Sunday 31 October 2010

A brief study of the Early Modern Emo

The story of how I got to read this book when I did is, for me, much more interesting than the book itself.

Several weeks ago, one of my dearest friends informed me that I must read Robin Cook's Crisis for it was, in her estimation, one of the worst books ever written. Sarah characterized it something like this: "Crisis reads like it was written by a semi-literate mental case, in another language, and then it was translated into English by a machine." I wondered why she finished it? Because, she said, it was so bad, that it made her laugh out loud, in joyous disbelief, multiple times. She pressed it upon me, and I took it, but only after she read aloud some of its choicest passages of pure shittitude and I, too, laughed uproarously.

Well, without Sarah to read this twice-cursed pile of pants aloud to me, it was doomed. But before I even tried to read Crisis, I was imagining stealing Raych's Horrible Dare Challenge idea and turning it into a book club for me and my friends. Sarah and I discussed it, and wondered how we'd be able to find anything as shockingly back as Crisis. Soon after, I picked up a copy of Flowers in the Attic and knew it wouldn't be difficult at all. Behold the first 1.5 paragraphs of Flowers in the Attic, which is a book about child abuse (bad!) and incest (good? Gah!):
It is so appropriate  to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captives by greed. But, we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.

Charles Dickens would often start his novels with the birth of the protagonist and, being a favorite author of both mine and Chris's, I would duplicate his style - if I could. But he was a genius born to write without difficulty while I find every word I put down, I put down with tears, with bitter blood, with sour gall, well mixed and blended with shame and guilt. 
Aaahhh, aaah! The horror of this novel's writing was something I could get behind; its salaciousness, luridness, hideousness, and repetitive use of melodramatic and mixed metaphors could be great good fun. I read it when I was 12, and remember very clearly all the brother-sister make-out sessions. So, in preparation for this future book club of barfiness, I began reading Crisis on the subway one day. I got about 15 pages in when, in pure rage, I got off the subway, tossed the book violently into a trashcan, and went to a nearby shop to find myself something better to read. I picked André Gide's The Immoralist because the writing seemed good, it was short, and the font was large. All good reasons, really.

The Immoralist was immeasurably better to read than either Crisis or Flowers in the Attic. Of course it was. But while both the writing and translating were very, very good, and I could certainly write a very fine undergraduate essay about the narrator's suppressed and racially problematic homoerotic inclinations, I didn't enjoy it much. You see, I'm beginning to detect a trend in the French literature that I'm not pleased with.

The narrators of too many of the books I've already read for the French literature project - and I have at least 20 more planned for!! - are all some version of the same whinging, self-centred little bastard who thinks very intensely about (if not also highly of) himself, but not very much or very nicely of others, particularly women. The main characteristics of what I shall henceforth refer to as the Early Modern Emo are masturbatory navel-gazing, Profound Ennui, a fairly deeply felt but shallowly executed commitment to what is Authentic and Real (ill defined, of course), and careless abuse of those who truly (and inexplicably) care about him. As far as I can tell, the only French author talented enough to make this compelling was Balzac.

Reading about a gold-plated asshole is interesting once, maybe even twice depending on who the author is, but as a literary sub-tradition? Bah, it's tiresome and dulls quickly. When I next delve into the French lit, I clearly need to try something either hilarious or written before the year 1700, ideally both; otherwise, I may kick my self-edumacation in this country's bookish history to the curb.

Thursday 28 October 2010

David Mitchell and William Gibson dance-fight to win my heart

Last night, I went to an event at Toronto's annual International Festival of Authors - David Mitchell and William Gibson in conversation with someone else who I hadn't heard of, and who persisted in mispronouncing the name of the titular hero of Mitchell's latest novel, even after being corrected. Let's pretend that he wasn't there. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, William Gibson read from his new novel, Zero History. I have yet to read any of Gibson's work, but what I heard was very engaging, so I'll make a point of checking him out. He does have a very unique voice, as Jason mentioned a long time ago now.  It kind of made everything sound like a slightly stoned and somewhat funny hard-boiled detective novel; very enjoyable to listen to.

As Jason is a big fan of Gibson's, I picked him up a copy of the new novel and got it signed. In between "Jason" and "William Gibson" I got the author to write that now famous blurb about the internet being a series of tubes...which increased the value of the book in my mind, but maybe not in either Gibson's or Jason's. Sigh.

Right before I met Gibson (so much for my attempt at strict linearity here!), I witnessed a fan-Gibson interaction that filled me with some hope about the yout' of today. Hope, mind, not unshakable confidence. Here's what happened: A girl-fan of approximately 16 years got Gibson to sign all her copies of all of his books. There was a limit on each person - only four books each - so she had a friend in tow to get the others signed on her behalf.

She got all her books signed. She got her friend to take a photo of her and Gibson. And then she fled, shrieking in a very teenage girl sort of way. Hope: she was a teenaged reader absolutely stricken, not by Stephanie Meyer and not by whoever wrote those damned Gossip Girl books, but by William Gibson, who was writing what I'm told is the bestest of Sci-Fi long before she was even a high-pitched gleam in either of her parents' eyes. Incomplete confidence: She did still shriek like a harpy wielding a mystical sword to cut your face off with.

Back to linearity. Right after Gibson read from his book, David Mitchell came out to read - not, as expected, from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but from the new book he's currently writing! And it was really good, although he very humourously called himself out on some sentences he wasn't satisfied with.

Afterward, they sat down with unknown fellow mentioned above and proceeded to show just what a bloody damned smart and cagey choice it was to put them together. They're both brilliant and funny and compelling, but even more so together, I think. A lot of the best parts - like when Gibson said people were "now-centric" and Mitchell said, "Oh, that's good!" and as he was writing it down asked in a very precocious way, "Can I have that?" - have been likely already been tweeted (hashtag #IFOA).

But what likely won't make it to the Twitter - because it simply defies being put into words by everyone but me, for whom it happened - is how once the conversation ended, Mitchell and Gibson engaged in a complicated and highly ritualistic dance-fight, in which they attempted to win ascendancy in my heart. David Mitchell entered the competition with a huge handicap in his favour, for Cloud Atlas remains my favourite novel of all time (even if Hilary Mantel ought to be making him very nervous). Gibson, however, had the advantage of being a hippie draft dodger AND wearing cool sneakers AND owning a Twitter account called GAYDOLPHIN2.

First they circled one another, executing flawless pirouettes, Gibson in his kicks and Mitchell in his signature steel-toes. Neither appeared to gain an advantage at this point, so they quickly changed tactics and re-enacted the dance-knife fight scene from Michael Jackson's "Beat It" but both quickly learned that if the pen isn't as mighty as the switchblade, it does cause some fearful stains on favourite shirts, and so altered their respective strategies again.

While David Mitchell performed a modern, interpretive routine to Iron & Wine's "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" (a song which, for reasons I can't entirely explain, always makes me think of Black Swan Green), Gibson countered by performing the Robot to Run DMC's "It's Like That". At this point, it seemed as though Gibson would triumph for the Robot is the Michael Jordan slam dunk of dance-fight moves - it wins the game 99% of the time.

But Mitchell had the advantage of greater variety, and countered with a transcendent pas de deux in which he performed both parts simultaneously. In the end, Mitchell won the pitched battle for my heart, but Gibson will certainly not be banished...

Meanwhile, Hilary Mantel lurks in the background, waiting for her moment...

That's all true - except for what I just said.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

The Sarazens head without New-gate: Final post

I thought I'd posted my final Sarazens head entry back in August, but two things: 1) I don't want to conclude this series with whinging and begging in such unbecoming fashion; and, 2) I just remembered that I ran a very popular series on the Twitter back in September, in which I expressed the many ways in which I fantasized answering customers' queries about why we were closing up shop, instead of telling them the sordid, anti-climactic truth.

I know that it's shitty and sometimes, even, traumatic to discover that an indie bookstore one likes is being disappeared, but I very quickly became incredibly tired of having to explain. I felt overwhelmed by the stress of it all anyway; I didn't feel up for addressing strangers' feelings about it as well.

So, my friend Jason suggested the first one on this list, and then I began dreaming about what else I'd really like to say for my own amusement, and then I began writing them down, and then my husband and our friend Andy began contributing, and then some of them went up on the Twitter. One or two, I actually said out loud to customers when they asked, and managed to do so with a straight face. Their responses - one of pure confusion, and then deep personal affront; another of uprorious and joyous laughter (same answer as previous); and one hiss (yes, really!) - were all worth, well, everything. Enjoy!

Possible responses to “Why is your bookstore closing?”
(Favourites marked with an *)

1) We lost our liquor license.*
2) Freemasons.
3) I’m quitting to become a hip hop artist.
4) Because you made God cry and kittens die when you asked for Dan Brown’s latest.
5) Because you called the Twilight books "classics”.*
6) We’re not closing, we’re going paperless.
7) We’re being sucked into a hole in the ground.
8) Because, like, all the really spiritual journeys happen inside your heart, you know?
9) I fundamentally believe people just don’t like words.
10) We’ve been here 13 years and the landlord never once bought a book from us. I just couldn’t take it any more.
11) Who said we were closing?
12) “Didn’t I tell you last time you were here?” “I haven’t been here in years.” “That’s why.”*
13) I’m tired of people asking me about when I’m going to have a baby.
14) Turns out people don’t buy stuff.
15) We just sold our last copy of The Da Vinci Code. Thought we’d go out on a high note.*
16) Couldn’t get the stink of Freddie Prinze, Jr. out of the rare books section.
17) Need time to dance.
18) Tired of winning.*
19) I like giving books as gifts, but ever since we got the store it just seemed insincere.
20) Big Pharma.
21) Unfortunately, the first rule of the Recycled Book Shop is you do not talk about the Recycled Book Shop.
22) I was just never going to win a championship here. It’s nothing personal.*
23) Umm… Yeah. What was the question again? No, not that one, the one about your face.
24) Kept cutting into my D&D time.
25) Every time you sell a used book it puts a thorn in the heart of Baby Jesus. After a while the thrill just wasn’t there anymore.*
26) You love Lady Gaga! That is so cool. And it explains some things.
27) Too many customers howling at my beauty like dogs in heat.
28) I just can't bear parting with another of my precious babies.
29) We were developing an allergy to the past tense, and couldn't weed out the offending titles.
30) My Etsy bunny-hair potholder business has taken off and I don't have time for this.
31) It's a condition of our settlement with Dan Brown in his defamation suit.
32) We're trying to stay one jump ahead of the stroller nazis.
33) We're opening a deli/tobacconist.
34) Too many ley lines connecting here - can't take the dark energy anymore.*
35) Tired of customers re-enacting the dress-up scene from Silence of the Lambs. (Jason’s response to this response: "It puts the Dan Brown back on the shelf, or else it gets the hose again.")*
36) So I never again have to deal with people who think Virginia Woolf wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Second most common question and some possible responses: 
So, you’re closing, eh? Do you know what’ll be going in here?

1) Jihad.
2) The future.*
3) In conjunction with the Toronto Vegetarian Association around the corner on Baldwin, Northbound Pleather.
4) Clearing house for missing socks.
5) One of those exclusive places.
6) With the hospital so close by, I'd assume some sort of sex shop.*
7) Apparently Starbucks and Wendy's are in some sort of bidding war over the site.
8) Hopefully something that rhymes with "fuck you."
9) M. Night Shyamalan's next movie idea.
10) Hungry Hungry Hippo franchise.
11) Mice.
12) Whatever the Basement of Bad Dreams wants.

So, that's it. I'm just your garden variety reader and book-buyer now - and it's lovely!

Sunday 17 October 2010

More reviewlets, ten words or less

Yes, I've had to up the word limit to ten for this one as my brainkin is still broken. Also, I'm listening to Lady Gaga real loud so as to block out the mouth-breathers having a shouting party upstairs; while Lady Gaga inspires me to do many things (like stay on the treadmill and happily run real fast), thinking isn't one of them.

Here we go.

1) Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle.

Too much personal resonance to be enjoyable, but damned good.

2) Little Novels by Wilkie Collins.

All sort of similar, all similarly enjoyable.

3) The Pilgrim of Hate, Ellis Peters.

I wish Brother Cadfael was my dad.

4) The Giant, O'Brien by Hilary Mantel.

Both the bliss and the blood did me great good.

5) The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue.

Emma Donoghue is the homeless man's Hilary Mantel.

Thursday 7 October 2010

I spoke too soon, it seems

Friends, it turns out I'm much, much tiredererer than I thought. I've basically been asleep since I blogged last week. I am able to read, and I do, and I enjoy it. But I am currently unable to write, in part because I don't stay awake long enough to do so, and in part because my brain won't cooperate. The words just aren't there. So, I am resting, like I mean it. Sometimes, I ride my bike; I also take some walks. I don't know when I'll be back for real, but I really hope it's soon. Until then, I hope you're all fantastic. Here's a photo of my bike in the gorgeous park by my house to give you a sense of what I'm trying to do while awake.