Archive for October, 2009

Like a bad neighbor…

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

For the third year, I’ve underestimated the gumption of Pittsburgh’s youth.  (I’ve also frankly just forgotten about Halloween all three years, but all the same.)  I didn’t expect trick or treaters any of these years because I live in a building I can only describe as dark and intimidating.  Like, if I were a little kid and I saw the weirdness on my downstairs neighbors’ front porch, no way would I be ringing this doorbell.  But, ah, yinzer children, you are fearless, and I keep breaking your heart.  Our doorbell rang a little after 6 and I slunk down the stairs to crush Princess Leia and a monster’s hearts.  Our exchange went something like this:

(Laika barking incessantly)

Leia and monster: TRICK OR TREAT!!!!

Me:  Oh…no.  We kind of don’t have any candy…

Leia and monster: (sad little frowns appear) Oh.

Me:  Geez, I’m really sorry.  Uh?  Happy Halloween?

So now I feel like I have burnt down a Christmas tree or kicked a puppy or something.  I keep breaking little witches’ hearts.  I checked in the pantry for candy but all I could find was some Tofutti Cuties, 3/4 of a pack of gum,  and a box of Nerds from like two Easters ago.  If only children wanted my cowboy boots or Andy’s records.  Those I could give away pretty easily.   Alas, now I am hiding in the dark listening really quietly to Lady Gaga (by the way, listening quietly to Lady Gaga?  Not that much fun.) hoping no one can see the glow of the computer from the front door.

Since I am being held hostage by my Halloween recalcitrance, I should at least say a thing or two about the new Sherman Alexie, War Dances.  Not my favorite thing by him, but not my least favorite either.  The title story is drop-dead perfection (there is an exchange about Trader Joe’s that I think Alexie might have even stolen from inside my brain), but the rest pales in comparison.  Alexie is a wildly talented poet, but his short stories in this just aren’t what I’ve come to expect from him.  I will probably read this again before I return it, but consider me 25% disappointed.  I am following War Dances up with In the Name of Salome (Julia Alvarez)–also not the greatest thing I’ve ever read.  Alvarez consistently makes me hunger for a deeper understanding of the history of the Dominican Republic–more specifically, Trujillo’s reign of terror–and this book is no exception to that.  Half of it (1960s Poughkeepsie, NY) bores me and the other half (1860s DR) thrills me.  I am tempted to skip the sections from the 1960s but I’ll probably just read it all and be grumpy about it.

Buffy & sweater knitting await me.  Ah, the perfect Halloween.

Year of the flood & year of the freak-out

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Yesterday I checked in on my 2009 goals and had a momentary meltdown about the year almost being over.  I don’t know why I had a meltdown.  The only goal I am totally failing at is my ultimate handstand goal, but the year isn’t over yet, and furthermore, the yogi in me knows that when my body is ready for the handstand, it will happen.  You cannot rush these things, says the yogi within me.

Looking at yearly goals brings out the spaz I am, though.  Now I am realizing I am at a weird life intersection.  In 2 months from yesterday, I will be done with my (hated) masters program and then will potentially have all of these life options.  I could move anywhere, theoretically, and work.  Anywhere except Canada, it would seem.  Lately I have fallen in love with aspects of my job (simultaneously, many of them still bother me more than I can express).  Nonetheless, I have realized that I am completely content with working reference (in particular, engineering reference.  Who’d have thought?  Definitely not me.).  I am stoked on life?!

Last week was Canadian Thanksgiving, and when I wasn’t eating my weight in turkey & apple pie (I literally gained 4 pounds on T-giving Day), I was snuggling with my sweetie and reading.  I’d mentioned that I was reading Ann Patchett’s Patron Saint of Liars–I finished this.  I will read more of Patchett’s work, I think.  I liked this.  I didn’t love it, but she intrigues me enough that I will carry on & read more.  I don’t even know how to really critique this book, as my biggest criticism was that it wasn’t trashy enough for me.  When I see an Unmarried mothers–Fiction LCSH, you’d better believe I’m thinking VC Andrews.  My disappointment in the lack of smut should not, however, taint my belief that Patchett is a capable novelist.

After finishing this, I re-read Oryx & Crake.  I am not shy about my deep love for Margaret Atwood, and I think Oryx & Crake is nothing short of perfect (give it another shot, Tricia!).  I continue to find this book unsettling, and it hasn’t stopped giving me nightmares about animal hybrids and genetically enhanced women lacking feelings.  Upon finishing this, I immediately began Atwood’s brand-spankin’ new Year of the Flood.  I am less enthusiastic about this one, but I still admire it.  This book is basically the story of Oryx & Crake told through different characters (characters that I recognized as peripheral characters from O&C only because I’d just reread it–whole scenes are recreated from O&C that I’d hardly taken note of in O&C.  I don’t know that YOFT would be so effective if I hadn’t just read O&C again).  YOTF is braver stylistically, but I think a less forgiving audience than me might hate some of the liberties Atwood has taken with the plot.  I love the frame of this story, and while I don’t want to spoil any plot surprises, I think some aspects of the story are just a tad too convenient.  That said, Atwood is wildly courageous and inventive and because of this I am hopeful most people won’t a) notice and b) mind just how easily things fall into place.  I haven’t finished this yet, but if my nightmares are any indication, this book will have a lasting impact on me.  Atwood is wise, and as in my teen years I learned many a feminist lesson from the Handmaid’s Tale, I am confident I (and others) can stand to learn many a cautionary world lesson from Oryx & Crake together with Year of the Flood.  I think these two will stand together beautifully for years to come.  Atwood’s speculations of our future are stark and terrifying, and this makes her portrayal of women & women’s friendship all the more poignant.

Next up: new Sherman Alexie (!!).  I am also crossing my fingers that I can make time in the next week for the freshly published Burlesque West: Showgirls, sex and sin in postwar Vancouver (Becki Ross), which is sitting on my desk burning a longing hole in me.  I am nervous to read this book because I know it will spawn a geek attack in me and I will probably immediately do the following: a.) write Becki Ross a letter declaring my love & devotion and then b.) apply to UBC and move to Vancouver and then, friends, it’s all over.

Listologist!

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

I find myself irritatingly swayed by top book lists that  I come across.  A coworker recently sent me the contents of a book called 1001 books to read before you die which I spent 4 or 5 days obsessing over and being mad at myself that I’d only read 137 of them (and after last week, make that 138 and 1/2.  Booyah.)  I find that a lot of these lists contain the same recycled crap.  I long ago realized I had peculiar taste in books–taste that runs veryveryclose to being considered compulsive–and as such, I have this problem of scoffing at a lot of the entries for top 1001 books, and so on.  Part of this is that I find these lists impossibly skewed towards Western writers who write in English, and while I can fully admit that I have trouble breaking out of this myself (Latin American and Russian writers being the exception), I think it’s completely irresponsible for larger ‘authority’ lists like this to be so biased.  I want to tell myself to stop taking these lists into account because I end up frustrated by them, but I LOVE LISTS and I LOVE BOOKS and so I cannot.

The last list of books I looked at was much the same (barely any non-English writers.  Big surprise.), but it was a list that I found a lot to agree with.  I know it’s not cool to like Jonathan Franzen & the Corrections, but when I first read this book (2002?) I found it to be nothing short of perfection, and I am content to continue agreeing with that now.  Franzen writes like a motherfucker and I will never not think that, even if it makes me little Ms. New Yorker.  I haven’t heard of some of these titles, and believe you me, that’s out-of-this-world exciting.  I have been meaning to read a few of them (2666Gilead, Stranger Things Happen [and I cannot believe that book is on here]), so this will likely urge me on in my quest to read every book ever ever acclaimed by anybody.  See what a problem I have?  I don’t even make sense to me.

But anyway, because of that frustrating 1001 books lists, I picked out a couple titles I’d never heard of and tackled them last week.  This includes all of Fear & Trembling by Amélie Nothomb and half of A Heart so White by Javier Marías.  Fear & Trembling was delightful, disturbing & hilarious all wrapped into one.  I’d read it again, and hopefully much more of Nothomb’s work.  It was, as I say, “good bus reading.”  A Heart so White is tremendous but was requiring a level of commitment that my brain isn’t capable of providing halfway through a semester.  It’s very intricate & detailed & faintly yet effectively repetitive, and it needs my full devotion, which I cannot offer at this point.  I very much want to finish this book someday.  Someday being not my last semester of grad school.

Now I am reading a book that is markedly absent from all top whatever lists, and I am just fine with that: Ann Patchett’s Patron Saint of Lairs.  At first I was feeling meh about this, but I loved Truth & Beauty so much that I kept up with it, and I’m fully glad that I did.  This book is starting to really take off in a very Lainer-friendly way.  i.e.: teen pregnancies & it’s set in Kentucky.  Sometimes I worry that I might secretly like chick lit, like when I enjoy a book like this.  But I have faith that this isn’t chick lit, and then I remember that I hated the Time-Traveler’s Wife so much that I have faith I do actually hate chick lit.  I was so embarrassed that I was reading the Time-Traveler’s Wife that I didn’t even blog about it, but I hated it with such a passion that I guess it’s okay to admit it.

Well, holy cow, I drank a lot of coffee this morning.  Before I crash into my caffeine-induced stupor and start running around the library like a mad woman, let me begin my pre-emptive gushings about the new Margaret Atwood.  I haven’t even started it yet, but I know it will be great.  Partly I am trying to convince myself that it’s okay that I just dropped $21 on a hardback book when I barely have the money to eat, but I rarely buy new books and Margaret is my gf, so it’s worth it.

I think I need more coffee.