Sunday, December 30, 2012

Moving Day!

As of January 1st, 2013, I'll be posting exclusively from my new site wine and a book.  Check it out for book reviews, reading lists, and all things literary, plus my style musings.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review: The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales


title: The Miniature Wife and Other Stories [support an independent bookseller and buy at Powell's]
by: Manuel Gonzales
genre: short stories (speculative fiction/science fiction)
pages: 304
published: January 2013
source: I received an advanced reader's copy from Riverhead via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Manuel Gonzales' first collection of short stories was a truly unique but quick read.  Ranging from the speculative to the supernatural, Gonzales' subject matter ranged from plane hijackings to zombie attacks, but to varied levels of success.

Some highlights:

  • Pilot, Copilot, Writer:  The premise:  the main character, a writer, is on a plane that is hijacked.  Instead of the hijacker holding the passengers for ransom or rerouting the plane to a different location, the hijacker chooses to circle Dallas.  For about twenty years.  Now, the premise alone presents so many obstacles and creates so many parameters for a writer, but Gonzales manages to shatter them and creates a truly original piece.  One of the strongest pieces in the collection.
  • The Disappearance of the Sebali Tribe:  Brilliant!   Love love LOVED this story.  The premise:  Two anthropologists almost pull of a hugely successful hoax on academia:  they publish study after groundbreaking study on a deeply isolated tribe THAT DOESN'T EXIST. Superbly woven together.  Tight, purposeful plot structure.  Bravo :)

Almost there:

  • All of Me: The first of two (TWO!) zombie-centric stories in the collection, this piece is from the perspective of a zombie, disguised as the very much alive, going about his nine-to-five life, trying to resist the urge to eat the faces of his coworkers.  He also has a crush on a female coworker.  The voice is incredibly original and very funny, though I feel like the plot devolved from something super original to something super expected.

Skip these:

  • Life on Capra II:  The voice Gonzales employed for the main character in this piece really didn't work for me.  He felt more like a caricature than a character, and maybe that was the point. There was a distinctly video-game-esque feel to the piece, as the action seems to progress, then regress, as if player one lost and the game reset to the beginning of the level, and the reader was inside the brain of the avatar. Regardless, the voice was just so over the top at times that made it hard for me to care about him or what happened to him.  Then there were the guns.  And the robot attacks.  And the swamp monsters.  It just got to be a little much.  I'm the wrong kind of nerd to appreciate that story.
  • Escape from the Mall:  A story about a group of people trapped in a janitor's supply closet during a spontaneous zombie uprising at their local mall.  I feel like, even if you're not into horror/zombie movies, we've all seen this movie.  Over the past 3-5 years as pop culture became obsessed with all things zombie , this plotline somehow found its way into America's collective unconscious.  When I first started the story, I was excited.  I thought Gonzalez was going to do something really original with this very done premise.  Nope.  Personally, I feel like Gonzales took such creative risks and thought so outside the box for many of the other stories in this collection that this story just felt too easy.  It was a great starting point, but I feel like if, as an author, you choose to take on a premise that's been done to death, you better bring something original to the table, and unfortunately, in this case, Gonzales does not.

My personal feeling:  Gonzales shines when he sticks to more to the realm of speculative (particularly when the speculative topics delve into academic's clear Gonzales is, himself, super intelligent and very well read!) but struggles when he veers to far into the land of science fiction.  All in all, some blazing moments of brilliance tucked in between pieces with potential to be developed into something worth reading.  Definitely worth checking out from your local library.

Rubric rating: 5.5.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

image via Goodreads

title: The Fifty Year Sword
[support an independent bookseller and purchase at Strand]
by: Mark Z. Danielewski
genre: fiction
pages: 285
published: 2005
source:  New York Public Library

The Fifty Year Sword was originally published in 2005 as a limited edition, and is usually only performed on Halloween night as a live shadow show.  This month, however, it was re-released by Pantheon Books and I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a copy.

Like Danielewski's previous work, the story being told is as important as how it's being told, which is as important as how it looks as it's being told.  As in House of Leaves, which used multiple fonts, colors and text layouts to delineate the different parts of the story, The Fifty Year Sword uses five different color quotation marks and illustrations that resemble embroidery to tell the tale.  

And what a tale it is:  the plot follows the local seamstress, Chintana, as she attends a local Halloween party where she watches a mysterious storyteller tell a tale to five rambunctious orphans.

Haunting and lyrical with strong characterization, this story written in verse is a quick read (I finished it while doing laundry), but still leaves quite an impression.  Definitely recommended.

Rubric rating: 8. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

My favorite passage from Paul Auster's "Oracle Night"

"Early in our friendship, Trause told me a story about a French writer he had known in Paris in the early fifties. I can't remember his name, but John said he had published two novels and a collection of stories and was considered to be one of the shining lights of the younger generation.  He also wrote some poetry, and not long before John returned to America in 1958 (he lived in Paris for six years), this writer acquaintance published a book-length narrative poem that revolved around the drowning death of a young child.  Two months after the book was released, the writer and his family went on a vacation to the Normandy coast, and on the last day of their trip his five-year-old daughter waded into the choppy waters of the English Channel and drowned.  The writer was a rational man, John said, a person known for his lucidity and sharpness of mind, but he blamed the poem for his daughter's death. Lost in the throes of grief, he persuaded himself that the words he'd written about an imaginary drowning had caused a real drowning, that a fictional tragedy had provoked a real tragedy in the real world.  As a consequence, this immensely gifted writer, this man who had been born to write books, vowed never to write again.  Words could kill, he discovered.  Words could alter reality, and therefore they were too dangerous to be entrusted to a man who loved them above all else.  When John told me the story, the daughter had been dead for twenty-one years, and the writer still hadn't broken his vow.  In French literary circles, that silence had turned him into a legendary figure.  He was held in the highest regard for the dignity of his suffering, pitied by all who knew him, looked upon with awe.

John and I talked about this story at some length...[John] said that the writer's decision made perfect sense to him and that he admired his friend for having kept his promise. 'Thoughts are real,' he said. 'Words are real. Everything human is real, and sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren't aware of it.  We live in the present, but the future is inside us at every moment.  Maybe that's what writing is all about, Sid.  Not recording events from the past, but making things happen in the future.' "

~Paul Auster, Oracle Night (page 220)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Literary Link List

Links to pieces, old and new, on literature:  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What I'm Reading...

title:  NW
author:  Zadie Smith
published:  September 2012
genre:  literary fiction

NW has been my subway read for a few days now, and thus far, the seven years we've had to wait since On Beauty were well worth it.  Abstract and lyrical and refreshingly honest.  I'll let you know what I think once I finish.

author: Salman Rushdie
published:  September 2012
genre:  memoir

I started reading Joseph Anton in honor of Banned Books Week, because, let's face it:  The Satanic Verses is pretty much the ultimate banned book (and also, in my opinion, one of Rushdie's finest works).   About a year ago, I saw an older documentary that focused on the controversy created by the novel's publication.  The documentary did a thorough job of explaining why some felt so strongly about the book, but I've wondered what living under a fatwa for almost ten years was like for Rushdie.  This book answers that question, and then some.  I'm about 200 pages in, and I'm finding it fascinating so far.  

author: Eduardo Halfon
published: October 2012

A few months ago, I stumbled across the Kickstarter page for this book and was intrigued, so I was really excited to see it up on LibraryThing's Early Reviewers list.  I have a feeling, knowing my book-specific ADD, I'll start reading it before I finish the other two.

What are you reading this week?