For those particularly satisfied with a book after reading it, may I exhort you: read it again a few years later. The familiarity of the material makeFor those particularly satisfied with a book after reading it, may I exhort you: read it again a few years later. The familiarity of the material makes the characters stand out, and the sentences scream nearly toward sentience.
Thus was the case when I dove back into D.F. Wallace’s ‘The Pale King.’ I re-read it after nearly the same length of time as had passed between Wallace’s death and its official published date.
“An Unfinished Novel” is a title-cased epitaph sandwiched between the book’s title and the author’s name on the title page. It’s sad, apt, and misleading. Sad for the obvious reasons; apt w/r/t descriptiveness; misleading in that it might dissuade a reader to plunk down hard-earned $ for something unfinished.
While the whole of the narrative surely would’ve been longer, is the upfront negation not dissimilar to defining shooting stars as unfinished? We see its, the star’s, partial arc and we revel in its beauty. We wonder where it will end up. But beautiful is the illumination of which we are able to view the star’s parabolic scattering of reflected dusty light, no matter its length or brightness.
The epigraph explains the entirety of this book’s reading experience, from the initial heads up, the purchase, the pre-reading When/Should I Read This? Toil, the actual work of reading it, to the completion/fugue that both empties and fills the reader at The End. It’s the ability to be immersed:
“We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed. --- Frank Bidart, ‘Borges and I’”
And but so you’ve heard of boredom. That the book is about boredom. How to manage boredom. Sure, but don’t stretch ‘This Is Water’ as a Hallmark-ishly thin mask over the entire novel. The speech is great, but the clean platitudes are easily misinterpreted. In The Pale King, they are etched in stone, dealt with at times in detail so penetratingly deep that there is no wiggle room, so to speak. Alas, Wigglers -- those human machines filing, sorting, and finding meaning in various IRS documents -- try to find a meaning in life. I know the way this is going to sound, but I felt each character was as if they were at the end of the line in string theory, sitting there wiggling, with no real way to describe fully what is going on. Indeed, something is happening, but we don’t know what it is (do you, Mr. Jones?).
A character in an early section in the book is looking out an airplane’s window at a car on the road, driving what seems to be in slow motion from that great height. Much of the book reads along that type of scaling. From above, down a microscope. Scaling, finding meaning at whichever length befits the occasion.
Several characters are fully-fleshed out, such that one could place them in any type of scene and know what’s likely to transpire. Think of Seinfeld’s characters: you get to know them so well that when you see them react to the current environment, it rings so true you feel as though you predicted what was going to happen.
A pale, marbled, stoic Jesuit substitute instructor offers kingly words to those about to take a graduate level accounting exam, “Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is.” He mentions heroism as the individuals’ benefact of dealt with banalities, the mundanity that is found in far more happenings than simply accounting. It’s life. Deal with it. The theatrical valor shown in venues of entertainment offers a fallacious understanding about existence. No audience. No applause.
Whole stretches of the novel are as comic and sad as ‘Infinite Jest,’ and, in some cases, funnier and sadder. The cruel irony is that you could laugh to death reading this. ...more
A female in California inherits high-stake responsibilities and plumbs the depths of a network, feeling her way along a journey of curiosity and discoA female in California inherits high-stake responsibilities and plumbs the depths of a network, feeling her way along a journey of curiosity and discovery with major implications.
This describes Oedipa Maas, the protagonist of Thomas Pynchon’s wonderful novel, “The Crying of Lot 49.”
It also describes Kate Losse, Employee #51 of Facebook. It’s no surprise that Kate Losse’s Twitter bio reads “IRL Oedipa Maas” and that she makes a handful of Pynchon references throughout the text.
It’s great that an early insider of Facebook was verbally dexterous enough to provide a compelling firsthand report of the company that has altered the technological trajectory of our generation. Losse didn’t pump out a drivel-fueled book full of vapid platitudes. I’m glad she Leaned Out from that rut, and I’m glad I typed that poor pun. Seriously, fifty years from now, I hope no-one talks about “Lean In” or the “Social Network” movie when referencing the rise of Facebook. This is the book that should be referenced to that end.
Losse’s narrative follows the rise of Facebook from her lens: she starts out resolving user support inquiries, goes on to manage the internationalization outreach for the company, and eventually writes copy for Mr. Mark Z.
Certain books have qualities and content that’d serve well those in the future, as if the work was unearthed from a time capsule. Kate Losse has written that book for us, and not only is her story timely, historical, and in many ways important, but again I must stress that it is written very well. She’s the type of writer that doesn’t, you know, need a ghostwriter. Our rising generation deserves to have the stories of our time last for future generations, and I’m glad that Losse has done the great service of telling the story about what will surely be a misunderstood era in a way that encapsulates the excitement and terrors of social networking....more
Having been forced to read this for a class, I am obliged to quote dAdA darling Tristan Tzara's "Dada Manifesto 1918":
"I have no right to drag others
Having been forced to read this for a class, I am obliged to quote dAdA darling Tristan Tzara's "Dada Manifesto 1918":
"I have no right to drag others into my river, I oblige no one to follow me and everybody practices his art in his own way, if he knows the joy that rises like arrows to the astral layers, or that other joy that goes down into the mines of corpse-flowers and fertile spasms. [...] The writers who teach morality and discuss or improve psychological foundations have, aside from a hidden desire to make money, an absurd view of life, which they have classified, cut into sections, channelized: they insist on waving the baton as the categories dance. Their readers snicker and go on: what for?
The book could have and should have been 75% shorter. So much filler and pointless, anecdotal, dated stories full of back-patting and bourgeois winking.
Actually, maybe it should have been 99.9% shorter. Here's all you need from the book: The way you become an effective public speaker is by practicing to yourself and in front of others, and building confidence by believing in yourself[cool SECRET!] and perfecting your method through practice practice practice.
Dysfunctional childhoods bloat Memoir bookshelves; but they cannot be counted on to be well written. Everyone seems to have a story or thirteen withinDysfunctional childhoods bloat Memoir bookshelves; but they cannot be counted on to be well written. Everyone seems to have a story or thirteen within them, and many are tragic; it takes scrupulous artistry to provide payoff using what might seem from a distance like expected sadness, the type of sadness that many of us encounter either directly or indirectly through friends. The kind that frames it in a way that transcends the pain.
One-ups-manship is a very easy trap to fall into, ie “oh, yeah, your sob story is nothing compared to mine.” Personally -- and I’m sure most agree -- sadness scales shouldn’t be compared between people. Trials and pain come to us in varying degrees. Sometimes a person can weather what seems to be a mighty difficulty while the achilles heel snaps over something seemingly small.
In “With or Without You,” Domenica Ruta charts the course of inescapable familial obligations. The “You” in the title refers to her mother, called within the text as both “Mum” and “Kathi” in what seemed to me at times as reflecting the “With” & the “Without” in the title, respectively. The love she feels for her mother is tested time and time again as drugs and other vices provide the expected highs and lows in life. She writes about familial codependency, that unasked for lot given that can bring a love and sadness so deep it cannot be described, only felt and rationalized.
Ruta writes well enough to plunge into the expected depths of desperate gloom, and her calibrated masochism shows perseverance and the chance for us, as readers, to access the type of empathy that can discover the diamond in the rough, the smile in the shitstorm.
It’s written very well -- the Mary Karr comparisons are expected and correct. I hope Ruta has a long career ahead of her....more
Rob Delaney is as good a writer as he is a funny comedian. His is the type of explicit humor that is cerebral and instructive, rather than the bland aRob Delaney is as good a writer as he is a funny comedian. His is the type of explicit humor that is cerebral and instructive, rather than the bland and affectless unfunny comedy of, say, Dane Cook and his ilk. To give a sense of his sensibilities, when I met Rob after his show in Salt Lake City, he actually started the conversation with me because I was wearing an Infinite Jest t-shirt that you could only understand if you were familiar with the book. We geeked out on books for a while, and was about as down to earth as the mantle of the planet.
And but so this memoir is nowhere near the snippets of hilarity seen on his now-Speedoless Twitter feed. Nary a mention of the Charmin Bear mauling his “son.” Who would want that, anyway? Why purchase a collection of tweets that he offers to us for free? Instead--indeed, thankfully-- we get a peek behind the curtain of what made this hairy ham-legged man the comic he is today.
His years of drunken savageness are detailed and morose, but not in a way tending toward glorification. Delaney is now sober, and has written extensively on the subject and uses his status to advocate and offer support to those off the wagon. The same goes for the clinically depressed. Seek out his essays on these subjects- he approaches them with the respect they deserve.
This book, though, shows how he stumbles into the person he is today. He dismissively cool-kids his mom when she goes out of her way to assemble a Danzig cake for his birthday. He gets arrested a few times, all of them rightly so. He nearly kills strangers from both a capsized boat in which he was at the helm, and a blacked-out drunken romp of a ride in a car that wasn’t his that just about obliterated him as much as can be done without death.
The memoir helps paint the picture that shows how the man can Twitter flirt with powerhouse literati like Margaret Atwood one minute, while bulls-eye-edly ribbing on Mitt Romney’s love for Jar-Jar Binks the next minute. Here’s hoping it’s not the last book Delaney writes....more
“We do not wish to look at Juarez, we do not vacation there, we do not speak of the place. When it briefly comes to our attention, we dismiss it as a grotesque exception to what matters, what is, and what will be.” (pg. 48)
This book is filled with images of a city whose violence is upfront, often, brutal, highly-selective although jettisoned with hands-off disregard. The snapshots of former lives caught in the crossfire; answers and motives are usually buried deeper than the bodies themselves. The photographs, from local photojournalists[Javier Aguilar, Jaime Bailleres, Gabriel Cardona, Julian Cardona, Alfredo Carrillo, Raul Lodoza, Jaime Murrieta, Miguel Perea, Margarita Reyes, Ernesto Rodriguez, Manuel Saenz, Lucio Soria Espino, Aurelio Suarez Nunez] are chilling. If we don’t look, did the inhumanity ever occur?
“We must stop pretending and start living. We already have lives of double exposure. Just as the photographers cannot really stay on one side of the camera, we cannot really stay on one side of the line. We will cross it, we have crossed it, we are in play. We have many options and none of them are easy. But the one option we do not have is to continue our past habits into the future, We cannot pretend such places do not exist. We cannot pretend such places can be contained. We cannot pretend such places will magically remedy themselves. We are exposed and we should be. And we are exposed to the future and this future will be hard, but it can also be good or bad depending upon what we do We are free to act. If we act in time.” (pg. 114)
Keep in mind: this book came out almost a decade before the war on drugs was officially declared by newly-elected President Calderon in 2006. He calls Juarez the laboratory of the future, and it is happening 30 feet across the river from El Paso, Texas. The area serves as an ecotone(borderland between two biological assemblages -- think of the forest edging the meadow) of the US & Mexico.
“Where an ecotone occurs there is more life and life is louder and more grasping because two or more groups of plants and animals overlap, boosting life’s pitch and intensity [...] That is what is happening now on the border of Mexico and the US, where a huge ecotone of flesh and capital and guns is rubbing up against itself as two cultures and two economies and two languages meet and mingle and erupt into something we cannot yet name.” (ps. 48)
Bowden’s writing is incredible; he masterfully describes the city and situations with eyes wide open. Squeamish realities deserve squeamish words and visuals. His words show the possibility of caring with vigor when answers seem nowhere to be found.
Noam Chomsky wrote the introduction, and he rightfully attacks NAFTA, showing how it maintains the status quo for the richest and most powerful while also waging war on the rights of workers and consumers. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano offers and cogently answers a question in the afterword: Should the Third World really aspire to be like the First World? (spoiler alert: no)
“It is time for everyone to talk. It is time for everyone to talk despite the thickets of racism, of foreign-policy considerations, of the growing and ominous military presence on the border, of the barbarism festering in our agencies that expresses itself in the mistreatment of illegal immigrants from Mexico. It is time to talk because silence only makes matters worse, bodies cold, murder sanctioned, and poverty invisible.” (pg. 112)...more
Re-read so as to re-calibrate my Eggers Gauge; I might write an essay someday to explain what I mean by Eggers Gauge.
I still like this book, and I'm hRe-read so as to re-calibrate my Eggers Gauge; I might write an essay someday to explain what I mean by Eggers Gauge.
I still like this book, and I'm happy to have re-read it. I get the sense that Eggers is writing books that in his mind are those we, readers, *need.*
I know, I know. I know how that sounds. I know how that reflects on Eggers. But I think it also might be true. And sometimes it's okay for a person of influence to utilize influence in such a way.
I think if Eggers wanted to, he could spend more time on his books and have them turn out like "What is The What" or "Zeitoun" if he wanted to, but I think he wants to cover a lot of ground. In some ways, I think he is a sort of Steinbeck writer, in that he is writing books that'd serve well unearthed from a time capsule in the distant future.
Do I think he is the best at that? No; I think that would go to William T. Vollmann....more
It’s a wonderful glimpse into the minds of two precocious SNOOTS. There’s plenty of good advice for writers and readers alike in the pages. I took a glacial pace through this, and the depth within the brevity is one reason. Another reason is I see myself reading this a few times per year.
Dickensian might be the vogue way to describe her writing (reviews abound with the term), but Tarttian is the better way to describe it. I say that beDickensian might be the vogue way to describe her writing (reviews abound with the term), but Tarttian is the better way to describe it. I say that because as I read it, I had no inklings that it was written either by or like someone else. It’s like it was written in a vacuum of sorts, perhaps ahead of her time. Not in a futuristic sense -- just that it’s writing that looks familiar enough to absorb, yet without a predecessor. Like a premonition or a prophecy.
Tartt brings enough detail to move the plot forward, but allows it to be just ornate enough to recognize how beautiful the prose is. Thrillers -- as is well known -- can push the plot from page one till the end without a memorable sentence in the book. Some Literary Novels provide nothing but flowery, memorable sentences in which only Comparative Lit grad school students can parse plotwise. It’s a special kind of mastery that can both push the plot cleanly like skiis down a slope while wowing with sentence content and structure.
The Goldfinch provides that mastery. I feel I could recommend the book to lit snobs and beach readers alike. Tartt’s delicate intricacies within the plot weave in and out between various big name cities; from New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam.
It shows high-brow tastes interacting with blue collar mentality. I imagine it being like John Steinbeck guiding a tour of the Louvre. An explosion at a museum leaves many dead, including the mother of book’s protagonist, Theo. The young kid survives the blast, and snags a priceless painting before it succumbs to the disaster. The painting -- Carel Fabritius’s ‘The Goldfinch’ -- has once again survived an explosion: over 350 years ago, Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt, was killed at 32 when a gunpowder magazine exploded and destroyed most of his works as well. The parallels, although obvious throughout, are richly explored.
Theo bounces across and out of the country as a result of his watershed moment, and kerfuffles abound. Family, friends, scam artists and drug fiends interact on scales micro and macro, and Theo rides the inner waves as a modern Hamlet forced into Dostoyevskyian binds.
Tartt’s writing and storytelling is in top form, and I will definitely reread this novel at some point in the near future. Certainly one of, if not the, best books I’ve read this year. ...more