Quotables: Chuck Palahniuk

"Just remember, the same as a spectacular Vogue magazine, remember that no matter how close you follow the jumps: Continued on page whatever. No matter how careful you are, there's going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn't experience it all. There's that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should've been paying attention. Well, get used to that feeling. That's how your whole life will feel some day. This is all practice. None of this matters. We're just warming up."


Books I Want for Christmas

It's that wonderful time of year when I can make a Christmas list of things I want. Of course, the list always includes books and here are some of them:

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. From Publisher's Weekly: Starred Review. Three disparatecharacters and their oddly interlocking lives propel this intricate novel about lost souls and hidden identities from National Book Award–finalist Chaon (You Remind Me of Me). Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who's been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed theirmother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle. Chaon deftly intertwines a trio of story lines, showcasing his characters' individuality by threading subtle connections between and among them with effortless finesse, all the while invoking the complexities of what's real and what's fake with mesmerizing brilliance. This novel's structure echoes that of his well-received debut—also a book of threes—even as it bests that book's elegant prose, haunting plot and knockout literary excellence. (A New York Time's Notable Book of 2009.)

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. From Publisher's Weekly: Swedish author Holmqvist's unconvincing debut, part of a wave of dystopias hitting this summer, is set in a near future where men and women deemed dispensable—those unattached, childless, employed in nonessential professions—are checked into reserve bank units for biological material and become organ donors and subjects of pharmaceutical and psychological experiments. When Dorrit Weger, who has lived her adult life isolated and on the brink of poverty, is admitted to the unit, she finds, to her surprise, comfort, friendship and love. Though the residents are under constant surveillance, their accommodations are luxurious, and in their shared plight they develop an intimacy rarely enjoyed in the outside world. But an unlikely development forces Dorrit to confront unexpected choices. Unfortunately, Holmqvist fails to fully sell the future she posits, and Dorrit's underdeveloped voice doesn't do much to convey the direness of her situation. Holmqvist's exploration of female desire, human need and the purpose of life has its moments, but the novel suffers in comparison with similar novels such as The Handmaid's Tale and Never Let Me Go.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. From Publisher's Weekly: Starred Review. Munro's latest collection is satisfyingly true to form and demonstrates why she continues to garner laurels (such as this year's Man Booker International Prize). Through carefully crafted situations, Munro breathes arresting life into her characters, their relationships and their traumas. In Wenlock Edge, a college student in London, Ontario, acquires a curious roommate in Nina, who tricks the narrator into a revealing dinner date with Nina's paramour, the significantly older Mr. Purvis. Child's Play, a dark story about children's capacity for cruelty and the longevity of their secrets, introduces two summer camp friends, Marlene and Charlene, who form a pact against the slightly disturbing Verna, whose family used to share Marlene's duplex. The title, and final, story, the collection's longest and most ambitious, takes the reader to 19th-century Europe to meet Sophia Kovalevski, a talented mathematician and novelist who grapples with the politics of the age and the consequences of success. While this story lacks some of the effortlessness found in Munro's finest work, the collection delivers what she's renowned for: poignancy, flesh and blood characters and a style nothing short of elegant. (Another New York Times Notable Book of 2009.)

Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. From Publisher's Weekly: The author of last year's NBCC-winning The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, has collected 18 essays about her relationships with books, reading, writing and words. Gathered from the "Common Reader" column Fadiman wrote for Civilization magazine, these essays are all inspired by interesting ideas?how spouses merge their large libraries, the peculiar pleasures of reading mail-order catalogues, the joys of reading aloud, how people inscribe their books and why. Unfortunately, some of these fascinating ideas grow fussy. The minutiae of the shelving arrangements at the Fadiman household brings the reader to agree with the author's husband, who "seriously contemplated divorce" when she begged him to keep Shakespeare's plays in chronological order. The aggressive verbal games waged in Fadiman's (as in Clifton) family are similarly trying: They watched G.E. College Bowl, almost always beating the TV contestants; they compete to see who can find the most typos on restaurant menus; and adore obscure words such as "goetic" (pertaining to witchcraft). At least the author is self-aware: "I know what you may be thinking. What an obnoxious family! What a bunch of captious, carping, pettifogging little busybodies!" Well, yes, but Fadiman's writing, particularly in her briefer essays, is lively and sparkling with earthy little surprises: William Kunstler enjoyed writing (bad) sonnets, John Hersey plagiarized from Fadiman's mother. Books are madeleines for Fadiman, and like those pastries, these essays are best when just nibbled one or two at a time.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. From Publisher's Weekly: Starred Review. What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it.


Yet Another Reason To Love Audrey Niffenegger

As I was tooling around on Audrey Niffeneffer's site earlier today I found this little treasure of a response to a reader hoping to find e-book versions of her work:

I am not opposed to the existence of e-books; I know lots of people are wildly enthusiastic about them. But I have spent my life working with books as an art form and I am devoted to physical books. E-books in their current incarnations are still imperfect and they threaten the arts of book design and typography. As a book conservator I am also nervous about the digitization of books: will they be readable one hundred years from now? Or will thousands of books simply vanish as platforms and programs change?

E-books have certain advantages (they are searchable) and disadvantages (they are not beautiful objects in themselves and don’t display images very well). I’m sure they will improve over time, though. I don’t know when or if my books will become e-books. Writing me hostile e-mail about this will not hasten my desire.

Thank you, Audrey! I couldn't agree more. And, even more exciting news, she has started to work on her third novel, entitled The Chinchilla Girl in Exile. I was also informed that "The Night Bookmobile," a story published in weekly installments in The Guardian, will be published as a graphic novel in 2010. If you haven't read this story you can read the first part for free online and will probably want to buy the rest. It's widely creative and appealing to any book lover.


Do We Ever Say What We Mean?

Christopher Silas Neal

I was catching up on my Modern Love over the weekend and stumbled across “Even in English, a Language Gap”.

The author, Jennifer Percy, states, “Euphemisms, politeness, suggestiveness, sarcasm, irony and passive-aggressive gestures — all risk being lost in translation. In my writing class, I teach my students about subtext. I tell them people alter their conversations depending on whom they wish to address. I tell them people rarely say what they mean, that we are constantly revising our words, that the movement from thought to word is often transformative and strange.”

This statement got me thinking; in relationships, and in life, how often do we say exactly what we mean? How much of our speech is spoken in euphemisms or dysphemisms to avoid or create conflict?

As we are approaching the New Year I have been considering resolutions. Perhaps my resolution will be to speak more candidly in hopes of making my life a little simpler. Rather than relying on others to decipher my subtext I can articulate exactly what I mean when I mean it. As far as resolutions go, this is a lofty one. I can’t exactly measure every statement that comes out of my mouth as being “exactly what I mean”. But, I feel like a step toward that direction will due.

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes, “Be who you are say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. That basically sums it up. Speaking candidly, I think it’s something many of us aspire to do but few of us actually pull off.


Quotables: Roy Blount Jr.

Awhile ago I picked up the book Alphabet Juice and I am having a ton of fun with it - mostly because I'm a nerd.

This book is unique and I am going to let the inside cover do the talking: Did you know that both mammal and matter derive from baby talk? Have you noticed how wince makes you wince? Ever wonder why so many h-words have to do with breath?

Roy Blount Jr. certainly has, and after 40 years of making a living using words in every medium, print or electronic, (author of over 30 books) except greeting cards, he still can't get over his ABC's. In Alphabet Juice, he celebrates the electricity, the juju, the sonic and kinetic energies, of letters and their combinations. 

As I mentioned, I am having a ton of fun with this book. It consists of entries that resemble a dictionary but rather than definitions, Blount provides us with a humorous and intellectual take on what makes words so scrumptious.  And, of course, the book is filled with words involving usage and grammar. 

Here are two of my favorites so far:


Is heard more and more often in conversation as truth gets more and more relative, whether we like it or not. We need a good solid thumping way of saying yes when, as Alessandra Stanley puts it in The New York Time's, "practically every... drama in prime time is a spooky mystery in which things are never as they seem and nobody can be trusted". Cf. amen


AHD says this is perhaps from the Old English grynde, meaning "abyss" or "hallow," influenced by loin. WIII agrees on grynde (related to ground) but says the oin influence is from the British-dialect groin (related to grunt) meaning "the nose and sometimes the upper lip of an animal (as a swine)."

   (Omigod, I just discovered where oink comes from.)
   If you ask me, groin is a portmanteau of grind, as in bump and grind, and loin.

I also enjoyed Blount's take on Google but the entry is three pages long and in my book, that surpasses a quotable. 

You can read the introduction of Alphabet Juice, courtesy of The New York Times and a review that actually does the book justice, via The Washington Post


Book Worth Reading: Her Fearful Symmetry

She said, "I know what it's like to be dead.
I know what it is like to be sad."
And she's making me feel like I've never been born.

-The Beatles

While I am partial to Audrey Niffenegger, I am still going to insist that you read Her Fearful Symmetry – Niffenegger’s second novel following The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Her newest novel isn’t exactly a departure from the themes that filled TTTW – namely love that transcends time and place - but Her Fearful Symmetry is most definitely darker than her debut novel and is read as a Gothic Romance. Page by page this novel becomes more eerie and bizarre, but still contains descriptions of romance and love that only Niffengger can employ.
He panicked: How will I remember everything about Elspeth? Now he was full of her smells, her voice, the hesitation on the telephone before she said his name, the way she moved when he made love to her, her delight in impossibly high-heeled shoes, her sensuous manner when handling old books and her lack of sentiment when she sold them. At this moment he knew everything he would ever know of Elspeth, and he urgently needed to stop time so that nothing could escape.

While this novel stands ahead of many others published this year, it won’t be a hit of The Time Traveler’s Wife proportions, nor, in my opinion, should it be. However, Niffenegger had a lot to live up to after her debut and I think she yet again managed to offer an original love story written in beautiful prose.
With that being said, let’s pretend I don’t LOVE Audrey Niffenegger and have an unbais opinion. I would probably mention the ending is given away 50 pages before it actually happens because the conclusion is so painfully obvious after the second it’s alluded to. I may also critique a few of the main characters underdevelopment and suggest the most memorable character was the obsessive compulsive crossword puzzle writer who wasn’t even essential to the plot.
But, I do love Audrey, so read it.


Quotables: J. M. Coetzee

The first time I read J.M. Coetzee was in my British Lit (1800-present) class. I also remember my tall, dark and handsome professor who taught it. This was also same professor who introduced me to The Moonstone (one of my favorites) in a three-week summer seminar. I’m still disappointed to this day he was married.

Anyhow, I came across Coetzee’s Summertime a few months back and finally picked it up. Immediately after finishing the first chapter it all came back to me why I liked Coetzee so much in the first place (surprisingly enough, it wasn’t because my gorgeous professor had a way of making me fall in love with every piece of literature he taught) and am making it a personal vow to read more of his work.

In this novel-cum-memoir Coetzee describes his earlier self; a “child” in his mid-thirties caring for his father, working on a novel and struggling to become a professor:

The house across the street has new owners, a couple of more or less his own age with young children and a BMW. He pays no attention to them until one day there is a knock at the door. “Hello, I’m David Truscott, your new neighbor. I’ve locked myself out. Could I use your telephone?” And then, as an afterthought: “Don’t I know you?”

Recognition dawns. They do indeed know each other. In 1952 David Truscott and he were in the same class, Standard Six, at St. Joseph’s College. He and David Truscott might have progressed side by side through the rest of high school but for the fact that David failed Standard Six and had to be kept behind. It was not hard to see why he failed: in Standard Six came algebra, and about algebra David could not grasp the first thing, the first thing being that x, y, and z were there to liberate one from the tedium of arithmetic. In Latin too, David never quite got the hang of things—of the subjunctive, for example. Even at so early an age it seemed to him clear that David would be better off out of school, away from Latin and algebra, in the real world, counting banknotes in a bank or selling shoes.

But despite being regularly flogged for not grasping things—floggings that he accepted philosophically, though now and again his glasses would cloud with tears—David Truscott persisted in his schooling, pushed no doubt from behind by his parents. Somehow or other he struggled through Standard Six and then Standard Seven and so on to Standard Ten; and now here he is, twenty years later, neat and bright and prosperous and, it emerges, so preoccupied with matters of business that when he set off for the office in the morning he forgot his house key and—since his wife has taken the children to a party—can’t get into the family home.

“And what is your line of business?” he inquires of David, more than curious.

“Marketing. I’m with the Woolworths Group. How about you?”

“Oh, I’m in between. I used to teach at a university in the United States, now I’m looking for a position here.”

“Well, we must get together. You must come over for a drink, exchange notes. Do you have children?”

“I am a child. I mean, I live with my father. My father is getting on in years. He needs looking after. But come in. The telephone is over there.”

So David Truscott, who did not understand x and y, is a flourishing marketer or marketeer, while he, who had no trouble understanding x and y and much else besides, is an unemployed intellectual. What does that suggest about the workings of the world? What it seems most obviously to suggest is that the path that leads through Latin and algebra is not the path to material success. But it may suggest much more: that understanding things is a waste of time; that if you want to succeed in the world and have a happy family and a nice home and a BMW you should not try to understand things but just add up the numbers or press the buttons or do whatever else it is that marketers are so richly rewarded for doing.

Unless you would like to personally request my review copy, you will have to wait until December 24th to read Summertime in its entirety. But I'll tell you, it's fantastic.