Bad behavior

Collection of bad-ass short stories from the talented Mary Gaitskill. This collection houses Secretary, made famous by the movie of the same name starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. There’s more great stories of pain and love and humilation beyond that. Daisy’s Valentine was one that I remembered from reading this before– the bookstore employee who turns his back on his long term relationship and goes after Daisy who doesn’t like him because he likes her. Something Nice a story about a smart prostitute and the veterinarian who goes ga-ga for her, causing her to quit the brothel.
Gaitskill has serious skill in evoking specific images through words. I will now march on to devour the remainder of her canon.

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The Raw Shark Texts

This first novel from Steven Hall left me gasping for air, thrashing around in its words, willing myself to fight against the Ludovician shark that eats memories of its victims. Beautifully crafted in text and bookcover/”illustration”.
Eric Sanderson wakes up and realizes he knows nothing about where he is; he knows pop culture details but nothing in relation to himself. Following instructions written on an envelope, he ventures out to psychiatrist Dr. Randle’s house, where she tells him he has memory loss associated with a dissociative condition. Eric receives letters in the mail from his past self “Eric Sanderson #1” telling him how to set up a feedback loop that keeps him safe from the shark that ate his memories.
Months after living his safe existence, Eric ventures forth to find answers, searching for Dr. Trey Fidorous. Ian, the cat, joins him. Along the way he translates more of the LightBulb Fragment, the story of his vacation in Greece with girlfriend Clio, who drowned that trip, causing his trauma and subsequent memory loss. The smiley face on underside of toe from Clio matches new girl Scout’s tattoo. Mr. Nobody and his precious laptop. Scout leading him on an epic underground journey to find Fidorous. The last battle in the shark boat, strains of Jaws in the air “Ladies of Spain” and all.

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Willful Creatures

More Aimee bender gloriousness. Chock full of short stories about tiny people pets, pumpkinhead children with irons, boy with keys instead of fingers, the couple who plotted to murder their respective spouses on the same day, the beautiful Fruit&words story (Las Vegas, kiss like an old sock, breakup, mango obsession, words made out of solids, liquids, gases). I am a wholehearted Bender fan, especially after going on my Bender-bender where I read all of her books in almost one sitting.

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An invisible sign of my own

Delicious Bender writing, this time in novel form. Her chapters are delicate light butterfly wings, as she tells the story of Mona Grey, 19 year old math teacher who buys an ax for her 20th birthday. Mr. Smith the hardware store owner nee math teacher wears numbers around his neck signifying mood. Mona’s 2nd grade class and Numbers & Materials project, finding numbers in nature. The science teacher, washing mouth out with soap, physical reaction to the smell of soap, making soap bubbles with smoke inside. The greying of Mona’s dad. Lisa & her mom’s cancer. Numbers swirling everywhere. The emptiness of 51. Knocking, forever knocking, on wood.

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Girl In the Flammable Skirt

YES! YES! YES! another homerun hit by a fantastically talented writer of the female persuasion. Bender’s words were melting in my mouth, in my hand, all over my eyeballs. It was pure unadulterated joy in reading her dancing words.
SF Chronicle was equally pleased (this quote keeps popping up all over, so I have to include it):
“Once in awhile, a writer comes along who makes you grateful for the very existence of language…”
This a collection of short stories that left my knees weak, and made me pick up my typing hands to try my own whirl at it. The flammable skirt girl who dances too close to a candle, and whose skirt ignites, but thinks is it her dancing skills or the candle. Other stories are equally good but I cannot remember specifics now. Read this book.
Recommended by Andrea Seigel

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The Emperor’s Children

Bootie Tubb is a flabby, intellectual, college dropout who makes his way to NYC and is taken in by his uncle, the great Murray Thwaite (writer, opinion-maker extraordinaire). The glamorous life of the Thwaites is shared with Bootie, who develops a crush on his cousin Marina. Eventually Bootie moves out on his own into Marina’s friend Julius’ sublet apartment, and becomes slightly obsessed with exposing his uncle’s weaknesses. His life ends with a flash in the 9/11 disaster, then he picks up and moves to Miami, rebranding himself as Ulrich New.
This only a glimpse of the many characters within… there’s also Marina’s friend Danielle, hopelessly gone on Murray Thwaite; Julius & David and the biting incident. Ludovic Steely, Marina’s fiancee then husband whose magazine was set to explode onto the stage the week of 9/11/01, and which is shuttered after the event. Marina herself, and the book she eventually churns out– the Emperor’s Children Have No Clothes.
Overall, good writing and decent enough plot to keep me coming back for more until I finished it. Perhaps a bit on the beach-read side of reading, but that is all I can handle these days.

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Silence of the Grave

Redcurrant bushes at the decades-old crime scene start Inspector Erlendur on his quest to solve the mystery of the discovered skeleton in the foundation of a new house. Masterful weaving of various suspects (Benjamin, the old owner whose fiancee went missing once she found out she was pregnant; or the mother in the family on the hill whose husband savagely beat her), interspersed with mystery from the present-day (would Erlendur’s daughter recover from her miscarriage-incuded coma?). Clues dropped from the dying lips of a 90 year old man “Green lady, red currant bushes, later, crooked.” The glory days re-enacted with American soldier Dave, who rescued the beaten mother.
Whose skeleton was it? Simon? Tomas? Grimur? The Mother? The crippled sister? The missing fiancee?

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Book Slump

Been in a bit of a slump recently, checking books out of the library and paging through them halfheartedly. The slump was ended by my sister’s recommendation of an Icelandic mystery which I’m almost done with.
I’ve stranded these books lately:
* Shutting out the Sun: how Japan created its own lost generation
Stranded due to the repetitive nature of the book and my mood. Gasp, it’s awful there’s a whole slew (1M?) of Japanese who don’t fit into their regimented culture and stay at home locked in their rooms. Just don’t tell me this over & over & over without introducing something new into the work. Again, mostly my mood that dictated the stranding. I’m sure it’s a fine book.
* Rich Dad, Poor Dad: what the rich teach their kids about money
Ok ok ok, so real estate investing is the way to go. Got it. Don’t need to read a hundred pages on it.
*In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton
* Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States
Couldn’t even get myself to crack the covers. Wrong time, will revisit

The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer

Great collection of short stories detailing the round-the-world adventures of a twenty something traveler. From pearl-diving in Thursday Island to fish trading in the Maldives to shipping crates from Calcutta, Eric brings warms stories of his encounters with people he meets along the way. Some of the best stories are Life at the Grand Hotel and Cooking with Madame Zoya. Throughout the stories, there is a constant thread of his penis obsession (banana slugs’ 6-10 inch member, the Thursday Island handshake, helping out at Mother Theresa’s establishment in Calcutta).

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Like the Red Panda

Delicious Andrea Seigel writing– I just sped through her first book, trying to slow down and savor it, but it was too damn good, so it just pushed me to the end. Stella is orphaned at 11 when both her parents OD on coke within minutes of each other. Put into foster care with Simon & Shauna, she reconnects with her maybe-grandfather Donald (her grammy might have cheated on him and paternity was never certain), a crotchety old gent who doesn’t give her much, except the feeling of blood relation & belonging. Simon & Shauna the flat, bland, quiet types who give Stella a wide berth (Shauna even fearing Stella, calling her a wolf at the end). The only joyful connections she has with people are ex-boyfriend Daniel and new friend Ainsley. Stella’s on her way to Princeton at the end of the summer, but decides life isn’t worth living.
At the end, Donald & she go out together, quoting Seneca, “The wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can.”
This afternoon in drama are the opening words of the book, and also the title of Ms. Seigel’s kick-ass blog.
And now I’m ready for more.

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Leonard Woolf

Nothing matters. This was Leonard’s mantra, his guiding force during his early years. I’ve finally glimpsed behind the curtain to see the man who helped stabilize Virgina Woolf enough to write her genius gifts to literature. LW a force in his own right, part of the Bloomsbury set, Cambridge educated with the rest of the lot (Toby Stephens, Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, etc.), spending years in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a colonial administrator, then returning to London to pursue marriage with Virginia. VW accepts after having a few breakdowns, and thus their happy strange life begins. VW becomes hysterical when LW tries to consummate the marriage, thus their union is sexless (until VW gets involved with Vita Sackville-West). Years later LW announces at an editorial meeting “My wife was a lesbian.” After VW’s suicide, LW quickly latches onto Trekkie, a married woman who then spends the rest of her life shuttling between her husband and LW. I’m skimming over large bits of his life– his importance as an editor, VW encourager, Labor politician, village letter-writer.
The bio a bit too long for my tastes, but he did live a long and extremely productive life, so I won’t begrudge him the pages. This has my appetite whet for a re-read of The Waves, and finally to delve into Natania Rosenfeld’s book on the couple.

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The Ghost Map

I lost steam for reading this one mid-way through, but slogged on because I had so much pent-up anticipation for the book prior to getting it. He lost me as soon as he digressed into the whole “hunter-gatherer turned farmer changed the world” sacred-cow of modern history. The work is a look at the history of the cholera epidemic in London, how 2 amateur scientists proved the disease was water-borne instead of the widely held “miasma” theory of bad air. John Snow pinpointed the source of the breakout at the Broad Street pump, and created the “ghost map” of deaths from a birds eye view, with circles around neighborhoods to show which water pump was the most convenient.
One of the more graphic scenes was the description of Fanny Burney’s mastectomy sans anesthetic; to depict the tenor of the medical times & to show Snow’s pioneering work in ether studies.
Johnson also goes on a blah-de-blah lovefest of the 311 system in NYC, where the city learns from its citizens on the street who are reporting data, which if critical mass is reached, becomes a topic the mayor addresses.

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American Bloomsbury

I’ve always been drawn to the mystery of the genius cluster that thrived in Concord, MA in the 19th century, briefly considering it as a topic for a dissertation while I was still flirting with grad school at Georgia State. I had a great class on American literature there– exploring Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, and the rest. Was it something in the air, in the water, that drove such beautiful writing out of that area?
This book seems promising, until you’re 100 pages in and Cheever starts inserting her own thoughts and memories of Concord into the mix. It was refreshing to re-learn that the greats of American literature all lived in a small Massachusetts town together, Emerson funding the poverty of Thoreau, Alcott & others. Louisa May had a crush on both Thoreau & Emerson, Thoreau loved Emerson’s wife, Emerson & Hawthorne both lusted after Margaret Fuller.
Pretty flimsy stuff, this book. Good to whet the appetite and not much more. I am now inspired to re-read Little Women.

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