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Showing posts from May, 2020

New Yorker Fiction Review #240: "The Resident Poet" by Katherine Dunn

Review of a short story from the May 11, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...

I love going into a story with absolutely zero context, especially when I have never heard of the author. I find it's much, much better to read a story without bringing anything to the table in terms of expectations or preconceived notions about what I'm about to read.

Apparently, "The Resident Poet" was written by the late Katherine Dunn (author of Geek Love, died in 2016) back in the early 1970s. From the context clues in the story -- the lack of cell phones , certain lingo, the way the characters dress -- I could definitely have guessed the story was set in the pre-80s. However, Katherine Dunn's prose is as fresh as if it were written today. 
If there is a way to make an elicit affair between a professor and a college student seem "un-sexy," then Katherine Dunn found it in "The Resident Poet." Which is convenient, because that was precisely the story's intention. 

New Yorker Fiction Review #239: "The Afterlife" by Jonathan Lethem

Review of a short story from the May 18, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...

It's a complete coincidence that the last short story I reviewed on this blog was also a story by Jonathan Lethem. There have been at least a dozen issues of The New Yorker since then. Apparently Letham has a new novel -- The Arrest -- coming out in November. Which might (or might not) explain the advance publicity.

Anyway, "The Afterlife" is a plotless but fun piece of imagination concerning one possible scenario of what the afterlife might look like, through the eyes of a famous sculptor who gets sent there a bit prematurely. As always, what Lethem brings to the table is a trip directly inside the main character's head -- even in the third person -- giving you thoughts and feelings to identify with, and bringing some of the same "everyday" sort of worries and concerns into something that is completely out of the realm of daily experience. It's a short, fun read, and that's th…

"If" by Rudyard Kipling

I'm not sure why, but this classic poem was on my mind today....


If
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart …

Book Review (Part II): 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Sorry, but I have to come back to 1Q84 for  moment. I feel like a 1200 page novel deserves a better review than what I gave it in my last entry. It's just really difficult to get a handle on why I enjoyed this bizarre novel enough to stay with it for the hours and hours it took to finish it. I haven't even read War and Peace or The Count of Monte Cristo because the sheer volume (the sheer weight) of those books makes my spine shiver. And yet...I read a novel at least as long as those by a 21st century Japanese writer whose novels -- 10 years ago -- I could barely stand. Why?

First of all, it's something about "mood." From the very opening pages of the book, Murakami creates an eerie feel. He has a way of tapping into the weirdness of every day life, and staying with it, giving the reader just enough information to be intrigued, but not enough so you can see where the story is headed. The opening scene, for example, takes place on a heavily jammed Toyko highway o…

Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (2011)

I am allergic to reading novels longer than 500 pages. Yes. I said it. I'm a writer. And an avid reader since I was a kid. I may have read a few books longer than 500 pages in my life -- cover to cover -- but I honestly cannot tell you the last one. Which is why I take great pride in telling you that I just finished reading Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, which weighs in at precisely 1157 pages and is big enough you can use it as a booster seat for your kid. 
I am also a chronic abandoner of books in midstream. I have no patience for books -- specifically novels -- that don't keep my attention. Less than no patience. I in fact look for reasons to abandon a book that's anything less than compelling. Anything less than that feeling of "damn, I can't wait to read more of that book" and I need to move on. Life's too short. Do you watch TV shows that bore you? No. You change the channel (or pick a new one, whatever) and find something that does. Sure, reading Cri…

A Sad Day for Preppies Everywhere...

J. Crew has filed for bankruptcy. Of all the things to get cancelled, postponed, prohibited, or whatever, during the COVID-19 crisis, this has got to be one of the most painful. Seriously.
While I do not think of myself as a "preppy" per se, I have always loved preppy-ish clothes. They're classic, they never really go out of style (cause they're never really "in" style (unless you live in a John Hughes movie or on Martha's Vineyard)), furthermore...that's just the style I know best and what I will always default back to. 
Thus I was hit with a very un-welcome surprise this morning to learn the above news about J. Crew. Along with Banana Republic, L.L. Bean, and The Gap, J. Crew is undoubtedly one of my favorite clothing brands. Hell, I'm wearing a J. Crew shirt right now, and that's just a coincidence. One of the things I was most looking forward to post-COVID was going to J. Crew and buying some new shirts. I'll probably still be able …