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??