Find Me I’m Yours – REVIEW SERIES – Part VII

Part I ; Part II ; Part III ; Part IV ; Part V ; Part VI

Mags makes a seriously good point about logos being all wispy when updated. Here’s another example that I found all on my own:

Old logo:

CokeWithoutWisp

 

VS. new logo:

CokeWithWisp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And again with the freaking awesome websites that are just hilarious and must have been sooo fun to make/research – a website devoted to giant things in LA. The pointless kind that’s just kind of hilarious – the giant donut on top of stores, the giant statues of creepy-looking people, all that cheesy 50s (or is it 60s? 70s? Erm… showing my age here) decor. I love this novel’s devotion to all things pop-y and slightly cheesy and the fact that it is all completely unironic. In this hipster culture, I appreciate things like WorshipTheBrand and Giant Things LA because there’s serious admiration for pop art behind them. Does that make sense or am I rambling at this point?

And you gotta love an author who gives you a whole website dedicated to burlesque with an Amanda Palmer lookalike in the first photo:

Stripping

 

In this website, we’re supposed to find a specific review and I think I figured it out before reading on! And while it might not be part of the actual puzzle, there’s totally a link in the bottom right corner leading another website that DEF is part of the chase. Or wait, maybe not? Ahhh!!! Gotta keep reading to see if I’m figuring things out right or am on a wild goosechase!

NOOO I WAS TOTALLY WRONG! But it was the only 4-star review! Dammit, Mr. WTF! I guess I should never take you literally… Which I couldn’t, since you’re literally reserved for Mags.

Carlip is SO in tune with the crazy shit our culture is into… She’s invented Laughcersize, a laughing-to-lost-weight regime. The website is so incredibly legitimately weird, like all exercise/diet websites are. It’s so authentic it hurts.

Oh Mags! Babes! Hons! Sweeties! I want to hug her, even though she’s the kind of person who I always think of as way too cool to ever want to be friends with me. But seriously, while I feel like her roommate Shari might end up being a nicer person than Mags thinks she is or something, I still can’t help but despise her for her inappropriateness. Not in the sexual way – go her and her pinup-pics. No, she’s simply socially oblivious, unintentionally cruel, but that doesn’t excuse how terrible she makes me feel on Mags’ part.

At least she gets to vent her frustration with some legal graffiti (can that be a thing, please, for real, kthxbai).

 

BUMMED OUT CITY, by Scott Burr – Review

Having just reviewed Ben Lerner’s first novel, it’s strange to be reviewing one that is both so similar and so different. Similar, because it is about a young, probably white, male writer who is somewhat lost in life. Different, because unlike Ben Lerner’s main character and narrator Adam Gordon, I felt something like empathy for David Moore.

David is 29, depressed, basically unemployed and trying to come to terms with the fact that he might never get published. He is a familiar figure – he reminded me of someone I see in the mirror rather a lot. That is not to say that Bummed Out City will only resonate with struggling artists and writers; David’s frustration and confusion are symptoms of many a modern young adult.

David has written several novels, all unpublished, though not for lack of trying. He has a girlfriend he loves but whose vision for their future life together diverges from his own. He has a mother going through chemotherapy, a father who’s entered and exited his life several times and usually just to hit him up for money, and even a few friends. While there actually is a plot, the novel does a great impression of lacking one, hiding the inciting incident and conflicts within David’s narration, which is what carries the book along. One moment in a movie-theater is particularly illuminating

I’m there with the characters as they move through their fictional lives with that special kind of purpose that only fictional characters get to have, where everything matters and each thing leads necessarily to the next thing and it al adds up to something, to some dramatic and fulfilling and satisfying and appropriate conclusion and it’s nothing at all like real life, where things just happen and you do one thing and then you do something else and the next day you do it again or maybe you don’t and none of it adds up to anything or goes anywhere, where you wake up the next morning and you’re still there and you still have to brush your teeth and trim your toenails and worry about money and pay for car insurance and all the other mundane pedestrian slogging shit you did the day before.

David is basically an angsty teenager inside a man’s body and hasn’t yet caught up to the responsibility he owes to other people as well as himself. By the time he begins to understand that he is actually grown up, he has both fallen naturally into adulthood and royally screwed up his first phase in it.

Whether he is writing a blog post, fighting with his girlfriend or getting drunk at a bar, David’s voice is monotone – not monotonous, mind you – and gray. His voice is flavored with the apathy of true clinical depression as well as the ashy taste of dying dreams. It is refreshingly honest in that David manages to lie to himself while the reader sees through his convenient truths to the actual consequences that must eventually follow his behavior and his attitude. There is a self-conscious nod to this when David comes to realize things and feels no need to explain them to us; he just tells us that he gets it, and as a reader, I knew just what he meant. It was refreshing, actually, not to slog through a paragraph of what exactly was illuminated, since it had always been startlingly obvious to me, though not to him. The lack of expository fluff is one of the reasons this book works so well.

What really struck me, though, is what made Bummed Out City different than most books about artistic young men who don’t make it. Scott Burr manages to convey the absolute viability of a different styles of living rather than trashing all of them except for the bohemian author’s dream. Even while David wallows in his own self-pity, even while he cynically criticizes the American Dream of a house, a dog and 2.2 kids, I never felt as if the desire for such things was being truly undermined. When David is criticized by Carol, his girlfriend, for his passivity in their relationship, I agreed with her completely while also feeling she was being unfair. I was reading all sides of each situation through the subtly of Burr’s writing, which is a rare thing to experience in the depths of a first-person narrative.

It is always such a joy to feel that a book is distinctly of its time, and this one certainly is. The echoes of our currant climate are redolent: recession, high unemployment rates, urban decay. And, above all, the belief of my generation – that we are all special little snowflakes – and the reality. That we are not. And that’s okay.

Five Reasons I Love “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Before I start, I want to give a SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t yet read the book, then a) you should, and b) you shouldn’t read this post (yet) because it contains many details that are vital to the plot. Read the book, I urge you, and come back!

Okay, here we go, the five reasons why my love for Little Women endures, everlasting:

1. The complexity of the characters. Little Women is often assumed to be a simple book for little girls, a book you should read in middle school and then put aside with the other chapter books. It is so much more than that. I reread it once a year, and every year I discover more facets of and motives for the characters . Let’s take Jo March as a case study. Jo is a tomboy when she is young – not because she shuns her contemporaries’ femininity on the whole, but because she recognizes that men have freedom where women don’t, and it is that freedom that she yearns for. She escapes by reading, writing and playacting, finding in these activities the adventures and capacity for expression she needs. But when her favorite sister, Beth, becomes deathly ill, Jo begins to change, to mature. Though the reader rarely witnesses Jo struggling verbally with her emotions, her actions speak far louder than any words she could utter; Jo nurses Beth with obsessive dedication, but fails to bring her back to health. Some time after Beth’s death, Jo realizes that she cannot reconcile herself to fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer. She can’t make her castle in the air a reality with the guilt of Beth’s passing still weighing on her. Instead, Jo ends up devoting her life to the care of others, opening a school for boys that takes in poor and disadvantaged students as well as wealthy ones. Jo’s progression from teenager to woman is complex, and Louisa May Alcott brilliantly shows – rather than tells – Jo’s struggles.

2. The faith. Though a staunch atheist myself, the brand of religion that Alcott portrays in Little Women has always seemed particularly beautiful to me. The particular Christianity practiced by the March family is welcoming and socially-conscious, more about the doing of good deeds than the preaching of good news. There is a wonderful section in which Amy discusses her desire to have a chapel to pray in, similar to the one Esther, a Catholic servant, has. Mrs. March, though uncomfortable with the idea of a Catholic chapel in her home, is amenable to having her daughter set up a little room in which to pray, meditate and think. When religion is spoken of blatantly, it is to comfort and console one another. I’ve always been envious of the March family’s calm, matter-of-fact, approach to faith; as a reader, it is appealing, comforting, and never discomforting.

3. The realistic portrayal of marriage. Unlike many 19th-century novels Little Women doesn’t end with a marriage. Instead, the second part of the book deals with the sisters’ adult life, including the first years of a new marriage. Meg and John marry after a three-year long engagement. Even though John has spent that time earning money and Meg has tried saving the little wages she made as well, they run into financial difficulties quite soon after they marry – a reality of life that is familiar today as well. Meg and John learn to fight through and for their relationship, how to have disagreements, to argue and make up – they struggle with their pride, youth and different expectations from one another. They discover that maintaining a healthy relationship takes work.

4. The reality of parenting. Alcott  takes the reader into Meg and John’s life as new parents. Mrs. March has been, previously, a beautiful example of a loving and beloved mother, and Mr. March, though absent for the first third of the novel, is only so because he is working as a war chaplain and is clearly much loved by his family as well. However, once Meg and John grow distant from one another because of Meg’s devotion to her children, the reader gets to hear a little about the March’s difficult early years as well, a fact that humanizes their saintly dispositions. Meg and John struggle to make parenting a shared venture, and Meg, especially, learns to overcome certain instincts that are unhealthy, she realizes, for both her and her children. Once again, Alcott doesn’t pretend that parenting is an easy task, but handles the difficulties with empathy and humor simultaneously.

5. The sheer beauty of the writing. The style is simple throughout, but there is not a page that doesn’t give me that warm and comforting feeling of a truly human book. The way the characters talk to one another is always lively and lifelike – Jo and Laurie meeting behind the curtain at the party, Amy solemnly explaining why she wrote a will, Meg and John so awkwardly settling upon their engagement, and on and on and on; there are a thousand examples I’d like to give, but I fear I’d end up simply writing a synopsis of the entire story if I started.

So let me recommend again that if you haven’t read it, do so – and if you have read it, reread it. You might be surprised by what you’ll find in it now that you’ve graduated middle school.

My First Second

   I typed these words: “…vivid enough to be sure of.” I stared at my computer screen. The undersized keyboard on my too-small laptop sat beneath my fingers, silent. People tell me that I type extremely loudly, banging each key violently, even when I’m perfectly calm. I’ve tried blaming my computer – but then they hand over their own laptops or keyboards and I try typing and the banging sound resumes. Clearly, it’s me. I hammer out words with a fervor that doesn’t often suit my mood and that isn’t healthy for the machines I use or for my wallet. A wallet which, if I continue to pursue the path of my chosen profession, will probably not fatten with big bills or numerous credit cards. I should really give my poor keyboards a break.
   I digress. Those words, that are vivid enough in my mind to be quite certain of now, were the final words of the last sentence of Chapter Fifty. I didn’t plan it that way, but I ended on a nice, round number like that. Fifty. It’s satisfying, that number. It feels very complete.
   **
   I wrote the first draft starting at the end of January, 2011, and finished it almost exactly a year ago, at the end of August, 2011. I tried reading it about a week after I had written the last page, unsatisfied and knowing that there was so much more that needed to be changed, inserted, taken out and neatened. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read it. It reeked of my own foul stench, as if I’d secreted my body odor into it.
   Worse than that, though – it was boring. I tried reading that draft more than once during the months that followed. Every time I picked the thing up, I was astonished at how basely dull it was. There was no there there. There was no essence, no feeling, no emotion – it was a string of words with periods and commas more or less where they should be, dashes and semicolons peppered in for variety. Sure, the sentences were well formed enough. They were understandable. No one would be confused as to the meaning of “Amanda felt” so and so or of “Dan said” thus to some other person.
   But beneath the disgust, beneath the boredom, there was a gut feeling that told me that I would be back. There was a knowledge that these characters and their story were too important to me, as small as their lives are, because ultimately I believe in the importance of small lives. I cannot contain the vastness of humanity – I often talk with disdain about how “all politicians” are like this, or how “people are so stupid” sometimes. But I know that these words are ways for me to deal with the everyday – ways for me to be able to live and breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Because if I gave in to one of my biggest wishes – to try and empathize with everybody, all the time – I would lose myself and I would go mad. Nobody can contain so much of the world. As George Eliot wisely wrote in Middlemarch:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

**
   I was right. At the end of the best school year I have ever had, having finished my sophomore year and said goodbye to my friends at my college in the US in preparation for spending the year abroad at Oxford University in England, I was finally ready. I read the first draft of the nameless novel, one of the four I have written, and dedicated my summer to writing my first second draft.
   And now, after two months and nine days, I have finished. I’ve eliminated a lot of expository information that I needed by a potential reader wouldn’t. I’ve gotten rid of my bad habit of overusing adverbs – although I also don’t believe that they’re anathema and allow them to remain here and there, when they’re useful and don’t sound glaringly obnoxious. I’ve changed the race of one character and the sexual orientation of another because they both told me to. I’ve changed the names of minor characters because there were too many similar names with the letter “M” in them.
   It may take another few months before I’m able to read the second draft. But meanwhile, hopefully, some of my friends and loved ones will be willing to read this draft – which is, I am positive, superior by far to the first – and will be able to give me some notes to guide me in my next draft.
   And meanwhile I will also be able to hang around this place again, sweep out the dust and cobwebs, and hopefully get some good, fun, flash fiction and experimental practice writing going.

Camp NaNoWriMo!

So, as promised, here’s my new project – another novel. Sort of.

Last summer, I finished a novel that I’d worked on with Brian Morton, who is an incredible author who teaches at my school. It is extremely first-draft-y. June is going to be my month to write a second draft.
True, it’s not a completely new novel that I’m writing utterly from scratch, and perhaps the men and women at Camp NaNoWriMo would object that I’m not quite following the rules, but honestly? I don’t think they would. Because the point is to write, to work on your writing and commit yourself to it for a month. And gosh darn it, that’s what I’m doing.

I’m currently reading the novel that I wrote. It’s a strange experience. I’ve tried to do it a few times before, but I never could. It made me cringe, or it bored me. But now, now that I am actually in the process of preparing to edit it, I’m able to do it. Or maybe I just needed to wait for nine months to be able to deal with it. Writing a book in a month is possible – but rewriting it takes a bit of cool down time.

There is so much I’m going to change. So much that simply makes no sense to me. I have the characters so firmly set in my mind, and have had them there for the past year and a half, that I can’t understand how I wrote some of what I did. One character, for instance, is painfully shy in my head, but in the novel as it stands, she is an RA at her college. This is absolutely ridiculous – she would never sign up to such a job. True, she’s become less painfully shy than she once was and she has friends, but her retraction from others is still her default state. Why on earth did I make her a bubbly RA in some scenes? Strange, indeed.

I’m excited about this coming month’s project, even though I will also be working, once again, at Hebrew Book Week (third year in a row!) and as a result will be stressed between June 6 and 18 (yes, it’s much longer than a week, I am aware).

Just to be clear – I am still going to complete the 50,000 words in a month part of Camp NaNoWriMo. And I’m so excited about this whole editing business, that I’m going to actually ask you all to sponsor me! The Office of Letters and Light are a wonderful nonprofit that organize NaNoWriMo and thus help more people to overcome their fear of writing, and, even better, they organize writing programs for children in some 2700 schools around the Unites States.
Here’s the link where you can donate, if you’d like. No pressure! You can donate as little or as much as you like, or not at all. If you do, though, and would like to be kept abreast of my writing, let me know! Here’s the link to my fundraising page:

http://slightlyignorant.stayclassy.org

Translation

Maybe it’s because I’m bilingual, but I find that reading translated works is almost always less satisfying to me than reading things in their original language. I read Crime and Punishment during my last semester, and while I ended up loving it – which isn’t to say it didn’t drive me crazy – I also didn’t like it nearly as much as any of the other classics that I read that semester that had all be written originally in English.

Now I’ve started reading The Red and the Black, and I’m enjoying it immensely. The beginning was slow, though, and it took me some time to get into the flow of the writing style; once I did, I managed to begin to find the characters and the social dynamics to be fascinating.

And yet – there’s something missing there. I think, though I can’t be sure, that it’s the fact that I’m reading a translation from the French. I feel that there’s something inevitably lost in the translation process, and it’s something that is impossible to regain unless I learn to read French perfectly and read it in the original. Even then, I’ll have had to have lived in France long enough to understand the ins and outs of the idioms, the connotations of certain phrases and the way I’m supposed to feel about Napoleonic history.

I’m so glad that I’m bilingual and am able to enjoy reading books in two languages – English and Hebrew – and feel the incredible and fascinating difference between writing styles in each of them. However, I wonder whether I’d notice that hard-to-describe lack in the translated works I’m going to be reading this semester if I was monolingual.

Thoughts? Comments? Have any of you felt this or do you think I’m crazy?

Real Contact

I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s a fantastically strange novel, almost like a collection of short stories that span through a few decades and show the connections between a huge cast of characters that hardly seem like they should be related and yet are.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who’ve never read it, so I’ll just say that there’s a portion in it that deals with characters living a decade or so in the future, a time at which it seems that texting is the primary method of communicating with people. One of the characters seems profoundly uncomfortable with real speech and much prefers the cleanliness of the short messages we sent to each other via text, or T as it’s called by then. This disturbed me profoundly and I’m having a hard time getting through this section. The notion of real contact between people being something that’s disappearing is something I dislike. I also don’t really believe it’s true.

As a child of the generation that has grown up with increasingly small cellphones, increasingly faster internet and the increasing ubiquity of social networking in our lives, I still don’t believe that the near future contains the loss of real speech or contact between people. In my world, at least, social networking is another means of communication, true, but it’s far from being the only one or the most preferred one. I know few people who spend more time communicating with friends online than face to face.

Thoughts? Comments? Opinions?