Sunday, September 18, 2011

Signed Dave Eggers Early Work

Yesterday, I bought my first signed book, a reissued print of Sacrament, which is a revised and expanded edition of You Shall Know Our Velocity By Dave Eggers. I found it in a small bookstore in DUMBO in one of those cases under glass that they lock up.

Dave Eggers is one of the few writers who I've read everything by in real time. I feel like I sort of grew up with him. I picked up Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius in highschool when it came out. At the time, I didn't know who Dave Eggers was; no one really did. But I thought I would love a book written by someone who could come up with a title like that. And then there was the writing:

"Please look. Can you see us? Can you see us, in our little red car? Picture us from above, as if you were flying above us, in, say, a hellicopter, or on the back of a bird, as our car hurtles, low to the ground, straining on the slow upward trajectory but still at sixty, sixty-five, around the relentless, sometimes ridiculous bends of Highway 1. Look at us goddammit, the two of us slingshotted from the back side of the moon, greedily cartwheeling toward everything we are owed. Every day we are collection on what's coming to us, each day we're being paid back for what is owed, what we deserve, with interest, with some extra motherfucking consideration-we are owed, godammit-and so we are expecting everything, everything." p.47 HBWSG 

College was a dark period for pleasure reading, but after I emerged relatively unscathed, I picked up What Is The What and read it, after my room mate and I would get home from Max Fish, in my small, windowless Lower East Side apartment. When I read it, I wondered what had become of the author who wrote so beautifully and comically about what it means to be unmoored. The form of his work had changed. Reacting to his many critics maybe?

I read You Shall Know Our Velocity, later, on my couch in my first home. I felt cheated at Zetouin, as Eggers seemed to fully have "matured" into a style that is not his own. It makes YSKOV feel like something precious. The last of a writer that is no more.  Maybe it's like a sibling a few years older then you. Where the disparity in ages, mean you only sync up at certain key points in your life, the rest of the time you're going through different stages at different times and can't understand one another.

"At Heathrow we made straight for the information desk. A middle-aged woman, with curly iron-colored hair and the happy tired face of a third grade teacher in her last year, asked if she could help us and we said she could. We needed, we said, to know if there were any flights leaving within the next two hours to countries in Eastern Europe where no visa was required for entry."

I'm still hopeful that the next book he writes will be more like his first and less like his last.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Colum McCann for the New Yorker

Colum McCann, author of the Let The Great World Spin, has a piece in the New Yorker's September 12th edition this week about 9/11. Also speaking about the towers are David Remnick, Nick Paumgarten (more on this staff writer later), Jonathan Saffron Foer, Lorrie Moore, Zadie Smith, Edwige Danticat, & Elif Batuman. There are stories that turn experience into metaphor (Batuman) and parable (Smith), stories about a child's experience of 9.11(Foer) and a siblings (Moore). After ten years, these authors help give us pause. It's a powerful way to remember our great tragedy.

"When I think about his returning to his empty office and just sitting there, I like to imagine that it was not out of some heartbreakingly robotic sense of duty that might run in our family but, instead, due to the universal human desire to return to the fictional norm; the normal and the everyday are often amazingly unstoppable, and what is unimaginable is the cessation of them."-Moore

McCann's piece was far and away my favorite. He illustrates a woman, the day after the attacks, sitting on the UES eating chocolate cake. It's subtle and beautiful and my favorite bit is what he says at the end. "We do not necessarily need anniversaries when there are things we cannot forget. Yet I also recall this simple sensual moment. I still have no idea-after a decade of wondering-whether I am furious at the woman and the way she ate chocolate cake, or whether it was one of the most audacious acts of grief I've seen in a long, long time."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anais Incarnate

These Tocca images from the new Fall 11 ad campaign could be illustrations of Anais in Paris circa. 1920 don't you think? "The little black velvet jacket, the lace collar, the lacing over the breasts- how perfect, absolutely perfect. I like the way you cover yourself, too." p.23 Henry & June

"Anais, I was dazzled by your beauty! I lost my head, I felt wretched. I have been blind, blind, I said to myself. You stood there like a Princess. You were the Infanta! You looked thoroughly disappointed in me. What was the matter? Did I look stupid? I probably was. I wanted to get down on my knees and kiss the hem of your dress. So many Anaises you have shown me-and now this one!" -A note from Henry Miller to Anais Nin, p.16o, Henry & June

Read more on the Anais Nin-Henry Miller love affair in this post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Joan Didion's The White Album

I picked up Joan Didion's book The White Album after writing a piece on a new zine by Jenna Wortham and Thessaly La Force for Matchbook Magazine. The zine, a selection of essays comprised primarily by women in the East Coast publishing industry, centers around the notion of a Girl Crush. Jennifer Egan contributes a piece on infatuation in an all-girls Catholic School, Emma Straub discusses her love for Jennifer Egan, Sadie Stein writes about children's book author Tasha Tudor and Zan Romanoff sites Joan Didion as her GC.

"I wanted to go east and get cold. Of course, no one knows this better than Joan Didion. She loves the state as only its exiles can; she recognizes that California is a land for the stupid and beautiful and she knows that there is still a romance to it which, even if you are not stupid or beautiful, makes you wish you belong. I began to read her seriously in my own exile, a Connecticut dorm room, where she remade California into a land of words, a place I recognized for its splendor as well as its terrible power. Finally, here was a landscape so wholly encompassing that it had room for us all—even the pale neurotics, its shaky, withdrawn daughters." 

Pretty much anyone who graduated with an MFAin the past 30 years is required to site Didion as one of their influences. Thessaly, once told me that she thought it was because women identified with Didion. In Didion they saw themselves: shy, bookish, wall flower types, who found their strength in writing. 
Didion got her start in Vogue's Features Department. She published her first book, Run, River, while working there. Didion later worked for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and Esquire. Many of the pieces in The White Album have the same tone as the best DFW for Esquire pieces, a long form kind of interpretive journalism, where the hand of the author is deeply felt.  

Reading Didion's The White Album, an autobiographical homage to the 1960s, turns out to be a gratifying process. Each essay wraps up nicely in perfect philosophical packages. Nothing trails off here; there's no narrative bookend for sun rises or sun sets that leaves the reader wondering. We hear, frankly, in no uncertain terms, Didion's take.

On James Pike, an Episcopal Bishop, in James Pike, American 
"When the man who started out a winner was lying dead in the desert his brother-in-law joined the search party, and prayed for the assistance of God, Jim Jr., and Edgar Cayce. I think I have never heard a more poignant trinity." P.58

On Water Control In CA in Holy Water
"I had no further business in this room and yet I wanted to stay the day. I wanted to be the one, that day, who was shining the olives, filling the gardens, and flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile. I want it still." P66

On the CA Governor's Mansion in Many Mansions
"It is the kind of house that has a wet bar in the living room It is the kind of house that has a refreshment center. It is the kind of house in which one does not live, but there is no way to say this without getting into touchy and evanescent and finally inadmissible questions of taste, and ultimately of class. I have seldom seen a house so evocative of the unspeakable." P72.
Didion in a famous interview with Tom Brokaw from the 1970's tells NBC that she sees her writing as the only place in her life where she can be aggressive. She goes on to talk about the total control she has as a writer. "It's the only aggressive act I have. It's the only way I can be aggressive. You're totally in control of this tiny tiny world, right near the typewriter. I'm comfortable in the kitchen. I'm comfortable cooking. I'm comfortable performing in a way. I'm comfortable doing something." I think a lot of people feel this way about writing. But it's the part that bothers me most about Didion. There's something "mean-girl" about her attitude that's discomfiting. 

I'm half way through the book and I'm already exhausted by her passing judgement on every single thing her piercing eye falls on. It's the literary equivalent of that insecure friend who flinches with disdain about your decision to pass on desert; the toxic friend (as Vogue might call it) who zones in on your unique moral discrepancies and uses them as cocktail fodder. Not everything need or should be open to precise analyzation. I can't help asking myself why can't Joan just be nicer, eh?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

John Keats & Rejection

Abbie Cornish & Ben Whishaw in Bright Star

This mean spirited critique was crafted shortly after John Keats published his poem Endymion, now counted as one of his most important works. If only someone had been around to tell Keats what so many of us readers of Gawker & Jezebel know today: 'haters gonn' hate y'all". 

]John Gibson Lockhart wrote in Blackwoods Magazine: "To witness the disease of any human understanding, however feeble, is distressing; but the spectacle of an able mind reduced to a state of insanity is, of course, ten times more afflicting. It is with such sorrow as this that we have contemplated the case of Mr John Keats. [...] He was bound apprentice some years ago to a worthy apothecary in town. But all has been undone by a sudden attack of the malady [...] For some time we were in hopes that he might get off with a violent fit or two; but of late the symptoms are terrible. The phrenzy of the "Poems" was bad enough in its way; but it did not alarm us half so seriously as the calm, settled, imperturbable drivelling idiocy of Endymion. [...] It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the [apothecary] shop Mr John, back to ‘plasters, pills, and ointment boxes’.

And here's John Keats in Endymion:

From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils        15
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
’Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms        20
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
-courtesy of Bartleby