October 25, 2009

I’m midway through Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and even though the two have very little to do with each other in style or subject matter, it reminds me of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes in an odd way (I haven’t read McCourt’s other memoirs).

I read Angela’s Ashes in high school, a little while before the movie came out. And I thought it was a beautiful, sad, funny book. Like most people who enjoyed it, I was looking forward to the movie. But I found that, because it lacked the charm and wit of the immediate narrative voice, the really tragic parts of the book became overwhelming. In other words, when it wasn’t McCourt telling us, the kind of life shown in the movie was just shitty without also being familiar and in some ways comforting.

And I think this is what Eggers’ book, turned into a movie, would be like. That it’s only the narrative voice which is keeping the story from being way too depressing (and I like me a depressing story…Steinbeck and Conrad are absolute all time favourites). Which is odd, because I’m also finding the narrator sort of annoying, as my friend suggested I might. I had just gotten to the point that I thought it was actually Eggers’ style I didn’t like when a passage reminded me of the space between the narrator and author, and I think now / again that I’m really enjoying it.

In a sad way, of course.

Catching Up

October 18, 2009

So, time to finally talk about all the things I’ve been up to since the move.

I had mentioned reading The Hour I First Believed, by Wally Lamb.  It was pretty good.  Sometimes, thematically, maybe a bit heavy-handed, and it seemed overlong to me…like he just wasn’t sure where to end it and just kept on thinking of things to add. One reading friend has agreed with this assessment; another wrote me and started talking about chaos theory and all kinds of things that would imply it was intentional…I’ll have to think on it.

Then I read David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, a collection of essays. And Wallace really, really shines. I’ve been working off and on on Infinite Jest, and these essays have all of the things that make me so happy when I’m reading that book — great thought, great emotion, great humour, great writing. I can’t say enough. Unequivocal about its excellence. Read the footnotes, they’re the best part.

My husband got me hooked on Dexter, with Michael C. Hall, and naturally, I picked up the books.  Darkly Dreaming and Dearly Devoted Dexters were both quite enjoyable…the third one, Dexter in the Dark, went in a different direction than the rest of the series, and I don’t think it was successful. Dexter by Design, #4, came out in September, and the good old Dexter’s back, although Jeff Lindsay doesn’t ignore themes and issues introduced in Dexter in the Dark. It’s odd, because I’m not usually a genre fiction reader. But character is really my thing, and Dexter is one of the most original to be created in a long while.

World According to Garp. I was pretty sure I wasn’t big on Irving. I didn’t know much about him or his work, and a few years ago a friend insisted I read Prayer for Owen Meany. So disappointed by the ending being so…ending-y. So tidy. That’s not my thing. But another, newer friend insisted I read The World According to Garp, so I tried my best to give it a fair reading. And I liked it better. Still too tidy for me. But it’s sort of charming that Irving has a knack for coming up with bizarre situations that also ring true to life. I kept on finding myself thinking of elements of the story as though they were anecdotes I knew from…somewhere. Hasn’t changed my mind about him for my own taste, but I see a little better what’s appealing to all these other folks.

The same friend who loaned me Garp kept loaning me other books, and two were graphic novels. First, Maus. Very effective and affecting. As it’s based on a personal account,  I was struck by how deliberately the tension escalates…you simultaneously know what’s coming and hope it doesn’t.  What made me think the most, though, was the conclusion. It seemed so sudden. Not for me to talk about anyone’s relationship with his father, but it left me feeling more sad than the huge horrible tragedy…I could be thinking about it all wrong, but it made me wonder, is that all his father was to him? This story? Or was that all that was left of his father? I don’t know…still pondering.

Then, I was told to read A Short History of Violence. Because I’d like it better than the movie, which I thought chose the least interesting elements of its story to develop. And it’s true…while the basics of the story are the same, the book was a lot more interesting, if not really my kind of story.

Two on the Falls: a historical novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, and Catherine Gildiner’s second memoir , After the Falls.   Having been through a phase growing up when I loved reading about the Falls’ history, especially Red Hill, Cathy Marie Buchanan’s novel was intriguing to me. But it’s definitely a first novel–uneven, especially in terms of pacing. While much of the book seemed (to me) slow and predictable, the conclusion (while also predictable) was quite rushed; and considering how much time is spent throughout the novel emphasizing everything that’s happening and all sorts of detail, I had to agree with my friend that it leaves a lot of (I think unintentionally) unanswered questions. (And P.S.: since I’m finding some reviewers don’t realize this,  the newspaper articles and photographs featured in the book…fictional).

I absolutely loved Catherine Gildiner’s first memoir, Too Close to the Falls, and the 2nd, After the Falls, was quite a bit different in tone but still just as good.

A non-fiction book about historic and discontinued candys called Candy Freak, by Steve Almond. Yes, Steve Almond.

Annie Proulx’s first novel, Postcards. Loved it. Love her work. (I know I’m speeding up, but I’ve been writing this for an hour and a half, now…)

Bill Maher’s New Rules. Funny as the show.

I was, finally, gifted Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Told the giver saw it and was reminded of me (and that he was fairly sure it was a compliment). Lots of fun as long as one doesn’t go in expecting a lot.

And now I’m working on Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Had heard very good things about What is the What, which I still haven’t read, and was even more impressed by the foreword he wrote to my pbk. ed. of Infinite Jest. I’m just finished with all the smart opening material,  ready to start the meat of the book, and very excited.

I’m singing in choir and solo, listening to the Beatles remasters, and will be up for nomination as a member of the board of the local Arts Council on Thursday. Happy.