Archive for August, 2012

Book Links 8-30-2012

August 30, 2012

It returns!  The list makes it back today, as I’ve finally accumulated enough links that I found interesting to make it worth posting. It’s been pretty slim pickings for awhile, though.

Pop Crunch has a list of the best dystopian novels of all time. I’m not usually a huge fan of lists, but they have some interesting choices in there among the usual choices. Worth a look.

Apparently the whole good critics are lovely things bit is still raging. Over at The New Yorker Daniel Mendelsohn has thrown his hat into the ring with a critic’s manifesto. His passion and sheer damn giving are inspiring. At the same time, I wonder if the book critic thing has been sort of passed its prime for quite awhile now.  I know it’s what I spend the majority of my posts doing here, but I never actually consider that people read them. I just know that I’m not sure I have ever read a book because of a review. Ever. So I don’t entirely expect other people to. So all of the hubbub over it rings a bit pointless to me.  I do it because I enjoy it. And if someone else finds it helpful, awesome. With all of the competing noise, I find it a minor miracle that any voice pops through the static.

Dornob is a design site, its a bit of a side interest for me, and they have some thoroughly awesome ideas for a bookshelf. If you’re a DIYer, they don’t look like the most difficult things in the world, but they do look like the perfect built in for a literature lover.
PBS Arts has a short video essay about William Gibson. I just really like William Gibson, so I’m taking a chance to pimp him in some way.

And, finally, Open Culture is adding a new creative writing course…including advice from Toni Morrison, Nora Ephron and others.

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Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser – a review

August 28, 2012

There are times where David Halpert, the protagonist in Scott Lasser’s novel Say Nice Things About Detroit, is just too damn likeable.  Part of it is that he’s a failure on a few special levels. He’s a successful lawyer (which we hate) but his son’s dead and his marriage fell apart, which sort of makes up for being a successful lawyer. He lives in Denver, which is meh, but he’s from and moving back to Detroit, yay. He sleeps with the married sister of the woman he dated and loved when he was young, though I’m not sure this is a positive or a negative.

I think the major appeal of the novel isn’t the characters or the story, after a few chapters you can begin mentally slotting in what will likely happen next, but as Elmore Leonard blurbs on the cover, “you’ll love Scott Lasser’s style.” It’s a style that enthuses Detroit with a compulsive readability.  While you can see what trouble will be coming around the bend, you don’t care because you enjoy getting there and getting around it.  The woman’s married with a kid? Well, you know she’s going to end up in Detroit, but you still like seeing it all unfold, though it may be a bit perverse to enjoy seeing her first marriage unravel in favor of leaving California’s sunny wonderland and replace it with Michigan’s million and five different versions of snow.

What is most remarkable about the style of Detroit is death is never really the focus of the novel, despite there being plenty of it littered throughout the pages. People die, violently, but the novel is really about life, about people getting along and people doing what they feel they are obligated to through the sense of what is right.

Alright, another short review but check it out. lasser’s got a nice one here that’s readable and fun, even a decent little PR piece for Detroit which needs all of the positivity it can get. As always, here’s the B&N link. Make them take your money.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters – a review

August 24, 2012

Right up front here, this is going to be nothing like the recent review of Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills. I didn’t keep what was essentially a reading journal with this. I read the biggest chunk of it the other night between midnight and 330am and it’s really just an addictive read. Reading the back cover, it says it is the first part of atrilogy, and it mentions that everything is happening on the brink of apocalypse, giving it a scifi vibe, but it’s not a scifi novel. It’s a mystery novel, a detective pot boiler, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.  That’s something else I want to get out of the way right at the beginning, it’s a great read, it’s a fun read, I can wholly endorse it if you like detective/mystery stories.

That’s also not what I really want to talk about.

While I said it’s not a scifi novel, it is a scifi novel. In their own ways, I think the majority of detective novels are really scifi novels. Whether they have a glaring scifi element, such as an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and all of the social upheavel going on because of it, or if they don’t have any glaring scifi elements. While reading The Last Policeman, the novel that kept coming to mind was Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. In each work we are plunged into the head of a detective who is maybe not the brightest flashlight we could pull out of the drawer, but by the end we find them the most reliable.

They are also aliens in their own worlds, as most great fictional detectives are. Even if you remove the End is Nigh plot device Winters uses, his lead detective is still a duck out of water. He doesn’t fit with the other detectives, he doesn’t really fit with the rest of society that he interacts with, everyone just sort of accommodates each other as best they can and try to make the most of it. We see the same thing with the lead character in Motherless Brooklyn, the tourrettes inflicted Lionel. His mental condition sets him apart, makes him alien to everyone else. Sherlock Holmes? He was certainly a bit of an odd-duck, too. As was Hercule Poirot.

If anything, this is part of the wonderful versatility of detective fiction and how it can approach scifi. In scifi, the alien is almost always the other character. They might be protagonists, they might be antagonists, that doesn’t really matter. But they are almost always the other. What detective fiction can do is make the alien the primary point of view, give us a set of eyes to look through that we don’t really get a chance to see otherwise. It allows us to see our own world as the other, as the alien, because the alien’s point of view has become our own.

Okay, back to Winters’ The Last Policeman. It’s a good read, check it out, and there is even some mention of moon bases. You might or might not be better off sitting down at midnight to devour it, though. Here’s the B&N link.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

August 22, 2012

I’ve tried something a bit different with this one. The bulk of this review is really an informal journal I kept while reading the story, which means there are gobs of spoilers. It also means that the first half of this thing is very plot heavy.  I hope it gives a fair rundown of what happens, maybe makes the story easier for others to run down. I do think it lacks a bit with breaking down different aspects of the work, and things that felt important while I was reading felt less important when I finished. I think there is a lot here about how gender, reconstruction and class issues all came together and got thrown into the blender by WWII.  For some reason, what kept coming to mind was A.S. Byatt’s Little Black Book of Stories.  I think there might be something between the two about women, society and how they find their place within it that could be pulled together into a larger paper. The link is to my review of Byatt’s collection, btw. And, as always, here’s a link to buy Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills.

 

Etsuko is being visited by her daughter Niki. Another daughter, Keiko, has recently killed herself – hanging, not found for a few days. Now lives in England, used to live in Japan. Daughters from different fathers – Keiko “pure” Japanese, Niki part British.

In past, when Etsuko was pregnant with her first child, lived near Nagasaki with her husband after the war. In a small hut/cabin near the river, a woman and child moves into the community; Sachiko (mother) and Mariko (daughter).  Mariko often claims to see a woman who comes to the cabin at night while her mother is away, asking if she wants to come see her house. Never goes? One day she is gone and is found by the river with a cut on her leg – they don’t really say how big/dangerous the cut is. This happens after she starts working at noodle shop. I’m guessing Mariko couldn’t stay at the shop because she was rude to the customers.

We learn that Sachiko spent some time with her uncle, but left. Why? doesn’t say. Now seems to be on her own and enlists Etsuko’s help in getting a job at a local noodle shop. we find out Sachiko has a weakness for tea and has stolen an expensive tea set from her uncle when she left.

Etsuko’s husband is Jiro, works a lot. His father is Ogata. Visits, plays chess with Jiro. Is unhappy with one of Jiro’s former classmates, Shigeo Matsuda, for an article about teachers and how it’s a good thing a few have left, naming Ogata. Ogata wants Jiro to write a strongly worded letter to Shigeo seeking apology for the affront. Jiro avoids it.

Later we see a deepening split between Jiro and his father over the chess game and Jiro’s unwillingness to confront Shigeo Matsuda. This isn’t as straight forward as I’ve described it so far because I think there is a definite thing going on commenting on generational shift, and Ogata is not nearly the purely likeable old man he makes himself out to be. He is horrified that the wife of one of Jiro’s friends may vote differently from him in an upcoming election because the least a wife should do is adopt her husband’s view, and defend them to the death (which I assume would be hers). He also doesn’t hold back in scolding Jiro for never growing up, and reacting the same way towards losing a game of chess as he did when he was a child. He accuses Jiro of never planning ahead, and then not adjusting to any difficulties placed before him. I’m having a hard time grasping the time line exactly, but it has got to be set at some point between 1945 and 1952, because it seems the American occupation is happening, but quickly winding down. Also, it seems Nagasaki has recovered a bit from the bombings, as Etsuko and Sachiko talk a bit about how it doesn’t look as devastated as it did after the bombing, and that surrounding areas have been rebuilt.  Because of this, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Jiro’s age and what exactly the cultural criticism is that is being lobbed here.  The way I take it is that Ogata’s generation is the one that was in charge of the war, while Jiro’s was the one that actually fought.  If so, Ogata’s criticism seems misplaced, as it was his generation that couldn’t pivot and reform a plan after the US countered. Meanwhile, the inability of Ogata’s generation to provide their own counter plan, likely killed many of Jiro’s generation, or at the least saddled them with the transition period they were going through after the war.

Meanwhile, Jiro’s generation appears to be doing exactly what Ogata claims they are not. They are faced with a radically reshaped nation, and are working to move that nation forward – having to plan several steps ahead.  Considering Jiro’s barely contained aggression towards this, I wonder if he doesn’t see it, too. However, he hesitates, and doesn’t take action and Etsuko says that this inability to move, that Jiro’s avoiding the chess game and potentially his inability to chuck the chessboard across the room, is what would later lead her to leave him when he reacted with a similar hesitation.

This reading, of course, changes greatly if you assume Ogata has a legitimate right to challenge Jiro about the war. If the younger generation was responsible for blowing it, Ogata’s criticisms become much more pointed. Also, it dovetails better with Etsuko’s reaction to them, and her agreeing with Ogata about her husband’s actions.

Ogata ends up confront Shigeo himself. Ogata is genuinely befuddled why Shigeo would write such a thing, while Shigeo keeps referring to people like Ogata, “good people,” teaching the Japanese things that were wholly untrue and how the nation needs to move on. He repeatedly references a “new dawn” for Japan. The impression is given that with this new dawn, it will also be the Americanization of Japan. Meanwhile, Ogata argues for the importance of the past and how Japan didn’t need to change wholesale to match its conquerors.

Afterwards, Ogata and Etsuko go to Mrs. Fujiwara’s noodle shop. Ogata again shows his old-fashioned qualities, repeatedly remarking to Etsuko how horrible it is that Mrs. Fujiwara has to work like that when she “used to be” so respected, and while Mrs. Fujiwara appears to enjoy running her noodle shop.

The rest of the book goes by in somewhat of a blur. Etsuko, Sachiko and Mariko go out for a day, and Sachiko ends up spending a lot of time talking to an American woman they run into. Sachiko speaks English very well,  and again uses the opportunity to remark to Etsuko that she wasn’t always poor.  We also learn that Sachiko is abandoned by Frank, momentarily dashing the hope of moving to America. This is only reversed later when we learn that Sachiko has tracked Frank down, and that they have decided to put Sachiko and Mariko up in Kobe while Frank goes back to America to establish himself and then send for them. This leads to a disturbing scene where Sachiko finally snaps after Mariko asks one too many times about taking a group of kittens with them. Sachiko bundles the kittens into a box and walks to a river. First she tries to drown one, but it fights her and almost literally refuses to drown. Etsuko bears a grim witness to the events as Sachiko then simply shuts all of the kittens in their wooden box and dumps the whole box in the river where it slowly sinks out of sight. They realize Mariko has also watched this happen, and Mariko then takes off, disappearing in the night.

Before anyone sets off in search of Mariko, Etsuko and Sachiko go back to Sachiko’s cabin to finish packing. Under gentle prodding, Sachiko admits that it’s unlikely they ever see America, but what else can they do? This flies in the face of the fact that Mariko’s uncle, Sachiko’s brother-in-law, more than welcomes them back to his house. We learn that Sachiko worries of growing old and alone, much the way her cousin has at the Uncle’s house.  While Mariko loved the place, it had to be a frightening omen for Sachiko of what the future would bring if she stayed in such a place.

The novel ends back in England, with the older Etsuko and her grown daughter Niki still feeling each other out around the edges in the wake of the death of Etsuko’s other daughter, Keiko. etsuko tries to reach out to Niki a few times, gently probing about Niki’s boyfriend,  but her inquisitiveness is shut down immediately. Meanwhile, Niki keeps professing her pride in her mother’s taking control of her life and doing what was right for her, but it all comes off as mildly patronizing. the novel ends with the image of Niki walking out the gate to head to the train station, turning and being a bit surprised to see her mother still standing there, waving goodbye.
Sachiko’s life and decisions can be seen to easily mirror those that we know Etsuko makes later in her own life – though Etsuko’s appears to be more by choice. I wonder if  there is something being said here about how a generation of Japanese may have been sort of lost in the middle. The older generation could still live comfortable ensconced in their memories, shielding them from the changes taking place around them. Meanwhile, the younger generations could adapt more easily and take ownership of the changes. However, there is a middle generation that may have been caught in the gap. They didn’t have the past to wrap around themselves, but they were still too formed by the Japan prior to the war to truly make the new Japan “theirs.”

Mrs. Fujiwara would be an exception to this. She’s older, her old station in life has been thrown to the wind, but she adapted, started a noodle shop and seemed to be prospering. At the same time, though, Ogata essentially shunned her. While each clearly felt something for each other, all Ogata could talk about was how it was  such a shame that she had to run a noodle shop. I have to think, or at least wonder, if Ogata’s reaction to Mrs. Fujiwara would be emblematic of how others of their generation would regard her, which would lead to her ostracism despite the success and popularity of her establishment.

All in all, I think there is a fairly strong current of feminism running through the book, but it isn’t a feminism in the sense of articulating ideas of equality and opportunity, but more one of action -both chosen and forced. This is also where we see the strongest schisms between generations. Mrs. Fujiwara is broken from her generation by her taking control of her own business and forging a life for herself. Meanwhile, Sachiko is a bit of an outcast from society in general, in part due to the choices she is confronted with after losing her original station in life. Etsuko bridges a bit of the gap between these two. She embraces the old ways of Japan in one sense, and is at least part of the reason Ogata takes to her so well. on the other, we know that she eventually leaves Jiro and moves to England where she essentially starts her life over. Niki, meanwhile, reaps the benefits but seems to be far less anchored in life than Etsuko ever appears to be.  So while Niki has the benefits of the choices available to her, she more resembles Sachiko in not being entirely sure in what direction to take – or that might be because we are given the world at least slightly through Etsuko’s lens.

 

Character List

Etsuko – primary character. Older in England, widow, one daughter (Keiko) recently committed suicide, one daughter (Niki) is visiting.
In Japan, younger, pregnant (with Keiko, we assume), married to Jiro, befriends Sachiko & Mariko.

Niki – half-english, half-Japanese daughter of Etsuko and her British husband.

Keikio – Japanese daughter, prone to fits of seclusion, commits suicide after moving away from home.

Jiro – Etsuko’s first husband, Japanese, lawyer. Very passive-aggessive.

Ogata – Jiro’s father, old fashioned, cares about Etsuko deeply. not overly thrilled with his son. former teacher.

Sachiko – single mother, life destroyed  by the war, works at noodle shop but always talks about how she looks forward to getting away from it and how her life used to be “very different.” Clearly not happy with where she’s at, sees motherhood as a burden and how Etsuko will understand when she’s finally a mother. Annoying person.

Mariko – Sachiko’s daughter. neglected, really. Seems lonely, doesn’t interact with people very well. Strong willed, opinionated.

Shigeo Matsuda – former classmate of Jiro’s, now a teacher who has recently published an article that mentions Ogata and that the old ways of teaching need to be left behind for the sake of Japan’s future.

Mrs. Fujiwara – widow, used to be a woman of high social standing, now owns/operates a noodle shop.

Book Links 8-19-12 Early (?) Edition

August 19, 2012

Alright, I had these links to put up on the 18th, but I got sidetracked screwing around and being generally unproductive and didn’t get them posted before the clock turned over.  So I guess I’m just going to get a big jump on tomorrow (today’s) links.
First is this digital essay by Will Self called Kafka’s Wound. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I really appreciate the attempt. At the very least, it’s worth checking out.

Remember that bit about the government buying a crap ton (technical term) of Kindles from Amazon while simultaneously pressing a major lawsuit against their major competitors and publishers? Remember how that kinda sounded like a bullshit move? Well, apparently the government has agreed. Now, it seems the government is saying that they want to now explore other possibilities, but a few months back they seemed pretty positive that the Kindle was the best bet for whatever it is they wanted it to do (something I’m still highly doubtful of considering things like the iPad are out there that do everything the Kindle does and then some-oh, and Microsoft has Surface coming out that seems even further along the path of actually being more than a media box). I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple’s aggressively countering the DoJ’s attempts to hurriedly push through some sort of agreement about the whole ebook price fixing thing  didn’t play into this a bit. I hate to say it, but I’m hugely in Apple’s corner over this.

Because beer steins are awesome, and I’ve ended up being a fan of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels, I love these Sandman themed steins.  If you’re not interested in looking at merchandise, don’t click the link, but it’s something I’ve really liked and considered throwing $20 down for. Not a huge fan of the shirts, though, which is a shame.

Don’t cry for me Argentina, just give me a decent pension plan. They are giving pensions to writers. It’s awesome. While I live in a nation where a presidential candidate is for cutting the meager funding for the NEA and the NEH (who, combined, are given less money than we give our military just to manage their bands), other countries who are far less economically robust are finding new ways to spend more money on the arts.  One of the few (many) places I don’t want to take this blog is into the world of politics and everything it entails, but lately I’ve realized how my stances are pretty much a polar opposite from what appears to be a pretty fair share of my country. They want to spend more money on making better guns to kill more Arabs, I want more money thrown at space exploration and artists.

Finally, because I’m horribly ignorant of massive exhibitions by national institutions, here’s a much belated link to the Library of Congress and their Books that shaped America. Like any list, it’ll probably generate more discussion for what’s not on it as much for what is. For some info on what went into slim pickings, here’s an interview with someone who was involved in the process.

Alright, that’s all for today, maybe more later today. 🙂

Book Links 8-13-12

August 13, 2012

A few links today, as I run around town trying to get my car title/license thing changed, look at houses and maybe fix some sort of supper before picking the wife up from work. Long day. Monday. Shocker.

Media Decoder has a bit up about Google buying Frommers. I just find it interesting after they bought Zagats last year. Google’s trying to corner the market on travel writing?

An 11 minute youtube of Craig Ferguson talking to Stephen King. Nothing ground breaking, just Ferguson being Ferguson. Still, kinda nice to see an author hitting the late night talk show circuit.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review has a good article by Leah Price about the death of books being greatly exaggerated.

Well, that’s all that made the short list today. Now off to work.

Book Links 8-10-12

August 10, 2012

It’s funny how my collection of book links fluctuates from day to day. Looking at my list of recent posts, it’s clear that I don’t get a lot of interesting links every day, but then a bunch just suddenly show up. anyway, here’s the links.

Lauren Passell has 8 ways reading makes you a better dater. I have to agree, reading is a healthier hobby than blow. A helluva lot cheaper, too.

PW has a couple of articles today that I liked. Chelsea Cain offers five tips for writers, while Vincent Lam offers some advice on how to write about your family.   My best advice for writing about your family is to just not tell them about it and hope they never find out.

Writer’s Digest has the 21 Key Traits of Best-Selling Fiction! Applied carefully, I can see how at least some of the traits can be helpful. However, part of me reads that list and can’t help but think it’s the checklist carried into the filming of every Transformers movie, and I would like to think we all aim a little higher than Transformers. unless we’re talking about the cartoon from the 1980s. That rocked.

Finally, The Millions has some professor type people throwing down on what they think is the best novel by Charles Dickens. this made me feel soooo litararily ignorant. Reading Bleak House just got scribbled into my day planner next to getting new car insurance and cooking supper. It’ll fit in that forty-five minute spot, right? Right?

Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker – review

August 10, 2012

Baker’s Human Smoke is an enthralling, sprawling montage of events that led up to the United States’ official involvement in WWII. It actually goes just past that, rounding out on Dec. 31, 1941, but it really only makes sense to end it on the last day of the year, with the United State’ entry into the war coming so shortly before it. The wonderful thing about this book is that I felt like an idiot while reading it.  Baker sets the book up to read in short burts, often less than a page or even half a page in length. He will jump from one person’s account of living in the early stages of the Nazi regime in Germany and then jump to the Quakers lobbying FDR to allow them to send food and assistance to people recently put beneath the Nazi boot heels. Baker does a remarkable job of weaving numerous histories together into a satisfying whole that is impossible to move away from for long.

My feeling like an idiot happened on average in about one in five of these vignettes. While Hitler&Co. clearly had a thing against the Jews, the rest of the prominent world leaders weren’t exactly friendly.  The impression  I have always gotten of history is that the Nazis quickly rose to power, then began massacring the Jews and there wasn’t a whole lot that could have been done. That this genocide was almost predestined and just had to happen. Instead, there were numerous opportunities for goverments to have stepped in and mitigated the human disaster that was to become of the Jews and other minority groups who fell under Nazi rule. The United States refused to alter their immigration policies. What amounted to refugee ships were turned away at ports. Other nations refused to step up and give the Jews safe harbor.  I hate to refer to it as indifference (though it would be a nice term than anti-semitism, which is did seem to at least border upon at times) but the coldness of other nations when there were moments they could have stepped in was abhorrent.

I was also mildly shocked at Churchill’s cold bloodedness. It’s easy to sort of be okay with his willingness to kill German’s at the time, but some of the quotes attributed to Churchill throughout the book make him appear nearly indifferent to the horrors caused by his naval blockade and the amount of collateral suffering imposed by his actions. By contrast, the German’s do not come off as nearly the monsters history largely paints them as. It seems that there was a genuine opportunity for the worst of their attrocities to be avoided, or at least greatly mitigated, by a different approach (such as allowing the Jews to get the hell out of Europe before everything hit the fan instead of slamming shut the immigration doors).

Another thing that I wasn’t as aware of before reading is how the US goaded Japan into action. Baker does not have a lot of takes from the Japanese side, but they really are not necessary considering the wealth of what he has from the Americans. FDR wanted to get into the war and Pearl Harbor gave him the excuse to do it. There have been some conspiracy theories that the US knew it was going to happen and did nothing just for that purpose, which I don’t fully believe. But it is clear that FDR was repeatedly jamming a stick into the side of Japan, trying to get them to react. It’s the lengths America went to for this that got to me. I had no idea we supported China’s fight against Japan so long or so openly. Or that we taunted them by giving fuel to the Soviets but not to them.  Or the numerous smaller things that just kept poking that stick.

Reading Baker’s collection of excerpts makes it appear as though the leaders of the world were nearly spoiling for another war. And those who were actively pushing for military engagement were marginalized by those that were. there’s a certain feeling of connection between this and the W. presidency after 9-11. It seemed that regardless of anything else that was to happen, war would be declared. It’s a brutal idea, that was might be desired by a select few to the point of inevitability.

Reading Baker’s afterward, he notes that all of his quotes, all of his material, are readily available to the public -largely through newspaper. I’ve also been reading Baker’s book Double Fold, which I’m unlikely to finish as I just can’t get into it (though I will keep trying.  In Double Fold, Baker documents the attempt of libraries to ditch their newspaper collections in favor of microfilm or whatever new tech has happened by that is supposed to be able to store a whole lot of newspaper in a tiny tiny space. The short of it is that our digital and film copies are largely horrible and error filled. Words, sometimes pages, are lost. Finely detailed pictures are reduced to blobs. In an effort to save space, our libraries have blown vast sums of money (as Baker points out, far more than it would have cost to just build a warehouse to store the stuff they wanted to replace) to make barely legible copies that are wholly inferior to the originals. This has resulted in us losing a vast amount of knowledge about our past.  It has also resulted in our scholarly work on history changing, as there are fewer and fewer caches of source materials for our historians to draw from.  We are literally destroying our past, so it  may be no wonder that we so often seem to repeat it.

Here is the B&N link for Human Smoke.

And here for Double Fold.

Book Links 8-6-2012

August 6, 2012

a little late, but that’s better than never.  Been a long day, wrestling with a television and an uncooperative wall mount. With the help of some strategically deformed hockey cards, it is close to level. Anyway, on to the links!

First is this brief interview of Chip Kidd on NPR. He designs book covers for Knopf. You’ve seen his work. And he seems to have become a fiercely captivating defender of books as actual, physical objects. The one thing that stuck out, and it’s at the end of the article (an audio version is available at the top) is that hardcover books are really “luxury” items. I don’t disagree, but this is also where I see a problem with the trade paperbacks (TPB) that have become so popular, nearly entirely displacing the smaller, cheaper mass market paperback (MMPB). What it really boils down to, for me, is that TPBs are just too damn expensive for paperback books and have helped drive people away from actual physical books and into the arms of ereaders everywhere. Then again, it may have been a price move the publishing houses needed to make and could only justify it with the snazzier format. I don’t know. I just miss my cheap MMPBs. And, for anyone interested, here is Chip Kidd’s TedTalk.

PW has a short piece about how ebooks are also killing the backlists of publishers. When you walked into Borders and saw not just Grisham’s newest novel but the five million and seventy-four thousand others he had written, those were backlists. With far fewer book stores, sales for the backlists have been pushed into the cyberworld. And sales have went down. Shocking. It’s hard to sell a book when you can’t see it, especially amidst the mountain of product that is Amazon.

and here’s the only known video of Mark Twain.
Oh, and another piece at PW about the Department of Justice asking the court to ratify their plea agreement with three publishers in the government’s quest to hand the publishing industry over to Amazon. I’ve posted my distaste for Amazon more than once here, you can find it if you’re interested.  Cheaper doesn’t always (in fact, almost never) equals better.  While I miss cheap paperbacks, I understand it’s not my god given right to them. And that, eventually, you get what you pay for. So, if being able to pay $10 instead of $15 for a new book by your favorite author is worth this much to you, remember, eventually we all sow what we reap.  Sowing the end of a publishing industry that we know may not reap the glorious rewards some companies are promising.

Monstress by Lysley Tenorio – review

August 3, 2012

as always, there is the chance for spoilers ahead. In this instance, it’s a certainty. So, if you haven’t read this collection, I’ll just say that, yes, it’s a really good read and worth the time.  the collection definitely follows a theme of people who are monsters in some way, from the obvious of an actress who always dons the monster suits in her husband’s movies to a little girl who reaps vengeance upon a sister to people physically disfigured by leprosy. Tenorio’s stories are about people either overcoming the monsters they live with, or how their lives are shaped (and occasionally destroyed) by them. Also, the monster theme isn’t just a one off in each story. You can often find monsters in various forms rearing their heads, giving you a variety to pick from.

In the title story, “Monstress,” there is the leading lady, Reva, who often plays the monster in her husband, Checker’s, movies. There’s also the monster of Hollywood and all of the allure of its lights and fame. Also, there is the monster of Checkers having never made it big as a director himself, even being pushed aside in Manilla because his films are not “Hollywood” enough.

We see the same thing in the story “Brothers.” One brother is seen as a monster because of his decision to become a woman. Throughout the story, Tenorio also shows the mother to be a bit of a monster with her initial treatment of her transgendered son, “friends” from their childhood have moments of monstrousness with how they react to the transgendered brother, and the central character, the other brother, has moments where he seems to be fighting his “inner monster.”

This could also be a collection centered around a meditation on love. All to often, the people who come across as the most monstrous have done something horrible for the sake of love. The love of a sister. The love of another man. The love of a son. Love is bent, corrupted to give its permission to a myriad unloving actions.  In this way it could be placed among many American stories, where love corrupts or is corrupted. For whatever reasons, Bastard out of Carolina comes to mind the quickest. Nearly everyone in the novel loves someone but also uses that love as an excuse to do something horrible. Perhaps this is the most natural direction to take love, at least in art. Love by itself is probably somewhat mundane, outside of the Hallmark Channel. Meanwhile, all of us probably remember doing something stupid for the sake of love, so the idea of a mother using an ace bandage to tightly wrap her son’s fake breasts flat to his chest because she loves him probably shouldn’t be a grimace inducing scene, though it is.  Maybe this is the true definition of monster, though. The corruption of love.
Alright, below this I have brief (very brief) rundowns of each story. They probably aren’t very helpful for you, but they helped me remember plenty. Since I wrote them down, I figure I should just leave them up. So, if you really don’t want any (more) spoilers, don’t keep reading. The rest of you have been warned.

1. Monstress – Manila husband/wfe [checkers/reva] make horror movies, brought to California, by Gaz to finish horror movie using Checker’s monsters. Checker ends up going home, Reva stays and makes a few more movies -all crap. Cutting room floor with Checkers reaching to help Reva up

2. The Brothers = two brothers, one is a transsexual. Dies of asthma attack. family has to come to grips with his life. brother ends up going to other TS’s house at the end, to mourn?
3.Felix Starro – family passes down job of being a faith healer, using Chicken livers/blood to sell their performance. Starro and grandson come to US, Felix makes small fortune that grandkid steals to buy fake documents to move to US.

4.The view from culion – Culion, a leper colony. An American girl is there, sent by her family, one day american GI shows up. He wants to escape, she wants companionship. He gets her to draw again. She tells Peace Corp that he is there against what her superiors tell her. PEace corp takes him away, and she sees that he has leprosy.

5. Superassasin – high school kid lives in dreamworld of being a super hero, enacts “vengeance” on people he feels has wronged him, such as concocting an aerosol spray to horribly burn someone who mistakes it for deoderant.

6. Help – boy and his cousins help their uncle willie attack the Beatles at an airport because they made a remark about Imelda Marcos. When the time comes, not everyone attacks, but then it begins awkwardly until Willie enters the fray. No one ends up getting hurt, Beatles remember it later and the kid feels a bit vindicated by it? proud of it?
7. Save the I Hotel – Fortunado and Vicente are old men living in the I Hotel. Both immigrants, Fortunado is gay and has always had a thing for Vicente. story is of their past, how thye came to live together and how Fortunado betrayed Vicente out of jealousy, getting him and his girlfriend fired (g/f flees back to WIsconsin?). Now, Vicente is kinda out of it, and Fortunado takes care of him and prepares him to be taken from the hotel because the city is tearing it down.

8. L’Amour – family moves to military base in California. One daughter uses younger sister for cover for running off with her boyfriend who knocks her up and then wants nothing to do iwth her. moves back home. family is fucked up. Her sister then starts bleeding, and the younger daughter locks her in and runs off. She gets a street away before turning and going back and seeming to start over.