NY Times likes it and so does everybody else. From (in a roundabout way) this NY Mag piece, which mentions several other books I might check out.
The pNY Times likes it and so does everybody else. From (in a roundabout way) this NY Mag piece, which mentions several other books I might check out.
The piece is about the "literature of domestic ambivalence," which (I think) is about parenthood. I've been complaining recently that there don't seem to be any books about parenthood. Lots of books about being a child, few about being a parent. As Kim Brooks points out, this is because people who write books make terrible parents, or at least that's what they've been merrily telling their wives before heading out to their Writin' Shack to drink whiskey with their cats.
So this is all good, except that all the books Brooks mentions are by women, which is great for women but not quite as great for men. (Why doesn't anyone think of the men?)
Part of the problem, I assume, is that parenting is fairly boring from a storytelling point of view. You can make (mostly awful) jokes about it, or you can go full Kevin, but everything in between is more or less "I didn't get a ton of sleep and then I was tired." Anyway, I'm looking forward to checking out some of these. This book, people keep using words like "stun" and "hammer" and "fury" about it, so...whee?...more
One of our favorites. Written entirely in sixteenth-note alliterative tongue twisters, it's not for bed time - not at all a relaxing experience - butOne of our favorites. Written entirely in sixteenth-note alliterative tongue twisters, it's not for bed time - not at all a relaxing experience - but tons of fun to trade stanzas with your partner, and will probably be even more fun to watch the kid fail at reading it if he ever stops failing to read at all....more
If it hadn't been for the murder, we'd have thought it a very smooth gig.
That's a wild thing to say, first because it happened, and second because thi
If it hadn't been for the murder, we'd have thought it a very smooth gig.
That's a wild thing to say, first because it happened, and second because this is what he says about it. And that's the flavor of this memoir, which amounts to the most intricate junkie's excuse ever written.
After lunch I headed for the Londonderry Hotel to celebrate. There, unfortunately, the bedroom caught fire...it was faulty wiring in the room. But who would believe that?
Well, I might have the first couple times, but this is at least the fourth time his room has caught fire. He takes credit for one of them. Car crashes, arrests, deaths, addictions...Keith Richards has an excuse for all of it.
So he's a twat. Don't pick this book up hoping to like Keith Richards. Mick Jagger comes in for some brutal vitriol, and I'm sure he's a twat too, but ask yourself this: What kind of person, engaged in a tremendously successful 50-year partnership, writes a book slagging his partner off?
But you pick it up for the stories, for the life. Keith Richards is one of the pioneers of the debauched rock star existence, and of course his existence at all is a scientific miracle. He has stories upon stories, and many of them are interesting.
And he has a lot to teach about guitar. I've played guitar most of my life, and my favorite parts of this book are when he talks about music, which he hears and understands on a deeply and passionately. So that's why I can't play Stones songs: he's using open tuning and he took one of his strings off. He gets into a detailed description of how and why that simplified tuning frees him, and you're like oh. He also makes the best argument for slinging your guitar low I've ever heard, but he's still wrong - that's an idiotic thing to do - so, y'know, your mileage may vary but it's interesting to hear. Early on he dissects one lick in the background of one bar of an Elvis Presley song for an entire page, just paying homage to Scotty Moore who played it. I love it.
So he is brilliant, and he's tripped over some wisdom. "It's impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were," he says. At one point he cites Voltaire and Pasternak over the course of two pages.
But like many celebrities, he's been convinced that his cute tics are actually cute tics, and they are not. Most glaringly, he's one of those assholes who thinks he's so post-sexism and post-racism that he can say sexist and racist things because he's earned the right. "Feminists didn't like ['Some Girls'] either. We always liked to piss them off. Where would you be without us?" he asks, and it's hard to imagine what he thinks the answer is. Elsewhere, "Then they told me that I was not actually white. To the Jamaicans...I'm black but I've turned white to be their spy." Sigh. He argues that he loves women and black people, he's just beyond politeness; that's a familiar argument and there's a kernel of truth in it. But at the same time...what if you were to try neither acting nor talking like an asshole? Why is that so hard?
And in any case, he is an asshole, a world-class one. A junkie and a petty backstabber and a schmuck. Come for the stories; don't come for the man....more
You can't spend too much time figuring Iris Murdoch out. It's better to just buckle in with her. Her characters are basically insane, and so are her pYou can't spend too much time figuring Iris Murdoch out. It's better to just buckle in with her. Her characters are basically insane, and so are her plots, and so are her sentences. They have a tidal effect; they pull you under.
Under the Net reminds me of Martin Amis's Money, or more accurately Money reminds me of it. They feature amoral protagonists in the entertainment industry, and they're both nuts. I actually think Money is a little better. It's certainly amped up, which is startling considering how far Murdoch is already amped past mostly everyone else.
She published this, her first novel, in 1954, so just before the similarly unhinged On the Road blew up the Beats. She was Irish, and you know how Irish novelists are. (Recent discussion: "Has there ever been a sane Irish author?")
So far as the plot matters, it follows Jake Donaghue through a series of misadventures. He kidnaps a dog. He schemes to get money, while steadfastly turning down every opportunity to have it. He gets drunk. He discusses philosophy and socialism. The most memorable character is the dog.
Murdoch is not my favorite author. I like her but I'm not burning to read every one of her books. I'm going to read some of them, though! They strain at the seams. She's thoroughly off on her own trip and you're not invited to participate; you may watch. She's distinct, thus the like. Some books are like marathons and some like sprints, and hers are like meandering chases through side streets, after which you are out of breath and sweaty and you've pulled a hamstring and you're not sure if you lost the guy chasing you or not....more
This is currently our favorite book about sleeping babies. It advises all naps, all the time - the adage that "sleep begets sleep" is currently in vogThis is currently our favorite book about sleeping babies. It advises all naps, all the time - the adage that "sleep begets sleep" is currently in vogue. (Its primary champion is Marc Weissbluth, whose Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child I haven't read.) When your mother tells you to keep them awake during the day so they'll sleep better at night, says Kennedy, she is full of shit. You'll make him overtired, at which point his body will release adrenaline, thinking something is wrong, at which point he'll be beyond sleep, in the crying zone, and now you're fucked. That sounds familiar, oh parent, doesn't it? Yes, it does.
Instead, Kennedy recommends looking for signs that he's tired - "doing anything other than smiling delightedly at you" is close enough - and then setting up a careful series of Pavlovian triggers to make him fall asleep, after about 75-90 minutes during the day and then all night starting around 7 pm. This seems great, because then we can just go out to bars. Parenting is easy!
But if you're still having trouble, Kennedy also has this advice:
There will come a time when your baby is so stimulated by you that she can't easily fall asleep in your arms (and possibly in your presence). The time has come to put the baby down.
The Old Yeller treatment sounds extreme, but I can see how it would permanently solve the problem. And Nathan's cutest days may be behind him anyway. ...more
Can't believe I've never remembered to put this on my shelves. I love this graphic novel, which turns teen sexuality (and terror of same) into a metapCan't believe I've never remembered to put this on my shelves. I love this graphic novel, which turns teen sexuality (and terror of same) into a metaphor that's, like, Hawthornian in its perfection and simplicity. ...more
When you hear "tragic flaw" you think of hubris, probably, or curiosity, or the desire to fuck your mom, but here's the tragic flaw Michael Henchard hWhen you hear "tragic flaw" you think of hubris, probably, or curiosity, or the desire to fuck your mom, but here's the tragic flaw Michael Henchard has in Hardy's blazing character study: he's an asshole.
He's not bad, exactly. He has a sense of justice, or at least he develops one. As the book opens, he auctions off his wife for five shillings in a fit of drunken pique. When he sobers up and realizes what he's done, he swears off drinking. He tries to be better. Later on in a fistfight, he ties one hand behind his back because he's bigger than the guy he's facing. This is his justice.
It's also his assholery, because he starts the fight, and that's what plagues him through the book: he's just a dick. People don't like him. He can't bring himself to be nice to folks. You know people like this, right? You probably work with one. Sometimes you come into work and you're like, "Today I'm just gonna be nice to Steve. I'm sure if I just try a little harder, we can have a good relationship." Because you know it's not that Steve actually wants everyone to hate him. He just has a really fucked up social IQ. But then you have a meeting with him and he blurts out something wicked rude, because that's how Steve is, and you're like gah, I just can't do it. Some people are just assholes. That's an interesting thing to look at, and I think Henchard is a great character.
Mayor also has Hardy's usual batch of stunningly cinematic scenes. A ruined Roman amphitheater provides several of them, as does a hay loft where Susan at one point is covered by a golden shower of wheat husks. But it wasn't Hardy's favorite. According to Michael Schmidt, he "reckoned that of all his novels the one most damaged by the exigencies of serialization was The Mayor of Casterbridge; the need for incident week after week made for too much plot." And it's true that it feels like there's some loose flesh hanging off that gruesome skeleton. It's not my favorite either. (Tess and Jude are my favorites.) But Henchard is one of my favorite characters. He's one of literature's great gaping assholes, and that's quite an achievement....more
I read all these old-timey books when I was a kid - this is from 1952 - and came away with all these ideas like, for example, that trains are for wearI read all these old-timey books when I was a kid - this is from 1952 - and came away with all these ideas like, for example, that trains are for wearing bonnets on. (This turns out not to be the case.) But I also learned that
Warning: do not read GR description. Totally spoils it. But further analysis if you've already gotten there:
(view spoiler)[A metafictional analysis of the crushing dichotomy between who we want to be and who we really are, this book contains the entire agony of a disillusioned life in its chained pages. Stone's avatar is, cleverly, an idol of our youth, the inexplicable Grover. We find him in his youthful idealism, vowing to keep the monster he feels lurking in the world around him at bay. We track him through his heroic efforts to beat fate itself. We feel the inevitability of his defeat - the ending is writ in the title. But this is our childhood champion, our Super Grover! How can he lose? We expect a twist ending. Surely, he cannot fail.
And then: the twist comes, but it's the twist of a dagger, as our protagonist realizes that he himself has always been the very thing he most fears.
He is the monster. You are the monster. We...we are all the monster. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
And there's this generation of women saying yes, we are pretty slimy. Alissa Nutting's gross reverse Lolita; Tamara Faith Berger's literary golden shower.Megan Abbott and Gillian Flynn are sortof in on it too. Even Broad City is part of it. The earliest example I'm aware of is Joyce Carol Oates' Blonde, 800 pages of a slimy Marilyn Monroe. It's feminist; it's about tearing down the virgin / whore dichotomy and thrusting the reality of women forward. (I said dichotomy! Yaaaaay, college!)
Anyway, here's another entry. It's a fairly minor one. It's a pretty good book. It's sortof a lady Fight Club. This gross failure of a woman gets a bodacious roommate and they fight.
It's an allegory, right? (How fucking seriously can I take myself in this review?) Dumb sex against the panting real woman. They try to find a way to coexist - to procreate, even! Because halfway through suddenly there's a baby in the mix, which may disappoint those of you who thought this book was going to be hot. (It's not very hot. The sex scenes are realistic, which is to say fairly awkward when they're not very awkward.) (view spoiler)[Anyway, the coexistence doesn't really work. Real Woman is left holding the baby while Dumb Sex shambles off. (hide spoiler)]
This might make a good book club selection; it's easy to read and there's plenty to talk about. It's not a super great book, but it's good enough.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Martin Amis calls JG Ballard "a cult writer, the genuine article: extreme, exclusive, almost a one-man genre," and Crash is like nothing else. Its chaMartin Amis calls JG Ballard "a cult writer, the genuine article: extreme, exclusive, almost a one-man genre," and Crash is like nothing else. Its characters - its lead just has Ballard's name, like he can't be bothered to fake anything - are unapologetically amoral, sociopathic, almost automatic: they're into what they're into and they just go after it. Robert Vaughan, "nightmare angel of the expressways," wants to murder Elizabeth Taylor. No one ever mentions that murder is bad; they just wonder if he can make it happen. Humans are disgusting, all fluids and anuses, contrasted with numbing repetitiveness to the gleaming chromium of cars. The book is about their union: it's about smashing them together, human and car, again and again. It's completely mad. The words chromium, anus, diagonal, vulva, mucal, vent, binnacle appear many times; Ballard has created his own vocabulary to describe a fetishistic world that absolutely doesn't exist anywhere except in his head, where it's fully realized and internally consistent. It's like Wuthering Heights in this way: logical in its batshittery.
This is one of the most unique books I've ever read. It's interesting and easy to read, as long as you have the stomach for "elderly pederasts easing their tongues into the simulated anuses of colostomized juveniles." Here is a binnacle:
Is poetry dumb? Yes! Yes, of course poetry is dumb. But what if it's poetry written by my main man Ken, who has been saying super smart things about bIs poetry dumb? Yes! Yes, of course poetry is dumb. But what if it's poetry written by my main man Ken, who has been saying super smart things about books to me for about five years now? Well, that's different, isn't it? ISN'T IT? I don't know, it hasn't arrived yet. But it will! And then I will tell you!
Some of you might know Ken by his former GR name NewEngland. Oh yeah, that guy? That guy! SUCH A COOL DUDE. Although I will say that NewEngland was a way more believable name than "Ken." No one is actually named "Ken." YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE, NE....more
This guy is sometimes called the British Stephen King; he started writing in the mid 70s, same time as King did. Like King, his books were sortof shocThis guy is sometimes called the British Stephen King; he started writing in the mid 70s, same time as King did. Like King, his books were sortof shocking at the time for their violence. Here's his second and best-known novel, and here's what it's about:
Despite all the technological advances of science, it seemed survival still depended on the action of a man. One man.
Dun dun! The whole thing sounds like that, like the voiceover for the trailer for a shitty movie. But wait I'm not done, I have this sex scene for you:
He ran his fingers downwards through the small, tidy forest of hair until he found her other even more moist cave, silky smooth with its aroused lubricity.
So this book was written by a 13-year-old. The best thing you can say about it is it makes Stephen King look like a master writer. And the thing is it's so boring. The plot - crazy fog makes people into crazy murderers - sounds like it might be lurid fun, right? But it's so lame that it doesn't even make it to slumming fun. It's embarrassingly bad. Even the "shocking" stuff isn't really shocking or imaginative.
There's some creepy gay stuff - like, you know how gay people are usually also pedophiles? haha wait that's not at all true - and some weird hints of incest. Again, not in a fun way. Nothing about this book is any fun. It's a really bad book, guys. Really bad. ...more
Murray's sprawling coming-of-age book about the buildup to and fallout from Skippy's death owes equal deBest postmodern epic about string theory ever.
Murray's sprawling coming-of-age book about the buildup to and fallout from Skippy's death owes equal debts to Infinite Jest and Brian Greene. It's always a page-turner, as heady as some of its ideas are. This is a major book....more
Gillian Flynn is a totally dependable, entertaining author. Her characters are always memorable: living palimpsest Camille from Sharp Objects, Cool GiGillian Flynn is a totally dependable, entertaining author. Her characters are always memorable: living palimpsest Camille from Sharp Objects, Cool Girl Amy from Gone Girl, and here Libby Day, survivor of a notorious family massacre, living like a windup toy on its last wind.
Flynn's a competent author at worst, often better than that; descriptions like "the possum-pissed lawn outside my Aunt Diane's trailer" are perfect. There's a scene set in sortof an emptied above ground pool at night that's terrifically cinematic. The mystery in Sharp Objects wasn't brilliantly laid out, but here (and in Gone Girl) it's done very well. Showing hints of Flynn's forthcoming Wilkie Collinsesque experiment with narrative point of view in Amy's diary in Gone Girl, the story here is told from several perspectives: convicted murderer of his own family Ben; Libby, the one who survived; and their mom. (view spoiler)[I figured there was a good chance one of these people was an unreliable narrator and a murderer; that didn't turn out to be the case, but I felt satisfied by the reveal - a completely different, random person, the serial killer Angel of Debt, who's barely in the story. Sounds like a ripoff but I think she gets away with it. (hide spoiler)]
I think Flynn is the real deal and I dig this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more