This is one of the latest offerings from McSweeney's Rectangulars. It's gotten a lot of press from unexpected corners, even including Oprah's magazineThis is one of the latest offerings from McSweeney's Rectangulars. It's gotten a lot of press from unexpected corners, even including Oprah's magazine. And it is all deserved--this book is sensational. The plot is dazzlingly original, the characters are compelling, and the voice is just fantastic. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time.
(update:) I've just finished reading and crying both. What a stunning book. It is devastating without being angsty, lofty and epic-ish without being overblown... High, high art, and serious beauty. When was the last time I cried while reading? I really can't remember. Please read this book. It's almost unbearably great. ...more
I have been told to read this book for months and months. Finally got around to it, and I am so glad I did. Garbage Land is a completely accessible, eI have been told to read this book for months and months. Finally got around to it, and I am so glad I did. Garbage Land is a completely accessible, extremely well written contemporary history of the garbage industry, with chapters on landfills, composting, glass recycling, plastics (called 'the devil's resin'), etc. I learned so much from reading this book. It includes great ideas for future sustainability, like making manufacturers responsible for disposing of the materials their goods come in (like plastic bottles or toxic computer parts), and building gardens on the roofs of city apartment buildings to cool the buildings and provide a home for 'putrescibles', i.e. compost. Who knew garbage could be so enthralling?
Here is a great sum-up quote from this book: Our trash cans, I believe, ought to make us think: not about holes in the ground and barrels of oil saved by recycling, but about the enormous amount of material and energy that goes into the stuff we use for an instant and then discard. Garbage should worry us. It should prod us. We don't need better ways to get rid of things. We need to not get rid of things, either by keeping them cycling through the system or not designing and desiring them in the first place....more
According to the endorsement on the back of the 50th anniversary edition, this is the book that launched the Beat Generation. I have no comment on thaAccording to the endorsement on the back of the 50th anniversary edition, this is the book that launched the Beat Generation. I have no comment on that, but it's a gritty, unforgiving story of artists and junkies in the Village in the '50s. Phenomenal dialogue and characters, stunning depictions of a long-gone New York, aching and gorgeous and harrowing and beautiful, and pretty consistently heartbreaking... I'm running out of adjectives here but seriously, I adore this book and have read it three times.
And guys, again? No one else has reviewed this book! And only like four people have even rated it! What is going on??...more
There is still a wide-eyed teenager living inside me, and this book makes my melty twee little heart break and sing in equal measure. When I was 16 anThere is still a wide-eyed teenager living inside me, and this book makes my melty twee little heart break and sing in equal measure. When I was 16 and read it for the first time, that was as close to a transcendental experience as I've ever had. Since then, I have re-read it roughly twenty thousand times, always whenever I need to just submerge myself in drenching beauty and angst....more
In case you don't know about this book yet (though, honestly, how could you not know about this book yet?), it is an absolutely amazing memoir by an IIn case you don't know about this book yet (though, honestly, how could you not know about this book yet?), it is an absolutely amazing memoir by an Iranian woman who was a professor of English & Persian Literature at teh University of Tehran before, during, and after the revolution and war with Iraq. Once wearing the veil became mandatory and she refused to wear one, she was forced to quit teaching, and one way she came up with to fill her time was to gather several of her most dedicated students for a once-weekly literature class. In it, they discussed books like The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Lolita (duh), etc, etc.
This book is triple-layered. The first layer is Azar Nafisi's memoir of the tumultuous times she lived in in Tehran, which she watched go from one of the most progressive, intellectual cities in the world to one of the most restrictive and repressive. You can see many of her friends and relatives, and the different ways people dealt with everything -- from withdrawing completely from society to picking sides and becoming more vocal and fervant about religion, politics, nationalism, etc.
The second layer is Nafisi's memoirs of being a professor of literature in such times, including one astonishing episode where her class actually puts The Great Gatsby on trial to determine whether it is decadent, Western poison... or a work of high art. Not to mention the memories of the women in her literature class, how they coped with the readings, one another, and ther lives in Iran.
The third layer, which for me catapults this book into a work of absolute genius, is Nafisi's theories on and explications of the books themselves, including how they relate to the struggles and culture of both of the above layers.
Nafisi has brilliant theories about literature, and such a clear, inviting writing voice, in addition to giving us a much-needed internal perspective a country and culture that we (Americans) are essentially taught to loathe, makes this one of the most incredible books I've ever read. Three times....more
One of my all time most beloved books. Showing that, though there may be nothing new under the sun, there are still some unbearably brilliant writersOne of my all time most beloved books. Showing that, though there may be nothing new under the sun, there are still some unbearably brilliant writers that can make something seem shockingly original.
There are two narratives in this book, one which is in 2nd person, so that You, the Reader, become the protagonist. So You are reading the newest book by Italo Calvino, when You suddenly turn the page to find that another book's text has been mistakenly inserted in the middle of the story. You go back to the bookstore to exchange the book, and are given another copy, only to find an entirely different story, and also meet the Other Reader. The books proceeds like this, alternating between the story of You and the Other Reader, and the stalled openings of several different novels.
I just read this again for IDK like the 10th time. It is my favorite book of all time ever and I'd like to tell you about it.
I think what I'm actuallI just read this again for IDK like the 10th time. It is my favorite book of all time ever and I'd like to tell you about it.
I think what I'm actually going to do is like a CliffNotes sort of thing, where I tell you first a few reasons why this book is nearly impossible to read the first time, then give you the cast of characters and a few things they do, so that if you do try to read it, you'll have some hope of figuring out what's going on before you're 3/4 of the way through.
I suppose that means this'll be kind of spoilery? I mean it's really not that kind of book, but if you want to go into it blind, you should probably just not read this review at all.
Okay here we go. The first thing that's important to know is that Cortázar does this thing with time where it does not go the way it's supposed to, like in a way everything in the book happens all at once, in a clearly impossible way. So it opens on Juan alone on Christmas Eve at a subpar restaurant having just bought a book and in the process of getting diligently drunk, and someone else in the restaurant says something that reminds him of a series of things that he reminisces about -- except that it'll be clear later that those things haven't really happened yet, and not in the order he remembers them anyway. It's like this wild Möbius strip where everything is an eternal present and is also all in the past. So there's that at first.
Second, this is really just a book about a bunch of super-smart, super-silly, super-cosmopolitan friends; they all travel all the time for work and for play, and most of the book takes place in their various hotel rooms or bars or cafés in Paris or Oslo or Barcelona. But then also laid over all of this as a semi-comprehensible patina is the City, like the ur-city maybe, where everyone sometimes slips into on their respective journeys, and everyone seems to have a moment or a mission there that they are constantly reliving or trying to complete, and sometimes they run into each other and other times they are endlessly fruitlessly searching and never finding what or whom they're meant to.
Third, several of the characters are never really explained, like for ex. Osvaldo you find out many pages in is actually a pet snail, and I think Feuille Morte is a bird although I'm not certain. Then there's a character called "my paredros," which, like the City, is not exactly one person but a composite person, or maybe it's each of them at different times. So they'll say things like "my paredros said," but when Juan says it he might mean Polanco, and when Nicole says it she might mean Calac, or maybe they all have an imaginary friend in common that everyone believes in together.
Finally fourth, he does this thing which by the third read I adored but at first I just found so jarring, which is that he switches from third person to first person all the time, often in the middle of a sentence. And especially at the start when you don't know who these people are or what they're like, it's just about impossible to know who's narrating when.
Okay those are the disclaimers. Are you still with me? Because here are the characters.
Juan He's the Cortázar stand-in, surely. He's ruggedly handsome (actually I don't know if he's ever physically described, but in my head he's devastatingly gorgeous because Juan is exactly the boy I always and forever will unreachably fall in love with). He's from Buenos Aires and works as a U.N. interpreter and so is always in new cities being exhausted by an endless barrage of words. For most of the course of this book he's in Vienna with Tell, his "crazy Danish girl." He's in desperate, aching, unrequited love with Hélène.
Tell She is this fabulous redheaded Danish marvel, very independent and fun and demanding. She knows Juan isn't in love with her and she's perfectly happy to be his vixen for a little while when the whim takes her. Together they have a lot of sex and drink a lot of wine and have an adventure with a vampire (maybe). Tell is fiercely protective of her friends, especially Nicole. At one point she sends a doll to Hélène that has something mysterious and dirty in it, which has severe ramifications.
Nicole She's French. Her boyfriend Marrast calls her "the Malcontent." She's quiet and mournful and an artist; through most of the book she's illustrating a children's book about gnomes. She's in desperate, aching, unrequited love with Juan. Things with Marrast are bad, and eventually she will do something about it, which I won't tell you because that does feel spoilery. When she's in the City there are red houses and high sidewalks and everything is despair.
Marrast Also French, and darkly hilarious, and an overly smart sculptor. He does three things mostly in the book: 1. Make a gigantic commissioned sculpture for the town of Arcuile that's a deconstruction of what a sculpture should be in that it has its pedestal on top and the sculpture itself on the bottom, 2. Talks and talks and talks and drinks and talks and mourns the dissolution of his relationship with Nicole without being able to do anything about it, and 3. Crafts this elaborate sort-of prank involving a random painting in an art gallery, a host of Anonymous Neurotics, and an unidentified plant sprig.
Calac & Polanco Argentinian BFFs. These two could easily be dismissed as comic relief, which is often the role they fill -- Polanco, for ex, works at a nursery school with a lake and has inherited a canoe and unattached motor; the first time we meet him he's in a hotel room with an electric razor submerged in porridge because he thinks if he can keep it running, that will bode well for his soon-to-be-motorized canoe not tipping him out into the lake. He and Calac often speak in their own made-up language that is unparsable but still you get the idea. They're not just comic relief, but their levity always comes in at just the right moments when things have got too heavy.
Celia She's a fairly daffy young English girl who runs away from home and is very angstily sad. I can't go into what happens between her and Hélene, sorry. Eventually she winds up with Austin.
Austin He begins as an Anonymous Neurotic, then becomes Marrast's French pupil, and winds up almost inadvertently as a major agent of the plot. Prior to that there's a hilarious episode where he describes sleeping with French girls who have huge elaborate hairdos and will only fuck in positions that will not get their heads anywhere near a pillow.
Hélène The most mysterious figure in the group; she's an anesthesiologist and has a catastrophic hospital encounter with a young boy who reminds her of Juan. She might be evil actually, I can't say for sure. Her recurrence in the City has her always walking and walking, holding a package tied with a yellow cord that gets heavier and heavier, but she can't put it down until she gets where she's going, which of course she never does.
I don't know, I thought laying that all out would prove that this is one of the most difficult but also the most beautiful and strange book that exists, but I'm not sure that's what happened.
All I have left to say is this: This book is magic, magic, magic; on every page, in every line, shot through every twistedly long and nearly un-parse-able sentence. One day I will meet someone who loves it as much as I do, and we will read it back and forth, bit by bit, over and over every day for the rest our lives. ...more
Oh David. I miss you with a plangency that belies the fact that I never met you, never would have. You were and are and will always be such a seriousOh David. I miss you with a plangency that belies the fact that I never met you, never would have. You were and are and will always be such a serious force in my life.
I've read this two or three times, and a few weeks after DFW died I picked it up again, almost on a whim. I'd been having trouble finding something to sink my teeth into—I rejected Anna Kavan, William Vollmann, and Fellipe Alfau in short order—and I kind of pulled this book without thinking about the timing, refusing to consider myself one of the jumpers-on, someone needing desperately to reread an author right after his sudden, shocking death. I mean, I've read all his books before, right? So I should be able to revisit them whenever I want, without feeling like a scenester wannabe.
I didn't remember much about this one, except a weird snippet about playing tennis in a tornado. So try to picture my shock, in the early pages of the very first essay, when I came upon this:
On board the Nadir — especially at night, when all the ship's structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased — I felt despair. The word's overused and banalified now, despair, but it's a serious word, and I'm using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture — a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It's maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it's not these things, quite. It's more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I'm small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It's wanting to jump overboard.
Cut to me, hair blowing crazy in the wind outside my apartment, with a cigarette in my hand and tears streaming down my face.
So, you know, I don't know what to say. It really was very hard for me to get through this reading without feeling like a stupid bandwagon-jumper. It really was very hard not to notice all the despair slyly threaded throughout these essays, intermixed with the jokes, the seriousness, the brilliance. But even while doing all that noticing, I kept second-guessing and scolding myself for overemphasizing something that only now seems true, in retrospect. I mean, if he'd come out of the closet recently instead, everyone would be piecing together "clues" from his oeuvre about his homosexual tendencies, you know?
I'm having trouble explaining this, but I guess I have a serious problem with how the soul-baring-ness of the autobiographical writer leads to this tacit agreement that readers can poke their noses "between the lines" to figure out more than the writer is telling. But then WTF, these things are actually there! Right? I just kept looping myself around and around, not feeling comfortable with anything I thought about anything.
So whatever. This book is ungodly fantastic, the fact that he is gone is so goddamn devastating, the whole thing is beautiful-awful but mostly just fucking awful.
If anyone is still reading or cares, here are some thoughts on the individual essays.
The title essay and "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All" are spectacular. Hilarious too, which is something we sometimes forget about DFW, given how super serious & intellectual he is.
In "Greatly Exaggerated" he is so fucking smart that I couldn't even read the essay, because I am not, and never will be, his intellectual equal.
"E Unibus Pluram," on the other hand, was incredibly smart but also (for the most part) accessible to us mere mortals, and was incredibly interesting, if sadly a bit dated.
"David Lynch Keeps His Head" was a nice middle ground: incredibly obsessive-nerd-y, but it made me desperately want to watch Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks again.
I only read about half of the Michael Joyce essay because my attention span for tennis (especially its accompanying statistics and arcana) is pretty short.
"Derivative Sports in Tornado Alley" was plaintive and sad and the most 'personal' (maybe?!?!?!) of the essays, and though it was the one that stuck with me the most on my first read of this book, this time I think the images of the bovine herds of fat sweaty Mid-Easterners stuffing their faces with funnel cake and hot dogs at the State Fair will remain in my head for a long while.
This book is fantastic because David Foster Wallace wrote it before he decided that he was the smartest writer since Joyce. It's clever, funny, unpreThis book is fantastic because David Foster Wallace wrote it before he decided that he was the smartest writer since Joyce. It's clever, funny, unpretentious (well, mostly), and a great, fun read.
Ok ok ok but actually? The ending is pretty fucking horrible....more
Reading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.
I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people whoReading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.
I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people who write short stories and everything, but "Stone Animals" is the absolute very best short story that has ever been written. Oh, wait, except for "Lull"; that is actually the very best short story that has ever been written ever. I can't decide, but anyway, the rest of the writing world should just give it up, nothing can top this book.
Honestly I can't even do a real review of Magic for Beginners, or any Kelly Link. I love it and her too much, and there's nothing I can say that doesn't sound shoddy and trite and silly. So bah, I won't try.
But if you haven't read this book, there is a huge sad gaping hole in your life that you don't even know about. ...more
All's I am saying is, if you do not love Aimee Bender yet, get this book, read Skinless, Fell This Girl, The Healer, and The Ring. If you still don'tAll's I am saying is, if you do not love Aimee Bender yet, get this book, read Skinless, Fell This Girl, The Healer, and The Ring. If you still don't love her after that, I'm not really sure we can be friends anymore....more
Oh god this book is so incredibly good. One of the endorsements on the back says something like, Finally someone whose life is worthy of a memoir happOh god this book is so incredibly good. One of the endorsements on the back says something like, Finally someone whose life is worthy of a memoir happens to be talented enough to write a good one. Yes, yes! I wish I had come up with that line!
Just finished reading this book again. After the disappointing mess of The Frog King, I had to read something I knew was phenomenal, to reaffirm my faith in literature. And oh, thank you, Nick Flynn, I love you so. This book is simply stunning, devastating, perfectly done. ...more
As for the story itself, it was entitled "The Dancing Fool." Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure tWhy Kurt Vonnegut is a genius:
As for the story itself, it was entitled "The Dancing Fool." Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure to communicate.
Here was the plot: A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.
Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golfclub....more
So when you think of Pynchon you think of serious work, right? And trudgery and difficulty and obfuscation and pedanticism, and like this dizzying thiSo when you think of Pynchon you think of serious work, right? And trudgery and difficulty and obfuscation and pedanticism, and like this dizzying thing that just makes you feel unintellectual and slow for never being able to catch up, right?
Well if that is the case, you have never read Vineland. Because oh. my. god. This book is so fucking good.
I'm not going to try to summarize or anything, because this book is too sprawling and reeling, and anyway that would be an afront to its amazingness. But look, it's got all the same basic building blocks as any Pynchon book—a million characters exhaustively historied, unfollowable plot twists, crazy ranting paranoia, incredibly phraseology, bizarre songs, sixties culture, sex and violence (in fact, large swaths are oddly comparable to Kill Bill, if you ask me)—but it's done at a much...easier level somehow. It's much more accessible, it's hilarious and warm, and you don't feel like you're in quicksand the whole time, just desperately trying to understand and keep breathing.
See, people never talk about the really unimaginable joy that soars through Pynchon's work. And beauty! I mean look, this book is tough, for sure, and I won't try to claim that I understood everything, but honestly it just doesn't matter. It's just so much fun to read. It's not work at all.
And the ending! Once I had like thirty pages left I started getting that dark foreboding feeling, you know, like there's no way he can end this satisfactorily, there just isn't enough space. I was so sure he was going to do something horrible, leaving everything messy and unfulfilling, end things like right in the middle of a sentence or something, but no! The ending was beautiful, just like the rest of the book, totally satisfying and wonderful. Jeez I loved this book. Wow....more