My review of Martin Amis, originally written here, has now been reprinted on Jewish Currents!
Check it out here.
Hello bloggy-friends and readers,
A really neat blog called We Wanted to Be Writers has published a piece of mine in their series called “Books By the Bed”. I’d love it if you hopped over and read it!
We’re finding stairwalks now. And actually, this may be the most useful website of all when it comes to LA tourists who have NO idea what to do there once they’ve finished the tiny bit of land called “Hollywood”…
Oh my goodness, so I totally got a response, look:
So glad you’re finding my site useful.
I wish I had more time to blog about more stair walks, but it makes my
day knowing it’s helpful, and makes me want to do more soon.
Liza is Mags best friend and she works for a self-help (sigh, I don’t like those) website called eVolve, but what’s BETTER is that there’s a link from there to a Tumblr called http://www.messagespotting.com/ – and it doesn’t have the little bar at the bottom telling me that it’s part of the Click Lit experience! I feel like I broke the system – or maybe the author just wants us to get to know this site since actually it’s amazeballs (I followed, obvs). Another part of Liza’s job? Well, I texted my wish to it, and it totally came up. Check it:
Yup, that one’s mine. Select wishes are supposed to come true… Maybe Hillary Carlip will want me to help her on her next project! (Just saying, this format would work SO WELL for a noir/crime/mystery novel.)
Find Me I’m Yours, by Hillary Carlip belongs to a new genre the author is calling “Click Lit.” In other words, Chick-Lit meets the World Wide Web – although I’d like to think that the genre will grow beyond the New Adult themes this book has, and be embraced by those with ambitious projects that have been going on for years, whether it’s click-through novels or webcomics with interactive elements like Homestuck.
This book is brilliant because it mimics and indeed creates the internet hole we perpetually fall down every day. I clicked on a pseudo spam comment on the very first link the book brought me to and ended up on a supremely glitzy pinup model’s site, the bottom banner of which assured me that I was still indeed in the realm of the book’s created websites. What really got to me is that when I tried to buy one of the pinup Shari’s images (specifically, Shari Banana, if you want to know the title), I was actually brought to a billing page. I was very tempted to go through with it but decided ultimately not to tempt the whatever from high atop the thing (West Wing reference, anyone?) Because I didn’t really want to end up having paid 16 dollars for a picture of a busty blonde woman (is it the author? I’m going to look this up) for the sake of the realistic experience. I did send Shari an email, though, which she responded to. Check it out:
Left a comment on Post #4 in CollageAWeek. It went up. Wonder if it’ll be erased. Hmm. Reading through the entire website, I’m figuring out that Coco and Liza are Mags’ besties. Cooper is her brother? Also, found Kristina Horner’s comment on #9! Very very fun to see this, like a little Easter Egg.
NEXT PART, TOMORROW
My boyfriend, whom I have converted back into being a reader, bought both of Ben Lerner’s books at the Brooklyn Book Fair a few weeks ago. He read them both in a matter of days, and recommended them highly to me.
I was more than happy to take his recommendation, especially as the name Ben Lerner has been circling around the online literary scene for a while. I’d seen his name all over the various sites I frequent and I thought it would be nice indeed to read something contemporary and hip. I was excited, looking forward to it, and expecting to like it.
Ben Lerner can certainly write. Before writing this novel, his first, he’d published several poetry collections according to his bio. Indeed, Leaving the Atocha Station seems to be a fictionalized version of Lerner’s own experience as a Fulbright Scholar in Spain. The book’s main character and narrator, Adam Gordon, is also a poet, is also in Spain on an unnamed research-based fellowship, is also a graduate of a university on Rhode Island (i.e. Brown). Possibly also like Lerner – but here I’m speculating – Adam Gordon thinks he’s basically a fraud.
Adam Gordon is also an incredibly unreliably narrator, which could be interesting in theory, but ends up being profoundly dull. I had sympathy for him, to an extent – he is depressed and medicated for it, his self esteem is buried under the floorboards, he seems to be acting out his life out rather than living it – but I also found him extremely obnoxious. He treads the same ground that so many have gone over before, and is leaving no new footprints in his wake.
From Henry James to Henry Miller to Earnest Hemingway, the insecure white privileged male living abroad has been explored ad nauseam. James was an innovator in his deep exploration of our minds and moods, and Miller, much as I hate him, at least managed to be interestingly offensive in his obsession with douching prostitutes and lecherous men. Hemingway I personally regard as a writer who misunderstood himself and perpetuated his personal myth to the point where he is believed to be more of a misogynist than Miller (c’est impossible!). The thing about Lerner is that he’s none of these, and nor is Adam Gordon. There is a wrap-around kind of logic to his character – Gordon’s fear of being a real poet, a real artist, is curbed by his own belief that he is a fraud, which as a result makes him even more of a real poet, and a modest one at that. The irony underlying every word he utters is mirrored in the prose itself. And while I do live in Manhattan and do enjoy small and trendy coffee shops, I have also grown truly sick of the hipster urge to take irony to its outer limits and beyond.
The indulgent, ironic self-hatred that Gordon is constantly experiencing becomes exhausting and dull. He is both detached from and profoundly inside of himself, and even in his most miserable moments, there is a self-congratulatory tone, as if he’s actually quite enjoying be so tortured and complicated.
Let me stress – it’s not that Lerner isn’t a good writer. He very clearly is. Some of his shortest, simplest sentences convey a vast amount of emotional information:
Without texture, time passed.
The cities were polluted with light, the world warming.The seas were rising. The seas were closing over future readers.
Ben Lerner is clearly a poet. Maybe he has come to terms with that by now and maybe not. My question, as a reader, is why did he need to transmit his own learning curve in this way? Seeing him lust after or sleep with all the women he knows, smoke weed and drink to excess every night, and not take his own work seriously even while everyone else does – it all gets pretty boring and repetitive. Not to mention a bit infuriating. Adam Gordon gets everything, apparently without trying. Is this the lie we’re supposed to recognize? Is he, in fact, making an immense effort when living in Spain on his fellowship’s funds even while not doing the research he went there to do? Or are his anxiety and depression enough to make his laziness understandable, admirable even?
Most writers will tell you that writing is hard work. Lerner’s return to the whimsy of effortless poesy coupled with obsessive anxiety and self-scrutiny are not particularly fetching, mostly because they’re so clinical and automatic. There is so little feeling in the book – except that of Adam for himself – that it ends up seeming like a grand experiment in narcissistic (and ironic) self-hatred.
Maybe it’s just that I went to college with people like Ben Lerner and that I experience them still, living in New York. Maybe this book hits too close to home in the need for validation that is hiding behind its fake humility. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. To my mind, Lerner’s sentences are beautiful, his prose cleanly rendered, but his impact on me was close to nil.
Hey people, this is an article I wrote for Bookish for Shakespeare’s 450th birthday!
I don’t quite know why, but I’ve apparently reached the point where I’m gaining new followers ever few days, whether or not I post. So – hi, everyone! I don’t now who you are, and you don’t know who I am, so let’s get some introductions out of the way. I’ll introduce myself, and my goals for how to keep you amused, and if you feel like saying hi and introducing yourselves in the comments, I’d be absolutely thrilled.
But instead of the usual introductions, which can be found at my About Me page, I’m going to list five things that are important to me, and why. Call it a journaling exercise. Maybe it’s just a late-night idea that feels good right now but will end up disastrous.
Important Thing number one: literacy. In the shape of books, in the shape of words on a screen, in the shape of the joy a child feels when she first realizes that the sign she’s seen across the street from her bedroom window since the morning she was brought home from the hospital reads “Abbas Hardware”. Literacy, the ability to read, the desire to read, and the access to life and knowledge that reading brings, is a relatively new priority in human history. More than any other technology, I’d argue that the printing press – invented in the 15th century – is the one that has had the longest-lasting consequences on humanity, and I am forever grateful for it. By being able to share and distribute ideas, we have developed into a people more humane in every possible way, which includes our direst deeds as well as our best.
Important Thing number 2: stories. Stories are everywhere. Did you tell your son about the coffee-machine breaking at work? Did your grandmother die yesterday, and did you run out of your town and into the forest and scream at the trees about how much you’re going to miss her? Did you see two brothers having a brawl in the street? Everything we experience, and the way we communicate it, is made up of stories. We tell stories about our lives, we tell stories about our histories, we tell stories about our opinions and why we hold them. Stories are the magical spark of life that brings two people closer together – what is pillow talk, if not mutual storytelling? – and can rip their relationship apart as well. There are two sides to every coin, but in my experience, people who are aware of the storyness of life, usually don’t exploit it. When they do, there is an element of the admirable fraud about them, a place inside them that seems to love the story for its own sake in addition to what the story can do for them.
Important Thing number 3: empathy. Since reading is my favorite thing to do in the world, and since my writing has been born of that love, I’ve found that empathy – as well as sympathy – are the most important tools for my trade. If that sounds cold… fair enough. You’ll have to trust me when I say it’s probably a defense mechanism and an attempt to not sound a) like a hippie or b) like a spiritual nutjob. Because I am neither. But empathy is important to me, and though I curse my emotionally roiling innards all too often, I wouldn’t exchange them for the world.
Important Thing number 4: comfort. A broad concept, yes, but it is important to me in the broadest sense. Comfort is something that I believe can be found and made for oneself. In a room that is messy, you can find the one spot that you can feel neat in, or, if you’re a messy person, you can find the one spot in a neat room in which you can feel sloppy and unhindered. Comfort doesn’t mean a certain kind of lifestyle; rather, it means making the life you live accommodating in the smallest, minutest of ways. Having a pair of pants that are soft and cozy and that you change into the moment you get home, for example. Or tucking the extra napkins you got at McDonald’s into your bag so that you’re never caught with a runny nose and nothing but long sleeves to handle it with. But comfort isn’t only physical. It’s also emotional, interpersonal. Comfort can be sitting with your friends, the people who you consider your alternate family, and being absolutely silent with them – without feeling awkward. Comfort is being able to tell a loved one that you’re sorry, but you have to cancel plans. Comfort is being able to be alone, with yourself, inside your head, and not want to scream and claw your way out of it.
Important Thing number 5: balance. Specifically, in this case, balancing introversion with the desire and need to lead a semi-extroverted life. Difficult, yes. Necessary, maybe. Possible, absolutely.
Well, there’s my ramble. New followers, if any of you are actually reading this and you aren’t spambots, either take up the challenge – what are five things that are dearly important to your life? Or, say hi in the comments, let’s be friends!