Tuesday, February 8, 2011

a variety of services

It occurred to me, as I was writing up my review of Kafka on the Shore, that I'd forgotten to mention another book on here that I'd finished earlier, and that I have a special relationship with - Mike Young's We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough. I proofread this book, to the extent one can proofread experimental poetry, and snatched up a copy at the Indie Lit Roadshow back in December. It has enjoyed a place of honor in my toilet-side book basket since then, which is meant to reflect positively on its quality.

Young's work can best be described as "goofball poetic rants," composed as if he had so many awesome sentences pouring out of his brain that he couldn't arrange them into any kind of logical order. What I'm saying is that his poems don't often make sense, at least not to me, but I'm also saying that he's good enough at shotgunning ideas to get away with it. As a fiction writer, I try to keep a certain amount of weird abstract poetry around for inspiration, and We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough is exactly the kind of book that does the trick. Since I met Young at AWP, I figured I'd better say something about his book here since I got such a kick out of it.

I also recently finished Ben Tanzer's You Can Make Him Like You, a novel that shares its name with a song by the Hold Steady (I think). I can't say much about the Hold Steady, but I did really enjoy this book, and it reminded me that you don't have to beat people over the head with purposely difficult language to get them invested in/challenged by your work. I do take issue with the reviews mentioning how saturated with pop culture the book is, because it's much more genuine than that. "Pop Culture" books are usually insufferable, brand name-dropping turds that laugh at their own jokes too much, and You Can Make Him Like You is miles above that classification in terms of delivery and content - in fact, it makes the incredibly difficult process of developing and maintaining a character arc look easy and graceful, in the same way that Timothy Willis Sanders does when he's on point.

With those done, I've started Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke Down, which is like a Western told by Cab Calloway, and I'm sure I'll start another book before too long. But before I get carried away, I should go move my car before it gets ticketed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

reading is pretty basic stuff

So AWP was awesome. I went down to DC with some friends from the program on Saturday and spent an entire day among fellow lit. nerds, publishers, and aspiring authors, to the point of getting both dehydrated and lost in AWP's cavernous bookfair, which took up the entire lower level of the Marriott Wardman-Park Hotel. I did get a lot of cool swag out of it, though, including lots of discounted books from people who marked out over my impressive mustache. I really should have grown this thing out years ago. I also met, and got books signed by, Chimamanda Adichie, Colson Whitehead, and Claudia Rankine, who also got a copy of Gouts of Angry Mist from me since it was partially inspired by her book, Don't Let Me Be Lonely. All three of them were really nice and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

Also worth noting: the first journal that ever published me - Front Porch Journal - had a table at AWP and gave me a free tote bag when I told them who I was. I think both sides of that conversation got warm fuzzies.

I also finished Kafka on the Shore yesterday, and am still processing it. Murakami's style is an interesting synthesis of magical realism and plainspoken slice-of-life routine, and he has said that this book needs to be read more than once to fully understand it. That actually makes sense, and I may pick it up again later because I'm not fully satisfied by it just yet. Murakami is notoriously fuzzy on the details of his books and rarely answers questions about what they mean, which is fine, but in some ways I think that's his way of covering his ass for not always putting much effort into resolving loose plot/character ends. Some of the characters' "ah-ha" moments in Kafka just don't feel earned, like they run parallel when the narrative claims they intersect.

But it's also true that Kafka hooked me on Murakami's voice and tone, which are as approachable as his content is dense and dreamlike. His pacing is slow, but he makes it work by drawing the reader into his characters' routines to the point where we become invested in them, and we care when things change. In artistic terms, he's not so much a precise pen-and-inker as much as a loose, cerebral watercolorist, creating just enough of a distinct image to draw the eye while leaving plenty open for interpretation.

Right then. Time to get myself together in time for tonight's Super Bowl party, in which I shall root against the Steelers and play B-Movie Card Game with my friends.