Posts Tagged ‘jonathan safran foer’

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.

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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]

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

August 8, 2010

Wow, it seems like a lot of people didn’t notice that this kinda sucked! Weird. It read to me like he wrote The Botany of Desire, decided that that framework- a loose structure in which he can just talk alternately interesting and totally self-serving shit for a whole book- and figured he’d give it another go, but this time as his MAGNUM OPUS. And I was pretty into it, for the most part, but in a lot of the parts where he thinks he’s being super even-handed, he’s actually often being a boring middle-aged white liberal dude with boring tenured college professor politics. I mean, have you read the part in this book where he decides that animals shouldn’t be killed, declares himself a vegetarian, gets stressed out, decides that being a vegetarian is stepping on your friends’ toes, then says a bunch of total fucking nothing for twenty minutes (I listened to the audiobook- which, by the way, makes this book sound super preachy even if it isn’t, because of the narrator’s tone of voice) and decides that vegetarianism isn’t a viable way of life? Even though, I don’t know, something like a million billion people have been living that way for pretty much forever? Just admit it, Mike: you like eating meat, don’t want to make the effort to stop, convinced Peter Singer to concede that, sure, if you’re going to eat meat, it’s better to eat meat that’s been ethically raised and slaughtered (aduh), and decided that that settles it: Pete Singer said you don’t have to be a vegetarian, so let’s just-

OH MAN after the vegetarian part- we are about three quarters of the way in at this point- Mike decides that he’s going to be a hunter, so he writes two hours (it is a trip for me to listen to a book because I do it so rarely, but I am driving across the country and it is a wide country) of the most florid, masturbatory prose I have ever had the privilege of consuming in any medium. ON and ON and ON and ON about the great natural dance, and how probably when you shoot an animal it releases THC (the active ingredient in marijuana; a cannabanoid, which is a science word!) into your brain, ’cause it sure feels like getting stoned. And the beauty of how time slows down when you look through a rifle sight, and how now he is better than people who hunt in their real lives. Thanks for that, Mike. Also thanks for your total lack of solutions for people who can’t afford or don’t have access to organically grown local fuckin cows that got to play dress-up whenever they wanted up until Temple Grandin killed them. Actually, thanks for your total lack of solutions to anything (besides ‘get your friend to clean the pig you shoot,’ SPOILER).

It’s just… The Botany of Desire was pretty fun! You do better when you tell me about Johnny Appleseed, Michael Pollan, than you do when you try to tell me how to eat. Also I know you did it first but Eating Animals does a better job of explaining about how animals are tortured in american corporate agriculture. The student has become the teacher! O-oh!

(this review is from my old goodreads account.)