Archive for December, 2009

In Praise of the Stepmother – Review

December 19, 2009

The Washington post describes Llosa’s “In Praise of the Stepmother” as a “playful exploration of polymorphous perversity” and its hard to build much beyond that. The novel does come off as a playful run by a skilled writer and it doesn’t hesitate to plumb the depths of perversion within a family as the stepson seduces the stepmother. Interspersed throughout the novel are occasional riffs on pieces of artwork de Szyszlo’s “Road to Menrieta” to Boucher’s “Diana at the Bath” with each riff focusing on the sexual aspects or possibly story line behind each tableau. 

“In Praise” could also be an attempt to turn the Oedipus story on its head. While the stepmother is clearly not the boy’s blood mother, his real father is still very much alive and is very much married to the woman. On top of this, the father and mother are not exactly lacking affection for one another. Instead of the boy being ruined by his discovering he has wooed and lusted his (step)mother, it is the woman and father who are destroyed while the child gains even more power over the kingdom of the home by the end of the story as the child attempts to then seduce the head servant woman who we know now fears the child’s motives. 

By showing a male gaining power through his sexuality, it seems it is a juxtaposition of norms. What we normally see are women gaining social power through their sex. Whether it be through the desire for marriage in a Jane Austen novel or the eventual self-empowerment created  by Hester Prynne’s illegitimate child and her Scarlet Branding or even Lady MacBeth’s relentless rule of her busband, the idea of the woman having power through her sex isn’t a new thing. For a man to wield his sexuality as a weapon is a genuinely new take. Whereas it is usually mere physical strength or wealth/power levied as man’s club, it is rarer that it is his cock.

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Tech and Books, Books and Tech, Mortal Enemies

December 15, 2009

a couple of links today. The firstis an excellent blog entry from Nick Bilton regarding the publishing industry’s backward approach towards e-publishing. Nick tackles the publishing industry’s decision to back up e-book sales in fear that it harming their hardcover sales. Is this line familiar? If you followed the music industry’s fight against file sharing it should be. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you have probably noted that I am very e-friendly and have at least hinted towards where i think the publishing industry, and e-literature, needs and will go. And I agree with pretty much everything Nick says in his blog.

What amazes me is how similar the fears and reactions are between the way the publishing industry is approaching e-commerce and the way the recording industry approached it (and got beaten like a mule).  If I’m a big book publisher, I am going over what the recording industry did and attempting to do just the opposite. Instead of running from the concept of selling literature online, look for ways to make it more lucrative. Look for ways to package other stuff with it that might be enticing to readers while also cost effective. Maybe even open up  a whole new division dedicated to publishing new authors ONLY online where the costs of the publishing can be more tightly controlled and publicity more easily attainable.  Once an author has established an audience through cheaper e-lits (maybe with novellas and short stories) then move on to publishing that author’s first novel in hardcover.  suddenly you have an affordably created audience for a first time author and stand a better chance of not losing your hat over publishing the guy.

In other words, e-lit can be the new paperback. Where writers once cut their teeth selling gobs of paperbacks before getting a hardcover release, they can now sell billions of bits.  There could be a whole new world for writers here if publishers would only go with it rather than try to fight it.

the second blog is from chris dawson at  zdnet. He steps into the e-reader fray with an angle on Stephen Covey’s recent choice to sign an exclusive deal with amazon to release his books only for the Kindle.  He’s against the closed format for e-readers, pushing for an open format that would open up the e-publishing world for everyone to take part in.

The scary thing is his comparison to how Apple’s Iphone effectively cornered the cell phone market because of the ridiculous amount of exclusive apps it offers is quite possible. If any one company can convince a great number of high-selling authors to sign only with them, it would effectively cut the e-reader and e-literature markets off at the knees. Regardless of how powerful or versatile a tablet PC from Apple might be, no one will buy it as a reader if they can’t download the newest Stephen King or Nora Roberts book to it.

But I think money will keep it from happening. While Amazon can entice an author here or there right now, authors/agents aren’t dumb and they know that once the e-lit market takes off, there will be more money made from whoever can sell to the biggest audience. Which points to an open format that can be read on a variety of devices.

also, there is the simple force of ego. Writers (and I know, I kinda am one, albeit an unpaid one) like to be read. the idea of limiting their audience can’t be overly appealing.  While there will always be someone taking the largest payday out there, and I don’t blame them at all for it, I think a lot of writers would rather sacrifice a couple of bucks if it means they greatly enhance their exposure.

Lethem’s “Gun, with Occasional Music” a future movie?

December 11, 2009

as a fan of Jonathan Lethem, I like hearing about new books from him and I like hearing of the possibility of new movies based on his books (though I don’t like Ed Norton essentially casting himself as the lead in Motherless Brooklyn). 

Guns, with Occasional Music is one of those books that I loved to read but wasn’t sure could ever be a movie. Or at least a successful movie.  depending on who is involved,  I can certainly see it being pulled off. But with its mix of Dashiel Hammet style detective story with weird sci-fi, I’m not sure I see an audience for it unless it is drastically changed for the screen. Which would take out all of the fun.

So, if it gets done, I’m hoping for something with a modest budget, modest special effects, and a director who knows how to stretch a buck and get the image he wants (I’m thinking Gondy or Jean-pierre Jeunet, personally).  Whatever happens, it’s a project I’ll probably follow.

survivor lit and the mythos of the typewriter

December 11, 2009

short post tonight, just a couple of articles i am plucking from the london times. Neither is very long (they don’t seem all that longer than my own blog posts, really) so I’m not going to quote them – really, just go read them. They’re quick.

The first is Erica Wagner having a McCarthy inspired rift on typewriters and that puts my own McCarthy inspired rift to shame. really, didn’t know Isaac Bashevis Singer was nuts…

the second is a playful slap at Survivor-lit. Admittedly, I rarely venture into the non-fiction section of bookstores any more – isn’t that was libraries are for? – but the cheapening of life stories has been something I’ve noticed in other respects as well.  Other than these stories of “survival” I’ve noticed more and more memoirs and biographies being pushed onto the public documenting the life of some 20-something (or even something-teen). Excuse, but if you can’t remember more than seven presidents, and I mean really remember, not just have some vague recollection of, you haven’t lived long enough to write a biography. Biographies for people younger than that should only be written because that person died before they reached the requisite age.

(E)Magazines Galore

December 9, 2009

Awhile back I posted an article linking Conde Nast Publishing and Apple’s development of a tablet PC rumored to hit the market in the fall/winter of 2010. The thought was that Apple was forming some sort of partnership to help pull E-readers to their tablet to help break into a market dominated by specialty readers like Kindle or Nook.

Whether Apple is involved or not, five major publishers have banded together to push for a more open e-literature world.  Demanding a universal standard that allows their magazines to be accurately transferred to a digital medium across a wide range of viewers – rather than the specialized files used by current readers – it is clear that this is but a prong on a multi-faceted attack to allow PCs into the suddenly lucrative E-reader world.

If a standard is established and all magazines, newspapers and novels are published in that one form that is open for all computers/readers/cell phones/etc. to download and read, it’ll open up a world of competition for Kindle, Nook and the Sony Reader. Instead of having to make a severely specialized product to compete in the market, a company like Apple (or Del or HP or…) would be able to do what they do best: make a jack-of-all trade machine that hits a specific price range. We’ve seen the proliferation of the netbook (which I find horribly unusable with their smurf sized keyboards…) so we know big box computer companies can easily shift their gears to make smaller computers.

This is something to keep an eye on in the next year and maybe make you re-consider throwing down that two to three hundred bucks on that brand spanking new e-reader. While their displays are nice and they do what they do very well, the e-lit world could be on the cusp of a minor revolution.

Rubbertop Review – submissions

December 7, 2009

Rubbertop Review is a journal published by the University of Akron that focuses on contributions from residents of Ohio.  They accept Fiction, Poetry, and creative non-fiction (was there a time where non-fiction was just non-fiction?) and their deadline for submissions is February 1st.

For more information, including addresses to send work to and guidelines for work submitted, check out Rubbertop Review’s website.

Dirty Havana Trilogy – Review

December 6, 2009

Publisher’s Weekly labels it a cross between charles bukowski and henry miller. While there is certainly a large element of raunch through the first two sections of the trilogy (and still enough for a good romance novel in the third) it’s not as good as either of the two it’s a supposed hybrid of.

Still, the raunch turns out to be the second most interesting thing about the book. the first is the format. The first section is a series of short, first person accounts from Pedro Juan, our hero of the work, as he tries to survive with a litany of scavanged and possibly illegal jobs on the street, just trying to keep food on the table, and then his relentless pursuit to fuck whatever woman he can, wherever he can, whenever he can. This isn’t to say the guy is a womanizer. His conquests are not exactly reluctant. They aren’t so much conquests as two people coming together with a similar goal in mind and happening to find someone to help them get there. It is sex of desperation. No one has much of anything, life is miserable for everyone, and everyone just wants something to get helm them through the day – which is sex.

the second part has a slightly older pedro juan, a slower pace and more laid back life. he finally settles in with a woman from his apartment building named isabelle who prostitutes herself for money while Pedro Juan continues to do whatever he can to make a buck or two (literally, as they favor earning a buck or two over numberless pesos).

Finally, the third section moves away from Pedro Juan and tells the stories of the people around Pedro Juan that we have glimpsed throughout the first two sections. We learn that Pedro Juan’s observations are not always entirely correct and many of the people surrounding him live much sadder and more desperate lives than even he imagines.

Throughout the book, Gutierrez gives his characters a thirst for life and independence within the Cuban dictatorialship that is commendable. The life he portrays, of the average person just trying to get by and mitigate their misery as well as possible while the State operates around them, is a touching portrait of the terminally poor in Cuba.

100 Best Books of the 2000s

December 4, 2009

Few things make me feel as culturally ignorant as “Best of…” lists. This wonderful list, compiled the London Times back in November, succeeds at this with distinction.  There are books I’ve read and loved, books I’ve been meaning to pick up and read, and books I’ve never heard of. Rare was the book I had read and hadn’t especially cared for (Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was the standout in this regard).

There were a handful of books that I questioned.

90 Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)

Meyer’s books about the schoolgirl Bella Swan and her passion for Edward Cullen, the tortured “vegetarian” vampire (doesn’t bite humans), have taken the world’s pre-pubescent females by storm. Basically, he’s a fanged Mr Darcy, with all sexual threat surgically removed.

One of the few books I haven’t finished not from lack of interest or time but from the sheer mediocrity of the craft. There’s no questioning its impact in society or its scope of influence (or its massive sales), which is what I am guessing placed it on this list but in a list of “Best Books” I would put more weight on the actual quality of the book.

73 Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (2005)

The stories of this Japanese master are sometimes little more than glimpses of a single image, a single moment — but so loaded with meaning that it speaks volumes.

The inclusion of Murakami’s collection of short stories doesn’t bother me because it is badly written or undeserving, it’s not and it is, but that it was included while Kafka on the Shore was not.  This is like making a best movies list with The Aviator at 72 and then no mention of Goodfellas.

The one entry I can’t argue with at all is Cormac McCarthy’s powerfully bleak narrative, The Road, topping the list.  It was one of those books that, from the moment it came out, was clearly a work of force. In the immortal words of Hunter Thompson, it stomped the earth.

Now to get around to finding all of the books from the list that I don’t have…

The City of Dreaming Books

December 3, 2009

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers, is a journey into the depths of book love.  The dinosaur we follow is Optimus Yarnspinner, who is journeying to bookhold in search of a writer who once sent Optimus’s uncle the greatest piece of literature he had ever seen. Armed with the manuscript, Yarnspinner goes to the city of Bookhold, a city dedicated to the production, the selling, the appreciation and the collecting of books. From the shops above ground to the laberynth of tunnels extending far beneath the city, we travel with Yarnspinner through a world where just reading a book is serious, life threatening business.

If the sheer heft of the book doesn’t give it away let me say, despite the apparent subject matter and quirky drawings, this book is not meant for children younger than, say, ten. It’s not that there is ever any subject matter that I think would be too horribly inappropriate, it’s just that it is a deceptively difficult read for younger readers.

Meanwhile, it also didn’t really overly appeal to me. It felt like it sits in a middle ground between a young adult story and literature.  While I could never call the book boring, it’s not, there are times where it does get a bit tedious. It’s clear Moers has never met a word he doesn’t like and doesn’t hesitate to string together a new word at the drop of a hat.  For the most part this plays to his advantage but it also makes for an occasionally combersome read.

So if you’re in a bit of a flippant mood and don’t mind taking a break with a charming read about dinosaurs, cave spiders and a Shadow King terrorizing Book Hunters in the catechombs, The City of Dreaming Books might be up your alley.

Where Are The Reviews?

December 2, 2009

for awhile small book reviews were the bread and butter of this blog. I’ve read a lot in my life, I still read a lot (see: unemployed), and I’ve found that I remember the books better if I just sit down and write a little review about them that I also hope other people find mildly helpful in deciding if they want to give the book a shot, too.

So where have they went?

Honestly, I just haven’t had time to write them up. For being what they are, they are still time consuming little buggers. From finding/inserting the links/pics to the simple act of writing the things, they take up a bit of time. And it’s time I haven’t had. Every other weekend (sometimes it feels like quite a bit more than that) I’m heading to Michigan. There’s the g/f. There’s the kid. There’s the job hunt (soon to become MFA program application fill-out time). There’s the day to day running of the apartment that has fallen to me by default of me being the unemployed one. Plus there is the writing of my own that I constantly put off and constantly berate myself for not getting done.

Also, the technology/publishing stuff I’ve been posting lately is stuff I find really interesting. Launching an on-line lit mag is something that I’ve kicked around for literally five years now and will likely never get around to actually doing. Meanwhile, I’ve also nurtured a hankering for tablet PCs and wouldn’t mind the ability to simply download a new novel once in awhile. And I’m interested in what can be done with the novel and programming language, despite not having a bloody clue about programming language myself. It’s a charge I find myself interested in leading but find myself woefully without a horse to charge with.

But I do hope to start getting some more reviews up again. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep posting what I post.