Sunday, December 18, 2011

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Sometime between attempting to capture a pigeon for the $750 reward and Ira Glass waving a magic, fame-inducing public radio microphone under David Sedaris' chin, the brother of the equally famous Amy Sedaris - more about her here, interviewed on the Sound of Young America - wrote a little collection of essays called Me Talk Pretty One Day. 

Recalling with a dry wit the funniest moments of his youth in North Carolina, multiple "art school" phases, and life on the French countryside, Sedaris' could have been trained in an Ivy League MFA if not for his constant usage of "Xerox" in place of "copy." Well that, and then also, there was The One About the Turd.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

East of Eden

Giving John Steinbeck's East of Eden 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads seems harsh I know.

After all, it is an epic, and I liked the other epics I read. It spans a multi-generational family history, a sweeping geographical history, and an inherent Biblical metaphor. Steinbeck himself wrote of the novel: "I don't see how it can be popular. I am inventing method and form and tone and context." (Intro, pg vii) Anti-mainstream, drenched in self pity, fatalist, and if you turn a blind eye to the blatant (albeit at the time, culturally accepted) racism and sexism, the novel practically begs for a feverish cult status among the hipster crowd. It was even part of Oprah's book club.

It's true the writing is sublime, nuanced, honest and subtle - "Tom started to call after him, and then he leaned wearily down and picked up the telegram. He sat in the sun on the bench outside the forge, holding the telegram in his hand. And he looked at the hills and at the old house, as though to save something, before he tore open the envelope and read the inevitable four words, the person, the event and the time." (page 310)

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Ballad of Reading Milton

I read this story at the bar of old college haunt, drinking my coffee black and making brilliant and acerbic notes on the side of the page. If you squinted hard enough, ignoring the bright glare of the sun on the window outside and the packed cafe inside, you would have sworn I was living inside that Edward Hopper painting. At least that's how I choose to write - I mean, remember - it.

For those not up-to-date on the Indie Elite crowd - last year, someone from University of Texas at Austin, where the now famous writer/director (and bff of the Wilson twins) Wes Anderson once studied (see: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore,  The Darjeeling Limited and this Amex Commercial), found a short story he wrote in undergrad that was published in the school's literary magazine in 1989.  The Ballad of Reading Milton.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I listened to the first installment of the Trilogy that Swept the Nation as an audio-book. As hyped, the late Stieg Larrson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was intriguing, well-written and in this case: well-read. 

However, not until l I borrowed a paper copy to complete this review did I realize I had heard an abridged version - that paragraphs and whole sections of text were missing!  At first I was outraged, and concerned that the questions I had planned to pose here would be irrelevant had I read the original version. But then I started to think about the editing process and wonder; If without those sections of text, I still enjoyed the story and reached a basic understanding of the plot and characters as intended and became inclined to seek out the second book in the series - than why NOT leave those words out? In fact, why include them in the original in the first place?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Visit From The Goon Squad

When I finally get around to writing my own Great American Novel, I want it to be just like Jennifer Egan's newest, A Visit from the Goon Squad. It reads exactly the way I've always wanted my bedside table books to, with each chapter easily standing alone as its own short story (no need to re-read the last few pages from the night before to "catch up") and yet each chapter is also inherently necessary to the narrative as a whole. A brilliant writing technique eloquently executed.

For those who dislike a non-linear storyline (like in the movie Momento) you may have difficulty at first when one chapter told from the perspective of a mid-aged man in New York proceeds a story where he is now relegated to a bit player in the memory of a thirteen year old girl in California, a story in which he too is only thirteen. Egan does a great job easing the reader through each transition. While not a single character takes center stage more than once in the book, I assure you, this is a cohesive novel, not a compilation of vaguely connected anecdotes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jitterbug Perfume

Perhaps as a ferry-riding, flannel-wearing, raindrop-dodging Hipster-Diva, I am pre-disposed to drinking the Tom Robbins' kool-aid.  Or spritzing his perfume, as it were.  Jitterbug Perfume is a complex, time- and space-bending epic that I loved. But it is not for everybody. It is wildly imaginative, poetic, and sensual.  Pulling away from the page was a bit like waking from a deep dreamy sleep. I had to shake my head and remember that flowers emerging as a global replacement for traditional religious consciousness is only one man's elaborately constructed theory in which to define this changing world and his own looming mortality.

Still. To devise such a convoluted, yet so carefully constructed storyline that spans hundreds of years and thousands of miles, includes manufacturing secrets of the notoriously tight-lipped perfume industry and makes the appearance of a lusty man-goat seem completely acceptable is, in a word: Brilliant.

Even the smallest loose ends were addressed and tied up neatly in such a way that I found myself nodding..."OF COURSE a crown of live bees is a proper emblem for ushering in the age of the botanical, what else it could it be!?" and then...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gorgeous Disaster: The Tragic Story of Debra Lafave

If it gets a kid to read, who cares if it's Playboy?

Thank god for the guilty pleasure of Gorgeous Disaster: The Tragic Story of Debra Lafave. From the opening pages I was hooked - I even kept the book in my bag so I could read at stop lights in the was embarrassing. I really didn't want anyone to see me with a poorly written tell-all about a teacher-student sex scandal. Not my usual genre; not a piece I will display on my shelves, and if I die tomorrow, please do not look at my search history - I usually Google things like this, and this, and not this.

Author Owen Lafave - ex-husband of the very beautiful Tampa Bay middle school teacher - means well, and I really believe that. He even includes a chapter on his top seven methods for discouraging teacher impropriety (pg 280). He tries hard to present an objective view, to tell the story of his ex-wife's claim to fame without anger or excuses. In telling story though, he only contributes to her ego, to the salaciousness of the event and the press it gathers. I suspect however, that Debra's ego wasn't the only one inflated by the media storm around the scandal.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In Cold Blood

Before CSI: Miami was 48 Hours, and Dateline NBC. Before those came...America's Most Wanted. Whether based on current headlines or in the chronicling of a true crime, we have created a long-standing niche for the writers of the gory, the depraved, the heart-wrenching nightmare events of families not too unlike our own. The popularity of these shows owe a debt to Truman Capote and his and 1965 best seller In Cold Blood.

For better of worse, I would argue that investigative journalism became entertainment with its publishing. An engrossing, hard-to-tear-your-eyes-away read. With In Cold Blood, Capote is a master of suspense.

Blame it on the internet age, but I have a hard time wading through pages of detailed description. Get to the point already! However, once I actually sat still and began reading the long, incredibly descriptive text, I found myself sucked in, despite ever-present distractions and the temptation to just skip to the "good parts."

Friday, February 11, 2011


I had forgotten just how wonderful some young adult literature is until I recently did the Elementary-Age Literature homework for a friend in an Elementary Education degree program.
The assignment was an analysis of Holes, a novel by Louis Sachar designed for the fifth grade reader.
I love how quickly young adult literature gets to the point. We get introduced to the five most important things about our hero in the first 10 double-spaced pages. The depth of evil within our story's villain is revealed on page one - seamlessly, simultaneously tied to the story's setting: "The only trees are two old oaks on the eastern edge of the “lake.” A hammock is stretched between the two trees, and a log cabin stands behind that. The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the warden. The warden owns the shade." (Page 1)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Hummer and the Mini

Last week, as I sped down the road in Scottsdale Arizona, I slowed down at the sight of a brand new custom edition Chrysler PT Cruiser with faux wood panels on the sides, clearly channeling the "Woodies" of the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60's. A few days later, a photographer I know showed me how he had updated one of his fancy cameras by affixing distressed leather to the body. The new designed to look old. The delicate designed to look tough. For better or worse, everywhere I look now I see the paradoxes that served to jumpstart the writing of Robyn Waters' The Hummer and Mini: Navigating the Contraditions of the New Trend Landscape.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Do Magazines Count?

If glossy, advertisement-heavy fashion and home improvement magazines counted as reading, then maybe, maybe I got at least semi-close to reading 100 books in the year 2010.

Somehow though, I can't quite give myself permission to discuss in depth any of the dog-eared, half-flipped through issues of Lucky, ReadyMade, and Phoenix Home & Garden that currently litter most available surfaces in my home. I can however, reflect on what entertaining and informative literature I did manage to consume, and share with you some of the interesting things I learned about books and myself along the way.