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Reading thread - Page 31

post #451 of 798

Don't get all the Chabon hate. Really enjoyed all the Chabon I've read.

 

Fireflygrave - you'd like Junot Diaz, I reckon, I linked to a short story of his on Hara, check it out.

post #452 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by eluther View Post


I've only read The Satanic Verses, but Rushdie's writing is wonderful. I don't know if you're accusing him of being clever (and getting away with it), I don't get that feeling of artifice/contrivance that I associate with "clever" writers.

 

I reading Midnight's Children at the moment and the prose is so overly whimsical, fluid and contrived that I'm basically wanting to burn the fucking thing. It's getting in the way of following the pretty poor excuse for a narrative (which, at 150 pages in has been Grandad meets Gradmum, has kids, Mum has me - 150 pages and that's what I've fucking read).

post #453 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by LonerMatt View Post

Don't get all the Chabon hate. Really enjoyed all the Chabon I've read.

+1. I didn't find him particularly contrived or irritating and I really enjoyed the couple of books of his that I've read.

On the other hand, if someone does really want to read something contrived, where the author appears to be trying to show off and say, "Oh, look at me, I'm such a virtuoso", then have a look at Jonathan Safran Foer or Dave Eggers.

Both of them can write well, but I find that all too often, their work is filled with irritating, unnecessary flourishes and it really just makes me think of a teenager trying to be clever for the sake of being clever, rather than someone trying to write well.

Safran Foer's "Everything is Illuminated" and Eggers's "You Shall Know Our Velocity" were both like that. I both enjoyed them and was irritated by them, as they would have been so much better without the seemingly juvenile attempts at verbal virtuosity or clever little literary techniques. Some good editing was required in both cases.
post #454 of 798

100% agree on Everything is Illuminated.

post #455 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by eluther View Post

A lot of Nabokov's writing isn't about the writing at all, but intertextual work. "How art itself works." Subjective narration, analysis, the structure of stories, self-narration, etc. I look at a lot of his work like a puzzle – he litters in anagrams and really recondite allusions, so it seems like an inviting challenge.

Everyone has a different experience, but I certainly don't enjoy Nabokov for the beauty of the writing itself.

That's exactly what kind of pissed me off about Lolita - although I still enjoyed it - and pretty much ruined The Eye for me. I felt like Nabokov was winking at me the entire time and waiting for me to wink back and say "oh, I see what you did there" and tip my hat to his cleverness and allusions. I liked some other stuff of his I've read, like some of the short stories.
Quote:
Originally Posted by eluther View Post

I've only read The Satanic Verses, but Rushdie's writing is wonderful. I don't know if you're accusing him of being clever (and getting away with it), I don't get that feeling of artifice/contrivance that I associate with "clever" writers.

For me, a better example than Chabon (though he's just as guilty of it), is Umberto Eco. His semiological work is without flaw, but his prose is so needlessly ornate – almost to the point of being overcome with kitsch. He's obviously a brilliant thinker, but he's incapable of not lording it over the prose. For me, it was just eye roll after eye roll of convoluted over-feeling. It's like a series of strings of the whale quote from McCarthy. When you use them sparingly, it holds, but when that grandeur is a writer's M.O. it's tiresome.

The only Rushdie I've read is Midnight's Children, and I highly recommend it. If you didn't want to go to India before reading it, you will after you've finished it.

I don't disagree with what people are saying about Foer, but I thought Everything Is Illuminated is so good that it succeeds in spite of all of the unnecessary over-adornment. The only Eggers I've read is What Is the What, which steered clear of most of the issues I've heard tend to plague his writing. I thought Chabon's Kavalier and Klay had a fantastic start - the first few chapters would have made a ridiculously good novella - and had a nice ramp-up somewhere in the middle with the part in Antarctica or wherever (I read it a while ago and forget the specifics), but the other several hundred pages didn't keep pace with the couple of good parts.

I just started reading The Good Lord Bird. I'm not usually into historical fiction, but it paints a vivid enough picture of the time and place that I'm getting drawn into it in spite of the lack of developed characters.

Also, I fucking hated The Sound and the Fury. The best part of the book is that in an episode of The Venture Bros. one of the characters references the same passage from Macbeth as the title.
post #456 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by notwithit View Post

Also, I fucking hated The Sound and the Fury. The best part of the book is that in an episode of The Venture Bros. one of the characters references the same passage from Macbeth as the title.

:rotflmao:

 

Yeah, What is the What was pretty unpretentious.  I mostly liked Eggers because rather than being clever and wanting your return wink/hat tip he came across as self-consciously pretentious in a "I know you know I know I'm trying to be clever, so let's both enjoy how clever we are" way. That and the "I made so much money off this book that if you mail me a letter I'll send you some" made it seem like he was trying to build a rapport with the reader rather than show off.

 

If you want to give another historical fiction piece a shot and want to keep with the bird titles, The Painted Bird by Kosinski was absurd and entertaining and disgusting and sad and a whole bunch of other adjectives.

post #457 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by futuresailors View Post

rotflmao.gif

Yeah, What is the What was pretty unpretentious.  I mostly liked Eggers because rather than being clever and wanting your return wink/hat tip he came across as self-consciously pretentious in a "I know you know I know I'm trying to be clever, so let's both enjoy how clever we are" way. That and the "I made so much money off this book that if you mail me a letter I'll send you some" made it seem like he was trying to build a rapport with the reader rather than show off.

If you want to give another historical fiction piece a shot and want to keep with the bird titles, The Painted Bird by Kosinski was absurd and entertaining and disgusting and sad and a whole bunch of other adjectives.

Awesome, I love adjectives.
post #458 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by notwithit View Post

That's exactly what kind of pissed me off about Lolita - although I still enjoyed it - and pretty much ruined The Eye for me. I felt like Nabokov was winking at me the entire time and waiting for me to wink back and say "oh, I see what you did there" and tip my hat to his cleverness and allusions. I liked some other stuff of his I've read, like some of the short stories.

Interesting. My experience was entirely different. Yes, Nabokov does slip in a whole lot of allusions and verbal tricks, but to me, it was done in a very natural, unpretentious way. A lot of younger, modern authors try to imitate such things, I think, but their writing often ends up sounding very pretentious as a result. Whereas with Nabokov it was very natural, with people like Safran Foer it seemed like he was always saying, "Look at me, look at me, aren't I clever?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by notwithit View Post

I don't disagree with what people are saying about Foer, but I thought Everything Is Illuminated is so good that it succeeds in spite of all of the unnecessary over-adornment. The only Eggers I've read is What Is the What, which steered clear of most of the issues I've heard tend to plague his writing. I thought Chabon's Kavalier and Klay had a fantastic start - the first few chapters would have made a ridiculously good novella - and had a nice ramp-up somewhere in the middle with the part in Antarctica or wherever (I read it a while ago and forget the specifics), but the other several hundred pages didn't keep pace with the couple of good parts.

"Everything is Illuminated" was good, but I really disliked the conflation of the two stories - the "real" story on the one hand, and the "magical realism" story on the other hand. I understand that Safran Foer was writing meta-fiction and that it's very post-modern and all that, but for me at least, it really jarred and the magical realist part of the story just intruded into, and got in the way of, the other story. Also, the magical realist part of the story just felt really forced and overdone, unlike magical realism from someone like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example.

Quote:
Originally Posted by futuresailors View Post


If you want to give another historical fiction piece a shot and want to keep with the bird titles, The Painted Bird by Kosinski was absurd and entertaining and disgusting and sad and a whole bunch of other adjectives.

I was thinking of mentioning Kosinski, as I read all of his books while I was at uni. He was a very interesting and complex character, and while he represented "The Painted Bird" as historical/autobiographical when it was first published, there were later serious objections raised as to the authenticity of the story. It's still an enjoyable read, though, as are quite a few of his other books.

Probably his best-known book - which I found to be very enjoyable - is "Being There", which was made into a film with Peter Sellers, just before Sellers died in the early 1980s (I think).
post #459 of 798
I put down Everything is Illuminated after the first twenty pages, stuffed with fart jokes, clumsy narration, sit-com level humor, sit-com level stereotypes. I couldn't fault him, being so young (and also connected) but I always wondered what the appeal of that book was, other than a massive pre-market campaign and accolades that appeared to come from neutral journalistic sources, rather than friends of the family...
post #460 of 798
Quote:
Originally Posted by LonerMatt View Post

It's getting in the way of following the pretty poor excuse for a narrative (which, at 150 pages in has been Grandad meets Gradmum, has kids, Mum has me - 150 pages and that's what I've fucking read).

I wonder if it's Rushdie's attempt at creating a mythos for a magical realism plot? Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is pretty similar. Curious if you find the narrative of that equally as poor.

Seeing @notwithit's recommendation of the book, too, makes me want to pick it up.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Journeyman View Post

"Everything is Illuminated" was good, but I really disliked the conflation of the two stories... Also, the magical realist part of the story just felt really forced and overdone, unlike magical realism from someone like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example.

@noob I totally agree, but read the whole book.

I find Foer incredibly obnoxious. In interviews, as well, he's just so fucking precious and unacademic. He's the anti-Bukowski or something. Not that Bukowski's academic. And Foer's plots surrounding the Holocaust and 9/11 are just such cheap ploys overreaching for the sublime and falling into sentimentality. I do not feel that he's a writer who "honors the subject" – not that you should, mind you, but that seems to be what he's after.

I will say that Foer didn't strike me as *wink wink nudge nudge* as Eggers is. Eggers is arguably one of the worst and least capable of it. Nothing I've ever read of his was actually clever. Smarmy and navel-gazing, yes. But the what-he-tries-to-pass-as-cleverness is so puerilely conceived, it's nothing but obnoxious. Like a precocious 10-year-old showing off to a room of adults.

Also, I agree that Everything Is Illuminated's parallel magical realism felt tacked-on and unnecessary. Rushdie does it so aptly in The Satanic Verses, just to tie everything back in together. I've also never realized how many writers do the parallel magical thing: Rushdie, Foer, Murakami...I felt like there were two more but they fell from my mind as soon as I started typing.
post #461 of 798

Just in response to the general discussion about who is affected and/or irritating...

 

Chabon is wonderful, not just because his writing is so fluid but because he's totally at ease between genres and has no problem with being thought of a 'fantasy' or 'science fiction' writer as well as a mainstream one - The Yiddish Policemen's Union won several SF prizes as well as attracting mainstream critical praise. Jonathan Lethem is similar - they both grew up with comics and SF and it's mixed up in a lot of their work.

 

Eco can try too hard but I think he's actually underrated as a novelist. His last one, The Prague Cemetery managed to be very popular as well as being really rather daring in its subject matter - this is a novel about the shadowy man who supposedly wrote The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

 

Dave Eggers attracts a lot of criticism, some of which is simply annoyance at his ubiquity and some jealousy, I think. I mean the guy is almost too good to be true in terms of his support for other writers, for social issues etc. The problem is sometimes he seems to know it. However, at his best, he's a very strong, even important writer - What is the What is excellent, and The Circle is flawed but it's both readable and one of the first books to really get to grips with the politics of Google / Facebook / Apple in a fictional form. And McSweeney's continues to be a pretty significant force in publishing.

 

Rushdie is full of himself and I've not really enjoyed any of his books hugely. He can write though. There's passages in all of his novels you'd want to give to students as examples. But that's not really enough to carry the burden of entire books.

 

Finally, Foer is awful. Just dreadful. As a public person and a writer.

post #462 of 798

Agree entirely on that Rushdie comment.

 

I'm finding Midnight's Children just so disconnected from itself it's a real effort to give a shit about anything in the novel, though there are some gorgeous parts and passages.

post #463 of 798
It was 8ish years ago so I was probably less grumpy towards cleverness when I read Eggers but I found his breaking of the fourth wall and meta writing to be natural, like it's just the way he thinks/tells stories. There's a floppyness and honesty to when he says that people looking for concise storytelling should stop at page 72, or that all the stuff he described over the last 20 pages couldn't have happened in one afternoon so it must've been over the course of a whole summer. It doesn't come across as carefully planned and cerebral [especially the "addition" to You Shall Know Our Velocity! felt like something added much after the fact, a "here's another interesting way this story could be looked at, make of it what you will"], so I agree with futuresailors that it helps build a rapport.
post #464 of 798
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Edited by noob - 3/20/14 at 3:59am
post #465 of 798
So the other day I was able to locate some new Michael Cunningham tablature from his novel A Home At the End of the World. Playing it was a little difficult at first (his simplicity is actually quite complicated) but I seem to be improving with practice. Thought one of you guys might like a crack at it as well....

Any thoughts on MC? I'm not sure why I avoided him for so long; The Hours is quite literally perfect. And though I haven't finished another, I have been sucked in by random, extended passages every time I've plucked one of his books from the shelf. Even the audio version of Home, read in part by Dallas Roberts, looks amazing.





You guys?


Here's a snippet of the tab:

Michael Cunningham (Click to show)
Our seventh-grade class had been moved that September from scattered elementary schools to a single centralized junior high, a colossal blond brick building with its name suspended over its main entrance in three-foot aluminum letters spare and stern as my own deepest misgivings about the life conducted within. I had heard the rumors: four hours of homework a night, certain classes held entirely in French, razor fights in the bathrooms. It was childhood’s end.

The first day at lunch, a boy with dark hair hanging almost to his shoulders stood behind my friend Adam and me in the cafeteria line. The boy was ragged and wild-looking: an emanation from the dangerous heart of the school itself.

“Hey,” he said.

I could not be certain whether he was speaking to me, to Adam, or to someone else in the vicinity. His eyes, which were pink and watery, appeared to focus on something mildly surprising that hovered near our feet.

I nodded. It seemed a decent balance between my fear of looking snobbish and my dread of seeming overeager. I had made certain resolutions regarding a new life. Adam, a businesslike barrel-shaped boy I had known since second grade, dabbed at an invisible spot on his starched plaid shirt. He was the son of a taxidermist, and possessed a precocious mistrust of the unfamiliar.

We slowly advanced in the line, holding yellow plastic trays.

“Some joint, huh?” the boy said. “I mean, like, how long you guys in for?”

This was definitely addressed to us, though his gaze had not yet meandered up to address our eyes. Now I was justified in looking at him. He had a broad handsome face with a thin nose slightly cleft at the tip, and a jaw heavy enough to suggest Indian blood. There were aureoles of blond stubble at his lips and chin.

“Life,” I said.

He nodded contemplatively, as if I had said something ambiguous and thought-provoking.

A moment passed. Adam would have gotten through the conversation by feigning well-mannered deafness. I struggled to be cool. The silence caught and held—one of those amicable, protracted silences that open up in casual conversations with strangers and allow all members to return, unharmed, to the familiarity of their own lives. Adam visibly turned his attention toward the front of the line, as if something delightful and unprecedented was taking place there.

But then, forgetting my resolution, I fell into a habit from my old life, one of the personal deficiencies I had vowed to leave behind.

I started talking.

“I mean, this is it, don’t you think?” I said. “Up till now everything’s been sort of easy, I mean we were kids . I don’t know what school you came from, but at Fillmore we had recess, I mean we had snack periods, and now, well, there are guys here who could fit my head in the palm of their hand. I haven’t been to the bathroom yet, I hear there are eighth-graders waiting in there for seventh-graders to come in and if one does they pick him up by his feet and stick his head in the toilet. Did you hear that?”

Adam impatiently plucked a speck of lint from his collar. My ears heated up.

“Naw, man,” the stranger said after a moment. “I didn’t hear anything like that. I smoked a joint in the head before third period, and I didn’t have any problems.”

His voice carried no mocking undertone. By then we had reached the steam table, where a red-faced woman parceled out macaroni casserole with an ice-cream scoop.

“Well, maybe it’s not true,” I said. “But you know, this is a rough place. A kid was murdered here last year.”

Adam looked at me impatiently, as if I were a new stain that had somehow appeared on his shirtfront. I had abandoned my second resolution. I was not only babbling, I was starting to tell lies.

“Oh yeah?” the boy said. He appeared to find the assertion interesting but unexceptional. He wore a washed-out blue work shirt and a brown leather jacket that dribbled dirty fringe from its sleeves.

“Yeah,” I said. “A new kid, a seventh-grader. It was in all the papers. He was, well, sort of fat. And a little retarded. He carried a briefcase, and he kept his glasses on with one of those black elastic bands. Anyway, he showed up here and a whole gang of eighth-graders started teasing him. At first it was just, you know, regular teasing, and they would probably have gotten tired of it and left him alone if he’d been smart enough to keep his mouth shut. But he had a bad temper, this kid. And the more they teased him, the madder he got.”

We worked our way down the line, accumulating small bowls filled with corn kernels, waxed cartons of milk, and squares of pale yellow cake with yellow icing. We sat together without having formally decided to, simply because the story of the murdered boy wasn’t finished yet. I stretched it out over most of the lunch period. I omitted no detail of the gang’s escalating tortures—the stolen glasses, the cherry bomb dropped in the locker, the dead cat slipped into the victim’s briefcase—or of the hapless boy’s mounting, impotent rage. Adam alternated between listening to me and staring at the people sitting at other tables, with the unabashed directness of one who believes his own unimportance renders him invisible. We had finished our macaroni and corn and had started on our cake before the victim took his revenge, in the form of a wire stretched all but invisibly, at neck’s height, across the trail where the older boys rode their dirt bikes. We were through with our dessert by the time he botched the job—he had not secured the wire tightly enough to the tree trunks—and were on our way to our next classes before the police found him floating in the reservoir, his new glasses still held in place by their elastic band.

We walked together, we three, to Adam’s and my math class. He and I had planned to share as many classes as possible. I finished the story at the door.

“Hey, man,” the stranger said. He shook his head, and said nothing more.

“My name is Jonathan Glover,” I said.
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