Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: "An Extraordinary Theory of Objects" by Stephanie LaCava

Title: An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris
Author: Stephanie LaCava
Publisher: Harper
Date Published: December 4, 2012
Pages: 224

How I Heard About It: Review copy kindly provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

Two Sentence Summary: A young girl moves to France with her family where she feels depressed and/or lonely.  I don't even need the second sentence.

author Stephanie LaCava [[via]]
Things I Think: When this book arrived in my mailbox, I found myself already "pulling for it."  It's beautifully made, decorously illustrated, and the title holds so much promise.  After doing some background research on the author (a fashion writer and Vogue journalist), I held my breath hoping she would shock me with unexpected literary prowess.

Alas, this did not come to pass. A total "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" narrative, LaCava's anecdotes completely lack poetry, depth.  Someone picking up their backpack and then setting it back down again is described in abrasive detail, overshadowing any sort of emotional content; the "intense depression" that the narrator tells us she experienced reads like typical growing pains. In fact, any real meat that might have made LaCava's experience at all unique is completely missing.

Marc Jacobs? What? [[via]]
One of the stylistic choices (hearkening to the title) arbitrarily footnotes objects mentioned in the text, pumping up the pages with random facts that often have little or no relevance to the plot, to the reader, to anything.  LaCava sees a beetle? Enter random footnote with beetle facts. LaCava takes a picture? Enter massive footnote with camera facts. The only purpose well-served by the footnotes is to add length to an otherwise sparse manuscript.

Plot to footnote ratio seems a, no? [[via]]
Disappointingly, the book was all flash and no substance, a disjunction made all the more glaring by a title that sets the stakes so very high.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Living the Dream: Book Heaven

People ask me a lot why I love book blogging. It is, after all, extremely time consuming and something that one cannot (in good conscience) BS their way through. It's done without compensation and the reception of said reviews can be... hit or miss.  But sometimes there are these golden days when appreciation and fun piles up, and I spin around in my desk chair at work feeling so blissed out to be part of the writerly network. 

Exhibit A:

BOOK IT! Before Thanksgiving, I tweeted about my affinity for personal pan pizzas and their early-90s connection to reading all of the things. After gobbling a bunch of Lispector, I was feeling like I'd definitely earned some cheesy goodness.  Something even better happened... The lovely people of Book It found my tweet and sent me this vintage shirt as a thanks for the shout-out. I am going to wear this shirt, like... way too much.

"Other Life Forms" - This new book by Julia Glassman is the first release of indie publisher Dinah Press.  I received a sweet email from the author, who had seen my involvement with Papercut Press (I wrote one of the featured blurbs/reviews of "The Narrows") and asked me if I'd be interested in checking out her work.  The book is gorge and I'm stoked to crack it open ASAP. 

"Sky Saw" by Blake Butler - Sent to my doorstep by NY Tyrant Books after some fangirl tweets.  This press, this art... I want to just swim around in it. Really grateful for the advance release copy. May fall asleep spooning this.

"An Extraordinary Theory of Objects" by Stephanie Lacava - Subtitled "A Memoir of An Outsider in Paris," this book is physically a piece of covetable art. TLC Books and HarperCollins sent this my way to review, and though I hate to admit I'm totally judging a book by its cover... holy crap, it's sharp. 

Okay, so "Rapture" by Kameron Hurley is kind of the one hitch in the giddy-up here, but a good laugh nonetheless. San Francisco Book Review meant to send me poet Carol Ann Duffy's collection "Rapture" for review, and I think some wires may have gotten crossed.  Looks like this "Rapture" is a little more heavy on space worms than sonnets.

Exhibit B:

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm working with poets Ed Smallfield and Alice Jones of Apogee Press as Associate Editor.  Today, a box chock-full of Pattie McCarthy's "Marybones" showed up.  These could not be more hot-off-the-presses. Here they are, waiting for me to send them to preliminary readers and reviewers.

It's blurry. I was freaking out at all the pretty.
And so, the mad dash to 2013 continues and I have about sixteen more skips in my step. Thank you to all the lovely humans that put magic in my mailbox this week.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Want to Complete

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Books in series are a weakness of mine.  Here are the seductive sets I want to decimate.

1) "The Parasol Protectorate" Series by Gail Carriger 

2) "The Dark Tower" Series by Stephen King

3) The "Amelia Peabody" Books by Elizabeth Peters

4) "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R R Martin

5) "All Souls Trilogy" by Deborah Harkness

6) The Original "Nancy Drew" Series

7) Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle"

8) "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust

9) "Divergent" Series by Veronica Roth

10) "Earth's Children" Series by Jean M. Auel

...and this is why I will never run out of things to read.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Reviewing 101: An Alphabetized List of Words Everyone Should Use Less

If you read a lot of mainstream book jackets, book reviews, and/or book blurbs, you find yourself swimming in a sea of hyperbolic adjectives with a very low turn-over rate.  I've compiled a list of the most egregious offenders that should, at all costs, be avoided from here on out.  

A –  Arresting
B –  Bold, brave, beautiful

"Levine evokes the early stages of longing with beautiful, arresting prose." - wikipedia

C –  Complex, compelling, captivating
D –  Devastating, dystopian

"Both utterly realistic and fantastically dystopian...”- Minnesota Herald Tribune

E –  Exhilarating, explosive, epic

"Lyrical and explosive, this debut book of poetry explores Alex Lemon's experiences as a brain surgery patient." - Tin House

F –  Forceful
G –  Gripping
H –  Haunting

"Haunting.” - Real Simple 

I –  Irreverent, inspired, intimate
J –  Juvenile
K –  Killer
L –  Luminous, lyrical 

See entry "E" above.
M –  Moving

...turns what might have been just a clever mash-up of disaster epic with sensitive young-adult, coming-of-age story into a genuinely moving tale that mixes the real and surreal... -New York Times

N –  Noteworthy
O –  Of-the-times, observant
P –   Post-modern, profound, poignant
Q –  Quirky


R –  Reminiscent, redemptive, riveting, remarkable
S –  Suspenseful, stunning, stirring, smart, sentimental, subtle

“Haunting…a bittersweet coming-of-age tale…tender but unsentimental and buoyed by subtle wit” - People

T –  Tasteless
U –  Understated, uplifting, universal

Playing out almost ballet-like, not only because of the landscapes or timeless (and of course, melancholic) Wagner soundtracking - but the sheer understated drama and tragedy of it all is incredible. - melancholia tumblr

V –  Vigorous
W – Whimsical, witty
Y –  Youthful

I'm in no way walking away from this blameless, either... But I do feel a new zeal for challenging The Generic.

What are your buzz-word pet peeves?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich

Title: The Round House
Louise Erdrich
Date Published: 
October 2, 2012

How I Heard About It: Review copy kindly provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours. 

Two Sentence Summary: Thirteen year old Joe Coutts has spent his life on the Ojibwe reservation, surrounded by close-knit family and tribal community.  When his mother is brutally attacked, raped, and nearly murdered by an unknown assailant, Joe tries desperately to put the mysterious pieces together and begins to uncover difficult and intricate truths about everyone in his life. 

"Now the crane my mother used to watch, or its offspring, flapped slowly past my window.  That evening it cast the image not of itself but of an angel on my wall.  I watched this shadow. Through some refraction of brilliance the wings arched up from the slender body. Then the feathers took fire so the creature was consumed by light."

Things I Think: Having recently dealt with matters of violent assault in my life, I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle this novel yet.  But the desire to familiarize myself with Erdrich's work temporarily outweighed trepidation, and here we are!  

I'm extremely late to the game when it comes to novelist Louise Erdrich.  She's written thirteen other novels, has published three books of poetry, and even has several children's books out in the world. And based on everyone's adoration, quality has not been sacrificed for quantity. When I heard that "The Round House" had been nominated for the 2012 National Book Award, I knew the time had come to hop on the Erdrich train (or at least give it a good peep.)

And now I have thirteen more novels on my TBR list. 

Apparently "The Round House" is a continuation of previous plot lines involving Joe's parents (Geraldine and Bazil). But the novel stands so independently I'd never have known, without all of the supplemental reading I did online. Joe is a brilliantly written narrator. Facing intense moral struggles in the face of what has happened to his mother, he keenly weighs loyalties to family, community, the law.  Dissatisfied with the truth-seeking attempts of the authorities, he bravely and brazenly seeks out facts on his own. 

The novel is rich in history and Ojibwe culture; reservation politics, both internal and external, gain increasing clarity as the plot-heavy novel unfolds. Some passages involving Bazil's legal knowledge (court cases from the rez, etc.) can become a bit burdensome, but the overall effect is to inspire further curiosity.

"The Round House" is certainly literary but also qualifies as an intense mystery/thriller.  Despite its length, the plot's rapid-fire pace makes it a rather quick read (a couple of days, in my case.) No doubt, this is going to be a Big Book of 2012; I think you'll be seeing it pop up on a lot of "best of" lists promptly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Halloween

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish.

1) The Uninvited by Liz Jensen - I just finished reading this on Sunday and it scared the daylights out of me. The perfect blend of realistic, literary fiction with a heavy dose of superstition-focused cultural anthropology, Jensen's well researched novel is a frightening portrait of a paradigm shift stemming from our culture's impending self-destruction.

2) House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski - This book made me sleep with the lights on for a week. I read it about 10 years ago and its multi-genre creepiness has stayed with me ever since. Figuring out how to read this one is a trick, but it's a fun mystery to untangle and one of the most unique reading experiences I've had.

3) Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn - Serial killers close to home. Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Self mutilation in the form of poetic scarification. Read this book. The brilliant, emotionally wrecked protagonist is one of my all-time favorites.

4) The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits - Don't be fooled by the cheery cover. This novel is an eerie look into "psychic attacks," astral projection via time travel, and possession. Brilliant prosody makes Julavits' darkness sexy and impossible to escape unscathed.

5) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - You won't need any ideas for Halloween costumes after you read this book. That being said, it's got one of the most aesthetically pleasing takes on The Creep Factor I've read in a long while. In a magical, late-night liminal space where ice gardens full of paper animals are the norm, things become increasingly unhinged.  The circus performers become pawns in a secret game that has the capacity to destroy them all.

6) City of Bohane by Kevin Barry - Futuristic urban grit. Warring gangs of dressed-to-the-nines twenty-somethings.  Drug-running, killer vixen, days of endless fog.  (Shockingly, this is not actually about San Francisco.) 

7) Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - Spooky kids + old-school orphanages = done.

8)Ugly Man by Dennis Cooper - This book of short stories has the distinct honor of being the only literature that has ever made me physically ill. Horrifying doesn't even begin to cut it. Not recommended for the weak of stomach.

9)The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich - While I'm not entirely certain what this image-driven, experimental thing is "about," there are nonstop horrifying, visceral goings-on that will make you read with your back up against a wall. These are not your "Twilight" vampires. 

10)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - This is on my TBD list so I have no real insight other than that it sounds fantastic, it's part of a trilogy and everyone seems to freaking love it. 

Happy (literary) Halloween!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: "Love, In Theory" by E.J. Levy

Title: Love, In Theory
E.J. Levy
The University of Georgia Press
Date Published: 
September 15, 2012

How I Heard About It: The wonderful women of TLC Book Tours.

Two Sentence Summary:  In ten short stories, E.J. Levy's complicated characters explore love and its many [per]mutations over time.  Each piece is exploration within a new frame, guided by a shifting intellectual lens and also by the characters' quirky interests-made-metaphor: expensive woven rugs, creative writing prompts, philosophy courses.

"Desire confounds categories." (pg 69)

Things I Think: This book was challenging for me because of the immediate breadth of topic that lives in the title. Calling a book (essentially) "LOVE" is quite a tall order, and (unless it is magnificently executed) a potentially fatal misstep for an artist.  So I approached warily.  

The first story ("The Best Way Not to Freeze") employed a metaphor that made my writerly self shudder: a shattered plate glued back together, with obligatory reference to the irreparable cracks.  I felt (and still feel) shocked that this egregious cliche cropped up so immediately, because as I forged on, Levy's writing overflowed with unique imagery and beautifully crafted sentences. 

"Did you hear it?" he asked.
"Someone screaming?"
"Night hawk," he said.
"In the city?"
"They nest on rooftops and cliffs."
She still wonders if he wasn't mistaken, if the sound wasn't a seagull or someone being mugged, which in his longing Gil mistook for something rare and loved and absent. (pg 43)

author E.J. Levy
So many of Levy's images have stayed with me: an apartment overtaken by oriental rugs; index cards carrying secrets and regret, floating whitely down a highway at night; hypothermia survival tips arbitrarily tacked to a suburban fridge. While the basic situations are not unfamiliar (cheating spouses, abandonment by a lover, etc.) the characters are so infused with life and legitimacy.  It is from them that the book gains its gusto. 

There is a brisk trade in divination these days - astrological columns, palm readings - people seem less interested in preparatory contemplation than in foreknowledge, which seems to me to have it backward.

After all, what good is knowing what's to come if you're ill prepared to cope with it? (page 62)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Works In Progress: Ragdoll Love

The fog and rain have descended on San Francisco this week, so I've been holed up in The Stude getting my sew back on.  Not quite ready to start on a dress or other big project, I decided to make some snuggly little dolls (which will make good gifts for new tiny humans that are on their way!)

I found a perfect pattern from Simplicity and am waiting (im)patiently for it to arrive in the mail.
Simplicity 1900

Beth over at The Modern Lady recently made this sweet little lady using the pattern. I'm so smitten with the fabric choices for her dress, and the little flower headband is so perfect.
Bows. Flowers. Pigtails. Win.
I couldn't wait to get started, so I ordered another pattern from Sarah of Dolls and Daydreams. The 3d bangs, glasses, and braids made this pattern irresistible; and it's so customizable. 
Removable glasses! With hearts!
My version of this girl is fresh off the cutting board and ready to get pieced together. I ran out of black felt for her braids, so she's currently sporting a bob (like me) but will soon have some longer locks. 
I've been waiting for the perfect moment to use this cherry fabric.
Sarah's pattern is so straight-forward and easy to use.  I will definitely be frequenting her etsy shop (and the craft store) during my hibernatory season in The Stude.

What are you working on? Or am I the only one hiding from the cold? ;)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hitch In My Giddy-Up

The universe threw a mega curveball my way two weeks ago, and the days since have been occupied with trying to crazy-glue a lot of bits and pieces back together.  I think Fortuna's Wheel** is cranking back around though, so hope to be back to my bloggery self in the next few shakes.

**If you know what this references sans Google, I'll take you on a date. 

In the meantime, here are some things that are true:

  • Brian Bahouth interviewed me for his podcast about electronic literature. I talk about some things that I love a lot and sometimes giggle.

  • Apogee Press signed me on as their new Associate Editor.  I work with poets I adore, make brand new books go into the world, and encourage people to talk about them.  #glorious
  • Adam and Ginger came to visit. I hadn't seen these beautiful people since undergrad.  I hugged them extremely hard before taking them on hot dates to St. Francis and the Folsom Street Fair.   

  • I temporarily reinstated my acting career by playing Eve in a Fringe Festival show.  That's enough about that.

  • Two humans I love more than Velveeta are having a tiny human together. I am making it all of the things. In pink.

And there you have the highlights, minus the subtly aforementioned ruckus, which have made this fall what it is.  I'll be back soon with more book-obsessing, sewing, and poeming.