December 31, 2011

She is still tinkering with it so I don’t think it is up at exactly this moment right now, but Julie just set up for me, so this thing is moving over there.

keep your bridges burning


Keep Your Bridges Burning

September 8, 2011

Okay seriously this time. Julie made me a website that’s hosted on her server instead of wordpress’s server so that my blog could be less ugly and it is here: keep yr bridges burning dot com. Also she was the one who made it less ugly.

Tree of Codes

August 25, 2011

Katie was just like “I can’t wait to read the e-book version of Tree of Codes,” which makes an interesting point- maybe the physicality of that thing, the fragility of the pages and the effort you have to put into reading it, is in dialogue with the alleged prevalence of e-books/e-book readers around now. Ultimately though it doesn’t make me feel excited to read it.

Hell Board

August 23, 2011


This is pretty much the stupidest thing I have ever read, and I have read everything Chuck Palahniuk has published so far (I think Damned comes out in a month or two). Smoot described Stone Gods as “it’s like Jeanette Winterson had heard of science fiction novels, thought they sounded cool, and said ‘I bet I could do that.'” HELL BOARD was like Dana Reed had heard of horror novels but never actually read one to understand pacing, plot, what is scary, or anything else about them. Like, the monster is a beefy dude named Max who wears an executioner’s mask, never wears a shirt, and hangs out with the Marquis De Sade and a monster who’s a blob of guts who says things like “The pain has driven me crazy. I’m insane and want your flesh” and “I’m taking your eyes and the skin on your face first. Then I’ll skin the rest of your body. It’s nothing personal. I’m just in pain.”

Another representative excerpt:

“More coffee?” Anita asked beyond the threshold, and Charlie answered, “Yes,” making her long to be with them, to be the recipient of Anita’s coffee and subsequently her freedom.

It’s awesome, it’s just like… really weird.

An amazon reviewer was like “one star, the protagonist is the stupid and the monster is stupid and everyone in this book is stupid.” I agree. Another interesting thing is the way that Reed plays with conventional notions of time in novels: while she clearly relates the events of a day, and then the characters go to bed and then wake up the next day, using words like “yesterday” and “last night” to describe the events of the previous day or night, over the course of the novel I think she probably describes five days. The characters and narrative voice pretend that this monster shit has been going on for weeks though! It’s awesome how inconsistent pretty much everything is. The day Peggy starts learning secrets from the ouija board is the day she first starts seeing the beefy executioner (in the context of the hair metal music video smoke and lasers she sees when she has epileptic seizures), but it takes her like three quarters of the novel to figure out not only that these two things are connected, but that they are the same one thing.

But yeah there is absolutely no narrative tension. The scary things Max does include cutting off HIS OWN ARM and, like, converting Peggy’s dog Dog to satanism. The dog becomes the Marquis de Sade’s dog! That is kind of cool, but like, I don’t really understand what narrative purpose having your protagonist’s dog switch to the dark side- and then get kicked in the face during the ultimate evil ritual in the back yard at the end- is supposed to serve. Who roots against a dog?

Peggy locks Max and the ouija board in the closet a lot, and Max- who is “legion”- says things like “let me out, we must talk.” Literally!

I wish that lady who used to have the website where she’d write synopses of Lifetime original movies in the nineties had read this and reviewed it, because I don’t know how to write with the outraged, horrified, entertained and affectionate tone she used to use. I mean don’t get me wrong this book was boring as hell and is way more worthwhile as a series of talking points than it is an actual book that you read, but it still was pretty awesome. Four weird boring demons out of five.

God Jr

August 21, 2011

I think I should re-read God Jr. When I first read it, I was still mostly infatuated with Dennis Cooper for the more obvious reasons his writing gets praised- the salacious stuff- and I was like “this is the stupidest shit I’ve ever read,” because I had been reading his straightforward sentences as simple conveyances for the violent shit he was writing about, and God Jr doesn’t really have any gay or violent shit in it, except for the one central death (if I recall correctly). But I’ve sat with his work for a while now and my appreciation of it has matured into more of a sense of excitement about the way he portrays the embodiment of shell-shocked and vapid as an honestly legitimate reaction to violent marginalization and/or poisonous culture. I mean, I’m still stoked to read him explore predatory/coercive relationships and disfigurement as erotic, but it’s like… come for the predatory/coercive relationships and violent murder as erotic, stay for the portrayal of shell-shocked and vapid as legitimate response to poisonous culture.

Sucks that my copy either got left somewhere, sold, or packed into the fencing bag I left at the home of the parents of somebody I think I had a friend breakup with. Le sigh/le shrug.

Wide Eyed

August 21, 2011

I was really into this but here’s the thing, don’t make the same mistake I did: don’t read this short story collection all in one day, because there is a lot of sugar in it. It’s like eating a quart of ice cream in one sitting or something. I mean the metaphor doesn’t really work because the ice cream would have to have something grim or brutal in it, not as the primary ingredient but definitely as one of the primary ingredients- like, chocolate, hemlock and peanut butter, or vanilla strawberry glass shards. Which makes it sound like an Urban Decay ad in Spin from ten years ago or something, but the way these stories are laid out, it both seems totally appropriate that she also wrote a book called A Unicorn is Born that’s just about unicorn culture and birth and also appropriate that this book was published under Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery imprint of Akashic.

(being published by an imprint of Akashic is unimpeachably cool btw)

Actually having Dennis Cooper was a useful reference point- the only other thing I’d read by Ms Dalton was Sweet Tomb, one of those (also unimpeachably cool) square little Madras Press books, the cover of which looked like it involved a lot of tracings of pictures of women in slutty halloween witch costumes. Which actually also is a pretty good metaphor for what her writing is like… but anyway Cooper’s a good reference point for the way that she is just talking, in the vernacular, and her boyfriend Matt shows up a few times, and most of these stories are not narratively shaped like- I dunno- the stories of some classic short story writer who works within litfic genre constraints. I can’t think of anybody. Some character on a sitcom whose occupation is “writer.” ANYWAY what I am trying to say is that it seems like Dalton just kind of turns her obsessions over and over in her mouth and on the page the same way Cooper does, except her obsessions are like unicorns and witchy magic and animals instead of dazed gay teenagers and consensual mutilation. I’m into it I just got excited and overdosed on it. I did order a copy of A Unicorn is Born though so I will keep you posted.

[at powells]


August 17, 2011

I was teaching bass at Girls Rock Vermont last week, and I pretty much expected to get back to the bookstore and be buried completely under all the used books people had dropped off since I’d been away. (I don’t think “drop off your used books and we’ll look at them in the order they were received” is a sustainable model, but we’ve been sustaining it as long as I’ve been there, and since way before then.) But Chris looked at a bunch of them, and Bill organized them! So it hasn’t been as bad as it could’ve been. I’ve still been buried and frustrated, though. But whatever, anyway, while I was gone I guess somebody bought in a big, pretty black hardcover with the word “Girls” printed on the cover in pretty silver lettering: it drew my eyes to the graphic novels section all day before I brought it home to flip through it.

Sadly, it kinda sucked.

I know: I am hating everything lately. I’ve been super grumpy, but also, the only things I have been reading have been annoying! Or, the only things I’ve felt like writing about have been annoying. The first chapter of Dreaming the Dark was fantastic! I’m stoked to read more of that! But mostly yeah I have been grumpy so let’s talk shit.

Here’s the thing about Girls: it’s beautiful. It’s this oversized book that may have a jacket but the edition I read didn’t, it was just this understated black hardcover with that pretty font, and when you open it up, all the pages are that shiny paper Image comics has always used (or at least, that shiny paper they used for the first hundred Spawn [Spawn: cool devil monster whose community was some homeless people in New York] comics in my memory), and all the margins are black. So it’s very… I dunno, handsome, I guess? The artwork is very clean, although there are some pretty blatant photoshop effects. But whatever. Maybe that was what they were going for.

But okay so I brought this heavy book home so I was committed to reading it but after the first couple chapters I was like “this has too many dick jokes and too many other jokes on the dick joke spectrum.” Then, almost all of the friction in the plot (which was pretty close to the plot of Stephen King’s THE WALL or whatever the fuck that book was called, which came out around the same time) came from THE HORRORS OF HETERONORMATIVITY, which would be interesting if it weren’t placed so firmly in a context of dick jokes, hundreds of naked ladies with often clearly delineated vulvae, and the occasional naked man whose leg is always strategically hiding his dick.

So like, this is a comic book full of annoying straight people in annoying straight relationships who don’t communicate about their problems and while their main problem is a giant sperm from space and these naked girls who want to fuck every dude and kill every woman (seriously) (except they don’t want to fuck the gay dude because of pheremones so they kill him)… I dunno, it felt like it could have been interesting if the writing were aware of how deep its roots went into, like, hegemonic gender role reinforcement or whatever, but instead, those gender roles and relationship roles are presented as uncomplicated norms, like this was a sitcom doing a horror season without giving up on being a sitcom. Plus the scene where the black woman is like “you white women go fight the monsters, I will stay here and take care of your children” was gross.

So yeah I read this whole thing over the course of a couple days and it was interesting enough to hold my attention but by the end when the hero was calling people “retards” I was so, so done.

[at Powell’s]

Tree of Codes

August 17, 2011

I thought of a mean-spirited simile to describe Tree of Codes while I was walking home from work: Tree of Codes is like scene hair. Theoretically, it’s cool, and very pretty, and intricate, and worthwhile, but in practice, up close, it’s kind of gross, and way more work than it’s worth, and not as cool as its Platonic ideal, and once you interact with it a little you feel kind of sad whenever you think about it.

Tree of Codes

August 17, 2011

Y’know, I have pretty fond memories of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but as I read it I think I might have been convincing myself that I liked his first novel more than I actually did. (I was living in New York, drunk or hung over most of the time, and reading in half-hour chunks on subway trains. Nobody knows what I was thinking about anything at that point.) But this thing… I dunno.

So okay: I didn’t read it. I opened it up, read the few words printed on each of the first ten or twenty pages, realized I wasn’t comprehending anything, and put it down. So maybe it is fantastic. But it’s hard for me to separate the reading experience- the cover, the smell, the margins, the font, the author and book’s back stories in my head- from the actual words on the page. And so maybe that is the point? The reading experience, in combination with the ethereal semi-sentence incidental poetry or whatever. But it wasn’t enough to make me care.

Two minutes of internet research make it look like what this book is is a book from the early twentieth century, translated into English from Polish, which was not titled “The Street of Crocodiles,” which JSF decided to pretend WAS titled The Street of Crocodiles, and then he cut most of most of the passages out of all of the pages, so each page is literally made primarily up of holes- like if you gave Salvador Plascencia’s “The People of Paper” acid. So it’s this beautiful art object made mostly of holes. It’s striking to open up. I can see why he went for it this way. But at the same time, I think Plascencia and the self-conscious updated magical realism thing he was (or at least to me appeared to be) a part of- which I thought was so cool, although in retrospect I think I might have been trying to make myself be more into than I actually was- is a good reference point for this, because this book, with its holes and its poetry and its ephemeral summer nights or whatever the fuck, seems like something out of a more wistful Aimee Bender story, or something the boy detective would find in The Boy Detective Fails (which I am afraid to re-read, because I liked it so much half a decade ago when I was a tiny baby without a shell except for the permeable one I wore made of booze and appropriative New York City toughness), or even maybe something I’d think a little more highly of than that stuff, like Isabel Allende. But it doesn’t read like a book. And while I will admit that I just got accepted to graduate school and am panicking about how I’m going to pay for it, I don’t think it would seem worth forty dollars to me even under normal circumstances.

I didn’t read Only Revolutions because I didn’t want to have to go back and reassess House of Leaves, so I think I’m just gonna go “man yeah that thing is pretty” when somebody brings up the Tree of Codes and leave it at that. I don’t think it’s quite as unexciting a prospect as Only Revolutions, because JSF did publish a book made up entirely of black words on white paper before this one (which I didn’t hate), but this is three of his four books now that have significant gimmicry. Or… I guess Everything is Illuminated was made out of words, too. I don’t know. Whatever about that- maybe rich people in New York can appreciate the fragile beauty of an objet d’art[e?] like this and that fragile beauty is worth forty dollars to them and their extremely skinny jeans and face bones and their incredibly long, thick chestnut bangs, but I don’t think I can. And Chris was so stoked about it! Maybe my heart is just dead. He was showing it to this girl and she was like “whoa, cool,” and I was like “scoff scoff” which I feel kind of bad about.

[At Powell’s]

Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

July 30, 2011

“Feminism, I suggest, can draw from a basic insight of critical theory. The starting point of critical theory- as we have learned it from Marx, the Frankfurt school, and others- is that the social and economic means of human liberation are within our grasp. Nevertheless, we continue to live out relations of dominance and scarcity. There is the possibility of overturning that order of things. The study of this contradiction may be applied to all our knowledge, including natural science. The critical tradition insists that we analyze relations of dominance in consciousness as well as material interests, that we see domination as a derivative of theory, not of nature. A feminist history of science, which must be a collective achievement, could examine that part of biosocial science in which our alleged evolutionary biology is traced and supposedly inevitable patterns of order based on domination are legitimated. The examination should play seriously with the rich ambiguity and metaphorical possibilities of both technical and ordinary words. Feminist reappropriate science in order to discover and define what is ‘natural’ for ourselves.”

-from “The Past is the Contested Zone: Human Nature and Theories of Production and Reproduction in Primate Behavior Studies.”

This is what I’m talking about when I tell you that Donna Haraway solved it already and the rest of us are just catching up: this essay was originally published in 1978, a year before I was even born.