March 27, 2013 // Web Reading

Lost Heroes

So the other day I was surprised to see an interview with one of my favorite “writing teacher” writers in a bookish newsletter I get. I don’t want to say who she is, because I’m weird like that. But after reading the interview, I’m really soured on her, in a really disappointing way.

When I was in college, I stumbled across one of her books during my library job. I took it on a week’s vacation with me to the family cabin, and the writing exercises and advice in the book seemed simultaneously profound and practical. I was so moved by the book, that I bought my own copy and then her next two books.

The whole interview made me a little edgy somehow, but then the part that really got to me was when asked what writing books she likes to read, she said she doesn’t read writing books, she reads “literature.” That those writers are her writing teachers. Am I wrong, or is that really snooty. Like, “All y’all need to read my writing books, but I read literature.” I mean, if you expect people to read your writing books, shouldn’t you at least throw a bone to the people who write books like yours and cite some good ones?

Ah well, another “hero” down the drain.

Book Vending

The Huffington Post recently had an article on “A Brief History of Book Vending Machines.” I’m not really sure what I think of this.

Part of it really doesn’t make sense to me. In an airport or other places, I’d hate to see this usurp the books in convenience stores and newsstands. But in a subway or some place where there is no kiosk or storefront, great. What if I was stuck somewhere for a long time with (impossibly) no reading material with me—I might be desperate enough to download a John Grisham paperback. But then again, so many people have mobile devices now, they’re more likely to download a book than buy one with a click than process it through a physical machine. Me included.

But the other part of me loves it, and it’s all because of the vending machine itself. You say vending machine and I think of the old-school cigarette machine at the bowling alley where my aunt worked when I was a little kid. So I immediately think it’s charming. I’m charmed. This means I’d probably buy a book just to use it. For the novelty.

I think this quote sums it up:

Although vending machines have long been considered acceptable for newspapers, they’ve never really caught on where books are concerned. Books aren’t disposable items like cigarettes or candy. As a result, there’s something counter-intuitive about buying a book from a device that dispenses soda pop. Bestselling titles may help to diminish this disconnect, but do little to improve reading’s perceived intellectual value.

The hotel I stay at, connected to the convention center, for an annual trade show has a vending machine that dispenses the miscellaneous things a business traveler might have left at home: batteries, cables, etc. We always laugh at the iPod in the machine, just waiting for someone to vend a $400 product.

Book Love

The Rumpus has a recurring review “column” I love called The Last Book I Loved. Recently they posted The Last Book I Loved: House of Leaves. As this piece describes, I did find Mark Z. Danielewski’s book to be such a chore to read. I loved it. It is my kind of book: things are not what they seem … and in a very surreal way to boot. But I felt like I was working my way through it. I’m surprised that I didn’t make the connection that the process of reading the book is very much like working through a maze. I also took the cover design to be just a nice design touch; I totally missed its connection to the structure of the house. These make me love the book even more.

Music Monday: 1984

March 25, 2013 // Music Monday

I must have recently heard David Bowie’s “1984,” because it’s kind of been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks now. It’s been waiting for it’s turn to appear here. It’s the obvious choice for a song inspired by George Orwell’s book. What I didn’t realize, though, was that Bowie apparently intended to have staged, but never did, a musical based on the book.

OK, no video there, but it is a particularly good sounding live version.

And then there’s Eurythmics. They have an entire album called For the Love of Big Brother, from when they provided the soundtrack for a remake of the film. Their song “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” was released as a single which I remember getting airplay back in … wait for it … 1984!

I finished such a lovely book this morning: Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier. Not lovely as in lighthearted or sweet, but just so beautifully written. Charles Frazier is probably better known for Cold Mountain, which I’ve not read, and seeing the movie doesn’t count (but Jack White’s in it, so… swoon!).

Nightwoods_215Nightwoods is a tragic story in many ways. Luce, a loner woman living off the beaten path in the depths of small-town North Carolina, caretaker for a no-longer-used travel lodge, inherits the uncomfortable task of raising her murdered sister’s two strange little children. Bonded as twins, they inhabit their own secure realm, not allowing anyone to get even a smidge in to their world. Not letting their defenses down for a look, an acknowledgment, let alone a word. Silent and pyromaniacal, they are not to be trusted or left alone, even as they require someone to shepherd and protect them in their young world.

And Luce is scarred from her own past, her own weird childhood and unlucky adult years. And as she struggles to find the means to become “mother” to these two distant children, she also finds herself having to break down her own walls when an unlikely suitor, a nostalgic man from her teenage years, arrives and impresses himself into her life.

But before they can settle into life as a jigsaw family, they must deal with Luce’s sister’s murderer—her ex-husband, Bud. Bud had come into a large sum of money, a life-changing amount of money. But before he killed Luce’s sister, Lily, he’d discovered that she’d hidden the money so they could have a good life with it. After her death, Bud becomes certain that the money is with the kids, and he set off to find them.

A man without morals, Bud infiltrates the town until he finally makes contact with Luce, and then everyone’s worlds become entangled.

This is a book that I wish I had a paper copy of, rather than the audio book. What I found so beautiful in it was the descriptions of nature—descriptions of water tumbling over creek stones, of Indian peace pipes growing from the earth, of ice forming in a pony’s mane—and I can’t go back and find them, recreate them. Set in the past of decades ago, there is something so crisp, so tied to nature about the environment of this book. Despite the misdoings of humans in the midst of it.

You know that moment when you’re reading a book and suddenly a passage leaps out at you and says something to you, about you, that you thought was unique to you yourself? Or when an unexpected phrase or description just touches you deep and moves you, transports you?

That’s the gift of the writer to the reader. I plan to share those moments, those passages that reach beyond the page for me. You’ll definitely learn more about me, and maybe you’ll find something for you there too.

From Shopgirl, Steve Martin:

In spite of her depression, Mirabelle likes to think of herself as humorous. She can, when the occasion calls, become a wisecracker and buoyant party girl. This mood, Mirabelle thinks, sometimes makes her the center of attention at parties and gatherings. The truth is that these episodes of gaiety merely raise her to normal, but for Mirabelle the feeling is so exceptional that she believes herself to be standing out.

In high school at some point—sophomore, junior, senior year?—I went through the requisite e.e. cummings phase. He had this lovely poem:

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

And so around the same time a local (Pittsburgh) band I loved also happened to do a lovely song inspired by it, “A Sun Will Sing,” by The Affordable Floors:

The Affordable Floors

I fear no fate, I want no world
Sky of sky Higher than soul can hope or mind can hide.
This is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.We’ll speak in rhymes, we’ll whisper these 
Songs of love. Hold these words close to your heart as I hold them in mine.
This is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.You are my fate, you are my world.
Know you are whatever a moon has meant or a sun will sing.
These are the steps that we take over broken ground.all pleasures known to us
all reasons thrown to us 
all knowing grown from life in this broken ground