Spring 2021: Forging ahead to Bloomsday as we read these books

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Inspired by several glowing ILB recommendations I just have dipped a toe into I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith, and the narrator is so gosh darned charming I don't know how I could refuse to accompany her the rest of the way through her adventures.

A successor thread to Winter 2021: ...and you're reading WHAT?!

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Saturday, 20 March 2021 16:58 (three weeks ago) link

Thanks Aimless, I’m going to repost my post from the end of the last thread!

Scamp Granada (gyac)
Posted: 20 March 2021 at 15:52:41
Having one of those weekends, so rather than sleeping away the day I found myself rereading The Mystery of Mercy Close (Marian Keyes). I’ve actually read this before, probably about a year after it came out, but had only meant to dip into it today and instead ended up rereading the whole thing with barely a pause.

I think her stuff is very unfairly maligned, mainly by people who’ve never read her and mainly because of the marketing, cos her subjects are dark. There’s addiction (Rachel’s Holiday), bereavement (Anybody Out There?), all the classics. But even the lightest books are tinged heavily with darkness, as the author has experienced these things herself and writes them too.

TMOMC is about depression - something the author talked about a lot - but it’s also as the title says, a mystery. Not just the titular one in the plot but the things that our narrator Helen, a misanthropic post-crash private detective struggling through the ruins of her life - has going on in the background. Why won’t her former best friend speak to her anymore, what happened with her and sleazebag Jay, why has she ended up homeless?

So I really enjoyed it and all its wonderfully detailed characters on reread, particularly the overachieving sister (been there) and the fussy, overinvolved mammy (been there too), but most of all the long slow tightening as Keyes unravels the plot and as Helen falls apart. Even the tertiary characters in this have life and vigour and the short sharp sentences that sometimes fade into spiralling vague thoughts exactly mirror Helen’s personality at different times. Sometimes it is brisk, sometimes it is slow (but not very often, the whole thing takes place over a week with sparingly used flashbacks). Truly a great way to spend a grey Saturday morning/evening.

Scamp Granada (gyac), Saturday, 20 March 2021 17:20 (three weeks ago) link

What Maisie Knew. Outstanding of course but it's a real mental workout trying to figure out exactly what Maisie knew, what she thought she knew, what the grown ups thought she knew, what they wanted her to know, and what they actually knew.

Ignore the neighsayers: grow a lemon tree (ledge), Saturday, 20 March 2021 21:09 (three weeks ago) link

Charm is a much neglected thing in literature, and ICTC has it in spades.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 21 March 2021 00:15 (three weeks ago) link

Still reading Lorrie Moore's Collected Stories. I'm up to "Real Estate" (they're arranged alphabetically). I've been swamped with other, work- and dissertation-related reading these last few months, so a giant collection of short stories is actually the ideal thing to be able to dip in and out of right now.

edited for dog profanity (cryptosicko), Sunday, 21 March 2021 00:31 (three weeks ago) link

i quit twitter for lent and started finishing a book per week

patricia highsmith - the price of salt

kinda boring and ponderous? i watched Carol the day after i finished it, and while usually i dislike film adaptations after i've read the book because i get too attached to the parts they remove, in this case there was so many dragging that needed to be excised in the novel i was delighted to see it pared down. also, despite not having ever seen the film before (loved it) i knew of its existence and couldn't help visualize carol as cate blanchett the whole time i was reading it (in the novel carol is only in her early thirties). which, i'm not complaining ;)

ottessa moshfegh - death in her hands

this was definitely a throw-away publication (apparently it was shelved over half a decade ago) to tide over the fans until her next Big Important Novel, and while it's noticeably her most "minor" work, it's really not a drop off in quality. most similar to eileen in that it's a bit noir, but similar to everything she writes in that it's all about how well the writing inhabits the inner dialogue of her characters. i know a lot of people think she sucks because she's like an edgy gen x'er but that's kinda what i love about her, even her characters' ugliest thoughts feel relatable. i was at big bookstore chain indigo (like the canadian borders or something) and saw this book on a display called said "ASIAN VOICES" next to Jenny Han and a book about Avatar: The Last Airbender, which made me lol

molly brodak - bandit: a daughter's memoir

excellent but reading if after the author's suicide a year ago makes it much more devastating than it otherwise would have been. a memoir that's nominally about growing up with a father who was a gambling addict and bank-robber, but that's more the sales hook than what it's actually ~about~ imo

flopson, Sunday, 21 March 2021 01:41 (three weeks ago) link

i quit twitter for lent and started finishing a book per week

If more people did this the world would be better.

edited for dog profanity (cryptosicko), Sunday, 21 March 2021 01:53 (three weeks ago) link

Started re-reading The Woman in White, and wow that novel is such a delight. It starts a little slow, but now I've gotten to the point where the plot has been set in motion and Fosco hasn't appeared yet but we've heard his name, and I'm remembering how much fun this book is.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 21 March 2021 16:51 (three weeks ago) link

It is a delight.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 21 March 2021 16:53 (three weeks ago) link

after all the discussion of long foreign books, i abandoned mdme bovary after 60 pages, think i might've had a duff copy because it seemed like words were missing. it's not even that long.

read Slade House which i enjoyed. 200 pages.

now reading more Hugo, the last day of a condemned man, or sentenced to death or whatever (it seems to have many names). only 92 pages and like 50 chapters.

koogs, Sunday, 21 March 2021 18:06 (three weeks ago) link

Count fosco is the best villain in literature

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 21 March 2021 22:43 (three weeks ago) link

Thanks Aimless, I’m going to repost my post from the end of the last thread!


Oh thank god

calstars, Sunday, 21 March 2021 23:36 (three weeks ago) link

Being judged by calstars, a new low

Scamp Granada (gyac), Sunday, 21 March 2021 23:39 (three weeks ago) link

Not sure what your problem with me is or why you dissed me on slack, I never you existed until you attacked me

calstars, Sunday, 21 March 2021 23:49 (three weeks ago) link

1491 by Charles Mann.
Reading about the tribes at the time the Mayflower arrived. So not exactly sticking to the timeline.talking about Europeans trying to trade with increasingly hostile groups of natives. The more familiar with Europeans the more hostile.
I thought this stuck more to the time before European contact though.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 01:42 (three weeks ago) link

Reading about the tribes at the time the Mayflower arrived.

More like Christopher Columbus w/ the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 22 March 2021 02:13 (three weeks ago) link

I finished Robert Christgau's memoir, "Going to the City". The "Dean" is pleasant enough company and you tend to believe he's telling you the truth, at least as he sees it, which is a good baseline requirement for a memoir, I think. I kind of wish he loosened up his trademark compressed and sometimes gnomic style more than he does, but I guess he's set in his writing ways by this point. It's fun reading about bohemian Manhattan in the '70s, and possibly even more fun to read about what kind of underground cultural touchstones hep '50s kids were into, since that stuff seems to be more forgotten these days. Some of Christgau's touchstones are not so underground. It's kind of funny to see Christgau apply his critical lens to "Casey at the Bat" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", kind of like the book report he always dreamed of turning in.

Now I'm reading the "Early Stories" of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Dover Press edition, stuff that was published in the big national weeklies in the late teens/early '20s.

o. nate, Monday, 22 March 2021 02:52 (three weeks ago) link

I like Christgau, and have read his other books, but I'd feel absurd reading a rock critic's memoir.

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 22 March 2021 03:31 (three weeks ago) link

Not that I regard anyone else reading it as absurd!

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 22 March 2021 03:31 (three weeks ago) link

Point I was just making about 1491 was that it appears not to stick with that strict timeline. Author is talking about the Powhatan who helped out the pilgrims fathers as well as some other tribes from around the same time who are showing lack of welcome and broadly hinting it's time the Europeans moved on.
I had thought it was a survey of the time at the end of the 15th century. But looks like it extends to other first and early contact. Like Columbus didn’t hit the US mainland anyway. I'm still early in the book so not sure how late Mann goes. There were a lot of different tribes in different areas. While there were trade networks which later helped the spread of disease that decimated the population there were still other points of first contact.
1491 was presumably therefore more of a snappy succinct title with connotations because the Columbus related date from the next year was so well known. Rather than being a point of chronological accuracy/parameter delineation.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 07:44 (three weeks ago) link

Heading towards the end of the Françoise Hardy autobio now. She has such an enormous imposter syndrome - like in the mid 90's she subs in for Marianne Faithful on a duet with Iggy Pop, made for a compilation of current artists doing torch songs (how 90's is that??) and talks so much about her and her producer being terrified of living up to the guy's talent. I mean I don't hate Iggy Pop or anything but if you're recording a fucking crooner track and you're Françoise Hardy I don't think you need to feel too intimidated by the aging punk dude.

She also tells a story of a 20something woman in New York approaching her in a hotel corridor (again, in the 90's) saying "I know who you are! Françoise Sagan!". She assures her she's not and her travel partner shows up going "hey Françoise", so woman goes "I knew it!". Hardy's takeaway from this is "of course she didn't know who I was!" and not the to my mind much more likely scenario that she totally knew who she was but had just gotten her Françoises mixed up.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 22 March 2021 11:14 (three weeks ago) link

Xp to Stevolende: I haven't read Mann, so not sure how good or bad he is on the subject – and I'm sure there is plenty of good history in the book – but the mention of disease transmission in the context of first contact means that I have to bring up the excellent work now being done to deconstruct the idea of "virgin soil epidemics." Jeffrey Ostler's doorstopper Surviving Genocide is probably the definitive work (with a second volume still to come!), but my suggested point of entry would be this recent polemical essay by Nick Estes: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-empire-of-all-maladies-estes

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 22 March 2021 12:08 (three weeks ago) link

ok cool thanks
Did wonder if the Mann was still the best choice of book on the subject since it has been a decade plus since it came out.
if there were any better choices. I have meant to read this since i first heard of it
I just read the bit where Most of New England got wiped out by what appears to be hepatitis A.

So this should be better insight into this.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 12:30 (three weeks ago) link

I mean, there absolutely _were_ entire indigenous populations wiped out by virgin soil epidemics. It's just that the "survival of the fittest" genetic immunity explanation has become so cemented (thanks to authors like Jared Diamond) in our telling of American history, and there are all sorts of other pertinent questions that are evaded by it. How is it possible that populations in the interior of the continent survived their first encounters with epidemic smallpox and measles (via the trade networks you mentioned), only to perish of those diseases in huge numbers 100+ years later? Those are the kinds of questions that Ostler and others are beginning to answer.

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 22 March 2021 13:03 (three weeks ago) link

Great, will try to get to read that stuff then. Will just fill out my understanding of the era.
I did wonder if there were better native histories written by native writers since they would have a better perspective on things.
I picked up a couple of Jared Diamond books over the years that are still unread and might not have been in a while. I'm now seeing that he is not being looked at as favorably as I'd assumed.

That hepatitis A thing in New England was new to me.

I listen to the This Pod Will kill You podcast when I get a chance and quite enjoy it. Which may be a cue for me to find out i should scrutinise it better. But seems quite good.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 13:20 (three weeks ago) link

Re: the Mann books, one of the things that 1491 does a good job of drilling down on is that Indigenous populations were not living in some sort of vast wilderness, but were actively engaged in land management and forms of agriculture— it's just that the dumbass Europeans didn't recognize it.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 22 March 2021 16:15 (three weeks ago) link

o. nate,I think there's also a piece on xgau's site in which he checks for anachronisms in Inside Llewyn Davis, and consults w some of his contemporaries to see if he's remembering right, or missed something. His collection of book reviews is titled Book Report, for the schoolkid associations you mention, and I might get it: the reviews on and linked to his site are often more emjoyable than the later music writing, and good for variety anyway (dioot the Greil Marcus book reviews that I've read, esp. those culled from his olde Rolling Stone column).

dow, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:33 (three weeks ago) link

*ditto* the Greil

dow, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:34 (three weeks ago) link

There are a number of reviews of (music) books in Christgau's collection Is It Still Good To Ya?, he seems to relish getting into context-rich topics that way.

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:41 (three weeks ago) link

Count fosco is the best villain in literature

Rivaled only by Wilkie Collins's other great villain, Lydia Gwilt in Armadale.
I've gotten to the part of the book that Fosco is in, and he's such a perfect Sydney Greenstreet part it's hard to remember that Collins created him well before Greenstreet was even born.

Lily Dale, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:44 (three weeks ago) link

Due to the manuscript workshop I'm running at the moment, most of my non-work reading has and will consist of shorter chapbooks for the next few weeks, though I started keeping Clark Coolidge's 'Solution Passage: Poems 1978-1981' by the bedside, and it's been making for some really lovely reading— I'd never been able to access Coolidge's body of work on previous attempts, but it's sticking this time. He's had such a voluminous output that I kept picking up books of his that are more for the 'true heads,' so to speak.

Anyway, I finally 'get' Coolidge because I picked up this somewhat-rare paperback omnibus of his first few books, and other than some chaps and pamphlets, I'm awash in the manuscripts of of younger poets looking for guidance and feedback. Not a bad place to be!


it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 22 March 2021 18:54 (three weeks ago) link

Love Coolidge's verbal drumming. 'Jerome in His Study' is all-time.

pomenitul, Monday, 22 March 2021 18:57 (three weeks ago) link

It took me so long! I'd read 'The Crystal Text,' of course, but every other book of his I'd get a few pages in and realize I was just not in the right headspace...I'm definitely understanding why friends kept urging me to get this book!

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 22 March 2021 18:59 (three weeks ago) link

I had my timeline a bit mixed up. The first four of the F. Scott Fitzgerald stories in the Dover edition I'm reading were published in the Princeton student literary magazine. That makes more sense, actually. I can't imagine a mainstream national weekly in those days publishing something as edgy and dark as "Sentiment - And the Use of Rouge", which is basically about how WWI led to the loosening of morals among the young women of Britain.

o. nate, Tuesday, 23 March 2021 19:55 (three weeks ago) link

I read the first half of Ta Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me first thing this morning.
Resonated I Thik. I'm assuming this is mainly his own biography as told to his son supposedly.
NOt read him before but do have some more of him coming.

Also started reading heads by Jesse Jarnow again over the night before the Coates arrived. I read the bit about Keith Haring and his girlfriend which surprised me since I thought he was gay, then got to the end of teh section to find out he was just discovering he probably was. Need to get through this sometime this year.

Our iNner ape by Frans der wal
which has been sitting on a shelf since I picked it up cheap in a local newsagent chain several years ago. Read teh first chapter might go back to it.

& Charles C Mann 1491
He's gone back in time to what I thought was going to be teh timeline and is looking at teh inka empire which connected the peoples along the west coast of South America for several thousand miles for the first time.

Stevolende, Tuesday, 23 March 2021 23:44 (three weeks ago) link

I have continued obsessively reading Annie Dillard: FOR THE TIME BEING is almost as good as Tinker Creek, but more... gnostic? Structured on some obscure principle, threading clouds, sand, birth, death, Teilhard de Chardin and Baal Shem Tov. The theodicy of HOLY THE FIRM is even more baffling. AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, which I just started, by contrast feels almost too light - blithe memories of gilded youth? Still think she's the most brilliant writer I've read in the last five years.

LUX THE POET by Martin Millar. Remember picking this up when it came out in the late 80s but never finishing it. Now feels incredibly redolent of that even-then vanishing sCity Limits-squat-GLC era London - a kind of hysterical-realism partner to Geoff Dyer's Colour of Memory. Has some charm, but even at barely 160 pages outstays its welcome.

THE EXPLORER - Katherine Rundell. I have enjoyed Rundell's natural history bits in the LRB, and heard her kids books were good, so started reading as this month's bedtime book with my daughters. Honestly surprised that this kind of poshos-in-peril stuff is still published! Four kids stranded in the Amazon and they're all frightfully earnest public school types (one of whom is wearing a cricket jumper for the first three chapters), obsessed with Percy Fawcett. Take out the incessant references to snot and it might have been published in 1927.

LIGHT PERPETUAL - Francis Spufford. Follows the might-have-been postwar lives of kids killed in the Woolworths New Cross V2 explosion. Quite nicely written on a sentence by sentence basis - certainly compared to similar stuff by Lanno - but doesn't escape the temptation to drop soc-historic DO-YOU-SEEs - eg the character who works as a Fleet St compositor, on strike as the Tories are voted in in 1979 (allows FS to drop lots of lovely but strictly irrelevant science about hotmetal printing), another who makes a killing from ex-rental property after Right to Buy etc etc. This felt like a cliché when eg Tim Lott did it, decades ago - kind of hoped for more from FS. Still have 100 pages to go, so maybe he pulls it around?

SLOW DAYS, FAST COMPANY - Eve Babitz. Have been reading this off and on since last year and as with all the Eve I've read, it's so pleasurable I never want it to end.

Piedie Gimbel, Wednesday, 24 March 2021 13:34 (three weeks ago) link

For reference, an essay by Willa Cather:

the pinefox, Thursday, 25 March 2021 18:47 (three weeks ago) link

Piedie, many consider HOLY THE FIRM to be a sort of hallucination— many believe Dillard was under the influence of psychedelic drugs while she wrote it, which I wouldn't doubt. Her daughter from her first marriage is a fine poet, C0dy-R0se Clevidence.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Thursday, 25 March 2021 20:26 (three weeks ago) link

finished dennis cooper's guide a few days ago. probably the novel in the george miles cycle i liked the least, but it still felt necessary? it's like the tropes of the series so far are so outrageously exaggerated that they start to disintegrate, leaving the skeleton of the novel exposed, c.f. when "dennis cooper" is breaking the fourth wall and telling you he's arranging these people who may or may not be real into situations of his own contrivance. i also found the return of george's name to the text super heartbreaking. finally i will never not be loling at his choice of pseudonymizing silverchair as "tinselstool"

just started period, about twenty pages into it and it is the best book i've ever read

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Sunday, 28 March 2021 23:36 (two weeks ago) link

what should i read next: pnin or 2666?

flopson, Monday, 29 March 2021 04:45 (two weeks ago) link

Youll know when you get there.
Bob Gluck's book on the Mwandishi band.
Only in the first chapter where the band is being introduced but been meaning to read this since it was reviewed in Wire.
Seems to have rather extensive end notes so i need a 2nd bookmark.
But looking forward to knowing more about the band.

1491 Charles Mann
Now in the bit about how disease preceded initial contact in a lot of places. Which is why small groups of Europeans could succeed in conquest. Do now see there is an alternative understanding as to how disease spread could happen but he's looking at white dismissal of population estimates pre Columbus and reasons for that. So I need to read the more recent counter claims and know their context better.
I'm finding this book difficult to stop reading so it's not great as a bog book.
But now I've started it I want to get through it.

Between the World & Me Ta Nahesi Coates
His letter to his teenage son regarding his own context in society etc. Quite eye opening. Possibly would be more so if this was the first thing I'd read on dealing with racism. Still a good read I'd recommend.

We Were 8 Years In Power
Coates look back at several articles he'd written for magazine etc publication in a post Obama world. The title is a reference to a Reconstruction era statement by a black politician who has been stripped of power by changes in government becoming a lot more racist. But it also fits the Obama era having ended and a far more racist and corrupt one starting. This came out in 2017 so not sure exactly how much impact had been felt so far.
I have read the first section which was triggered by Bill Cosby facing trial. Need to read the rest.

Stevolende, Monday, 29 March 2021 06:19 (two weeks ago) link

I was very confused there for a second when I saw the name Bob Gluck, as there's also my friend Bob Glück, who...uh...wouldn't have written about the Mwandishi band, knowing him lol.

Glad you're enjoying the last of the cycle, Brad.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 29 March 2021 15:03 (two weeks ago) link

I'm halfway through HEARING, a collaborative poem written by Lyn Hejinian and the late Leslie Scalapino. It is the sequel to their book, SIGHT, which dealt with that sensory realm. An interesting history behind it— when Scalapino passed away from pancreatic cancer in mid-2010, Lyn shelved the work, thinking that because she was unable to edit it with her friend and collaborator, it wasn't respecting Scalapino's legacy or their friendship.

Then, in 2017 or so, one of the trustees of Scalapino's papers, my friend Michael Cr0ss, was searching through Hejinian's correspondences with Scalapino and came upon a *FAX* that had Scalapino's edits of the collaborative manuscript, and a note that once these were implemented, she thought the book should go to print.

So, more than ten years after her passing, a new work emerges. It's a very cool thing, and a great book.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 29 March 2021 15:12 (two weeks ago) link

I'm still reading Siri Hustvedt: MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE. A hybrid form I suppose: memoir, fiction, essay, together. It could just be non-fiction, but she seems to change certain facts and thus complicate that.

I quite like this book: late 1970s NYC, literature. She's serious about memory, time, mortality, looking backward and forward in life.

Less good is the very long and tiresome series of scenes where she listens through the wall to her odd neighbour. SH doesn't seem to have any idea how boring these are.

The book also contains too much whingeing about things, which becomes too generalized. She goes to a lecture by Paul de Man, doesn't like it much (fair enough, I find de Man dull and fiddly too, would genuinely be quite uninterested in listening to him). It then becomes very convenient that de Man is later disgraced (a pretty old story now). But she also extrapolates that any time anyone gives a talk he's a 'Great Man' communicating nothing but his charisma and power to his adoring audience, and thus the same as Donald Trump.

Not very convincing.

But I still, on balance, tend to like the book.

the pinefox, Monday, 29 March 2021 16:41 (two weeks ago) link

Last night I finished I Capture the Castle, having enjoyed it quite a bit. The plot was updated Austen, but the voice was wholly original.

Unlike horseshoe, who in the Novels of 1948 thread expressed the idea that Dodie Smith found high modernism dubious, I thought Smith produced a very cogent defense of it. She chose to place that defense in the mouth of Simon, a different character than her narrator, Cassandra, whom we the readers are clearly meant to identify with, but in doing so I didn't read that choice as Smith dissing Joycean modernism. It just made more sense to do it that way in terms of the plot and characters she had created and who her likely readership was. Anyway, a greatly engaging book.

Now I have started Gringos, Charles Portis.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 29 March 2021 18:38 (two weeks ago) link

you think we're meant to identify with Simon? i...disagree.

horseshoe, Monday, 29 March 2021 18:38 (two weeks ago) link

i just think Cassandra is an aspiring writer in a Dodie Smith mode. i think Smith acknowledged that there must be merit in high modernism, because some smart people liked it, but personally it left her cold.

horseshoe, Monday, 29 March 2021 18:40 (two weeks ago) link

you think we're meant to identify with Simon?

uh, no. we're very much meant to identify with Cassandra. sorry if the referent of that clause wasn't clear.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 29 March 2021 18:42 (two weeks ago) link

oh sorry, no, i just read carelessly. you're right, she does produce a defense of it, but i think Cassandra's lingering skepticism reflects Smith's own.

horseshoe, Monday, 29 March 2021 18:42 (two weeks ago) link

laughin my butt off @ Pnin

flopson, Tuesday, 30 March 2021 05:36 (two weeks ago) link

Agathe = Jakobe as a Musil link, and is actually the element that really pushes this novel on. So I should give it more than a mention.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 3 April 2021 12:57 (one week ago) link

Chinaski could you just have them read the story or book and be prepared to comment on it, so they know you want to know they've actually read it, and just be, "make of it what you will/fyi"--not nec, go thou and get loose, get more Moore, but, if they do try to loosen up, provide an indicator that you aren't going to ridicule, that risk is something a writer needs at some points, inescapable, really, keeping the creative part of it in there? They should know the possibilties--but yeah also incl. discussion of influence and its perils, unless really assimilated, when it comes to the high-flying stylists, Joyce etc. But they should know about the possibilties.
I mean I see enough (published, paid) "creative writing" that just seems like the stereotype of academic painting at best, wth tour guide at my elbow or on earbuds,providing the smoother, even richer sort of spoon-feeding.

dow, Saturday, 3 April 2021 16:10 (one week ago) link

I would probably just have them read the book, or part of it, and then go "Hey, let's dig into this idea of 'style,'" and have them look at that passage - what stands out to them about the choices she made, what effect do those stylistic choices have on you as a reader and why, what part do those stylistic choices play in conveying the meaning of the passage as a whole and its place in the work, and what are potential risks/rewards to writing like that? Basically, I would probably steer them toward recognizing how little "scene" that passage has, and yet how vivid it is, and how much her style contributes to that vividness. And also that every oddity in that passage serves a purpose and is not just there for the sake of "style."

And then maybe assign them a writing exercise where they have to write about a train of thought, a transient feeling, an epiphany or something similarly interior. If that makes sense. Maybe make a list of words that could function in the same way "safe" does in that passage, and have them choose one as a prompt?

I haven't read the book, though, so maybe that's way off base.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 16:47 (one week ago) link

It's wild just how little we work with at GCSE (14-16) - even with a top set. We've read longer texts, but even something short like Jekyll & Hyde we read together and it takes more than a month. Which is to say, I like the idea of a more hands-off approach - 'what do you notice and how does it work' - but it would probably be just the passage, maybe a page.

I wonder if I misunderstand style or we're talking about different things? It may have sounded like I was sneering at style when what I meant is that (particularly with someone like Moore) style is inseparable from how a writer creates meaning - and how hard that is to notice and develop your own version of. It might even be the whole deal with developing a voice?

If it's already not abundantly clear, I've really not taught enough pure 'writing' to know what I'm talking about.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:24 (one week ago) link

That was what I meant too! Sorry if I wasn't clear.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:28 (one week ago) link

I was just thinking about how to get students to recognize that.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:31 (one week ago) link

"Hey, let's dig into this idea of 'style,'" and have them look at that passage

In my experience, I have always found it more fruitful to think in terms of "voice" instead of "style". Authors with a style impose that style on every piece of their writing and their writing usually suffers from that. For me, the writer needs to find a voice that connects to the reader and delivers what the writer wants that piece to deliver.

Because no writer will be equally proficient at every kind of voice, their voices will tend to converge on those they best understand how to write. If that voice gets narrowed down to just one consistent unvarying one, then that is what turns it into a "style".

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:37 (one week ago) link

You were clear Lily Dale - it's me being 'end of term' foggy! I have totally derailed the thread; what I actually need is a thread like La Lechera's amazing thread about her music class!

One thing this has certainly cleared up for me: we simply don't (or don't have the time to) discuss the fundamental nature of style as a generator of meaning. Which is kind of staggering, now I think of it.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:43 (one week ago) link

I agree, Aimless, I usually talk about voice as well. I was thinking it more as myth-busting about style, for students who may have picked up the idea that they are supposed to have a style but don't really know what that means.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 18:02 (one week ago) link

Chinaski, you may find some useful thoughts provoked by the wide-ranging discussion in this ILB thread: Creative writing considered as an industry

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Saturday, 3 April 2021 18:37 (one week ago) link

That looks great - thanks Aimless.

I'm probably guilty of conflating style and voice to some extent.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 3 April 2021 18:46 (one week ago) link

The best lit courses I took were based on texts discussed in class times required reading lists (books; short stories, essays, topics, themes)---not everything in the list was required, but you had pick some of it for papers due at midterm and end of semester: I'm thinking especially of Modern British Fiction, the one course I ever took that still comes back into my head like literature or music. It didn't have to be anything all that elaborate, but we at least found/had to make the time, out of class, to read whole pieces, not just passages, with some degree of selectivity, which was pleasing, as was just reading, absorbing in a quiet way, w/o thinking about what we were going to say in class.

dow, Saturday, 3 April 2021 18:51 (one week ago) link

The only writing class I took, re poetry, had 0 required reading; it was based, as it happened, pretty much on personal experience, just reading each other's latest, then hearing the writer read it aloud (Students: "Oh, now I get it, cool." Teacher "But it has to work on paper!" was a frequent thing)Lots of comments, some rude, some people got better, maybe as a result of those.

dow, Saturday, 3 April 2021 18:55 (one week ago) link

That thread is populated with lunatics from what I can make out (YMP and Aimless excepted). I always figured the best use of a creative writing course would be the deadlines.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 3 April 2021 19:19 (one week ago) link

That and permission to write, think of yourself as a writer, take time away from other things so that you can devote sustained time to writing.

I've never done an MFA program but I hung around a lot of MFA candidates when I was adjuncting, and one thing I noticed was that regardless of the quality of teaching they were getting, they all got way better at writing over the three years.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 19:22 (one week ago) link

Forgot about that thread.

It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 3 April 2021 19:46 (one week ago) link

xpost Yeah, and great idea to have a La Lechera-type Help Me With My Class thread for reading and writing (and other things): thinking about her questions and how to respond and reading other responses always made for a good learning experience, brane exercise anyway.

dow, Saturday, 3 April 2021 19:52 (one week ago) link

(YMP and Aimless excepted)

Nabisco had many cogent observations, too, I thought.

As for Gringos, it is less satiric than the other Portis novels that aren't True Grit. The characters have just enough humanity in their portrayal to give them life and dimension and just enough absurdity to illustrate Portis's worldview. He's pretty hard on the hippies though and it's clear he found them a complete waste.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Saturday, 3 April 2021 19:55 (one week ago) link

Re LUCKY PER, that he mistook who his central character should have been and then the book defaltes in its last fifth after she dies is its main problem. Enjoyed it a lot despite that, and despite the anti-anti-semitic author also endlessly needing to point out that various people were Jewish.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 4 April 2021 12:12 (one week ago) link

That thread is populated with lunatics from what I can make out (YMP and Aimless excepted). I always figured the best use of a creative writing course would be the deadlines.

― Vanishing Point (Chinaski),

Good morning!

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 4 April 2021 13:12 (one week ago) link

Lunatic tic tic

It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 4 April 2021 14:25 (one week ago) link

Lol. I didn't make it all the way through - I got sockpuppet fever and bailed. Also a little bit of sockpuppet nostalgia if I'm honest.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Sunday, 4 April 2021 18:20 (one week ago) link

Finished AUSTERITY BRUNCH, then read a long poem by Jeremy Hoevenaar, COLD MOUNTAIN MIRROR DISPLACEMENT. Interesting work from him, I am now much more excited about his new book than I was previously.

Then read a short little squib of Stephen Rodefer, FOR MORE LECTURES, which continues where his FOUR LECTURES left off. Only ten or so pages, but nice to read.

I have too many opinions about teaching writing to further detail the thread, but what I will say is this: in the workshops that I facilitate, the goal is always to help the poet (or writer) write the best version of what they want to see in the world.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Sunday, 4 April 2021 20:46 (one week ago) link

Am I crazy or is the tone of the first part of No One is Talking About This similar to the tone in the first part of White Noise?

the last unvaccinated motherfucker on earth (PBKR), Monday, 5 April 2021 16:45 (one week ago) link

I avoid contemporary literary fiction like the plague...though I wouldn't be surprised if you were right, much has been taken from DeLillo.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 5 April 2021 19:28 (one week ago) link

I'm currently reading "Brighton Rock" by Graham Greene, the 3rd best novel of 1938, according to this message board.

o. nate, Tuesday, 6 April 2021 01:12 (one week ago) link

Love that book. The film, with Dicky Attenborough, also worth seeing - the closest the UK ever came to the kinetic energy of Warner Bros gangster flicks.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 6 April 2021 10:47 (one week ago) link

The film sounds intriguing. So far the book reminds me of certain movies, specifically Coen brothers movies like "Fargo". You have an implacably ruthless character (ie. Pinkie) kind of standing in for the immanence of evil, drawn into a conflict with a flawed but determined person trying to do a decent thing. The theological undertones seem rather Coen-esque, and the somewhat distant and slightly condescending treatment of the characters, who align perhaps a bit too perfectly with their sociologically-determined stereotypes and flaws.

o. nate, Tuesday, 6 April 2021 18:09 (one week ago) link

yeah, but it goes even narrower, like a needle, or a hatpin.

dow, Tuesday, 6 April 2021 22:23 (one week ago) link

I'm still only halfway through the book, so my opinion could shift. I'm not surprised though to find that Greene had a rather patrician upbringing. The rough side of Brighton depicted in the novel is keenly observed, but doesn't feel lived in. Still that's a nitpick, and maybe my own personal bugbear. I enjoyed this description of Greene's writing method, as described by Michael Korda in this wonderful New Yorker profile (the scene depicted takes place on Korda's uncle's yacht in the Mediterranean):

An early riser, he appeared on deck at first light, found a seat in the shade of an awning, and took from his pocket a small black leather notebook and a black fountain pen, the top of which he unscrewed carefully. Slowly, word by word, without crossing out anything, and in neat, square handwriting, the letters so tiny and cramped that it looked as if he were attempting to write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin, Graham wrote, over the next hour or so, exactly five hundred words. He counted each word according to some arcane system of his own, and then screwed the cap back onto his pen, stood up and stretched, and, turning to me, said, "That's it, then. Shall we have breakfast?" I did not, of course, know that he was completing "The End of the Affair," the controversial novel based on his own tormenting love affair, nor did I know that the manuscript would end, typically, with an exact word count (63,162) and the time he finished it (August 19th, 7:55 a.m., aboard Elsewhere).


o. nate, Wednesday, 7 April 2021 21:47 (one week ago) link

I started reading Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's, Barbara Comyns. It is quite a different-feeling first-person narrative voice from that in I Capture the Castle.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Thursday, 8 April 2021 00:45 (one week ago) link

Interesting. I just started reading something else that somehow led me to another one of her books, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead.

It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 8 April 2021 01:12 (one week ago) link

Isn't the actor who played Mr. Memory in The Thirty-Nine Steps also in Brighton Rock? Wylie something, not Wiggins.

It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 8 April 2021 01:14 (one week ago) link

Wylie Watson

It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 8 April 2021 01:14 (one week ago) link

The Diary of Anne Frank, incredibly powerful. Would recommend for anyone who didn't read it in school, even male middle aged old farts like me.

Computers I can live with, I even dried them in the oven (ledge), Thursday, 8 April 2021 08:00 (one week ago) link

Cotter's England by Christina Stead. It's reminding a little of Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, but I can't tell if that's just because I'm reading the Stead in a similar Virago edition to the Taylor



Ward Fowler, Thursday, 8 April 2021 08:20 (one week ago) link

At last I finish Siri Hustvedt, MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE (2019). I suppose I'd have to say that this ends less well than it begins. It starts like a multi-layered memoir, mainly of NYC in the late 1970s, but with aspects of the present (especially SH's old mother in a home) well rendered. This memoir form works well, with the sense of place and time especially, and the young writer's love of poetry and modernism.

But the book gets rather overwhelmed by the saga of her next door neighbour, who turns out to have various friends who are all in a witches' coven - which sounds dramatic, but these people never become very vivid or interesting, though they take up so much of the book. Other elements include the writer's own attempts to write a (YA?) detective story, which reaches a kind of resolution but not a really satisfactory one; and a very long-running, strong-minded, broad-brush feminist polemic, which might appeal to many people but I'm afraid doesn't appeal to me - it's too undifferentiated and lacking nuance, notably about historical changes which have made such polemic mainstream by now.

There is some real interest and thought in this book, especially about time, memory, narrative - abstract cogitation that is true enough to the legacy of Virginia Woolf, and which sometimes comes off quite well. And as a 'blend of fact and fiction' it's more intriguingly indeterminate than almost any I've ever read - I can't tell what I should take as real, if anything, and what invented. But it doesn't all come together as well as I'd hoped.

the pinefox, Thursday, 8 April 2021 11:28 (one week ago) link

XXpostThe Diary of Anne Frankas part of the complete works, tracked here, intriguingly: https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/diary/complete-works-anne-frank/

dow, Thursday, 8 April 2021 19:42 (one week ago) link

Giuseppe Ungaretti - Allegria

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 8 April 2021 20:49 (one week ago) link

I started reading Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's, Barbara Comyns. It is quite a different-feeling first-person narrative voice from that in I Capture the Castle.

― Judge Roi Behan (Aimless)

Interesting. I just started reading something else that somehow led me to another one of her books, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead.

― It Is Dangerous to Meme Inside (James Redd and the Blecchs)

big fan of comyns / these novels, although her novels always seem just shy of their full potential to me. in some ways it's the least ambitious but woolworth's seems like the most successful on its own terms to me, with an astonishing childbirth set piece. the vet's daughter as well has a great opening, really nails that faux-naïf tone that seems to loosely echo someone like walser.

reading the wall by john lanchester, which i am hating, and rereading a girl is a half-formed thing, which holds up very well. also going through the short stories in grand union by zadie smith very slowly, some of which are near her best work and some of which i forget before i finish.

vivian dark, Friday, 9 April 2021 15:30 (six days ago) link

Bit of a run...

I finished Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, which I loved and am still making sense of.

John Dickson Carr's Hollow Man, which was the perfect palette cleanser. I could probably have done without the meta stuff but huge fun all the same.

Disclaimer: this is a mate's book, but I also read the Archive of Bernard Taylor, which is presented as an archive of a suburban photographer but is more complicated than that. The photography is beautiful and the presentation of old maps and the sense of the whole thing being a series of vanishings and appearances is right up my street. More info here: https://nowherediary.co/books/the-archive-of-bernard-taylor

Winter by Ali Smith. I feel mixed because the characterisation is quite pat and some of the dialogue is maddening but I found this very moving in the end.

Now reading the The Prince of West End Avenue by Alan Isler. I'm 50 pages in and have belly laughed ten times already.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Friday, 9 April 2021 18:43 (six days ago) link

reading the wall by john lanchester, which i am hating,

taps sign.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 April 2021 18:47 (six days ago) link

_reading the wall by john lanchester, which i am hating, _

taps sign. 🕸

All are welcome. plz share your experience if you wish.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 April 2021 18:50 (six days ago) link

I'm due my six-monthly re-read of that thread. *puts on smoking jacket*

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Friday, 9 April 2021 18:53 (six days ago) link

I'm finding it hard to make headway in Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's, not because it is poorly written. The narration is terse, direct and somewhat harrowing in how it unerringly picks out the details that matter most to people living hand-to-mouth on the precarious knife's edge of dire poverty.

Any critic's appraisal of this book that hints it has comic moments should be read as that critic never having lived in poverty. For me it cuts a bit close to the bone in terms of bringing back my own half decade in somewhat similar poverty, although I was not married or trying to raise a child in those circumstances. I keep having to put the book down and soothe myself, which means I can only finish about 25 pages a night.

sharpening the contraindications (Aimless), Friday, 9 April 2021 20:28 (six days ago) link

Kazuo Ishiguro, THE UNCONSOLED (1995).

It's everything you've heard it is: a dream-like story, close to Kafka. It's oddly long - does it need to be this long? - and I'm still not halfway through, so please no spoilers from the more initiated. I like the emphasis on municipal high culture, classical music, gentility; and I like the other running motif of soccer - even Marco van Basten has been implicitly referred to.

the pinefox, Monday, 12 April 2021 14:09 (three days ago) link

strictly speaking it doesn't need to be as long as it is.

i didn't enjoy it much while i was reading it a year ago, but i've thought about it more since than any other book i read last year.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Monday, 12 April 2021 18:01 (three days ago) link

I finished Alan Isler's The Prince of West End Avenue today. It's set in an upmarket Jewish care home in New York, in which the residents are putting on a version of Hamlet. On the surface, it's a very funny look at old age and memory (the first-person narrator is present at the birth of Dada and is keen to reveal his founding role) but it's as much about the story the narrator is avoiding telling as the one he is.

Isler taught Lit at Queen's College for 30 years and didn't finish the book until he was in his late 40s. All that experience and formal knowledge are clearly apparent and the book is immaculately structured; the way the Hamlet script and rehearsals are woven in is perfect - to the point where I want to re-read it as I'm sure I missed a bunch of clues and cues.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Tuesday, 13 April 2021 20:44 (two days ago) link

I remember enjoying the Backlisted episode on that.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 14 April 2021 09:19 (yesterday) link

Read Sunday Fall's SUBWAY POEMS, a lovely group of neo-Objectivist (a la Zukofsky and Oppen, not Rand) poems written by a young man from what seems like Queens or Brooklyn. Self-published outsider. Interesting work.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Wednesday, 14 April 2021 19:34 (yesterday) link

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