Friday, August 14, 2009

I managed to come down with a nasty cold at the beginning of August and as soon as I started feeling fully functional my cat managed to hurt the feline equivalent of his wrist. Which sucks for numerous reasons, including the fact that I had to cancel a trip to the Adirondacks with my father to take care of his pathetic, barely-upright self. And as if that weren't enough to deal with, my mother has been in town. Which is fantastic, actually, because I love seeing my mother, but has also contributed to my feeling like I have a lot on my plate. On the bright side though, I'm more caught up at work than I've been in at least a year. Our summer interns? They are fabulous.

So while I haven't been doing much that's interesting to blog about here in the dog days of summer, I have been reading.

The -Ookies are counting down to hockey with fabulous pictures that make me wish that my camera wasn't broken. And that it was better. And that I could take such nice pictures. And that I had jars of chocolate chips.

The Millions tackled Malcolm Gladwell's (shabby) stab at literary criticism. The main problem, as I see it, is that Gladwell doesn't really seem to appreciate the difference between the kind of fun cultural criticism he normally does and writing about literature. He tackles the two things the same way and treats the characters as if they're real historical people, the novel as if it's artless. And his conclusion is particularly egregious: "A book that we thought instructed us about the world tells us, instead, about the limitations of Jim Crow liberalism in Maycomb, Alabama." Even if we accept the idea that To Kill a Mockingbird "instruct[s] us about the world" in a way that's different than the way that all great literature and art does so--a conclusion I'm not particularly inclined to agree with--we're still left with the fact that telling us about the limits of Jim Crow liberalism in a particular place in time is instructing us about the world. Not the way we're instructed by a history class though--the way we're instructed by a novel: through thoughtful reading and fierce attention.

I'm not fussed about Gia Kourlas saying bad things about the program Tulsa Ballet performed at the Joyce. I didn't see it so I'm not in the position to agree or disagree with her, but if she didn't like it she didn't like it and should say so. But I do wish she hadn't started her review with a somewhat condescending paragraph that begins by saying, "State government doesn’t normally shut down for ballet, but you wouldn’t have believed it judging by the dignitaries who spilled into the Joyce Theater on Monday night," and finishes up by claiming, "It was surreal—the whoops that erupted as the curtain was raised were a bit much—but it was also sweet to see such hometown pride." It just feels to me like she's looking down her nose at the Oklahomans. Of course small cities are proud of their cultural institutions. Of course they're going to come and support said institutions when they perform in a cultural capital like New York. It's a big fucking deal when it's something they only do once every few decades instead of all the time. I can't say I'm at all surprised that Oklahoma bigwigs came. And as for the whooping at the curtain raising . . . yeah, that doesn't surprise me either. People tend to be a bit more vocally enthusiastic outside New York. It doesn't mean they need to be portrayed like they just might be overexcited yokels.

I just read most of Love Begins in Winter. Then it became the first book in quite some time that I actively chose not to finish. Van Booy's writing is full of lovely lines and scenes, moments of genuine beauty, but they seem to come without real regard for the stories themselves. This one for example: "In the far distance, Sunday parked over the village like an old mute who hid his face in the hanging thick of clouds." I don't even know what that means. That it was quiet and foggy? That the author is trying rather too hard on the evocative imagery front? That he thought up that line and had to get it in there no matter what? Some combination?

My big issue though, is that there's so much that just doesn't feel true to me. The story that really killed me though is one that contains a scene wherein the protagonist and her boyfriend go on a trip to the Adirondacks. They hike nine miles “up into the white breath of the mountain” go off trail to a river with a large and flat enough rock for them to make love on, which isn’t soaked although it’s just been raining because “it’s amazing how quickly the sun dries the earth after it has been washed.” Now having spent some time in the Adirondacks I find it hard to believe that if it's just been raining you're going to be amazed at how quickly the sun dries things. Or that you'll feel like said rain has cleaned anything. Because you'll be hiking in mud. And if you've been hiking up for nine miles you are a) on a hell of a long day hike and b) probably not near any rivers large enough to contain a rock that sizable and flat. It doesn't seem real; it feels like Van Booy just wanted the scene. Particularly because while they've been busy having sex and taking a nap, their champagne glasses have rolled off into a rock pool where they stand upright. There, we are told, “Each glass held the weight of an entire river without knowing where it came from and how much was left.” Say what? That sounds nice and serious and all but it doesn't mean much of anything, which is pretty much how I felt about so much in this story collection.


Pookie said...

First of all, I'm so sorry about Pyramus! That poor guy's had a rough go of it. I hope he's better soon!

Secondly, jars of chocolate chips are beautiful, beautiful things. Hee!

Thirdly, I love reading your reviews of books where the author clearly thinks they're the bombdiggety when really they're writing nonsense! :D

Meg said...

I hope he's better soon too...cats are supposed to be low maintenance (at least in my imaginary world).

And I'm in a bit of a reading rut this summer so I kind of hate most authors at the moment but ooh did this particular book irritate me!