Posts Tagged ‘book’

Shuffle Says: “Gentle Violence” The Black Lips, Let It Bloom

Mark Z. Danielewski’s recentish novel Only Revolutions is something that has been sitting on my shelf for about half a year now without much progress.

Here’s a quick summary to start. Only Revolutions follows the journey of two sixteen year old children (herein referred to as Sam&Hailey/Hailey&Sam) as they road trip across the country over a two hundred year span of time (yes, they are sixteen for the whole time). The first hundred years are told from Sam’s perspective (1863-1963) and then the next century through Hailey’s.

There are an infinite number of ways to read any book, but some seem to lend themselves to a certain setting. There are very specific books that are meant to be read in an airport, which are completely different to ones that are meant to be read in an attic, or an armchair with a glass of scotch, or under a tree on a sleepy summer afternoon. The way I really enjoyed reading House of Leaves was waiting for late in the evening, turning out all lights save for the bedside lamp, closing the door and tightening the blinds, sitting up in bed so there was nothing but me and the book and the darkness. I’d let myself get pulled into the book; become part of it, not just read, but experience it and let it affect me, my emotions, my thoughts, my dreams.

This is possible because the book is self-contained. Yes it’s thick. Yes at times you feel like you are having to fight your way through the pages, only to feel like the author is just fucking with you, that whole chapters are nothing but a sick, post-modern, literary joke. It is also certainly a piece that merits re-reading. Reading the piece after studying it would certainly yield a very different perception of it than a single raw run through of the story.

Of course coming from a background of BA or academics you’ll get the book it another way. and while you may flip the book upside down or sideways or continually jump back pages at a time to catch up with the foot/end notes.  but this is part of what makes the book a physical experience. and there is still a compelling narrative to follow that makes you do a mental junkie shuffle to find out just what the fuck is going on. Despite all of this you can follow along without having to consult the outside world. Such is not the case in Only Revolutions.

In Only Revolutions, the whole of the narrative is mired in the historical context which appears in verse form in the margins. Take note that these are not headlines, not explicit summaries, only carefully worded clues, enough for you to search for them as keywords. This suggests that the book was written for a generation who came of age at a late enough date so as to be used to having constant access to Wikipedia.

Danielewski himself commented in several interviews that the book requires some knowledge of what was occurring on the particular date the page takes place. For instance, there is a passage which refers to “sentinels of the pale forest”  staring at them as they passed. This is nothing but a fine piece of imagery unless you know that the day this is occurring happened to be a major turning point in the rise of the Klu Klux Klan.

I am not complaining that the book is simply too difficult to read, moreover that it is overly and unnecessarily complex. between deciphering and researching the history, flipping between the narratives, and attempting to understand the archaic language of two protagonists in can take hours just to trudge through a few dozen pages (keeping in mind that each page is only 180 words).

The result is something that feels less like a story and more like an academic exercise. Some explanation, I would posit might be garnered from his process. Danielewski disclosed that the novel consumed nearly a decade of his life. He describes working twelve hours a day six days a week; many weeks’ hours reaching three digits. According to him, the effort strained ties to his family and wreaked havoc on his romantic relationships. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for sacrificing for your art, but spending this much time shut in a room with nothing but your words, I know from experience, distances you from reality to such an extent, it harms your work. I can only imagine the effects maintaining such a lifestyle for that amount of time. Part of writing is living and it is an important one, I believe.  Letting the world affect you is important and it is not possible when you live chained to a desk.

The poetry of the book is beautiful. This I won’t argue with. So it is all that much more unfortunate, that the rhythm of the text is constantly broken due to its context.  The purpose of a novel is to tell a story, or to educate, or engender a feeling, promote a way of thinking, or simply to be beautiful and while it is unassailable that Mr. Danielewski is a phenomenal writer, his great efforts to create a grand design have only resulted in a form which will drive people away from his work.

Neil Gaiman recently was asked  in an interview about why he believed his work was so popular. To address this he gave his thoughts on post-modernism and its effects in contemporary writing. Gaiman suggested that generation of authors have become so wrapped up in the form and method and stylistic ideals of what it is supposed to be that we are losing our grasp on the simple aspect of storytelling. His own work is popular because it stands in total contrast, by focusing on telling a good story and telling it well.

Only Revolutions suffers a real weakness in this regard because while it may be a good story and it may be extremely deep, and well structured, and all those other wonderful qualifying academic things, it is not told well.  This argument may come under criticism, called un-academic. So allow me to humanize it a bit, can you imagine someone telling a story(a parent, a grandparent, babysitter, teacher, friend, Carney, troubadour, etc… ), but having to stop every thirty words to spend five minutes on a seemingly unrelated tangent so you could “enjoy” it better?



Shuffle says: “The Hog of the Forsaken” Michael Hurly

Where Children’s Skulls Which Bear Your Name Hang Like Leaves and Are Eaten Like Candy: Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and The Most Sacred of Holidays.

Just taken off the desk is The Halloween Tree. This has got to be one of the best pieces of children’s literature I have read in a long time. The story follows eight young boys on the most thrilling Halloween of their lives. I didn’t even know this book existed until Halloween of last year.

As always the holiday made me a little nostalgic – last year especially, as I was at a pretty low place in my life – which caused me to go searching for an old kids movie which in the past always made me fall a little more in love with this festival of death. I was all the more surprised when a IMDB search yielded some interesting facts. The script was written by Ray Bradbury of all people which he based on his own children’s novella. What’s more is that the voice of the narrator is also Bradbury.

At the time I knew old ray like anyone else, from reading Fahrenheit 451 in school (I had forgotten that I had read a comic book adaptation of The Martian Chronicles). Anyhoo, I picked up a copy on my next run by Hall-Price and finally got around to reading it last week. This book has some of the finest prose I’ve ever seen and Makes me wish Bradbury had written more stuff for children. The dialogue does feel a little stilted, a whole lot of “golly gee”s and “heck”s, like a child in a 1940’s comic strip. Thankfully the kids don’t talk much. Bradbury’s one “adult” figure Mr. Moonshroud does the most speaking as he’s taking them on a 4000 year tour of the history of Halloween.

The few factual errs (Halloween as we know it is essentially a modern version of the Irish Pagan holiday which was “celebrating” the dark god Samhain [pronounced Sow{as in a lady pig} – Ann {as in the queen} where it hasn’t changed all that much) can be overlooked as what Bradbury is doing is giving the reader an understanding of man’s eternal relationship with Death. It all the ways mankind understands it, he addresses Death as a concept, as a journey, as part of life, as ritual, as a god, and personified. Through this journey Bradbury is working with something even more important, teaching his audience (presumably children) how to confront the idea of their own mortality. It most children’s books this sort of thing gets overlooked or sugar-coated, but Bradbury meets the problem directly without being at all depressing. In fact it’s kind of thrilling. The children become enraptured with the idea of celebrating death, which in turn is a celebration of life.

The eight boys are chasing their friend Pipkin (hmm…pip/pumpkin?) who we are told is the best boy in the history of children and who most loved Halloween (more than ten boys could love Christmas, it is said), across time and the world. Along with their guide Moonshroud, they travel to, among other places, the world of the dead where they are asked to make the ultimate choice for their friend; one not to be made lightly or without full understanding of the consequences.

All in all a riveting read.

Shuffle says: “Frank and Jesse James” Warren Zevon, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

Ok, so it’s a little late to be posting this, but I figured I’d throw it up anyway. The idea for actually making the list came after celebrating New Year’s with my new family. We discussed resolutions, something I’ve never really been into.  I feel like it’s a set up for failure.  People tend to forget about them a month in and then fuck it.  I’m always resolving to do better and mostly failing so I really don’t see the need for a special event to do so.  Somehow, though I got it into my head that if I had a resolution it would have to be something that functionally must fit into a year.  And for some reason I decided that a great year long endeavor that would actually serve to better myself would be to pick a reading list and try to stick to it.

I can’t help but feel this list is also a confession of sorts.  There are a number of books on here that I either never finished or should have read years ago. In Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler the opening chapter portray’s you in the process of buying the book at the store and while you’re walking though the aisles of books and putting them into categories such as “books you always meant to read, but something always came up” and “books you pretend to have read and now are afraid to read because someone might catch you”.  That scene resonated with me for reasons you might pick up in the descriptions of the books posted below.

It also serves to remind myself regularly that I am a working writer now and this should be considered part of my JOB. So while the list feels a bit overwhelming, I’m trying to tend to it daily as part of my works schedule.  Finding the proper venues always helps as well. I’m on the train one to three days out of the week giving me almost two hours round trip, which has helped tremendously with giving me free time with very limited uses.

You’ll also notice a fair amount of audio books on the list. I’m taking a page (pun intended) out of Neil Gaiman’s book (or should I say “off his blog”) here. A few weeks ago he posted this entry, where he discusses his new work out plan. Since I stopped training a few years ago, I’ve gotten terribly out of shape and in the past few months have really started to notice it.  No one ever told me that writers live quite sedentary lives and I don’t think I am taking to it very well. I spent a significant amount of my day sitting in front of the computer for work, not to mention the time I spend sitting on the train, sitting at the dinner table, sitting while writing the blog, and so on and so forth. Honestly the most exercise I get is walking to improv and running around on stage.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, Mr. Gaiman was experience similar issues and decided to start working out 40 or 20 minutes  every day, but was a bit disheartened with the prospect of doing something so “boring”. Then he got the Idea to download Audio books, queue up 40 minutes worth of a book and go. I must say I really like the idea of engaging the mind while training the body and I’m gonna take his advice.   The books listed run about a day a piece, which will last me I dunno how long (learning math is not among my new years resolutions) and if I run out I’ve got some old favorites: the Narnia series, A Christmas Carol (read by Patrick Stewart), Sherlock Holmes (Sir Christopher Lee), The Odyssey (Sir Ian McKellen), and the Lord of the Rings to slake my workout needs.

I’m shooting for a book a week, so there should be 52 books on this list. Obviously some of these I’ve already gone through.  If any of you want to recommend anything it will go swiftly to the bottom of the stack. Feel free to read along.

1. If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
Done. One of the best books I have ever read. Now on my top ten and have added more Calvino to the reading list.

2. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klusterman
Done. Trying to read some non-fiction.

3. The Portable Beat Reader – various
I have this thing for letters. It seems every generation of writers (and artists in general) are very connected and I want to learn more about the relationships between that lot.

4. Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman

5. Sandman volumes 6-10 – Neil Gaiman
I know I know, I am a bad comic book writer for never finishing the series.

6. Ice Cream and Sadness – Various
Done. Yeah, I’m pseudo padding the list with comic books I got at Christmas.

7. Best New American Voices – Various

8. Artist Depending a staircase – Tom Stoppard

9. Ulyses – James Joyce
one of the “Big scary monsters” on the list

10. The Maltese Falcon – Dashell Hammet
One of my favorite movies. I love super stylized hard-boiled stuff.

11. The Master and the Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Added after many recommendations.  Also, I’ve never read anything by a Russian yet. This was also recommended by Neil Gaiman as an audio book and it may end up there.

12. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemmingway
One of my favorite authors and I’ve never read this one.

13. The crying of lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon
Short and weird. Plus people keep telling me I’d really like the play in it.

14. One Flew Over the Coockoo’s nest – Ken Kessey

15. Long Day’s Journey into night – Eugine O’neil
I’m including plays in here too. I heard this once described as “about how Catholics are miserable, bad people and are all going to hell”

16. Iron Weed – William Kennedy
Recommended for me specifically by one of my writing teachers. Who said my style is heading in that direction and it would serve me to read this.

17. The story behind the Story – Various
A collection of short stories and essays by the authors about how they wrote them. For obvious reasons.

18. T-zero – Italo calvino
see one.

19. Zen in the art of Archery

20. The caretaker and the dumbwaiter – Harold Pinter

21. The Dharma Bums – Jack Keroac

22. The Call of Cthulu and other Dark Tales – H.P. Lovecraft

23. Making Comics – Scot McCloud

24. World War Z – Max Brooks
Done. Decided to try to read something contemporary to tap into some zeitgeist and it far exceeded my expectations.

25. SuicideGirls Issue 2 – various
Interviews with chuck palahniuk, Neil Labute, Dave Mamet, Zack Snyder, Kinky Friedman, Zach Galifanakais, and Terry Giliam

26. Waiter Rant – the waiter

27. Writing Movies – Gotham
Started for class and never finished

28. The wind in the willows – Kennith Grahme
Need to get back to some classic children’s stories.

29. Only Revolutions – Mark Z. Danielewski
From the author of another one of my top tens, House of Leaves.

30. The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury
Remember watching the movie as a kid. I had no idea it was a book, let alone written by a Sci-fi Legend.

31. Hell’s Angels – Hunter S. Thompson

32. The amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
The book was lent to me by a friend and I hope to have it read before my next trip to Texas.

33. The Once and Future King – T.H. White
A favorite of the ‘monk’ who shows up in my Daily Droppings.

34. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie

35. House of Mystery Volume 2 – Matthew Sturges
Done. Met this guy at a con. Probably my favorite series currently in production.

36.  On Stories – Richard Kearney

37. Lolita – Vladamir Nabokov

39. Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

40. The Real thing – Tom Stoppard

41. Communicating Doors – Alan Aykborne

42. Three Days of Rain – Richard Greenberg

43. True west – Sam Shepard

44. The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
The second “big scary monster”

45. White Noise – Don Delillo
Started this one all the way back in highschool and never finished it.

46. The Road – Cormac McCarthy

47. All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

48. No Country For Old Men – Cormac McCarthy

49. Art By Committee – Charna Halpern
A follow to Truth in Comedy.  

50. Stardust – Neil Gaimen

52. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

53. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle

54. Seize the Day – Saul Bellow

56. Truth in Comedy – Del Close

58. The Body Artist – Don Delillio

The following books are in audio format.

1. The Crossing – Cormac McCarthy

2. Cities of the Plains – Cormac McCarthy

3. Children of the Mind – Orson Scott Card

4. Xenocide – Orson Scott Card

5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles – Haruki Murakami

6. A Scanner Darkley -Phillip K. Dick

7. Shadow of the Giant – Orson Scott Card

8. The Naked Lunch – William S Burroughs

9. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Oh and this final bit. Another top tenner here.  Neil Gaiman is releasing a 10th anniversary edition of the thing that is extended by 12,000 words and it be released alongside a full cast recording of the thing. I was so excited when the news came out last month I sat down and read almost half the thing before deciding I wanted to save the experience for when the new edition came out.

10. The Graveyard Book (read by the author)!