Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stuff I've Been Reading : February 2008 Edition

There are 28 days in February: not many. Even if I'd spent all those days reading, I wouldn't have completed many books. But Sam Anderson did, because Sam Anderson has intellectual superpowers. You've probably not heard of Sam Anderson, which's fine, I hadn't heard of Chelsea Handler 'til last week and I'm still not certain what Amanda Bynes is famous for and if it weren't for Lozo and a recent NPR This American Life story about the comedic preferences of pre-adolescents, I'd be totally unaware of Dane Cook's existence. That being said, I'd like to start a new blog, name it "Love Poems to Sam Anderson," and devote myself entirely to the pursuit of his excellence. When I read Sam Anderson's book reviews, I'm simultaneously inspired to: never try to write about books again (I can't, he can), write about books all the time (invigorated by his daring prose), and commit to writing a review of Sam Anderson's review in the voice of Sam Anderson (meta!). In lieu of all those things, back to mememememe. More about Sam later.

Oh, this is "What I've Been Reading." This column's mission, based on Nick Hornby's Believer column by the same name, is described here, in "Stuff I've Been Reading: January. I've been asked to re-title it "Lozo, Don't Read This, It's About Books!" That's wordy. Shall we begin? Okay.

Drunk by Noon (poems) / Jennifer L. Knox
My Mother: A Demonology / Kathy Acker
Styles of Radical Will / Susan Sontag
Sorry, Tree (poems) / Eileen Myles
Orlando / Virginia Woolf
The Book of Other People / edited by Zadie Smith
The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading / edited by Eileen Myles & Liz Kotz
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho / Anne Carson
Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir / Kate Braverman
How to Write / Gertrude Stein

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle / Haruki Murakami
Sorry, Tree (poems) / Eileen Myles

New York Magazine (3), Travel & Leisure, Curve, Wired, Women's Health, Nylon, Glamour, Marie Claire, Radar, Flaunt, Teen Vogue, several articles on the decline of Britney Spears' mental capacities.


February was a fabulous month to receive books. It was not the most productive month for reading said books. This column is embarrassing right now. Clearly I was very busy admiring the spines of my new books and considering their place in my reading list. Also: visiting Mickey Mouse, watching CNN.

Who's truly to blame for my paltry accomplishments this month? Ilene Chaiken, obviously, as writing about The L Word takes up approximately 50% of my waking life. Also, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was really long. I started it in January and even dedicated several hours of concentrated lying-on-the-bed reading time to it, and it still took about three weeks to complete. This's 'cause I'm secretly a very slow reader. I was once a fast reader, what happened? Words got bigger.

i. Hello, Mr. Wind-Up Bird

I got this book 'cause a commenter told me to read Kafka on the Shore, by the same author, and I don't follow directions well. I made significant progress while flying from NYC to Orlando, and in fact my head began exploding mid-air (simultaneously Natalie's ear popped and it took three weeks to heal itself) 'cause of the bizarre associations between Toru Okaada's story and my own story of this past year. Do we always do this? Find correspondences? And ultimately, how strange is it, exactly, that a book we choose will end up being a book that speaks directly & intimately to us? Not very. Like coincidentally appropriate Shared Items on Google Reader.

At the novel's start, Okaada's just quit his job and he's about to lose even more. At first, unemployment is restless. Eventually, it's intoxicating -- the endless and glorious hours, the self-sustaining homogeneity of the world that's gone on spinning/working without him and the new world he discovers when he's no longer obligated to daily 9-5 public regularity. Though unemployment isn't a stand-alone foundation/predication of "plot" (& great literature), it almost is in this book -- or it was ... to me. Okaada's forced to turn inwards, given permission to pay greater attention to environment & history & everyone's interloping stories -- to dream, think, listen, sleep, consider. As a once-super-unemployed freelancer, I relate to the importance of these vast & vacant hours.

"For over two months now, since quitting my job, I had rarely entered the 'outside world' I had been moving back and forth between the neighborhood shops, the ward pool and this house ... I had hardly seen anyone ... it was a narrow world, a world that was standing still. But the narrower it became, and the more it betook of stillness, the more this world that enveloped me seemed to overflow with things and people that could only be called strange. They had been there all the while, it seemed, waiting in the shadows for me to stop moving. And every time the wind-up bird came to my yard to wind its spring, the world descended more deeply into chaos." (p. 125)

Eventually it's an adventure story involving lots of action, twists & turns, etc. I don't want to say more -- about him, about me -- but the coincidences became increasingly chilling (the specifics as different as America and Tokyo, but the emotions as true as anything, and despite them still: such similar circumstances sometimes!), and I found moments of relation I hardly expected from a novel billed as "at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II." I mean they had electricity in World War II but it wasn't exactly the Easy-Mac period. This book takes place in the 80's though, obvs, you know how I feel about pre-electricity lit.

Would I recommend it? It's long. Not Don Quixote long, but long. 607 pages. Worth it. A real novel. The kind that's rarely considered/crafted anymore (my favorite contemporary novel, FYI: The Corrections.) I found it quietly compelling. It's complicated and quick. It made me think about thinking. It's kinda magical. You probs won't like it unless you like literature a lot. I liked it. What I'm saying is: if you don't, don't blame me. If you do, please thank me. I hearted it!

ii. Spare me the postmodern / experimental poet / bullshit / Honey think hard / about moments of /love you've experienced / with me.

So, B. basically got me a lot of books I should've read already ("Lesbian Reading 101") (see "books received" list) in February (part of a mission to make me a better writer/human/reader) and I've begun with Jeannette Winterson's Written on the Body, which Haviland's been telling me to read since forevs but I left it on an airplane returning from L.A. last week. I blame Virgin America's mood lighting for sedating me into a book-leaving lull. Unable to pick up anything new, I read Eileen Myles' Sorry, Tree three more times until I could get back to Barnes & Noble and replace WOTB (I miss my notes and underlines. I don't know if I should go back through and underline everything, or if it even matters. Somehow it does. I've been cracking the spine indiscriminately, hoping for a return to its original state.) The point: I was gonna pretend that I'd read Written on the Body in February too, 'cause I thought I'd finish it before writing this, but now I haven't. Therefore you will know the truth: I'm like a dead flower from the Dar Williams song, failing all over the place in this stony season.

I spoke of Eileen last month. How she blew my mind when I found her in The Believer, subsequently learned my thus-far ignorance of her is totally bizarre. I quoted her poem ("I love you too / don't fuck up my hair / I can't believe / you almost / fisted me / today.") in my blog last week, said it was the best ever. The Times: "a cult figure to a generation of post-punk females forming their own literary avant garde." Also she's a lez.

I read this book everywhere. I took it to Disneyworld and made Alex & Cait & Natalie listen to "Dear Andrea." I took it to CVS and read in line. Poems are like that. You can just pick it up for three minutes. This is what I think about reading poetry: first, you read them all when you have time. One here, another there. Then you read the whole book in one sitting, quickly, like you already know it by heart. Then you read it again. However strikes your fancy.

I don't know how to talk about poetry. I don't know how to tell you that once upon a time I thought poetry was a collection of oddly organized words designed to make smart people feel smarter, and how now I know it's actually everything, it's "desire / not a form / of it. It's feeling / into space, /tucked into / language / slipped /into time, / opened, / felt." What it asks is visceral. ("we're a bunch / of turtles / when it comes / to feelings"), ("My mother would always try and make us look at the sky. Look at that sunset Eileen. It made you really want to look away.") If you choose to commit you'll find the follow-through is easy. Hello, tree. Read this book.

iii. Love Poems to Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson is the best book critic ever, he's everything. He's inventive, witty, clever, compelling -- I look forward to his book reviews though I'm not interested in actually discovering if I want to read the book reviewed or not (my no-hardcover policy, related to weight & cost), I enjoy his reviews as standalone works of art. If Sam Anderson were a flavor of ice cream, he'd be my favorite flavor mint chocolate chip. If Sam Anderson were a car, it'd be fast with secret features and it'd emit expended energy like a windsurfer. He's upended Ira Glass as my number one geek crush.

As an undergrad at Michigan, I wrote specifically crafted book reviews for The Michigan Daily I was 95% certain nobody actually read. By nobody I mean nobody -- and thus I used my alloted page-space as a forum to craft portfolio-worthy pieces of my own design, sans structural or procedural concerns. I'd open with a tangential recollection of a dinner I'd had at a faux-hunting lodge outside of Detroit with a former writing teacher or with two paragraphs musing the book critic's instinct to compare every teenage narrator to Holden Caulfield. I stopped reviewing the new releases and just reviewed my favorite books, enabling elaborate fantasies of my favorite authors glowing in the light of my words of praise and sending me love letters. That never happened. I'm still 100% certain no-one read them. In retrospect, they're all pretty bad, too.

Initially I imagined Sam Anderson was doing the same thing -- he knows, as we all do, that book reviews are not New York magazine's most popular feature and that they're often obligatory inclusions -- and so he'd just decided to do whatever he wanted. And he wanted to make the book review fun & daring & experimental while maintaining effectiveness. Like reviewing "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" without reading it ("I imagine that every other reviewer in America is, at this very moment, chortling into his tweed collar while pretending to do the same thing. But I’m telling you it’s really happening to me, and I’m unhappy about it") or reviewing Barthelme's new collection in the style of Barthelme.

I imagined Sam Anderson was a little gem I'd discovered and now kept close and private. I know better now, 'cause he won an award. It's named after a body of water or the foreign guy from Perfect Strangers, I don't know which. Balakian. He's kinda famous. People do read book reviews. I guess.

In February, he reviews Toby Barlow's Sharp Teeth (a werewolf novel written entirely in verse), Peter Carey's His Illegal Self, the Everyman Library's Issue of The Complete Novels of Flann O'Brien and Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks From the Wild Web (in which he both reviews the work and presents insightful commentary on web-oriented writing/blog culture in general). Actually that last one's from March, but I read it in February.

Here's some quotes to convert you to my Sam Anderson worship --

From the Harry Potter review:

"Not since 1841, when New Yorkers swarmed the docks to ask incoming Brits whether Little Nell died in the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop (spoiler alert! She totally did), have readers been so simultaneously poised on the brink of a collective climax. "

"All the Rowling signatures are here: She’s still addicted to adverbs and (oddly) the word “bemused,” her caps lock gets stuck at critical moments, foreigners speak in intolerable accents, and everyone stutters uncontrollably at the slightest hint of stress. When the action gets heavy, she cranks the “coincidence” dial up to eleven and flagrantly abuses her imminent-death-thwarted-at-the-last-possible-moment privileges."

(Also, see his "hour-by-hour catalogue of [his] weekend of wizardry," in which he recounts the weekend lost to reading Deathly Hallows)

From the Lush Life review (written in the style of Richard Price):

"Sanchez spoke up first. “Pretty much everything, boss. Best writer of dialogue since Plato. Slang you never even heard of. Keep expecting the page to stand up and wander off somewheres, make a pass at your wife, order a bacon sandwich. I mean—yeah, no, the guy can screenwrite, sure, little and big screen both. But what I didn’t know? What you forget every time ’cause he blows three-four years between books writing shit like Shaft and the talking parts of Michael Jackson videos? Pure literature, baby. The fucking merits. Does this full-on virtuoso Zola spiel, nineteenth-century-style social-realist novelist-as-reporter thing, X-ray of the city: sleeping arrangements of illegal Chinese immigrants, inventory of a teenage girl’s room in the projects, every object in a Lower East Side post-murder sidewalk shrine. Dude could look you up and down for three seconds, tell you everything you got in your pockets—everything you ever had in your pockets, everything your kids got in their pockets. Everything you wish you had in your pockets instead.”

From a blog addressing "How Critics, Including Me, Screwed up Our Alice Sebold Reviews":

"Lee Siegel, writing in the Times Book Review, caught most of the flak for the error, mainly because his review ran next to a graphic of Mom’s corpse in the freezer and under the (creative!) headline “Mom’s in the Freezer." In Siegel’s defense, he never actually claims that Helen puts her mom in the freezer. ... A few of us, however, managed to screw things up unambiguously. My review, for instance, misstated the plot point as bluntly as possible (“Helen puts her mom’s corpse in the freezer”), then went on to repeat it as a zinger in the final paragraph: “These days, everybody puts Mom in the freezer.”

From the aforementioned How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read review, discussing what he knows about the book having not read it:

"I know, from Bayard’s author photo, that he is fiftyish and improbably slim, and likes to dress entirely in black. In fact, in lieu of reading the actual book, I’ve spent a very long time scrutinizing this picture, which strikes me as a masterpiece of calculated faux-casual self-revelation: Bayard leans against a railing in front of a scenic spray of graffiti—a touch of vérité to anchor all the abstraction—and his eyes simmer like coq au vin, and his forehead bunches with a devastating whisper of wrinkle-cleavage (my God, he is about to think!), and he appears to be sucking on something, perhaps the word oeuvre. In short, he looks like a foot soldier in the vast army of impish popular intellectuals France has been training since the days of Roland Barthes, just in case the struggle for freedom should ever come down to the ability to wring paradoxes out of a stone or unriddle the world with Lacanian decoder rings."

(Possibly one of the best paragraphs I've read in my life.)

NYMag's Vulture blogged about Anderson's exceptional NBCC award acceptance speech. A commenter requested a printing of said speech -- "What did Anderson say?". Anderson's response to this comment: "I said, "I hope no one is taking any pictures of me while I talk, because apparently I look like a gargoyle." It was a short speech."

Also, for the record, he doesn't look like a gargoyle. See for yourself here, and read the speech.


I crammed an entire year of political education into the first week of February for my own private Obama-mania session: the best was Andrew Sullivan's piece in The Atlantic. A lot of my favorite mags didn't release new issues this month. Also NY Mag has developed this strange habit of publishing some kind of true crime piece every month, which's strange, but which I read with rapt attention on the Stairmaster though I feel dirty about it afterwards. Also, I have an article in this month's Curve magazine, K.D. Lang is on the cover, I wrote about how hot the Rosie-cruise was.

Auto-Fun highlights included the validation of my blogging heartache by Deadspin at Publisher's Weekly and an intelligent voice on the Britney Spears situation in the NY Times op-ed, in which the author points out how easy it is to check yourself out of a mental hospital, even if you are Britney Spears. ESPECIALLY if you are Britney Spears.

The Britney thing. Okay, I'm not into celeb gossip -- not saving face here, I'm clearly quite open about my guilty pleasures. But Brit interests me on another level ... I can't stop! ... It's like a mystery story where I already know who did it and I'm waiting for the trial ... I just keep thinking : G-d, she's gonna be fucking embarrassed when her episode ends. I follow her story with clinical fascination, watching her display one bipolar symptom after another (including taking on boyfriends who believe in her royalty, a.k.a., the paparazzi, and cycling through close friends like so many unworthy disciples) and self-medicate. She continues to disintegrate. Clearly: she was prancing about on teevee in a schoolgirl outfit at 16 ... she's never been all-the-way-there, she's had certain problems of exhibitionism and standard adolescent sexual precociousness complicated by strict policies of appeared virginity and the resulting daily hypocrisy.

But money. Always money. Money pads insanity, enables it. You can be as crazy as you wanna be if you've got the money to back your shit up -- herein lies the difference between Britney and the man on the corner of 125th and Lennox dressed as the Statue of Liberty peddling apocalyptic scriptures. She'll wake up from her manic dream to find magazine covers blaring delusions: Mom's sleeping with her boyfriend, she's mothering her children locked in a bathroom wearing only underwear, shaving her head, wearing a wig and speaking in a British accent ... the woman's a maniac! Of course she's still driving! It's possible, also, that the mania was induced by us, and by drugs. A decent article on this: "The Tragedy of Britney Spears" (@Rolling Stone). Okay anyhow ...

... The latest Teen Vogue -- A-Z fashion hooha -- is ideal collage fodder for those of you who care of such things (H is for Hoodie!). Also, I'm torn on Radar. Its content: often engaging. Its cover art: consistently terrible. It wins awards for these covers. What am I missing? Do I know nothing about visual design (don't look at my outfit thanks)? Also, if you're interested in my opinion on the Lindsay Lohan New York Magazine cover/photo shoot (so popular that NYMag's servers overloaded and shut down when it came out) ... I think she's got a significant & impressive rack. Auto-Win seal of approval. Also, while you're checking out the New York Magazine website, I implore you to check out Sam Anderson's collected works. He read way more in February than I did, clearly.

Keep on reading, kids!


Lauren said...

I'm totally embarrassed to admit this, but I've been meaning to read Kafka on the Shore because Ellen Page mentioned it in an interview. I also downloaded most of her iTunes Celebrity Playlist (except the Kimya Dawson, as I'm strongly in the hater camp on that one) because I take all my cultural cues from the famous.

They are, after all, our betters.

Also, thanks for directing me to Sam Anderson. He is amazing.

Lozo said...

your blog should be retitled "stuff i've been reading" as it's all you ever provide anymore. i feel cheated, betrayed, and a little gassy. i don't blame you for that last one, as i just ate lunch.

chrissy said...

I'm just gunna print out this blog and hand it to a librarian. "I want all of these." I need something else to do backstage other than drawing ridiculously inaccurate cartoons of the auto-winners.

PS - Go back to Disney this summer. Yours truly will be rockin' an employee badge. Plus we can party in my apartment.

Crystal said...

I loved that Harry Potter review, for real, and you know how I feel about Harry Potter. I feel a lot more for Amanda Bynes, who btw is famous for The Amanda Show, and cinematic art such as She's The Man and Hairspray. You know, just fyi.

riese said...

lauren: I downloaded her entire celebrity playlist too. In our defense, I feel that talented people generally have reasonable musical and literary taste. i wouldn't necessarily download Amanda Bynes, Dane Cook or Britney Spears' recommended playlist, but clearly if Sam Anderson ever got into that, I'd download it in a hot second. Also, this leads me to believe it was probs her who recommended Kafka on the Shore to me in the blog comments, as I'm sure she's v. interested in everything I have to say.

Lozo: your blog should be called "stuff I've been watching on ESPN," as that's all you've ever provided anymore. Also, remember that video last week? Look at all the girls that want your junk now, and I didn't even win the contest.

chrissy: Actually, the cartoon of Lozo looked just like him, really. I think a librarian would be giddy at the sign of human life, the reading list might make her head explode. In a really good way. That's amazing that you're working at Disney. I hope you're going to be wearing a serious costume.

crystal: Isn't She's the Man your favorite movie? That's what I've heard. Also you know what that couch could use right now? A Harry Potter book. Just sayin' ...

Lozo said...

whatever. my penis and amy sedaris aren't on espn. nice try.

Katyn said...

"Written on the Body" is a book with such significance to me that when I read the title in your blog, I think MY head exploded.

eric mathew said...

the disney map IS an all day reading event and you always miss what you're loking for. it made me smile that you used g-d for hashem. i was discussing this the other day with someone because i once got into an argument (one of many) in hebrew school on that topic. in teen vogue i hope F was for Fedora and U was for unitard.

i would say feb was a slow month reading was for me. i had to read a play a week for a theater class...ehh. but rosie's book was quite good.

Heartshaped said...

Hi sorry this is quite random but i just wanted to say that your blog is interesting and the books that you are reading seem like books i'd want to check out! Oh yeah the quote in the entry before this one made me speechless but i like it a lot and it does make sense. Well just thought i'd leave a comment, peace!

caitttt said...

After I finish The corrections, I'm reading the wind up bird, even if you've already told me all about it..

Also I never understood why people say February is short... 3 days is no big deal, even if Feb had 31 days, you'd probs have been recapping anyway!

B. said...

Just so you know, "Lesbian Reading 101" doesn't equal "Books Received." Knox, Acker, Smith, Carson and Braverman aren't lesbos, the rest are (in case there was any confusion).

Also, Sarah Waters' "Tipping the Velvet" should be on your 101 list.

Also also, February had 29 days this year. Leap, weirdo.

Lastly, I have Wind-Up and The Corrections sitting in my office if you want either, Cait.

Gotta run, but thanks for writing this Marie. I'll probably return to comment about Sam Anderson. :)

chrissy said...

Just wanted to let you know I changed my blog name. It's now called 'oh hiii...' same url though: http://www.chrissyjacobs.blogspot.com.

I also just created 'painting the roses red' @ http://www.chrissyatdisney.blogspot.com
It's my blog for when I start work in Florida.

I didn't even notice that you linked me until like 3 minutes ago. Rock on!

Milly said...

wow. your reading list makes me feel extremely very hugely lazy for playing video games when I could/should be reading proper books...

riese said...

lozo: I haven't been reading my roof, the lesbian award, your vlog or the Carousel of Progress. But nice try.

katyn: It's one of those books that as I read it I wonder how I've gone so far without.

eric mathew: I think I also left Teen Vogue on an airplane but I can't imagine U being for anything but unitard, especially considering this year's fashions. My Mom was really strict about the g-d thing, and now I do feel a little unholy when I fail to use it, you know?

heartshaped: Hi! I love your little name and your pink icon. You should check out all the books but especially written on the body.

caittt: okay even if you don't like it though you can't blame me. You're right, btu that would've been 3 more days to recap!

b.: You know what Alice on The L Word said? Well, probs not, so I'll tell you: "most girls are straight until they're not." Also, I have no clue how I missed the 29th, maybe I was asleep or in California?

chrissy: thanks for the update! I can't believe you're working in disneyworld, crazy stuff happens there.

milly: I'd play more video games, but I get calluses on my thumbs. I could use better hand-eye coordination.

Lauren said...

I have a strange affection for She's The Man, but, no, I'd never download Amanda Bynes's celebrity playlist. And I'd wager Dane Cook's is full of nothing but his own work.

I bet it was totally Ellen Page who suggested Kafka on the Shore. If those rumors about her are true (and an anonymous commenter on my blog is adamant that they are), perhaps she got here via Auto-Straddle. You should check your sitemeter for Nova Scotia.

I don't really feel too bad for taking suggestions from her; that line about celebrities being our betters is from a by Paul Tompkins, who is also awesome.

e. said...

"I don't know how to talk about poetry. I don't know how to tell you that once upon a time I thought poetry was a collection of oddly organized words designed to make smart people feel smarter, and how now I know it's actually everything...['till end of pgph.]"

I don't know how you take the exact feelings fluttering teasingly around the periphery of my head/heart/liver/fingertips, and then explain them how I would if I could ever possibly catch them by myself.


riese said...

lauren: Crystal also genuinely does love She's the Man, which makes me wonder if I should check it out. It'd be my first movie of the year though -- clearly a big decision. I'm 99% sure we're right about Ellen.

e.: thank your heart and liver and everything for feeling the same way i do, because that's some kind of something to me, honestly it is.

elec-tri-city said...

WOTB is amazing. I wish I had a better adjective to use, but amazing will have to suffice. I've read it a few times and am about to simultaneously psychoanalyze and deconstruct the genderless narrator in a 20 page paper for grad school. (That made me sound kind of smart, that's pretty awesome.)

Also... wait, I forgot... OH. Lindsay Lohan's rack. I actually salivated when I saw that photo spread. I had no idea she was hiding that massive amount of breastly goodness.

And now, I need to go read something. I cannot wait till this school year is over. Teaching English sometimes makes it difficult to read for pleasure. Sad. Really.