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7. “How We Are Hungry,” Dave Eggers

December 23, 2009 2 comments

Dave Eggers is a fucking master of titles. Will you check this shit out?

– “Another”
– “What it means when a crowd in a faraway nation takes a soldier representing your own nation, shoots him, drags him from his vehicle and then mutilates him in the dust”
– “The only meaning of the oil-wet water”
– “On wanting to have three walls up before she gets home”
– “Climbing to the window, pretending to dance”
– “She waits, seething, blooming”
– “Quiet”
– “Your mother and I”
– “Naveed ”
– “Notes for a story of a man who will not die alone”
– “About the man who began flying after meeting her”
– “Up the mountain coming down slowly”
– “There are some things he should keep to himself”
– “When they learned to yelp”
– “After I was thrown in the river and before I drowned”

He barely needs to write the story after that. And, in fact, in “There Are Some Things He Should Keep to Himself,” he doesn’t. The story is six blank pages. The clever bastard.

I thought about how to say this next bit the whole time I was brushing my teeth– and I brush my teeth for the full two minutes, which is, you may not realize, a long time when all you are doing is moving a toothbrush in small circles and trying (and in my case, failing) to dribble toothpaste foam on yourself. Eggers’ stories never really feel finished. Not in a bad way (like can be said of many of Raymond Carvers’ exercises in oddly-paced, ennui-soaked frustration), but instead they just seem to understand that real people’s stories go on even after their part in them is done. So of course these little character sketches would never seem done. Though all of his characters seem to have the same sort of flat affect, I liked it because I am at the same crappy point in my life when nothing is wrong, and I’m too apathetic to even call this depression, and also too apathetic to panic that this universal suckitude is just the way life is sometimes. Oh wait. Found some panic.

I’ll also add that the proceeds from this book go to 826 Valencia, which is a writing workshop Eggers co-founded. Which just makes me think he is a stand-up, though emotionally manipulative guy.

Page count: 224
Page total: 1,409

Quotes follow! Read more…

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61. “The History of Sexuality: Volume One,” Michel Foucault

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment

You know what? I am counting this one read even though, technically, I didn’t read all of it. You know why? Because fuck that, fuck Michel Foucault, and fuck you. One hundred and seventy-six pages of incredibly dense, oddly-punctuated, Frankfurt school1-informed shit and then you get to the end and Foucault doesn’t even give you this own theory of sexuality. He gives you an analytic. So that none of the criticism he levied against theory could be directed at him.

And the grand solution to the “imagined” problem of sexuality, the repressive hypothesis that he spends at least half the book documenting?

DON’T TALK ABOUT SEX, JUST HAVE GOOD SEX.

I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

I want to understand. Is “to the left” talking about sex? “Harder?” “I don’t want to dress up like a ballerina?” “Uh cuh stih tahk ahound iss ahll gahg”? Is “yes” talking about sex? “I’m not ready to get pregnant?” “I have a latex allergy?” I get the speaker’s benefit2 thing and I get that talking and theorizing are not doing but are you kidding me with this shit?

My professor seriously asked us if we thought that maybe this book was a joke, which is totally plausible. WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY EDUCATION ON A BOOK THAT MIGHT BE A JOKE? Why was this book so earth-shattering? Because of a version of history that Foucault admits could be termed “careless”? Because he manages to totally disregard intersecting identities? Because of the sort-of-interesting premise, if you are maybe a little high and interested in blowing your mind? Why would you make someone who wants to blow hir mind want to blow out hir brains? Is this real life?

If you will excuse me, I am going to click “publish,” then I am going to throw my computer out the window.

PS: I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts, Googlers of “Michel Foucault” + “History of Sexuality” + summary. I don’t usually make ball gag jokes and yell at my readers here, but I want to die.

Page count: 176
Page total: 24,109
(I’m giving myself partial credit. Not even in my bone-crushing anger would I cheat these numbers.)

____
1. Do you know about this shit? Apparently some people were sort of just ripping off Marx, spouting his ideas as their own without really doing enough research and taking his hard-won, clearly-stated ideas as their own. Not after the Frankfurt School, which says that you should write things as obtusely as possible so that it is harder for people to 1) understand what you are saying, unless they are smart enough to really, really try and 2) lift your words out of context. Doesn’t Foucault make bucketloads more sense now?
2. The power people derive from talking about something “taboo,” which comes from the apparent breach of/disregard for society’s conventions

9. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

December 26, 2008 3 comments

This stupid book a) totally rips off “Lord of the Rings”, and b) makes me strongly consider weeping once or twice every time I read it. I usually don’t, but I’ll think for a moment “you could cry here if you wished”.

Hermione in a quote:

And all around these neatly lettered words, scribbles had been added by other witches and wizards who had come to see the place where the Boy Who Lived has escaped. Some had merely signed their names in Everlasting Ink; others had carved their initials into the wood, still others had left messages. The most recent of these, shining brightly over sixteen years’ worth of magical graffiti, all said similar things.

Good luck, Harry, wherever you are.
If you are reading this, Harry, we’re all behind you!
Long live Harry Potter.

“They shouldn’t have written on the sign!” said Hermione, indignant.

The whole bit in the train station with Dumbledore really annoys the piss out of me. It is cheating and also stupid. And, I’m afraid to admit this, but I don’t get the baby. What is the deal? Most of the last hundred or so pages annoy me. I just want the battle. And for Percy to stop being a prat. And for Ron and Hermione to make out all ready. OH WAIT:

“We’ve forgotten someone. […] The house-elves, they’ll all be down in the kitchen, won’t they?”
“You mean we ought to get them fighting?” asked Harry.
“No,” said Ron seriously, “I mean we should tell them to get out. We don’t want any more Dobbies [sic], do we? We can’t order them to die for us–”
There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away they fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.
“Is this the moment?” asked Harry weakly, and when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other with still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. “OI! There’s a war going on here!”
“I know, mate,” sad Ron, who looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger, “so it’s now or never, isn’t it?”

And then they forget all about the house-elves and leave them to die.

Page count: 752 Total: 4555

6. “Stone Butch Blues”, Les Feinberg

December 10, 2008 Leave a comment

Sighh. I just finished this one tonight. This book always feels like coming home. It is so beautifully written and comfortable. It’s just gorgeous and painful, and always hits home, though my own path has been very different. I’ve read and given away many copies of this book, and mine are all marked up. My underlinings all feel so intimate; I find myself constantly identifying with Jess and Feinberg. Ze gets it. This book always makes me want to talk about gender, both my own and gender in general, but like Jess, I hardly know where to start.

This passage is one of my very favourites, because I feel it so acutely:

My neighbor, Ruth, asked me recently if I had to live my life all over again, would I make the same decisions? “Yes,” I answered unequivocally, “yes”.
I’m so sorry that my life has had to be this hard. But if I hadn’t walked this path, who would I be?

Page count: 301 Total: 1993

“The Kid Nobody Could Handle”, Kurt Vonnegut

March 3, 2008 Leave a comment

While I was reading those Kurt Vonnegut quotes and listening to interview with him, I learnt that he was a great supporter of (public) schools. He could have written the episode of “The West Wing” episode that I often rip off when talking about schools:

“Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defence.” “The West Wing”, S1, E8: “Enemies”

I don’t know why I felt the thrill of surprise when I read Vonnegut’s thoughts on schooling. It should have been obvious to me, having read “The Kid That Nobody Could Handle”. This is one of the stories I read last summer while on a Vonnegut kick. It had me weeping hugely on the Commuter train.

“If you smashed up all the schools,” said Helmholtz, “we wouldn’t have any hope left.”
“What hope?” said Jim.
“The hope that everybody will be glad he’s alive,” said Helmholtz. “Even you.” “The Kid Nobody Could Handle”, “Welcome to the Monkey House”, p. 278

More…

“Think of it this way,” said Helmholtz [to his band]. “Our aim is to make the world more beautiful than it was when we came into it. It can be done. You can do it.”
A small cry of despair come from Jim Donnini. It was meant to be private, but it pierced every ear with its poignancy.
“How?” said Jim.
“Love yourself,” said Helmholtz, “and make your instrument sing about it. A-one, a-two, a-three.” Down came his baton. “The Kid Nobody Could Handle”, “Welcome to the Monkey House”, p. 282-283

“Why’dja do that? What’s that prove?”
“I–I don’t know,” said Helmholtz. A terrible blasphemy rumbled deem inside him, like a warning of a volcano. And then, irresistibly, out it came. “Life is no damn good,” said Helmholtz. His face twisted as he fought back tears of shame. “The Kid Nobody Could Handle”, “Welcome to the Monkey House”, p. 282

Now Helmholtz saw the futility of men and their treasures. He had thought that his great treasure, the trumpet, could buy a soul for Jim. The trumpet was worthless. “The Kid Nobody Could Handle”, “Welcome to the Monkey House”, p. 281-282

Helmholtz, the mountain that walked like a man, was falling apart. Jim Donnini’s eyes filled with pity and alarm. They came alive. They became human. Helmholtz had got a message through. Quinn looked at Jim, and something like hope flickered for the first time in his bitterly lonely face. “The Kid Nobody Could Handle”, “Welcome to the Monkey House”, p. 282

Oh Kurt.

“After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned”, Dave Eggers

January 9, 2008 2 comments

So, I’ve been thinking about what I want to write about and even though it’s not the last thing I read, here we go:

After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned“, Dave Eggers
A dog narrates a story about his life.

My sister showed me this story. She has only read it once.

I knew I wanted to talk about this short story. But I also knew I hadn’t been drinking enough water to do so. To give you an idea. So this is a story told by Steve, a dog, who is a very fast runner. He runs all over his city/town, watching people. He has a park where he races his dog friends, and they try to jump two banks over a storm drain. Sometimes dogs get hurt there. Steve gets hurt there.

I suppose that I should say that we had to put my dog down about a year and a half ago, but I still miss her and love her, and I still feel like I’ve been punched in the chest when I talk about her.

I also feel punched in the chest when I talk about this story, because Eggers does a really excellent job of catching the “voice” of a dog. He, Steven, rambles and talks much too fast, gets distracted, sees too much, understands everything, and then is off again in a flash. The use of short sentences is superb. There is such simplicity and clarity of emotion in them.

First lines

OH I’M A FAST DOG. I’m fast- fast. It’s true and I love being fast I admit It I love it. You know fast dogs. Dogs that just run by and you say, Damn! That’s a fast dog! Well that’s me. A fast dog. I’m a fast- fast dog. Hoooooooo! Hooooooooooooo!

My dog was part greyhound, and this is how she ran, tongue falling out of her mouth, eyes crazy, terrifyingly fast, and turning “like there wasn’t even a turn”. She’d run like she was going to bowl you over, but bank at the last second.

Last lines

Everyone in the life before was cranky, I think, because they just wanted to know.

Oddly– no, that’s not right: perfectly–, the fast dog talk reminds me of my sister’s best friend, my roommate, almost as much as it reminds me of my dog. She came home while I was thinking about this story, and I explained that I had read it, and that’s why I was crying and blowing my nose. She scrunched her face up and said that she doesn’t know why it makes my sister and I cry– it makes her happy. This is why she is the dog.

More quotes, spoiling:

I see in the windows. I see what happens. I see the calm held-together moments and also the treachery and I run and run. You tell me it matters, what they all say. I have listened and long ago I stopped. Just tell me it matters and I will listen to you and I will want to be convinced. You tell me that what is said is making a difference that those words are worthwhile words and mean something. I see what happens. I live with people who are German. They collect steins. They are good people. Their son is dead. I see what happens.

Damn, I’m so in love with all of this.

You just cannot know.

my claws grabbing at the earth like I’m the one making it turn.

They’re slow but they are perfect things, almost perfect.

When I see them I want to be in love with all of them at once. I want us all to be together; I feel so good to be near them.

We have to feel strong to make it.

I feel good. My eyes feel good, like I will see everything before I have to. I see colors like you hear jet planes.

You should do this sometime. I am a rocket.

I want deeply for these twins

After I died, so many things happened that I did not expect.

I wanted him to be happy. I wanted the squirrels to jump and be happy as we dogs were. But they were different than we were, and the man who threw me to the river was also different. I thought we were all the same but as I was inside my dead body and looking into the murky river bottom I knew that some are wanting to run and some are afraid to run and maybe they are broken and are angry for it.

The one big surprise is that as it turns out. G-d is the sun. It makes sense, if you think about it. Why we didn’t see it sooner I cannot say. Every day the sun was right there burning, our and other planets hovering around it, always apologizing, and we didn’t think it was G-d. Why would there be a G-d and also a sun? Of course G-d is the sun.