Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hating often, easily, and beautifully (Books - Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill)

Jenny Offill has written an unusual novel in Dept. of  Speculation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) and I thank John Self for making me aware of it.  Angular, full of sarcastic wit and bitter rage, its 177 pages are composed of short, Neruda like paragraphs that are enigmatic on their own, but that one tears through at break neck pace.  In fact, I challenge you not to read this compact, forceful book in one sitting.  It would be impossible.  You would lose the satisfaction of figuring out whether the accumulation of Offill's short lyrical bursts will give up the goods and yield a plot in the classic, recognizable sense of the word, or whether you will be left sifting through the bits to figure out what happened to her characters, named The Wife and husband.
My plan was to never get married.  I was going to be an art monster instead.  Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things.  Nabokov didn't even fold his own umbrella.  Vera licked his stamps for him. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Only through time time is conquered (Books - Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden)

Deirdre Madden, an Irish fiction writer, is one of my favorite authors writing today.  Her work is elegantly structured, economical, her characters drawn with precision and warmth, and her stories often capture an ordinary person confronting the unordinary.  She subtly explores the discomfort that results and creates for the reader the impression that these surprises are what makes a life worth living.  In no book does that seem truer than in her latest: Time Present and Time Past (Europa Editions, 2014). 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Today's brilliance is brought to you by the letter "S" - a meme

I couldn't resist playing along with a meme I saw at Danielle's and Stefanie's blogs.  Danielle gave me my algorithmically generated (and therefore not completely random) letter of the alphabet, and I am charged with telling you my favorite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with that letter, as well as telling you that I will happily generate a letter for you if you would like to play along.  Just leave a request in the comments.


A favorite book beginning with 's' is Sonya Hartnett's SurrenderShe is a lyrical, imaginative, and thematically serious Australian author who, although she writes books for young people, assumes them to be mature and intelligent readers. Surrender is a suspenseful, veiled, poetic tale related by two first-person narrators - an angel and a demon.

I think I'll go with May Sarton, poet, diarist, and novelist. This underappreciated American writer has long been a favorite of mine. I wrote about her 1955 Faithful are the Wounds for the 2007 Outmoded Author's Challenge.

The second of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs - 'September.'  Sung here by Renee Fleming.

Michel Gondry's fantasmagorical low-tech The Science of Sleep in which Gael Garcia Bernal is delightful.

If you are an asparagus fan, as I am, you will certainly never want to be without your spargel schäler.  This highly specific kitchen utensil, mine was made in Germany, so I call it by its German name.  It is specifically designed to trim and peel asparagus.  If you manage not to overcook them, they come out perfectly every time.

Care to play along?  Leave me a comment and I'll give you a letter.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Grabbing the arts-science zeitgeist by the short and curlies (Books - Orfeo by Richard Powers)

In Richard Powers's most recent novel, Orfeo (Norton, 2014), a contemporary composer, Peter Els, performs experiments with the DNA of bacteria in a his lab at home - his hobby - using what he learns about the coding as the basis for his musical compositions.  The police come across his lab by accident and suspect him of bio-terrorism and Homeland Security turns an experimental composer whose career has been largely irrelevant to his field, into a world renowned fugitive from the law.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On reading Herzog with and without assumptions (Books - Herzog by Saul Bellow)

There are books one has read, or believes one has, but they are read too soon or too late and so carry no weight. No emotional frame in which to fit them exists...During a recent conversation about life after a long marriage, in what at a stretch may still be called middle age, a friend said of my unanchored state, “Yeah, Herzog.” I was sure I had read the novel, I had my Saul Bellow season long ago, but his comment lodged in my mind. A few days later, on a whim, I bought “Herzog”
So wrote Roger Cohen in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Hezog at 50, on his reread of Saul Bellow's novel. Odd thing, my book club had just opted for Herzog (Avon Books, 1976), and I was in the middle of it.  Must be something in the New York water.  Cohen experienced the novel as apropos to his own life, full of resonance.  On the contrary, although I truly admired the writing, I experienced the story as dated, not in the sense of being irrelevant, but in being of another time.