Busy Monsters are Busy

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This week I had the dubious pleasure of reading Busy Monsters by William Giraldi. This was a story about a man whose fiance takes off with the captain of a vessel determined to find the Kraken of mythos. First, he decides to try and stop her from leaving and shoots up the boat. After he gets out of prison, he learns that she has actually managed to find one of the beasts and capture it, so he decides he needs to out do her and catch a Sasquatch. And his guide is promptly eaten by the man-ape. (He thinks. He ran away from the horrible noises and back to civilization.) And this is just the first 1/16 of the book. Needless to say things keep going downhill from there for the poor man.

The style of this novel is what I find most interesting. This is a first person narrative that is rather unique. Each chapter is actually an installment of his column in a magazine wherein he is memoir-izing his life as it happens. This lends itself to an incredible amount of self-referential and meta-writing opportunities which was fun and quirky. His column was widely read enough that when he met new people, they often critiqued his writing.

And what a unique style of writing it was. The language was very high art for such surreal and hyper-realistic hijinks. Unlike Zazen, which I reviewed last week, the absurdly high language of this novel worked well. If the material had been presented in language more synonymous with the material, it would have been…predictable. But the juxtaposition of the entirety of the thesaurus along with the absurd actions of the main character, well, that was just delightful.

Absurd and delightful entertainment.

Anacreontic Flash

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Note to my readers: Write to the prompts with me! Send me your stories or poems and I’ll post them up with mine!
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Anacreontic Flash

Basement made mead shared around
The game strewn wooden table
Laughter and light bickering
Over whether the noun works
With the verb. Their rosy cheeks
And ready smiles give lie
To the good-natured ribbing.

Writing Prompt #3

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To celebrate the fact that you may be done with class for the term or done with work for holiday vacation (or just because it’s a weekend, or it’s close to one of those events) try this word out:

Anacreontic

This word has a host of meanings, including the following:

  • jovial, festive and amorous
  • celebrating love and drinking
  • a poem in the manner of Anacreon; especially : a drinking song or light lyric

Is there a story of poem in you that is anacreontic?

Date a Girl who Reads

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A dear friend of mine posted this to my facebook the other day, and I thought it was worthwhile to share with you. It is apparently in response to this article, which is a truly heartbreaking reality. Wouldn’t the below be much better?

A GIRL YOU SHOULD DATE

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.
Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

– Rosemarie Urquico –

Seriously, what other image would you expect me to use here?

A Meditation on Zazen

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Vanessa Veselka‘s Zazen was an interesting read. The title itself implies a seated meditation, which I guess could be applied to the writing, though it is not an overt theme in the book.

The construction of this novel is rather lovely. Veselka’s turn of phrase is unique and I like how she renames people and things for a more fanciful feel: fetuses in utero become bellyfish, policemen are crickets, etc. It adds to the fact that the main character, Della, is not quite in sync with our world after a mental break she had when she was just out of graduate school. Since then, she has been living with her brother and his pregnant wife, imagining she hears explosions from the far off war while covering her walls in maps tracking self-immolation around the globe. After the bombs find their way to her city for real, she decides she wants to call in bomb threats of her own. For a little while, this thrills her, but that quickly fades. However, when someone actually starts bombing the buildings she’s threatening, the stakes are suddenly real.

However, even thought the prose was beautiful, I had some trouble grasping what the book was getting at occasionally. It seemed to be a novel criticizing not only consumer/American culture but also taking a hard stance on the extreme liberal movements against the corporate world. Della is the product of two parents who revel in the activist extremes, and her brother takes to the organizing and protesting angle with grace. But Della seems trapped in the liberal extremes–interested in their ideas, unhappy with their methods. But, all of this is buried behind a very unreliable and somewhat schizophrenic narrator.

Della is a woman with issues who does not see the world the way we do. And because her filter is so off-kilter, we cannot even tell how far off her world is from ours. Now, if we had an unreliable narrator, or a slightly differing world from ours, that’s one thing. Put the two of them together and it’s virtually impossible to tell what is real and what is not. Some people may enjoy this experience. I, however, found it off-putting. I would get distracted by how pretty the prose was and then realize I had no idea what the last three sentences even meant.

This is also the first book in a while were I felt the publisher could have done a much better job with the cover design and proofreading. The cover is unbalanced, with a title that is ridiculously sized and placed. And the amount of typos in the book is excessive. The worst section was two pages near the anti-climax where there were several typos together on facing pages. It makes me feel like they just missed proofreading those pages altogether.

Anyway, I think this book is worthwhile for an examination of the prose and structure, but, ultimately, it was a bit of a confusing disappointment.

I can't help but dislike this unbalanced and hard to read cover...

Bookish Ornaments

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If you are looking for a cute little stocking stuffer for your bookworm friends or need that special something for your own tree, this is it. A mini Chicago Manual of Style!

For the grammar nazi in you...

Don’t mind how small my tree is. The ornament ends up 3.5″ tall. Just makes my Charlie Brown sized tree look that much smaller! Anyway, it’s a very simple paper folding project and takes about five minutes to put together–so what’s stopping you?! Directions can be found here: Chicago Manual of Style Ornament.

Credit, of course, goes to the University of Chicago Press. Thanks guys!

Hazel Flash

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Remember all, when I post a prompt, I’d love to see what you come up with! Post in the comments or sent it to me to post if it’s too long…
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When they handed it off to her, they weren’t sure what instructions they should give. It wasn’t like this had happened before, but it was moving, and so they knew something had to be done. They had tried to get doctors in time who might have known what to do, but labor had moved too quickly and now they were left with this little being that shivered and twitched.

Hazel wrapped the wrinkled and damp critter in one of the spare surgery sheets, snug but not too firm, as if it were any regular baby. Of course she knew it wasn’t normal. Nothing about that day had been normal.

She had been woken that morning by the air raid sirens. It took her a moment to realize that this wasn’t another drill–considering it was just 5am–and to drag herself out of bed and under her dressing table. She huddled there for a while as the power flickered on and off and she could feel a faint quiver in the earth. But things calmed down fairly quickly and the siren called an all clear. All in all, it was rather anticlimactic for her first real raid. It wasn’t until she had pulled herself out, used the bathroom, and was preparing to start her day that she remembered what the sirens meant. And she wondered who would be missing that day, whose names would scrawl down the leader board of casualties, tallied by city and state.

Hazel made it into work even earlier than usual, too wide awake from her abrupt start to the day to sit around at home and pretend to like the watery excuse for coffee that was all she could find at the stores. The tired old excuses about the coffee being needed for the national efforts was a cold comfort when trying to down a mug of the dirt flavored swill.

Once in the doors at Sacred Heart, she found that it was a good thing that she had gotten there early. It was barely 6 and the hospital was in full trauma mode. One of the emergency room nurses grabbed her arm and towed her to a makeshift sanitary station.

“Quick, scrub up. I know you’re an anesthesiologist, but we need to you to help triage.”

Hazel complied, running through the familiar motions as she took in the chaos. “What happened? Did an outage cause an accident? They take a bus driver?”

“You don’t know.” The other woman shook her head. “They didn’t take anyone. They brought some back.”

Hazel paused while drying her hands as her brain finally accepted what she was seeing. The people lying in beds all around the emergency waiting area were there, but wrong. They all seemed, well, the only way she could think to describe it was out of focus, almost as if their bodies were no longer in symmetry. She shivered as she realized they weren’t making a sound–the only noise was the clatter of carts and the rapid fire patter of the doctors and nurses as the tried to figure out whether they were all even still alive. There seemed to be some dispute over the matter.

“Where did they go?” Hazel murmured. “Does anybody know?”

The other nurse finished washing again and pulled on a fresh set of gloves. “They aren’t talking. We’re not even sure they can. Go start at the other side of the room, see if you can get responses from them.”

“How many are there?”

“They just keep coming in.” And she left Hazel on her own.

It wasn’t five minutes before Hazel found the pregnant woman. She seemed unmarked, unlike the rest of the people there. Everything was in its proper place and looked about as symmetrical as nature had intended. As Hazel checked her vital signs, she saw the ripple of a contraction convulse the woman, followed not a minute later by another.

“Doctor!” She hollered over the chatter of the other care-givers in the room “I need a Doctor! This one’s in labor!”

Hazel quickly checked under the woman’s sheet, wondering briefly at the fact that all of the people appeared to have come back naked. The woman was nearly fully dilated, but was not responding to any of the woman’s attempts to get a response. This was going to be a difficult delivery if the woman wasn’t responsive enough to push.

A doctor finally appeared at her side. “How long?”

“Her contractions are too close for comfort, and she’s nearly dilated, but she’s not responding at all.”

“Big surprise, none of them are.” He gave the woman a quick once over. “Alright, let’s get her into one of the operating rooms, see how this goes.”

They rolled the woman into one of the open theaters. Thankfully, they hadn’t figured out what was wrong with most of the reappearance cases to even begin to work on them. The doctor called upstairs for an ob-gyn and then got to work setting up a birthing table. They got the woman over and propped up, her contractions coming almost without pause at this point.

And she still gave no indication that she was aware of anything going on around her. But, despite Hazel’s concerns about the woman being able to help push, the delivery itself was fairly routine. It wasn’t more than a half hour from the time they got her into the delivery room till the time she had pushed out the afterbirth and once again lay still.

The delivery room had become crowded with staff, a good portion of their jobs in the emergency room now taken over by governmental doctors setting up quarantine rooms and sealing everyone into the building, including all the ambulance drivers and technicians who had brought in the reappeared.

The doctor turned to the crowd of sightseers with a bundle in his arms, obviously flailing arms and legs, but still not making a sound. No one would take it from him and he needed to go back to making sure the woman was alright after the birth, so Hazel stepped forward. She held out the folded over sheet she had found on one of the side table and he gently placed it in her arms.

It was too small, really. Probably only about 7 months all told, but it was robustly alive. As she wiped away the birth matter, it’s skin glowed an almost too-healthy pink. It seemed to have all its fingers and toes, things seemed to be where they were supposed to, but it wouldn’t cry out. It was the first live birth that Hazel had attended, but she thought for sure that babies were supposed to start crying in their first few breaths in clean air.

She laid it down on the mother’s old gurney which was still in the theater and dragged a stool over to sit and watch over it. It looked like a healthy, if small, baby girl. Hazel glanced over as the voices around the mother became frantic and machines started crying a warning tone.

The flat-line tone sounded and there was wild cursing, shouted questions about bleeding and tachycardia. Eventually they quieted down and pulled the sheet over the nameless mother.

Hazel turned her attention back to the child in front of her to find it had opened it’s eyes. They were a wild, bright green, more vibrant than eyes had any right being. She hiccoughed and then sighed, turning her head slightly to nuzzle against Hazel’s arm beside her.

Hazel wasn't sure what to do when they handed her the child.

Writing Prompt #2

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Our prompt for this week:

Below is one of several pictures that will be appearing over the next few weeks; they were found and purchased from a shady antique store under a bridge in Seattle. What is the story behind this photo? According to the ornate handwriting on the back, this is Hazel. Hazel, meet your biographers…

What is she thinking?

 

Did You Know Twain Wrote a Murder Mystery?

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I had no idea, but Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote a murder mystery. Kind of. It’s titled A Double Barrelled Detective Story and it is a novella in which there are two unique revenge stories and he makes great fun of Sherlock Holmes. It’s structured around letters written by a young man to his mother as he tries to track down his father who was quite the scoundrel.

Beautiful embossed red cloth, and I love the quote.

It was a unique little tale and did not take much time at all to read, but I was particularly struck by the beauty of the original printing. The red cloth cover with the fancy gold embossing is a pleasure to hold. And that quote is something else–“We ought never to do wrong when people are looking.” It epitomizes a lot of the story in a one sense, but it subverts it in another. The murder (which doesn’t even take place until about 2/3 of the way into the story) is covered up explicitly by disguising the setup for the murder with regular actions in front of Sherlock Holmes. And it would have worked, too, if it wasn’t for the meddling kid and his super-human tracking abilities. Sherlock Holmes had gone on the completely wrong path…

But the beauty of the book doesn’t stop at the cover. Take a look at these gorgeous end pages. They make sense as the majority of the story takes place in mountainous gold mining camps. I was wondering if I could take a page out of this book and create end pages for my novel that are cascades of falling letters…or stamps…

Endpages depicting the forest and mountains around the mining camp.And the pages themselves are gorgeous. They all have a red frame with an accent in the corner. It was a two color job, which must have gotten expensive in 1902 because that meant they had to run each page through the press twice. But just look at how pretty it is! And I love the little annotations in the margin there. They run throughout the book and there are up to three on a page. Sometimes they were simply a note on the text and at other times the way they were phrased was a snarky bit of commentary.

Look at all the gorgeous detail on the page...

And there were several stunning plates throughout the book. The detail and clarity of each of them was just astounding. If you can’t read the caption, this one is, “He proceeded to lash her to a tree.”

The plates in this book were gorgeous, here is "He Proceeded to Lash Her to A Tree"

Anyway, an amusing little story, but a gorgeous presentation. This is a true gem of Twain’s that I didn’t even know existed until last month. It’s worth it to read a copy (it’s available in modern paperback and for the Kindle) but if you can get your hands on one of the 1902 printings, that’s even better.

The Aftermath of Our Decisions

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With a title like Aftermath, one might expect Scott Nadelson’s new short fiction collection to be full of tales of devastation and chaos. To some extent, this is true; each of the stories deals with hard emotional and physical realities, but the aftermath of the character’s decisions is not wholly dispiriting. Hope abounds in these tales–unlike Nadelson’s previous collections–and you are left with the impression that, regardless of the current story’s unhappinesses, things will get better. They have a chance for a happy and fulfilling life or love and it leaves you as the reader with a pleasant satisfaction.

I have been a fan of Nadelson’s since I picked up his first two short collections when I registered for a course of his in undergrad. I make it a habit to read an author’s work before working or speaking with them, which I think is only polite and it is advice that not enough people heed. I found myself pulled into the simple and evocative prose in a way that I hadn’t found before in realistic literary fiction. I was particularly interested in his work as his stories do a wonderful job of working within the Jewish American culture while remaining open and inviting to gentiles such as myself. I feel welcomed into the families and cultures of his stories and they are enriched by the depth and intimacy with which they are woven.

Nadelson’s first two works (The Cantor’s Daughter and Saving Stanley) were stunning in their own right, but Aftermath is definitely surpassing them as my favorite collection. Partly due to the more hopeful nature of the stories, but moreso for two particular stories that appear here: “If You Needed Me” and “Backfill.”

“If You Needed Me” is a Rashomon style telling of a grandfather that looses control of his car and accidentally sends it crashing through the wall of his daughter’s house while the grandchildren are watching Saturday morning cartoons. The varied viewpoints are handled with finesse; they each reveal just enough information and the change to the next viewpoint is seamlessly carried out. Not an easy task in a short work, but beautifully crafted here.

In “Backfill,” a rocky marriage and a bad construction assignment are playing havoc with Robert’s life and sanity. The junk filled old quarry that is the site he’s supposed to be preparing for overpriced McMansions is a wonderful scene to juxtapose against the failing relationship. The most powerful part, however, are the beautiful lines that close the story, and no, I’m not going to give them to you. Go read it!

While these two stories stood out in particular to me, all of the stories are expertly crafted and evoke a wide range of emotion. Definitely my favorite of Nadelson’s work thus far, though I’m now eagerly awaiting Nadelson’s collection of autobiographical essays due out in March of 2013 from Hawthorne Books!

Emotional devastation with just a dash of hopefulness...