Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Found this a bit bland; the mother succumbs to morphine haze while her sons and husband get progressively drunker. Jamie, the oldest brother, admits to wishing ill of his brother, Edmund, who has consumption and is about to enter a sanatorium for 6 months. Tyrone, the tightwad father, always yammering about the value of a dollar. Mary, the mother, reminiscing about childhood days in the convent, dreaming of becoming a nun, then meeting Tyrone and falling in love, briefly. They all end up outside themselves, drunk on booze or morphine, not embracing the moment.
***
By way of Mark Eitzel’s LitQuake reading

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Cowboys Are My Weakness

Quick girlie read; slightly heaving chest & perfumed hankie, slightly good writing. The narrator (always a woman), reveals her taste for bad boys, cowboys, and at the end, an affair with a woman never consummated. It all seems superficial, looking back over the pages. Cheating men & empty promises & strong women who choose to be treated as such.
***
Mentioned by Sarah, not necessarily recommended.

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Diary

Bizarre tale, well written. My head is spinning, the dizzying tales of Misty & Peter who meet in art school, she not turned off by his pinning fake jewelry through his skin, a different hole every day to maximize the sensation. Waytansea Island is where Peter lures Misty, pregnant (after messing with all her birth control) and having to care for his mother Grace after his dad Harrow died (or did he?). Peter goes crazy one summer, walling up kitchens, linen closets, entire hotel rooms after scrawling graffiti on the walls. Misty & Angel uncover each message; Angel turns out to be Peter’s ex-lover, a man. Her daughter, Tabbi, fakes her death. Her mother-in-law confines her to bed, leg in cast, and sets her painting. Every 100 years a man from the island marries an artist, brings her to the island, where she paints and saves the island from outsiders. This was a quick read, but so much happens that to try and make sense of it post-finishing, my head swims. I’ll probably check out other Chuck P books now.
***
Andrea Siegel recommenation

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The Boys of My Youth

Yes, yes, yes. Another amazing book of short stories… I am gobbling these down like red hots, burning my tongue on the tales and reveling in the great writing. The sad tale of Bonanza, where Jo succumbs to the sadness of her grandmother’s stale life, realizing that they have empty, unenjoyable days with obligatory living. Cousins laden down with descriptions of country life with her cousin, from early age through marriage. The story of narrowly escaping a mass-murder by going home early, and dealing with the aftermath of having a shooting rampage take out your colleagues and friends. Driving out of Florida through Alabama, escaping the raving lunatic trying to push her off the road into an empty road to kill her, shaking with fear, anxiety, anger. Through these tales hearing snippets of divorce, the husband who cheated, wandered, grew bored. Stories of Elizabeth (“Liz”) and boys of their youth.
The only story I didn’t completely love was Coyotes, where the descriptions of the coyote in the wild fell a bit flat, I kept skipping ahead to read what was going on with Jo Ann & Eric at the campsite.
***
Another recommendation by Andrea Seigel

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The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club and other stories

Shudderingly good book of short stories. Each story is told from the 1st person perspective: the woman who lusts after the lawn boy and swallows him when they kiss (cum shooting from her mouth at the dinner table after he masturbates inside her!); the pudding that sits on the kitchen floor for a month as family tensions ebb and flow; the chef who falls for a girl and whose existence revolves around finding out her name; the woman whose lover falls to pieces: thumb falls off, hair in clumps, legs, until he is a pile of bones arranged on the bed and shouting at her new lover (through her?); the woman who grows teeth all over her body and who receives gold caps from her dentist affair; the man who saves Max the lobster from certain death by dining in the airport; the baby blanket that transports the man into a stupor of well-being and which he can’t escape even after weighting down and tossing into the lake. Each story well-written, engaging, different, all with various personal issues of trust and intimacy.
From the lobster story:
“I leaned against a cement pillar across the corridor and tried to read my paper. But I couldn’t stop looking over at Max. He looked so sad. I was startled by a hand on my arm. A short woman, twenty-five maybe, looked up at me. ‘You’re right about that lobster,’ she said. ‘It’s inhumane. I’m a vegan myself.’
“I nodded, then noticed her looking at my hand to see if I had a ring and clenched my jaw to keep from asking her if she wanted a cup of coffee, or for her phone number. I saw the satisfied smile of my therapist. ‘Getting involved with a woman at the airport. Perfect.’ he’d say, tapping his fingers on the teak coffee table that my twelve years of therapy helped to finance. ‘She’ll fly off and you’ll never see her again.’ The woman could tell by my polite smile, and the silent language that single people speak to one another, that we weren’t going anywhere. She said good luck and walked off with her Le Sportsac. Who knows? Maybe she was the one. Probably not.” (p 127)
***
Recommended by Andrea Seigel

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Guest Shot

Beach reading, the kind that works best after a few pina coladas and a game of horseshoes and it’s the last book in your pile to read. Gradually got more and more into it as the plot unfolded. I must register a complaint that the author didn’t reveal the jury’s verdict at the end. Just pick one, guilty or not. To leave it unfinished is… blech. Not the finest story or writing I’ve been exposed to recently, but it was definitely readable. Basic idea is that a Mystery Guest calls a talk show to announce that he’ll begin a killing spree and come on the show to talk about it afterwards. He begins to execute scum & criminals that would leave a guilty verdict in question (because he is cleaning up the world). A hot female NYPD detective, DZ, is on the case, who happens to fall in love with charming small-town Charlie. By the end, she’s preggers & they’re going camping. Yowza.
***
Recommended by the Max

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Everybody Into The Pool

Thirteen short glimpses into Lisick’s Northern California life, from her parents taking a hippie babysitter in, to wandering around the Mission district lugging her stuff from the sewage infiltrated loft in a shopping cart and pretending to be a narc so the annoying druggie left her alone. She lays her life out with an “oh I’m not really abnormal” attitude which ultimately means her stories are not abnormal either, just on the edge of tired. I wasn’t particularly enthralled by any of the writing or stories.
On meeting her husband Eli after his band played, he described one song as “It’s about how the meter maids let people park in the median on Sunday because they’re going to church, but if you park in the median and you’re not going to church, they give you a ticket.” This struck a timely chord with me, since I was just explaining this phenomenon a few days ago. Valencia street’s middle lane turns into legal parking on Sunday, but only if you’re church-bound.
Update: this morning thinking about another of her stories– how she secretly wished that when she was covering the nightlife for a local publication that she could condense all the events into one evening because going out every night sucks when you’re old. Her comment about wanting to arrive at a club midway through the band she wanted to hear definitely resonated. Missed out on Pere Ubu last night because Bottom of the Hill shows start too late for my old bones.
***
Recommended by various folks over the years, but it was Andrea Siegel’s reminder that put it on my list finally. My girl-crush is waning slightly.

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Exuberance

“The exuberant person, far from simply responding to the environment in which he finds himself, acts vigorously upon it or seeks out new ones. Whether through play, through exploration, or through engagements of the imagination, those who are exuberant act.” (p 99)
The section on the exuberance of love is equally quotable:
“Exuberant love is addictive; it excites and infects, and it sends those who experience it out on a quest for more of the same. It not only lures and binds, it teaches… awakens and refreshens. ‘The simple act of falling in love,’ said Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘is as beneficial as it is astonishing. It arrests the petrifying influence of years, disproves cold-blooded and cynical conclusions, and awakens dormant sensibilities.’ Love also vouchsafes a time of discovery– of play and expansiveness, of incrementally deepening intimacy– before a more permanent commitment to a partner has to be made…. Romantic love usually settles into a less passionate but more stable relationship.” (p 149)
Jamison points the spotlight on the neglected aspect of psychology, that of joy and exuberance, pointing out the passion of historical figures such as Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Richard Feynman. She covers the joy of music, discovery, instruction, creativity; she demonstrates the infectiousness of exuberance and its importance as a survival mechanism.

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To Feel Stuff

Still reading this, but I have much appreciation for Seigel’s writing style and character development. She’s another of those hot young writers that are so marketable, but she’s got the goods to back up the hype. Bravo, so far!
Favorite passage to date:
“I was shooting my heart at you like it was a spring-loaded snake from a fake peanut can.”
***
Still in the shock of finishing this within the last few minutes; so beautifully crafted that it was almost hard to breathe during the last pages trying to wrap it all up and comprehend. I am a huge fan and will be reading Seigel’s future and past work.
Elodie is a senior at Brown but has lived most of her college life in the infirmary contracting one disease after another (tuberculosis, fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s). Her story is told through 3 POVs– hers, Chess (the boy she falls in love with after his knees are cracked in a freak violent attack during an acapella concert) and Mark (her doctor, who spends a year diagnosing her before venturing into the paranormal). Elodie begins seeing apparitions in the infirmary she suspects are of past visitors, but that end up being future visions. Chess & Elodie have an incredibly close bond that falls apart as soon as Chess gets better and can venture outside again. Chess’ friend David makes a few appearances, one notably to proclaim his love for Chess. Elodie’s story comes via a Valentine’s letter to Chess, and then her POV drops out of the mix while Chess & Mark finish the story.

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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Sigh. I got swept up in the hype surrounding this book and at the end of the 500+ page journey have to admit lukewarm feelings for Pessl’s first book (which created a sudden burst of media around how attractive authors’ first books merit large advances).
Each chapter is titled after a famous work of literature, something calculated to lure me in to the work. After having read it, it seems more like an editorial ploy; the titles had little bearing on the actual chapters. The writing is definitely good, readable, mind-stretching at times. But it dragged on, a bit wordy.
Story outline: Blue Van Meer is a precocious smartie who travels the US with her professor father as he bops from lecture gig to lecture gig. She reads, a lot. Her senior year is spent in Stockton, NC, where she becomes involved with a clique called the Bluebloods (Jade, Milton, Nigel, Charles, Leulah) and their teacher/mentor/friend Hannah. Things start unravelling when a man named Smokey dies at Hannah’s costume party (drowned, ruled accidental). Hannah takes the kids camping, lures Blue into the woods, blurts some preposterous things then disappears and is found hung. Blue is found hours later, miles from the campsite, by a father/son out fishing for the weekend. The others are found a few days later, and blame Blue for Hannah’s death. Then begins Blue’s investigation, which leads her to the conclusion that Hannah, the man they stayed in Paris with, and her dad are all part of the Nightwatchmen, a radical group from the 70s. Her dad ends up abandoning her, but conveniently has a trust fund set up which she receives the account number to a few days after he leaves. Blue finally believes that her mother commited suicide when she discovered her husband was having an affair with Hannah, when Blue was in kindergarden.
Last chapter is incredibly hokey– a Final Exam with multiple choice questions about the characters within the story.

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Video Night in Kathmandu

Delicious travel writing by a traveler after my own style– bushwhacking his way through Asia, Pico Iyer relaxes with locals, tries to penetrate the walls of China and Japan which cordon “foreign” from the real experience, spends an inordinate amount of time quietly sitting and contemplating atop misty temples. He shuns the packaged tours that show visitors a sanitized, pre-approved version of the country, and haunts alleys, street vendors, train and bus stations looking for the real people and stories. A constant theme through the 10 countries he visits is the encroachment of the West on East, the everpresent American music, frenzied burst of fast food joints, common language of Hollywood cinema and bluejeans. Each country takes the West and intertwines it with its own culture, making baseball in Japan more orderly and militarized, making all external influences inherently Indian by accepting them without question, taking the bustle of New York into Hong Kong where life is work and nothing exists outside of work whereas in NY people work to live and have other cultural stimuli.
Great short travel essays on a list of countries that mirrors my own list of desired destinations: Bali, Tibet, Nepal, China, Phillipines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand and Japan.
****
Recommended by Mama R

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Litquake: Between the Bridges Gala

Ponied up $25 to attend this ho-hum event, which was more interesting in concept than execution. An evening of musicians inspired by literature, with readings and performances. I was excited to see Jay Farrar and Dan the Automator, but ended up enjoying Mark Eitzel the most. Lars Ulrich was an entertaining footnote, taking himself way too seriously, reading his dad’s Danish poetry and bragging that there were only 300 copies printed so if anyone in the audience wanted one, they’d have to check Ebay. Then he laughed, at us. Awesome. The second most annoying thing was Dave Eggers refusal to read anything (this is Litquake, c’mon!), but ceding his time and the stage to End of Suffering, the musician he met at the Oakland library a few weeks ago.
* Dan Hicks: read from Catcher in the Rye, sang the laughing song
* Samantha Stollenwerck: read from Randy Taguchi’s Outlet
* Chuck Prophet: Sang “Who put the bomp?”
* Jill Tracy: read from Lowlife, sang dark songs on the piano
* Mark Eitzel ready from Long Day’s Journey into Night
* Ray Manzarek (member of The Doors) rambled on for a bit, then played Riders on the Storm.
* Dan the Automator: Rainbow by DH Lawrence; “The rainbow is bowlegged, it cannot put its legs together.”
* Lars Ulrich: talked about how he was originally from Copenhagen, when came to US he just wanted to play tennis; pretended he was going to read from Kierkegaard’s Either/Or Part 2; instead he read poetry from his dad, Torben Ulrich, called Dice Inflections. Dice thru your nostrils. Improv on words for the remaining pages.
* Penelope Houston- Vita Sackville West (The Garden: Summer)
* Jay Farrar was a sad sight, slumping on stage and lacking confidence. I don’t remember what he read.