Friday, June 29, 2012

The Week That Was

June 30th is the end of the fiscal year where I work, and therefore, my daytime has been heavily demanded upon.

Likewise, my evenings have been packed with goodness and a mix of happy and necessary.

One of my good friends is moving away, so Monday was for board games with him. Tuesday was for board games with my lady. Wednesday went to Philly for poetry (see link above). Thursday was chess at the coffee house. So, that's a week.

In between all that, I've read a couple books that have been sent to me by local publishers, so those reviews are coming. Plus, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both hit the DL, and I ate two different  baked goods with chocolate and banana. So look forward to those posts as well.

Happy Friday!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy Friday

It's a scorching Friday, but I'm still happy to see it.

Hope you find a way to enjoy the heat.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

I recently finished the audiobook of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. It was a treat.

Sedaris' essays span his life, beginning with his childhood in North Carolina, through his college years and after, and into what the reader presumes is his present life living and writing in France. He is the center of all of his stories, and he spends most of his time examining his loneliness, his isolation from the world, and his disillusionment with the prospects of his life.

The way Sedaris charts the limits of hope are self-deprecatingly humorous. Whether its needing his mother to rescue him from a neighborhood child he has tried to befriend, or his realization that his house looks like a serial killer's home to the stranger who has just walked in, Sedaris is at his best at the moment when his eyes open and he sees the world from another perspective.

If he wasn't so funny, I wouldn't tolerate some of the solipsism involved (and yes, I am acutely aware of the irony of writing a blog and accusing other writers of solipsism). There was nothing world shaking in the essays, and I wonder at the line between fiction and non-fiction, especially in Sedaris' characterization of his family. One of my favorite chapters featured his redneck brother, an expectant father, suddenly transformed by the nervous energy of dreams for his unborn child.

What made the audiobook especially enjoyable was that several of the chapters were not studio recordings, but live recordings of Sedaris reading to an audience. It was nice to know that I wasn't the only one laughing.

Book 25 of my book a week challenge.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli: Book Review

What has your life been for?

It's not a rhetorical question; it's the central thesis of David Mazzucchelli's graphic novel Asterios Polyp.

The eponymous character spends his 50th birthday alone in his apartment, watching videos of the old times, the better times. And then the fire alarm goes off, and all record of that old life burns. Asterios buys a bus ticket to go as far as he can, and when he gets there he begins to build the scaffolding of a life.

Asterios is as resilient and self-confident as he is unreflective. He is an architecture professor but not an architect. While he begins to rebuild his life in his new town, renting a room from his boss, he's forced to begin to engage with members of the family. He tries to figure them out, and they, in turn, struggle to understand him. 

Asterios, of course, doesn't give up much information about himself. His background unfolds slowly, and each revelation rearranges our image of Asterios.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy Friday

Here's how hectic Friday has been:
I forgot to pick a song.

Hope you make it!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Open Mic at Hazel & Wren

It's the second Wednesday of the month, so that means it's another Open Mic at one of my favorite places.

Here's the direct link to my poem. Leave comments so writers like me can improve our drafts.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Natasha, and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis: Book Review

Natasha, and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis has traveled with me for a long a time. Published in 2004, I'm pretty sure I grabbed the small hardcover off the shelf the first time I saw it. I read it and forgot I'd read it, even listing it as one of the books I own but haven't read.

How could I forget?

Natasha has nearly everything I love: it is a novel in short story form, each story connected to the other but independent; it has a family newly arrived to a place where the possibilities are as limitless as they are unattainable; it has (for the first few stories) an articulate but believable child narrator.

Short stories are, perhaps, the most challenging form of fiction. The author has only a few hundred words (if that) to establish his characters and setting. Bezmozgis solves this challenge skillfully, weaving life's hard lessons into his stories.

My favorite story from the collection is probably "The Second Strongest Man." The narrator, Mark Berman, grew up around body-builders in the USSR because his father was one of the top trainers. His father's top recruit had been Sergei, a former soldier possessing preternatural gifts as a weightlifter. Faced with an impossible bet to life a car, a fellow soldier introduces: "Sergei, show Chaim what's impossible."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Happy Friday

A big week on the homefront:
Sound of Music opens in Church Hill tonight;
my wife is away, so tomorrow morning is breakfast and board games at mi casa;
I'm within 100 pages of finishing 3 different books, and two more book came in the mail this week;
I still have to finish my review of Natasha, and Other Stories.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Difference Between Prose and Poetry

I have always been a streaky writer.

Both my output and my material happens in bunches, like a basketball team on a 12-0 run; strong defense leads to less time on defense, leads to a fast break, leads to excitement to get back on defense again.

My May was dedicated to the Blogathon, to prose. I have a couple more book reviews to write, with several more books nearly finished, and I have some ideas about video games and learning curves, and about the effect of America's stratifying levels of education on unionization and the middle class. Beyond that, my horizon is kind of prosed out.

But a part of that is because I've found myself in some great poem building situations.

I love the monthly open mic I've found, and after a workshop last Saturday with Jane Cassady (whose new book is available here), I'll be joining her on Wednesday nights throughout the summer for a poetry workshop.

Why is it so hard to shift gears?

The clarity and precision demanded by prose is often unnecessary, or even unwelcome, in poetry. Likewise, the tactile qualities of poetry can make prose feel stilted. So there's some of that.

But I also feel, at times, that I need to go to a different place within myself to write good poetry. Not a better or worse, brighter or darker place. No qualifiers. Just that the spot within myself where the poetry bubbles has a taste that distinguishes it from the prose place. The way water tastes different in different towns, and how that difference seeps into the breads and the drinks and memory of the place.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Polymath: Discovery and Definition

In reading (sort of re-reading, more on that later) Natasha by David Bezmozgis, I stumbled across an unfamiliar word:


It's not that I have an extraordinarily large vocabulary, but I'm a good reader so there are few words that don't surrender their meaning through context clues.

My uncle was a good man, a hard worker, and a polymath. He read books, newspapers, and travel brochures, He could speak with equal authority about the Crimean War and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Short months after arriving in Toronto he took a job giving tours of the city to visiting Russians. But he wasn't rich and never would be.
A polymath is obviously a smart person. Poly means many, so based on all the things the uncle can do, it could mean that he's multi-talented, or interested in many things. I could stop there, but I'm interested in the other root; the "math" part of the word.

 So apparently, the Greek word that gave us mathematics really mean to learn. So our polymath is many-learned (that's learn-ED, stress on the second syllable).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese presents the story of two conjoined twins, from the recollections of one of the twins, Marion Praise Stone. His mother was a nun, his father was a surgeon, and his brother is Marion's mirror image. So, we begin.

I can't tell you what Cutting for Stone is about, anymore than I could tell you what The Old Man and the Sea is about. It builds in layers, as chapters slip away and years pass, we know we're building toward something, but the narrator never lets slip what is coming; the moment always presses urgently in. Everything is subtly foreshadowed; we see the past repeated by the younger generation.

Cutting for Stone is about being a man; being at once a brother, a son, a doctor. It is about being profoundly broken and living anyway. I love stories that can contain their own immensity. Verghese makes that look effortless.

Above all, I think it's a book about relationships, and, for Verghese, relationships manifest as sex. There's a lot of sex in here: we meet two different nuns who have sex (in bizarrely dissimilar ways with bizarrely similar partners), the twins, their foster parents, the girl who grew up with the twins, her mother, and a former prostitute; I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting, but either way, that's fornication on a biblical scale.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Happy Friday

They don't get much happier than this:

I just pre-order my copy of For the Comfort of Automated Phrases by Jane Cassady, one of my poetry idols (this is the part where all you poetry lovers click the link and buy the book- it's on sale!);

Tonight, we kick off our weekend with First Friday, first with the regular cocktail hour, then heading over to a local pub to listen to a buddy and his jazz ensemble play;

then Saturday, the aforementioned Jane Cassady is leading 2 poetry workshops at the Elkton Public Library at 11:00 and 1:30 (this is the part where you poetry lovers click the link and register- it's free!);

then Sunday, I start tech week for the production of The Sound of Music that I'm stage-managing (it's a sign of how long it's been since I've done a musical [2007 when I still lived in Binghamton] that I'm actually excited for tech week).

In honor of this happiest of Fridays, I present you a song of joy, from Rubber Soul (which, if I recall correctly, is Jane's favorite Beatles album):
Happy Friday!