Thursday, February 15, 2007

Romantic novels

Oops! Yesterday I meant to blog about romantic books, but I was too busy perfuming myself and stuffing dates with goat cheese for my own romantic evening that I didn't get around to it. I spent a lot of time thinking about what was the most romantic book I ever read. "Romance" novels were right out - I don't find those particularly romantic. As a teenager I used to read them very quickly, just in search of the sex scenes, which, as you may know, are usually at the end, involving a "nobleman" and some sort of "wench" and something that could easily be called date rape. Once I read this story that blew my mind for a long time about a dude who, in the course of "love making" inserted a GOLDFISH in this woman's vagina and then sucked it out again. (!!!)

Eventually I decided that Jane Eyre was the most romantic book for me. I haven't read it for a long time, but I must have read it 20 times when I was a kid. Actually, I have a feeling that if I read it today, I'd find it less romantic and more Daphne du Maurier. Somewhere around college I found British fiction (the Bront√ęs, Warton, Austin) completely unbearable, but I've been thinking of picking it up again to see if my tastes have changed.

I think The English Patient, the movie, is very romantic, but I don't find the book romantic at all. Parts of other books are quite romantic to me, like the bit with the sheet in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (you'll know what I'm talking about if you've read it). I found parts of Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose romantic. I suppose it's probably becoming clear to you that what I find romantic is a long and tortured unrequited love that lasts decades and is finally resolved with two people holding hands about 10 minutes before they both fall dead.

And here's the most romantic song I know, and although it has nothing to do with books I can't help but include it here:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Coast of Akron

I gave up about half-way through The Coast Of Akron by Adrienne Miller. It started out really great, and Miller is clearly a talented writer, but I thought the book lacked cohesion. Lately it seems like all the books I'm reading have these huge casts - I can barely keep track of all the characters. It's like I'm reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez all the time. And NOBODY can read Marquez ALL THE TIME.

If you're interested, The Coast of Akron is about this woman, Merit, and her parents, both artists, and her father's boyfriend, Fergus. Fergus is rich and eccentric - his story line is all boozy and complain-y, it gets a bit boring, despite the long passages about his gothic mansion in Ohio.

Last night I started reading "The Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett. A good, old-fashioned, single-narrator tale. I love reading Hammett, especially the ones that take place in San Francisco. It's so hilarious how his characters refer to their apartment buildings by name. M. and I used to try to do that ourselves - like, we'd say to our friends, "Let's so back to the Warrington for a drink." And our friends would say, "What's the Warrington?" It's cool living in a building with a name. My mom always wanted to name her house - like "Tara" or "Graceland". I think her latest idea is something like "Twelve Oaks", although she needs to plant approximately twelve oak trees before it makes any sense. We used to live on Post Street in SF, apparently Hammett lived down the block!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Caroline Bergvall

This afternoon I saw Caroline Bergvall speak. She's a writer and performance artist - she didn't perform, but showed us some of her work and talked about the kind of themes she addresses in her work. Her work has to do a lot with time and space, and I almost put myself into a trance listening to her (she has a really sweet accent - I think she's French but lives in Britain) and thinking about time and space. She does some site specific work, but, for example, she was saying how space (say, like, your childhood home - the physical home) is so tied to memory that it's basically an illusion. She also talked about how language corrupts us - well, how it forms us and effects us - and how USING language, and LISTENING to language is this intimate experience.

She also addresses gender issues using the visual arts (although, her poems/writings are very visual as well) - such as the work at left, which is Duchamp's LHOOQ (and a reference to Magritte's La Trahison des Images - I'm also seeing a ref. to The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, but she didn't mention it) with the Mona Lisa removed (leaving Duchamp's add-ons, the male characteristics - the moustache and beard - which take the form of female characteristics, namely breasts and uh, bush.)

I wasn't really familiar with her work so I looked up some online when I got home - to tell the truth, it's not the sort of thing I could read for hours, but it's certainly interesting and clever. Here's a excerpt from one of her artists books.

I found some of her work online - Eclat was specially packaged for online viewing (and printing out, if you like).

Here are some of her reading/performances.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Look at Me

There's a lot more to Jennifer Egan's 2001 Look at Me than is initially apparent. Previously, I wrote about how I was attracted to her presentation of how we're ruled by images. The main character, a model whose face (read: livelihood) was destroyed in a car accident, finds herself in an identity crisis after reconstruction. Egan brings out some complicated theoretical issues about the power of images that I'd go so far as to call Foucauldian. What could have been a fluff piece on a model searching for her identity rather takes a deeper look into how it's nearly impossible, today, to separate the internal from the external.

Essentially, Look at Me is about various crises of identity - the model's, a younger girl, her uncle, a man with a mysterious past. These people all struggle to define themselves, despite of and because of the influence of American culture (the book takes place in both NYC and Rockford, IL - what could be more American?)

The second half of the novel is almost sci-fi, due to the far-sighted vision of Egan, who, though she wrote in a pre-9/11 world, somehow anticipates those events, as well as the crush of "reality" tv and internet programming we're experiencing now.

Chapter one is online, if you'd like to have a look, and here's an interesting interview with Egan about her book, and here's another article that kind of contains a spoiler, so you might want to wait until you've read the book before you read it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My catalogue

I finally posted (some) of my books in LibraryThing. It's cooler than I thought, there are a couple of ways to organize and view your titles - like, I can visually browse my library, and so can you! And apparently somehow you can also make a photomosiac of your face made from the covers of all your books. Can't do that with my excel spreadsheet. I'm going to think about getting a life-time membership, which is only $25. With the free membership, you can only list a personal catalogue of 200 books, which is, conveniently, approximately how many fiction books I have. But that doesn't count all my Young Adult fiction, M.'s sci-fi, my plays, or our reference books or any of my art books. Well, here's my catalogue, if you want to have a look!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Harry's Dumbledoor

Oh, It's a big day for Harry Potter fans! First, it was announced that the 7th and final book is finally available for pre-order and will come out on July 21st (the day before my birthday!) Wee! I like to order mine from, so I get the true, British version. Did you know the "American" version and "British" version are slightly different? Apparently because American kids are thought to be too stupid to figure out what a jumper is (and, perhaps they are, but why not give them a chance? Expose them to something new?)

And speaking of exposing something new, the second big HP news of the day is that our own little Daniel Radcliffe is starring in Equus in London, and some publicity photos have got people stirred up. (In case you're wondering, and I know you are - he's 17). I haven't read Equus since college, and I've never seen it on stage, but, of course, it does call for the lead actor to be nude, and it is very sexual, at least in imagery. Needless to say, it's not your average high school production, not least because it also requires an actual horse. Back in my day it was a monologue of choice for the more adventurous.