Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: The Literary Conference


The Literary Conference
The Literary Conference by C├ęsar Aira

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



very strange. this is such a meta-fictional game that I’m not sure I should obsess over potential interpretations. But it’s a fun read if you like Borges or Kafka, then check this little book out!



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Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Prelude to Bruise


Prelude to Bruise
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



A fantastic collection of poetry that explores connection and loss, strength and weakness, lust and love, and the nature of race in the 21st century. This is a book of poems about being human, seeking out humanity, and sending out a powerful yell to the world, to be heard.

Check out these great lines:
“...a violent pause between your question / and what I will not say. I have no answer; // my throat is the ocean now.”

“I saw us breathing on the other side of after.”


“You answer his fist and the blow
shatters you to sparks.

Unconscious is a better place, but swim back
to yourself.

Behind a door you can’t open, he drinks
to keep loving you,

then wades out into the blue hour.”
--“Cruel Body”





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Review: I Await the Devil's Coming


I Await the Devil's Coming
I Await the Devil's Coming by Mary MacLane

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



The kind of book that seems like it’s going to be tawdry or evil or SOMETHING but it reads more like the tortured diary of Gertrude Stein -- brief moments of lyricism “A little evil would do--a little of fine, good quality.” Stuff like that but it appears randomly and, ultimately, this is a diary of “nothingness” that MacLane says in the last entry, that is no different from the nothingness of the 3 months before or 3 months to come. about 80% of it is MacLane asking for an evil man, a devil, to come and take her away from her stifling existence. Sounds fine; not sure why she wants that except that she says, repeatedly, that she’s lonely and odd and a genius and desperate to experience life.

Basically, by the time the conversation with the Devil happens late in the text it’s not very fascinating.

I’m pretty disappointed in this text but I can see it as an interesting example of an honest self-assessment of a woman who was probably not much more miserable than many young women of the time and place. Then again, maybe she truly was.



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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Kim Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I was hoping for a bit more about the complexity of Jeff Magnum’s mental health/personality here, since there are elements to his personality referenced that don’t get a clear presentation -- perhaps because no one speaks ill (or completely honestly) of him or because Cooper was not given enough clarity into his manner.** For instance, at the end of the book, one interviewee mentions that Magnum’s post-NMH life involved spiritual exploration that made him a “calmer person.” Yet, there’s not much in the way of erratic behavior presented in the book. Granted, the live performances and the obsessive musical composition and recording can be cast as frantic and chaotic (which Cooper does state) but there’s nothing that indicates Magnum in particular needed to calm down. At one point Cooper references the growing pressure of Magnum being deemed a rock star, but that too lacks any real...oomph as a claim. The rock star life on display here is more living-out-of-a-van-on-the-road not massive groups of fans, destroyed hotel rooms, substance abuse, mental health breakdowns, etc. Maybe none of those things occurred, but then what pressure, what ROCK STAR pressure, was truly being felt? Was it simply, as one of the band members states, that Magnum was more sensitive than most people? If so, then did he feel like a rock star?

So, this is quibbling and I knew going in that Magnum didn’t get interviewed for the book, so Cooper’s done an amazing job despite the glaring hole in the project. Fun to read, especially now that NHM has been touring again (2013-2014). I doubt Magnum will ever be comfortable talking to the press again, but he seems to have backed away from a pretty tame media circus compared to the circuses that followed other rock stars of the 90s-00s (e.g. Cobain, Corgan, Reznor). Those bands were signed to major labels and faced huge amounts of pressure for their sophomore releases, though I absolutely agree that NMH might not seem to be in the same position, consider that PRETTY HATE MACHINE, BLEACH, and GISH all promised great things and the resulting celebration of the follow up albums, in all three cases, rocketed the bands to high-pressure, big label stardom. NMH didn’t get there and perhaps Magnus had examples like this in mind? (something tells me he didn’t since Cooper gives great details about the band’s disconnection from any mainstream influences. Cobain was enough of an icon and his suicide such a massive hit on musicians that it could have played some role in Magnus’s decision to move on, of course.)

I’m not suggesting Magnus is overly-sensitive or that Cooper hyperbolizes the experience, it’s just that the book doesn’t make a clear picture of what the stress truly felt like.

** By all accounts Magnus is as kind and lovable as he’s described here; but something felt missing and, I’m 99% sure that it’s simply Magnus’s own words that would help complete the picture of him as a artistic person as opposed to the obsessive smart artist that I see in this text.



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Review: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History


Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



an engrossing albeit problematic history of the Comanches. Gwynne provides a great sense of how the Spanish and later the Texans failed to treat the Comanches with any respect (be it social or military). Great cultural data and some enlightening (to me, anyway) information about the politics of tribes in the southwest.

My problems arise with some of Gwynne’s language choices, where his failure to signal an ironic stance causes some confusion. For instance, when using the term “uncivilized,” Gwynne demeans the Comanche and other tribes but it’s hard to know if this is meant to be harsh or is simply that Gwynne doesn’t see a problem using “uncivilized” when he means “nomadic tribes” or “non-European peoples”. Basically, civilized equates to “having a fixed architecture, written language” etc. I can see the need for a word that differentiates the oral-tradition + nomadic culture of the Comanches, but falling back on the binary of civilized/un-civilized privileges the European/Texan/American peoples. Similar issues arise with the use of the word “savage” that is apparently meant to be ironic yet lacks a clear signal of said irony (putting savage in quotation marks or using phrases “The warriors whom the Spanish believed to be savage and unskilled ended up decimating....”)

Definitely worth reading if one has an interest in the topic, but be ready for some of these frustrating moments.



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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: The Ballad of Peckham Rye


The Ballad of Peckham Rye
The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Not as intense as THE DRIVER’S SEAT (which is the book that’s caused me to read more Muriel Spark), THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE has comedic moments and essentially shows how a suspicious character who may or may not be the devil causes chaos amongst the various relationships of the people he meets. Unlike other novels that rely on the “he’s the devil but no one knows” setup (see: THE CONFIDENCE MAN by H. Melville), this novel seems less concerned with keeping his true nature a secret. It just doesn’t confirm the truth. In fact, Dougal Douglas originally comes to town because he’s following a woman he loves; but Dougal has a weakness where he cannot be around people who are sick.

I had a trouble keeping track of the cast in this book, but that could be because THE DRIVER’S SEAT was a story about one person on a mission and this was about the corrupting nature of one character amongst many.

Maybe not the best novel to start with by Spark, but definitely worth reading.



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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: The Driver's Seat


The Driver's Seat
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Have you ever read a book that’s reveals to you the ending, the factual ending, but doesn’t tell you why, just gives you little clues about the why, just pushes you and pushes you to get to the end because you have to know WHY everything just happened?

Of course you have, if you read mysteries.

But this book, oh this book.

Don DeLillo once said:
"When I think of highly plotted novels I think of detective fiction or mystery fiction, the kind of work that always produces a few dead bodies. But these bodies are basically plot points, not worked-out characters. The book’s plot either moves inexorably toward a dead body or flows directly from it, and the more artificial the situation the better. Readers can play off their fears by encountering the death experience in a superficial way. A mystery novel localizes the awesome force of the real death outside the book, winds it tightly in a plot, makes it less fearful by containing it in a kind of game format.” (http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1887/the-art-of-fiction-no-135-don-delillo)

Muriel Spark wrote this novel as a direct counter to what normally happens in a mystery novel. And it’s fast, weird, FUNNY, and brilliant.

Read it and know this: the main character is infuriating but she’s funny in her comments, behaviors and thoughts. Things get grim, but I read this so fast and loved it.



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