Archive | June, 2010

New Love – The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore

25 Jun

I love reading debut fiction, but it has a huge downside. The waiting. Anyone who’s ever been near me in a restaurant, or on a sidewalk, or on Christmas Eve knows that patience is not one of my virtues. So let’s say I discover a new writer. What’s next? I have to hang around until they get off their asses and write me a new book.

But when you discover a veteran writer who you just happen to have never read before, you know that you have hours of reading pleasure at your eyeballtips. It’s like the thrill of embarking on a TV show when it’s already conveniently in box set form.

This is what’s happened with me and Lorrie Moore. I explained earlier this year that I had a notion I’d like her even though I wasn’t sure why. And I was right. For one thing, I’m really feeling the whole format switch. It’s been way too long since I enjoyed the company of a perfectly crafted short story, and I love that I only need to devote ten minutes to reading one before bed.

However, I’ve decided to savour these stories for as long as I can, rather than read them all at once. I think a couple here and there will go nicely with the longer-form fiction I usually read. Plus, I don’t want to lose the magic. Reading Sam Jordison’s critical look at the collection makes me scared that if I take in all these stories at once, her wit will start to lose its spark and her clever similes will begin to grate. For now though, I can appreciate the way Moore compares a thatched roof to Cleopatra’s bangs, or slowly skewers a character named Zora for being criminally unfunny in every scene: ‘Later in the evening, she’d said, “Watch this,” and she’d taken her collapsible umbrella, placed its handle on the crotch of her pants, then pressed the button that sent it rocketing out, unfurled, like a cartoon erection.’

Moore’s themes already seem repetitive (ok, I am getting a little bummed out by all the divorce talk), and her default narrative voice is slightly neurotic, but these traits work together to paint pictures of characters that I actually believe. Annoying, insecure, sometimes hilarious characters.

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Underage Authors

23 Jun

First there was the New Yorker list. Then the Telegraph followed suit last week. With the type of list most likely to make me hate myself: Geniuses-under-a-certain-age list. The jealousy factor is not helped by the fact that they always choose hot ones as the poster boy/girl. Zadie Smith I’m looking at you. Not in a creepy way at all.

Feelings of inadequacy aside, I was happy to see some great-at-any-age authors on The Telegraph’s 20 under 40 list, including Ross Raisin, Evie Wyld, and Dan Rhodes. I also appreciated the fact that both list-makers sheepishly owned up to some of the problems inherent in these lists: they’re one round number short of arbitrary, they have to strike a balance between names we’ve heard of so that we feel smart, but throw in some unknowns so that we don’t feel too smart. And then there’s the matter that women are often underrepresented on these lists because a lot of them don’t write their debuts until they’ve paid their dues to motherhood. But lists are fun, and they do genuinely bring much-deserved attention to some writers who have yet to hit the big time.

All this talk about talented young whippersnappers encouraged me to dig out McSweeney’s old “Five Under Five” contest, an innovative award created in 1998 to shed light on the greatest literary minds of the kindergarten set. The grand prize went to then four-year-old Sean for his piece, “The Big Truck.” According to his bio for the article, “Sean Oberdorfer was born in 1994 in Washington, D.C. He attends Wilson Lane Montessori School in Bethesda, Maryland, where he studies ceramics, gymnastics, and modern dance. He plans to attend The Norwood School in Potomac, Maryland, next fall.” It doesn’t look like Oberdorfer has produced anything since then (classic second book syndrome, probably).

Summer Reading – Kinda Like Regular Reading

18 Jun

Summer reading = light and fluffy. So say magazines and 3-for-2 posters, right? I don’t really get the connection, though. Isn’t summer usually light already? (And yes, I am including London in that statement. It is simply not as rainy here as I was led to believe.) My only requirements for a beach read is that it be paperback (don’t want to feel too precious about a book when I’m cramming it into a backpack or leaving it propped up on my towel between dips), and that it take up less than 10 percent of my total luggage weight allowance.

I just got back from an Italian holiday. Beaches were involved, but so were mountain drives with 28 hairpin turns. So it wasn’t the most reading-friendly of trips, but one of the books I read was Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Cheery it’s not, but it’s pretty damn funny in spots, and more importantly, it was a sure bet, since I’d already read and liked Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. When Ryanair is making you pay through the nose for every kilo, you don’t want to kid around with heavyweight tomes or writers you’ve never heard of.

If we need a seasonal hook to promote happier fare, I suggest January, when Christmas is over and it feels like you’ll never see the light of day again. And maybe my new summer reading ritual will involve the backlists of authors who I already like or those books that I never got around to reading but always wanted to. Less risky, perhaps, but usually just as depressing as the rest of the books I read.

I quit! (2666)

9 Jun

Eff this. If I’m being honest with myself, part of me always knew that I wouldn’t really finish 2666, but perversely, that made me want to force myself to do it all the more.

The signs were not good, right from the start. I complained vigorously about Part 1 and 2 back in February. I also took to Twitter to bitch about it on a regular basis. Mercifully, Farmlanebooks Jackie left me a comment suggesting that I break the book up into the five parts and read it like that, since that’s how Bolano himself originally planned for it to be published. I pounced on this suggestion, thinking that I would at least be able to read some fun stuff in between sections (“fun stuff” like The Road. Believe me, anything was fun by comparison). Of course, one book led to five and by then, I’d tasted sweet reading freedom and I wasn’t about to put myself back in that 900 page jail.

Other clues that 2666 was never going to work out for me? I skipped section three because I wanted get to the grisly “Part About The Crimes,” if only to see if he really did use the phrase “vaginally and anally raped” as often as I’d heard. Not really. And then I quit.

My own laziness is certainly to blame for this failure, especially since one of my main complaints is that I had trouble keeping track of so many indistinguishable (to me) character names. As I mentioned in my original complaining post (which I now see was just a set up for my eventual quitting post), I could see that the symbolism was there, but that wasn’t enough to keep dragging myself along. Or dragging the book along and compromising my perfect posture.

Adventures in Learning #4

1 Jun

My last stop on The World Without Us learning express! These facts blew my mind grapes:

– There are entire cities hollowed out beneath the Cappadocia region in Turkey, dating back to Biblical times. One underground reverse skyscraper goes down at least 18 stories and could hold 30,000 ancient people. Short people, obvs, but still. And horses!

– Vulcanized rubber creates a tire that is actually made out of one single molecule (yeah, I’m still having trouble grasping this one). That’s why they can’t be melted down into something else – they have to be physically shredded or destroyed.

– Ever heard of the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) In New Mexico, where the U.S. stores its deadliest nuclear waste? The toxic materials are locked away carefully, but as Weisman writes, “A century, however, would make little difference to uranium and plutonium residues whose half-lives start at 24,000 years and keep going.” Translation: this stuff has life destroying potential for what may as well be forever in human terms. “The U.S. Department of Energy is legally required to dissuade anyone from coming too close for the next 10,000 years.” Try saying that with a straight face. And:

After discussing the fact that human languages mutate so fast that they’re almost unrecognizable  after 500 or 600 years, it was decided to post warnings in seven of them anyway, plus pictures. These will be incised on 25-foot high, 20-ton granite monuments and repeated on nine-inch discs of fired clay and aluminum oxide, randomly buried throughout the site. […] The whole thing will be surrounded by a 33-foot-tall earthen berm a half-mile square, embedded with magnets and radar reflectors to give every possible signal to the future that something lurks below.

Well, we’ve had a good time together, Weisman. You managed to discuss the most depressing topic ever in a surprisingly non-terrifying way. Hell, I was almost rooting for us to disappear so that cats can rule Manhattan and aliens can find our biohazard symbols.