May 2009

Short Stories: Albert Camus

Being born in an occupied territory - a part of an empire, basically - granted Albert Camus some insight into cultural otherness that most probably wouldn't have been able to discern on their own. In the same time and place from which the basis of Battle of Algiers was culled, Camus witnessed divisive politics, oppression and even revolt. That's a lot to take in when you're still figuring out what's what in life. But because of this Camus' writing took on qualities unknown prior to his time.

A Tale of Rape and Redemption

A novella titled Rape: A Love Story has to have some kind of meaning other than the seemingly obvious one. Indeed, the tale by Joyce Carol Oates is not of a woman in love with her rapist (or vice versa) but rather one of the woman’s daughter and her love of the police officer who avenges the woman’s rape on his own time as a vigilante for justice.

Teena Maguire is an attractive single mother in her mid-thirties who enjoys having fun and dressing somewhat provocatively. Her daughter, Bethie, is a sensible twelve-year-old who sometimes resents but loves her mother dearly. On the night of July Fourth, a group of teenage boys attack both of them as they walk home from a neighborhood party, dislocating Bethie’s shoulder and dragging Teena into a boathouse to assault her.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs* by Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is proud of having three friends who have known serial killers, has a list of questions ready to ask potential partners in love, and is very, very funny. In his book, "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs", he manages to dissect American culture that is no way nearly as high-brow as David Foster Wallace, but maybe two and half times as entertaining, and with almost as many footnotes.


Atmoshpheric Disturbances

Rivka Galchen’s first novel, “Atmospheric Disturbances” is a little bit about the weather, a little bit about love, and a little bit about the nature of reality.  The plot is complex and I think that to enjoy it, it's necessary for the reader to suspend belief and just take it as it comes. At the beginning of the novel, Dr. Leo Liebenstein comes home to find that his beautiful wife has been substituted with a simulacrum (which is similar to a doppelganger, but according my dictionary even more precise: a similar but unsatisfactory imitation of substitute). As anybody in his particular situation might be wont to do, he decides to investigate her “disappearance”, but in a very interesting manner.

Poet of the Week: Christina Rossetti

Last week I wrote about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the most famous and widely-respected female poet of her time. Just two months prior to Barrett Browning's death in Italy, an 18-year-old poet named Christina Georgina Rossetti became the subject of high acclaim for a poem published in Athenaeum magazine. That poem, followed by her most well-known collection The Goblin Market and Other Poems, led to Rossetti being dubbed the literary successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's fame.

This is really more a result of the marginalization of female thinkers in 19th century England than an indication of any meaningful connection between the work of Barrett Browning and the work of Rossetti. Artistically, the two couldn't be more different. Rossetti's style has more in common with the fevered Romanticism of Samuel Taylor Coleridge than the classical restraint of Barrett Browning. The only meaningful link between these two women is an early political bent.

Get Caught Reading

...and not just because May is Get Caught Reading Month! Rain or shine, a dry heat or a humidity that makes your pages damp, it’s always a good time to read. Here are some great places to get caught reading, and the books you can read while people ogle your bookwormyness.

The Beach: Whether you’re there for fun, dragged along by people you don’t even like much (family? friends? cult fanatics?), or just checking out the… um, surf, there’s a book to make you a true beach bum.

Best Reads: Lord of the Flies—aren’t you glad you aren’t on that beach?

On the Beach—counter summer tourists with your stoic glare over the pages.

Life of Pi: Half-Way Finished Review

I'm currently reading Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, which I'm really enjoying.  I'm about half-way through it and, even though most people finish a book before writing about it, I want to do the half-way finished review.  This is because I'm 100% certain it will continue to be great all the way to the end.  It takes quite a bit of time and energy to finish a book so, before I start something, I always read reviews to make certain I will enjoy it.  Recently I read a book purely based on a friend's recommendation and that felt like a big waste of time.  Why I didn't quit the book early, I'm not sure.  I suppose it just wasn't bad enough to justify quitting in the middle.  There was always the hope that it would get better. 

Queen Camilla








This novel by Sue Townsend is a satirical look at UK which makes excellent social and political commentary, while tickling your funny bone. But then Townsend is famous this style of writing. You might remember her as the writer of the ever popular Adrian Mole series. Well, she pulls off another winner with this novel.

Queen Camilla is, as you might have guessed, about the British royal family. Of course it is not a true-to-life description of them; rather, think of it as a glimpse into a parallel universe. Nonetheless, despite having a fictional backdrop, Townsend manages to touch upon a lot of topical issues, both about British society and its government, in this novel.

Poet of the Week: Elizabeth Barrett Browning- A Lover and a Feminist Icon

Few poets ever get to cross over into the popular cultural consciousness. Of those who do, only a fraction are ever actually known for their work. More often it is because they were larger-than-life figures or because they were tied to other media. William Shakespeare made his name with crowd-pleasing plays, then composed sonnets in his free time. It took platinum rap albums and a high-profile death to get people engaged with Tupak Shakur's poetry. Ask anyone about Emily Dickinson and they will tell you the story of a depressed recluse, but be hard-pressed to identify even one line of her written work. The immediate recognizability of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's work is thus one of the many reasons why she was and is remarkable.

Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America

There have been few occasions in American history when the labor movement has not been spat upon by either established authority (the "man," as he is known) or big business ("Your Holiness," as he is known). This is due in large part to the perceived danger to order that organization represents. A skull is much easier to crack if there isn't another skull in the way to obstruct the swing.

You didn't learn this in high school, but America has an über-violent history of class conflict, that is, the battle of the haves against the have-nots. And a brilliant chronicle of this is Louis Adamic's Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, which covers a span from the early 1800s to the time of its first publication in 1931.

Poet of the Week: Introductions and Walt Whitman

Poetry is an odd art. It's the only medium I've ever heard someone dismiss outright. Nobody ever says, "I don't like paintings" and there is often at least one caveat to the statement "I don't like music", i.e. "I mean pop music" or "I just mean rock, really". Yet there are many people who have no qualms about saying, "I don't like poetry". My approach to this sentiment is similar to my understanding of different kinds of food. If you say you don't like something, then you probably just haven't had the right kind in your diet.

It doesn't help that most people get their first and last exposure to poetry in an academic setting. Aside from the inherent discomfort of being given something as a requirement instead of as a choice, poetry suffers from too much deconstruction and repetition. While pursuing my English degree I had "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" shoved in my face so many times that I swore off T.S. Eliot for years.

David Sedaris in Seattle

I fell in love with David Sedaris about eight or nine years ago when I read "Me Talk Pretty One Day" on an airplane. It was a big mistake because I was laughing so hard at every single thing on the page. I was in raptures. Tonight, I had the fortune to see David Sedaris reading live at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

He opened up with a story about greed and book tours. Starting it off as a joke because of the ubiquitous tip jars in America, he  supposedly planted a tip jar at each and every book signing of a tour. People started off with quarters and ended up with fives and twenties. He started to gauge the crowd at the review not by their numbers, but how cheap they were, or by how much money he got from a particular city.  This is ironic, because I started to judge the reading, not by its own merit, but by the fifty dollar price tag. For fifty dollars, I expected a bit more.

First Effort: Terry Southern

Gaining notoriety during the '60s for his screenwriting, Terry Southern eventually became a well known and much respected writer in Hollywood, although his novels, as much as anything else that he's associated with are as unique as other works from the time period.

Being raised in Texas, Southern eventually left the States and made his way to France and was a part of the post World War II literary boom that occurred there. While Southern may not have been perceived as enormous a literary figure as William Burroughs or others that made a name for themselves during the '50s in Paris, his wit and ability to lampoon stereotypes made him a sought after commodity. Again, even with his film writing credits - which included Dr. Strangelove as well as Easy Rider - Southern wasn't ever granted the wide spread notoriety of his literary brethren.