Thursday, February 16, 2017

Youval Shimoni, A Room (1999, I think)

1999 seems like the most reliable date, but the actual translated book says 2006, so I dunno.  Probably a mistake.

This is the first Hebrew novel I’ve ever read (as far as I can remember).  I was looking forward to the translation since before it was published, in 2016; it promised to be the kind of long, postmodern thing that I enjoy--so much so that when it came out, I got a copy and took it all the way to Jakarta with me.  It may well be the only one of its kind in Indonesia. I’m not sure if it’s actually been compared to Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions, but all the reviews say “it has been compared to Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions,” so probably some guy somewhere did.  Sure; seems plausible. 
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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

B.S. Johnson, Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry (1973)

I do not think it merely an unfortunate coincidence that Bryan Stanley Johnson (1933-1973)--British novelist, playwright, poet, critic, and filmmaker--went by "B.S."  On the evidence of this novel, he was very concerned with whether fiction has truth value or whether it is, indeed, bullshit.

I'd been wanting to read Johnson for some time. He moved in the same literary circles as Ann Quin, the novelist I was somewhat disappointed by last year (horrible to relate, but just months after she drowned herself, he slit his wrists, at the age of forty).  "You didn't like her, so why would you go on to read a similar novelist?" you ask.  Well, I don't actually KNOW they're similar, and more to the point, I just can't resist an experimental novelist. I certainly never had any plans to read ALL his novels if I didn't like this one (he wrote seven, one published posthumously).

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel (1940)

See?  Something shorter.  BAM.  This little book had been on my radar for a long time—a piece of fantastic fiction by an Argentine writer who was also a friend and collaborator with Borges, who provides an introduction here, in which he provides what would probably be the best pull-quote in the history of publishing:

To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole.
--Jorges Luis Borges

I mean, damn.

It really is very good.  It’s written in the form of a diary by a fugitive who finds himself on a strange island: it’s deserted, but there’s a hotel, a swimming pool, and a museum.  There’s also a group of tourists living it up.  The narrator tries to avoid them, and sometimes to interact with them, but it’s pretty quickly apparent that they can’t see or otherwise perceive him.  Among them is a woman named Faustina on whom he conceives a crush, as well as, yes, a man named Morel (and I’m embarrassed that the introduction had to point out to me that this is an obvious allusion to Dr. Moreau).

There’s really little else you can say without spoiling things—and while I don’t think knowing its secrets would ruin it exactly, I’m still loath to say anything else about it, because I think it deserves to be experienced more or less cold.  It’s possible that the fantastic elements will be somewhat less shocking than they would’ve been at the time of its publication, but it remains mysterious, frightening, and profound in turn; and given how short it is, there’s no reason not to experience it for yourself.  It’s Casares’ most well-known work, but he had a long career, and I’m kinda keen on reading more of his material.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her? (1864)

...well, can ya, punk?

This is the first of Trollope’s Palliser novels, centering around one Plantagenet Palliser—unfathomably wealthy politician, and heir to the Duke of Omnium; his wife, Glencora; and (in future volumes) their offspring.  Plantagenet first appeared in a tiny, superfluous subplot in The Small House at Allington; he was contemplating trying to have an affair with a married woman, then didn’t, was quickly married off, and that was that.  I suppose it’s possible that Trollope was consciously setting up this spin-off series, but I have my doubts.  I think it was just more of his sometimes-maladroit way of filling up pages.
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Trumpbird

I
Among thirteen greasy candidates
The only thing polling well
Were the numbers of the trumpbird

II
I was of three minds
Like a podium
Where the trumpbird speaks three times.

III
The trumpbird raged in the political climate
It was a large part of the disease.

IV
A man and a woman are one.
A man and a rapist and a trumpbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The babbling of pundits
Or the beauty of innuendos about emails,
The trumpbird bellowing
Or just after.

VI
Images filled the TV screen
With vacuous words.
The shadow of the trumpbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the lights
An incomprehensible platform.

VII
O dim men of National Review
Why do you imagine serious candidates?
Do you not see how the trumpbird
Grabs the pussies
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know xenophobic babbling
And lurid, unbelievable claims;
And I know, too,
That the trumpbird is the source
Of what I know.

IX
When the trumpbird was elected,
It marked the end
Of one of many countries.

X
At the sight of trumpbirds
Governing in a corrupt haze,
Even the fans of non-voting
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over America
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The sounds of a Klan rally
for trumpbirds.

XII
The bombs are falling.
The trumpbird must be tweeting.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was sucking
And it was going to suck.
The trumpbird sat
In the seat of power.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Star Wars: Rongo On

I saw this movie.  I thought it was kind of dumb. Like, spoilers and stuff, WHATEVER. A lot of characters who make no impression dashing about for reasons that are only very tenuously comprehensible. Do I sound like an old man? Well, be that as it may. Also, the fact that everyone dies in the end--I guess you're supposed to see it as this noble sacrifice, but I was just left feeling like the other shoe never dropped--wait, shouldn't these characters have character arks (yes, a few of them don't like each other and then do like each other, but REALLY NOW) or develop in some way or oh no wait they're dead. OKAY! Am I supposed to feel a way about this? 'Cause I SUPER don't. It's also a bizarre tonal mismatch, 'cause let's face it: Star Wars is friggin' goofy. When it works, as in the original trilogy (which, come on, is all the Star Wars any sane person needs), it gets by on sheer joie de vivre. The prequels, gruesome as they were, at least understood that much. That's what's wrong with The Force Awakens: it takes itself so damn seriously. The comic relief, such as it is, feels obviously calculated and inorganic. GUESS WHAT I DON'T WANT A STAR WARS MOVIE SOLEMNLY TELLING ME ABOUT THE GRIM REALITY OF WAR. It's just incongruous.


I mean, REALLY: especially what with Carrie Fisher dying, can't we just agree that Star Wars is over now? Just dump the rough cut of episode VIII onto the internet, and forget about episode IX. This whole thing isn't working, it was never a great idea, let's just cut our losses. I mean, no, of course, I'm well aware that there's money to be made, but I am not impressed by this whole boondoggle. Don't mind me; I'll just be over here shouting at clouds.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

That singular anomaly, the lady novelist

Thus endeth the experiment of reading only books by female authors for a year.  Do I win a prize?  This venture was endowed with a certain piquancy by the fact that, when faced with an extremely qualified (whatever else you may think of her) woman as a possible president, we (yes yes, electoral college, but I think the point stands) opted instead for the malevolent orange man-baby. I COULD’VE LIVED WITHOUT THE OBJECT LESSON, UNIVERSE!  Should I write a book called "my year of reading women?"  Probably not!  In the absolute best-case scenario, it would come across not so much as condescending as breathtakingly clueless.  And yet, I'm writing this blog post.  So it's probably too late to avoid anyway.

I decided to do this because it just felt awkward that ninety-eight percent of the books I read are generally by dudes. So the first question we must ask is:why is this the case? The explanation I would always give in the past is that, due to a long history of socioeconomic factors that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH INATE ABILITY JEEZ STOP PUTTING WORDS IN MY MOUTH, there are simply fewer books by female authors I’m interested in reading. And I still think there’s something to that. It does sound awfully damned self-serving and glib, though. I mean, obviously, I never encountered a situation where I thought “huh, should I read this book? Whoa—it’s by a dumb girl! Forget it!” But what role does unconscious sexism play? Wholly unclear. I think back to the college and grad-school lit courses I took, and, indeed, I find that the reading lists for those were more or less male too. Granted, I never took a course in specifically female writers, but none of the ones that I did were meant to be the opposite of that, either. So I can’t help thinking that if sexism is a factor here, it’s institutional as much as personal. But then...why are the institutions such? I mean, I’m pretty darned sure I never had a professor who wouldn’t have described themselves as “feminist” if asked. So what the ding dong dilly? Does it come back to the thing about the socioeconomic factors that I mentioned above? In which case, what responsibility does an institution have to fight back against sexism, and to what extent does it just need to accept that, well, this is the way things were, and you can’t not approach it on those terms? I have no good answers. Even the questions don’t seem to be up to much.

Well, so what good, exactly, does it do for me, or any other individual, to embark on an affirmative action program like this? I discovered some great novels, sure, but let’s face it: that would’ve happened anyway. You’re never going to read all the great books ever written, and really, what difference does it make if I—some random dude—do a thing like this? Well, I suppose it works on a similar principle as voting. It sounds uninspiring, but it’s obviously true: no matter what they tell you in civics class, it doesn’t make a difference it you, individually vote. It wouldn’t even if we had a sane electoral system. BUT, if you can create a critical mass of people to vote the way you do then, boom, shit gets done. Likewise, it makes zero difference for the world at large whom I read, but on some imperceptible level, if reading becomes more egalitarian, then more women will be encouraged to write, and there will be a larger stock of books for us to read—some of which are bound to be masterpieces. So there you go.

So the big question here is, what did I learn from the little exercise? And the answer is: nothing whatsoever! Seriously, it would be impossible to understate how much I learned. I’m not complaining; I discovered some good books that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise (though, again, in that case I would’ve discovered other good books), but what do you want me to say? I suppose maybe if you read the sets that include all books by men and all books by women, you maybe possibly could make some kind of cogent comparison and reach some conclusion or other about gender, but you sure can’t do that from my scattershot reading! Or almost anyone’s, probably. Individual writers have individual styles that are not determined—at least not in any direct, traceable way—by their genders. Is that a lesson I learned? I feel like I kind of knew that already.

The hell of it is, for better or worse, I feel like 2017 is once again going to be overwhelmingly masculine, if only on account of all the cool-looking stuff I discovered this year but couldn’t read because of my resolution. I wish I could say I were going to make a concerted effort to avoid this, but...it’s not gonna happen. Sure, if pressed, I could undoubtedly keep this up for at least another year, but I dunno. The most I can say is that I'll do my best to be aware of female authors who might be interesting to me. I'm not going to make any concerted effort, though; glib though it may be, I feel like it's not untrue that the majority of writers I want to read are male.  Do I celebrate this state of affairs? Obviously not. But c'mon, man, why is it up to me to spearhead opposition the movement? We bloody well have enough to worry about as it is in these dark times.