Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Interview w/ The Geeky Press


Interview with my college mentor and friend Brad King.

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“Anyone who falls in love is searching for the missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just a natural feeling. You’re not the person who discovered that feeling, so don’t go trying to patent it, okay?” – Oshima

Kafka on the Shore

Haruki Murakami is arguably one of the most talented writers alive today. Much is made of his critical “voice”, at times exceedingly gentle and poetic in its prose and just as frequently careening, atonal, confrontationally political. His love for a certain brand of absurdism, a sort of gonzo Japanese magical-realism, has frustrated Japanese critics and made him a bastion of the US literary establishment.

Over the past few years I’ve familiarized myself with Murakami’s short stories and was interested to spend more time investigating his novels. And, indeed, I can see what all of the hub-bub is about. This novel, bracingly strange as it is, is frustratingly compulsive. Essentially a re-telling of the Oedipus story with a 20th century post-war twist and a healthy sense of post-modern angst to keep things ribald and alive.

The story operates on a parallel structure which is at first intensely engaging. While I would never turn to a Murakami book to have all of the answers layed out for me, I certainly think this one provides a pallet which is comprehensible for the first half of the novel. Eventually the characters come together and from there things actually veer off for the worst. After about 300 pages of genuinely intense and riveting action the improvisational jazz style of Murakami’s approach started to ring out with some false notes. While the story is often name-checked for the presence of a certain KFC charcter, anything after the point of his introduction felt aimless and frustrating. The Chicago Tribune referred to the book as “consciousness expanding”, and I’d concur with that sentiment, as one of its strengths is a sense of looking at diverse and myriad universal connections and drawing abstract connections in a sort of dream-logic. I’ve been listening to a lot of rapper Ab-Soul (review of his new LP likely coming in the next week), and it’s sort of like that. Everything works on about three levels, and I can see how someone could burn through the book with no trouble and not dwell too much on the “riddles” Murakami claims are embedded in it, or spend a long time decoding some of the strange goings-on in Shikoku.

I suppose the major weakness of this novel would also be its secret weapon. Murakami has a thoroughly unique voice, but he also isn’t particularly interested in developing what me might consider a satisfying conclusion. Some of his experimental tactics, including different levels of text boldness, talking animals, and worlds within worlds, can seem frustrating and aimless if you’re not the type of reader who is down for whatever. If you are, though, or share in Murakami’s particular kind of angsty melancholy, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate the sublime weirdness this novelist offers up. It’s a doozy, though, so prepare yourself for some of the weird corners of the fiction universe.

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Response: Against YA


I write things that aren’t the equivalent of a bad Death Cab for Cutie outtake / the ramblings of a sad, poetic robot programmed with the emotional depth of a 12 year old…?

I came across this article published in Slate by Ruth Graham today. It basically bashes (though, cloyingly, reminds us that all of our sins are ours to make) adult folk for, you know, reading. That thing our country is doing so well at we can comfortably discourage our adult population from OVERdoing it.


Should adults feel embarrassed about reading YA stuff? As an avid comic book reader I’d hope the answer is no. After all, we’ve spent so much time debating the endless boredom of “graphic novel” vs. “comic book”, I can only imagine the next step is “kid’s book” vs. “literary youth fiction”. It’s a hierarchical and arbitrary distinction, one which reinforces the sort of canonical approach to literature that forces adults who want to read books from a section not labeled “fiction” out into the cold anyway.

But I think there’s more reason to disagree with this obsequious attention to dogma than its simple lack of openness in regards to literary merit. I’ve been reading a lot of John Green interviews lately (what with the Stargasm), and have been intrigued to listen/read his handling of all this “sick-lit” and YA worthiness drama. At the conclusion of another YA poster-child, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky makes an interesting and relevant point that “there are people who forget what it’s like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen”. Graham, in her rush to dismiss The Fault in Our Stars as a “nicely written book for 13-year-olds” seems to fall into one of the traps Green frequently alludes to. Besides her use of some very condescending italics, Graham misses the fact that the focus on the world of the adolescent can serve as a way-point for those 13-year-olds, a reminder to those who are older of what it was to be such an age, or even a deeply important bridge to allow people of diverse ages and experiences to commune over extremely human feelings.

My mother and I are going to see the film this weekend. Certainly, she is likely to identify with Hazel’s mother more than I will. But then, she was a young woman once. A young person. In love, I’ve come to believe. Should she be denied the simple pleasure of returning to a past place, a luxury of youth neither simpler nor less complex of feeling? For shame, that we should only be allowed access to our present moment of living. How dull the world would be if we could only move forward, never return as Proust himself to the world of “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia”. How spartan of Graham to elevate herself amongst such base desires in fiction readers. After all, the idea of nostalgia is such absolute anathema to someone like Dickens or Shakespeare, who have never lounged long in the ephemeral world of the past…

“There’s of course no shame in writing about teenagers…” truly makes me wonder who I should be ashamed of writing about. And, contemplating my own fiction, I should wonder if trading in my teenage protagonist for a more spritely 20-something model wouldn’t increase my chances of being knighted by the literary elite. Of course, if Pip never becomes an adult we miss out on all of that lovely adult Pippy-ness. Also some really weird stuff with Magwitch. But as Green himself would likely remind you, the point of YA (or any good literature, of which YA is just one component) is not always to offer you the adult reflection on experience. If anything, by offering relatable characters of relatable ages with relatable life/love circumstances, stories like The Fault in Our Stars offer a safe space to ask questions. Hazel’s obsession with the ending to her favorite book, which Graham somewhat cruelly mocks, as unduly “satisfying” ignores the host of questions about life and its worth which Green’s books (I keep using them as his most recent book is the impetus for the film which apparently prompted the article in question) attempt at their core to address. It’s gracious to imagine a world full of adult characters reflecting on past experiences and wisdom gained / lost. It’s a very different thing to attempt to carve out stories where the answers are not only not present, but the questions are hardly fully formed. In works such as Green’s most recent book the characters don’t have the luxury to reach very far beyond the age of questioning. The book is an important analogue to Graham’s assumed age of reflection as the pinnacle of art.

Graham’s article ends on a nice refrain from the (delightful) (also a bit uninformed, generally) Shailene Woodley about the barrier between young adulthood and womanhood. Like the rest of this thoroughly confusing argument for binaries on everything from literary worth to age and gender gaps, I say hang it! Literary lust is not a matter of linear progression. Our reading should swell and ebb and flow as we please, in its own fashion. We should be happy these adults are seeking out works which proffer questions of life and meaning, extend empathy, and worry less about genre or stylistic conventions. Graham’s assessment that the YA reader should aspire to sneak into the world of adult fiction is preposterous. Literary taste is not an Aristotelian plot structure with middle-aged climax built in. Rather, we should think on Ursula K. LeGuin and her (rather childish) sentiment that “the creative adult is the child who survives”.

Perhaps the genuinely engaged adult reader is the one who survives the pressures of adult readership to experience not only what it is to live today, but the virtue or recalling yesterday, too.

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Junot Diaz

“The half-life of love is forever.”

This is How You Lose Her (2012)

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I suppose I forgot to post a link on this blog to the memoir I wrote last year.

It meant a lot to me, and still does.


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Michael Ondaatje

“New lovers are nervous and tender,
but smash everything.
For the heart is an organ of fire.”

The English Patient, 1992

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“Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about…

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?”

(From F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters)

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