[I heard that someone (definitely not me) pirated an electronic version of this beautifully melancholy thing, blew through it in a day, and liked it s...more[I heard that someone (definitely not me) pirated an electronic version of this beautifully melancholy thing, blew through it in a day, and liked it so much she immediately went out and bought it in hardcover.](less)
Basically, Kathy Acker totally rules and gets all the punk stuff right, without all the annoying stuff. She is the punkest ever, in a really intellige...moreBasically, Kathy Acker totally rules and gets all the punk stuff right, without all the annoying stuff. She is the punkest ever, in a really intelligent way, which is hard to pull off. (less)
When I was living in New York and kicking it with a writers' group every week, I made up a story and workshopped the shit out of it every week about t...moreWhen I was living in New York and kicking it with a writers' group every week, I made up a story and workshopped the shit out of it every week about this girl and boy who are in love and she's a witch who lives in a cave with her mom and he's a logger who lives in a cabin with his dad, who dies, and they get married blah blah. I wrote it and worked on it so much because I loved Aimee Bender so much that I wanted to be her, and also because I hadn't figured out that I was a big queer yet but had to squeeze my queermo impulses out somehow, but now I kind of flinch at it, like I flinch at the porn I was writing before that.
But this book is like what that witch story I was writing would have been if it had been awesome, instead of just sort of embarrassing! Trinie Dalton does such a good job at a bratty, funny, surreal tone, and the plot is totally weird and perfect. Five stars! I am in love with all the Madras Press books I've read so far.
Um, not to advertise, but if you live by me we have them at my store. (less)
Ms. Bender has outdone herself. She is my favorite and I love her and we are in love and we are gay married, so take from this review what you will, b...moreMs. Bender has outdone herself. She is my favorite and I love her and we are in love and we are gay married, so take from this review what you will, but.... like, I have loved her other books, and I always say that she's a short story writer more than a novelist (like Lorrie Moore or Amy Bloom, although pretty unlike those two otherwise), but I may stand corrected. I mean, this one makes An Invisible Sign of My Own (which, by the way, was supposed to become a terrible movie, wasn't it?) look kind of one-dimensional.
Also, it feels like... okay. Aimee Bender does this thing where stuff in her stories wouldn't happen in the real world, like a narrator's boyfriend turns into a newt or whatever. In short stories, it works because that metaphor, the literalization of a subtext or whatever, doesn't have to go deep enough to sustain three hundred pages. You've got a setting, and then that metaphor, and then you twist it, and then maybe you twist it again: thirty pages, fifty pages, you're done. In her last novel, there wasn't as much, like... I don't want to call it magical relaism, mostly 'cause compared to what Ms. Bender does, "magical realism" feels a lot less interesting and contemporary, especially now that it's thirty years after the heyday of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maybe just magic? But in An Invisible Sign of My Own there wasn't that much magic happening. It was there, but it was subtle; the focus was on gore, and feelings, and surreal neighborhood/community weirdness. It was way more surreal than unreal.
In this one, though, the hook is something unreal: Rose can taste the feelings people were feeling when they were making the food she eats. Every day growing up she tastes the desperation her mother is concealing. It's pretty brutal. But so instead of that unreal thing making the story into a magical farce or surreal odyssey or whatever, it kind of becomes just a thing in the novel that might as well be a hypersensitivity on the part of the narrator or something; the story isn't about this magical thing, although it is about the sadness- the PARTICULAR sadness, if you feel me- that comes from this magic thing. It would be a different story if Rose couldn't taste folks' feelings, and the other unreal thing that happens in the story- which I'm not going to tell you about- would feel a lot more out of place without it, but it's just a hook. It's not the whole story.
So I guess the amazing thing is how that weird hook is just a thread in the majestic tapestry (puke, puke) of suburban feelings that's otherwise totally relatable and sweet and brutal and true to growing up a sad kid. Y'know?
Also, it's interesting how that makes this a food book. How hot are food books right now? Everybody has a total boner for sustainable agriculture, and whatever Michael Pollan has to say about vegetables, and urban farming, and local food, and all that stuff, which makes its way into The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, without actually making it a part of that zeitgeist. I mean, I groaned when I realized how much Rose would be talking about the farmers who are growing the food that tastes organic or not organic, or desperate or, because I was like Oh boring, another book about sustainable organic local food: I GET IT, BORING. It's not a dominant theme or anything, but it is there, which makes this book feel pretty 2010. So.
What else can I tell you... Aimee Bender's sentences are always beautiful, every single one of them, and the final paragraph is astounding and amazing (although it might not seem that way if you remember that I told you that, so try and forget it; it's understated amazing, not punch you in the face amazing, although I guess it's a little bit punch you in the face amazing too). A hundred stars!(less)
I can't believe I didn't review this thing! I read it last year sometime and I was totally sucked in, even though there isn't really a plot or anythin...moreI can't believe I didn't review this thing! I read it last year sometime and I was totally sucked in, even though there isn't really a plot or anything. Like I said somewhere else, it's basically metafictional PKD yelling GOD CAN SUCK MY DICK at a typewriter for 200 pages, which seems like it would lose its charm after, y'know, a little while, but it doesn't. So. (less)
This has everything I like (see my review of volume one, PLUS the action peaks at a Bouncing Souls show at Coney Island High- the band I've been in lo...moreThis has everything I like (see my review of volume one, PLUS the action peaks at a Bouncing Souls show at Coney Island High- the band I've been in love with for more than any other for the longest, at the place where I used to see shitty ska shows when I was a teenager. Six stars!(less)
Will you remind me again why we all hate Dave Eggers so much? I remember reading What Is The What as an act of defiance against the culture at the Str...moreWill you remind me again why we all hate Dave Eggers so much? I remember reading What Is The What as an act of defiance against the culture at the Strand, where all the book snobs I was working with were way, far too cool to like him. I don't think I looked into the situation very critically though. I mean, at the time I was more interested in reading as confrontation than I was in understanding that confrontation.
But now I'm old! So let's talk about it. Is it because he's popular? He's not, actually, that popular. I mean, he is. Sure. He's enormously popular for a writer who's basically self-publishing his books on his own press, so all us idiots invested in being cool can hate him for being a sell-out- it's a special kind of hate we reserve for our own who are successful. Or for being too pomo for his own good (an argument that really only applies to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was his first book, and which I maintain was actually a meditation on self-consciousness, and a pretty insightful one)! House of Leaves wasn't unnecessarily pomo, some of us will argue, but A Heartbreaking Work certainly was.
You could also hate him like the way people hate on Bono- specifically, "dude, Bono's a fuckin rock star so he thinks he's a politician," we will say. To which, hopefully, someone will counter, "No, actually, Bono is famous, so he tries to use his fame to actually do some good in the world instead of just buying mountains of coke and a fleet of cars." (If it's me retorting, here, I will also throw in something about how, while it's cool for him to try to do good in the world, U2's rhythm section is still probably the most boring one in the world.) And so Eggers does the same thing; I remember not getting much from his fiction. And you can't coast on self-conscious memoir all your life (can you, Augusten Burroughs? Oh, I guess some of us can, but only if we're smug and think we're smarter than everyone else). So Dave Eggers stumbled into this way to actually do some good in the world: he writes these novelly, semi-first-person not-really-journalistic nonfiction books about fucked up shit that happens in the world, and then uses his specific kind of fame to go on NPR and talk about them, and to get his built in NPR-listenin audience to learn about them.
I have an ugly hat onto which I sewed a patch that reads TSPX, and to you, Mr. Eggers, I remove that hat.
Blah blah, this is obviously where Zeitoun is situated culturally. Can you tell us anything about the book, Imogen?
Firstly, he writes some of the most clear, direct prose around. But it's not simple and straightforward in a bad way, like U2's rhythm section- it's uncomplicated and transparent like a goddam, I don't know, acoustic guitar playing you some chords, in time, without any soloing or note bending or anything. The writing just kind of gets you there. I think this has been read by some folks as pretentious, especially in the context of all the faux-old-timey simplicity we get from McSweeney's, but I think... I mean, fuck it. Zeitoun is not McSweeneys.net, you know? It's a story about a real guy (and his wife, and their family) who did some real things and had some fucked up real things happen to him. The author's voice isn't smirking. It's not really a funny book, but it's not dry, either, which is hard to pull off, you know?
I mean, okay, I am totally gay for layout on the interior of a book: the typeface is beautiful, the margins are inviting, the painted cover (similar to the painted cover of What Is The What) is inviting. It feels good in your hands, the way a Skittle feels good in your mouth.
Anyway, I read the whole fucker in a day, and- if you've been following me on goodreads for a while- you know I haven't been into anything enough to read it in a day in a long time. So... so yeah. There is disturbing shit in this book, and there is charming shit in this book, but I can't think of a good reason (besides lack of access) not to read it. I'm over hating on Dave Eggers, all shamefully admitting that What is the What was actually pretty good. Fuck that! Dave Eggers is doing a good job.(less)
The stupid story about me and this book is that, y'know the thing where folks were passing around advance copies of it? Stephen Elliott sent advance copies to folks, who got to keep it for a week, then would forward it on to someone else. What a great idea, right? Except I had had it for three days when I lost my copy. I think it probably fell out of my girlfriend's car somewhere up near Rockridge?
I live right where the book takes place: I go by the Berkeley Bowl on my way to work. The BART station where Stephen goes is like three blocks from my house. I've been inside every bar he mentions, and y'know, I didn't really mean to end up in the bay, either, but I find myself really fitting in and happy here, just like him.
So... yeah. The meat of the book? I've read all but one (I think) of his other books, and they do just tend to go over a fictionalized version of his history, in different ways; he writes about that in the Adderall Diaries. What's interesting is that, as a Writer (not so much as a person), this one feels like a step forward, like it's tying up all those novels and saying "here's why, here's how- what's next?"
I don't think I can do a good job talking about it. The way he writes, it's so plain and direct that it almost seems wrong- like, it almost seems like the writing isn't very good, until you realize that you've been explicitly visualizing every noun he's mentioned, that you can picture each one of these characters (even if they have similar names), and that you feel like you know him.
Most of the way through I was like, 'I am into this, but it's hardly great,' and then about three quarters of the way through he started tying up the different things he's been writing about with the Joan Didion line about telling ourselves stories to make sense of our lives, and then- yeah, jeez. That's what this is about: the stories people make out of their lives, how sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, and the mechanisms by which we tell ourselves we're not doing it.
So yeah. I don't know. I think my experience reading this was much richer for having read and liked his earlier work so much. Good for you Stephen Elliott! This book is fantastic. Also, the Rumpus is wonderful.
Oh one other thing- her gets called 'confessional' a lot, but I think I disagree with that. A lot of the kink stuff he writes about would be confessional in most folks' hands, but I think the word implies a kind of, like, a guilt relationship with the things being confessed? That's just not here. I mean, maybe it is somewhere, but one of the most appealing things about Stephen Elliott's writing- and it always has been- has been the direct way he writes about the kind of sex that people on television aren't even allowed to imply they have. It's not sensational, it's not ashamed, and it's not even a little bit braggy- it's direct and explicit and y'know. Beautiful, actually. The closest analogue I have is a death-obsessed, real-life-not-fiction Dennis Cooper. (less)
Y'know, I read these as individual comic books while they were coming out, and I liked 'em but I thought they were kind of hokey. Turns out, they're n...moreY'know, I read these as individual comic books while they were coming out, and I liked 'em but I thought they were kind of hokey. Turns out, they're not hokey so much as Brian K Vaughan just having fun, which rules- I read this one 'cause Alex's dad has hell of graphic novels at his house, and I was there for Christmas and she was reading all these Y the Last Man books, so I wanted something to read, too.
But yeah Ex Machina rules. It's ridiculous, and over the top, and there are about a million dramatic whole page splash pages that TOTALLY BLOW YOUR MIND- it's pretty much reveling in its own comic bookness, down to how much Mayor Hundred and Kremlin like comic books (and how one of the bad guys is an evil comic book store owner- uh, spoiler), but without being all goddam meta about it.
I also choose to believe that the subtext about how the police are good and we should just let 'em do their jobs and not get in their way and do whatever they say is either irony or confrontational devil's advocate, instead of actual, real support for the police.
Um, but yes- I feel like this came out on a smaller press and Vaughan was just like, okay, fuck it, let's just do a bunch of stuff. It feels looser than other Vaughan stuff I've read, which I initially took as undisciplined or something, but now I think it's more like just fun. (less)
Holy crap, David Weisner is my boyfriend. (It's cool, me and Junot were never monogs.) I wish that I could be best friends with a cloud. This is like,...moreHoly crap, David Weisner is my boyfriend. (It's cool, me and Junot were never monogs.) I wish that I could be best friends with a cloud. This is like, what if Aimee Bender stories were way more innocent, and didn't have any words?(less)