Witness: I’ve been roving around Witness’s website the last couple of days. Their submission period for general (non-thematic) fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography is about to open the first day of September. It seems they really like stories with an international/ethnic flair but aren’t restricted to them. This morning I read “Blackheart” by Mark Brazaitis. There are some great snippets of dialogue held by two adults as heard and interpreted by a little girl that add some humor to an otherwise serious and sad story.
I’m making my way through Madame Bovary, and anytime I have the impulse to read a Victorian novel I’m a little surprised at myself. According to the Norton Anthology and the like, the Victorian novel is stimulating because it challenges social and political issues like “the woman question” (and what can and can’t they do), industrialization (and how gross and unsympathetic it is), and imperialism (and how awesome it is); but I think of the Victorian novel as being like a long-winded aunt with a really sweet voice. Her stories are bone dry (in terms of actual, noteworthy things that happen) and would make you want to weep from boredom, except her voice is hypnotic and casts a rosy glow on all the dreadfully dull things she is saying.
I tried to articulate this to my boyfriend, and he looked over my shoulder for a minute while I was reading, asking questions like “Is Emma Madame Bovary?” “Is he a doctor?” “What’s it about?” “So it’s about her being a slut?” And what’s ironic is I know in terms of the empirical information I will remember about this book three years from now, he will now also remember based on a quick pass over the back cover (I say this now, reminding myself that I’m not DONE with the book yet, so maybe I’ll retract this later), but the actual act of reading books like this one and Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice and so on, is like getting a brain massage. You’re actually comprehending what you’re reading on a high level, but it feels like you’re spooning it up as effortlessly as ice cream.
But like ice cream, I’ll start to get sick of it after a while.
This is an old Wired article from 2006, but it’s still entertaining. I was looking for an explanation of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word short story, which was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” and I found this list of current authors’ contributions. (More on why I wanted to share the Ernest Hemingway anecdote with you later…)
Have you heard about the Harry Potter series? I think it’s based on the band Harry and the Potters…
Being unemployed makes you do things. Like buy a potted plant because no in the world has as much time to nurture something as you do. Or clean the baseboards in your apartment because, hell, they’re there looking all grimey. Or re-read the Harry Potter books because you couldn’t remember the name of Ron Weasley’s pet rat from the beginning of the series and you read that book SIX times between the ages of 11 and 16, so you should still know that. No excuses! (As it turns out, unemployment is actually one long, uncomfortable, guilt trip.) So you can probably tell I’m re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Although most of my books are U.S. copies, I only had a British copy of year-one, so Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Why did they not just call it Philosopher’s Stone in the U.S.? American kids aren’t that stupid. I had heard of the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone by age 11. We had Wishbone…) Anyway, because it has been eight or nine years since I read the first book, I was surprised at how small it was at 220 pages. I thought, how did she fit Quirrell and the Mirror of Erised and Norbert and all that jazz in only 220 pages?? Very tight word usage. No sentence in this book is unimportant. She definitely went over the copy with a fine-tooth comb. Not to say that she doesn’t in later books, but there’s a compactness about the first book that eases up a bit later. (Probably because the readers started whining once Goblet was 700-and-something pages, and they refused to go back.) The short of it is, I’ve been enjoying the re-read way more than I anticipated. I thought having a Master’s in literature and creative writing would make me snobby and ruin Harry Potter for me, but it only makes me appreciate it more.
(P.S. No matter how brilliant the books are, don’t mention Harry Potter in the critical introduction to a creative thesis. Your committee will look at you sadly, like you’ve never read a grown-up book…even though they’re worth more Accelerated Reader points.)
This week I finished the slender novel, Tea of Ulaanbaatar by Christopher R. Howard. Set in the late 90’s in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and told by a disillusioned American ex-pat who is teaching English as part of the Peace Corps, this book will chafe a little…in a good way. Like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the main character rips into a spiral of drug abuse and violence, but you learn a lot more about world history while he does it. The basic plot follows the rising use of a psycholdelic tea, Tsus, among the Peace Corps group. Howard uses the tea in a clever way to create a future for his characters that bleeds between the lines of real and unreal (They’re tripping so hard they think they see the future, but for all you know, maybe it is the future. They’re also tripping so hard they think the tea explains how Genghis Khan conquered the world. Yeah, it’s hard to explain.) There’s something different about this book compared to other reality-bending, bender books. There’s something larger at stake that deals with questions of human decency and human rights. Awesome read and a book that will truly appeal to not only women but the hard-to-reach demographic of teen and 20-something males (rating R for SVD).