the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Read (Past Tense)

In books on December 11, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I put my Library Card through a workout this year (! = Really Good):

A Good Fall / Ha Jin

Blame / Michelle Huneven

Censoring an Iranian Love Story / Shahriar Mandanipour

The Unnamed / Joshua Ferris (!)

Changing my mind : Occasional essays / Zadie Smith

There once lived a woman who tried to kill her neighbor’s baby : Scary
fairy tales / Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Remainder / Tom McCarthy

The Privileges / Jonathan Dee (!)

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men / David Foster Wallace (!)

Chronic City / Jonathan Lethem

2666 / Roberto Bolano

The Imperfectionists / Tom Rachman

Saving God: Religion after Idolatry / Mark Johnston (!)

Freedom / Jonathan Franzen (!)

C / Tom McCarthy

Room / Emma Donaghue

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet / David Mitchell

Collected Stories / Lydia Davis (!)



Fiction, Historicized

In books on November 10, 2010 at 9:26 pm

At least three languages are spoken in David Mitchell’s newest novel—English (by a glory-obsessed Brit Captain), Dutch (by the novel’s protagonist, a clerk for a Trading Co. that doesn’t make it into the 20th century), and Japanese (by the village neighbors, villains, and love interests of Mr. de Zoet). But language and mistranslations are not the origin of tension in this strikingly realized historical fiction. Instead, Mitchell foregrounds the disorienting clashes of class and duty and expectations between Thousand Autumns’ characters, suggesting that passion or loss is tough to communicate in any language.

Various creatures—particularly butterflies—seem to have an easier time signaling the ebbs and flows of emotions in conflict. Maybe because their messages are not complicated by language: a grey cat points the way to escape for several main characters, a monkey reminds Mr. de Zoet that flirting doesn’t have to be painful, and those butterflies float into rooms in which a confounding letter or book is on the verge of being misunderstood and impart a simple message written in the colors (or absence of color) of their parchment-thin wings.

These more poetic touches, along with Mitchell’s gift with dialogue, help overcome what is, on the surface, a gratingly neo-orientalist plot: white dude wants asian chick… evil asian dude with supernatural powers locks chick in impenetrable snow (get it—it represents “purity”) fortress… white dude embraces asian culture without compromising his strong Christian beliefs… white dude gets asian chick in the end—well, that last part doesn’t quite happen. But it all seems a bit tired.

Still, at several points in Thousand Autumns, the numerous voices of the unique characters Mitchell populates the novel with seem to echo back to them, and they become almost self aware of (if not resistant towards) their stereotyped role in fiction. It’s a neat trick—De Zoet, in one perilous episode, appears to know that he cannot die at this juncture in the story, that there is a power (maybe God, maybe the Author) that would not let harm come to him. Historical fiction, in Mitchell’s rendering, is history revealed as something itself fictional, constructed, and—to an empowering effect—something that unveils new and beautiful truths in what looks like repetition.

Read, Reading, to Read

In books on October 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm



To read (later):

The Tiger’s Wife

In books on June 6, 2010 at 9:29 pm

The New Yorker is coming out with its “20 under 40” Fiction Issue this month. It’s sort of a big deal. The youngest author on the list is Tea Obreht, whose debut piece last summer was just about perfect [the tiger’s wife (pdf)].

Of the other young guns, I highly recommend Wells Tower (Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned), Chris Adrian (The Children’s Hospital), and Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed).

Reviews in Haiku

In books on June 2, 2010 at 8:36 pm

The explosion and

the debris are the same: sus-

pended energy


Death, Joy, Hell, Heaven

written on thick skin—a cold,

overlapping bruise

Reviews in Haiku

In books on March 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

The textures and smells

of burnt soil: buried regret,

unspeakable joy


Medicine cannot:

return youth /  steal memory.

Only: blur (↑) that  line

Suggested Title: There’s No “I” in “Virtue”

In books on March 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Sarah Palin, beating the elitist mainstream media at their own game (publishing vacuous, pseudo-academic books):

With two million-plus copies of her memoir Going Rogue sold, Sarah Palin is set to make her second assault on the world of books with a new title which will celebrate “American virtues and strengths”.

The as-yet-untitled book by the former Republican vice-presidential candidate was announced yesterday in a statement from her publisher, HarperCollins. The publisher told American press that the new book would “include selections from classic and contemporary readings that have inspired [Palin], as well as portraits of some of the extraordinary men and women she admires and who embody her love of country, faith, and family”. [via the Guardian]

HarperCollins has given me an exclusive sneak peak of Sarah’s “10 Commandiments: Virtues to Slather Over Your All-American Family Dinner of Bison Flesh,”  a tablet-shaped fold-out poster included with the hardcover edition:

10. Thou shalt ignore pesky “nutrition labels” when purchasing food. God didn’t staple calorie counts to the delicious walking hamburgers in the Garden.

9. Thou shalt always buy in bulk. The mouth lacerations you get from eating 64-packs of Doritos will remind you of the humbler times in your life—you know, when you, like any Real American child, ate rocks.

8. Thou shalt eat meals that are entirely yellow.

7. Thou shalt stone anyone who uses the words “Organic,” “Locavore,” or “CSA”—unless by “CSA” they mean Confederate States of America.

6. Thou shalt feed your family enough to maintain an aggregate weight greater than a mini cooper.

5. Thou shalt eat at least one Big Government-monicker’d “endangered species” per week.

4. Thou shalt give your children 2 liters daily the God-nectar that flowed through the Garden from the Beginning: Mountain Dew.

3. Thou shalt eat meat at every meal.

2. Thou shalt not mourn the vegetarians that God smites.

1. Thou shalt accept Obesity & Diabetes as badges of your citizenship in Real America.

reviews in haiku

In books on February 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

grief, never fully

owned, attenuates and wraps

life/love in its chill


emotions, quiet

and concealed—small worlds that the

big world hides and spites

Reviews in Haiku

In books on February 4, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Epic British Historical Novels of 2009 Edition

sometimes the layers

of a painting cannot speak

of truth—loss? perhaps.


what can be revived

in the constant reshaping

of false memory?

the return of dave eggers

In books on August 19, 2009 at 7:49 pm

i’m ridiculously excited about the eggers/spike jonze-written “Where the Wild Things Are.” Now mr. heartbreaking work of staggering genius has thrown these two paper-airplane-light stories into the thermals of goodness already rising from the reviews of his new non-fiction book, Zeitoun. summer reading is not over.