. The irony is that I was assigned this reading in class. The concurrent class I'm in is requiring small groups to present once a week, and so far all of them have used PP to some degree. My number's up in early December, and previously I've been nervous about having to create my first PP presentation. Now, I feel somewhat relieved that my suspicions concerning its usefulness have been justified, but all the more fearful that my own conscience won't allow me to learn and use it even as its pretty much the assumed method of delivery. Can I get away with an informative handout? Should I let my group partners bear the weight of the PP part? Do I just acknowledge that it kind of sucks but do it anyway? But I hate clip art...Even more ironic, my presentation topic is "Literacy and Pedagogy". Tufte would have a field day....more
Michener states at some point in this book, and I am paraphrasing, that the atrocities suffered by a nation are too much for one reader to digest, butMichener states at some point in this book, and I am paraphrasing, that the atrocities suffered by a nation are too much for one reader to digest, but the trials of one person are enough to break your heart and build true understanding. That explains why Michener, a historian of enormous breadth and critical understanding, chose storytelling, and much of his backlist is historical fiction, telling the stories of history through the people who lived it. The Bridge of Andau is not a novel; Michener was present at the Austrian border to greet and assist Hungarian refugees of communism in 1956. The flight occurred in November of 1956 and this book was first published in March of 1957. The book reads almost as an extended news report, but with the natural novelistic flow of Michener's best epics. He does a tidy job of explaining Hungary's recent history of political subjugation, its long history of tensions with every one of its neighbors, all framing the current crisis (as of his writing) of the people's revolution over communism, told from the varied perspectives of Hungary's industrial workers, intellectuals, KVO members, and children. The Michener of 1957 doesn't know that the Soviet presence is not removed until as recently as 1991, although his plea for Hungarian sovereignty does help to stir the pot, so that even today the government leans toward a socialist-liberal agenda with democratically elected leaders and membership in the EU. Reading this book really helped me put a chronological order to the long list of -isms that have plagued so many nations of Eastern Europe. It also illustrated some extremely powerful and disturbing images of exploited power and war. ...more
I love reading the works of poets turned to novelists, and this one doesn't disappoint. The imagery and Appalachian landscape are wrought thoughtfullyI love reading the works of poets turned to novelists, and this one doesn't disappoint. The imagery and Appalachian landscape are wrought thoughtfully and are deeply felt. The story itself is tragic. Through the POV of a young man still defining his own life, we glimpse laterally the life of a man who has allowed circumstances to direct his fate, and not until his final moment does he choose his own action. It saves the life of our POV, but it ends his. He is a hero, but tragically, his heroism is witnessed solely by the reader. Ingeniously, Rash intertwines this story with an historical footnote of a Civil War massacre, an incident that shares the same location and landscape. The parallels are fascinating. What I loved best here were the character studies of both Leonard and "the bad guy", Carlton. Carlton is interesting, in that he's obviously an intelligent man, who did make choices to live the life he did, though his ethics are warped, while Leonard, also intelligent, and ethical, did not make the conscious choices to define himself. Both suffer. Rash implies that Travis learns the value of making his own deliberate choices, even when disguised by a bossy girlfriend, as they do ride into the sunset together. I understand the film is coming soon. Steve Earle plays Carlton. For that alone, I'll be watching for it. ...more
Oh, my big mouth loves to lead me into projects larger than they need to be. Why, why do I complicate my life?! I'm in a class called "Search and DiscOh, my big mouth loves to lead me into projects larger than they need to be. Why, why do I complicate my life?! I'm in a class called "Search and Discovery", which sounds like we go spelunking every week, or dig for buried treasure, or compete in World of Warcraft quests, but is actually a rather anti-climactic exercise in culling digital and physical resources for information. Our first assignment is to research an "information producer", from which we were to pick from a list, and investigate how they make their information accessible and relevant to specific users. Straightforward enough. And yet, I just finished this incredible criticism of popular literature culture (Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture, which I cannot recommend highly enough), and considerable attention was paid to the Amazon phenomenon as a cultural force in lit culture. Firstly, Amazon was the first retail, for-profit online institution that employed a full staff of editors tasked with creating content (producing information) intended to help customers make informed purchasing decisions, and at the same time create an online environment with an atmosphere of informed book reverence (call it snootiness)that encouraged a feeling of intellectual community. As Amazon staked a claim and further defined their online character, the obsession with content fell away, and the trend towards personalization took hold. Customer reviews gained credulity over "professional" reviews, automated preference matchers (If you liked blank, you'll also like blank), and cross-media packages that customers "like" as a sense of personality expression rather than simply product purchase -- all functions with nary an authorial human influence in sight -- became the marketing tools of preference. So Amazon became an information producer twice over, now as an online reference for discovering "your" community -- what media products define you, what are you looking for that you didn't even know you were looking for, that makes you the kind of cultural participant you think you are? Hearing the Amazon.com story from an early participant, who watched this evolution occur, even to his horror, as he was certainly a main factor in the early drive to be the (snooty) intellectual influence that directed the masses rather than served them, Marcus learns the painful lessons of retail -- if you're going to "get big fast" you'll have to leave your opinions of quality at the door, and sell what people want to buy. This is a conflict I've felt for 14 years myself in bookselling at Amazon's archrival -- and I've learned and am still learning how the book market is driven by emotional interaction with a text (the Oprah effect)and community identity rather than academic appreciation of writerly skill or highbrow sensibilities. So now I've committed myself to writing a paper on Amazon.com as "information producer"; Amazon wasn't on the list until I raised my hand. After reading this memoir, I'm grateful to acknowledge the feat can be done, as this is exactly the conflict Marcus faced, in the beginning, as a human content producer, and at the end of his tenure, as an obsolete human, sidelined by automated bots that fashion information through metrics and numbers and faceless phrases spat into the ether by anyman. If I have any gripe with this book, it is 1.) Marcus is such an egghead that I got lost in some of his metaphors and wink-wink asides; is he unwilling to write specifics, or unable to? 2.) and then what?! It's been 8 years and Amazon.com is still going strong. Has anyone filled the gap since then? Amazon grew so fast, with new initiatives on a sometimes weekly basis, that surely there are more evolutions to investigate. Who's writing on it now? I guess this is an opportunity for more Search and Discovery......more