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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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63. “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” JK Rowling

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Totally dispensable. I liked the Harry Potter books, this is just a few disjointed fairy tales with a couple quips from Dumbledore. At least it was a really quick read.

Page count: 111
Page total: 24,299

41. “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003” 3, edited by Zadie Smith

June 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Zadie Smith edits this one. It showed me the difference an editor makes in anthologies like this. In her introduction, she talks about coming to the US for the first time and being surprised by the US brand of journalism. She reflects that, as a writer, she can always tell when writers are being literary and it makes her “want to scream”. Therefore, she really appreciates anything that is or purports to be true (xxvii-xxviii).

I can see this thread throughout the stories she selected. They all have a sort of journalistic feel to them. It’s hard to pin down, but most of them seem to be the writer narrating (lots of first person). She also selected a number of pieces by people of color and people writing about adolescents, both of which I like, because I think they are often underrepresented in anthologies. Even Dave Eggers’ intro to this edition says that they don’t know for whom they are compiling these books– they thought teenagers with the first one, but it turned out that that’s not really true.

Page count: 363
Page total: 19,225

(I’m listing this one out of order. I finished it on the eighth.)

33. “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008”

May 18, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been in a short story mood lately. I guess it’s because I just finished up undergrad, so I’m enjoying the feeling of reading and having time to read, but I want it to feel casual and relatively commitment-free. The day after graduation, some friends and I went to a book store and two of us ended up buying this (for six bucks!). I’m glad I did. There’s an interesting variety: everything from profiles of Bill Clinton from GQ to lists of the last sentences of books published in 2007 to comics to more traditional short stories.

My favorite stories are “Best American Facebook Groups,” “Best American Kurt Vonnegut Writings” (in memorium quotes from Vonnegut’s stories), “Darkness” by Andrew Sean Greer, and “Searching for Zion” Emily Raboteau. Check out the BANR blog here.

Page count: 363
Page total: 16,445
LOEP entry, BC
Next up: Any of the five “Best American” books I checked out with my shiny new library card. Or maybe “The Quiet American,” which Anthony Bourdain was plugging on “No Reservations” tonight.

15. “I am Legend”, Richard Matheson

January 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Hi. I’m obsessive. Today I read “I am Legend” and watched “The Last Man on Earth”. I am very afraid of vampires.

A few thoughts:
-Damn, Matheson needs to learn a synonym for “palsied”. I don’t even think that that is a word. Say “stiff”. Say “frozen”. Say “shaking” or “tremulous” or “unsteady”. There are so many words that actually mean what you want to say.
-The whole bit with the dog was so much more heart-breaking in the book. I needed to stop reading for a minute. I miss my dog. I miss dogs in general.
-The most recent edition (the one with Will Smith on the cover) should make it a little bit clearer where “I am Legend” ends and a collection of short stories begins. I read another fifty pages before I finally Wikipedia’d it and found out that, no, Matheson was not going to tie all this back together.
    -The “Prey” one with the Zuni doll was some scary shit. I didn’t know that the Trilogy of Terror episode was based on it. It brought me back to the good old days of Scarred for Life. I read it while laying on my floor, too, right at doll level.

Pages: 317
Total: 11,771

“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.