hello monday! (150608)


it's been a long day, and i'm exhausted, so these shall be short and snappy in list form.

  1. i am absolutely loving oyster books.  it's convenient, beautifully designed, and easy to use, and i love it.
  2. thus far, in 2015, i've been reading more YA than i'm usually wont.  i've also been dropping more books than i'm usually wont.
  3. people are paying $100 for ARCs of purity on ebay.  i guess that's one way to know you've made it as an author.
  4. reading michael ondaatje's the english patient is like getting drunk on language.
  5. google new york is cray.
  6. i'm so behind on my monthly book recaps.  o_o
  7. i did a really quick quasi-review of jonathan galassi's muse (knopf, 2015) on instagram, though.

hello monday! (150601)


alive and breathing here!  i apologize for the sudden disappearance, but i must admit that it's been incredibly soul-healing to take two weeks off.  this won't be an actual, full-bodied post, but there are quite a few posts planned and in the making -- i've still got more middlemarch to talk about, and there will be the april + may reading post(s).  i'm trying to think of more creative and open ways to use this space, too, so the next few weeks might be a tad touch-and-go as i try things out!

more later this week!

hello monday! (150511) aka middlemarch, part six.


currently in california, which means family, friends, and tons of amazing food that is not as great in new york.  like korean food.  and tacos.  and philz, but philz isn't even in new york.

i [clearly] did not finish middlemarch last week (oh, well, stupid ambitions!), but, luckily for me, middlemarch is available on oyster books!  i'm glad i didn't have to lug that brick of a book across the country with me but still get to progress along in the novel and hopefully finish it soon.  it's hard in california, though -- i only have so many days to see so many people and eat so much food.  ^^

i've been much too immersed in the world of middlemarch.  i dreamt that i was in middlemarch yesterday.  that's a sure sign that i'm obsessed or preoccupied with something ...

i must confess that i'm a little weary of middlemarch.  it's been over a week since i dove into this world, and i haven't been reading anything else, which in and of itself is pretty remarkable because i tend to have a few books going at the same time.  and, when i pick one to stick to, i finish it relatively quickly.

it's not that middlemarch is dull or not interesting.  i am drawn to the characters, some more than others, and i have opinions on all of them.  like, i don't necessarily like dorothea, but i sympathize with her -- i understand why she deferred so much to causabon, and i get most of her motivations, though i also find her "goodness" irritating.  i like will because he tends to say things out loud.  i can't stand rosemary and her general immaturity, her self-centeredness, her lack of substance, and i decidedly don't like her after she told will about the condition in causabon's will -- she didn't do so out of concern for a friend but for her own ego in her own self-centered way.  fred's silly in similar ways, but he seems generally harmless, though, i don't know, i don't want mary to marry him because she deserves better.  i like farebrother.  i don't think much of lydgate, honestly, except that he has no one to blame for the financial problems he's gotten himself into because he went into marriage with these stupid ideals (there's a passage about this, but i marked it up in my hard copy, and i am not willing to scroll through middlemarch on my ipad and find it at the moment).  i have no patience for mr. brooke because he seems like a slitherer-outer, and i don't like bulstrode, either, because what the hell -- lying to a woman about the whereabouts of her daughter so he could marry her (the mother) and inherit her fortune, then, decades later, telling the grandson that, oh, i knew where your mother was, but i didn't tell her mother, but, here, i'll give you x-amount of money per year and offer you these other financial incentives now, so we're cool, yeah?

at the same time, though, i don't necessarily care.  i'm not that invested in any of the characters or in any of the happenings, and part of it is also the writing.  eliot doesn't linger in moments, and she doesn't really explore things beyond what is happening in the scene -- like, we do get to get inside these characters' heads and see what they're thinking and why they are or are not saying the things they're thinking, but then that's it, and we're continuing along this ride.  the closest analogy i can think of is the backlot studio ride at universal studios:  you sit on a tram that travels through different sets, whether it be a town set or an earthquake set or a flash flood set or a collapsing bridge, but you don't sit and linger in the feelings each set is staged to make you feel because the tram moves steadily on.  middlemarch makes me think of that because eliot doesn't make much of the emotional beats -- in fact, i find the novel rather flat emotionally.  it's not that emotion or feeling is entirely absent, but middlemarch lacks resonance, so it fails to take deep root, even if i'm spending so much time with this book, in this world, with these characters.

i wonder if i'll remember this book because of the sheer effort of the project?  blogging it has definitely helped, though, because it's made me pay better attention and try to think about things, like the role money plays, which i'll talk about on another day, or prejudices or generally just big picture things i might lose track of usually.  blogging has also helped in maintaining motivation in pressing on with this novel because, to be honest, i probably would have set it aside if i hadn't committed to blogging it.  and i would still be tempted to set it aside if it weren't the blogging thing.  and if i weren't so fucking close to the end.  i'm on BOOK SEVEN.  seven of eight!  OMG.

at the same time, i must add that i have been enjoying middlemarch.  sure, blogging it might have been extra motivation not to give up, but middlemarch has genuinely been enjoyable and generally entertaining.  the pages haven't been lagging much, and eliot really is an insightful, comprehensive writer, so middlemarch has also been a very thoughtful read.

that said, i'm also excited that the end is nigh, and i'm sooooo looking forward to diving into other books.  i can't wait to start atul gawande's being mortal (metropolitan books, 2014), and, once i get back to new york later this week, i have to read margaret atwood's the stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014) for book club on saturday.  i'm not quite sure where i'll go after that -- thinking of picking up kate bolick's spinster (crown, 2015) and still have to finish michael cunningham's the hours (FSG, 1998) and amy rowland's the transcriptionist (alonquin, 2014) -- but we'll see what my reading brain desires when we get to that point.

i'm going to focus on middlemarch until i've finished it, then finish rebecca mead's my life in middlemarch (which i LOVE -- i'm glad i read middlemarch if only because i got to read my life in middlemarch), so my last middlemarch post will focus on the mead!  thanks so much to those who've stuck with my middlemarch posts!  we're almost at the end!  woohoo!

hello monday! (150504) aka middlemarch, part one


so i've finally actually embarked upon reading george eliot's middlemarch (penguin classics, clothbound edition, 2011) and rebecca mead's my life in middlemarch (crown, 2014), so today's hello monday post shall be about books one and two of middlemarch, "miss brooke" and "old and young."  for this week, there'll be a post everyday, and my stupid ambition is to finish these books by saturday because i'm leaving town at a ridiculous hour on sunday morning, and i am not hauling this brick of a book across the country.  i am nothing if not full of stupid ambitions.

maybe i ought to preface this by saying that this isn't a scholarly endeavor, just a personal reading endeavor.  this is my first time reading george eliot, and i'm ignorant about a lot of the history or social context of middlemarch, and a lot of these thoughts are first impressions.  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.  at the same time, though, if you're looking for summaries/context ... carrying this novel around is also a great shoulder workout?

how did i think i could read my life in middlemarch without having first read middlemarch?  i'm not sure what made me try to read my life first because it makes much more sense having read middlemarch (obviously) -- and, even better, as i'd hoped, it adds to the experience of middlemarch.  mead is an excellent writer, and she provides wonderful biographical details from eliot's life and weaves it into accounts of her own life and her experience with middlemarch.  my life is meant to explore why this specific book resounded so much with mead, and, generally, on a broader scale, it taps into why specific books mean so much to us.  for me, personally, it makes me think of ishiguro's never let me go (faber & faber, 2005) or nicole krauss' man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002) because those are two books that have stuck with me over the years, that i constantly go back to -- or, if we're going further back, there's charlotte brontë's jane eyre, the first book i loved, that i've returned to over and over again throughout my life.

and i keep coming back to this quote from my life, in the prelude, which i'm sure i quoted here before:

reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book.  but a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.  there are books that seem to comprehend us just as much as we understand them, or even more.  there are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.

this kind of book becomes part of our own experience, and part of our own endurance.  it might lead us back to the library in midlife, looking for something that eluded us before.  (mead, 16)

maybe one day i'll do a post on the books that have grafted themselves to me and grown with me.  that might be a good exercise.  what are some books that have grafted onto you?

if you ask me what i think of middlemarch thus far, i'd say that i think it's funny.  i'm laughing a lot, writing my fair share of "lol"s (yes, "lol"s) in the margins, while also side-eyeing a lot of the gender crap that tends to come out of the mouths or minds of the [male] characters.  i'm amused by the way dorothea's in love with this idea of a man, of a marriage, even though i'm sure it won't end well for her, but also by mr. causabon's ideas of a wife and of a marriage, too -- in some ways, the two are perfect for each other.  similarly, i'm also amused by rosemary's ideas of love and lydgate's ideas of ... himself? ... and am curious to see how that pans out (because they seem to be headed towards marriage) -- and also how will is going to shake things up between dorothea and mr. causabon.

(is it telling that i can't remember what mr. causabon's first name is?  or lydgate's, for that matter ...)

i find it all amusing because eliot's poking her finger at the marriage plot, airing out the absurdities of gender roles and characterizations while being sort of like, screw the romance; what happens after the "i do"s?  she gives us enough of the lead-up to dorothea and causabon's engagement that we know the thoughts and calculations and events that lead to this ill-suited marriage and do the work of foreshadowing future unpleasantness.

also, in general, i think eliot does a great job in introducing her characters.  she does so in batches, i want to say, so that we get time to familiarize ourselves with dorothea, celia, mr. causabon, sir james chettam before she introduces rosemary, mary garth, lydgate, fred, etcetera.  it's a pretty big cast of characters, but i don't feel totally lost but rather like i have a grasp for who they all are, not only as individual characters but also as characters in relation to each other.  not a small feat, that, i dare say.

altogether, middlemarch is turning out to be different from what i expected.  it's witty and clever, and i appreciate eliot poking fun at these faulty ideas of marriage.  marriage here seems very utilitarian, decided upon usefulness or social gain or whatnot, but i can't say i'm without sympathies either -- i can see where dorothea particularly is coming from, and, while i find myself rolling my eyes at her often, i wish she'd had a stronger hand in her life to advise her, to show her that these ideas of hers are simply ideas, that marriage isn't about finding an older man who can instruct her and to whom she can be of some sort of use, that affection isn't wrong or unnecessary, that she shouldn't be worrying about being "good enough" for mr. causabon.  i hope she doesn't get too hurt.

okay i confess that i'm still reading the two chapters in my life corresponding to books one and two (it's already technically tuesday, so this post is overdue, but i will finish once i'm done writing this), but, in chapter 1, mead talks about letters eliot wrote when she was young (in her teens), and "enthusiastically evangelical, and priggishly judgmental" (mead, 26).  a professor at yale describes them as lacking in charm, but mead writes:

lacking in charm they may be, but they were not written to charm [...].  they were written out of passion and exuberance and boredom and ostentation, and her desire to discover what she was thinking by putting it on the page -- which is to say they are letters written by a young woman who is trying to work out who she is, and where she is going.  (mead, 27)

mead then shares about the similar letters she wrote during her own teenage years, letters filled with the same kind of embarrassing earnestness and obliviousness, which in turn reminds me of the letters wrote as a teenager about the boyband (h.o.t) i was into, the TV (the x-files) i loved, the gossip circulating in our youth group, my woes about school, my high-handed ambitions, the books i read and proclaimed to have understood.  i had a lot of that judgmental, evangelical religion going on in my own life when i was a teenager, and maybe that's another reason i find myself sympathetic to dorothea, wanting to tell her that it's okay, she'll grow into herself, she doesn't need to marry mr. causabon, though, unfortunately, she does.

all in all, i'm glad i finally sat myself down and made myself read this.  it hasn't been the easiest reading because i sometimes have to make myself focus, but, at the same time, i am enjoying it.  tomorrow, we delve into book three, which is called "waiting for death."  doesn't that sound ominous???

hello monday! (150427)


in his art of fiction interview with the paris review, kenzaburo oe says:

i've cultivated the first-person style as opposed to the third person.  it's a problem.  a really good novelist is able to write in the third person, but i have never been able to write well in the third person.  in that sense, i am an amateur novelist.  though i have written in the third person in the past, the character has always somehow resembled himself.  the reason is that only through the first person have i been able to pinpoint the reality of my inferiority.

in an interview [also] with the paris review, rachel kushner says:

i deliberated in a tortured and endless way over what the voice was going to be, whether it was going to be first or third person.  the first year I was writing this book I hadn’t decided.  i would go to friends’ readings and raise my hand at the end and ask, why did you choose to tell the story in third person?  and people would look at me like, why would you ask such a basic question?  but to me these basic questions must be asked and answered for every single book.

at this point in my life, i’m not that interested in third person.  there’s a certain falsity when a character is given a full name and a set of characteristics and can be seen from outside.  to me it speaks of a kind of realism whose artifice I have a hard time shaking, as a writer, in order to get inside what i am doing and imagine it fully. 

one of jonathan franzen's 10 rules for writing as posted in the guardian is:

write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

ishiguro, in talking about his recent novel, the buried giant (knopf, 2015), told the huffington post:

i did something i've been wanting to do for at least 15 years, which was to write a novel about that same question -- when is it better to remember, when is it better to forget -- but applied on a larger scale, to society, to a nation, to a community.  i couldn't keep it as a first-personal narrative.  this book wouldn't be appropriate as something that stays within the confines of just one mind.  i had to somehow have a way of portraying a kind of a community as a crucial point of its development.

i'm curious about writers and voice, why they choose to write in the voices they do, and it's even more curious to me when i read books and find myself in opposition to the authors' intention/thoughts re: voice.  like, for instance, i've never been that keen on kushner's first-person, whether in telex from cuba (scribner, 2008) or the flamethrowers (scribner, 2013) -- i loved her third-person in telex (which uses both first- and third-person) because i found it so much richer and vibrant, whereas i found the first-person in the flamethrowers to be rather flat, distancing, and impersonal, which made for an apathetic reading experience.  while i didn't necessarily disagree with what she was saying about the kind of falsity of the third-person, i found that interview a little surprising, particularly because i couldn't ever quite get a grasp of who reno (the narrator of the flamethrowers) really was, in the frustrating way of a character (and, in connection, a first-person voice) who has not been fully inhabited.  

the quote from ishiguro about the buried giant makes me wonder if the book would have fared better if written in the plural "we."  now that i'm thinking about it, i really wish ishiguro had gone for the plural first-person because his singular first-person is extraordinary -- how much more (or how much differently) could he do with the plural?  i thought the lack of first-person actually did the buried giant a disservice because the third-person lost all the nuanced, complicated richness of ishiguro's first-person, and the third-person felt so scattered and superficial, the questions of memory given a very literal, very flat study.

also, speaking about authors trying out different voices, i am massively curious about franzen's purity (FSG, 2015, forthcoming) because apparently part of it is written in first-person, which [i'm pretty sure] franzen has never done before.  or, well, at least, the part he read at colgate university last autumn was in the first-person, though i suppose we'll see if it were edited out -- which i hope it wasn't because i really liked what he read -- given how natural franzen's dialogue reads, i wasn't surprised that his first-person would read with such ease as well.

that said, though -- i've said for a while that i think there are many authors who are good at first-person but very few who are great at it (ishiguro being one of the first authors who pop immediately to mind as one who is great), so i tend to be wary of them.  i also wonder if i'm more critical with first-person voices?  because i find that a weak first-person voice can seriously affect my engagement with the book -- and, maybe given my appreciation for great first-person, i'm not quite sure i agree with oe that a good novelist has to be good in third-person.  give me the novelists who only write in first-person and do so brilliantly!  but also give me the novelists who only write in third-person and do so brilliantly!  and the novelists who do all the voices brilliantly!  just give me all the brilliant writing!

a friend of mine has been developing a site-specific art called "graft art," in which art is created for an apartment and grafted into the space, so the apartment itself informs the piece.  it's obvious to see how visual or performance art might be used in such ways, but, as a writer, it made me think how writing and places work, how you might create a piece of writing that is built upon and grafted into a specific space.

in some ways, writing and place integrate seamlessly because setting is a big part of writing.  stories are situated somewhere, take place somewhere, and, sometimes, place largely informs a story, becomes a character almost, like how 1970s new york city and italy are integral parts of kushner's the flamethrowers or how the natural wildness of florida becomes area x in jeff vandermeer's area x (FSG, 2014).  it also isn't uncommon for writers to inhabit a specific space over their bodies of work, like paul auster's new york or marilynne robinson's [fictional] gilead, so i wonder if writing isn't naturally an act of creating art in places, of weaving art into the metaphorical fabric of spaces, because we are the places we come from or, even, the places we long for.  we write about the places that capture us; we revisit and recreate the homes we've lived in, the streets we've walked, the offices we've worked in; and we reinvent them in some ways, try to be faithful to life in others -- and it isn't that other art forms can't or don't do similarly, but, like i said, stories are situated somewhere, take place somewhere, and it's hard to separate that from writing.

but, then, i wonder how this would work physically -- how would you take a story and physically integrate it into a space?  other than the obvious ways of prints or wallpaper or curated shelves and tables.  it makes me think even of the title of my blog (and the story i wrote with the same title) because "the toilet papers" comes from the idea of reading on the toilet, which is a specific place in the home that serves a specific purpose.  i know i'm not the only one who reads on the toilet; people keep magazines, papers, books in bathrooms to be read during toilet time; but we don't read for long periods of time on the toilet, hence the format of the story (a series of notes written from one lover to the other) and the title of this site (maybe a blog post is the perfect length for toilet time!).

today is the last monday of april, which makes this the last poem.  today's part of a poem comes again from ted hughes' birthday letters (FSG, 1998), this time from "the lodger" (125).

             efforts to make my whole
body a conduit of beethoven,
to reconduct that music through my aorta
so he could run me clean and unconstrained
and release me.  i could not reach the music.
all the music told me
was that i was a reject, belonged no longer
in the intact, creating, resounding realm
where music poured.  i was already a discard,
my momentum merely the inertias
of what i had been, while i disintegrated.
i was already posthumous.