Thursday, February 27, 2014

Article Reading Group

Albrecht Dürer, Six pillows via youmakemisohappy

SINATRA’S COLD IS CONTAGIOUS: Hostile Subjects, Vulnerable Sources & The Ethics of Outing - Maria Dahvana Headley: "It is not the mandate of a writer to keep pursuing a private citizen’s secrets (secrets which have exactly no impact on the product you are writing about, nor on anything else public good) until they kill themselves. This is not an honorable act". The Story Is Not The Most Important Thing. This post is a response to a specific Grantland article but it it contains many truths about writing, outing and humanity.

How ‘#Rich Kids of Beverly Hills’ Makes ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘Gatsby,’ and ‘The Bling Ring’ Obsolete - Moze Halperin: I loathed the Gatsby film, found The Bling Ring wonderfully sound-tracked but remarkably vapid and underwhelming and I will not be touching WoWS with a ten foot pole. Moze Halperin writes an interesting analysis of these films' fundamental impotency in the face of a stream of reality tv that conveys the failure of the American dream with an unavoidable brutality and effectiveness that they can't match. There are obviously a thousand other things to be said about these films but this is a neat look at one of the sources of their lack of meaningful/emotional impact.

Fangirl - Elizabeth Minkel: "fictional characters from both high and low culture have always occupied prime seats in my mind (palace). In the end, these are just stories, which is what we’re after most of all, I suppose — a way to contextualize our own stories, the ones we tell ourselves to make sense of things. Anything that’s both beloved and serialized has to deal with the disconnect between the stories that its creators want to tell and the stories that fans, from the casual on up to the obsessive, want to see." There were plenty of things I disliked about the latest series of Sherlock but, as ever, it engendered some great, smart conversations. The Sherlock fandom has some of the most articulate fans and the show is sufficiently news worthy that fairly mainstream sites will publish great, longform meta about it. Solid.

Against Grammar - Catie Disabato: "A prescriptive approach to grammar is destructive, and it needed to be leeched from our minds like a poison so we could see how the world of language actually works." I am crying with happiness at this article. All the yeses. A nice accompaniment and formal argument for the Toast piece on internet language that I've probably posted before - Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics by Tia Baheri.

How much my novel cost me - Emily Gould: I watched Frances Ha at the weekend and, while I didn't love it as much as many people online, the characters that Greta Gerwig repeatedly plays are important to me. As frustrating as those women can be, the honesty of their portrayal, of the fucked up, messy way that young women try to navigate adulthood, speaks to me. There is no way to say 'speaks to me' without sounding like a bit of an arsehole but it is actually pretty rare to see a reflection of myself, even a partial, exaggerated one, on screen or paper. There is a hard kernel of truth in her work and, yes, it is a very specific, small truth but I value it. I feel similarly about Emily Gould. She is so honest and flawed and honest about her flaws and it is so refreshing. She shares so much about her life, the details of her experience and her shortcomings, more than anyone else does, maybe too much, but it feels good and vital. I want to extend a thank you to her.

Any recommendations? Thoughts? You know the drill.

Chuck x

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Sunday Book: Dare Me - Megan Abbott

Two book posts in two weeks. See how efficient I can be when I simply let someone else speak for me? Sure, that's the beginning of the end but it is particularly appropriate here because I bought and read Dare Me by Megan Abbott on the strength of the below paragraph.

"Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a book about high school cheerleaders, but it’s nothing like what you might expect. Populated by women who act with boldness, resolve, independence, and a prioritizing of the self Dare Me is both engaging and terrifying because it reveals the fraught intimacy between girls. It’s a novel about bodies and striving for perfection and ambition and desire so naked, so palpable, you cannot help but want the deeply flawed women in the book to get what they want no matter how terribly they go about getting it. The young women at the center of the novel, Beth and Addy, are friends as much as they are enemies. They betray each other and they betray themselves. They commit wrongs, and still, they are each other’s gravitational center. On the phone, after a drunken night, Beth asks Addy if she remembers “how we used to hang on the monkey bars, hooking our legs around each other, and how strong we got and how no one could ever beat us, and we could never beat each other, but we’d agree to each release our hands at the count of three, and that she always cheated, and I always let her, standing beneath, looking up at her and grinning my gap-toothed pre-orthodontic grin.” It is a moment that shows us how Addy has always seen Beth plainly and understood her and loved her nonetheless. Throughout the novel, Beth and Addy remain unlikable, remain flawed to an extent, but there is no explanation for it, no clear trajectory between cause and effect. Traditional parameters of likability are deftly avoided throughout the novel in moments as honest and no less poignant as these."

Roxane Gay, Not Here to Make Friends: On the Importance of Unlikable Female Protagonists

This review in miniature, an excerpt from an excellent essay on unlikeable women in film and fiction, is why I read the book and everything I liked about it. If it does not sell you on the novel there is little I can do to persuade you. I suppose I could add that the book has a bloody death and the taut pace of a thriller but I'm not a crime reader and this was the least interesting aspect of the book to me.

I enjoyed Abbott's vision of adolescent female friendship, both fickle and absolute, burning and competitive and romantic and unpredictable. It is tumultuous and vital and, although not a mirror of my own experiences, it felt truthful. What I loved though were her bodies - Abbott writes physicality amazingly powerfully. These cheerleaders don't just wave pompoms and smile in short skirts, they are serious athletes, bruises and solid muscles and strain. The book never lets you forget the constant effort and the risk involved. It is exhilarating for the girls honing their bodies and skills like finely tuned instruments and for the reader. It is gloriously brutal, tight, angry bodies spinning and falling, trying desperately to explode the limitations of high school, small town life and the awkward, painful transition from childhood to adulthood. Perhaps this is what people get from watching sport - the willed bodies, the energy, the almost-transcendence? I wouldn't know but I can say that it was a pleasure to read.

Mmm, there was so much rage. Delicious. Anyway, it is a fun, fast paced read and if any of the above interests you I would recommend it.

Chuck x

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Sunday Book: Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link

In the interest of punctuality/ever getting any book posts up at all I have decided that I'm going to start co-opting existing reviews. This is obviously pretty lazy but if I don't I'll never get round to writing the 3,000 word ode to how much I enjoyed Magic for Beginners and that would be pretty sad.

"I don't know about you, but I'm kind of fed up with realism. After all, there's enough reality already; why make more of it? Why not leave realism for the memoirs of drug addicts, the histories of salt, the biographies of porn stars? Why must we continue to read about the travails of divorced people or mildly depressed Canadians when we could be contemplating the shopping habits of zombies, or the difficulties that ensue when living and dead people marry each other? We should be demanding more stories about faery handbags and pyjamas inscribed with the diaries of strange women. We should not rest until someone writes about a television show that features the Free People's World-Tree Library, with its elaborate waterfalls and Forbidden Books and Pirate-Magicians. We should be pining for a house haunted by rabbits. [...]

This strangeness emanates not only from the subjects of the stories, but from the sentences. The first time I read Magic for Beginners I marvelled at the seamless integration of reality (a world that seemed familiar, characters I felt I knew) and otherness (a dream-world with rules I wasn't acquainted with but which I accepted as they came along). With each subsequent reading I became more enamoured of the language, the voice, the glorious sentences themselves: "Batu had spent a lot of time reorganising the candy aisle according to chewiness and meltiness." "She found the gas mask in a box of wineglasses, and also six recent issues of the New Yorker, which she might still get a chance to read someday. She put the gas mask under the sink and the New Yorkers in the sink. Why not? It was her sink. She could put anything she wanted into it. She took the magazines out again and put them into the refrigerator, just for fun." [...]

Link's stories intertwine to form a world more real than anything you could touch, taste or see; this world exists in the intimate spaces of your mind, real enough to visit, strange and familiar as a dream. This is what certain readers live for: fiction that makes the world instead of merely mimicking it. If you are one of these readers, you know what you have to do next."

Audrey Niffenegger at the Guardian

"Magic for Beginners shows even more clearly than her entrancing debut collection, Stranger Things Happen, how Link treads the near-invisible line between literary hit and writer’s writer. Her prose is fresh and unaffected, yet honed to the essential. So far, she’s produced only stories (though lately some have grown to novella length), works that delicately knit together crowd-pleasing genre and folk-tale elements with challenging experimentation. (This is essentially what the metafictionists of the 1970s professed to do; however, when Link does it, it works.) And always, the connective tissue is a funny, rueful view of human relations that for all the weird stuff going on, remains rooted in reality."

- Laura Miller at Salon

Goodness, this collection was delightful. Generally speaking, I do not understand the appeal of short stories - they have not suited the way I like to read and I have found them unsatisfying. If a story is good I want a whole book of it and I think that often authors and editors allow too much leeway for tedium in short stories. Just because a story is short that is no excuse for it to be dull but I think that is tolerated more than it should be... Perhaps it is a genre thing - there are a lot of kitchen sink short stories and they rarely make my heart skip a beat, irrelevant of length. 

Kelly Link couldn't be any less kitchen sink though and it is bliss. I'm not sure if her work could be categorised as magical realism or realistic fantasy or if it falls somewhere into the foggy centre of that Venn diagram but it is a pleasure to read. Surreal and strange and funny and familiar and ringing with truth despite the often profound weirdness, it had me grinning on the bus and eager to immerse myself in each of the worlds she offered. Magic for Beginners runs the gamut of short stories to novellas and although almost every story left me hungry for more few left me hanging or unsatisfied. The collection just seemed to give Link space to stretch and explore and play. Maybe it is because life has felt rather dislocated of late and my reading habits are currently suited to the form but, man, this was a pleasure.

Excellent stuff. Also, Link's interview with Gigantic about The Vampire Diaries is excellent.

Chuck x 

Saturday, February 8, 2014


So it turns out that Budapest is beautiful and interestingly Parisian. Also, their February weather is considerably better than London's and their population density is balm to my tortured soul. Also, Caravaggio is perfect everywhere and at all times. Also, Kispiac Bisztró rivaled any restaurant I've visited recently and their beautiful, perfect pork belly and veal neck are things of joy. All in all, a delightful, winter city break. 10/10, would visit again.

Chuck x