Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Ever since I read Watch Your Mouth by Daniel Handler (aka: Lemony Snicket ) I've been dying to read more. Adverbs (2006) is something like short stories but not quite. Sometimes the characters come back but it's also not a novel. Each story/chapter's title is an adverb: Clearly, Naturally, Wrongly, Often, etc. Like most collections, some of them are so-so and some of them make you want to lie down and die (in a good way. Happy.)

Look, I'll go ahead and tell you why it's called that because I don't think it will ruin it for you, and if you're like me, you'll forget anyway... It's based on a party game called "Adverbs" where someone leaves the room and you choose an adverb and when they come back, everyone acts out the word and the person tries to guess.
It's a charade, although it's not much like Charades. You play until you get bored. Nobody keeps score, because there's no sense in keeping track of what everyone is doing.

The story that made me want to die was Soundly - it's about two girl friends, one of whom is dying. They leave the hospital for the day and get stuck in traffic on the way back:

There was a noise above us like an airplane zoom, but it was getting too dark to see. People started laying on the horn, braying like bad geese in a panic. "I am here," Lila said with a trembly smile. Our driver's ed teacher had told us that's what the horn should mean. Not Move along, buddy or I am displeased but I am here. I am here, I am here, I am here!



We read Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, by Nick Reding, for book club. The book is quite interesting and I encourage you to read it if you are at all interested in Midwestern drug culture, or even Midwestern culture. Reding creates an argument for the proliferation of meth in the Midwest based on a number of factors - the abundance of chemicals (for corn production), people with few options for employment or wealth, and even that good-old-fashioned American work ethic.

To read his book, you'd think there wasn't a town in the Midwest that wasn't completely destroyed by meth. For me, one of the fallacies of his argument is that I'm from a small Midwestern town and, at least for now, it isn't running rampant with meth addicts roaming the streets like zombies. Of course, that's just my experience, I do know that some of my friends from the Midwest DO know people who's lives have been destroyed by the drug.

I think the book would have made a really terrific long article, perfect for Vanity Fair or the New Yorker, but I thought it was a bit long for a book. I GET IT! METH'S REALLY BAD AND STUFF.


Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson (1980) is a highly acclaimed book which won a bunch of awards and was nominated for the Pulitzer, but I really didn't enjoy it. It's a prose-alicious book that is written with utterly breathtaking sentences, I mean, sometimes I'd read a sentence and then sit back and say, "Well, why would anyone write anything else?" But, altogether I found the book really distant and well, boring. It was a quite odd mix of beautiful writing and a boring story, but that's heavy prose for ya.

I'm sure there are many who'll disagree with me - I encourage you to defend in comments!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Nine Tailors

Riding on the high of my first Dorothy Sayers experience, I went to the "Sayers Shelf" in the library and somewhat randomly chose The Nine Tailors, thinking, How could I go wrong? I love the sewing arts.

Turns out the nine tailors are like bells? And a certain style of ringing like, church bells? I'm not kidding you, beyond boring, but I hung in there 'til almost the end. Peter Wimsey continues to delight (despite his own predilection for bell ringing) but I wouldn't recommend this book, even to Quasimodo himself. (PS, the image I've included isn't the cover I had, in case my old friend Anonymous drops by and has something to say. As he always does.)

Now, I know there are some hard-core Sayers fans out there so I patiently await your recommendations before I return to that shelf. I'm not giving up on you, Dorothy!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The American Painter Emma Dial

I picked up The American Painter Emma Dial on our trip to South Beach about a month ago. It caught my eye because I'd heard some buzz about it in Chicago and the author, Samantha Peale, went to The School of the Art Institute (Hey! So did *I*, and yet, I remain an unpublished author.)

It's not exactly a "beach" book - it requires a bit of high-functioning brain activity, exploring the idea of The Artist, creativity, and ownership. Emma Dial is an assistant to a famous (fictional) artist, Michael Freiburg. Freiburg describes his paintings to Dial who executes them flawlessly while he takes all the credit for the work. Some readers might be surprised to hear about this type of relationship in the contemporary artist's studio, as we live in an age that identifies with the art hero as, specifically a solo genius. Of course, it's not unusual for many of today's artists to work as a team. What's interesting is that Dial doesn't seem to resent the fact that her work is identified as her boss's, merely that she isn't given more credit, and also that, as she spends all her creative time creating his art, she has no time or energy left over for her own.

While the book reads like an insider's view of the art world, the themes easily appeal to anyone whose creative work suffers while working for the man.

Peale's writing style is straight-forward, sometimes startlingly so. She writes, "We lay close. He wiped his dick on the sheet, drew me to him, with his arm across my shoulders." Ewww. I appreciated what she didn't describe. Mainly: the art, which allowed me to imagine the paintings as I chose. (For me, something akin to Gerhard Richter.)

Peale herself worked in the studio of Jeff Koons and the "Reading Group Guide Interview", normally ignored but in this case interesting, contained some fascinating tidbits about her own experience as an artist's assistant. But those looking for a roman à clef are apparently misguided. "When I worked for Jeff Koons he encouraged me to do my own work." says Peale. "He always had the time and interest to find out what I was up to and serve up some uncanny insight."