Monday, February 06, 2006


Currently reading: "The Crimson Petal and the White" by Michel Faber
Next up: "The Odyssey" by Homer (in preparation for a second attempt at Joyce's "Ulysses")

EPISODE 25: Wherein I introduce the Sucks to Awesome scale.

Sucks - self-explanatory
Whatever - indifferent
Eh - slightly less indifferent due to some criteria other than enjoyment (for example, respect for history, an author's reputation, or dense writing that takes work but might not necessarily be fun to read)
Good Times! - well written AND fun! Who would've thought those two could co-exist!
Awesome - well written, fun, and I consider myself better off for having read it.

It's been a while, I know. Lest you think I've spent this time not reading, I will use this entry to catch you up on what I've been enjoying lately because, admit it, you've been waiting for this.

There may be some **SPOILERS**, depending on how sensitive you are...


1) Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel)
I enjoyed this one both as the second half of the Persepolis story, and as a story in its own right. While Satrapi did an amazing job capturing a child's voice and conveying the story of the turmoil in Iran with a candid innocence, Persepolis 2 was much more interesting to me, because she was so honest about things in her life that made her much less sympathetic and heroic. She was a young woman with problems, and she didn't try to soften her image for her memoir. Perhaps I also related to her cultural conflict...the trying to be true to one's family, while also trying to be true to oneself and the modern world. I appreciated how she reflected that - it felt true. On a scale of Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Awesome.

2) The Awakening by Kate Chopin
"He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation." This line is typical of this novel. While I respect its place in history as one of the first books to openly address the issue of feminism within a marriage, I can't help but think it could have been written a little less....obviously. Everything felt like a "The More You Know" moment. Also, the whole Woman-Has-An-Affair-In-Order-To-Free-Herself motif continues to grate my last nerve - and this character has two affairs. (how "free" do you need to be?!) However, I did appreciate the novelty of the woman in the story actually taking action to leave her life and trying a life on her own for a while before killing herself. Most of these characters jump straight to the suicide... On a scale of Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Eh.


3) Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis (complete series)
I never thought that a comic series could have such a strong impact on my day-to-day life. But days, weeks, even months after completing Transmetropolitan, I find myself thinking of Spider Jerusalem and what he'd do in any given situation. I find myself thinking of his "filthy assistants", Channon and Yelena, and how badass they are. Mostly, though, I find myself thinking about the "City" that Ellis created, and how much it parallels so many things we're living through (thankfully, on a less extreme scale) today. Ellis has been paying attention. I appreciate not only his brutal honesty concerning society's ills, but the fact that ultimately, he believes that human potential still has the power to overcome these ills if we try, and there is goodness in everyone deep down. Goodness, and also the wherewithal to use a bowel disruptor when pushed to their limits. My, but that's a handy invention. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Insanely Awesome.

4) I Feel Sick by Jhonen Vasquez (2 issues)
I read issues #1 and #2 of this strange, strange little comic about an artist's horrific relationship with a work-in-progress. It haunts her, hypnotizes her, runs then ruins her life.... Yes, this is a strange little comic. Made me laugh out loud in places, but I'm no better or worse off for having read it. The art was really cool looking, but the dialogue was strange, as if the writer were interested in creating new slang just for the hell of it. Don't know if there are any more issues of this comic, and I don't particularly care. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome, I give this a Whatever.

5) Optic Nerve by Adrian Tomine (9 issues - more may be coming, but it's unlikely)
I was really happy to have this collection of comics brought to my attention. I really enjoyed the Optic Nerve stories, particularly because they were standalone stories. First, I have to comment on the art, as I really love Tomine's retro-50s style of drawing. Tomine the writer is really wonderful at examining the small moments that might be overlooked otherwise, and specializes in offbeat characters who just can't seem to get those moments right. Some of my favorite stories in the series were "Lunch Break", "Layover", "Dylan and Donovan", "Supermarket" (a favorite even among my favorites!), and "Hawaiian Getaway" (my other favorite among my favorites, it took up all of issue #6). I really hope Tomine gets himself together and puts out more Optic Nerve (especially since it apparently ended with part one of a two part story!). And to all the people who wrote in to Optic Nerve complaining about its "hipness" as if they were too cool for the room - On a scale of Sucks to Awesome, I give Optic Nerve an Awesome!!! So go ahead and rag on my hipness, too. Everyone else does. :)

SHORT STORIES - - (those courtesy of Adam H. and Liz B. from our habitual "Short Story Nights" are marked thusly: **)

6) "Teddy"** by JD Salinger
I can't even begin to tell you how much I love the little boy at the heart of this wonderful short story!! That aside, the crystal clear writing and the crisp characterizations were a breath of fresh air after what I'd previously been reading. This story helped me decide that I need to read more Salinger. I love how he writes about life's Big Questions through characters that are as familiar to you as you are to yourself. On a scale of Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Awesome.

7) "Disappearance 2"**, "Psalms"**, "O'Brien's First Christmas"** (from The World and Other Places) by Jeanette Winterson
My favorite Winterson story of these three is Disappearance 2, which tells a story set in a world where sleep and rest is considered as taboo and deviant as pornography and child molestation - more than. This was my introduction to Winterson's work, and while the stories were interesting, and she does some beautiful things as a writer, I'm not quite sure I'm a fan of hers just yet. There's something that, for all her attempts at being poetic, seems very cold about her writing - very analytical. On her website she says that she doesn't write many short stories for "The same reason that I don't write poetry. I need the elbow room of a novel. Not because I want padding - all my life is spent stripping away what's unnecessary - but because I want to unravel the thought and the emotion in a particular way. I don't write long books, but I prefer not to write short stories." I've been lent "Gut Symmetries" to read at some point, and I'm curious to see how I react to a full novel. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome: Disappearance - Eh, Psalms & O'Brien's First Christmas - Whatever.

8) "If There's A Hell, I Hope You Burn There With the Others"** by Casey Gray
Great title. Unfortunately, not so great a story. While I liked the narrative voice, and there are some humorous exchanges, I had a great deal of trouble sympathizing with anyone in this story. Not much happens, there's a long car ride, and something about a cow at the end. The "play" format of the story didn't help, either. This was from this past fall's issue of Ploughshares, and in Gray's author bio, it mentions that this piece is an excerpt from a novel. This short story barely filled itself out, I don't know how the author plans on filling an entire book. Doesn't matter to me, as I'm probably not going to read it. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Eh.

9) "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams"** by Sylvia Plath
Plath has one of the most distinct and incisive voices I've ever read. This story was wonderful both for its intriguing lead character, and the craft of the story - the structured, yet out-of-control revelation of madness...I need to read this again and take it apart, and that's the highest compliment I can pay to anything. On a scale of Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Awesome.

10) "The Killers"** by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is the writing father I would choose for myself. Ideally, I would be the lovechild of Hemingway and Virginia Woolf. I want to write like that. (I'm sure some of you are scratching your heads as to how that kind of writing could even exist, but I assure you that in my head, it does. I digress...) Anyway, this story was my introduction to Nick Adams, and I was very happy to make his acquaintance. The Killers is a well-paced, tightly-crafted, character-driven story (could I use any more hyphens?!), and it made me want to read more of the Nick Adams stories. I loved that the two killers of the title were so sardonically funny...On a scale of Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Awesome.

11) "The Cryptozoologist" by Tony Earley (from "The New Yorker") this is me reading this story: Good beginning, this is a really interesting character, I'm curious as to what happens to her...oh, great now we're drifting off into cliched older man/younger woman relationship territory, ey? Um, wait a minute...what happened to the point? Um, OK. Drone, drone, drone. And what the hell does BIGFOOT have to do with anything?! Le sigh -you coulda been a contenda. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome, I give this an Eh.

12) "Three Days" by Samantha Hunt (from "The New Yorker")
Unlike "The Cryptozoologist", this story started out sort of boring and ended up being really poignant. I could really relate to the theme of an adult child coming back home and realizing that everything's changed. A woman petting her dead horse through a hole in the ice is such a powerful image as used here. I really enjoyed this. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome, I give this a Good Times!

13) "Sundowners" by Monica Ali (from "The New Yorker")
What a shame that such an awesome first line deteriorated into one of the worst stories I've read in a long time. I've heard such good things about this author, so I was really looking forward to reading this...hopefully, her novel "Brick Lane" is better. In this piece, every character is a motiveless, apathetic stereotype and NOTHING HAPPENS. Not only that, but the one big thing that actually does happen (treated in the story like a passing inconvenience instead of with the examination it deserved!) gets absolutely no real reaction from anyone. Never before have I encountered such blah. On a scale from Sucks to Awesome, I give this a Sucks.

There. Now you're all caught up. As soon as I'm finished with "The Crimson Petal and the White" (I'm more than 3/4 through now), you'll be the first to know.


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