‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

Posts Tagged ‘fiction

“Imagined Reading”

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I’ve mentioned on this blog at various times how I frequently wander over to the Washington Post Book Section and how I am a member of Michael Dirda’s “Reading Room”, a forum for all things literary. Each week Michael poses one or two threads about various aspects of reading:

  • What books get you through tough times?
  • What works shaped you as a reader?
  • Snacking while enjoying a good book.
  • Do movie ruin a good book?

And etc. For those as passionate about reading and literature as I am, it is a great resource for those: What would you put on your top 5 or 10 lists.

Recently Michael Dirda posted a thread asking “What are your ‘Get Well’ Books?” The following is from his post and I felt it was worth blogging and asking with my fellow readers: download

Hi, Reading Roomers. (Every time I write “Reading Roomers” I imagine semiologists trying to decipher the subtext of the latest gossip.)  I’m still in Ohio with my Mom and— in the way of these things—have just learned that my middle son has broken his leg playing basketball. It’s not the worst break in the world, but it’s changed the complexion of Mike’s summer. Right now he’s been reading through The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes instead of getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail. When you are sick or your life strands you in a place where you can’t really do much, what books do you imagine reading? Under what conditions would you like to recover as you read them?

So, let me piggy back off of his discussion, what are your ‘imaginary reads’?

I think that if I knew I was going to have a fairly long recovery time in a bed or a hospital (*knocks on wood&), that I would attempt some of the larger literary giants that have up until this point scared me off, largely due to their length: The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoevesky, Les Miserable by Hugo, Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, The Regulations by Gaddis. These are all 500-700+ reads and while I’ve read books of that length before, these authors tend to be fairly well known for being dense. How about you Erin, in what imaginary future do you foresee yourself starting and finishing Oblomov or The Kindly Ones? Some day eh….someday 😉


Reading Reflections

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Just started The Road by Cormac McCarthy and my first thoughts; I’m truly blown away by the style of writing (sparse and fragmented) and how McCarthy is able to place the reader alongside the two traveler protagonists. Glad I settled on this after Sag Harbor, needed something dark to get away from the happy go light summer read that was Whitehead.

Written by thebeliever07

June 13, 2009 at 11:51 am

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

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I just finished Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor and it is a phenomenal read. My only criticism is that the book is a tad too long.

The story centers around a young boy Benji who shares his childhood and adolescent experiences of living in Sag Harbor an all black community in the Hamptons.

This is definitely a summer read and as the summer unfolds for Benji and his friends, a pastiche of the mid 80s is revealed to the reader, roller-rinks, bbq’s, boardwalks, minimum wage jobs. Benji and his friends try to define themselves against the previous generations of their black community and yet the realization hits home that they are no different than their parents, their love affairs, their adventures, their encounters with racism, abuse, violence, boredom, and more.

Colson Whitehead writes not so much about people but place, as I recently tweeted to Mr. Whitehead on twitter, his books are enjoyable, at least to me, not because of the WHO, but because of the WHERE. It is how the summer and this particular location in the Hamptons, an all black community that guides the story. The plot is fairly loose in this novel and meanders along much in the same way that Benji and his friends explore the summer. It presents the readers with a series of reflections on adolescence: the awkwardness of the first kiss, competition amongst friends to define themselves and create an identity during the teen years.

sag-harbor-0309-lg-70936749If you’re looking for a light summer read, this is definitely the book for you. If you’re headed anywhere warm such as a beach or lake front, pick this up, you will not be disappointed.

One of the strengths and one of my favorite themes of the book centers around how different the cottage, lake-house, the place that we occupy during the summer months is  as opposed to the rest of the year. There is a separate life that exists in the summer, our friends and family behave and act differently during the summer compared with the winter, a second alternative self is reborn each summer. Benji and Mr. Colson Whitehead explore this second self and what it means when that last summer weekend encroaches. A question that Benji often asks and fears is how he will change as he returns to the city and the fast paced life of school and work in the fall.

Written by thebeliever07

June 12, 2009 at 7:42 pm

What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs?

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Over at the Washington Post Book section I recently read two articles that can essentially be summed up by the following two bullet points:

1. Males don’t read. (Only 20% according to the article.) 

2. It’s because we no longer have strong masculine fiction, we’ve moved away from the Hemingways, Roths, Updikes, & Bellows of the world. 

Let me explain.

The first article is a review of a book entitled The Signal by Ron Carlson. It’s not so much the content of the book that is the focus of this post but the type of ideological critique of how men read and how women read (as if we still need to gender reading and intelligence in the sexes, so glad we’ve learned from our past mistakes and history). 

Ron Charles, not to be mistaken with the author of the book that is being reviewed, starts his article by citing that he has accepted the fact that men do not read any more and that this battle was lost long ago as he writes: Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his “Pygmy” vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

But not to worry my fellow men, those 20% of us that are capable of reading intelligence, there is a solution. Take Ron Charles’s advice and read The Signal by Ron Carlson because there are some books out there just for us. This is when Mr. Charles refers to an article posted sometime last week by Michael Lindgren who seems to be mourning an older style of masculine fiction that he sees missing from the world of fiction and literature today. As he states: 

What ever happened to the American Man? You know, the one who bullied and swore and drank his way through novels full of cigarette smoke, big cars and red meat? The one who’d abandon his family for a prostitute, or coerce his girlfriend into a threesome, or sleep with the housekeeper after murdering his wife? What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs? And does anyone really miss them?

Apparently Mr. Lindgren and Mr. Charles both miss this style of fiction. Both men seem to agree that what is missing from our literature is that rugged masculine style of fiction, the type referenced above. I think these gentleman fail to see something about all of the canonical American authors they cited above. People enjoy reading Hemingway, Roth, Mailer, Updike, not because of the types of rugged, misogynistic, arrogant, often homo-phobic male characters that they present to the reader, but IN-SPITE of them. LethemChabon1

Their fiction and writing is beautifully crafted and enjoyable to read, the only problem is that often they seem to be a product of their generation which for the most part has seen fit to perpetuate patriarchal systems of authority and socially constructed roles of gender. 

I take offense to the fact that first off, men do not read, and secondly, when we do, we need to have fiction at less than 200 pages and that it must be focused on rugged outdoor activities or some antiquated notions of masculinity that rely on violence and sexuality as primary themes of interest.

Why are Mr. Charles and Lindgren mourning the fact that as a society, writers today have moved beyond these issues. I am certainly not saying that we couldn’t use more writers like Roth or Hemingway, god forbid, the more the merrier. But, that style of writing was appropriate back then, writing today should reflect our current concerns and issues, and I would like to think that as a society we’ve progressed beyond these types of gendered readings and associations. Sadly, these two writers for the Post have simply reinforced and reminded me that we have not. 

Mr. Lindgren writes: that men want to be bad boys, kind of, but they can’t quite get there. They’re too comfortable, and they like women too much, to be engaged in all that operatic despair. Why is this a bad thing?

Read and form your own opinions but I for one could do without this type of gendered bigotry. 

Written by thebeliever07

June 5, 2009 at 10:17 am

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

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The rights of the author are often overlooked for the sake of the reader. For those unaware George R.R. Martin is the best selling author of A Song of Ice and Fire (Fantasy Series). What Tolkien was to generations past, he is to ours. Ask anyone who reads heavy fantasy of an epic nature and George R.R. Martin’s name will inevitably pop up, along side Steven Erikson, Terry Brooks, & R.A. Salvatore to name a few. A long running argument on various bulletin boards, discussion forums, and coffee houses focuses on what the author owes the reader, specifically George R.R. Martin. Martin has released only 4 of his books in a series that is projected to be at 5 or 6. Martin on average has released each subsequent book in the series at 4 or 5 year intervals. This frustrates many of his fans because Martin keeps an active blog [ Which I urge you to check out. ] Martin actively tours, blogs, writes short stories, etc, and according to certain critics anything short of writing the next book in the series is betrayal, and this is apparently unacceptable. While I often am frustrated by the length of time that each book takes for the next release, I also understand that he’s a fellow human being and has a life on his own. He doesn’t owe the reader anything, it is our privilege to read works that he shares with the world. 

As Erin put it: “What have you written lately?” 


Neil Gaiman recently responded to a question on his blog which tackles this issue. Enjoy and try to keep in mind Mr. Gaiman’s advice: “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” 

Also, Neil Gaiman is one of the most hilarious and fun twitterers(is that right?) to follow, enjoy and follow him @neilhimself. 

Written by thebeliever07

May 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

Six Degrees of Wiki:

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I was reading 2666 by Roberto Bolano and I decided to take a break and read a bit of his biography on-line over at Wikipedia. It’s amazing to see how far you can click away from your original goal in wikipedia, so I thought I’d share how far my clicking adventures took me. I’m sure we’ve all done this a few times. The next time you find yourself on wikipedia doing something similar, chronicle the event, you’ll be surprised how far it takes you away.

1. Wikipedia.

2. Roberto Bolano

3. “The Caracas Speech,” Roberto Bolaño accepting the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, translated in Triple Canopy

4. Situationism

5. Situationist International

6. Lettrism

7. Isidore Isou

I started out reading “The Caracas Speech” which referenced Situationism, which then led onto and so on, etc.

It’s amazing how far I ventured outside of my original intention, a brief biography. Wikipedia is notoriously “wikid” (oh puns) this way. Just thought I’d share, cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

December 24, 2008 at 6:28 pm

A Passage:

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Every once in awhile you stumble upon an image or scene in a novel that makes you smile. The passage below has kept me smiling all morning. Enjoy.

Feel free to share a passage from something you’re reading right now or have read in the past that has affected you in a similar way. Cheers.

As Calvin Tomkins writes: As a wedding present for his siter Suzanne and his close friend Jean Crotti, who were married in Paris on April 14, 1919, Duchamp instructed the couple by letter to hang a geometry book by strings on the balcony of their apartment so that the wind could “go through the book, choose its own problems, turn and tear out the pages.”


As Duchamp later told Cabanne, “It amused me to bring the idea of happy and unhappy into readymades, and then the rain, the wind, the pages flying, it was an amusing idea.”


According to Tompkins: Duchamp told one interviewer in later years that he had liked disparaging “the seriousness of a book full of principles,” and suggested to another that, in its exposure to the weather, “the treatise seriously got the facts of life.” – 2666 – Part II: The Part about Amalfitano – Pg. 191 – Roberto Bolano –

Written by thebeliever07

December 19, 2008 at 11:16 am