More rejects

Sometimes when I go a long time without posting it’s because I’ve been very temperamental about what I’m ready, finicky, moody, tossing things aside. Here’s a glimpse at my recent trash heap of unfinished reads. I don’t always catalog what I couldn’t read, but I feel like it’s become a long list, so adding some of them here. Maybe I’ll make this a monthly purge.

  • Rusty Brown by Chris Ware. This is a great graphic novel, I’m sure. I just couldn’t handle the massive, dense, slow moving story. Bailing out now.
  • 7 miles a second, a comic about David Wojnarowicz with art by James Romberger and color by Marguerite Van Cook. Flipped through quickly, appalled by the unreadable walls of text. Loved the coloring by Van Cook, though.
  • Tramping on life, an autobiographical narrative by Harry Kemp. Billed as one of the first “On the Road” books, it’s dullsville and unreadable.
  • Salt, sugar, fat: how the food giants hooked us. Best part was this excerpt about the day they took the cheese out of Cheez-Whiz which is why I picked the book up in the first place.
  • Jeff Tweedy’s memoir. Sorry, but if you say that your favorite band you’ve been a part of is the one you’re in with your kids, I’m out. Children are not inherently interesting.
  • John Hodgeman’s latest, Medallion Status. He’s a funny guy and I think I prefer to listen to him, not read him.
  • The Tao of Ordinariness was more of a patchwork quilt of other writers’ quotes. Each chapter overloaded with epigraphs, then quotes layered into the paragraphs themselves. And worst of all, misspelling Anne Lamott’s name as he’s quoting her, as Anne LaMotte? Unforgivable.

A stack of rejects

I gave up on these after reading lots or a little of them.

  • 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them. Somewhat interesting but the library book smelled like perfume and I couldn’t ever quite enjoy picking it up.
  • 4 books of poetry by Matthea Harvey. I thought I’d like her writing more than I actually did.
  • Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke. A book about menopause seemed packed with filler about how other animals (whales, primates) also go through the change. I couldn’t get on board with her “so with no real plan I flew down to Miami from New York” to watch a postmenopausal whale flop around her tank.
  • Van Gogh’s Ear by Bernadette Murphy. I made the mistake of watching the BBC documentary based on this book before opening the book itself and couldn’t stomach the re-enactment of Murphy’s “astonishing” discovery. The quibble over whether he cut off his lobe or the entire ear is not enough to sustain my interest.
  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes. I like the premise of this book and it’s been done before which is fine, but the execution of it made it seem like it was recorded as an audiobook first and then transcribed for text. Lots of one and two word sentences. “So.” “Ok.” “And yet.” “Deep.” “Rude.” “I’m happy.”
  • How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson. Super catchy title and pretty great in parts, she melds feminist theory with philosophy and makes it fun the whole time. Only it’s a bit wandering, I don’t need to read pretend text messages or lists of things that are or aren’t flirty; basically this is her comedy bit written down in book form. Meh.
  • Josh Gondelman’s Nice Try, as discovered on his wife Maris’s podcast. I like Maris, with her intensely bookish conversations. Josh’s book had no good writing, nothing of merit to recommend it beyond its connection to her.
  • Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s by Malcolm Crowley. I stumbled over Crowley twice in an afternoon (in an intro to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, in an interview with Jack Kerouac who was complaining about Crowley adding unnecessary commas) so grabbed this and promptly fell asleep at the dull prose.

A bunch of rejects

A batch of books headed back to the library, most of which I tossed aside after attempting. Of this group, I ended up reading 2 to completion, and I purchased one from the bookstore to be able to mark up appropriately. The gray one without a title is Cheery Old Schopenhauer’s Studies in Pessimism which I choked down quickly, holding my nose at his wildly misogynistic essay on women and straining to pass his anti-Semitic thoughts for saner passages.

I had high hopes for Marion Milner’s two books, but did read A Life of One’s Own. I attempted her follow-up An Experiment in Leisure but quickly jumped ship when I saw it was another meandering discourse of self-experimentation that slowly gets her to awareness.

I had high hopes for Secret Sisterhood but they were dashed immediately by the tone of the authors. I should more carefully follow my rule never to read a book that stemmed from bloggers. There was absolutely nothing new to be gained about the friendship between Woolf and Mansfield, although I’m at a disadvantage from having read all the primary source material already.

The Challenge of Affluence looked extremely promising at first, ringing out a very clear initial sentence “Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines well-being.” However, the author does not do anything to bolster the assertion, follows up with stats to prove how affluent the U.S. and the U.K. have become and how no one gets married, we eat too much, and we’re really soulless pigs lost in the wilderness of late capitalism.

I’m in the midst of reading Moby-Dick and its hundreds of pages of notes, so was curious about Twice-Told Tales by Hawthorne, which Melville had recently read. I don’t think they’ve held up well to the test of time.

The Pargiters I’ve had my eye on for awhile, curious about this rejected manuscript of Woolf’s never published in her time. Unfortunately, the text is true to history and contains all of her edits, etc, which made it an unpleasant read. Maybe another time.

That The people are going to rise like the waters upon your shore : a story of American rage was written by a Bernie bro became evident within minutes of cracking the spine, relegating it to the trash heap.

Another week, another crop of books to tear through. I’m thankful for the meaty classics like Moby that help get me through these lean times. To the library!

Rejected books of the week

I finished fewer than normal books this week because I was bringing home armfuls of books that I just didn’t like. With such a huge quantity of rejects, I wanted to record my folly so I don’t repeat the mistake, like I frequently have in the past by picking up a previously rejected book to try to read.

#1 – Hillbilly Elegy. JD Vance’s memoir is the darling of the moment, pundits holding it aloft promising that it will unlock the secret of this year’s election. Balderdash. This is merely yet another book telling the tale of the plight of people in the Appalachians, and aren’t we so proud of JD for having escaped to go to Yale? Skip the hype, you will miss nothing.

#2 – The Chronology of Water. Add Yuknavitch’s book to the long list of failed book recommendations I’ve gotten from Lena Dunham’s somewhat useless newsletter, Lenny (or Lamey, as I used to call a misogynistic trust fund twit I shared an artist loft with years ago).

#3 & 4 – Pea Pickers (by Eve Langley) and her bio, The Importance of Being Eve Langley. Usually the Neglected Books site steers me well in choosing these obscure women authors, but nothing sat right with me about Eve and her conviction that she was Oscar Wilde reborn.

#5 – Book Thief. Sorry, Linnea, I couldn’t get past the first few pages and the stilted structure that tried its best to camouflage writing that clunked.

#6 – Buttered Side Down. I’m definitely over my Edna Ferber crush, I could barely eyeball her first book of short stories despite loving her later work.

#7 – These Low Grounds by Waters Turpin, who was the son of Ferber’s maid, Rebecca. There’s a reason that some books haven’t withstood history’s brutal forgetfulness.

#8 – Lesser Bourgeoisie, or the Middle Class by Balzac. Had a hard time finding a copy of this lesser known work which was rec’d via AndrĂ© Gide. My first exposure to Balzac, I’m hoping my ambivalence (I read 100 pages, then gave up) due more to the translation.



Art Povera & some rejected books

I’m at the library almost every day now for my infusion of books. Of the books I check out, I post maybe half of them here. Sometimes I struggle to get past the first sentence, sometimes the first fifty pages leaves me on the fence and I abandon it midway through. Never feel like you have to finish a book you’re not enjoying. Life is too short.

This post is an homage to the stack of books I just brought home. I read one (Art Povera), which I think was referenced by Harold Rosenberg, but it wasn’t on my spreadsheet used to track where I get recommendations/book ideas. The book itself is a great physical object– yellow hardcover with pink lines and black flourishes. It’s on loan from the Berkely Public Library through the Link+ system. Pub’d in 1969, it’s a collection of artists’ works and their thoughts, from Eva Hesse to Joseph Beuys and a dozen other men I’d never heard of. The best part of the book is the first page, “STATING THAT,” which outlines various things about the book “The book does not attempt to be objective since the awareness of objectivity is false consciousness” and “The book, when it reproduces the documentation of artistic work, refutes the linguistic mediation of photography,” etc.

Next, on the subject of Harold Rosenberg, I dug up a copy of his privately published poems, Trance Above The Streets. Only 50 copies were made, in 1942, and somehow I got my hands on the copy that the University of Nevada at Reno has. Poor Harold. To be honest, the poems stink. I admit I was kind of hoping for this, since his art criticism is so high and mighty, it’s nice to see how far they can fall when put upon to create in their own right. For a taste, I bring you his “Woman’s Song:”

It is his sound from afar
The music of the man
Bent over the trees
The violin of his name

Dew and rain
And the rhythm of snow
A blue thing of evening
Behind the towers comes

Joined to his sobbing
The wind of his rage
Oh where is the end of
The space of his will

Gross, huh? Other terrible lines like “in my head the/commonplace/disappears like porpoises/among the clouds,/between my lips/a cigar of oxygen.”

Three other books for the return pile:

  • Rebecca West’s Black Lamb & Grey Falcon. This is the second time I’ve checked it out thinking I needed to see what she was all about. Pass.
  • Queechy by Elizabeth Wetherell. Discovered via Louisa May Alcott, but definitely not in the mood. “Come, dear grandpa! –the old mare and the wagon are at the gate–all ready.” First line does not make me want more of this 19th century tale.
  • Ancilla’s Share: an indictment of sex antagonism. Despite the promising subject, the writing is just too dry dry dry.