30 March 2011

My Thoughts on Tao Lin's, Shoplifting from American Apparel: A Review

Title: Shoplifting From American Apparel
Author: Tao Lin
Publisher: Melville House
Date: 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella

103 pages.
Where I got it: Bought at The Strand in New York
Challenges: None

I find this book very attractive.  Seriously.  I have a weird book crush on these Melville House editions of novellas (they have both a classics series and a contemporary series).

Other than that, I'm not entirely sure what to say about Shoplifting From American Apparel, so I will attempt to tell you what it is about.  Sam is a writer.  He lives in Brooklyn.  He has a friend.  His name is Luis.  They like to talk about nothing on gmail chat.  Sam steals things that he doesn't need.  He goes to jail.  He goes to Atlantic City and doesn't eat steak.  I won't ruin the end.

I am oh so cleverly doing a real hack job of imitating Lin's style, which I would describe as "postmodern stream of consciousness" (which I intend to copyright).  It has a Palahniuk vibe, without the grotesque.  Lin is a master at revealing how uninteresting most communication actually is, and in that way, is a brilliant realist.  But, I didn't particularly like it.

My husband asked me what I thought of the book, and like I am now, I was kind of at a loss, so I just started reading him passages from random pages.  What I learned from that exercise was that Lin is funny, out of context.  He interactions are kind of hilarious collections of comic non sequiturs that reveal how inept and meaningless communication can be.  I'm not sure that is proposing that this is new, but maybe.  Here is an example:

"Has Marissa ever threatened to kill you," said Sam.
"Oscar Wilde said that genius is a spectator to their own life, to the point that the real genius is uninteresting," said Luis. "No, Marissa has never threatened to kill me."
"Oscar Wilde was stupid though," said Sam.
"Yeah, you're right," said Luis. "My chest is going to explode."
"My face is going to float away from my skull," said Sam.  "To emo music."

There is a plot, although I wouldn't say it was the point.  The characters are quirky, without being particularly unique or developed.  The ending is kind of beautiful.  I suppose I did have quite a bit to say, but really no summation for the review.  I think that if you read the dialogue above, you might get a pretty good idea whether Lin's style is for you.  In the end, I left the book intrigued, and I would probably try it again.  

29 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Check Um' Out

Top Ten Tuesday appears each week over at The Broke and the Bookish.  The topic this week is : Top ten authors who deserve more recognition.

I am going to look at some individual books here, because I haven't read enough of some of these author's works to claim that all of it is good:) Many of these authors do get some recognition (awards or academic recognition), but they don't get "buzz" or much attention in the blogosphere that I've seen.

 10.  I feel like poetry is pretty underrepresented on my blog.  Philip Larkin is one of my favorites.  Elizabeth Bishop is another. Both are accessible poets whose work is enjoyable on a narrative level as well as being pleasurable because of the language.

9. Tom Wolfe:  With Wolfe I have read a few: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Bonfire of the Vanities and I Am Charlotte Simmons. I am always impressed by Wolfe's ability to immerse himself in a culture, whether he is writing fiction or nonfiction.  I mean, when I look at the disparities in the three books that I've read, I find it incredible that he has managed to capture each of these worlds so accurately. 

8. J.G.Ballard, Crash:  Ballard has written many other novels as well, but this is the only one I've read.  Crash isn't for everyone; it is extremely graphic.  However, I am impressed by the detail of Ballard's prose and from what I know, he is also a wildly diverse author. 

7.  Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter: This book was on The New York Times 10 best books of the year a few years back, and one of Millhauser's other novels won the Pulitzer, so he isn't exactly an uncovered gem, but this is one of my favorite short story collections and I don't see it mentioned much. 

6.  Frank Norris, McTeague:  This is my favorite under-read "classic."  McTeague is strange and dark and not too long, and anyone who is taking a trip through the world of canonical literature and doesn't have it on his or her list, should consider adding it.

5. Maira Kalman:  I did see Kalman's book And The Pursuit of Happiness on another blog, and that's why I picked it up.  I had seen her illustrations in Strunk and White.  I find her delightful.

4. Cecile Pineda, Face:  This a seldom read book for fans of existentialist literature.  Pineda is a Brazilian author, and maybe the most unheard of author on my list.

3. Zadie Smith, White Teeth:  This is a pretty popular book, but I felt compelled to put it on the list because I don't read many reviews of Smith's work.  She also has two other novels and an essay collection.

2. T.C. Boyle:  I've read a few things by Boyle and I made the bold claim in one of my other posts that he is one of my favorite living writers.  I decided to show the image of Boyle's short story collection After the Plague because the title story in this collection is my favorite thing I've read by Boyle.  He is funny and political, so if you are into that, he is a good choice.

1. Graham Swift, Waterland:  This book is my go-to recommendation, especially for people with reading tastes at all similar to mine.  I wrote about it for the Literary Blog Hop a few months back and you can see that post here.

25 March 2011

Book Blogger Hop: Escaping Into A Book

This week's question:
"If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?"

I like the Lost Generation novels.  I think I would like to be plopped somewhere in the 1920's with Gatsby or Jake Barnes.  However, I wouldn't want to stay for long, because I have no real desire to have lived through WWII.  Obviously there are negatives to being a young woman in that time period, but it's pretty hard for me to think of any situation that would be truly ideal, since it is the nature of most books (even fantastical ones) to contain conflict and negative forces of some sort. 

24 March 2011

My Thoughts on Joyce Carol Oates', A Widow's Story: A Review

Title: A Widow's Story: A Memoir
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco
Date: 2011
Genre: Memoir

432 pages.
Where I got it (Full Disclosure): From the publisher, through Net Galley
Challenges: None

I haven't read much by Joyce Carol Oates considering how much she has written.  I read one or two of her novels when I was much younger and I'm a big fan of her short story,  "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" I have been feeling disappointed by memoir as a genre lately, but the Times Book Review spoke very highly of Oates' new contribution, so I requested a galley.

The book begins on a normal day with Oates just returning from a speaking engagement. When she arrives, she finds that her husband has gotten ill while she was away.  It is incredibly pedestrian, and yet from the first pages her story compelled me.  Husband and wife fuss and decide that they won't wait to see their general practitioner, deciding instead to go to the emergency room, where Ray (Oates' husband of almost 50 years), is admitted with pneumonia.  Considering the title of the book, it is no spoiler to say that, only a few days later, Ray passes away.  And yet, reading those heart-wrenching chapters, I felt like I was reading a brilliantly crafted work of fiction.  I could turn the pages fast enough on my I-pad; I was rooting for Ray despite knowing the outcome. The suddenness of his passing was distressing and the portrayal of Oates throughout rang to me as heart-breakingly accurate.

After Ray's death, Oates explores what it means to be a widow and how she coped-with the help of friends and work and medications- in the months following her loss.  There are sad moments and funny moments, and the reader feels the surreality of the writer's current state.  Throughout the book, however, she writes with clarity and a competency that reminds us that she is a professional story teller.  She explores the form of the memoir, eventually coming to the realization that "all memoirs are journeys. investigations.  Some memoirs are pilgrimages."  She sees her journey as the latter. 

I felt like I was on the journey with her, and it seemed to be a journey in many senses.  Not only did Oates embark on the obvious journey of coming to terms with the death of her partner of many decades, it also seems to be a journey in which she merges her identity as Joyce Smith with her writer's persona-Joyce Carol Oates, or as she refers to her- JCO.   She claims midway through the book that she has "walled [her]self off from 'Joyce Carol Oates,'" and has also created "walls" between herself and Ray by keeping their professional identities separate from their identity as a married couple.  Through the book, she gets to know Ray better in crucial ways, and that is part of the journey as well.

What I liked best about the book was its readability.  Like I mentioned earlier, the reader knows that she is in the hands of a professional.  I also found the book honest - at times beautiful and at others baffling.  The author doesn't hide the moments in her relationship that some of us might find a bit strange (What? They didn't read each others' writing?). Overall, this might be one of the best memoirs I've read, and it makes me more than likely to pick up some more of Oates' fiction in the future. 

22 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: I Hate That!

This week's topic over at The Broke and The Bookish is: Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves

10.  Really repetitive non-fiction books:  Okay, I get it, you have a really brilliant thesis with some great examples to back it up.  Sometimes, however, it just isn't enough material for a book. 

9. Thinking that a book isn't worth reading because it is difficult/old/uses language with which the reader is not familiar: This is a little bit of literary snobbery, but I'm going to own it, because I used to kind of feel this way.  Now that I'm older and oh so much wiser (I wish...) I don't even believe that books are only worth reading if they are enjoyable.  And anyway, most of the difficulty diminishes with reading practice.

8. Thinking that a book isn't worth reading because it has an engaging plot/ is for young adults/ could be categorized as "genre" fiction:  Catcher In the Rye  is YA, The Maltese Falcon is genre fiction and Dickens is super plot driven and was remarkably popular in his own time. There is good and bad writing in every genre.

7. Magical Realism:  I don't why.  This is totally personal, but I just don't get it.

6.  Style over substance:  For me this is the Ulysses v. Finnegan's Wake line.  There has to be a motivation for the stylistic innovation.  The style should connect to the substance.

5. Long confusing character names:  I'm sorry Russian novels, you drive me nuts.  In many family-saga-type, long novels, I have serious trouble keeping the characters straight.  This is mostly because of my really terrible memory.

4.  Dialect...most of the time: I like sparingly used dialect, but I'm not a big fan of when an entire book is written that way. 

3. Footnotes...again, most of the time: I've read a lot of academic stuff in my career, and I find turning back and forth and looking up and down extra tiring.  I don't really like my fiction reading to feel like my academic reading, even though I don't consider myself an escapist reader. Don't even get me started on endnotes.

2. Obnoxiously or super slowly read audiobooks:  I don't think this one needs much explanation.

1. Books with the special edition movie cover:  These really embarrass me, which I know is totally petty.  I really like books for aesthetic reasons as well as for their content.  What I really hate is when I order a book from paperbackswap or Amazon and the cover in the picture is not the movie cover, but then I get the movie cover because they have the same ISBN.  Lame.

20 March 2011

Sunday Salon: New York Book Loot

For Spring Break this year, my husband and I took a trip to New York and Connecticut, and had tons of fun.  I definitely neglected my blog all week, but I was doing bookish things.  Sometime this week, I will have up a YA roundup and also a review of Joyce Carol Oates' fantastic new memoir, which  was the first book I read on my new IPad while I was in NY.

Like I said, we did do some book shopping on our vacation.  I had been on a new book buying ban for a couple of months, and so I was excited to pick up these titles on the trip.  Here is the loot:

Sorry about the lousy pic quality.  The stack includes (from bottom to top):

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
Beautiful Children by Charles Bock
You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
My Booky Wook  by Russell Brand
Antwerp by Roberto Bolano
The Girl With the Golden Eyes by Honore de Balzac
Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin

I got most of these at The Strand. I got My Booky Wook from one of the friends we stayed with and The Cookbook Collector from a Borders in Connecticut.  I got the Bolano and the Balzac from a small shop in Williamsburg.

I got some other fun bookish things, like some cool Out of Print t-shirts (Great Gatsby and Moby Dick), a Strand book bag, a cool handmade wooden bookmark and Hemingway and Freud finger puppets.

We had a great time, and I'm a little sad to be heading back to work tomorrow.  I think I caught a good ol' airplane cold, but I'm sure I be back on track soon.

I hope you all had a fabulous week as well.

08 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: It Takes Two

I can't believe it is already Tuesday again (and that I haven't written any reviews), but it is, so it is time for another fun Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and The Bookish:

Top Ten Dynamic Duos
These are the BFFs, partners in crime, powerful couples, and general groups of awesome people that I just can't get out of my head!

10. Emma and Dex from One Day:  I love these two.  Playful banter? Check.  Built up sexual tension? Check.  Who could ask for more.

9. Will Grayson and Tiny Cooper in Will Grayson Will Grayson:  I love the portrayal of friendship in general in this book, but mostly, I love Tiny Cooper.

8. Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes from The Sun Also Rises: Just repeat what I said about Emma and Dex and then add some crazy coldness on her part.

7. Huck and Jim from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Without Jim, Huck could never have lit out for the territory, and vice versa.

6. Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby: Here is another of my favorite unrequited love stories.  No one loves Jay Gatsby as much as Nick does.

5. Katniss and Rue in The Hunger Games: I just love it when the these two pair up in the first book, and we get to see a whole new, nurturing side of the heroine.

4. Benjy and Caddy in The Sound and the Fury: Faulkner said that he wrote that he wrote this masterpiece because he saw an image of a girl in a tree and he wanted to write her story (or something pretty close to that).  If TSATF is that story, I believe Benjy knows it the best.

3. Josh and Marley in Marley and Me: Nothing like the story of a man and his dog.  This book made me cry a lot.

2. George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men: Lennie is one of the saddest and most touching characterizations in literature. 

1. Queequeg and Ismael in Moby Dick: They are after all "bosom friends."  Check out this passage:Ismael on Queequg: "He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends. [And a bit later].  Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg-- a cosy, loving pair."
I have a sticker on my laptop that says "Queequeg and I are just friends."  It is incredibly nerdy and no one ever gets it.

06 March 2011

Sunday Salon: Some Old Favorites

Earlier this week at The New Dork Review of Books, a blog that I highly recommend, Greg posted a list of books that he wanted to bring attention to for his readers, but which he read before he began blogging. I thought this was a great idea, so I decided I would do something similar for this week's salon.  I often bring attention to some of my favorite literary works through the Literary Blog Hop, so I am not going to mention any of those here.  These are books that I haven't discussed on the blog, or have mentioned only in passing:

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan:  Obviously this is a widely read book, so I'm not uncovering a "hidden" book here.  However, I noticed in last week's Top Ten Tuesday that this was one that many people push aside.  I loved this book and treasured every moment of the reading experience although it is a painful story of loss and deception and selfishness and misunderstanding.  Many of the characters are so sympathetic that watching them go through hardship is heart-wrenching; I think this is a sign of McEwan's skill.

2. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson:  The first Gibson book I read was Neuromancer, which I liked, but found confusing in parts.  Pattern Recognition takes place in the present day, and although the science fiction elements are there, the book is very story driven. It is a prescient book and examines our relationship with technology in a meaningful way.

3. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach:  Sounds morbid, yes?  I was interested in this book because I was interested in Gunther Van Hagen's exhibition of plasticized cadavers, "Body Worlds."  I also had a roommate who was in medical school and was dissecting a cadaver of her own.  This book is a fascinating exploration of what happens to our bodies after we die, and how science can benefit when we choose to donate ourselves.  Mary Roach is a very talented non-fiction writer, whose books are accessible and informative and I highly recommend her for fans of popular science.

4. White Teeth by Zadie Smith:  Ms. Smith is one of my favorite young writers, and this book is a brilliant exploration of what it means to be British in a post-colonial London.  Archie Jones family is a fascinating glimpse into this London, where race and class are concepts in question. Smith's writing is quirky and humorous and touching, all in the right proportions.

5. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver: This was probably my first favorite "grown up" novel.  I received it as a gift when I was in high school, and I was a bit suspicious of it, but ended up loving it.  It is a road trip novel, filled with seriousness and beauty.  It is my favorite Kingsolver novel still, although she is   a writer that I love and I look forward to her new titles.  Her wonderful descriptions of desert life, also renew my love for Tucson and the rest of Arizona, which is my home.

I'm going to leave it at five for today, but perhaps I'll do it again.  Do any of these books seem like they might be your taste as well?  Have you read them? 

03 March 2011

Literary Blog Hop- Ha, ha funny

It is time again for The Literary Blog Hop (applause, applause):

Literary Blog Hop

Thank you as always Blue Bookcase for the opportunity to ramble about the literary. This week's topic:

Can literature be funny? What is your favorite humorous literary book?

But, of course, literature can be funny.  Satire is one of my favorite genres, and then there is of course slapstick, bawdy, laugh out loud funny literature that isn't satire.
The book I am choosing is one that I think everyone should read, although not many people do:

Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy

There are lots of reasons to read this tome if you are a lover of the literary.  For one, if you think that postmodern literature begins and ends with David Foster Wallace, here would be some evidence to the contrary.  This book is hugely influential (especially throughout the British canon) and seldom read.

It is also funny.  It isn't a satire and it isn't laugh out loud funny, but it uses humor and it is playful.  It has some very Dickensian characters (of course, before Dickensian was a term).  There is also a lot of great (Nabokovian before Nabokov?) language play if you are into that sort of thing. 

Anyway, it must be funny because the Monty Python guys made a movie based on it, right?

Here's the trailer:

01 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly feature at The Broke and the Bookish.  They got a new button and a great topic for this week:  Top ten books you HAD TO HAVE ... but are still sitting on my bookshelf.

I, like everyone else, have a house full of these.  It's like I panic that if I don't buy the book while I'm thinking about it, then I'll forget about it entirely.  Here are just a few brand new hardcovers (which I don't even like reading all that much) that I bought and still haven't gotten around to.  All of these books were published in the last two years.

10. Freedom by Johnathan Franzen:  I really liked The Corrections and had been hoping that Franzen would publish something new even before the hype.  And then there was the hype, and I couldn't resist it, but also didn't find time to read it.

9. Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul: I heard this author on NPR and was intrigued by her ideas about how the mother's health and behavior impact infants prenatally.  I actually ordered this from my local bookstore, and couldn't believe I was doing it then.  My internal voice was screaming, "Wait for the paperback."

8. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: I really like Atwood's dystopian fiction - I've been teaching The Handmaid's Tale every semester for a couple of years now.  I was excited for this, but then I realized that it was a follow up to Oryx and Crake, which I haven't read.  So, now there are two books that I need to read, but haven't yet.

7. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart:  Here is one where I couldn't resist the cover.  It also was one of those Amazon recommendations based on other things I liked, and sometimes I have trouble resisting those.

6. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown: I bought this one right when it came out.  It is the beginning of my new book hoarding pile for 2011.  I am really looking forward to it, but keep giving priority to something else.

5. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver:  I am a big Kingsolver fan. The Bean Trees is still one of my favorite books, and one I would love to reread.  I'm not sure why I haven't read this one yet, but I haven't.   It  has graduated to this year's TBR shelf.

4.  A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I saw this on all the top lists of 2010 and just couldn't wait for the paperback, so I ordered it from Book Depository and justified it because it was pretty cheap with no shipping.  However, whenever I order for Book Depository it is just evidence that I'm not going to read it right away, because I'm not going to get it very quickly. So obviously, I could wait.

3. Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayar Hamann: This is one of my more compulsive purchases, because I don't even want to read it that badly.  I read something about it, thought it sounded interesting and then the next time I saw it at the bookstore, I bought it.

2. Great House by Nicole Krauss: My brother-in-law got us a Barnes and Noble giftcard for Christmas, and I went in with a list from my wishlist, and this was the only book on it that they had on the shelves.  Apparently the last minute Christmas shoppers ravaged the selection.

1. The Instructions by Adam Levin: I had such bad book lust for this one, it isn't funny.  I drooled over it as the Powell's Indie-spensible selection and added a subscription to my cart a bunch of times and then talked myself out of it.  Then I saw it at Book Soup in L.A. and realized that it was the size of a suitcase and  my husband thought it would be absurd to by a book of that size on vacation (come on, we drove).  I conceded and then bought it online as soon as we got home.  It is taking up a lot of space now on the shelf. 

If all these books were hanging around your house, which would you read first?
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