Archive for June, 2014

And a Few More

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

I went ahead and read Maggie Shipstead’s first book, after enjoying her second. It’s even better, skillfully weaving a web of intersecting characters and plot such that we’re constantly shifting perspective and affiliation to excellent, witty end. In other words, she justifies every swerve, rewarding the reader with ongoing revelations, all of which are unexpected and enriching. Plus, Shipstead manages to find sympathy for her protagonist, a bumbling, emotionally dead patriarch of a high-WASP family with utterly superficial and bankrupt values. Really well done. I enjoyed every page of it, despite feeling slightly sullied by the company it required me to keep.

I also read Dave Eggers’ book The Circle, whose disrespect for its reader was so massive I could almost not make sense of it. Does Eggers actually believe in a readership who can’t understand even the most basic concepts of technology and privacy? Can he honestly use the line “Release the drones!” with no irony and expect his reader to believe that his characters would not see the horror (and hilarious cliche) ┬áin it? Can he truly kill off a character with said drones and still pursue the idea that his protagonist, that character’s former girlfriend, would not be affected? Does he think that women swoon at “being taken from behind” or would in any case swoon at that phrase, used to describe a sexual encounter that is given no other appealing qualities?

I could go on. The point I’m trying to make is that this novel is shocking in its arrogance and elitism. It’s not just a poorly written, poorly conceived story that doesn’t achieve its very obvious goal of saying that, WOW, surveillance is bad, and that we’re all complicit of we’re offering ourselves willingly to corporate intrusions into our privacy a la Facebook. (Duh.) It’s actually extremely offensive in its utter disregard for how people feel and act—and also in its failure to imagine how his readers will understand what he’s saying. There’s honestly no way to comprehend how Eggers could simultaneously publish this book and believe that his readers have the capacity to think.

I was flabbergasted.

Ooo, look who just earned herself a little “Today’s Tirade” tag!

5 Years Bloggin’

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

And lapses between posts getting longer all the time. It isn’t that I haven’t had postables. It’s just, you know, LIFE. It happens.

Here’s a fun little snippet. Last night, John was going through some old high school yearbooks—from when he was a teacher, not a student—in search of material about a former student, whose wedding we’ll be attending this weekend. (YAY! Completely fantastic couple, and we can’t wait to participate in the love-frothing.) John’ll be speaking during the ceremony, and he wanted to jog his memories about what it was like to have this person (who has become a friend) in class. He did that and wrote something fresh and dramatic and beautifully John.

But ANYway, we were looking at a particular series of photos, and . . .

Me: What year was that?

John: I don’t know. This was the year we forgot to put the date on the yearbook.

Me: You forgot the YEAR? On the YEARbook?

John: Yeah. Just that one year.

Me: But it’s the YEARbook.

John: Yeah, well. We just didn’t think of it.

Me: That’s what happens when the yearbook advisor is a man who DOESN’T BELIEVE IN TIME.

John: [Laughing.]

Me: Or know what year it is.

John: [Still laughing.]

Me: EVER.

In other news, a very quick rundown of recent media consumed:

1) Silicon Valley, the HBO series. Absolutely delightful. Funny, smart, and funny again. SUCH lovable, and lovably flawed, characters. Recently I was on a conference call with a client in Silicon Valley (as almost all of my clients are), and we were talking about the show. “I have a cousin in Minneapolis,” the guy said, “and he said the show’s only funny if you’re in Silicon Valley.” True? I wouldn’t know. I’m up to my hairline in almost everything they cover on the show. Ergo, awesome.

2) Funny Once, Antonya Nelson’s latest collection of stories. For me, she has always been so eminently readable, mining, as she does, my very favorite territory—human relationships. In this collection, which I liked, I was surprised to find a kind of throughline of bitterness and even unkindness. (Nelson does not like fat people, seemingly.) And almost every story is about divorce. At least according to Wikipedia, Nelson is still married, so perhaps the bite is mainly hypothetical? Either way, ouch.

3) Return to Oakpine, Ron Carlson’s latest novel. I loved his work in graduate school and then lost track of him. It was very satisfying to reconnect, particularly given the warmth and humanity of this novel, and also the prose, which can be inspired. Just one issue for me here, which is that he gives almost every character the same cadence in dialogue, and they’re all a smidge too self-consciously and folksily articulate about Big Life Issues. This goes over all right with the adults, but the words he puts in the teenagers’ mouths . . . gotta give those a no. There’s no teenager in the world talking like that, especially not in 2013. Maybe in 1940, but even then? I doubt it.

4) Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead. Her second novel and the first I’ve read. I was surprised by how much it held me, given that one of its central characters is basically a shell, a woman who has almost no personality. I guess it’s because everything else about the novel works: all of the other characters, the setting, the language. The world of ballet, which was fun to be in. I’ve put Shipstead’s first book on my wishlist, which means I’ll likely read it soon (and probably before anyone buys it for me for my birthday, WHICH IS JULY 26).

5) Frozen. We saw it in the best way possible: At our own little pizza-and-movie-party to celebrate our beloved renter-friend’s two-year anniversary in our studio. We projected it onto a sheet and used a Bluetooth speaker behind the screen. Then the three of us lapped it up, although not without the predictable objections—e.g., they don’t build up Elsa’s emotional transformation to “Let It Go” adequately, the pacing is weird, etc. John and I were particularly tickled by how hard Disney was working to undo the Prince Charming narrative it has spent EVERY SINGLE OTHER MOVIE building up. I guess it’s a start. Oh, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that Idina Menzel plays essentially the same character she played in Wicked. Those Hollywood people. So imaginative!

6) Crazy Love. VERY creepy documentary about a twisted relationship that goes way beyond where you think it will. Not easy to watch. Also, impossible to look away. Essentially a psychological study into one person in particular, whom the movie did eventually help me to understand. Again, though, OOOGH.

And now, y’all, I gotta go put paint samples on the side of the house.