Archive for August, 2009

forced meet and greets make me feel forced and dumb

August 29, 2009

the g/f is off to Akron today for an orientation and then some “break out sessions.” In essence it’s a meet and greet. It’s eating up pretty much her entire day. She hates being in the car this much. We were in the car two hours last night because of the X and the turnpike fucking up hand in hand. We’ll have to be in the car again Tomorrow to pick the kid up.

I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to school. To get an MFA. Etc. I’ve talked about it. I seriously consider it and then g/f has to go to one of these orientations. She has to go to a meet and greet. She has to go to a seminar on the use of blackboard in the classroom. And my desire to return to school takes a massive hit.

The schools decide we need to go to all of these things but they don’t provide for parking or gas. They rarely do a decent job of providing for lunch.

And this is all without having talked about the social awkwardness of these things. People crammed together with people they don’t know. Sometimes with people in radically different studies. People. People. People. I’m not a huge people person unless I’ve been drinking and there is never an open bar at these things which is probably good because I would be drunk off my ass halfway through.

I’m starting to consider looking into going back to school for respiratory therapy. It’s something I should be able to find work in and be paid well for.  Well. paid. two words I hope to put together in relation to myself in the near future.

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Suttree – Review

August 27, 2009

I’m not good at catching the humor so many critics laud this book for having. This isn’t to say the novel isn’t funny -it is- or that it isn’t good -it is- but that maybe my personal experience robs the novel of some of the humor and tilts it more towards the side of sadness that Stanley Booth saw within it.

I don’t doubt that much of the humor people see in it stems from the outlandishly country, poor, uneducated and simple people who populate the novel as the people Suttree calls friends and acquaintances. Are they outlandish? Yes. Are they humorous? To a degree. But these are also people that, for me, had an air of genuineness.

Which may be more of a reflection of my own rural upbringing than anything else.  Stories of people doing crazy things, being around people doing ill-advised things, people living relatively modest and simple lives are things I’m accostomed to. They are familiar. And from how Suttree has been described as semi-autobiographical, I have a feeling that McCarthy may share similar feelings.

So while I can smile at the misadventures, I don’t see them as starkly comedic that seems to be implied by the majority of reviews that I have read. This is not Cormac McCarthy doing Catch-22 or Breakfast of Champions. This is Cormac McCarthy stepping a bit outside of his norm and excelling with it.

The Faulkner comparisons are apt. Suttree reads like a Faulkner novel, though more entertainingly. Time and voice shifts throughout, characters drift to and from the action, as you read the novel nearly has the feeling of a kaleidoscope. Though it’s not the rough edged jumble of a William S. Burroughs novel, this kaleidoscope does seem to have the hand of a higher power at work, gently nudging it along to places it was destined to go at times it was destined to be there.

Suttree at Amazon

it’s got good size

August 26, 2009

I’m not sure where I was reading about it, or even if it was true, but an agent was relating stories about how they hate a particular month because it is a month that they get a ton of slush material and the majority of it stops at around fifty thousand words. This is because it is part of a national “writing month” or something that encourages everyone to try writing a fifty thousand word novel so it has people just writing to cover the word spread. There were stories of works ending on the fifty thousanth word, regardless of where they were in the story, paragraph or sentence. They hit the magic number, they stop. The novel is done. Over. Complete. Fin.

While the stories were funny, I think they also held a bit of every writer’s worry, or at least the worry of every writer who has yet to secure a book deal; is it long enough? Or, is it too long?

While the idea of quitting a story at a particular word count is absurd to me, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that size was something I try to measure and evaluate myself with. I’ve went so far as typing pages of other books up in word and running the number count on them. I found that the average novel has 330-450 words per page. Why or how they came within this range, I don’t know. I’m not sure I care. But, when I’m particularly curious about the length of whatever I’m working on, I find myself taking a number within that range and dividing my total number of words by it to see where it comes out at.

Should this concern me? Should this concern any writer? Ideally, probably not. But, realistically, we all know that there are predescribed size limits for our writing that we must meet to be marketed as what we wish to be marketed as. For novels, I’ve generally heard that seventy thousand words is a short novel, ninety thousand is the sweet spot and anything appreciably longer than that is a longer novel. At least by today’s novel standards (outside of the fantasy sections where 800 page epics seem to be the norm).

And I know that when my first novel crossed that seventy thousand word barrier that I was more than a little pleased with myself.  It marked the passing of a threshold, the movement into another realm – if not physically then at least emotionally and psychologically I understood this – and was something that could never be taken away from me.

For whatever reason, knowing that what I was continuing to write was technically of novel length was uplifting and help propel me through several more pages before falling back into the real work of writing that bends backs and breaks shoulders.

I’m in the muck

August 24, 2009

I’m applying for various adjunct positions and am waiting for copies of my transcripts from two of my all too many colleges so that I can finish a handful of applications. I’m looking through a few MFA programs and am even considering applying for a PhD program or two down the road in an only moderately related field. Because of this consideration, I am now re-subjecting myself to criticism.  Today is the first day back from another weekend at home filled with a lot of mowing, house/yardwork and conversations of impending doom. It was also the first time I’ve seen the actual grave stone for my uncle. Which they still haven’t gotten right (they, apparently, forgot a large black granite vase that was supposed to be off to one side of the stone).  And this is the week when everyone else goes back to school and I am stuck at home.

So I tried writing today and it went nowhere.

I tried reading and got through the 22 page introduction of the Basic Writings of Derida and filled a page of notes to look up on google and fill in more.

I feel kinda fat today and the large amount of pasta sauce that went with supper tonight has made me feel a bit nauseous.

In general, I’m just feeling like I’m in the muck. Physically and psychologically I have been having to reach down and pull myself out of a big sunctiony mess.

Hopefully, a ton of coffee will help tilt the game in my favor

Nazi Literature in the Americas – Review

August 20, 2009

Bolano’s “Nazi Literature in the Americas” is a collection of fictional “entries” cataloguing writers from the Americas (North, Central, South) who were Nazi leaning in their political views.

 Among the thirty entries we are given biographies of killers, racists, rapists, plagerizers and social misfits of every size, shape and degree. And throughout the story you begin to feel for them. You may not like them but, damn you, you enjoy reading about them and, most of them, you hope don’t die too horribly.  It’s a funny book. A touching book. And, with how grounded in, if not reality, a probable reality it is a horrorifying book.

What it isn’t is a common novel. Is there a typical story woven into the passages? Not particularly, though the lives of many of the faux literati intersect from time to time. Instead, it is literature. It is the forging of the real from the unreal to hold a mirror, however distorted, up to Life itself and yell, “see!?”

I don’t believe there is much more to say of Nazi Literature in the Americas outside of reading it. You can then decide for yourself what is reflected in the mirror. It’s Bolano being Bolano, one of the most gifted writers of the past fifty years.

Nazi Literature in the Americas at Amazon

Half Price Books and Borders Outlet – North Olmstead

August 19, 2009

Finishing up the reviews for North Olmstead bookstores today.  Despite my largely negative review for The Book Rack in North Olmstead, I have to say that the town itself is impressive for the bookstores it harbors. It’s on the outskirts of Cleveland, close enough to drive to but far enough away to have its own identity. My g/f and I went to a japanese steak house for dinner (Dasaki?) and were seated with a group of four who were celebrating one couple’s twelve year anniversary and these were the most “like” the people I am used to being around than anyone since I have moved to Cleveland. Maybe that means they were just “small townish” compared to the cleveland-ites, and this isn’t a knock on the people of Cleveland, but they were people I was familiar.  What impressed me the most about North Olmstead was the sheer volume of bookstores – used and new – and how tightly they were packed together. Within a five minute drive of eachother were three used/outlet bookstres (two literally across the street from eachother) and a mall with a walden books. Not only were there two used bookstores, and I had significant problems with one, but they were both well stocked.

The Half Price Books in North Olmstead was, for all intents and purposes, a clone of the one I reviewed in Cleveland Heights. And this is not a bad thing. Everything the one store got right, this one also got right. From cleanliness to pricing to organization to lighting to everything else – Half Price Books in North Olmstead is a wonderful used bookstore. The strengths of it being a chain store are evident. It is clearly that the corporation sets forth some clearly defined standards and is sure that its stores comply with them. Their clearance racks are impressive, their help is good and their pricing is fair. If there is a Half Price Books near you, or if you see one while travelling, don’t hesitate to stop. Outside of some bizaar outlier, like a crazy woman ransacking the store or turkeys being thrown from a helicopter, you will be able to shop for affordable books in a nice environment.

The Borders Outlet (right across the street from Half Price Books) was something that piqued my curiosity.  Anyone familiar with the Borders chain knows that they have massive clearance racks within their stores so I was curious what exactly could be sent to a Borders Outlet. The answer is pretty much what you see on the clearance and discount racks at your every day Borders. The same essential cookbooks, the same helping of fiction books that didn’t sell, the same anthologies and assorted non-fiction books and kids books.  It’s not a place where you’re going to come across a great find or anything. But, if you don’t have a regular Borders nearby, I can see how the Borders Outlet would have some appeal. What it lacks in selection, the store was rather spartan and occupied a space far larger than it currently needs, it makes up for with cleanliness and presentation. If you’re going out on an earnest bookhunt, it’s not something to go out of the way for. But if you have thirty minutes and want to just browse some cheap books, it’s not a bad place to stop.

As a whole, North Olmstead is a bookshoppers paradise. Even if you don’t necessarily like the setup of a store or two, the stores are still there and you can find some great bargains (my g/f and I each spent around $10 on the day and we each brought home 4-7 books).  We didn’t get around the whole town but the only thing North Olmstead appears to lack is a big bookstore along the lines of a full fledged Borders or Barnes and Noble. But they do have a Walden Books in the mall and there’s always the internet.  Another big plus for North Olmstead is that all of this shopping is within minutes of the interstate.  We got off at our exit and the mall was right there, along with Borders Outlet and Half Price Books while the Book Rack was a very short drive to, essentially, the other side of the mall. So if you’re travelling through the area and looking for a quick book splurge, plan ahead, print off some maps of the area and it’s an easy way to kill a few hours and hit numerous stores.

Manhattan Loverboy – Review

August 18, 2009

 Manhattan Loverboy is the third Nersesian novel I have read. I began with what most people probably began with, The Fuck-up. After that I went through a very long Nersesian drought because I have been dirt poor and have relied on used bookstores for nearly my entire book shelves. so I waited and waited and finally came across Chinese Takeout and bought that and read it, too. In a weird way, Nersesian’s tales of disfunction and fuckups and love and sex in NY is one of the things that actually made me want to visit the city and maybe live there.  They struck me as a modern version of Go or On the Road with real people doing real things and not always with the best of consequences but still being in the moment and enjoying the trip.

Manhattan Loverboy (MLB) is more like Breat Easton Ellis through a meat grinder.  It’s quick, it’s funny and it’s obscene in all the best ways.  The lead character is lewd and takes social awkwardness to new levels while not realizing how socially awkward he actually is. The plot twists around on pins and dimes, and reads as much as a pulp noir as a social satire.

But, with all of this said, it also lacks a certain polish that The Fuck-Up and Chinese Takeout possessed.  some of the lack of polish is assuredly intentional as part of it becomes gradually stripped away as the story unfolds and the plot twists around. But it also makes somewhat irritated read at times as the style does grate on your nerves a bit.

someone with a higher threshhold for this pain would probably argue it as the writing most fully expressing how irritated the character is and they would have a point. But there’s also a bit of it that simply feels forced. It is as if you can feel Nersesian’s naturally prose like writing is under the surface somewhere and is attempting to break free and make itself known. I wonder if this novel was difficult for Nersesian to write or if it came easy – something he labored over or something that burst forth in a moment of creation. I could see either being true but I suspect the former.

But if you have enjoyed Nersesian in the past or if you like Palahniuk now, I don’t think you wouldbe disappointed with MLB. And, even if you are, it’s such a short read that it’s not that large of a sacrifice to make.  So take it off the shelf at the library and give it a night. It’ll be enjoyable.

 

Manhattan Loverboy Homepage

Manhattan Loverboy at Amazon

The Book Rack – North Olmstead

August 17, 2009

Holy Bad Bookstores Batman!

Maybe I’ve been pampered with very well set up and organized used bookstores – even when said bookstores are in less than ideal locations. The Novel Idea and Frogtown Books in Toledo, Ohio are crown jewels of used bookstores. The Book Abbey of Adrian, Mi – opened by a former employee of Novel Idea and whose influence is clear in her own store – is wonderful. Even the little book shop in Tecumseh, whose name I forget and who is in a less than fantastic space, is very well organized, lighted and clean. Looking through the books and finding what you want is easy. The prices are fair. And the experience enjoyable.

None of these things can be said for The Book Rack. the lighting was mediocre, the aisles cluttered and the shelves were incomrehensible. After wandering among the shelves for thirty minutes I am still not entirely sure how they choose to organize their store. Since one section specifically said “Recently Alphabatized,” I’m guessing that this marvel of a system for organization hasn’t been employed before and they were warning their regular customers, if they exist, that they may actually be able to find something with ease for a change.

Looking past the near impossibility of finding what you are looking for on the shelves, the space itself is cramped. They clearly try to cram too many books into too small a space. Part of this, understandably, is simply economics. Space costs money so sometimes you only have what you have and you make the best of it. But treating the store like an abused storage shed isn’t necessarily the best way to display your wares. Sometimes you may just have to face facts – you can’t display everything.

They do get credit for having their prices easy to find, stamped on the inside front cover or first page. But there’s also the problem – they’re stamped. It might be a small thing but it’s ugly as all hell. And they have no set pricing system so there’s no telling what one book will be priced compared to another. Their website claims their pricing is half off the cover but this store doesn’t follow it. 

The Book Rack’s website says they are a “national cooperative of used book stores.” I would suggest they work more cooperatively and set some standards for their “cooperative.” For the North Olmstead store in particular, with what appears to be an impressive inventory to make for a compelling little bookstore, I would suggest closing shop for a week, taking everything down and just re-organizing the store. Tidy it up. Re-organize. Maybe install some new lights. The work would be a hassle. It would be tedious. But I think it could do a world of good for the little store.

Cel-a-brate good times come on!

August 16, 2009

i finished reading through the novel I’ve been writing today. It’s been read, crossed out, circled, noted and note carded.  so next comes the “fun” part of re-writing the thing. I think the re-write should go relatively quick once I get everything sorted out from the notes and what not. I’ll, essentially, have a checklist of what needs to be fixed and what works, what could be added adn what should be removed.

but that’s for the (near)future. As for now, there’s been a mini-celebration. got the drinks out, had a steak, and enjoyed this moment of triumph.

The Angel’s Game – Review

August 14, 2009

 

 

 

“This place is a myster. A sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands, a new spirit…”

                     -from The Angel’s Game

 

The excerpt is taken from late in the novel and doesn’t reveal anything you won’t come to expect. But it does show Zafon at his best and most poetic. If you have read The Shadow of the Wind you are familiar with his cemetary of forgotten books. It is possibly one of the most wonderful creations in modern fiction – a massive library of sorts that only a privelaged few know of and have been able to visit, housing all of the books that have fallen from the shelves of bookstores and the casual reader, waiting to be discovered by the one they are destined for.

this library played a central role Shadow of the Wind and it makes its presence known here as well. And its passages, such as the one above, that make for why you should read The Angel’s Game, despite its feeling like ground Zafon has already once tread – though for good reason. The Angel’s Game is a prequel to Shadow of the Wind with many of the same characters showing up that made appearances before. We learn the story of Daniel Sempere’s mother and how the world seems unkind to its literature lovers, especially if they reside in Barcelona and come into knowledge of the Cemetary of Forgotten Books. Zafon, again, paints a gloriously sweeping portrait of Barcelona that casts it in a near mythical light, as if it is a city from some far away world transplanted to this earth and not entirely blending with the reality it now occupies. It is simply a beautiful book to read.

For those who loved The Shadow of the Wind and were looking for what new worlds Zafon would create, you might be a bit disappointed, though. As I said, the feeling that he is journeying through known lands is impossible to shake as you read The Angel’s Game and you easily notice plot devices and styling that helped twist and curve The Shadow of the Wind into such an enjoyable read. Having completed the novel, I am left a bit empty because of this. While having enjoyed the journey, I don’t feel as if I have been left with anything new but more of a re-visiting to a beloved vacation spot. I think an apt comparison would be to M. Night Shyamalan where you enjoy his tricks for a few turns but, eventually, you begin to wish that he would take his immense gifts in a new direction. So be warned. As a page turner and summer read, it excels and you can’t be disappointed with it. But it’s also a visit to the family camp grounds that, while you love them, you already have a pretty good idea of what’s there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Angel’s Game at Amazon

Official Web Site