Thursday, September 16, 2010

While You Please Be Quiet Please by Raymond Carver

At one time I really wanted to write like this--sparse, economical, and evocative, chilling in its ability to communicate what is just below the surface without actually saying it. In the critical introduction to my senior thesis (hilarious that such a thing exists) I named Carver as one of my primary influences, along with Mary Gaitskill, Amy Hempel, and James Salter (I had to dig it out of a filing cabinet to confirm this; I also praised Carver for the lyrical effect of his dialogue). Nowadays I'm more of a surrealist crime fiction kind of a girl, so it just goes to show you how much your tastes continue to change.

I see that all of his books have been repackaged. I'm not that big of a fan--it's just different photos taken at dusk of houses with the lights on, and I'm also not too crazy about the font--but it's a definite step up from this. Although I do love how the text gradually gets smaller on the older version, which was not kept in the new cover.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce

I picked up this book about a month ago in a used bookstore in Kansas City and the pages were so brittle that it literally started to crumble in my hands as I read it (hence the scotch tape on the lower left).

Published originally by Playboy at the behest of Hugh Hefner himself, this is the autobiography of legendary comedian Lenny Bruce, written just a few years before he died at age 40. It starts off with a little bit about his youth and stint in the army, but mostly focuses on his obscenity trials, including a few maddening courtroom transcripts. Parts of the book feel slightly dated, which is inevitable, but it still made me laugh.

It also made me glad that I didn't live through that era. (Watching Mad Men has the same effect.) As much as I'd love to have been able to see the Velvet Underground play Max's Kansas City or buy property in Manhattan when it was cheap (or see Lenny Bruce perform stand-up, for that matter), it's also nice to live in a world where you can say "cocksucker" in a public forum without worrying about being arrested.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Eye by Vladimir Nabokov

The Eye was Nabokov's fourth novel, written in Russian in 1930, but not released in English (in this edition you see above) until 1965. It's a very slim novel, just over 100 pages, written about a group of Russian emigres living in Berlin (which makes a lot of sense considering that in 1930 Nabokov himself was a Russian emigre living in Berlin).

I came across this copy of the book in a small crowded store in Northampton, MA. It's not in perfect condition but I love the cover art. Even better than the recent repackage.

I pulled off the dust jacket, revealing this mostly plain woven cover. I love Nabokov's signature embossed into the lower right.

There are a number of notes written in the margins in pencil. It's always interesting to me to read these kinds of notes, wondering what train of thought drove the person to write them down.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

One day I was wandering around The Strand, and saw some of J.G. Ballard's books out on display on a table. I was drawn to the street art style of the stencils, and the rainbow colored gradient of squares. I'd been curious about reading Ballard's novels anyway--weird, dark surreal science fiction. All that and the $6 price were enough to convince me to buy the book.

Then I read it. And while it's kind of hard for me to admit this, I think it might be a little too weird for my tastes. A man steals a plane and crashes it in the Thames river, is underwater for ten minutes, then emerges apparently unscathed. He is now seemingly trapped in the small London suburb of Shepperton, which is rapidly transforming into a jungle, with palm trees sprouting, marmosets showing up, etc. Whether the man has died and risen as a kind of messiah, or is about to die and has some kind of pre-death vision that seems to last weeks but is only a few seconds, is deliberately ambiguous.

Really, the book is kind of boring. It starts out with an interesting enough premise, but peters out pretty quickly. Plants grow out of nowhere, strange animals show up, and there's a little too much semen being shot all over the place (no kidding) by the narrator, who is naked even though nobody else knows it. This is essentially the plot for the rest of the book.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Life Force by Will Eisner

A couple years ago I attended a work luncheon about graphic novels and picked up a free copy of this book (best table centerpiece giveaway ever). I had gone on a bit of a Will Eisner kick awhile back while working at the Austin Public Library, reading A Contract with God, Dropsie Avenue, and Comics and Sequential Art in quick succession, but this one was new to me.

Of course, I didn't actually get around to reading it until a few weeks ago.

A Life Force tells the story of an out of work carpenter living in the Bronx and his rise to success, set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany and the mafia.

Besides being one of, if not the, first comics artists to use the medium to tell more literary stories, one of the things that really set Eisner apart from his contemporaries was his style of layouts--he didn't stick to the typical grid, freeing himself to experiment, using the layout to aid in his storytelling. (Comics and Sequential Art delves a bit into these techniques.)

He is often called out for his portrayal of women (usually as hideous/shrill/social climbers/etc), and in the case of his Spirit comics, black people (the typical stereotypes of the era). It's certainly not excusable, and to be honest, his comics aren't even my favorites as far as the stories are concerned. But regardless of his flaws, Eisner was ahead of his time in many ways, which deserves to be acknowledged. Blah blah blah.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Role Models by John Waters

First things first: I love the cover. Love it. The crude line drawing, the touch of green on his socks, the framed pictures scattered about at his feet, the bright white background that will undoubtedly get a little dirty as time goes on (I'd probably be annoyed by this if it were any other book). It's perfect.

Role Models
is a collection of essays about the people who have inspired John Waters, and it's a pretty varied group of people: Johnny Mathis, Tennessee Williams, former Manson girl Leslie Van Houten, local Baltimore eccentrics such as a lesbian stripper named Lady Zorro, amateur gay pornographers, and so on. The writing is very conversational, as though you're having a chat with him (albeit a very one-sided one). On the one hand, it's not exactly new territory if you're a Waters fan, but it's still entertaining.

One of the more memorable, if rather divisive, chapters concerns Waters's friendship with Leslie Van Houten. He befriended her in the 80s after interviewing her for Rolling Stone, and has advocated for her release ever since. Which is where the preachy parts come in, but they don't really bother me (I think he makes a pretty convincing case). What might be my favorite passage in the book is found in that chapter: "When the cops finally caught the hippy killers and I actually saw their photos ("Arrest Weirdo in Tate Murders", screamed the New York Daily News headlines) I almost went into cardiac arrest. God! The Manson Family looked just like my friends at the time!...'The Manson Family' were the hippies all our parents were scared we'd turn into if we didn't stop taking drugs."

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Bald Soprano & Other Plays by Eugene Ionesco

I read this book for a class during my sophomore year of college, and it sparked my brief stint as an absurdist playwright. I can't even remember what "The Bald Soprano" was about in the first place, or what I found so interesting about it, but that year I sought out other works of the same ilk--"Waiting for Godot" and "The Rhinoceros," for instance--and when we were assigned to write a one act play for the same class, I decided to go the absurdist route. I recall that it was about how people will see what they want to see no matter what is really there. (So profound.) It received a positive response from my teacher and classmates, who still brought it up from time to time the following year. But in the end, I really can't imagine that it was particularly good, and I can't find a copy of it to find out. Which is probably a good thing.