They're Only Words
Somewhere in his Introduction to The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby says, and I'm paraphrasing, life's too short to read a book you're not enjoying.
And in most circumstances, I'd agree. But I'm still on my finish-what-you-start kick, so I'll muddle through my latest selection.
In said preface, Hornby also says that when he took the Believer gig, he learned the one commandment of the magazine, Thou Shall Not Slag Anyone Off. This is a noble creed.
So I won't slag off (and what a lovely phrasal verb that is, perhaps I'll teach it tomorrow) the author of my latest literary undertaking. In fact, I won't even name the book (but you can email me if you really want to know, and if you've read it you'll have figured it out in no time).
I'm told it's beautifully written. I think it's overwritten. I keep seeing adverb on top of adjective on top of adverb, shifting points-of-view, paragraph after flowery paragraph of expository descriptions that show rather than tell, and a preponderance of 25-cent words like "fractious", "lugubriously", "maladroit", and "afresh".
I know, I know ... they're all wonderful words. It's a banquet of language in a fast-food world. Feh. I suppose it is the way many people speak on a regular basis, over pitchers of Pimm's and gin martinis whilst making pithy comments about what they've just read in today's Daily Mail.
The other thing that's bugging me is that the chapters bounce back and forth in time from modern-day to about thirty years ago. Normally, this is a structure I have no bones with. But it's painfully obvious that the families in the two time frames are one and the same, and for some reason (which is clearly linked to the double-secret 'terrible event' mentioned in the blurb) the protagonist has a different name depending on if he's a precocious 10-year-old mama's boy or a pretentious 40-year-old brother-in-law-shagging adult.
I wonder if anybody reading the book has had an omygod I never imagined! moment when this twist is revealed (which I hope is soon, but I'm only a third of the way through it).
So I'll keep reading. And I'll hope that I find some affection for (or even an interest in) at least one of the characters. And I'll keep thinking what I might have done differently. And I'll keep wondering why this author made these particular choices to tell his story. And I'll keep remembering that taste is subjective, and the tent is plenty big for those whose write like Anne Tyler, Raymond Carver and Tom Perrotta as well as those whose writing, well, in keeping with the Believer's motto, "tends to be admired by critics more than book-buyers."* That said, I reckon author sells fairly well over here.
But hey, it's not all bad, this new non-ADD book club that I've put myself into. I absolutely loved American Gods, which was a big surprise as it's not a genre (sci-fi/fantasy/modern myth) that I normally dive into.
The other good thing about my new set of rules is that I have to finish the new one within two weeks, and I really don't think I want to spend that long with this family, so it'll be over in short order.
What are y'all reading? Any suggestions for my next one?
* Also from the Introduction to Hornby's TCPS.
May 27, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #82
He reckoned it might be time to make a change after getting emotionally involved with Lydia from Lincolnshire.
National Treasure Noel Edmonds had just revealed whether her box contained 50 pence or 50,000 pounds when the phone interrupted.
“Hello?” He sniffed.
“Hey you. Catching a cold?”
“I’m f-fine,” he said, blowing his nose.
“Are you … crying?”
Maybe, a little. No, nothing’s wrong. He’d really gotten to know Lydia the past couple weeks. Such a lovely woman (three grandkids, one deaf). Husband died in a parachuting accident. So happy she hadn’t dealt at £17,500. He’d miss her.
No, he hadn’t quit the Effexor. No, he hadn’t been drinking (well, not gin — maybe just a tipple of the stew’s Cabernet). Yes, he’d called the headhunters.
“Let’s be clear,” she said that night, over a steaming bowl of Bourguignon (which, honestly, was tastier than anything she’d ever made). “You stared at that idiot box, plucking through boxes of tissues, because you actually care about twenty-two people and their cardboard boxes?”
“Only twenty-one. That Simon from Stoke Newington’s ghastly. ” He had a sneer like their daughter’s ex-husband.
Turns out, his wife reckoned it was time to make a change.
:: :: ::
May 26, 2008
In years gone by, our Memorial Day weekend was usually spent at our place in Provincetown, a gray, cold, drizzly invitation to summer.
So here I am in London, on a gray, cold, drizzly afternoon wishing we were somewhere warm and inviting, welcoming in the summer.
It's been a lovely long weekend, despite the lack of fun in the sun. Eurovision at a suburban sleepover on Saturday was a riot. Last night we had our third (and best ever) visit with Liza. She's lost 44 pounds on Jenny Craig and put on a much better show than the last two times we've seen her. Funny, touching, sparkling (bedazzled headbands are back!) and she can still hit (most of) her notes.
Today we went to the multiplex to see Indiana Jones and the Death of a Franchise. Really, Mssrs Speilburg and Lucas — that was the best you could do? I don't think there needs to be another one, but if you decided to do it, maybe you should put Liza in it.
So, it was a weekend of camp gaiety in less than ideal weather. Lesson learned — a bank holiday in London isnt' that much different from Memorial Day on Cape Cod. The selling point is we're not sitting in the car heading back to Manhattan on an overly congested I-95 through the never-ending state of Connecticut.
Of course, with gas over 4 bucks a gallon, I wonder how crowded I-95 really was this weekend?
May 21, 2008
I'm Your Multi-Cultural Sponge
Last night was Eurovision.
Tonight is a bit of home-cooked curried fried chicken while watching the Chelsea / Man U game in Russia.
More Eurovision tomorrow, unless I go to (gasp) Croyden to support Miss Coco Peru for the second time in a week (saw her on Sunday in Brighton).
If I were any more international, I'd be heading up the U.N.
May 20, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #81
Everyone said face your fear.
So he tried.
Clinging to ladders, one rung at a time. Inching toward balcony edges, flesh-covered vise-grips shaking hands with guardrails. Occasionally sitting by windows on unavoidable business flights.
Listening to tapes. Hoping post-hypnotic suggestions would nest inside his subconscious, that neuro-linguistic programming could shrink mountains into molehills.
Marcelle swore skydiving worked for her. “You’re strapped to someone whose job is not to die. Why would he let anything happen?”
On his fortieth birthday, he took the plunge.
The lesson was exhilarating. His trainer was gentle, strong, and stunning. Who wouldn’t want to be strapped to Jedidiah?
The plane ascending, adrenaline coursing in his veins like F1s racing through Monaco.
Three, two, one … a push. The bracing air. Deafening white noise whipping across his perma-grin, blue skies welcoming him into flight.
Unimaginable freedom. Free-falling longer than expected. Time standing still.
Anticipating the jolt of the chute, springing him back into the clouds.
Jedidiah dancing behind him, grabbing at rip cords that opened nothing. Hearing a distinctly unmasculine “mother fuck.”
Learning he was never actually afraid of heights.
Warm piss flooding over his thighs, realizing his one true terror.
:: :: ::
May 19, 2008
I'm Still Here
So there I was a couple weeks ago, worrying about not having enough hours at school and enjoying my free afternoons and/or mornings to settle into the new place and work on the SMART goals that I'd set for myself in my writing workshop:
Write 500 words of new fiction a day. That doesn't include blogging, journaling, emails, and letters to the producers of Fox News expressing my distaste for over-botoxed, over-bleached, condescending
sorority girlsfemale anchors.
Read at least one novel every two weeks. I'd been reading tons of short stories of late, and I knew that if I got into the MA program, the reading list would be fairly heavy; along the lines of a novel a week for the first two terms (twenty weeks). Being a charter member of the ADD book club, I tend to have 4-5 books going on at one time and if they don't thrill me, they don't get finished. In training for school, it's now about finishing what I start (even if I don't like it) and plowing through.
Two new stories submitted, one by the end of June and one by the end of August.
And so, except for the not working part, all was going fairly well.
And then I got accepted into the MA program. Yay me!
And then I happened to mention that to one of the bosses at school and said I'll be needing to work this summer to make money for grad school.
And then I got my new timetable. I'm teaching from 9.00-12.00, 12.15-1.15, and 1.30-4.30. That's actual classroom time, not counting prep, photocopying, paperwork, etc.
And then I stopped blogging.
And then I started getting emails from concerned friends/readers/bill collectors.
All is well, I'm just a little tired. As for my goals, I've done really well on the reading (have finished Anne Tyler's A Patchwork Planet and Evelyn Waugh's Scoop and just started Neil Gaiman's American Gods). The writing was stellar up until the middle of last week, when I sort of crashed.
I know that scribbling is important, but sometimes one just has to retreat into House and Life on Mars. Especially when one is starting to feel at home in the new digs (it took a while, but it really is getting comfortable here.)
But crashing is only temporary and I'm rebooting myself back into the game. Thanks to those of you who emailed asking if I'd died. Apparently my lack of response did nothing to alleviate your fears, as Larry's received a small surge of sympathy cards and floral arrangements regarding my alleged demise.
Not that he's noticed, poor thing is playing one-man water polo in the deep end of the new job. But at least he's getting little recognition. Check out page 10 of the Wealth Bulletin in today's Wall Street Journal. A quote and everything! We're all very proud.
And P.S. to whoever sent the 'congratulations, he's finally gone' note ... that was well out of order.
May 6, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #80
My new manny gig is great. The boys were a handful at first, but boundary testing’s to be expected. Especially with 8-year-olds whose penchant for storytelling has caused parental distrust.
The after-school crew were on great form last Thursday, tossing frisbee and playing tag. I reckoned the boys’ popularity came from a combination of their Texas accents and the novelty of being identical twins.
I was chatting with the Connaught Square pram squad — the usual mixture of moms, nannies, and multi-cultural munchkins. The VIPs had moved in several months ago, so nobody gave a second thought to heightened security. Then Travis (or maybe Tyler … that mole on Ty’s neck is the only way to distinguish them) offended one of the Muslim girls. Shouting, shoving, and tears ensued.
Not being able to get a straight answer during their time-out, I pointed to Chez Blair’s machine gun toters.
“Know what they do?”
They looked at each other then shook their heads.
“They shoot mean boys. That horrible looking one on the left? His son’s in Iraq. He blames your President.” A salute to my Met buddies was dutifully returned. “You want to make them mad?”
:: :: ::
May 5, 2008
Balancing the Junk
Larry wanted to go for a run today, so I decided to join him. We're a good balance on the running thing, especially on longer runs. I usually push him a little further than he'd normally go and he usually slows me down just enough so I don't over-do and enjoy the workout. And, since he's gonna be away on business all week, so it's good to catch some together time when you can.
However, today wasn't about the long run, just a get-out-and-exercise day. No particular goals in mind, neither distance nor time.
I guess that's what those who live in runner world call junk miles. So I set the iPod Nike+ gadget to basic (because the Virgo in me needs to record the junk as well as the goal-oriented workouts — miles are miles are miles) and off we ran.
I did not realize our new place was within such easy access of the canal (and you can just stop with the "he said easy-access-canal" sniggering). It's literally less than a ten-minute walk north. Nor did I realize that today was the canal cavalcade, which was in fact a charming festival, but not very conducive to running.
But we weren't in it for speed, so there's nothing wrong with a little walking, right?
After the crowds thinned out, we made it up to Ladbrook Grove and then jogged around till we hit Portobello Road, where we ended up having a lovely stroll. We turned onto Westbourne Grove, where we found three new restaurants (Taqueria, Bloody French, and Harlem) we want to try. And bonus — we didn't realize there was a branch of Bodean's (it's London, everything's a chain) in that neighborhood as well.
So yeah, we went slowly. Just under five miles in about an hour and a quarter.
And despite it being a quote-unquote junk run, we had a perfectly delightful afternoon.
So what's your point, Bob?
My point is simple — on the one hand, little goals are good. But, once again, having no expectations led to a surprisingly enjoyable time. And now that we're running again, we can afford to eat all that non-healthy food we found.
It's all about the balance.
May 3, 2008
Ah, Comedy Leadership
People seems to be all upset we have a new cartoon mayor named Boris. I can't wait for Natasha to show up. And just think ... I might be able to marry a dog soon.
Yeah yeah yeah, change is good. But this is kind of a joke, right?
All will be fine, I reckon. After all, I come from a country where a buffoon has been president for the past eight years and, if the Democrats don't consolidate their feces, will be led by an animatronic passed-his-sell-date chipmunk.
And then there's my hometown, a city where Jerry Springer was mayor. But that was before he was Jerry Springer — just some bloke who got busted for using prostitutes because he paid them with personal checks. 'Cause you know, if you're going to do something illegal, you might as well leave a paper trail.
Oh, wait. He did that before he was mayor and Cincinnatians elected him anyway.
Voters are smart.
Now then, where did I put those dog biscuits.