Tuesday, June 26

McSweeney's 18; Haiku Review

I'm continuing to make my way through the 18th issue of McSweeney's. Two good stories have so far followed "The Stepfather," but I do not wish to write full reactions to them. I wish to write haiku reviews. Though not innovated in the pages of Book-Loop, haiku reviews shall certainly here be utilized and enjoyed.

"Somoza's Dream," Daniel Orozco

Sunned intrigue down South;
Exploded bastards betrayed
Deservingly so

"New Boy," Roddy Doyle

Kid's got spunk for sure,
'Cause it's not a simple act
To show big jerks up.

Monday, June 25

Book-Loop Pop Quiz

Guess what book Bryan is currently reading!

1) Underworld, by Don DeLillo
2) Salt, by Mark Kurlansky
3) Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust
4) Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
5) White Noise, by Don DeLillo

This is mostly a quiz for Ben, but I invite all to guess, well, just for fun. I have read none of these books until now, but I plan on reading most or all of them.

Tuesday, June 19

McSweeney's 18; "The Stepfather"

The wonderful publishing house McSweeney’s, which is linked to on Book-Loop’s sidebar, distributes quarterly a subscription-based product titled simply with the issue number. Each issue is quite different, and there don’t seem to be too many rules governing the production of the material, but all are also similar in that each is primarily a collection of short fiction pieces. Number 18 is a conservative entry – a smallish paper-bound book of short stories.

I’ve read one so far. “The Stepfather,” by Chris Adrian, is a hazy little story about a quirky family. The location of the setting in both time and space is ambiguous, but the text suggests the family lives a wealthy rural lifestyle in the second half of last century. The matriarch of this family has a habit of marrying and divorcing frequently, almost seasonally. The various stepfathers drift into and out of the family’s life. And while the mother finds her comfort in these multiple males, the children have been alienated from fatherly attachment and are welded to one another very thoroughly.

Also ambiguous, in an almost comical, but somewhat sinister, fashion, is the exact number of children in the story. Sinister, I say, because a new name will pop up on almost every page with no real introduction. The author seems to enjoy springing the characters on the reader. “Yes, there’s another one, haha.” All in all, there are about a dozen children in the tale, pairs and triples of whom are the offspring of the different rotating stepfathers. Curiously, each stepfather is referred to as “stepfather” in relation to all of the kids, as if their mother was the only parent involved in their making.

What is not unclear to me is the violence marbled through the story. Only one physically violent act is described in the text, though others unfulfilled are contemplated. A word about that violent act: I am always fascinated by the ways in which authors describe terrible acts, especially those involving inhuman savagery. Do they choose to sensationalize? Is the prose viscerally present at the scene, or is it detached? Adrian chooses detachment, detailing a crime committed against one of the siblings through declaratives spoken by one of the brothers. The crime is this: Calvin, a closeted brother, goes to have a rendezvous with a sailor in a dark park. His body is found with hundreds of stab wounds and fingers bitten off. Semen from multiple assailants is found inside of wounds in his abdomen. Ok, yuck. It makes me wonder how an author decides to convey such a plot point in his story. I read that description multiple times, as it came somewhat out of nowhere.

As I mentioned, that is the only physically violent event in “The Stepfather,” but I have another definition of violence that I once wrote as a thesis in a Women’s Studies paper at university. My basic idea was that violence can be usefully defined as victim creation, and the presence of physical aggression is a secondary consideration. For example, a boxing match may be awfully damaging and brutal, but because of the agreed-upon circumstances, it is not so much a violent thing. There is no victim created. I feel that violence is essentially action which causes abuse that converts a person into a victim who before was not: victim creation.

Under this rubric, “The Stepfather” is speckled significantly with violence. The violence of alienation of children by absent parenting, the primary and secondary victim creation from Calvin’s horrific murder; these events lead to the last part of the story in which the cabal of slighted sisters and brothers plot to kill the latest stepfather, so unhappy are they with his performance. However, each in turn fails to accomplish the deed. He remains in their lives, and they remain victims, as they see it, of his lamentable presence. The last act of violence in the story remains an imagined one, their potential victim remaining a culprit instead. And Calvin’s unknown murderer remains as well.

Sunday, June 17

Fellini: His Life and Work

I finally completed Tullio Kezich's Federico Fellini: His Life and Work. I'm not big into biographies. I believe the only ones I have read as an adult are David Maraniss's Clemente (the definitive work on the great Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder) and Terry Teachout's The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (as I think I have said before on this blog, I find it more interesting to read about Mencken than to read Mencken). Even though I inched through this book at a snails pace I really did enjoy it.

The book is written in a casual style and it is obvious from the start that Kezich, an Italian film critic and close friend of Fellini's, adored his subject. While such adoration can be problematic from a credibility standpoint, I found the loving tribute appropriate given Fellini's standing in Italy, his ebullient personality and the fact that he was a cartoonist and filmmaker, not a head of state or labor organizer or guerrilla rebel, or some other position in the world where sympathy regarding private dealings could actually have important ramifications. Here the biggest show of sympathy for the subject comes in the form of Kezich's disinterest in ever exploring the many, many, many affairs of Federico Fellini. Really, too many to count. We gracefully dance around his extramaritals and I, for one, was thankful for that. Which is not to say that I wish to remain entirely ignorant about his infidelities, but rather that an extended examination of those antics would not be germane to discussion of Fellini's movies, which, as it is penned by a film critic, is the book's raison d'être

In discussing Fellini's professional life, which is the real meat of the book, Kezich is less cautious. One comes away with the impression that Fellini was a pain in the ass for his producers and no less tiresome for his cast members. We see a Fellini who is constantly behind schedule, constantly over budget and constantly altering the shape and scope of his films.

But the real joy for me were the anecdotes that only a close friend of Fellini's could provide. I encountered in-depth discussion of Fellini's Jungian analysis, authoritative talk regarding who some his characters were based on, and confirmation that, yes, in fact much of Fellini's work was far more autobiographical than he was ever willing to admit. Much of the book is spent on the pre-production and production of Fellini's films, far less (but still enough to satisfy) on the content and artistic merits of the finished products (a move I appreciated as there is an abundance of scholarly work and criticism that covers Fellini's entire filmography). After all, Fellini's work is available for all to see but the anecdotes regarding the constant delays and derailments with the production of his films are more elusive and that is an area where Kezich's friendship with the director allows us unique insight.

Gore Vidal in Fellini's Roma

At last!

Fresh editions of Beowulf! With pictures!

Thursday, June 14


Hmm. Well, really I was only trying to get my name under the pervasive headline of "In the Loop," but I'm not so hot with the blogger. For many reasons.
But I can talk about a book because I DO know how to read. I'm unsure as to how appealing this particular review may be for the male readers, as it has to do with kitchens. Yet since returning from Japan, I've been cooking incessantly for my family, reaping the benefits of things like an oven after two years with only a sad little dorm fridge and two-burner stove. Granted I had access to many culinary delights unknown to this land (mirin, ponzu, iro iro na kinoko), cooking for one is just no fun so lately it's been a festival of many tasty treats and some flops retired soon after their debut.
The other day, I was feeding my very bored and confused brain some ideas for dinner by skimming through the various cookbooks and food publications that clutter up our house. Gourmet, with its haughtiness and horrific advertisement spread wasn't cutting it and Cook's Illustrated seemed to have developed a meaty love affair for the grilling months. In all honesty, my search was not desirous of a step-by-step recipe as much as only some ideas with which I could create a meal of my own workings.
My eye then fatefully fell upon a clean white binding with simple print professing the knowledge of "How to Eat," written by Vogue food editor Nigella Lawson. It seemed a little naive, just to delve into such literature after 10 odd years of feeding myself, but the lady on the back cover was very pretty and alluring. I trusted her with my food and some of my time.
At first, I admit it was a bit rough to understand the layout of the book. With eight sections spanning everything from cooking in advance to weekend lunch to feeding babies, this wasn't necessarily a quick, catch-all kind of reference. Instead, it seemed as though Ms. Lawson had sat down and written an entire philosophy on food and then, given common themes, did her best to guide the reader as best she could. Nevertheless, this is not a fault, and with an altered approach to reading the pages, one can gather a wealth of knowledge on creating a practical and delicious kitchen.
With no pot on the burner, I sat down and read through the first section, entitled "Basics, etc." My eyebrows sat up at the idea of making my own salad dressings and everyday sauces, such as mayonaise. Some exotic fruits, like quinces, rhubarb, damsons and seville oranges sounded lovely, and easy recipes followed thereafter. In fact, throughout the book you will find a dusting of delicious how-tos for every palate.
I, however, was especially enraptured by the eight pages dedicated to helping one organize a refrigerator, freezer and 'larder' (she is British). Her suggestions prompted me to jump out of my chair and clean out the entire fridge before my mother could come in and start to fret about the 3 month-old, molding red pepper being 'wasted.'
Yes, Ms. Lawson has written a fantastic book for those who perhaps need a little inspiration in the kitchen. By spelling out the basics, even the hairiest brute could fix up a choucroute garnie or passion fruit fool. Her language is enlighting, as well, warmly written with wonderful thoughts not only on how to cook, but how we should think about food in our everyday lives. A read so good, I decided to reproduce my favorite recipe here:

Pea, Mint and Avocado Salad

9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon good white wine vinegar
fat pinch caster sugar
bunch of mint
1 1/2 kilogram peas in pod (approx. 500g. podded weight)
assorted salad leaves
2 chicory heads
3 ripe avocados

First make the dressing: put the oil and vinegar and a pinch of sugar into a large bowl and then put a decent handful of chopped mint. Stir well so all is amalgamated. Cook the podded peas for a short amount of time in salted boiling water, just so that they're ready, but not soft. Taste after 2 minutes and the keep tasting. Pour peas in colander and then straight away into the bowl of dressing and let steep for an hour or up to a day.
Just before serving, stir in about a packetful of mixed salad, the chicory, which has been separated into its leaves, and the avocado, which should be cut into bite-sized chunky slices. You may need to drizzle a bit more oil in after the tasting. Serve this on a big plate. Sprinkle with more chopped mint.

Saturday, June 9

I love getting letters from pals!

From the Desk of Hugh Hefner

Dear Subscriber:

It's not everyday I write a letter like this. However, I found it important. Recently, I learned that you are no longer receiving issues of PLAYBOY at home. If you don't mind me saying, I'm a bit surprised.

I created PLAYBOY for people like yourself who want to get the most out of life - that's why I'm sorry to hear that your subscription has run out. As a busy person myself, I understand how it could have been a simple oversight.

No, Hef, I'm the one who's sorry. The Atlantic recently displaced your fine periodical in my household. It was a simple numbers game, and while boobies are nice, I've recently found myself disinterested in most of the words contained outside of the Forum section in your magazine. It was a rapid falling out of favor you and I had, and I'm not entirely sure what accounts for it. Not so long ago on this very blog I believe I said I would happily receive Playboy and SI for the remainder of my life, and now, oops, both subscriptions have lapsed. Perhaps we shall meet again some years down the line when images of naked women under the age of thirty have an entirely foreign and abstract quality.

For Your Ears

All of the above programs are available as podcasts.

Thursday, June 7

I AM still here!

I just finished a fantasy baseball book - the details of which I won't waste your time with here - and read Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about Abraham Lincoln, which was Good.

Ben, Tom Wolfe = not dead.

Et tu? Et US?

Salon.com has an article today by Gary Kamiya. I'm getting a bit meta here with commentary on a book review, but this is the point, yes? The book in question is Are We Rome?, by Cullen Murphy. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and Kamiya says that Murphy takes a fair look at the situation, pointing out similiarities as well as differences.

Among an over-extended military, ignorance of other world cultures, and a full-steam-ahead privitization fetish, Murphy mentions the parallel of individualization. A hyper-individualized society boils down life event importance to newly miniscule scales. Insert cliche about YouTube here. Just the simple reality of permanent records of comments on things like blog posts lends a hysterical delusional importance to things that may be simply not. Such weight and faux-meaning can now be attached to more and shorter moments because the world is so big, small, and fast. According to a lay understanding of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, one result of traveling near the speed of light is that time slows down. The faster one can experience something, the more one can fit in. Similarly, living our lives in super-rich micro-moments can have the effect of making our lives fuller and richer and bigger. Or...bloated. And this raises the societal question: If we citizens at large are so micro-focused, who do we put in charge of the longview? Is government (specifically its very long-term planning) less or (counter-intuitively) more important in a privatized, individualized society?

The Flaming Lips said that "all we have is now," and our "now" is puckeringly rich; we have less need for deep consideration of the past and future when our moment-to-moment existence bubble is so full. And ironically, we of course have more need than ever for such consideration for precisely the same reasons. I wonder if this book approaches the question of Romans' awareness of their society's trip down from zenith. Was there a fringe element with the vision to see the bigger picture?

Such a fringe most definitely exists in America today. I have recently read a book by Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon, which takes a big picture view of the state of our state. He believes very much in consipracy theories, especially regarding 9/11, which may be off-putting for some. But his frank discussion of the evident decline of our empire is compelling. I hope that these ideas become widely and seriously considered with fairness, not derision, from our instant-communication, instant-commentary culture.

This revolutionary communication ability and fast-paced me-lifestyle that is, as I mentioned earlier, shortening our daily moments and inflating our individualism may also be our saving grace if it facilitates communication of the fringe's ideas on a large-scale - and then only if the message is heeded. But, as Murphy says at one point, of the many adjectives generally applied to Americans, "heedless" is near the top of the list. Keep trying, please, sirs.

Tuesday, June 5

Beaten back against the waves...or something.


I want to come back. I want to read more. Don't get me wrong, Pokemon is still high on my list of media consumption. I'm getting more records in the mail as we speak. And I still have my Netflix subscription and a big TV. And the Wii, of course. My point is that I have a lot on my plate to watch, listen to, and read.

But I need to re-balance my diet, and it needs to happen now. Books are going to move up that list, and magazines of high quality will tag along for the ride. Part of my inspiration is that a very literary friend of mine is now encouraging me to read a particular book, and I am obliging. This work is a sequel of sorts to one of the best things I've ever read, The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. Tandia is apparently his thick follow-up to that wonderful novel, and I can't wait to dig in. And this time I will share.

I am on a bit of a spending spree, and I am wrapping it up with a splurge on Believer and McSweeney's subscriptions. Huzzah! So I look forward to those in the mailbox.

I'm curious about something. Well, first let me thank Ben, one of my dearest friends for soldiering on in my absence. Can we get a roll call of Book-Loop readers? Bryan, you're still here, right? Ben, how do you feel about a renewed effort to recruit?

Crazily, we are approaching the one year anniversary of Book-Loop. How shall we celebrate, friends?

Friday, June 1

You Can't Go Home Again

In my mind Thomas Wolfe is running laps around every author I have read in, oh, say, the last year. Hemingway has passed out on his belly, Philip Roth has slowed to a walk and seems to be fighting a stomach cramp, why, even Camus has taken a knee and requested a glass of water. Meanwhile, Wolfe appears unwinded and dashes forth with an easy gate. Unfortunately he is also quite dead. I should note that I do not view the art of writing in these terms, a foot race. It is, however, the apparent effortlessness of Wolfe's writing that I admire in these early pages of his final novel. Of course, to call it effortless is in itself problematic, but you get the point.