Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Firestarter -- Stephen King

Holy fuck, did it really take me this long to read a Stephen King novel? I just managed to finish it a couple of days ago, and I picked it up--a long time ago. An embarrassingly long time ago. E's brother was reading it in the bathroom, I flipped through it and realized it had been a long time since I had read it, and I didn't remember it at all, and the language caught me the way it always does in Stephen King novels. It drives me a little nuts--there's something there. There's a talent, there.

The guy can write, fluidly, and he nails the regionalisms and he has good, big ideas--but there's also something missing, that I can't nail down, which gets worse with every book out. His early books, when he's not important enough yet to demand he not be edited, he comes close to that ephemeral something that almost makes him brilliant, though he never quite reaches it. A depth, a subtlety, something. I don't know. But Firestarter started out well, and kind of fell apart in the end without any of the characters achieving any kind of substance or nuance and the storyline never quite came together, and it made me sad, the way his books always do. Maybe that's why it took me so long to read this. That, and the internet is shiny.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Skinny Bitch & Skinny Bitch in the Kitch -- Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

I want to be healthy, and have a body that is pure and good and perfect. I don't want to be told I am fat and disgusting, and that eating flesh is wrong and evil and gross, and be pelted with extremely dubious science. I am prepared to believe that eating organic and eating fresh and natural and avoiding chemicals and sugar is bad for you--no, I totally believe it. But I am not prepared to believe that the only way to be healthy is to become a vegan. This is possibly because I am not prepared to give up butter and cheese and milk and yes, animal flesh. Yes, I am looking into agave nectar, because I have never been comfortable with nutrasweet and I am thinking about giving up soda, because really, it is all chemicals, they're right. But I won't stop taking Midol for my cramps, and I am going to continue to enjoy bloody steak, and I am going to continue to be pissed off that they think it is hip and awesome and cool and in any way okay to call their readers disgusting pigs. Okay? Okay.

Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries -- Alexander McCall Smith

I don't like his other series. The famous one. I'm sorry. I like the main character, who is a woman of substance and very funny. But the books--they're just too gentle and slow-moving and precious and quirky, and it's really hard to keep plowing ahead when I just don't care all that much about the mysteries that don't seem too mysterious.

The Isabel Dalhousie mysteries are--well, pretty much the same. Pretty quiet, the mysteries aren't particularly mysterious, but I like them so much better. They feel more urban, and contemporary. I like the cut of Isabel's jib--she is an ethical philosopher, and there is a lot of speculation about ethical morals and quandries. And she's an older lady who's in love with her niece's ex boyfriend who is 15 years younger, and I am salaciously intrigued. The stories move slowly, the resolutions are not very resolute, and I shouldn't sit and read these back to back, the way I did the first two because the problems with the series will just get larger and make me irritated, but I'll keep picking them up slowly, when I need something light to read.

Lean Mean Thirteen -- Janet Evanovich

The titles in this series just mean less and less, don't they. Not that they ever had much to do with the actual content of the story, really. But they seem less relevant every time. The books also seem less relevant. They are fun, Stephanie is wacky, the men who are inexplicably enamoured of her and her wackiness are all hot and sexy, but--the story isn't moving forward at all. Stephanie remains wacky, has two men and a zany grandma, and has car troubles. I figure Evanovich figures she has a formula that people seem to love, and why mess with it? But it's starting to drive me a little bit fucking batty. So much so that this entry in the series took me over a week to finish, when usually it only takes a couple of hours. TV is shiny! Something better happen next time. That is a plea in vain, I know.

I'm Not the New Me -- Wendy McClure

I read this a long while back--when it first came out. I raced through it, and liked it so much, though I had some questions about the distance of the narrator, which seemed at odds with the kind of book it was. Aren't memoirs supposed to be confessional, I thought?

This time, I read it for the elastic waist book club, and was able to read it more slowly, and I saw the same distance issues, but on second reading, realized what she was doing--really, the book uses that distance deliberately, the disconnect between who she was and who she thought she wanted to be (the new me) and how things don't turn out the way you hope they will, and what you're supposed to actually do about that. Reading it again also let me appreciate the language, which was gorgeous, the metaphors, which were brilliant, and the comedy, which was comical. It is a very funny book, but it's also remarkably touching, thoughtful, penetrating and such a good read. I'm glad I read it a second time.

once more, with feeling

Again, I come back to my book blog. It was a resolution I made, for the new year, because it's always nice to remember that I've read something. For instance, looking back over this page, I was surprised that I had read We Have Always Lived in the Castle really not all that long ago, when it feels like I've loved it for just about ever. I haven't had much time for the reading, since the first of the year, but I did just finish a few books, and that means that probably, if I am going to be good to my word and also brave and strong, I ought to write about those books. If I can remember what they were. Which I shall try to do right this second.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I read a lot on vacation

It was what I did when I wasn't writing (which means it was pretty much the perfect fucking vacation). I have mostly forgotten everything but my very basic reactions to these books (Yay! Boo! What?) but I like to note them down so later, when I forget everything including the names of my grandchildren and what the things on the ends of my legs are called, I can look back fondly on my blog and go "Blargle!" which my nurse will interpret as a cry for more oatmeal. Anyway. See below.

Eat Pray Love

Elizabeth Gilbert

Now, I am very pleased that Elizabeth Gilbert went looking for herself, and also that she not only found herself, but a very nice fellow and a brand new life of global wandering. I am also pleased that she writes eloquently of her experiences, both physical and spiritual. But I am also pleased to roll my eyes at her when she starts wandering off into her tee hee, I am so wacky and fucked up but everyone loves me because I am so beautiful and lovable! tangents. Or maybe I am jealous of her trip. Except for how I hate to travel, mostly. It was still a lovely read, though I am puzzled by the Amazon reviewers who recommend reading this book with a pen and paper, in order to take notes. Come on, people.


Maureen Johnson

This is a young-adult novel about devils and cupcakes and selling your soul. It was surprisingly sophisticated for a YA book, and a little bit ghoulish. Though that could not be surprising at all, considering the fact that I haven't read a YA book since I tossed my embarrassingly comprehensive Sweet Valley High collection.

Under My Roof

Nick Mamatas

This was a funny, fast satire of the political climate. The speed and slickness of the story, which still kept its depth and drama, was impressive and fun. I wish there had been a garden gnome on the cover.

Rose of No Man's Land

Michelle Tea

I hated Rent Girl a lot, though I did admire Michelle Tea for going there, for the most part. And she does it again, just going there and going for it – the most fucked-up, beautiful, outrageous and awful thing that can happen, that is what happens. This is a gonzo kind of fictional memoir of a teenage kid's messed up home life and fucked-up first love, told in an amazing poetry-tough voice that is always spot-on. It is prickly and sad and there's a scene in a tattoo shop that just totally kills me, but the ending is perfect. I almost forgive Tea for Rent Girl.

A Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway

I had no idea the man was so funny. He is hilarious and heartbreaking, and his prose is all muscular and manly, and his story is funny and lovely and makes you wish you were a writer in Paris. Why the fuck am I not a writer in Paris, living on pennies a day? The ending is sad and perfect.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson

This is a beautiful remastered (remastered?) edition, with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem (i.e., the man I loved right up until the point where I realized Fortress of Solitude was a giant steaming pile of tofu). The stuff inside the fancy new cover, though, is amazing. It is an eerie, gripping, nightmarish book with one of the most brilliant unreliable narrators I've ever read – subtle and strange, and once you realize something is going on, totally gripping. I guessed at the ending, but I wanted to keep reading all the way to the end, and I was very sad when it was over. And also I am sad that Shirley Jackson is dead.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

World Leader Pretend

James Bernard Frost

This is a big, ambitious first novel by a guy who attended my MFA program – it was his thesis, originally. So, you know, grad school pride. Hooray!

The book is about a group of gamers who retreat into the virtual reality world in order to escape their real-world problems; real-world problems ultimately intrude, as they do, and their interconnected lives end up being the key.

The style, in the beginning, that I had a real problem with – a seemingly unending stylistic repetitiveness that was meant to be dramatic but drove me slowly mad and made this so hard to plow through – eventually tapers off, and the story becomes absorbing and fast paced. Ultimately, the main character, Xerxes, and his twin, puzzled me. His reality is, in the end (and for most of the middle) far less gripping than the lives of the other characters – I found not a lot of sympathy for a failed dotcommer, and did not find him nearly as special or interesting as his twin sister seemed to, especially compared to the lives of the young, fierce girl stuck in Thailand, the paraplegic boy, the guy stationed in Antarctica. Xerxes' difficulties come across as self-absorption, which ends up being less than compelling.

But in the end, Frost pulls it all together in an admirable way, there are some interesting surprises, and the book ultimately works.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fool Moon

Jim Butcher

So this was bad. Not fun bad, or entertaining bad, or trashy bad, but just bad. Boy howdy, do I hate the main character, who I continually wanted to punch in the face. I think he is supposed to be macho and tough and outrageously cool and isn't awesome how principled and awesome he is? Except it isn't, because he is irritating and preachy and snotty and full of himself, and I hate him and the story went on forever and he kept being an asshole, and when he dresses so badly and acts so poorly and is so irritating, how does he get insanely beautiful women to love him? I think the answer, my friends, is Mary fucking Sue.

I'm going to give one more of these a try, before I throw up my hands in disgust, but I do not have high hopes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Stolen Child

Keith Donohue

The interconnected stories of a changeling who steals the life of a boy, and the boy who becomes a faery in his place. It was a strangely subdued and quiet book, well-written and often moving, but there is a surface gloss to the story that kept me from really understanding the undercurrents, what Donohue was trying to say about a child's place in a family, growing up, feeling alienated, especially parents dealing with damaged children. In the last third of the book, you start to get a little bit of that, and then it is over, and you've got a story that was somehow deflating.

The book's gotten a lot of attention and good reviews, however, so maybe I am missing something.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Storm Front

Jim Butcher

I used to read romance novels, until I could no longer stand the formulas. I got cynical! Or maybe just bored. I kept reading them for a few years, but with hate in my heart, because I have a need for junk food kind of reading, sometimes. And I like to punish myself, apparently.

Then, I found the paranormal genre – ever so slightly different from sci-fi or fantasy, usually mystery stories with a kickass protagonist, using magic or being magical or paranormal to beat the bad guys and Have! Exciting! Adventures! They are silly books, but they are fun, and usually a lot smarter than the romances I used to read (with the exception of Crazy Laurell K).

So I keep looking for new authors and series to read, while the authors I’ve already found get their asses in gear and write a new damn book, already. I ran into the Harry Dresden series about a year ago, but didn’t pick them up because I was into the girls kicking ass genre of paranormal books. Then the SciFi channel series showed up, and I started hearing about how the books-are-so-much-better, and I finally broke down and picked up the first book in the series.

It’s got the mystery, the magic, the ass-kicking protagonist, the absorbing, quick-reading thing I want in a junkfood book. It’s also incredibly masculine-feeling. Mr. Harry Dresden is an old-fashioned chauvinist, all the women are described, fashion-and-beauty-wise from head to toe, and it was just masculine, in its attitudes and outlook. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something that surprised me. Though I guess it shouldn’t have, seeing as the book was written by a man named “Jim Butcher.” That is a very manly name.

I liked this, and it was fun and fast and Butcher did a remarkable job of setting up an incredibly rich backstory for Harry that was never entirely explicated, which sets up a lot of material for the upcoming books. Which I think I’ll be picking up. It is exciting to have a new series to plow through.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moscow to the End of the Line

Venedikt Erofeev

I’ve studied Latin American authors in school, back when I was young and innocent, and then later when I was old and less innocent, and somewhere in there was triggered a love for the magical realism that is so often a hallmark of those writers. And I went around thinking that they had the market cornered on the peculiarly imaginative, flight of fancy style of writing that makes me so happy. Why didn’t any one tell me about modern Russian literature?

It could be that modern Russian literature is not, in fact, characterized by surrealism and the beautiful profane, and that I have simply lucked into two Russian authors who are similar in their approach to the novel (i.e., exploding it in one way or the other). So I will test my theory, in the future.

In the meantime, I loved Moscow to the End of the Line. It is the story of a man, drunk and heartsick, traveling to see his lover and his child. It’s a monologue about culture and history, music, art, literature, politics and the Russian soul. It gets stranger and more surreal as the narrator gets drunker and drunker, and abruptly plummets back to earth at the end. It is hilarious and weird and sad, a tiny little book that feels much bigger than it actually is.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hart & Boot & Other Stories

Tim Pratt

Oh, this was so good. A collection of stories that is imaginative, weird and fun in the way that something extra-imaginative and inventive can be. Tim is creating his own mythologies, and in that way I can see why he is compared to Neil Gaiman, but the writing styles are so different – Tim’s is much more straightforward and frank, I think, and I was thinking about how he generally likes a happy ending, which I am so down with, until I got to Tyrant in Love because whoa.

Rarely, I like every story in a collection – this time I liked every story, and loved some in particular. Living with the Harpy is Tim believing in happy endings; Hart and Boot has one of my favorite endings ever and showcases his strong female leads; Dream Engine was weird and marvelous, and Cup and Table just blew me away – spectacularly epic, such a good last line. And his author photo cracked me up.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

Lewis Buzbee

A tiny book about the history of books and booksellers, and also about the history of the author and his love for books. Though sometimes he falls into a didactic, sweeping narrative when he is over on the history side of things, in the memoir sections the voice is lovely and eloquent, and if you love books and you are down with bookstores, you'll nod your head as you read along.

The Sweetheart Season

Karen Joy Fowler

It's taken me a couple of days to write anything about this book, because I'm not sure exactly what to say about it. I liked it very much as I read it – it seems to be a slow-paced meditation on small town life, and what it is like to be a woman after World War II, and it was written in a lovely way and was interesting and seemed to go on forever, but that was okay, because it was nice. And I loved the idea of a narrator telling the story of another person's life, the imaginative I voice, which is something I did in my own book but not entirely successfully so it is exciting to see it work

But then I got to the ending, very last paragraph, the whiplash, the lightning rod, the beautiful black and vicious humor of it, the supernatural strangeness and brilliance of it, and I became sorely, deeply disappointed. The book should have been half as long; the book should have had twice as much of that feeling and emotion behind it as the ending. I had the feeling it was meant to be, behind the surface, delivering as powerful a message as the final paragraph does, but if it did – I missed it somewhere in the slow and steady pace of the plot.

Maybe I would have hated a book with a message. But I think Fowler could have done it without making it a clonking mess. I would have liked a book with more passion and fire, for sure – half the time, the main character, Irini, she did not seem accessible at all. She was distant and hard to know, which is ironic, given that she was the viewpoint character the narrator, her daughter, chooses to use.

I still think I am become a fan of Fowler and her sharpness and imagination and her ability to evoke an era and the loveliness of her language.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mistral's Kiss

Laurell K. Hamilton

Laurell K. Hamilton is one of those authors I read because she is laughably, screamably bad, and for some reason I – enjoy that? I guess I do, because I keep reading her. I have long since stopped providing her money for her already-stuffed pockets which inflates her crazy-insane head inside of which her rat-shaped, slimy-scaled red-eyed ego skitters and picks its nose and shrieks obscenities at the people who don't "get" her awesomeness because we are so not smart enough, you know? It's too much for us. The library, she is a beautiful thing.

Anyway! So I read them because I totally like to challenge myself with poorly-written trash. And I was startled to find that while it is still a trashy, easy, read-in-a-couple-hours kind of book, this was not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. I know!

There was, of course, the endless parade of "dirty" sex magic and biting and things, but there was an astonishingly small amount of everyone standing around and discussing their next move, and the choreography was not nearly as awkward as it usually is, and though there were the usual "OMG WE LOVE THE HEROINE SHE IS SO GRATE AND TOTALLY PERFEX0R" moments – there was action, and the plot advanced, and the book was short, and I closed it, completely surprised that I had enjoyed it with a minimum amount of rolling my eyes and sniggering. Enjoying is probably the wrong word. It had passed some time in a nearly pleasant way. So my thought is that I have gotten dumber, or LKH might be getting smarter. I think probably I'm dumb.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

You Suck: A Love Story

Christopher Moore

I hated Bloodsucking Fiends when I first read it – oh my god, is it really 11 years ago? Good christ. Anyway. The characters were hateful, the comedy was not very comedic, and I could tell the San Francisco Moore was writing about was a big imaginary San Francisco he was making up in his head even though at that point I hadn't even been to San Francisco -- there was just a sense of amorphous lies about the whole setting. The book was amorphous and kind of irritating, and it was a major disappointment after Coyote Blue, which was complex, and funny and weird and hilarious in a way Bloodsucking Fiends just never was.

So You Suck is a sequel about the vampires from Fiends and it is, generally, about as complex and nuanced as its title. Jody and Tommy are slightly less hateful – possibly because Tommy develops something of a personality and the major inequality in their relationship, which was squirmingly painful in the first book, is balanced out somewhat. Much of the plot is telegraphed early on, the goth girl who becomes their minion is Moore's opportunity to make very dumb jokes about goth teens and woe, the pain, and the ending is not particularly satisfying, but I liked this anyway, because it is Christopher Moore, and usually, even when he is not great, he is good, and engrossing, a fast and smart and fun read. Except for Bloodsucking Fiends, and also Fluke.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sister Noon

Karen Joy Fowler

Oh, I loved this. It was strange and mysterious and folding and unfolding like origami and moving through time and as unreliable as memory. There were hints of the speculative and the weird, and though nothing was ever really resolved fully, I was completely satisfied. That surprises me, because I really kind of didn't care that much about The Jane Austen Book Club.

Book Club was a very nice book and hooray Austen, but I didn't find it nearly as delectable and charming and delightful and quirky and eat it up num as everyone else in the history of the world apparently did now please be quiet. Now that I know Fowler has such a subtle and skilled touch and an imagination I envy, and does not need to write love stories to be fascinating and wonderful, I am even more disappointed in Book Club, retroactively, and I am sure she'd be bereft to hear that.

I am going to pick up the other copies of her earlier books that we have got in the library, and I think I will be very pleased.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Three Junes

Julia Glass

This book was recommended to me by a friend who said it has a great sense of place, and that my own book needs a sense of one of those, so I should read this.

And having read it, I agree that it does have a very nice sense of place, and it is a very nice book with many sad things in it, and the structural concept – that it covers three pivotal Junes in the lives of interconnected characters – is a lovely one. Especially since I spent years vaguely assuming the book was about three ladies named June who did things in Ireland somewhere. Which is not what it is about.

The novel has that familiar leisurely, delicate pacing that tends to distinguish literary fiction. It is a book about relationships, and it slows down in step with the rhythm of its characters. But while I was struck by some of the language in the book, and many of the vignettes were quite beautiful on their own, much of the story, many of the characters (many of whom I kept confusing, because they all had names that started with the same letters as all of the other characters, and that was deeply irritating) were not entirely worth that endless meandering. The characters were often flawed and fallible, and that should have been interesting and engaging except often, I found myself impatient with them, and impatient with the author and the quibbles I had with the book – sentences that should have been rewritten, a baby who shows up out of nowhere, contradictions that should have been caught in the copy editing.

The ending, though, was lovely and remarkable and touching, and that is, in the end, what left me with a generally positive feeling about this book, though no desire to read her next.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Shadow of the Wind sounded intriguing when I read all about it on 50 books - I wanted something frothy and not brain-hurty, because lately, my brain hurts and I am stupid like a sack full of puddings with extra raisins. Also, I cry a lot. Anyway, it sounded like it fit the bill, and it was on the shelf of my library, so I snatched it up and ran away with it.

It is translated from the Spanish, but it keeps that flavor of Spanish – the very lovely and evocative, big and blowsy language combined with the totally profane ordinary everyday and it was a style that had me rolling my eyes a little bit now and again, but sometimes thinking that I would like to steal that turn of phrase, especially the one about dragging a shadow behind her like a bridal veil. That ruled.

The story, though – it is about a boy who finds a book, is fascinated by the mysterious author of said book, and ends up stumbling into (don't all characters in books do a lot of stumbling into?) a heartbreaking story of violence and loss that ends up affecting him as well. Great! Except the story just inched its damn way along the backstory that affects the frontstory and it felt alternately boring and frustrating and then intriguing and then boring again, and I took long breaks between my reading sessions for things like staring out the bus windows and being awesome. So then of course I forgot a lot of what was going on (see above, re: sack of puddings) and I got irritated by the way I was never ever going to know what was going on.

So at one point in the middle of this irritation, I decided I was done, and the book would remain forever unfinished, but then I flipped forward, read a little bit of juicy gossip, and raced through the rest of the book on my lunch break and a little while after, back at my desk, and sniffled a little at the ending, and was a little angry because suddenly one character was the savior of the major characters, what? That character did hardly anything but sniffle a lot. Shut the fuck up.

Anyway. I think if I had had a better attention span and was less like a sack of puddings with extra raisins in, I would have raced through this book more quickly and have enjoyed it more for that. And I might not have noticed how all the female characters swan around being beaten and wrecked by their love of a man and that their entire existences were based on the men in their lives. But maybe not.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Heinlein x6

For some reason, back in December, I got a bug up my butt, and decided I wanted to reread some of the Robert Heinlein books I had already read and re-read several dozen dozen times over the course of my life. When I moved, I had given away all my Heinlein books, except for the hardcopy of Stranger in a Strange Land which had belonged to my mother (and which was the impetus for her bad trip in college, in which she felt she was drowning in a glass of water).

I checked my library's catalog though, and lo! We have The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and The Number of the Beast. I borrowed them, devoured them, reread my copy of Stranger, picked up a copy of Glory Road at Black Oak, found at Green Apple copies of I Will Fear No Evil with a really creepy cover and Job: A Comedy of Justice with the cover I remember, and I read them all in the course of a couple of days, and I was left a little sad, which I think happened to me the last time I read him.

When I was growing up, I remembered him as deliciously dangerous and subversive, brilliant and groundbreaking with so many excellently cool ideas that should have changed the world and lives. Now, he seems to me like a weird old creepy man with, nonetheless, a talent and a hell of a lot of opinions.

I had forgotten that Number and The Cat collapse from adventure stories into his weird Lazarus Long Future Utopia Happy Sex and Smartness fantasies; Stranger is nice in theory, but also appallingly hippie like and a little creepy; Glory Road and Job are flat-out fun stories with important scathing subtext instead of Messages; and I Will Fear No Evil is just flat-out fucking weird, though I have a soft spot for it, for no reason than I can articulate.

I have not yet shaken the Heinlein bug, and I am sure I will be off hunting in used bookstores for awhile yet.

Friday, June 16, 2006

books I have read

a list by me, Jen

Ages ago I read it, and forgot to mention it. The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, by a guy with whom, on Saturday, I had tapas (and also his wife – hey, what's it like to live with him, man?). But I am not biased! Maybe a little biased. But also, I am not dumb. I read it in about a sitting and a half. I had some pacing issues with it, particularly around the ending, and I got grumpy with Marzi for going ahead and just assuming that Lindsay was in love with her, because that's just rude. And maybe a little self-involved. I think a deeper sense of menace and apocalypse – a darker sensibility – would have benefited his themes and the story greatly, but overall, when you get right down to it, it is a book about a badass girl who has strange adventures and I am so down with that. It is fun, and imaginative, and funny. Much like Mr. Tim. It is good to have talented friends.

Also I read Micah by that crazy bitch, Laurell K. Hamilton. It was pretty much a short story typographically padded out to be paperback novel length. It did not neither of the things she so likes to do very well at all – there was very little sex, which, you know, thank god because she's gotten a little bit off her rocker with the "crazy" "supernatural" "sex" in her last fifty seven books. And there was very little of the Anita is a badass federal marshal story that I used to like in her early books. The big problem was that it was slight, but had exactly the same amount of "every one loves Anita Blake" (who happens to look so strangely exactly like that author photo on the back of the book) yammering and weird clunky choreography that she is so bad at that her full size novels have. Despite the fact that Micah has an enormous giganto-penis that has caused him a great deal of psychological trauma and Anita is really whiny and irritating, despite all the eye-rolling I did, it made my train ride home on Saturday night just fly by. So she's got that going for her. Or I just enjoy being annoyed.

I loved Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, extremely a lot. I read it a bunch of years ago, and always thought I'd keep up with his career, but I never quite managed that. But then I found Welcome to Higby in the reshelving area of my library, and I recognized the name and got excited and picked it up. It's a story about the intersecting lives of a bunch of Southern small town residents, and it is amusing and sweet-natured, has an overarching theme that I was slightly too stupid to get until after I was finished and paged through and noticed that those biblical quotes at the beginning of each chapter seemed to actually have something to do with the story, and maybe I shouldn't have skipped them automatically. It made the story pull together, in the aftermath, far more than it had been while I was reading it. It is a story of quirky people doing crazy quirky things and it never got too ridiculously twee and gimmicky, but sometimes I did wonder where the fuck he was going with it. And then I found out. So if you read it, don't skip those bible bits. They are Deep.

Kelly Link is imaginative and writes some gorgeous prose, and some of that gorgeous prose is in Stranger Things Happen, which are stories in which stranger things do happen, and they happen lyrically and sometimes amusingly and sometimes funnily, and sometimes just confusingly, which for me was the weakness of the book. I think she sometimes relied too heavily on the strangeness carrying the story, rather than finding an internal logic that did not necessarily have to be satisfying, but had to satisfy the story, if that makes any sense. But these are early stories, and a first collection. I still loved nearly all the stories, and am waiting anxiously for her second collection to come out in paperback.

In news of books I put down, first was The fucking Accidental, the quirky voice of which filled me with so much rage that I had to stop myself from throwing it across the room. I took a deep breath, and checked forward, and saw that the quirkiness appeared to continue unabated, and I could no longer stand to deal with it and I had reached the very end of my patience and I did not throw the book anywhere because it would be a library book, and that would be rude.

Secondly, I think I have mentioned that I love Jonathan Safran Foer, and how I felt that Everything is Illuminated was deeply flawed, but a really amazing book. So I thought that I'd really love Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, because even though it's an incredibly touchy subject, I thought he could handle it with grace and aplomb and make something amazing out of it. But again, there was that aggressively quirky fucking voice, and a lot of talk about boots being heavy, and god, shut up with the heavy boots and some weirdness that felt self-conscious, and then there were fucking pictures from September 11th that had no business being in a book and it made me angry and I had to put it down very, very firmly.

And that is all I remember reading in the past four months. I've read more than that, surely I have. But those are what stick out. Go me!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

reading is totally mental

This is the problem, when you do not write promptly about the things you have been reading. You sit down to make a list of them so you can pound through one by one, sharing your important thoughts and your vital feelings about Literature and Life, and then you realize you can't remember a goddamn thing you read in the past month, though you know you read things because that is what you do, with the things and the reading them, and there were books and there was a little bit of hate and you always enjoy to remember the things you hate because that is the kind of blackened lump of charcoaled muscle and sinew you carry around in your chest, except that you can't remember anything because life, of late, has been Very Busy.

But you press on, because you are tough and brave like that, and you sweat and toil and close your eyes and think very, very hard, and this is the list you come up with:

  1. Clarence Major – One Flesh
  2. Mr. Maybe
  3. Uh.
  4. Archer's Goon!
  5. Something something.
  6. Fuck.

And you're a little ashamed of yourself.

Also, did I finish reading The Knives in My Ass? I did not. Because I am very busy and important! And despite the way I like things that are hateful, I did not have the energy to spend five hundred pages both reading and composing rhyming ballads of loathing to Robert Jordan in my soul.

Monday, January 23, 2006

the geek is not strong in this one

Against my better judgment, I went and borrowed a copy of The Knives of Your Mom or whatever the latest book is, in the never-ending, horribly endless Wheel of Time series, beloved and or hated by geeks the world over.

The whole series started out really good, got better, briefly became great, and then slid downhill with a rapidity that was breathtaking. The series is up to book a hundred and forty three, and I find I care less and less as each one comes out, and I did not understand a good three damn quarters of what the fuck was going on in the last two or three both because I did not exactly retain the increasingly intricate intricacies of the plot and I resolved that I wasn’t reading this stupid series any more, because I don’t care about stupid Rand and woolheads and Light this and Darkfriend that and yank on this, Nynaeve, or I’ll wrap your stupid braid around your stupid throat.


But I stumbled over a copy of the newest in a book store, and the really, really horrible cover art, in which the artist consistently produces people who look kind of like insanely disproportional retarded hunchback midget chimps, made me nostalgic, and I ordered it from interlibrary loan and it came, and I was excited to get it, and then I opened the brick and started to read it and realized I had no idea who any one was or why I cared about them or who I was, and hey! this isn’t backgammon! I tried to read a synopsis of the series so far that I found online, but I still had no idea what was going on. And it is a heavy, heavy book.

With a sinking feeling, I realize that if I want to read this stupid thing, I’m probably going to have to devote some study time beforehand. Study time! Like it is fucking Ulysses. That is clearly just wrong and bad. But I still found myself bookmarking the websites that have got chapter by chapter recountings of each of the books in the series, for slow moments at work when I just go ahead and lose my goddamn mind.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The People of Paper

Salvador Plascencia

I couldn’t do it. It is meant to be startling and original and daringly hypertextual, typographical, marvelous and weird, and I am meant to have loved it and been astounded by it, according to the reviews, but I fucking hated this, and I had to stop reading. I actually had to make myself stop reading it. I realized I was hating it and dreading picking it back up, and it took a lot of talking-to, to make myself admit that I was a grownup who didn’t have to finish anything I don’t want to finish, and which makes me so unhappy.

It made me so unhappy. I hated the typographical gimmicks, and I hated the gimmicky characters who were mechanically propelled by faux postmodern, cheap-ass attempts at magical realist “whimsy” and bullshit, instead of a true-feeling, true-sounding voice. Plascencia was far too involved with his shtick to worry about his characters, and it shows. I tried to keep reading it, and it just continued to infuriate me with its ridiculous, self-conscious posturing. Finally, I put it down and I walked away.

But I have to wonder what I am missing, and if there is anything wrong with me, when I read the glowing reviews.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Belton Estate

Anthony Trollope

This may well be the first Trollope I have ever picked up, and I began reading it without expectations, and without any recollection of ever learning anything of him or his work, and feeling a little bit ashamed about that, in the way that you do when you stumble on what seems like a big gap in your head.

This was a strange little book – it was reaching towards instructive, and I think it was meant to be quietly revolutionary, with its independent and violently strong-minded heroine who is so clearly a better person than the man she’s supposed to be in love with, who is not interested in musty and uptight societal mores and follows her heart and all that good stuff that feels so modern.

But then it all comes screeching to a halt and the book, and the thought behind the book, feels exactly as old fashioned as you’d expect, and the exciting subversion of patriarchal notions you had been reading into the subtext turns out to have just been an illusion. This is fine if you go in expecting an artifact, but disconcerting when you find you are not exactly sure what your footing is, and what stance you’re meant to take with the text. It was jarring, the swerving forward and back, trying to decide exactly where Trollope was going.

Clara, our strong minded heroine, suddenly falls into a state of despair and lamentation and does not shut the fuck up about being the most woeful person to ever walk the earth, her strong-mindedness starts to come across as idiot pig-headedness, but her eventual submission makes you want to slap her, and the ending, which is telegraphed a million miles ahead takes a million years to arrive and is exactly as predictable as you thought it would be all along, and the ending suddenly swerves into broad and clumsy comedy for no good reason.

But you know, maybe surprisingly, I liked the book. Trollope’s writing is subtle (except for the ending), his psychological insight interesting, his characters strong and well-drawn. The book infuriated me as much as it engaged me, and vice versa, and I think that makes it successful.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Rachel Caine

This is book 4 of the Weather Warden series, and I’m a little surprised by how much I am enjoying a series called “Weather Warden.” They are slippery-quick fantasy action things, with a heroine who’s all tough and hot, and action! adventure! shit blowing up! Wry wisecracks! More explosions! The wry asides get really old, sometimes, but you go flying through the book because Caine is good at putting together an adventure plot, with some pretty wicked slick writing.

What is also pretty awesome about this series of books is that there is no preserving of the status quo – situations shift, frequently in a radical way, and there is no counting on anything.

What is seriously not awesome about this particular book in the series is the way the author wrote herself into a corner, so that the entire novel was the heroine needing to solve a problem, but not being allowed to solve it until the end, so as to create the dramatic climax, but which resulted in an entire book of her dicking around and me going “why the fuck aren’t you doing anything? Why are you sitting around acting all dumb and weak! Jesus Christ!”

So there was a lot of action in this book, and stuff happening, but Joanne, our Hot Tough Heroine, was mostly being acted upon, instead of acting, and that was just plain irritating.

However, the ending sets up something pretty cool for the next book, and of course sent me to the Official Website to see when it comes out, which isn’t soon enough.

best of what?

Lots of people making best of and worst of lists, and I am making sad faces, because I don't remember. I don't remember what I read this year, and what was good (though I remember that Middlemarch was really, really good) and what was bad (except that I can recall how very, very bad Written on the Body was), and what I read at all.

I have a terrible, terrible memory, anyway, terrible enough that I spend a good sixty percent of my life convinced I am senile, alzheimeric, or there is something wrong with me and my head and when I am dead at 35 they will saw open my skull and find a giant throbbing tumor where a brain should have been. The other forty percent I spend on candy.

So letting the book list go for awhile, this year, was fatal, and all those books I read (which, now that I try to think about it, and get white searing pains across the backs of my eyeballs, seems to have not been so much an "all those books." I think I read a lot of Georgette Heyer, and a whole lot of nothing, otherwise. Intellectual!) are gone forever down a dark black hole, never to return. Though I can reread them with impunity!

So I'm going to try and do a better job of keeping a book list this year. I think I say that every year. But we'll see how it goes.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Charity Girl

Georgette Heyer

Back to the Heyer I know and love. Charming, though surprisingly brief, a heroine I liked a lot, an ending that wasn't immediately telegraphed, collision courses with wackiness. Not my favorite of all of them, but a pleasure to read, fast and fun.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

An Infamous Army

Georgette Heyer

This is pretty unlike any Heyer novel I've ever read, except for Cousin Kate, which was just, despite an engaging hero and an heroine I liked, freaking weird. Infamous Army takes on Waterloo, and is, in consequence, remarkably dense and serious and prosy and chewy and historical, which are all the things I read Heyer to take a break from.

It is Heyer, though, so the writing is excellent, and often lovely, and the characters are brilliant, but the problem is that there are two narratives here, which conflict with each other oddly in tone and temperament. The story of the battle, before and after, is the backbone of the book, and takes up most of the last third of the book. These scenes are incredibly detailed and so not particularly fast-paced, but in Heyer's hands they stay fairly lively and interesting.

The only problem is when the scenes devolve to impersonal minutia. For the most part, she personalizes the war, setting up touchstone characters we care about, to give the reader some leverage inside the chaos. But she can't always pin the story to the characters, and in those pages (and pages and pages) there is a great and overwhelming urge to flip ahead.

The rest of the novel involves the social scene in Brussels (I wanted to write "whirl," there, but that would have been weird. Though it was pretty whirly), and the stormy relationship between two star crossed lovers (I didn't backspace "stormy" against my better judgment. Because it really was stormy! And they really were star-crossed). They are great characters, and I may be making it sound floofy and dumb, but it was as delicate and fun and light as anything Heyer has ever written, and so made for a bizarre kind of contrast to the heavy like bricks subject matter of the rest of the novel.

She almost just barely manages to pull it off – she documents the shift in tone in the town and manages to tie the story lines together in a satisfyingly parallel well, but when it was all war, war, war, I found myself impatient to get back to the two crazy kids.

Still, it's a good book, if a little strange in tone, though a bear to sludge through. Took me a surprisingly long time to finish.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I'm Not the New Me

Wendy McClure

So ages ago I meant to write about Wendy McClure's I'm Not the New Me,, which is mostly marketed as a memoir about weight loss but is, really, more a memoir about starting a website about losing weight.

That's why I liked it, I think – McClure's personality is biting and smart, the opposite of sentimental, and you can see that she'd do anything in the world to avoid being twee, and you like her for that. You like the way she thinks about her life in relation to the weirdness of having a website about her body, her attitude toward the losing weight, her outlook in general, her self-consciousness about the weight loss, the website, the book that not so much evolved from the website but was inspired by.

There is a distance, though, in that acerbicness and that unwillingness to look stupid even while she shows a readiness to make fun of herself and the whole business before anyone else can, an emotional reticence which seems odd in a memoir, which keeps you at a distance while you read. You like the narrator, you root for her and her relationships, but there's a cageyness that keeps you from getting entirely involved.

But it was funny, and parts were moving despite the distance, and the writing is sharp and good and sometimes great and often hilarious.

And I kind of loved this incarnation of the website-to-paperback – instead of trying to awkwardly fictionalize, or reprinting and expanding essays from the site, or writing things that are similar to what you'd find on the site, it is actually the story of the website itself, and that is a really interesting choice and makes for a kind of cool book.

McClure is pretty careful to explain how the web thing works, and personal online journals and blogs and Journalcons and things, but thinking about it now, way out from the actual reading of it, like, three months ago, I wonder how much it would actually mean or resonate to anyone who is not already fairly familiar with the phenomenon – they'd be more interested in the weightloss and life and love portion of the book, I'd imagine, and I am not sure how much it stands up as that kind of memoir.

Monday, September 12, 2005


The copy of Nimrod International Journal (which I keep wanting to spell "Innernational," probably because that's exactly how I pronounce it) that has with my story in it, it has arrived in my mailbox. It's very pretty. Also, I never knew my name was so pretty. Especially when it's below the title of a story which I made up. The story and the title both. In print. It's very nice, and I have rubbed it on my bosom, because that is the whole point of getting published.

It's not out in stores yet, but if you should like a copy, which you can rub anywhere you like, email me with your address. It'll be about six bucks. And I will take all of the six buckses, and match them, and then donate them to the AFL-CIO's Union Community Fund.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

the "internet book" edition

Somehow, of late, I went on an Internet Book spree, and read more or less back to back four books that were written as offshoots to blogs or companions to blogs or by people who write blogs or in some way were blog and or internet related. There's this whole synergy thing happening, with writers and the internet and writers on the internet and magical books that emerge from the internet by writers who wrote and or write on the internet. You may have heard of it. It's all crazy.

I did not, deliberately and with great care, choose a theme for my recent reading, but it was there, and who ignores serendipity? Certainly not me, because I am not a communist. So see below.

Internet Book #3: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Cory Doctorow

This is somehow related to the internet. Because, uh, he has a blog? And he posted the book online? And he's got an online presence? Something. So it's not related to the internet in the same way the other books I've read are directly related to personal sites and personal writing, fine. Fine! I didn't want to mess up a perfectly good theme, okay? Okay.

So this is a good old-fashioned science-fiction, except it's not exactly old-fashioned, and it's pretty hilarious, and I would call it post-modern, if I had any idea, any more, what postmodern is supposed to mean.

It feels like a punk kid's satire of your standard "this is what the future will become!" kind of re-imagining, except that it also seems totally serious, and he seems to love his subject, and his world, his future. It's a fast and fun and incredibly imaginative read, and even though I do not generally point to the sci-fi zone on the spec fic scale, I liked it immensely.

Internet Book # 2 -To the Last Man I Slept with and All the Jerks Just Like Him

Gwen Zepeda

This is a collection of memoir kinds of pieces, personal essays and short stories and cartoons and, you know, things. It's animated by Gwen's viciously powerful voice, her sharp opinions, her reality kind of, and it is at its best when it is not reproducing or rewriting entries she's posted her website, or her slightly strange and slightly rough stories, but when she's telling her own personal story.

It started strong, and powerful and like a memoir, and it was a pleasure to read, and then it seemed to become reprints or rewrites from her website, and then it became short stories which were, at their best, really imaginative and at their worst, not particularly compelling.

She's funny and she's candid and she's fierce and she's angry and her voice is really amazing, when she harnesses it. But this felt disappointingly like a mishmash – like she was scrambling to get material together when she was offered a book contract. I would have preferred something not safely homogeneous, no, but something with some kind of internal logic, some kind of organizing principle that made sense. Maybe that is a weird thing to want from a book. Maybe it is weird to want someone to have given you their life story.

Her next project is a novel and I am looking forward to that, because while I was really frustrated with this book and its jumping and flailing and uneveness, I am a fan of her voice.

Internet book #1 – Tales from the Scale

The first of these turned out to be Tales from the Scale, put together by Erin Shea. I would not have bought it if a friend of mine, who is mo pie, had not been one of the writers – it's the kind of book that ordinarily makes me itch. It's calling itself a self-help book, and it's a collection of personal essays about women who are weighing in "on Thunder Thighs, Cheese Fries, and Feeling Good…at Any Size" and that, plus the picture on the cover, with the legs and the scale and the hilariously monogrammed towel and the pun - get it? WEIGHING IN? HA! - would have sent me flying away from it, probably laughing hysterically.

I was also kind of deeply unsure about the whole idea of tapping weight loss bloggers to provide essays that were more or less exactly the kind of essays you were going to find on their websites already. And reading informal personal essay after informal personal essay after informal personal essay about being fat and how sad it all was sounded – daunting. Daunting is a good word.

But my friend mo is a talented writer, and I was proud she was tapped for this, and I thought she would rise above and beyond the whole weird concept, and so I picked it up, and I read it pretty quickly and steadily, even though it was really, really embarrassing to carry around.

And so. It remains a really weird concept. I do not see where the self-help comes in. I am not sure why Erin is listed as the author and gets the acknowledgements page and her face on the back and the hilarious towel monogramming, when she is only one of the essayists in this book, and hers are among the least compelling, frequently feeling somewhat overdramatic and a little bit pretentious.

The book doesn't hang together as a book, the categories the book is divided into seem arbitrarily assigned, and I'm not sure, again, what the point was, but these women, who are writing their stories with an admirable kind of honesty (which you note on their individual websites! And for free!) are engaging and smart and you feel for them.

I found I liked these people who were struggling, and I identified with some parts of their stories and furrowed my brow at other parts and sometimes, the stories seemed distressingly similar (though the voices rarely ever were – particularly mo's and shauna's and robyn's). And I was pleased that I can continue to be proud of being mo's friend, and not have to mumble polite inanities when I talk to her about her book, because her essays were terrific. They stood out for their sense of humor and her amazing attitude, and also for the way she said that tits are a fat girl's ace in the hole which is so true and because she is positive and also funny. Go, mo.

Overall, I think this is another example of how translating from the internet into print form can go horribly, terribly wrong, which is a shame, because I really wanted to like it, and not be totally befuddled by it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

it's a Major Award!

But it is not electric sex glowing softly in the window. It is this. Look at me, in second place. That's fancy. It's got money in. I was going to spend it all on shoes, but then I bought a laptop.

So I am kind of over the moon. And wanting also to hide under my chair, because the rest of the business involves being flown to Tulsa for the weekend and being put in a hotel, taking part in an awards ceremony and a reading, and then sitting on a panel, and THEN, leading a workshop. And then, promptly expiring. Scary stuff.

No no, loved ones say. It's exciting! It's an Opportunity. This is glorious and good! Woo for public speaking! And then, they do the football dance.

Fine, I say. You go.

So it's cool and groovy, and the awards issue with my story in is coming out in September, and I have until then to get a whole new personality and lose a hundred pounds. Plenty time. Rock.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Final Solution: A Story Of Detection

Michael Chabon

This was a short and melancholy book, sharp and precise and thoroughly enjoyable, about obscurity and aging, terrible things that can happen and things that help us cope. It felt quaint and formal, in a sense mimicking the age it was set it. There was a brief section that was jarring in the sudden clumsiness of the language – it is noticeable in a book this small – but otherwise, it was as good as Chabon always is.

my book, by me, jen: part ii

I have been writing by the seat of my pants. I’ve been fiddling with writerly things like point of view, structure, and awesomeness. I had some total blanking on what the fuck I was going to do next, after 25 pages, and then I had a Flash of Inspiration and I had my next bit of plot, and that was cool. Cool! I am enjoying writing this thing in a way I did not enjoy the first book I wrote, dragging it up out of the muck word by word, painfully and unhappily. I want to write this. It sits in my head, where I think about it. This feels good.

Coming Through Slaughter

Michael Ondaatje

This is a novel and it is also a detective story and a totally fictional all-true biography, and it is cinematic and poetic and dramatic and hard to understand and then completely illuminating. Another short book that feels completely compact, no words wasted. Pretty astonishing, and a whole lot of heartbreaking.

coming down slowly

Toasts and drinks bought and total patience with “Do you want to read the letter? Where they said they want me? Do you want to read it?” and congratulations and a bottle of champagne bought just for me, my god, and dinner out and more patience with my general overthemooness. I have the most excellent people in my life.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

up, coming

I had that story I sent out everywhere, which has been rejected everyplace. Except, now, for here. Upcoming Fall issue, I think. I've been bursting into intermittent tears.

It is funny, the way I almost threw out the return envelope, when I saw how fast they got back to me.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sprig Muslin

Georgette Heyer

I think I am working towards reading Heyer's entire catalog. Which is fine with me so far, because three books in, I am enjoying her immensely. You know, I keep running across links that refer to Heyer as a romance novelist, but I don't think that is true at all. Her books are nowhere near as one-dimensional and predictable as romances are.

These are light books with elements of romance, but Heyer's got a lot more depth and interest than calling her a romance novelist would suggest.

This was a little less satisfying than the first two, because the primary relationship slash conflict that kicks off the book was backburnered entirely too much for my taste, in favor of a madcap adventure plot that made me very much like the male half of the primary relationship, but which left all of the evolution of that relationship off the page, and the female half kind of an affable mystery.

There was also the startling and obnoxious cliché of the headstrong beautiful girl who needs a strong and caring man to take her in hand, and that left me sort of gaping, and yet, it was easy to dismiss it as of its time, a quaint relic.

That said, the characters were as engaging and well-drawn as ever, and Heyer is wonderful at creating distinct voices and and a whole lot of comedy. Hooray for the comedy.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Fitty Books

There’s this fifty books challenge going on, mentioned at the beginning of the year, where people were talking about how they were going to try and read 50 books over the course of a single year. And I thought about it, and thought “I can do that!” and I thought I’d sort of do it quietly.

Looking over the total count so far, it appears that I am silent but deadly. I’ve read 22 books in about 17 weeks. Or so? Something like that. That’s pretty neat. I should probably write them down (edited to add - see below! I'll be estimating round about when I read each, and posting with those datestamps).

You know, I’ve never kept count of the number of books I read in a year, but this speed feels about right, or even a little slow. And that is cool. Maybe I will, in fact, finish all the books I want to read before I die. Though I doubt it.

Tula Station

David Toscana, Patricia J. Duncan (Translator)
I think if I knew more about the political landscape of Mexico, I’d know more about this book, and understand it more deeply. But what little I know was not important in loving the story, which was complicated and cool -- three narratives and an overarching narrative frame, and a story about rewriting history, storytelling, personal responsibility, tragedy, selfishness, and how sad and not at all uplifting attempts at redemption can be.

This was a little slippery, with somewhat unlikable characters you liked – particularly the memoirist who makes up the bulk of the story, who you forgive for his faults and lies and untruths for being such an amazing author.

I don’t know if I kept expecting magical realism to creep in because that’s what Latin American literature always does, doesn’t it! Huh? or because Toscana is such a lyrical writer with a sense of the everyday strange and surreal. Maybe a little bit of both.

(Thanks to Beth, for evangelizing Toscana)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Rent Girl

Michelle Tea, illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin
This is kind of an illustrated novel, not quite a graphic one. There are points where the pictures take on a portion of the storytelling, but for the most part, the burden is on the text (which is occasionally really poorly edited). The story is about a lesbian chick who gets into hooking because her crazy girlfriend is a hooker, and how that fucks up her whole life – or was she fucked up to begin with? It's all so crazy. And angry.

The narrator’s got a lot of anger and self-deprecation, and the story is fascinating and seedy and terrible and hard to look away from – I stayed up late finishing it, because I couldn’t stop reading. It’s got a very beat generation kind of feel in the straightforward, outraged kind of language, and it’s got that same kind of sad self-absorption and shabby patheticness that the Beats also seem to have.

The pictures are very pretty.


Marilynne Robinson
This is a slow and lovely book, very moving and powerful and deceptively quiet and imagistic, the way Housekeeping was, even though on the surface it is very unlike her first novel. It has a core of religion, faith and philosophy, self-doubt and beauty – and it was brilliant in the way it uncovered the main character both in his strength and weakness unexpectedly and subtly, around the outside edges of the narrator’s own self reflection.

I was worried at the way it would end, spent the book waiting for the inescapable ending with a sad kind of heaviness – you know from the first pages that this is a narrative written by a dying and terribly aged man, and that inevitability infuses the whole story. And the ending made me cry. That has not happened to me in a long time.

Monday, April 04, 2005

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Chris Baty
Not much here in the way of addressing serious craft issues and the way to solve them, and that is what I liked about this. It is by the guy who organizes NaNoWriMo, the write a book in thirty days guy, and it is mostly about trusting that you can do something so big and crazy and who the fuck cares how it turns out – go. And while the message isn’t new, it was something I needed to hear, as the summer approaches and the book I need to have more or less finished at the end of it looms all nasty-like. Just go. That’s good advice, even for people who are not in Nikes.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Black Sheep

Georgette Heyer
My second Heyer book, and I liked it much better than the first – and I very much liked the first. This seemed a little more sophisticated in character, ever so slightly more deeply drawn, and addressed some really interesting issues about one’s obligations to family, personal happiness, and independence. And it had a male lead who was funny, a female lead who was smart and strong, and they seemed to like each other a great deal. The plot twist was ever so slightly predictable, but the ending, in its abruptness, was really terrific.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Old Man's War

John Scalzi

This is kind of a bare-bones hard-science fiction pulp, and was as pleasant and easy to read as those kinds of books frequently are. It was also not nearly as sophisticated as I expected it to be in the wake of Scalzi's own discussions of what he owes to Heinlein's pulp, in terms of inspiration.would be, but it was smart, frequently amusing, occasionally didactic and sometimes kind of doofy. At points, the level of Mary Sue-ism made me cringe. But the book was quick and definitely competent and entertaining, and isn't that what you look for in your sf pulp?

Monday, March 21, 2005

False Colours

Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer, she is the inventor of the regency genre, and her books read like a very dishy, unserious Jane Austen – instead of commenting on regency society, Heyer is interested in immersing herself in it and all of its trappings. She’s slangy and gossipy and fabulous and a little ridiculous in kind of a winking way – False Colours is about twin brothers who swap places, so that wackiness ensues. There’s a thing with an engagement and debts and true love with a bright girl, but it’s all second place to the comedy and the loveliness with how Heyer sketches her characters so deftly and juggles plot elements seamlessly and flawlessly into place.

The slang, the cant, was sometimes impenetrable, even in context, but this was overall a fun and light kind of read that didn’t make me feel as if I were wasting away my mind on trash.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Heat Stroke

Rachel Caine
This is a series about a Sassy Supernatural Chick. It is light and a little goofy, but a lot of fun. A bright, strong and strong-minded main character, a basic suspense kind of action plot where shit blows up and it is very exciting, and the supernatural elements are really interesting. It reminds me of what the Laurel K. Hamilton books could have been – smart and engaging with straight-ahead storytelling, satisfying in the way that junk food can be.

Chill Factor

Rachel Caine
I read the first of these ages ago, and immediately ordered the next one from the library. But it was out and out and finally I had to go to the bookstore and buy both the second and this one and read them both in one sitting. Like the first two, it’s all about a light read, fun and cool and explosions, strong gal main character. This one, however, was more complicated, plot-wise, a lot going on, and Rachel Caine’s control didn’t seem as strong and effortless, and occasionally it got less engaging (also, she’s clearly never been to the Luxor in Vegas); despite not being quite as satisfying, it was still a fun read.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel

Susanna Clarke
This book felt as if it were a series of beautiful and intricate pen and ink drawings. It was slow-paced and steady with a wonderful, weird story that was at once fantastical and perfectly ordinary - sort of combination of Jane Austen and Neil Gaiman, both in language and story, very British – and culminating in the kind of ending that ties everything together, is surprising and unexpected and expected and completely satisfying in a way that glossed over any flaws the book had.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Nanny Diaries

Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Again with audiobooks, it is hard for me to distinguish between how I am reacting to the reader and how I am reacting to the story. I liked it as I listened, because the reader had a lovely voice. Afterwards, not so much. The story was fairly predictable, and as I was with The Devil Wears Prada, I was irritated by the way the narrator complains about terrible things that happen to her at her job that are more or less her own stupid fault, and was not particularly interested in the narrator’s life outside of being a nanny. She was way more interesting in her position than as a character, and it is interesting that the narrator is named Nanny - and yet they try to make her more than an Every Nanny. It's not surprising that that's not entirely successful.

The depressing thing about the story was that from the beginning, it was an untenable position and a story with an inevitable ending, despite the authors’ attempts at mitigating what you’re left with.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction

The Writers of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart

John Stewart and his Daily Show cronies, they are funny people, and they are smart people. That Jon Stewart is a very pretty man is not the only reason I watch the show, no no. And that he is the pretty face behind the book is not the only reason I wanted to read it, not at all. I am as into incisive political commentary and satire as any young(ish) liberal, believe you and also me.

The book ended up being ever-so-slightly disappointing. Funny, smart, chock full of incisive political commentary and satire, frequently hitting the mark and frequently silly – and the textbook format was brilliant – but I guess I was not left feeling fresh and invigorated by political outrage. And I was amused, but I did not chortle. I expected a chortle. Is it wrong for a girl to expect a chortle?

I suspect I would have enjoyed this more on audiobook, with pretty John Stewart whispering sweet nebbishy things right into my ear.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


My first attempt at being an audiobook kind of person, that did not pan out. I was listening on and off to Jane Eyre, which did not particularly grab me, and it was read by a woman with some kind of palsy and an unhealthy fondness for overarticulation, and I found myself zoning out constantly as I listened to it on my little Otis player, which had crappy sound that faded in and out and soon broke and then I canceled my subscription and gave up on audiobooks.

Cut to many years later (maybe two) when I started Exercising, and decided, for no good reason at all, that to keep me motivated and distracted what I really needed when I exercised was to listen to audiobooks, and iPods were the best thing for audiobooks so what I clearly needed to do immediately was to buy an iPod, and glory day, I should subscribe to audible because you get a hundred bucks off the price of an iPod!

Please note the keen and incisive logic.

I got that subscription, my iPod arrived an achingly long time afterwards, and the first book I picked I decided would be chicklit trash. That was clearly the only thing I had the attention span for (see above, re: my zoning out) and trash is awesome for working out.

It was The Devil Wears Prada. It was wretched and bad and I hated the book. But man, I loved listening to it. I loved the narrator right inside my head and the way she did all the characters with varying degrees of skill and the expressiveness of lines being read with their appropriate inflections and I found that this crappy book was living for me. Living! I heard the voice of the narrator in my head every time I thought about the thing, and the characters were little people also in my head with lives of their own and it was disconcerting and creepy.

And also kind of awful, because you have to understand, this is a really, really bad book.

I'd been totally captivated by books I've read before, but not to this kind of independent extent, if that makes any sense.

It's happening again with The Stupid Nanny Diaries (which is possibly not its real name). It's way, way better-written and much less annoying than Fucking Prada, but it is still mediocre chicklit, and it is again inside my head, these voices. In my head. It is weird. Weird. Also, the reader keeps saying "rum." Which is totally the wrong way to pronounce "room."

My next audiobook is somewhat more respectable – All is Vanity, by the woman who wrote Drowning Ruth, about writing. I am a dork, and worried I won't be able to follow something sort of intellectual on audio. I am a dork who is overthinking these things.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

books, books, reading and books that I have read

That is a lie. I haven't been reading. What I've been doing is listening to Fresh Air, to which I have a subscription on Audible, and thinking Deep Thoughts about constitutional law and Bonnie Raitt's dead father and how Seth Green is a classy fucker with whom I should like to spend some quality time.

I love totally random interviews. But they're taking up all my time. I listen to one a day, on the bus, at lunch, and going home, and it eats up all my reading time. It is not worth it. I am getting a lot of embroidery done, towards the finish of a Christmas present (Jesus Christ, I still have Christmas presents to finish! What's wrong with me?). But when it is up for renewal, my periodicals subscription, I am sure as hell not choosing something daily. Daily is too much goddamn pressure.

My Book, By Me, Jen

So there's that long piece of fiction that I wrote last summer. I won't call it a book, because it's not a book – it's a big flabby interconnected mess with duplicated scenes all over the place and a huge, gross, ridiculous number of brackets with the words "insert stuff here" where there should be other scenes and there's not really an ending and it begins three or four times with yet more duplicated material and some sections where I started to hate the narrator so I wrote those bits in an entirely different way and it's really kind of bad.

So I'm trashing it. No, that's not true. I'm "setting it aside." I'm letting it "lie fallow." I'm trashing it. Temporarily. And I'm starting all over again. I have this cool idea about a bowling alley and this guy and there's a ghost and stuff and this summer, I'm going to write it. And it's going to suck. But in a good and salvageable first draft kind of way.

Thus, I have totally spoken.

One Stick Song

Sherman Alexie

I like Sherman Alexie. I think he is frequently brilliant. I also think he's a big asshole. Sometimes he is a wretched poet and sometimes he's so perfect he pisses me off. Mostly, though, I am amazed at the way the guy can write something that leaves you with such an immediate, visceral reaction. You can't read his stuff without responding in some way.

Mostly I responded positively to One Stick Song -- it's good poems! It's bad poems! It's obnoxious poems that make me want to slap him! It's good and obnoxious poems that make me want to slap him for very complex reasons!

There is something really interesting, though, about the way this book of poems tells a story – I haven't seen that in a poetry collection before. It gave the thing momentum, propelled me through to the end in the way a novel usually does. I did not need to put it down occasionally, as I do when I generally read poetry collections. Because I am so cool and intellectual that I generally read poetry collections, generally and in general. Except for not.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Devil Wears Prada

Lauren Weisberger

This was a wretched book, and it could have been so good. It was full of inaccuracies, misstatements, ridiculousness, wretched, uneven, wildly inconsistent characterization, and some really crappy writing. But it could have been fun – it was a light listen for standing on the Precor and trying to keep myself from crying. It had Fashion! and Excitement! And gossip and silliness in. It could have been something.

And it was at first. But at the end, I found myself really fucking hating the main character. The book’s about a fresh-out-of -college unfashionable girl who accidentally gets a job working for the entirely insane editor in chief of the world’s most prestigious fashion magazine. It could have been a collision course with wackiness.

You should have sympathized entirely with the bullshit that this girl had to put up with, the unreasonable demands that her boss makes, the terrible pressure this girl is under, except that she keeps doing stupid shit. She keeps fucking up. And she keeps acting like it’s entirely unfair that she gets in trouble for being a fucktard, and I wanted to kill her and her stupid stupidness.

I laughed aloud a number of times, because there are parts where the boss is genuinely unreasonable in a wildly entertaining way. But for the most part, the book was just plain irritating, the main character’s holier-than-thou attitude towards the whole industry tiresome, and her obvious fascination with the same industry annoying as hell. We won’t even talk about the entirely forgettable, crappy side-plots about the chick’s friends, and the ridiculous and painful ending that was just so stupid. Stupid! Stupid!

Anyway. Not worth even being a trash read.


One of my favorite instructors wants to work with me this summer. Came up to me and everything, said those words. I want to work with you this summer. Here’s what we’re going to do. And we agreed to a plan and sort of sketched out an idea of what was going to happen, and it looks like I’m set for my writing intensive this summer.

I am trying to not shriek with glee. I am trying to not shake with tiny little trembles of terror. Because this instructor is a secret sweetheart with a soul of pure living gold, but has a reputation of a being a hardass, which is lived up to, every day and in every way when he is in Instructor Mode and your ass will be kicked, and hard, and you best be living up to expectations.

He has a lot of expectations for me. A whole lotta lotta. Which is a whole lotta deja vu and fucking terrifying. Except this time, I’m not panicking and terrified (and it is very funny, how in that entry I talk, in a very sarcastic manner, about how I haven’t quit school, and several months later, I actually do! Ha. Ha.). I am excited. I am so excited to work with him and I am so excited to be writing again. I’ve had the urge to write, and I don’t even know where it came from, this urge, but I’m not going to argue.

I set up writing dates with my friend H., itching, burning, other metaphors for herpes to write, and I am sitting here in a café on Cole street, post-date, sipping a mocha, having just finished thirteen hundred pretty good words of stuff, and I feel good about things. Hope, I’m full of it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

baby steps and instamatic floo

For the first time in I don't even know how long, I managed to write and finish a paper not on the day it was due, not in a panic an hour, half an hour, ten minutes before class, but the night before. And my god, the relief. The relief and the pride and the joy, in my silly three page paper in which I experienced Sherman Alexie and the effect of this and that on the other thing.

It's an okay paper – I love Alexie, despite his tendencies toward didactic preaching, which is also what I admire about him, that passion and anger. It was an interesting question, and I think I had some good thoughts and good things to say and it was an interesting assignment, and except for some final editing I did this morning to make sure it wasn't a rambling mess of incoherent medicine-talk (I am so very disgustingly plague-sick, and so very medicated), it was finished in plenty time. Plenty time! I rule!

Also, I drool. Jesus, I am tired of mouth breathing, and would cheerfully ice pick my own face if it meant I could breathe like a normal person and hear. The world is wrapped up in cotton flannel, and I say "WHAT? WHAT?" like I'm a hundred and seven. What the hell kind of cold clogs up your ears? A cold that sucks.

I think I have a fever, too. Also, my mouth is wet, my throat is dry, and I'm going blind in my right eye. My leg is cut, my eyes are blue - it might be instamatic flu.

I want a nap.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Little Earthquakes

Jennifer Weiner

This was kind of silly, and very slight. Of course, it's the very essence of chicklit, and you know, thus and therefore and whenceforth. And I liked it. I did. It was kind of dumb, and frequently cliched, and frequently I wanted to shake the stupid characters because they were doing stupid things and I got irritated by the sloppy and ridiculous cause and effect kind of writing (cause: girl grows up sad and poor! effect: girl obsessed with material things! etcetera.) and I know it sounds like a terrible book that I hated, but that was all background noise.

It was a pleasant, easy read, had one or two characters which were pretty cool, and you don't really care that nothing was really wrapped up very well at the end, because, you know, shrug.

In otherwords, stationary bike reading. It got me through an hour on that fucker, and that's all I asked for.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

instant gratification

Have I ever mentioned how much I like working in a library? Because I really fucking love it. Someone mentions a book somewhere, I read a review online, I have a sudden urge to read the complete works of X, and five minutes later, it is in my hand, or on its way from another library in the system.

I am a lucky girl. And holy shit, do I have too many goddamn books in my To Read pile.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Mary Roach

Dear Mary Roach,

Hello. My name is Jen Fu, and I am writing to tell you that your book that was called Stiff was a very good book. I liked it! I think that you are brave to go looking at bodies and organ harvesting, and organ harvesting from bodies. You are very funny and also very smart. Sometimes, I think you went a little off topic and that was a little tiring, but I still like you! And your book! Which was a very good book and fun to read. You would not think that a book about bodies would be fun to read! But it was!

Here is a secret: the real reason I am writing is to request that you be my girlfriend. We can hold hands, and go for walks on the beach, and you can tell me funny stories about human heads and I can make tasty meatballs for you and we will live in a house filled with puppies and awesome-looking skulls and all your journalism awards and I will tell you that you're pretty every single day because I think that is very important in a relationship.

Call me!

Jen (Fu)

p.s. I am totally willing my body to science. But only after I am dead.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

experiencing the poem

I think I love school. Again. Which is a nice change from not loving school, and then hating school, and then panicking about school and running away, shrieking, from school and hiding in a dark corner rocking back and forth and whimpering in tongues. About school.

My first class was Wednesday, and despite a big unpleasantly pretentious weaselface (hello, weaselface!) it was a pleasure and a delight and I only looked at the clock five or eleven times. The rest of the class I "participated" and said "things that are smart" about "poetry." I was kind of sexy.

And now, I have a homework assignment, and I am excited. About homework! This is so much nicer than a dark corner. For my homework assignment, I have to choose a poem, and then, experience it. And then, write two pages about my experience of experiencing a poem. That rules. Mostly because my explicating skills are probably a bit rusty.

mary roach, i love you

I am reading Stiff, which is subtitled "The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" and it is about, as you might imagine, dead people and the wacky things dead people do, like get blown up and rot and be harvested for bits.

It is, however, not morbid - it's smart, and it's cool, and it is really, really hilarious. And I found myself on the bus this morning thinking "Mary Roach, I wish you were my girfriend."

I also found myself closing the book and putting down my head and crying, out of nowhere, right in the middle of a description of organ retrieval. But not because Mary Roach is not my girlfriend. Because, you know, death. Oh, Death. Bodies! Bits! It's all so final and terrible and beautiful because one death helps save another's life and oh my god, angst, angst, terrible beauty. Woe and despair.

I could be a little crazy.

Call me, Mary!

I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters

Rabih Alameddine

This could have been gimmicky - it's a collection of the first chapters of a woman's repeatedly aborted attempts to write her life's story. She restarts and restarts, at first always in the first person, and then getting more literary, imaginative, fictionalizing, starting not at the beginning but in various places in her life's history, trying to figure out what her story is, and what she wants to talk about, what is important.

It's really fascinating to see something in one chapter that is glossed over in a linear narrative become the focus of the next restart, as if she was reminded of something she wants to talk about - the really amazing thing about this book is that this isn't just the story she's writing down, it's the framework of the story, it's watching the narrator make those decisions in fits and starts. It's also fascinating to see the bits and pieces of the story come together, each chapter enlarging another corner of the picture.

What was distracting, and sometimes irritating was how frequently the prose was just terrible - I'm assuming that's deliberate, a part of the conceit of the narrator's amateur attempts at writing the story. But it was still not always fun to slog through. And it was sometimes frustrating to find yourself in an angle that is fascinating - particularly one of the last first chapters in the book, where we learn more about the grandfather who opens the first first chapter - and realize that it's going to end soon, and wish that this could have been the whole of the book.

And yeah. I wish I had thought of this first. Because I have so many crappy half-finished starts of books, I could have had me a postmodern goddamn masterpiece, by god.

In conclusion: rock on. unfairly.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


I've been reading I, The Divine for the past few days, and I'm still on the first chapter. Man!

(See, that's funny because the book is comprised entirely of first chapters because the narrator keeps trying to write her autobiography but keeps restarting and restarting and so it's just nothing but first chapters, so I'm still on the first chapter, no matter where I am in the book! Ha!)

Well, at least I make myself laugh.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Book of Salt

Monique Truong

This was a complicated (plot-wise, with the time jumps and flashbacks) and really dense (very lyrical language-wise) book, so much so that I worried at the end I'd find myself looking at reading group Questions for Discussion! and I hate those goddamn things.

I think I liked this. On an emotional level, it was a strong story, and moving, fascinating frequently. It seemed, however, really backloaded as far as Amazing Surprises and Unexpected Twists, all in the final fourth of the book, you are suddenly blindsided - well, not blindsided, but presented with twists you had no idea were coming and which place the preceding pages in something of a new light, but in a lot of ways it seems oddly tacked on.

On a technical level, Truong was really amazing at handling all the time jumps and the subtle humor, but she was frequently "poetic" and by "poetic" I mean really weirdly obscure and unable to just say something already. Her subtlety was sometimes way too goddamn subtle, and I wanted to hit her. I don't enjoy having to reread something eight times to make sure I know what the hell she's trying to get at. Which makes me sound like an eighth grader reading Shakespeare for the first time, I know. But honestly, she was twisty for no good reason! Stop being twisty, Monique Truong. Thank you.

I am sorry I lost count of all the times she used the word "salt," though.

Why Did I Ever

Mary Robison

I picked this up sort of by accident -- when I thought I was taking a particular class this semester, I bounced through the library, gathering up the reading list and stacking all the books on my desk to check out, very efficiently. Then I realized that I wouldn't be taking that class, and wanted to toss all the books back on the reshelve cart in a piqued manner, and possibly do some huffing away.

But I poked through the stack first, and decided to read a couple of them on my own, and Why Did I Ever, as you may have guessed because you are very clever, was one of them. And I am so glad it turned up in that stack - this is one of the best books I've read in a long time.

It's a collection of fragments, over five hundred or so of them, that are prose poems in the best way - not the Jeanette Fucking Winterson dark soul of the night O Love! kind of fucking poetry, but the kind of poetry that is every word chosen carefully and every word incisive and perfect and sharp.

Robison is doing something really interesting, using form to indicate function - the narrator's fractured attention span because of ADD and because of the things going on in her life, but mostly I was arrested by the language and how much I loved the narrator who is horribly flawed but just a terrific character.

This is really, really funny, and really, really just sad and tragic. And really funny.