3/5/07

(more) quick thoughts on books I recently read

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea - Yuko Mishima

This is more of a novella than a novel, and a novella I really dug. The book's opening and final chapters are pure awesomeness and the middle is good enough. The story centers around a young boy who peeps on his mom having sex and, with a group of friends, practices a form of "absolute dispassion" and "objectivity" that leads them to dissect neighborhood cats and curse fathers as the scum of the earth. This author eventually committed ritual suicide after trying and failing to get the Japanese army to over throw the government, although his secret lover failed during his attempts to behead Mishima and another militia member had to finish the job. Go figure.

Memoir of the Hawk - James Tate

In Memoir, Tate writes surreal, humorous and (mostly) irreverent prose poems. Tate is an author who is mostly miss for me, but whose hits hit hard enough to make me read him. For my taste, most of these prose poems are nice enough, but mostly pointless and often feel random for the sake of randomness. But there are some brilliant pieces as well and even the weak ones make for a fun read. While reading I marked fourteen that really struck me. 14 out of over 100... is that a good ratio for me with a poet? Probably. Here is a sample:

KINKY’S HEAD

“Would you like to have your head examined?”
I said to Kinky, who was holding his head. “Oh yes,”
he said, “I would like to know what’s wrong with
me.” Gloom was his life, despair was his only food.
I opened up his head. My God, it was dark in there,
and full of cobwebs with dead flies in them. “There
are no lights in here,” I said. “It looks like you
have had no visitors in years. And there’s not a
trace of an idea, just a rat gnawing on its tail
hoping to become a saint in some counterfeit hell.”
“I love that rat,” Kinky said. “He’s the last of
my monsters, old skin and bones.”


Spanking the Maid - Robert Coover

This was an excellent quick read. Coover has a ton of fun and shows brilliant lyrical skills in this comic novel. Hard to describe and I'm not going to bother. I said quick thoughts didn't I?

Swann's Way (Vol. I of In Search of Lost Times) - Marcel Proust (trans. Lydia Davis)

Recently I've been trying to work my way through some of the giant classics and Proust is obviously a necessity in that area. I was very surprised by this book. From all the noise, I'd expected Proust to be an almost impenetrable mess of a writer whose work was not fun to read and only French scholar's ever bothered with it. Instead it was a very nice and fun read. Proust's style takes a little getting used to, but it is nothing hard. The biggest surprise for me was how hilarious the novel got at times. I literally laughed out loud at at least three points, which is something I rarely do. The Davis edition is beautifully printed as well.

The Dead Fish Museum - Charles D'Ambrosio

Despite what the title might connote, the stories in the Fish Museum are pretty straight forward in both style and realism. They are, however, fantastic. Unlike most practitioners of this kind of short fiction, Ambrosio allows his stories to be messy and chaotic instead of neat little structures with cute epiphanies tagged to the end. A lot of darkness here. I dig it.

Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke

with Sci-I am a big fan of Sci-Fi films and comics and TV shows. And yet I am perpetually disappointed by Sci-Fi literature. Every book seems to be written with zero regard to style or the prose itself, they revolve entirely around their "ideas" (such as they are) and flat characters. However, I am always willing to prove my experiences wrong and thought I'd try with the much hyped Rendezvous with Rama by one of the best regarded sci-fi authors ever, Clarke. Conclusion? Yet another badly written book. The story and ideas are interesting enough to make the mediocre prose go by, but I still can't believe that this kind of writing could ever make someone a famous writer. Clarke's humor is atrocious, but perhaps the worst part is how forced the cliff-hangers are. Every chapter seems to end in something like "X stepped through the spaceship's doors... for better or for worse movies, which have a much wider audience, are actually (often) well filmed, acted and directed? Have you ever noticed that the best Sci-!" or "Things were looking up... or were they!?" Ugh. What is keeping sci-fi authors from having style? Is it merely a matter of reader demand? Do sci-fi fans simply not care about the writing, but only the world and ideas? Is this why Sci-Fi films (like Blade Runner) are filmed by people who haven't even read the books? They just take the good parts (plot, world, ideas) and then rework it with their art? Am I the only one thinking of the children!?

Anyway, I'm writing a Sci-Fi-Horror-Western right now. It could be cool, maybe.

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