Archive for October, 2009

Is This All There Is?

October 30, 2009

This has been a week of poor motivation.

At times it’s just hard to see how the writing will go anywhere, how all of the time spent on it will be fruitful.

This has been a week of doubt.

The more I read what I write, the less happy I am with it. The less I think anyone else will like it. The less I think it has any real positive qualities at all.

re-writing the novel, it’s just frustrating and time consuming. The words come easily enough but I can’t help but feel that I’ve said most of them before (I have, I’m re-writing after all) and I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse. And I don’t especially trust anyone to accurately tell me.

But I keep writing anyway. I keep plugging away at it. I keep putting the words on the page and hoping for the best. I keep keeping on. And I figure pretty much every other writer on the face of the planet does the same thing. They just keep going on. That we’re really a depressing, masochistic lot and I can see why people would rather enter university life than just try to write. At least a university provides structure, provides stability. I’m still thinking of trying to get back into the whole “college” thing. Would rather be published, though. Hah.

The Bride Stripped Bare – Review

October 28, 2009

Told in 138 lessons, instead of chapters, “The Bride Stripped Bare” is a book written from the perspective of an anonymous young housewife who finds her world jarred to the foundation by the possibility (nay, likelihood) that her husband has been having an ongoing affair with her best friend since childhood.

The book is often talked about as a frank account of what a woman feels and thinks sexually. As it focuses on a woman feeling betrayed by her husband before seeking out an affair with a man she meets at a library group, and then a number of other encounters with strangers and to greater degrees of sexual adventures, it is easy to see how this becomes an overriding characteristic of the book. The idea of a woman seeking out anonymous group sex can be equal parts titillation and disquieting. It garners attention and does it with an efficiency and speed that is commendable.

But it’s not what I find most interesting when thinking back on the book and while reading the thoughts of others on the book. Until her husband’s possible infidelity comes to light, the young wife seems perfectly happy with every aspect of her life. Her existence could be summed up in three words: Life Is Good.  Since there are no clear suggestions to the contrary, we have to also assume that her sex life is good – or that, at least, she perceives it as good; which is essentially the same thing.

So why did it take her husband’s infidelity for the anonymous young bride to suddenly see the “truth” about her sexual life and decide that these new experiences were really what most excited and engaged her? Rather than being a story of a woman’s sexual awakening, it seems more a story of a hurt person seeking comfort and revenge through mimicing the actions of those who have hurt her.

For with her husband’s infidelity constantly in the background the text, looming over each sexual encounter she has, it becomes impossible to distinguish between an experience felt genuinely and an experience being constantly interpreted by the experiencer. The wronged housewife becomes an unreliable narrator. While the actual events of the story seem to be reliable in their telling, what we can’t trust are the emotional and psychological underpinnings of those actions and their intangible aftermaths.

It makes me think of the film by Gus Van Sant, “Elephant,” about two boys who shoot up their high school school. Van Sant stated that he desired to make a film showing the utter  randomness and essential meaninglessness behind events such as school shootings. That the attempt to attribute meaning is a pointless endeavor. But then he makes his two shooters gay lovers and has scenes depicting how they were typically treated by the other kids (it wasn’t well).  While it could be argued that such things were purposefully planted in the plot as a trap for people looking for meaning, even in a film that is reputed to showcase the lack of meaning, it fails because it simply does provide the opportunity to find a reason. If Van Sandt had really wanted to provide no reason, he wouldn’t have provided even the briefest hint of one.

And so I feel about Gemmel’s “The Bride Stripped Bare.” I have a hard time seeing it purely as a novel of a sexual awakening, of sorts, for a woman and a “frank” and “honest” portrayal of how women think of sex when there’s a big pink elephant looming over each and every sexual experience the young bride has.

Still, for whatever you read into the work, it is a very good read and very well written.  My views are only a reflection of myself, the reviewer, as I think any review is at its most honest level.

Did you feel that?

October 27, 2009

well, got back from another weekend in Michigan today and I’m still in pain from it. First, there is the whole “g/f’s family has a get together we just have to go” thing on saturday and then there is the whole “root canal at 930am Monday” thing. I’m not sure which became more painful as at least I was numbed for the root canal.

the guy was surprisingly good, though. There were a few moments where he looked at me and asked if I “felt that” and, occasionally, I did but it was never really beyond anything that I would consider normal for such a procedure. Everything from the drilling to the filing to the melting of those slivers of rubber to seal off the canals went smoothly. And then he told me to take some ibuprofen and aspirin for the pain, offered to write a prescription for some stronger stuff if I wanted (I didn’t) and told me to finish off the antibiotics.

Which is where I’ve gotten into some trouble. Since swallowing one of the horse pills yesterday I’ve had this strange pain when I swallow. Okay, it’s not so much strange as intense. It hurts. and it hurts every time I swallow. If it’s food, it hurts. If its water, it hurts. If I just need to swallow some extra spit in my mouth, it hurts.

Now I’ve had this problem before – I dry swallow pills often when I’m sick as water isn’t always handy. It’s stupid, I know, and leads to discomfort like what I’ve got now, but I do it.

Today is day two and I’m still in some pain and still kinda tired. My rhythm has been thrown all to hell with the long weekend and I just can’t get back into it despite having quite a bit of extra time tonight to sit down and work.


Read(h)er well and Kindle some Nook-E (reading)

October 23, 2009

I’m a fan of e-lit.

Now, if you’ve spent any time in a university hallway in the English wing, you would know that this isn’t a very welcomed feeling. Critics and lit majors have a hard on for the physical body of books. It’s the lover they can never keep. While the writing majors/profs mostly see a changing economic landscape that could forever deprive them of any book deal that would be worth cashing at some place other than the corner liquor store.

alright, exaggerations (slight) but still largely true outside of the pop culture studies majors/profs who get off on technology and our evolving culture in general. But the point is that the only people who really get e-lit are the normal, every day people. They are the ones fueling the sale of e-readers and making publishers hold back electronic publication dates to christmas eve (or christmas day).  they’re the ones blowing around $200 and better for these things so they can tote four novels around with them wherever they go.

but lets go back here for a moment. $200. For something to read a novel with. Or a newspaper. or a magazine. All of which you also have to purchase (though at discounted rates from their pulp and binding twins).  and all these things do is allow you to read books and purchase more books. Granted, Nook-E looks appealing, but that’s still a pret price point to read Kafka on the Shore.

And then your ebook collection isn’t even safe. As Amazon has demonstrated, it appears to be very easy for an outsider to simply go in and erase books from your reading device.  While it may be arguable that their reasoning did have some basis, it is still an appalling invasion of an individual’s world. Can anyone imagine Barnes&Noble coming to their house and, for any reason, demanding to take back a book you bought from the? But they wouldn’t even demand it. They would just pry open a window one night, creep in, take it from the shelf and leave a few bucks on your night stand. That’s what Amazon did.

All of this has made me wonder about the popularity of such devices. They are expensive, they are limited in function and they appear to be some of the most un-secure devices you can own. What is the appeal? and why don’t more people simply use tablet PCs? For anyone who doesn’t know, a tablet PC is essentially a big ipod touch but with a ton more functions.  it’s a computer that you can interact with either through a stylus or through a conventional keyboard/mouse (depending on each particular make/model of your tablet PC).

People have argued that the size of such things are prohibitive. They’re too big. They’re too clunky. Etc. But most tablets I see are between 10 and 14 inches long and around four pounds. Slightly bigger than Kindle, nook-E and Reader but that also means the text can be bigger. And they are far, far more functional. I’ve also heard people talk about the screens and how the readers are easier on the eyes. Well, you’re reading this blog, ain’t ya? A normal, well-maintained monitor screen is fine for reading text.

Apparently, Steve Jobs has had similar thoughts. Apple is prepairing their own tablet PC that appears to be aimed at the Kindle crowd. And it looks pretty much like a really big I-Phone or I-Pod Touch. Granted, it’s going to be a good deal more expensive than the other e-readers (around $700-900) but I’m betting it will also be a LOT more functional. Given the massive following that overprice Apple gear has, maybe this will be the push that people need to move away from these e-readers and start doing what music lovers have been demanding for quite awhile now: less specialized gear, better price points and easier access – along with more consumer rights, despite publishers/record labels wanting to strip these rights to the bone.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon- Review

October 22, 2009

He’s not my favorite writer but if anyone wanted to make a case for Thomas Pynchon as the greatest living American author, I think I would have a hard time coming up with a counter argument. Over the course of his career he has so seemlessly slipped across the boundaries of genres and woven together such disparate tales that have kept academics on their tenure paths straight up until they have gained job security that the man is nearly unassailable. And I have enjoyed the majority of his books. And of the books I haven’t enjoyed, I have had to admit at the mastery of his craft. This is why Inherent Vice is a bit of an odd duck to me.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. You fly across the pages and quickly find yourself flipping the back cover shut. From Pynchon’s works, only The Crying of Lot 49 can be said to be a quicker and more simply enjoyable read. But there is a vital difference between Vice and Lot 49. With Lot 49 there same mastery evident in V., Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland is still plainly evident. Lot 49 might be far shorter than any of them but it was still obscenely skillfully done.

Inherent Vice just isn’t as tight as Pynchon’s other works. Some cracks show. It’s pacing falls off at times, it’s turns occasionally come up as possibly the long way around instead of the right path. It’s Pynchon as an every day novelist rather than the freak of nature his other works held him up to be.

And this isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a quite enjoyable thing. not because I am saying tht Pynchon’s finally fallen from his throne but because without some of the polish his work has a different livelier feel to it.

The one review for Vice that has stuck in my head has been the review by Rolling Stone that essentially made it out to be something like Big Lebowski Nights where Dude and Walter team up to solve a mystery. Except there really isn’t a Walter in Vice unless you count a stoned, incompetant friend as the walter stand-in. Larry Sportello, the lead character and supposed Dude stand-in, does do some very Dude things but also some very un-dude things. And the world of Inherent Vice is roughly the same world as the southern california in the Coen Brothers’s cult hit. But the tone is different. Larry Sportello is not the dude and seeems to have come to some stoner wisdom that is down a forking path from the stoner wisdom the Dude lived by.

Larry is a private eye that has taken on a handful of cases at once that, in the end, more or less converge. I say more or less because it does lack the typical Pynchonic flair of bringing everything together at the end in a seriously breathtaking bow. It just sort of loosely jumbles together into a pile that feels pretty well resolved

Again, this isn’t a bad thing. pynchon makes it work and work enjoyablly well. The read is fantastic and is still probably one of the best books to come out this year. Maybe it’s his own fault for simply setting the bar too high with his past works that it has become nearly impossible for him to exceed the expectations lofted upon him.

The Insanity Continues!

October 21, 2009

I was going to do a blog on a few articles I came across when looking up the whole Price War thing a couple of days ago. They were about how e-readers could spawn a new age of literature piracy and, I thought, provided a nice jumping off point (or points) for a blog. So I go to find these pages again to do the blog tonight and what do I find?

Target Has Entered The Fray!

Another link that didn’t load even had Sears stepping into the trenches.

or maybe it’s more apt to say “stepping into the ring.” Something that started off as relatively cute and, I thought, short term,is apparently growing into something legitimately large. After all, I didn’t even know sears sold books other than the instruction manuals for radial arm saws.

Still, I don’t think this is going to be a long term trend -at least not until digital versions become a legitimate option to bound pages. So I still think you should take advantage of this while you can. Go and get one of those books you’ve been wanting and get it as cheaply as you can. It’s not going to last.

Snuff – review

October 20, 2009

The official Chuck Palahniuk website is called The Cult. It’s a fitting name, given the rabid popularity of the author responsible for the best selling novels “Fight Club,””Choke,””Invisible Monsters” and others. My girlfriend’s brother-in-law is a massive fan of Palahniuk. He owns every book written by the man. He pre-orders them on Amazon and gets it the day they are shipped. I have a feeling this is how many readers of Chuck Palahniuk are.

At the heart of “Snuff,” is a similar single minded preoccupation. Told largely through the eyes of four people, all of which eventually garner names but three of which are known largely through by the numbers marked onto their arms, it hovers around the backstage of the world’s largest gangbang as Cassie Wright attempts to set a record and, possibly, die in the process. Throughout the course of the novel, the obsessive nature not of porn stars but of porn viewers becomes clear. 137 knows everyone’s names. 72 believes Cassie is his mother and has gotten to know her as well as he can through sex toys made to match her breasts and vagina and the litany of porn movies she has done. 600 is the only “pro” in the group and the only one who seems to have a genuine distance placed between himself and the work, though not between himself and his narcissism. The only other character, beyond cassie, that plays a prominent role in the novel and who we know by name is Cassie’s assistant, Sheila, whose job is to manage the 600 “actors” in the gang bang and whom she routines refers to through a litany of demeaning nicknames that are all variations of “masturbator.”

“Snuff” appears to lack some of the critical nuance and underpinning of Palahniuk’s earlier work. while there is, with certainty, something to be said for the nature of identity in the work and how our perception of identity is something we may inherit from our parents just as well as we inherit our eye color and our height, “Snuff” reads more like a novel on speed.  Within and throughout it is an economy of language that sheds excess weight from the body of the novel, allowing it to move quicker and more adeptly than a novel carrying the bulk of excess pages. It allows he story to propel itself forward at an increasingly breakneck pace until the end of the novel suddenly looms and everything begins to crash into itself and the pieces are left still and dazed at the end as others hover around to pick up the pieces and prepare everyone for another run.

so in that sense it is an entirely enjoyable read. there is no denying its speed and potency as we bounce from the conversations and thoughts of 72 to600 to Sheila to 137 only to bounce back to 600 to find his reaction to what has went on in the two preceeding sections.

Cheap Books are Bad for Business?

October 19, 2009

I go away for a weekend and Amazon and Wal-Mart get locked into a price war over upcoming bestsellers.

As someone who has lamented (bitched and whined) about the price of books, especially books in the “literature” section, this doesn’t bother me. I don’t share the agent’s worry that this is going to somehow destroy the market for new writers. I’m hoping the effect is more along the lines of keeping the James Patterson’s of the world from making $150m for the next three years (and 17 books).

But I know this is probably just a delusional fantasy of mine and that we are probably more likely to see the publishing industry go the route of Hollywood and just start churning out as many “blockbusters” as they think they possibly can.

what would that mean? It would mean that Stephen King would no longer have to fret over that extra novel he occasionally writes in a year and can just publish it under his own name than under “Richard Bachman.” It means we would see more Grishams, Rices, etc. etc. etc.

so the emerging writer wouldn’t get priced out of the medium so much as pushed to the side for the authors guaranteed to bring in the money.

Which would also be bad.

But maybe, just maybe, we will see the beginning of book prices just coming down across the board. If this means the end to the Trade Paperback (or at least its being scaled back for only selected works and not every work), I’m fine with it. If it means prices drop to around $25 for a hard cover and $10 for a paperback, it wouldn’t stop me from trying a new author.

Which is what I think the high price of books effectively does. I would even say that it doesn’t just push buyers of books towards authors they feel safe with (like Stephen King) but away from books as a whole. When the price of one hardcover is the same as three (or even seven) DVDs, I don’t think it is any wonder that people move towards the movies. They get more bang for their buck.  I have two degrees in English and the prices turn me off. What does that say for people who are, more or less, looking for an entertainment option???

Of course there is the worry that this won’t be a minor blip on the radar screen and that $10 will become the new price point for hardcovers. I’ve read a few articles now proclaiming how the business of selling books will have to be fundementally changed to accomodate this sudden and drastic price change. And I don’t buy it for a second. While I have hopes that the overall price for books comes down, the reality is that I don’t expect this to have any real, long lasting effects. It’s a price war. These two will fire their shots, stuff will get cheaper for awhile, and then it will be over. Prices will go back up and reading will still be a wholly unaffordable act for the majority of people.

So take advantage of the moment. If you’re a fan of the ten or so books being heavily discounted and you don’t want to wait for either paperback or the second hand shop to get them in, grab them now. I’m thinking of getting the Stephen King book.

The Work Backs Up

October 12, 2009

at the very least I have been sitting down and working on The Re-Write every day. Some days it goes well, others it doesn’t. The more I work at the re-write the more I find myself taking the write part literally. Instead of just tweaking, the thing is being written all over again in total.  I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, it is definitely shifting a bit in pace and tone, but I think it is a good thing. It seems more complete than before, as if I’m finally not leaving as much behind in the mentral debris of my head as I try to mine the vein and send the ore to the surface.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that I have a growing amount of work on backorder. Another novel that I had started and was roughly half-finished yet hasn’t been touched in quite some time. Old ideas that I’ve been kicking around since they were new ideas have been rattling their canes and wondering why I haven’t visited them lately.

This bugs me.  But I also know that a problem I’ve had in the past is that Ihave taken too many projects on at once. So resisting the urge to open up a new word file and start hacking away at another idea while trying to re-write another idea and trying to finish writing the first draft of yet a third idea is probably a good idea. 

But it still bugs me. I hate the idea of work backing up or, more accurately, of ideas backing up. Because they’re still in my head, they keep popping up and saying hey. They’re not like a book I can put on the shelf and just come back to later. That will hopefully come later. Right now they are more like someone who calls every once in awhile, says hey, and wants to chat for a bit.

And knowit’s the knowledge that these ideas are sitting there, waiting, that I have more stuff to work on, that bugs me. I want to be working on them and seeing where they go. I want to know where the story goes. What world is in my head. I want to do the work. I want to get the ideas out of my head.

But I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I have other work to do right now, that I need to finish the other re-write before starting other work, and so, for now, the work will just have to back up for awhile.

To Run a Marathon

October 10, 2009

right now I’ve put aside David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” and have taken up a brief excursion: Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” First, I just needed a break from Wallace’s endless march of words. Second, Murakami is my favorite writer and the opportunity to finally read another of his books is something I couldn’t resist after walking into Borders with a decent sized coupon and finally finding it in paperback.

reading about what other writers think of writing and how they do it isn’t always of interest to me. I’ve read about Stephen King’s habits, the way Kerouac, Ginsberg and clan put themselves together, and maybe one or two others; now including Murakami.

Some degree of physical fitness seems to be a common denominator among people who write for a living. This isn’t saying all writers have to run marathons or that there aren’t writers who are larger bodied. But it seems like the norm is to be at least average in physical fitness.

Murakami mentions a toxin that builds up as you write. He didn’t mean it literally, writing doesn’t somehow allow a build up of mercury in your blood or anything, but that writing is something that has the ability to make you feel pretty crappy. It’s stressful, it’s difficult, it’s lonesome. It seems being fit, or healthy – pick your term -, is a way of neutralizing this.  It’s easier to sit down and write every day when you feel good. maybe it’s as simple as that. And I know, from personal experience, that the better shape I’m in, the less junk food I’m munching on, the more exercise I’m getting, the better I feel and the more often and more productively I write. It helps me find balance. So I guess it’s back to the Wii Fit for me.