Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Reading, Slowly

Elbow Room, James Alan McPherson

"A black mama birthed you, let you suck her titty, cleaned your dirty drawers, and you still look at us through paper and movie plots."

I started reading this at the same time as The Color of Water and completely preferred it. I loved many of the narrative voices, the title story in particular. The long read time was simply a result of how easy it is to be distracted from any short story collection (for me, anyway.) I had to order it over the Internet from a used book dealer, as it was the Pulitzer Prize winner in the year of my birth and apparently not much read anymore, which I think is a real shame.

"I saw Virginia Frost losing control of her stories. As her belly grew, her recollections began to lose their structure. The richness was still there, but her accounts became more anecdotal than like stores. They lacked clarity and order. She still knew the names, the accents, the personal quirks of individual Indians, Asians, Israelis, but more and more they fragmented into pieces of memory. There was no longer the sense of a personal epic. She no longer existed inside her own stories. They began bordering dangerously on the exotic and nostalgic. At times, telling them, she almost became a performer - one capable of brilliant flashes of recollection that stunned briefly, lived and then were gone. She had inside her an epic adventure, multinational in scope, but the passion needed to give it permanent shape was obviously fading."

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

"The walls of the shed collapsed one autumn afternoon - "a leaf too many," her father joked - and the next day he made new walls of shelves, so that the books themselves would separate inside from outside. (The new, overhanging roof protected the books from rain, but during the winter the page would freeze together, come spring they let out a sigh.) He made a little salon of the space, carpets, two small couches, eh loved to go out there in the evenings with a glass of whiskey and a pipe, and take down books and look through the wall at the center of the city."

While I liked the book well enough, I was in no rush to finish it and in fact, stopped 40 pages from the end for over a week. The narrative voice reminded me strongly of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

"It's easy to be emotional. You can always make a scene. Remember me eight months ago? That was easy." "It didn't sound easy." "It was simple. Highs and lows make you feel that things matter, but they're nothing." "So what's something?" "Being reliable is something. Being good."

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon was greatly influenced by The Great Gatsby and Goodbye Columbus - in terms of using the outline of a single summer. Gatsby is better and I've yet to read Goodbye Columbus, but I assume it is too.

"I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalizations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl who majors in French. She has entered into her course of study, first of all, knowing full well that it can only lead to her becoming a French teacher, a very grim affair, the least of whose evils is poor pay, and the prospect of which should have been sufficient to sent her straight into business or public relations. She has been betrayed into the study of French, heedless of the terrible consequences, by her enchantment with this language, which has ruined more young American women than any other foreign tongue. Second, if her studies were confined simply to grammar and vocabulary, then perhaps the French major would develop no differently from those who study Spanish or German, but the unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind."

It took me forever to finish this - it's never a good sign when you find the author interview at the end more interesting than the novel itself. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it ten years ago.

Body Wars: Making Peace with Women's Bodies, Margo Maine, Ph.D.

While the book was interesting enough to keep me amused on the subway, it didn't introduce anything I hadn't read before. Go read The Beauty Myth instead. Also - don't bloody capitalize things you shouldn't. It's annoying. It talked a lot about how these days the self isn't viewed as a life force or a process, but a product to which we can add value. Most interesting new fact: the Barbie Liberation Organization switched GI Joe and Barbie voice boxes, "Vengeance is mine." "Let's go shopping."

The distorted Barbie

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