moby-book

Mar. 13th, 2011 10:00 pm
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Toward the end of my college days I did the communal living thing with a bunch of various gays, feminists, artists, and misfits. The house owner was a middle-aged English prof at a community college. He was a very intelligent, well-read guy and as I was an English major, our talks frequently turned to books and what I was reading/studying. How he laughed at me as I suffered through The Faerie Queen—good times! One semester I had an survey of American lit class and one of the short works we read was Melville’s “Benito Cereno.” I expressed admiration of the story. And he told me that as far as Melville was concerned that’s as far as I would go, because “women don’t read Moby-Dick.”

It took a while for me to really lost respect for him, but that was the first fissure in the foundation. Admittedly it took me a good long while to tackle the Great White Whale. Other big books kept getting in the way. Middlemarch. Don Quixote (which I never finished). The Recognitions (which I think is the longest book I’ve read, but aside from the bull sacrifice I don’t remember a damn thing about it…oh God, I hope there’s a bull sacrifice in it, otherwise that means I DON’T REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT IT). But a couple months ago I finally conquered the Great White Book (there’s a joke in there somewhere about the whiteness of the American literary canon). And finally I get what all the fuss is about.

But Lord, he do go on about that whale. Well, the whale in a general sense. But in such a pure marriage of poetry and prose that it carries you along, as the Pequod carried its crew to their destiny. It is a purely American book, with rough beauty and the theme of the individual—one man’s driven obsession that governs all, overriding common sense, compassion, property, prosperity, and other people’s lives. It’s the illogical, extreme outcome of the free will that our country so cherishes (and there’s a mini-essay about Charlie Sheen in there somewhere, but Little Lord Douchebag has gotten way too much attention lately, so fuck that). Who else but an American could have written it?

Have I mentioned that I’ve already broken my New Year’s Resolution of not using the word “douchebag” this year? And hundreds of times already? Like multiple times a day? Like even at meetings at work (mainly to annoy an aggravating, prudish coworker)?

Anyway, after I finished Moby-Dick, Mrs. THI congratulated me with a kiss and this: “Now you can go back to finishing Proust!” But I think I will save Proust for retirement.

I wanted to write more here, mainly about writing and The Kids Are All Right, but I think I’ll save that for another post. The Girl Scout cookies are calling.
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The great Fran Lebowitz on Jane Austen, reading, and writing:

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More Nabokov: Vintage Books has recently undertaken the task of resdesigning their Nabokov book covers. Since Nabokov was a butterfly collector, they've incorporated the excellent theme of presenting each cover as a specimen box! You can view a slideshow of many of the designs (done by a wide group of designers) here.
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You may recall that earlier this summer I was pissing and moaning about yet another bookstore closing. Well, the space was taken over by another bookseller, and the grand opening of the new store was a couple weeks ago. Huzzah! Last night after work I visited the new place. There is nothing like a bookstore in the world. That's all I can manage to say. If Browsing is an art form, I am a Michelangelo of browsers. Or—let’s not get ahead of ourselves here—maybe a Jackson Pollock of browsers. Even when I walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, as I did last night, I am still satisfied somehow; the titles and authors and covers and snippets of words linger with me, I can think about books I'll read in the future, or a writer that I want to learn more about. (Lately I have become intrigued by Mavis Gallant, because I've never heard of her until the New York Review of Books started republishing some of her works over the past couple years.)

At the bookstore, of course, were copies of The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov's prototype for Lolita, which was published last month. Nabokov (so brilliant that he may have invented an emoticon twenty years before the advent of the internet) had requested that his son destroy the work after his death, but after much public and (one presumes) private grappling with the issue, Dmitri Nabokov decided to publish the work. I am unsure if I want to read it. Lolita is on a personal list of perfect books for me; would reading Laura somehow spoil it? At the very least I wanted to peruse the book at the shop—but it was mummified in plastic wrap! Word is that the book is not selling as well as Knopf had hoped. Perhaps if they hadn’t been so twatty about wrapping the book up like a piece of rump roast they may have snagged some more sales; no serious reader wants to buy a book they can’t peer into a few times before purchase.

Also while at the bookstore, I encountered my weakness: Moleskine journals. I have big ones and little ones. I have hardcover ones and softcover ones. I even have a Moleskine address book. I have been tempted by them all. But at the store I encountered the biggest motherfucking Moleskine yet and it was all I could do to restrain myself from a little early selfish Christmas indulgence because 1) I haven’t bought a single gift for anyone and 2) I have a perfectly pristine, empty Moleskine sitting at home and waiting, with the prim, trusting naivete of a mail-order bride, to be defiled by my sinister-handed, ink-smudged ramblings. So Moleskine-less and Nabokov-less, I went out into the very cold night, dreaming of books and blank pages. We shall meet again, oversized Moleskine!
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Hey, Philip Roth is doing Nano Ono. Well, not really. But gosh, that sure does sound like every book he's ever written.

Some midweek mood music:

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Finally, a book that the vast majority of my friends-list should be interested in! No, it's not some rambly obscure novel or Henry James, or a history of German fingernail clippers, it's all about being shitfaced, plastered, toasted, ripped, blotto, and Dean Martoonied. (And no, it is not a book about the Elders Weekend.) Yes, it is a book that compiles synonyms for the state of inebriation. And in true modern cyber-collaborative fashion, the publisher has set up a blog where you can contribute your favorite euphemisms for being drunk.
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Another bookstore bites the dust. And maybe it's wrong, but I'm more bummed out about that than about MJ.
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To help assauge [livejournal.com profile] tudorlady's boredom:

The Invisible Library gets...real. Sort of. I'm hoping to see my favorite, Are You There, God? It's Me, LN James, and I'm Stuck on the Orange Line Again.

ETA: I have more dreamwidth codes, two more to be precise, so if anyone wants them, leave a comment.
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I know you think you are making some mainstream-defying, provocative-auteur statement by atrociously misspelling the title of your new movie (and also by having a cracker character from Tennessee called "Aldo"), but instead I think you are just alienating people who appreciate correct spelling.

Also: via [livejournal.com profile] adastranot, whose talents for sniffing out the beautifully pointless on the internets equal my own, I give you my profile on Library Thing. I'm not quite sure what the point of the application is (perhaps just saying, "I r smrtr than u!"), but it's about BOOKS, sweeties, so it's all good!
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With so much deliciously obscure and random information available and flowing in a constant stream at my fingertips—how many bad reviews were there of the Brideshead Revisited movie? Is Firefox larger than IE? Is Chrome faster than Safari? (stop sneering at me, geeks!) Who wrote “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin or Cat Stevens?—how can I ever tear myself away? How? And an even bigger and better question: How is it affecting my ability to think, read, and write? Lately I find my ability to read impaired. Maybe it’s the class I’m taking on top of work, but no longer do I have the option of Blaming the Election for its worry and distractions, even though I still can’t believe what has happened—I’m half-afraid it’s a happy dream replacing the nightmarish reality, like in Brazil.

Pass the Squid, Bring on the Madeleines )
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Usually you see me crowing about my reading triumphs, such as they are: I finished Middlemarch! I read three--count 'em, three!--books by Patrick Leigh Fermor with lots and lots of big words in them! But when have I written about the books that have defeated me?

Perhaps it's silly, but I do feel defeated when I can't finish something. Sitting in shame upon my shelf, unfinished, is Don Quixote. Apparently I can take only so much wacky picaresque Spanish fun. Then there's the Leni Riefenstahl autobiography, which is another kind of wacky fun altogether--that of the self-delusional kind. (I don't even think I made past page 30 of the Riefenstahl book.)

My latest defeat was an post-World War II Italian novel, That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana. On first glance, it seemed right up my alley: It's Italian, it's about murder, it's grim, it's fabulous, it sounds as if it's written by a dude who is the Italian equivalent of Nabokov. "Baroque wordplay," the book blurb says. Well, I careened through all the baroque wordplay like a pinball, battered against classical allusions, Mussolini puns, and serpentine lines of ancient Greek that required the help of my spouse:

Me: Honey, what does this here line o' Greek mean? [insert banjo music]

Her: You know that one...it's from Heraclitus, you know, "no one ever steps in the same river twice," blah blah blah.

(Actually, she did say the whole line, I'm just too lazy to write it here.)

So I plow on, grimly determined to finish, not enjoying it at all, and I hit this passage, where the main character, a detective named Ingravallo, indulges in some musings about the opposite sex:

The female personality...what did it all mean?...Typically gravity-centered on the ovaries...the woman's personality turns for affective coagulations and condensations to the husband or whoever functions in his place, and from the lips of the idol take the daily oracle of the understood admonition....

And I was done. To quote Heraclitus, "blah blah blah." (My translation.)

The plot involves the murder of a woman who could not bear children, and was so desperate for a child that she tended to "adopt" young women (yes, lesbo undercurrents, but not developed or explored--oh, what the hell, I didn't really finish the book, so I don't know. I'm just going by Calvino's foreword). So there is a lot of blather about women and how necessary childbirth is to their fulfillment. Yawn. I accept that having children means a lot to many, many women, but not when this truth is reduced to the be-all and end-all of a woman's existence, to a lot of pseudo-psychological misogyny, and when the character in question is not written with any real empathy, depth, or understanding. (Not that the other characters are written with a great deal of empathy either.)

So in order to hopscotch to the end, I started to read only the first sentence of each paragraph and nothing more. (A trick proposed by the missus, which made me realize this is how she gets through all those goddamn big boring books!) It kind of made sense that way. I found out what happened to the stolen jewels, at least. But as for who murdered the woman?

You never find out.
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Today my other half sent me this article about a writer who couldn't get his second novel published and so resorted to the lucrative field of writing pornily. (He writes gay erotic fic under the nom de plume of James Lear; his mySpace page is here."I know about half of you are like, "Oh yeah, him. Love him!"). She added, in her email: "Are you sure you can't write smut?" (Translation: "You need to make money, you fucking slacker bitch, so I have can a Tuscan villa!") In the article Mr. Lear, aka Rupert Smith, is quite proud when a reader on amazon describes his novels as "smut with pretensions."

So it got me thinking about porn/erotica. Well, sort of. I've got the pretension part down pat, but I really think I suck at smut. So help me out, flist. Tell me what you like. Recommend a story--long, short, plotless, or even poetry. Preferably girl-on-girl, but I can be flexible. It doesn't have to be fanfic (but please, no space aliens, no Trek, no ALF), but it has to be something you think is really good and really hot. I know [livejournal.com profile] ralst posted a similar query to her flist a while back, but just humor me. Or, as Gabrielle has said to Xena in legions of first-time stories, "Make me a woman."
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You might remember (or not) the book(s) I read a while ago by Patrick Leigh Fermor, which inspired the post where I bitched about all the words I had to look up. Well, because I am not only a masochist but forgetful as well, I picked up another Leigh Fermor book: A Time to Keep Silence. This slender little book (which nonetheless contained many words that, once again, required much canoodling with the dictionary) is about the author's sojourns to several different monasteries. His quest, however, is not so much a religious one--he is searching for someplace peaceful and quiet in which to write.

It seemed nearly impossible to read this book on the subway. In fact, I found myself contemplating this question--picture me, your very own Carrie Bradshaw (just as self-absorbed but with considerably less shoes and the sense to avoid anything designed by Pat Fields) sitting in front of her laptop and positing the obvious question, flitting across her faux screen: Can you really read a book about meditation, silence, and solitude on the piss-stinky, loud New York subway?

No, Carrie, you can't. My very first day reading the book on the subway brought to mind the Odd Couple episode where Oscar and Felix go on retreat to a monastery. (Oscar wears his Mets cap along with his brown monk's robe; Felix is, as usual, a general pain in the ass.) Obviously, our erudite friend Mr. Leigh Fermor did not write this book with the intent of stimulating a slacker's memory of much-beloved sitcom.

Leigh Fermor wrote this book in the 1950s; he vividly contrasts the noise and bustle of his Parisian life with his stay in several French monasteries. He is a culture junkie going through the pain of withdrawal: He is depressed, cannot sleep, is profoundly lonely and feels a sense of "impending death." But this is merely a part of the transition to the life of solitude and contemplation; soon "the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away....This is so different from any normal experience, that it makes the stranger suspect that he has been the beneficiary (in spite, or in the teeth, of recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief) of a supernatural windfall or an unconsciously appropriated share in the spiritual activity that is always at work in monasteries."

Fifty odd years later, the noise of civilization is even more prevalent (and ugly). Civilization ain't very civilized anymore. Can I even remember the last time I heard perfect quiet? Or anything close to it?(Night time in Venice, the only sound the gondolas beating against their docks...) Is it any wonder it's so difficult to write--not just for me, I believe, but for others as well? And really, couldn't everyone just benefit from a little peace, quiet and contemplation--with the occasional Gregorian chant--on a regular basis?:

The antiphonal singing from the stalls continued to build its invisible architecture of music: a scaffolding that sent columns of plain-song soaring upwards, to be completed by an anthem from the choir that roofed it like a canopy. The anthem was followed by a long stillness which seemed to be scooped out of the very heart of sound. After long minutes, a small bell rang and then the great bell from the tower which told of the rites that were being celebrated and the mysterious events taking place; and the heads of the monks fell as if one blow had scythed them away....The Mass sang itself out, the kiss of peace passed like a whispered message down the stalls, the officiating court dispersed, and the vestments were removed. A monk extinguished the candles, the hoods went up, the Abbot intoned the opening verse of Sext and, still on the same note, the response came booming back....
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In 1906, a French art critic, journalist, occasional anarchist, and pointy-bearded dandy named Felix Fénénon collected over a 1000 true-crime stories culled from the newspapers of the day into one work entitled Nouvelles en trois lignes: Novels (or novellas) in three lines. Recently NYRB Books translated and reprinted them into English. Do newspapers print columns of these "sundry items" anymore, these little stories of mayhem, crime, and death? Or do we just rely on the TV equivalent of same, now provided by Fox News and similar media outlets? Here are three examples of Fénénon's "novels":

"To die like Joan of Arc!" cried Terbrough, from the top of a pyre made of his furniture. The firemen of Saint-Owen stifled his ambition.

Finding his daughter, 19, insufficiently austere, Jallat, watchmaker of Saint-Etienne, killed her. It is true that he has eleven children left.

On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. Andre, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.


Ah, M. Fénénon--what a fine blogger and drabbler you would have made, I suspect.

We tend to think shorter = easier. (But anyone who has even written drabble knows it's hard, yes? Especially with those of us who think of the English language as a giant toy chest?) I've spent the better part of a day trying to think of a good novel in three lines, and came up with but poor knock-offs:

Waiting for the night, Dirkeldorfer expected to escape the house where he had axed his wife without incident. He was not counting on the bloody footprints left behind. It was like his wife always said, he was a complete slob.

While watching an old episode of CSI, the heavy-lidded cat finally realized that it was quite within the realm of possibility that he could eat a dead human. His ongoing attempts to trip his owners took on delicious and urgent new meanings.


So here is your challenge, kind readers: if you respond to this entry, give me a novel in three lines!
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Pretentious twat, 41, seeks gorgeous friendslist for long windy whiny winding walks along the beach and thoughtful discussions on the brown-and-orange color palette and the homoerotic subtexts in old episodes of "MacMillan and Wife." Must like margaux, saying "cocksucker" a lot, and spooning with flatulent elderly cats. Respond below.

As a subscriber to the London Review of Books on and off for many years, I find this book a long time coming, but no less welcomed because of it. Oh, you brilliant, beautiful bollocky Brits....If you're single, move to London, people!

mr. gorvey

Dec. 6th, 2006 02:22 pm
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Just read this interview with Gore Vidal. At 81, he still sounds like the curmudgeonly old queen he's always been. What piqued my interest, however, was the interviewer's revelation that Vidal never had sex with his partner of 53 years (who has since passed away...not even a kiss until his partner was near the end). Never. Nada. No no nookie, Gorvette. I suppose if they had an open relationship it may not have been an issue (and once they got older as well...maybe there wasn't any Viagra in Ravello), but...Christ on a Cracker!

Of course, it never works when you use your own hungers and desires as a yardstick for other people's behaviors. Different sexual needs and all that. I have (mostly single, mostly female, mostly straight) friends whose sex lives are a mystery, who don't appear to date much. And when I wonder if they are happy, I speculate that perhaps they are, or at least that whatever tradeoff they may be making for steady sex/companionship is worth it to them, and that sex isn't the most important thing in the world...BECAUSE FRIED CHICKEN IS! SOMEONE IN THIS GODDAMNED GODFORSAKEN OFFICE IS EATING FRIED CHICKEN AND THE SMELL IS DRIVING ME INSANE.

Anyway. Time for lunch. (No fried chicken, though.)

{the subject line: From a biography of Jane Bowles. She did not like Gore V. very much and called him "Mr. Gorvey."}

Discuss amongst yourselves! Fried chicken or Mr. Gorvey, your choice.
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Last Sunday's New York Times had an excerpt from Susan Sontag's diaries, which are going to be published a couple years from now. Interesting stuff; in many of these excerpts she writes about her homosexuality (and her guilt about it). Like anyone's diary, it runs the gamut in its aphorisms, from borderline silly ("The coming of the orgasm is not the salvation but, more, the birth of my ego.") to something like this:

There is no stasis. To stand still is to fall away from the truth; the inner life dims and flickers, starts to go out, as soon as one tries to hold fast. It’s like trying to make this breath serve for the next one, or making today’s dinner do the work of next Wednesday’s as well....Truth rides the arrow of time.

Then there's benzedrine, vodka martinis, Kenneth Anger movies...and one entry is even written entirely in hysterical LIEK OMG ELVENTY111ONE!!ONE caps. I love seeing all these varied facets of her persona. It makes her both more iconic and less iconic at the same time. (Yes, it's Friday afternoon, I'm entitled to not make sense. Sontag I'm not.)

p.s. to [livejournal.com profile] adastranot: I'm listening to "Nightswimming" as I write this....

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