March 19, 2016

A Truly Epic Love Story: Daniel Clowes' "Patience"

I checked this out of the library. When I saw that Clowes had a new book coming out, I put it on my wishlist, sight unseen and waited. Adam Grant’s newish book was due, and I returned it. The circulation lady at the desk let me know that this had come in. As she scanned, it, she said “patience is a virtue”. Looking at her eyes, I thought she might be flirting with me, but I’m about ten years older than she is and married and not interested. So I didn’t know what to say. I hope I smiled so that she knew I was friendly or at least not a sociopath.

I went home. Placed it in the table on my main living level. My wife wanted to go to this thing with her friend, a stand-up comedy open mike that had some mid-level talent. I drove her to it and then came home and started to drink some beer while messing around on twitter and other social media and writing a couple other things.

After a couple, I thought I would go and grab my new graphic novel. It seemed pretty straight forward. For about eight pages. The thing turns into this interesting time travel narrative. I’m not sure if the science works, but I am usually a stickler for world building making sense in the narratives I read. There were no red flags for me. Or that could have been the beers speaking, I’m not sure. The basic story is a man falls in love with woman who meets a violent end. He then does whatever he can to find out what happened. That means time travel in this event. Thinking on it as I read it, it wasn’t really science fiction because of the time travel, it was more a magical realism like Lethem’s “Fortress of Solitude”, where the fantastic helps tell the story.

Because what the story is is a really deep and moving love story that defies the traditional dimensions of space and time. I know I put this book on reserve because of the author, the truth is that he has let me down for the most part since the triumph of Ghost World. This may not rise to his youthful promise, but if it were a book by anyone else, we would be praising a new talent. It is worth the ride, even if there is something left wanting at the end.

March 18, 2016

Revisiting Fight Club: Fincher Improving Palahniuk

Being a teenage boy in the late 90s, the movie version of this book was totally on my radar. In fact, the movie along with American Psycho were both such a part of my self-identity that I went back and sought out the source material for the movies the summer after my freshman year so I could seek out the source material figuring if I liked the movies then I would like the books because of course the books were better.

There was – in that baby age of everyone being connected to the internet instead of just nerds – a newsgroup or a site that I think called itself the Cult. It was there I learned that Palahniuk thought that Fincher had improved on the book. (And it was not long before I burned out on Palahniuk’s works, feeling him just a one-trick pony who really couldn’t write people that deeply and female characters not at all).  At the time, I think I agreed, but that was unfair because I was such a fan of the movie that anything that deviated from the movie was wrong, because to me the movie was the source material. (Odd thought, I’ve never read any of them but there exist(ed) a market for novelizations of movies that were already books. Thought that was weird, but it may mitigate my feelings here. My first time I was disappointed in a movie vis a vi the book was Jurassic Park in like third grade, but I digress).

Ultimately, there are differences between what the movie was able to accomplish and what the book could do. I recently revisited the text, listening to it on audio, and I think I have it pegged. The movie is able to hand-hold you to the big reveal. I think that the seeds it plants are fun enough that it makes the movie worth rewatching multiple times. I remember catching something new on what must have been my 40th viewing and having listened to the director’s commentary. Say what you want about Fincher, but his work is deeply planned out. The book on the other hand is shackled to the narrator. The movie uses this to great effect, allowing the narrative voice in to add emphasis to what is happening on screen, but the book is stuck with what would be the Edward Norton character for the whole time (and this is discounting the importance of the twist reveal and the ending. So I think the book works, but it might not be Palahniuk’s best. I would say that of the earlier books that I am familiar with, it may be the easiest to film, so that’s why it made his popular reputation. Invisible Monsters and Survivor may be more interesting as texts in themselves, but I’m not sure how you make movies out of them that could come close to Fight Club (For example, the only other book that I am aware of Palahniuk that has been filmed is Choke, and that worked on a much smaller scale, and let’s be honest, Sam Rockwell isn’t Brad Pitt or Edward Norton).

In the end, the book is mostly interesting as an artifact to compare in relation to the movie because that is what made the vast majority of the public aware of the author and his work. It is not a stand out text and the story wasn’t that deep until Fincher got his hands on it and was able to use some of the anti-corporate imagery and the idea of fight clubs to latch onto some sort of late 90s, pre 9/11 aimlessness he puts in the mouth of Tyler Durden. But we have both had our great war and our great depression. Yet the critique is as valid today as it was when written. I guess it is still worth sticking back in your mind…

Quality Instruction: David Byrne's "How Music Works"

I listened to this as an audiobook I downloaded. That means that there were points that I wanted to write something down, but may not have been able to fully capture. There are no notes to reference so rather I will have to speak in generalities.

The book is both autobiography and analysis. I have not been following Byrne’s career much or at all, but it is interesting to listen to because it is one example of the career path that a musician could take in the days that he started out and has still continued to make a living as a working musician. Any aspiring artist should be able to look at that for inspiration. He and other members of the Talking Heads lived in a run-down flat on the Bowery when the Bowery was more Warriors New York than the Disney version of a city at least the island is today (poor people could afford to live there!).

The stronger sections though are the ones where Byrne dives deep in the history of recorded sound and the playing of music in all its contexts. I will not be able to fully articulate it here, but he covered a lot of things about music that I hadn’t really thought of, like how the cultural context of how we listen to music shapes the music that artists create, and how dependent on technological developments the music that we listen to today is – even what is played on the oldies stations were novel at some point, and that’s important to remember. My favorite little piece of trivia is that the Theremin was invented in the 20’s, much earlier than I would have though.

Overall, this is a very successful book, and I was a bit disappointed when it ended, since I really wanted him to keep going. It will be worth it to wait around for the sequel.

March 12, 2016

Do You Like to Laugh? Jenny Lawson's "Furiously Happy"

Let me just drop some names: Sloan Crosley, David Raikoff, Augusten Burroughs, and David Sedaris.

I’m not sure if I spelled them right, but those are all people who have written at least one book that takes their life and examines it to mine the funny things that happen and then put them on the page. I’m not sure how true all the stories are, or if it really matters because they come across as if true. What does matter is that they have used their lives and they have made me laugh on page.

I had never read any of Lawson’s works prior to picking this up. I think it was a mixture of the reviews and the dead raccoon on the cover that made me buy it. I ended up reading it really quickly because it was fun to read. Let me tell you this too – I think in terms of laughter, I laughed more reading this book than I have in reading any of the dropped authors at the top. There’s a solid laugh on every page. And sure, it might not be the deep thinking sort of NPR laughing that you might want; it’s not totally cheap either.  The story about her visit to Australia is the high point for me, but just her everyday life is funny. I recommend this book solidly, and I have bought her previous work so that I can laugh some more.

March 4, 2016

Man Up and Read Sara Benincasa's "D. C. Trip"

I bought this because I follow the author on Twitter.

I have bought several books because of twitter people. It has been, let me tell you, hit or miss.

I thought I would try this one out though I had the idea it wasn’t really my demographic. I thought it was YA (The author was nice enough to talk to me a bit on twitter after I had read it and disabused me of the notion that the book was YA – just because it was about teenagers mostly, it wasn’t necessarily YA).

The thing is that genre classifications here don’t really matter. It’s a good book, full stop. The story is some kids from Jersey go to DC and find themselves. It could be the recipe for formulaic emptiness, but of the four main characters of the book, they are deep and interesting and you care about their growth and development. You end up rooting for them. It is well paced to the point it feels a bit cinematic with a larger arc with some smaller embedded arcs. If it is not on its way to being a movie yet, it should be.

My only worry is that some of the secondary characters are a little flat. The love interests are one-dimensional, and the rivals of the central group of girls are a bit stereotypical, but the central characters are so strong so this both erases that to me (even if the secondary flatness is only visible because of direct comparison to these central characters – it’s a paradox). This is a definite recommendation on my part, even if you may not think it is your demographic, it is. The last time I really felt this way was 12 year ago, reading the great Julianna Baggott’s “Girl Talk” in its bright pink cover.

The Cure, Not the Disease: "Lean Out" by Dawn Foster

When I first read the Sandberg book that this takes its name from, I was excited. 

Basically, here was a feminism that someone can do on your own. No mass movement needed. 

But I was thinking in context of the world that Sheryl brought us into. It was one of privilege and one that couldn’t be changed, so it must be navigated. It’s actually a really pessimistic book, and one that only will work for the educated white-collar classes who have some say in the terms of their own exploitation under capitalism –those so deep in their own exploitation that they don’t see their chains.

So it has been refreshing to see antidotes to the leaning in. I first saw it in part of Aschoff’s book “New Profits of Capital” (cited in this work), and in other more radical publications that don’t take the establishment view for granted. I came across this text because the Verso blog called it one of the best books of 2015 (Even though it wasn’t published in the states until early 2016, which to me is a recommendation to get into publishing and criticism if only for early access to crucial texts). I like this book. It is a call for the mass movements and a justification for them. It touches on that other book early on, but becomes more general on what is needed for women to do (still!) in terms of making the world work better in gender terms. It is a short but meaningful read, and one that should be undertaken. It will help explain why feminism is necessary (still!)