Saturday, December 30, 2006
I'm a little weirded out and disoriented by Saddam Hussein's death. He was a fixture in my childhood--some of my earliest memories are the Gulf War soldier coming to my second grade class to talk about his war experiences (although maybe this is due to my overwhelming lack of early childhood memories?). And I know he did terrible things, and a death sentence made sense when they assigned it, but I think that was because I assumed "death" would involve rotting away in an international political prison of some kind until he died of heart failure in a couple of years. I can't even decide what I think about this and (sorry, Allan Bloom) I don't even want to make myself think about whether "my" politics condone or condemn this. It just makes me feel uncomfortable.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
When I got back into the office today, I see an email from him--on which he hasn't carboned my boss--saying that he found some egregious errors in the previous manuscript (wait...didn't HE write that manuscript?! Why find the errors now?!) and that it was absolutely essential that this new copy of the manuscript has to go into copyediting, instead. Since none of my supervisors are here, I can't tell them how stupid this is and ask for them to tell the author no (which is not an appropriate author communication for me). In the meantime, I must remember my imperative--that is, it will reflect poorly on me yadda yadda if I don't yadda. So I re-format, re-load, re-save, re-number, re-photocopy, re-log the illustrations, and re-sneak into the production director's office and sub in all the new materials for all the old ones. There goes two and a half hours of my day.
As a side note--Dr. Ben emailed me the new draft on Christmas. It's Christmas, for fuck's sake--why rewrite your stupid book NOW?
The second author I think is just being sneaky. My boss asked me to make up 25 copies of a bound manuscript to send out for endorsements before the holidays. Dr. Pete was late in getting his endorsement letter to me--he too sent it on Christmas Day and wanted everything turned around by close of business (alas, I wasn't in until today. Poor Dr. Pete. Christians triumph and oppress yet again.). But anyway he has sent me not 20 (as promised) but 51 endorser addresses (with a hint of more to come). He knows that my boss isn't in to tell him this is an unreasonable number of endorser copies (which cost about $15 a pop, plus postage fees, plus my time in addressing and fake-signing all those letters). Furthermore, he has asked me to use a DIFFERENT verion of the manuscript--one small tweak in the cover wording--so I have to have all the old ones printed all over again anyway. And for a final indignity, he has asked me to personally hand-write notes (disguised as being from my boss) on the title pages of each of the manuscripts so the endorsers will know whom to contact in the event that they lose their letter. I think if they lose their letter a) they're too stupid to deserve publicity from us, and b) they can all rot in hell.
Meanwhile, I have about 16 big projects to do during my "quiet" (ha) "week" (can we say 2 DAYS?!) off. Among which are a large reader's report and an "extremely important" comp title research project that I should have started last Saturday if I were ever going to finish it.
Folks, if you ever write a book, be advised that it's going to be the editorial assistant who's going to clean up all your shit for you during the week between Christmas and New Year when all the more important people are off galavanting in the Hamptons. Be advised that she is getting paid around $14 an hour (that's right) to do a purportedly high-level job that she probably had to obtain some form of Ivy League degree in order to secure (and she probably speaks at least 3 languages she never gets to use because she can't afford to travel to places where those languages are spoken anymore). She probably came to work today wearing raggedy used clothes because she can't afford to pay for her rent AND her student loans AND to buy new clothes and she's probably panicking about how she's going to cover her credit card payments--you know, the credit cards she used to buy her groceries this month--until her last freelance check, which was lost in the mail, is redrafted and resent. Be advised she has no choice but to sit alone in her little cube until she's done with all the shitwork you decided to redo over Christmas and that she has no means of modifying her work flow because she knows (and is repeatedly reminded) that hundreds of snappy young pups are barking at the door and dying to take over her job if she slows down even a little bit. Because of the...glamour of the job. Yay glamour.
What does Lizzy's aunt say? "Be careful, my dear. That savours strongly of bitterness." But then if I recall correctly they ride by Pemberley manor and Mr. Darcy scoops Lizzy up and installs her as Missus and she never has to take down another pink message for as long as she lives. A reasonable end to an unreasonable story. All right, Mr. D. I've decided I'm at peace with the idea of being a kept woman, after all. Any day now...
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Here are some of the things I've had:
Carrot soup, cinnamon buns with pecans, stuffed pork loin, asparagus, buttercup squash, fried eggs and sausage, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, creme brulee, brocolli, duck, cranberry relish (despite the cranberry shortage in New England!), Junior's cheesecake, pear and peach stuffing, Coke-basted turkey, chocolate mousse cake, pasta salad, Filipino fruit salad, mini almond tarts, celery sticks, potato latkes, egg rolls, avocado dip, melted brie on crackers, lots of coffee, lots of tea, and boatloads of wine. I'm sure I'm forgetting something.
Love and lots of yummies,
Friday, December 22, 2006
Sarah is 33. She never smokes and she drinks a beer or two a week (if that). She is a dancer and goes to five or six classes a week--she's in excellent physical shape and she's very trim. She has long beautiful black hair down to below her butt and I wonder if she has to have chemo and whether it will all fall out.
Chris has been friends with Sarah forever and I have only known her for about 8 months but we've gotten along fabulously (at least from my perspective!) and I really like her a lot. I don't know what to say to Chris so I sit quietly at my computer and type away.
Hey, he calls from the other room. Do you know anyone who's had breast cancer that could, you know, maybe act as a mentor? Someone she could talk to?
I frown for a moment at the computer screen. No, I say after a moment. I'm sorry. I wish I did.
I call my mother and tell her about this. She knows that it's not that I've never known anyone who had breast cancer.
I hope that Sarah comes home soon. I hope this is one of those experiences that is a big scare and turns out to be a cautionary tale for us all and then as a result saves a bunch of lives. Or something like that. I hope she has a nice Christmas.
This is a nonfiction narrative (slightly storified, although the author owns up and provides her rationale in her brief introduction) of four months in the life of an upper middle class Afghani family. Seierstad, a Norwegian woman who lived with the bookseller's family in 2002, says that her foreignness acted as a kind of masculinity and allowed her to be a rare female who could transcend the gender separations and see both sides of Afghani life.
She writes well and tells many facets of the household story. As a narrator her voice is almost inaudible and always sympathetic, but her undisguised agenda (sympathetic though she sounds toward the men in the house) is to reveal the indignities--subtle and not so subtle--that the women are subjected to from sunup to sundown, birth to death. The author's favorite story is that of Leila, the 19-year-old daughter and invisible family lynchpin. She rises before dawn to prepare eggs and tea before the men of the house can wake up and complain, and she stays up long into the night after everyone is asleep cleaning up like a slave after every other family member. She is marginalized, ridiculed, and abused verbally, psychologically, and physically. She is victim of not only of men but also of women--gossiping housewives, neighbors, cousins, etc--who, though politically and publically powerless, exercise fantastic negative social influence by viciously maligning women who do not suitably observe the strict protocol that has ruined their own lives.
This is a highly readable book (Seierstad's prose is light and pretty). I'd say this is one of the better choices among the recent glut of "revealing the Middle East!" books on similar topics.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I don't know why; I can't help it. I always end up there, even though it leaves me with a horrible sour taste in my mouth. Like sucking on a dirty sock. Yes, that's what I imagine it's like.
Anyway, I manage to delude myself each time and I put the sock back in my mouth, thinking this time it's going to taste like a lollipop again. But no. It never does. It probably never did--socks rarely taste like lollipops, even when they're clean. Which means I must have been suffering some kind of distorting mental illness the whole time I lived over there, because I remember every moment in psychadelic Oz colors and soft warm music and soft hugs and red wine, bottles and bottles and bottles. (Therein might lie the key.) But what I wouldn't give for a new sock to suck on.
I'm not being fair. My friends were very good to me--I was only there for two full days and they were all dispersed already for their Christmas holidays. Keri took a train and Suzana suffered a delayed 5-hour bus ride just to see me for a few hours. People who hadn't really been close friends for two years got together on my account and Dave tore himself away from his college tour and fundraising obligations to hang out (and ask me sweetly would I mind if a fine upstanding Englishman were to come stay on my floor for a few days? Of course not, I said. All right then, he said. But would I mind about him? Aww.) and Seb cooked a huge and comprehensive dinner that included a huge side of shivering beef, brocolli, green beans, and carrots, and his famous roasted potatoes. We pub lunched and pub crawled and coffee shop hopped and looked for snowglobes in lots of nice stores. People hugged me and patted me and confided in me as though there had never been a break of many months (or years) in our friendship. Naturally there was an unfortunately (but maybe inevitably) timed Hugh-related incident toward the end of the whole jaunt but aside from one brief interval of hysterical sobbing and then a rather silly feeling to endure the whole plane ride home the trip was a smashing success and reminds me how lucky I am to have people who both care for me and tolerate me in many parts of the world (hard-pressed though I am to understand how I manage to retain them).
The proverbial fly (if only it were not ointment but martini!) of course was Ann-related. Ann-related issues are always the most debilitating because they are the issues about which I happen to be the most deluded (and, as a result, the disappointments are always disappointingly disappointing). Silly me; I thought it was all right. They invited me to stay, and they called me home from a cocktail party (where everyone else I knew was) to hang out specially with them. Of course after calling me home we sullenly watched a TV special on Courtney Love for about 45 minutes and then they were off to bed. That was my last night there with them. They said they would make me lunch and walk me to the bus stop but in the morning when (by their request) I woke them up to say goodbye neither one even got out of bed to give me a hug. The morbid part of me hoped the plane would go down so that they could go to their graves thinking "it was her last human contact with friends and we didn't even hug her...what miserable people we are...after all of our good times and our true love..."
I was terribly, terribly disappointed that night of the cocktail party, after they went to bed and I sat alone on the couch, sleepless and miserable. I thought of how it was my last night before having to go home and back to work, and instead of drinking with friends (which had been an option) I had, out of loyalty to these formerly beloved dear friends of mine, come home from one party only to be left alone with my moodiness.
About ten minutes after they got into bed I thought to myself that it was worse to go to bed myself with these horrible feelings so I went and knocked on their door, determined to say won't you mind and stay up just a little longer with me, we can catch up, we can drink some beer, I changed my mind and I want you to pack me that lunch you mentioned, anything, or just give me a hug.
But when I got to the door they were already naked and under their covers and Ian in particular was so cold and made me feel so ridiculous for waking them up ("What time is it?" he said, and I answered "Ten minutes later than when you went to bed," and he snorted into his pillow and let Ann do all the talking from that point) that I couldn't get it out. Instead I apologized for my moodiness and Ann said it really didn't matter and I felt dismissed so I left.
I didn't get it until on the plane home, and when I did I stopped feeling hurt immediately and I went cold inside. All weekend when they had been talking about how they are so self-sufficient as a couple, how they've shed all those unnecessary annoying former friends who still think things are just like the old days, how they wish people who have fallen to "casual acquaintance" level would realize that a history of friendship didn't entitle them to all the privileges of a current and active friendship, and how as an adult you don't need all the friends you thought you needed when you were an approval-seeking college first year...they were talking to me. I didn't get the hint. And it wasn't one conversation, either--it was at least one long conversation with Ann and one long conversation with Ian that I can remember clearly. I just didn't get it. How could I have been so foolish as to think I am beyond and above all of those inferior friends whose contracts have been terminated? Clearly I am in fact the furthest of the friends and thereby the least necessary, by far.
The next thing to clarify was the nature of our relationship--purely utilitarian. But hers was an honest economic utilitarianism and mine was a greasier emotional leechy variety. Yes, I am fearsomely codependent, and she was lonely and a little insecure, so we fed each other's friend-need. It was very simple, since we each needed someone. She was unhappy in love, and I, though not unhappy in love, continued to be fearsomely codependent, so our relationship thrived. Then she was happy in love, and I, although still fearsomely codependent, was no longer strictly speaking "necessary." Then, when my heart was broken (just like hers was the year before when I had nurtured her and held her hand) but she was happy in love, I became for her not only unnecessary but a bit of a downer. And in her defense she gave it an OK shot, but in the end she decided to cut ties. To save herself and her happiness. So although I was there for her when I was happy and she was sad, due to the differences in our personalities she was unable to be there for me when she was happy and I was sad. I can't hold that against her, at least not anymore. Actually, I can. And I do. But I want to be a good and warm-hearted person so I fight it. But now, since our history separates us even further, I am an even less utilitarian option than I was for her then. I understand it. I don't relate to it, but I understand it. And in the end I'm most disappointed in myself, since I lost years off my life worrying over a friend who didn't turn out to be the kind of person who would lose anything at all worrying about me. But I see the world through moonrat-colored glasses, and everything looks like a piece of cheese. Until I put it in my mouth and it turns out to be a dirty sock.
I'm a little confused about why Ann sent me that email just before I left for Paris--"Are you excited to see us?" it said. "I miss you. xxx." Did she miss me? asks the curious lump in my throat. But my hardened heart asks, Who gives a fuck?
Melanie says that she and her friend Angel were talking about this the other day. They came up with a theory of three rings of friendship--rings like a vendiagram? I asked. Melanie laughed and said she couldn't believe I had just used the word "vendiagram" in a real sentence--to establish a rule for what endures. The three rings are chemistry, history, and exposure. The top-tier, top-eschelon friendships are the ones in that tiny center triangle of overlap among the three; the second tier have two in common; the flimsiest and least durable have one ring. For most of us, our beloved second-tier friends are our hearts and our souls and they know our lives and our stories and they care. For most of us, the first-tier friend doesn't actually exist. We replace (or attempt to replace) the first-tier friend with a lover or with an ideal.
I think this is a brilliant defining aid and I shall go about from this day forth applying it liberally to my life. It explains everything--the flare-ups and burn-outs of those hot-button friendships that die harder than Bruce Willis, the inexplicable pen-pals you still write to after thirteen years even though you've never met and have nothing in common, the dear old high school friends who stay close even when you see them only once a year, and the on-going quest for the near impossible to find (now that you're an adult and you have been broken and innured by inhibitions and self-preservation mechanisms): the new friend who will spark you like flint and has time for you everyday and who, instead of burning out, will not let us down. Someone who will complement our life and our lover(s) and dreams. Will be like those incredibly passionate junior high school friendships we had. Except not go away after a couple of years.
I think most people do give up after awhile. Because the fallout of a failed attempt is just soul-shattering. Much like love in general. But I suppose the heart can break over many things.
I am proud of my second-tier: my far-away friends whom I love and who are really and truly there for me even though I can't and don't see them everyday; my close-by friends who are wonderful and dear to me although we don't (yet) have the time-tested history to bridge the third wheel. They may not be that thing I think I'm looking for but they have time and again proven to be the thing that I need the most. And they shake their heads and forgive me at each abortive attempt to fill the dusty first-tier pedestal. Bless them and keep them and bring them back to me so I can recover from my own protracted foolishness.
Monday, December 18, 2006
I didn't realize Anita Diamant had a new book but my dad pulled this off the shelf at Barnes & Noble one night over that ill-fated hair-yanking Thanksgiving holiday weekend (and yes, he did buy me a cappuccino...for those still following the story). We had asked the lady at the desk to recommend a good book for me and she made about ten recommendations and I had read all ten. The "brand new" books she tried I had read before they were even published. She decided to go for older titles, hoping that was my weakness, and the last title she recommended was The Red Tent. I told her I had loved that one and my dad went off in search of other titles by that writer while I pondered glumly the fact that I'm an incredibly main-stream reader with a taste for corn-fed white commercial bestsellers. This seems incredibly sad and humiliating and hypocritical for a wannabe protobohemian like myself and at the same time like a skill I should be able to parley into at least one hundred thousand dollars a year. Hmm. Musetta and even Mimi bellied up for the cash cow so why shouldn't I? Being only a protobohemian and all.
So anyway my father brought me The Last Days of Dogtown, and the cover was very nicely laid out and had a nice glossy inset, and I flipped to the acknowledgments and saw that Amanda "Binky" Urban is Ms. Diamant's agent, and I'm friends with Binky's assistant, so it seemed like I had to buy the book. But also because of my history with Anita and how much I had loved her first book.
And this one was all right. Simple and sad, I guess. Lots of desolate people living mediocre and marginal lives and denying themselves the things they want most for reasons they don't really understand. I'm always devastated by stories of lovers who never get up the guts to talk to each other about their problems and both end up dying broken-hearted or such. I never do that. Instead I sacrifice myself on the alter of humility (was that Shakespeare or Joseph Gordon Levitt? Who, I just learned yesterday, is gay. Alas for women. He was so cute walking around campus with his little cheeky grin.). It seems from the evasive cover copy that Ms. Diamant found some kind of 19th century pamphlet or newsletter from/about Dogtown (Cape Ann, MA) and constructed this book around some of the stories she gleaned from that source.
I admit I wasn't a big fan of her wandering third-person limited narrator, which is one of the points I always edit out of my freelance fiction manuscripts. I always make a big to-do about how it's not very professional and how "maintaining a constant narrative voice contributes to readability and thereby increases potential readership" yadda yadda and I have to say it did bother me how she would wander unceremoniously in and out of a character's head. I think she was more successful with the first-person narrator of The Red Tent.
But anyway. I think this was a pretty good read. I can't say it was inspirational, or one of my favorite books. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here about offering readers some small hope at the end of your book. 360 pages of bitter somehow turn out to be less memorable than 359 pages of bitter and one page of bittersweet.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Anyway the positive aspect of a long journey in the dark with nothing to look at is one gets a great deal of reading done, despite the fact that one is on holiday. My friend Susanne left Ubik with me at the youth hostel so I decided to give it a go. I realized that Philip K. Dick is an [interesting and memorable] name that I am familiar with and yet that I hadn't read anything by him (nor was I really aware of what he stood for). Yes, I am a disgrace in the eyes of self-respecting sci-fi readers everywhere. Thank goodness my father's not reading this. I hope. For multiple reasons.
Anyway, Ubik is Dick's delightful probe into the future and what life will be like as the world turns toward consumerism and mechanization. Ok, by "future" I meant "1990s" and by "delightful" I meant "ridiculously unrealistic, poorly written, and thinly charactered" but I'm sure that you followed right along.
I think Mr. Dick's biggest problem here was one that many a sci-fi writer has fallen victim to before. He got so caught up in his conceptual architecture that he abandoned some of the tiresome conventions of old-fashioned writing...like event coherency or believable characters. I don't want to give away too much of the book, since it's not an unentertaining read, but I will say that it is too bad Mr. Dick (I like referring to him that way; get used to it) bowed to the sci-fi trend of cramming too many high-concept ideas into too short a space. For example, Mr. Dick's envisioning of this now-past future involved a whole caste of people who are able to use telepathic powers to interfere in corporate and government affairs, not to mention a whole other caste of people whose talents are "anti-psi" (that is, they are telepathically talented at stopping all the telepaths). But this whole complex scheme isn't even what the story is about; nor is the story about the communization of the world or the new global and space communities that have arisen. No. Instead, this book is about a different and utterly unrelated concept--cryogenically preserving dead bodies in a half life that allows them to be revived periodically to communicate mentally with their beloved(s). All this in a slim volume of 182 pages. Plus a plot (although minus any respect for chronology) and a cast of 18 main characters.
Hey. At least Robert Jordan takes 24,500 pages (roughly) to develop each of his worlds. (And that doesn't really include the prequels or fan fic.) Sorry, sci-fi. This is why I'm a fantasy loyalist. It's just easier for me to believe in dragons.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I do enjoy New Yorkers like that--it's nice to be reminded that there are other people in the world who get so excited about seeing someone else reading a book they enjoyed that they are unable to observe the non-negotiable cold-shoulder protocol of the New York subway social conduct imperatives and end up blurting out something like that to a complete stranger. It's nice, although it then makes for a slightly awkward subway ride, since you've acknowledged another person, had a brief and perhaps soul-revealing conversation with them, and then have to go back to pretending for the remainder of the ride that you've never met and that you don't know they're standing with their briefcase unfortunately but irrevocably shoved into your lower back. Awkwardness. Yum.
But anyway the sad part is I didn't enjoy this book. I knew right from the beginning that despite whatever the editor might have glowed about the posthumous author in his foreword and despite the raving rollicking review blurbs on the back cover, I'm not that into satire (perhaps I'm just too lowbrow) and I find it difficult to grow attached to utterly unlikeable characters with no redeeming qualities (like Ignatius). I found the whole thing cringe-worthy and not particularly funny. Perhaps it was over my head.
Sorry, subway stranger friend.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
This week I read a pop nonfiction book that I got a galley copy of at Book Expo America (or BEA as people in the biz know it). The galley copy is just a flimsy paperback but the real thing has this glossy embossed red-and-silver-Hollywood-star style cover and I covet it from afar when I see it on display tables in Barnes & Noble (where yes, Space Alien, I conned my father into taking me over Thanksgiving).
This was fun and I kept reading it all the way through. It was a semi-insightful look into movie casting but naturally I was disappointed by the lack of dish. As I was reading, I could feel the dirty hands of Harcourt's in-house lawyers all over the text, dicing out the juicy bits and reducing "statements" to vagueries. Having come to the end of it (and then it being two days later, so I suppose the content has had some reasonable period to mulch away in my poor frittered mind) I'm hard-pressed to come up with a single worthy cocktail party anecdote out of the book.
I won't say it wasn't worth reading, though. I seriously never thought about what goes into finding the one-liners in movies (a lot, apparently). I think if you're into movies (especially if you're into movies the way I am into movies--that is, you watch the movie with your laptop in front of you and imdb each character and google/wikipedia each goof or factoid) then you'll enjoy this nice quick read.
"What are you doing tonight?" he asked casually.
But CLEARLY it's not actually casual, it is frought with meaning and stresses him out so he's pretending to be casual about it. But all that is implied in the lying word "casually." The very word is studded with pretense and artifice and it exists only for deliberately misleading reasons. (If it were actually casual, we wouldn't use the word "casually"--we would use nothing at all. Because it wouldn't be worth qualifying.)
And yet dictionary.com, purporting to spread truth for the purposes of universal education at the press of a button, PERPETUATES THE LIE. This is what they have:
cas‧u‧al /ˈkæʒuəl/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[kazh-oo-uhl] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
|1.||happening by chance; fortuitous: a casual meeting.|
|2.||without definite or serious intention; careless or offhand; passing: a casual remark.|
|3.||seeming or tending to be indifferent to what is happening; apathetic; unconcerned: a casual, nonchalant air.|
|4.||appropriate for wear or use on informal occasions; not dressy: casual clothes; casual wear.|
|5.||irregular; occasional: a casual visitor.|
|6.||accidental: a casual mishap.|
Only 3 even comes close to representing the greatest part of the pie, and, without being too conspiracy-theorist here, it does so in a rather couched and misleading way.
Does no one else have a problem with this?
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Friday, November 24, 2006
A good friend of mine worked on an autobiography of a certain B actor awhile ago. The last time I felt frusterated she told me an instructive story from his life. It went like this:
"Jim" was running a marathon. (He was in his late sixties at the time.) He had been training for a long time and he had a van following him to make sure he didn't get into too much trouble.
About two miles from the end (notoriously the most demoralized part of the run), things started to get difficult. Jim was feeling pretty tired but he kept saying to himself, just a little farther, almost there, you can do it, etc, in true Little Red Engine fashion.
The van pulled up beside him and his manager stuck his head out the window. "Get in the van, Jim," the manager said.
"No way," said Jim. "I'm two miles from the end. I'm going to make it."
"Here," said the manager, handing Jim a white hanky. "Wipe of your forehead."
Jim reached up and dabbed the sweat off his forehead. The hanky came down red. He was sweating blood.
"It's over, Jim," the manager said. "You've been running in place for the last ten minutes."
* * *
Now when she told me this, my friend had really enlightening heart-warming moral that she got from this story. But I can't for the life of me remember what it was she said to tie it all up after Jim got in the van. Only the story up the point I've told it with the moral I assume needs no further elaboration.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I just had to put one last plug in for Henderson. Well, one plug about him. He certainly takes you on an unusual jaunt through what the Penguin Classics back cover copy calls "a highly imaginary Africa" (perhaps fair, since the pineapple, so integral to Saul's native rituals, is, as you might intuit and according to Wikipedia, not widely found in the African desert). And though said back cover copy quotes the Chicago Tribune (nice sound bytes like "wildly delirious dream made real" and "rollicking prose" and "offbeat inventiveness of language") and The Daily Telegraph ("witty, clever, radiantly imaginitive") I have to notice here that no one unjustly promises me a plot.
I'm going to take this opportunity to promise you, oh faithful reader (yes, because there's only one of you, I know) that I never read back cover copy. Not that I don't want to ruin the book--although it almost invariably does. I just never think to read it.
But back to Mr. Henderson. At the risk of being labeled literarily conservative (nothing like being labeled your own invented term), I have mixed feelings about novels without plots. I am all about creative artistry and testing limits but I can't help but feel that a writer has some commitment to his (or her, Nicole Krauss!) audience.
When I came to the end of Henderson, the first words I heard from my overly verbal subconscious: what was the point? There were little points along the way, which is the redeeming feature of the book: all those little sparkly gems I was talking about before. But the last one that sparked my fancy came on page 258, so, given the lack of plot or definitive conclusion, I might have saved myself 90 pages or so.
But since the plots aren't what I remember about any of Bellow's books (my sole concrete memory of Ravelstein, which made me cry like an onion cutter, was that part of it might have taken place in France), I think it makes sense to leave you with some little sparkly consolation gems.
Odds are he was not the first to say it, but I love his being v. becoming. "Being people have all the breaks," Saul writes (160). "Becoming people are very unlucky, always in a tizzy. The Becoming people are always having to make explanations or offer justifications to the Being people. " I notice now that whoever owned this book before I bought it at the Strand must have liked this passage, too, since the page is dog-eared.
Also (nonsequitor): "She may have been a hot lay once, as she claims, though among great beauties that is rare" (126). Take that, great beauties!
And just one last one so as not to inundate you: "But why lions? Because, Mr. Henderson, I replied to myself, you don't know the meaning of true love if you think it can be deliberately selected" (258).
There. Much less workmanlike. Don't you think?
The next time I read something of Saul's I'll try to pick from the rather lengthy award-winning list. I do enjoy his writing, honestly, but maybe a plot would topple him over the edge.
Monday, November 20, 2006
“Love isn’t spending time with someone and enjoying their company,” Sammy said. “Love is doing stuff you don’t want to do because doing it makes the other person happy.”
I am undecided as to whether I think that this misspoken good intention from a guy who doesn’t always say the very best of things in intimate social situations or whether it is a prophecy more honest than anything I (in my quixotic little mind) could ever think of myself. But whether he’s right or not, I’m not sure that I’m ready to buy into such a “workmanlike” definition.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The funny thing is, Marissa in the Rights department used to work at Judith's house and remembers telling Judith that the subject felt a little tired when Judith first mentioned her vision for this book...eight years ago.
So yes, dolls, now is the time for solidarity. Now is not the time to question whether this is really the kind of industry you want to be commiting your best years to, nor is it time to wonder what editors will have to be doing to make margins work five years from now. Grit your teeth and spit-shine your paste-on Modern Millie grin, for weakness is NOT rewarded (nor, incidentally, are scruples).
And try a new mantra besides "I'm here because I love books; I'm here because I love books." Because not everyone can work at Viking.
So last night there was a grand plan in which I would meet the babies in the village at 9:30 for DBQ and karaoke. It was great fun sitting at DBQ where we had the fake ID dance with the waitress. I forgot mine, but I'm really 21. I'm sorry, but we need to see ID. He's my twin, but he had to sign his ID into my dorm because he's staying there. I'm sorry. If everyone else had theirs, we could let him by, but not with so many people missing... Etc. How fondly I miss my days at college. In that I'm SO fond that they are missing.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I think it’s the steady stream of earnest ridiculousness (as opposed to ridiculousness for ridiculousness’ sake, a la British comedy). Henderson has just been captured by the violent Wariri and forced at gunpoint to March for a blistering day through an unspecified stretch of African desert. Locked up for the night in a stone cell and left to contemplate his imminent fate, his body coming to pieces from malnourishment and several outdated colonial semi-automatics trained to his torso, Henderson offers us this: “After this I was compelled to recall the history of my dental work” [after which he does so for seven pages].
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
It's a plain blue notebook with tiny spiral binding and narrow ruling for penmanship practice. There are thirteen ruled rows on each page (so thirteen title entries per side).
So since March of 1999 I have recorded every single book I've read for pleasure (I thought it was cheating if I'd read it for school, and I have vascillated on whether or not it's appropriate to include nonfiction books; I certainly haven't included the hundreds of books and manuscripts I've read for work). Each entry includes the title, author, and date I finished reading it. Some have sarcastic little notes in tiny writing underneath.
When people find out about the book book they usually laugh at my ridiculousness or cry at my pitifulness. Once I was having a cocktail party in my dorm room at college and someone wanted a scrap of paper to write someone else's phone number on; he reached up and grabbed the book book from my shelf and ripped out a notebook page. When I shouted at him in distress he scoffed loudly and told me (in front of a lot of people) that I need to get a grip. What he didn't understand was that, since I read at a rate of about one extracurricular book a week, he had just ripped out six months of my life.
I would like to offer some evidence in defense of my habit. Earlier today my roommate whipped out a binder of looseleaf notebook paper on which she has listed, in tiny pretty blue letters, the name of every play or musical she has ever seen. Her list goes back to 1995.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I was trying to explain to my friend Melanie why I have mixed feelings about Saul Bellow. There's the one hand--he's a rambler. Undeniably. He starts talking (self-indulgently; none of his books is really much better than this enterprise of mine as far as honorable intentions goes) and goes on and on from one thing to another and at the end of it all there wasn't really a plot but there was born a whole collection of semi-cohesive ideas vaguely reminiscent of reality. On top of it all, his style is a little on the dense side and doggy-paddling my way to the end takes up the same amount of time as reading two or three books by a more lucid writer. Which, for me and my book book, means that a given Bellow book provides as little as 33% the ultimate satisfaction as a lighter load.
"So why do you even bother?" Melanie wanted to know. She is a cutter. She has what is possibly a lower tolerance for bullshit than anyone else I have ever met (although she has a remarkable capacity for generating said bullshit). "Give me the book," she said. "I'll be able to tell from the first page whether I'd be able to tolerate it."
Alas, Henderson proved intolerable.
I tried to show her why I wasn't sure. I flipped through to the page where Henderson first encounters the Arnewi. He describes himself as "sweating boisterously." What a lovely little turn of phrase. I don't know why but it really tickles me. Like Maria Dehvana Headley's "nocturnal malfeasance" of the Big White Cat--those words alone are worth reading the whole [albeit rather entertaining] book for. Try a google search on the words "nocturnal malfeasance"; you'll only get one hit. Well, I guess now that this page is up you'll get two. I think it's little gems like that that keep me reading through all the meandering slog.
An old friend, Anne, gave me my first Saul Bellow book, and my first Saul Bellow book cost me my first potential job out of college. It was spring of 2005 and I was reading More Die of Heartbreak, thoroughly engrossed (as one becomes when someone one has placed on a pedastal buys one a book and tells one to love it), when Saul's obituary splashed all over the New York Times. The day after I found out about this horrific coincidence, I was interviewing at a boutique mass market publishing house when it was asked of me (as someone a little less guppy-like than myself might have expected to be asked at an interview for an editorial position) what the last book I read was.
After some hemming and hawing and being utterly unable to come up with a convincing lie, I admitted I was working on my first Saul Bellow novel.
"Oh. And how do you feel about Saul Bellow?" asked the unsuspecting publisher.
"Just terrible," I blurted. "I think I might have killed him."
I really do think that I have an evil eye; whenever I develop interest in an aging author they seem to die. I couldn't help but wonder if Saul might have lived to see his infant son into kindergarten at least if I hadn't engaged so earnestly with his stupid book. Needless to say, the publisher was unimpressed by my logic. Not to worry; only two days later I had another frazzled interview and through that I found myself a way into my current ever-so-rewarding and oh-so-rarely sarcasm-inspiring "career" (of sorts).
There's one other thing about Saul, though, that redeems him and keeps bringing me back. He has this way of hiding compelling nuggets when you're not expecting them. Don't let me spoil Ravelstein for you, but he ends this three hundred and something page nattering chatter about a lost friend with this, abruptly, unceremoniously: "But I would rather see Ravelstein again than explain matters it doesn't help to explain." I'd been wondering all the way through why I had carried on reading this book and suddenly I got to that line and I saw why.
At least I didn't kill him before he was able to create a substantial body of work.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
His side of the story: they were having a nice casual late-night dorm party in my sister's friend's room (they, of course, being him and a little bevy of coeds. I hate the word coeds, by the way; I use it here ironically. But I do use it.). He, unsuspecting beast, gets up to go have himself a pee. When he gets back, all the lights are off and the girls are passed out in the two twin beds. In the darkness, a lithe arm extends towards him. "There's room over here."
My mother called me on Saturday (a full week after my brother's victimization) and left me a voicemail wanting to know about the "hickeys" on his neck. I put "hickeys" in quotation marks here because really it looked more like he'd been in a bike accident. "Is he dating a vampire?" my mother wanted to know.
What I want to know is why my brother has been too lazy to take advantage of this abundant opportunity before now. I understand that my sister wouldn't be interested in my brother's lanky-haired grass-smoking hippy friends, but her friends, as a rule, are fairly attractive, flirtatious, and, apparently, randy. But he does now say he's thinking about moving here. Yes, single straight men. Flock to New York. There are beautiful desperate women everywhere. Just don't forget to bring a scarf in case you have to see your mother.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Because I have so much free time on my hands, anyway. You know. In between my full-time job (don't worry, I never work more than 60 hours a week, unlike some people in my industry), my clandestine moonlighting to pay off my college loans, and my hectic schedule of pressing social engagements (spawned not so much by popularity--just ask my only friend--as by not-so-secret serial codependency). And of course I'm sure this won't be taking any time away from all that core personal artistic development shite I'm supposed to have wrestled down by the time I'm 26. (I only promised one person I would have finished writing that novel by Christmas--so only one person to avoid in 2007. For this reason, anyway. It's not entirely hopeless--I have a detailed outline of at least six bullet points. Anyone could tell you that the only concrete thing standing between me and creation at this point is a general lack of prose coherency and a hyperindulgent sense of self.)
Although apparently you have even more time to kill than I do--at least I'm getting a soothing sense of pleasured vanity out of writing this. What could you possibly be getting out of reading it??