Thanks all, and the Jeff, for hosting me here this week.Â I had a grand old time.Â I will continue (perhaps even increase!) my blogging over here; feel free to stop on by!
Freebird Books in Red Hook is, basically, the platonic ideal of a used bookstore.Â (Though that used bookstore in Seattle that stays open 24 hours is also a hot contender.Â I am also a huge fan of the giant ones in New Hampshire run out of barns.Â But we’re talking platonic ideal, not appealing innovation, so Freebird is still coming out on top.)Â Â Closely stacked wood shelves?Â Check.Â Lively mix of galleys, slightly used, and downright old/rare books?Â Check.Â Arty, diy, eclectic decor?Â Check.Â Comfy chairs?Â Check.Â And, of course, that musty, sweet, papery smell?Â Check.Â Plus, they have a post-apocalyptic book club.
I learned about this book club back in August when I first moved to Brooklyn, but haven’t been able to attend until this month.Â In fact, I had no excuse not to attend this month, because they were discussing Brian Slattery’s new book Liberation:Being the Adventures of the Slick Six… Â I have had the rare pleasure of reading both of Brians novels in galley form (thanks Liz!), and I had missed the great book release celebration at Sunny’s, plus I’d been meaning to go to this book club for months — anyway, so I high-tailed it on the B61, ate an Australian meat pie for dinner, andÂ joined the discussion.
The book was chosen, in part, because its apocalypse was unique and,Â ah, topicalÂ — the US falls apart not due to nuclear war or zombie plagues but because of an economic collapse.Â This lead to much post-discussion head shaking about disappearing jobs and falling Dows, all with a great riverside view of the financial district to boot.Â But as Brian said early on (he was present for the discussion), Liberation is also a “hippie novel” as concerned with portrayals of communal joy as communal misery, and Brian’s post-collapse US, while definitely bleak, is also dotted and streaked with life.Â He said he listened obsessively to Dylan’s Highway 61 while working on the book, and I’d say the tone of the book is greatly similar to that album.Â Dark and joyful, careful and raucous, and while rooted in real-world problems, its narrative is operating on aÂ broader and more surreal plane.
I’d love to write in more detail about this book, butÂ I am on my lunch break, and have just wolfed down my delicious cold pizza and now must go sell some books.Â I just want to add that the coolest thing about the discussion was that unlike a lot of writers, Brian could talk about where a number of the ideas and images in the book had their genesis with ease, and the answers were things like watching currency traders in Zambia and meeting with coffee plantation workers in Guatemala and editing public policy journals.Â I am probably embarrassing Brian by saying this, but his answers were fascinating, andÂ part of what makes his books so exhilarating are their, and Brian’s,Â deepÂ engagement with the world.Â Definitely check out Liberation, and if you’re in New York, go to Freebird.Â Neither will disappoint.
I am going to tell you all a secret :
I seriously am kind of in love with Barbara Stanwyck.
OK, so that’s not, like, a secret. There’s also, not, ultimately, much to say there. Let’s try again.
Um, shit. Sorry, I keep getting distracted.
This is a writer’s blog, and I, too, am a writer, so I feel like I should say something about writing. I went to KGB Fantastic Fiction last night, which is a monthly science fiction/fantasy/etc reading series in New York. The fiction always fits both definitions of the “fantastic,” and a bunch of good people always congregate to hear fiction, catch up, and drink beer. I left with a warm fuzzy feeling, and not just because a friend bought me a gigantic bottle of russian ale. Writing is described as a lonely undertaking, but one of the shocking things for me is how many incredible people — I mean, people at the level of incredible where you were pretty sure people like this didn’t actually exist — I have met because I’ve gone to workshops and published stories and shown up once a month in a bar.
So I left thinking about community, and how energizing it can be, and how I would be a much different, and lesser, writer if I hadn’t stumbled into it. The social aspects of writing are often derided as distractions, but that’s ridiculous. The support and debate and, yeah, fun have helped me to understand what it means to dedicate yourself to this absurd pursuit as much as time alone at my desk has, if not even more.
But back to the lonely undertaking. People say that like it’s such a sad fact, or maybe I’ve been mis-reading them, because to me that statement has always sounded tragic. But my most focused, even joyful, writing happens when I feel, if not lonely, then certainly alone. I’ve lived in some lonely places over the past few years, and it, at times, drove me crazy. But now that I’m in New York, I find myself perversely missing those long stretches of time where I was by myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a stupidly social person. And if someone calls me up and says, hey, let’s hang out and write, I will be there. But writing for me feels like, ultimately, a profoundly private act, something secret, even. When I really need to dig in (or, say, write a story that’s due in, say, four days), I want to be alone for those four days, occasionally forgetting to feed myself, stumbling out of the house in hideous sweatpants to walk the dog — in fact, that feels pretty good. Dangerous to keep up for too long, but exhilarating in short bursts, like a sprint.
I suppose I started this post confessing my love for Barbara Stanwyck for a reason, though at the time I hadn’t thought of it that way. I came out as a writer and as a queer at about the same time, a long, slow, stumbling process wrapped up in huge questions like “What do I like? What do I want?” No one knows how to answer those questions, but if you don’t try, it seems a standard, unpleasant answer will be provided, free of charge.Â Fiction is about telling the truth, right, whether the truth for your character, your story, or for you, and I find that truth to be the hardest to track down. Maybe that’s my secret, really.
(Sorry, I am listening to T. Rex right now.)
Seriously, which of these looks more awesome?
Twilight and the Swedish film Let the Right One In could be summarized in the exact same manner.Â A lonely outcast, reeling from the effects of their parents’ divorce, and, specifically, their mother’s self-involvement, befriends a beautiful, fascinating stranger.Â This stranger seems to be their age, but exists in a different universe than their own constrained teenage lifestyle.Â Our human protagonist starts to fall in love, and the stranger is drawn as well.Â The stranger uses his or her capacity for violence to aid the protagonist, and grows increasingly protective.Â The protagonist, in turn, gives the stranger a taste of “normal” life that has before then been unknown and forbidden.Â When their bond is already cemented, the protagonist discovers (surprise!) that this beautiful stranger is a vampire.Â Instead of running away screaming, the protagonist stands by their vamp.Â They are drawn deeper into the vampire’s violent world, until a life-changing act of violence causes the protagonist to realize that they want to be exactly like their blood-sucking paramour.Â The vampire does not allow the protagonist to do this, however, so both stories end in an odd romantic/creepy surrender.
I have not seen the film version of Twilight, so I won’t argue that Let the Right One In makes better use of its claustrophobic setting or portrays its violence more unflinchingly, though I’m guessing both are true.Â But Right One is a more effective version of the story above for one reason in particular: it refuses to ignore or push aside the vampire’s status as predator.Â Twilight creates a violent, obsessive character and then asks the audience to believe he confines that power to killing mountain lions and protecting one unremarkable teenage girl.Â Let the Right One’s vampire, on the other hand, expresses her love through acts of protective violence because her entire nature is violence.Â There is no easy out, no deer to kill instead of people.Â She is a predator, and while the audience I saw the film with cheered when Eli ripped her true love’s bullies to pieces, ultimately the film makes it clear that she is preying on Oskar as much as she does on any of the villagers.Â Her love transforms him into a predator, too, and this is useful to her. Earlier in the film, the older man who did her killing for her dies; at the end of the film, it’s clear that Oskar has become his replacement.
As much as Bella claims she is “doomed” for Edward, the narrative of Twilight is one of misunderstood, redemptive love.Â Edward’s controlling behavior is “concern,” his obsession “romantic” his actions “brave.”Â Â He does them for Bella’s sake, so they must be good.Â Let the Right One In does not whitewash Eli’s behavior, and their love, while freeing, is not redemptive in the least.Â So, avoid the 24-hour-lines and save Twilight for some sad evening, five years from now, on TBS.Â Let the Right One In is worthy of your $12* to see it on the big screen.
*NY money.Â Perhaps you live somewhere where it’s still only $10?Â JEALOUS.
Or at least the illustration/ comics nerds in all of us.
When I was a kid, children’s books were sort of a religion in our house.Â We lived near a book warehouse, where my mother could do things like buy every Caldecott winner for a dollar each.Â I watched Reading Rainbow so religiously that I referred to LeVar Burton by his first name at the dinner table.Â The city of Philadelphia had a children’s book fair where we could go meet authors and illustrators and buy their work; afterwards my mom hung the signed posters all over the house.
When I got older, I forgot about those books, or thought I did.Â Then I started working at a bookstore.Â Like a language you once spoke but lost track of, the books rushed back to me as soon as I was around them again.Â We sell a lot of kid’s books, and despite a twenty year gap, more or less, between now and my time of children’s book worship, I can still pull out the ones I loved.
But the biggest surprise for me hasn’t been that I remember books I used to love; it’s that I’ve discovered new books that move and delight twenty-five-year old me.Â Some kids books, even great kids books, are truly for kids.Â But there are others that deal with friendship and innocence and wonder and, oddly, sadness in ways both more immediate and more sophisticated than many adult stories.Â They have plenty to offer grown-ups, or wherever you fall between, and I highly recommend checking out not only the classics, but this cool new stuff.
The image above is from a book “The Way Back Home” by Oliver Jeffers.Â His books are sad and fanciful and shockingly beautiful.Â They often feature delightful jumps in logic — a plane that flies to the moon, a penguin who floats to England, a book-eating boy — that characterizes the best of a certain stripe of fantasy.Â And the illustrations.Â They’re awesome.Â Observe:
A co-worker (who is an excellent illustrator himself) turned me on to these books, and I adore the hell out of them.
Jeffers is my go-to guy at the moment, but there’s a few other new-ish books that are totally worth your time.Â A new book just came out that was, incredibly, the author’s grad school thesis.Â It’s called Wonder Bear, and is one of the most beautiful, and trippiest, books I’ve seen in awhile.Â Like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, is told all in pictures, and has a similar dreamlike feel.
Finally, Adam Rex has a both delightful and dark book called Pssst! about a girl who can hear all the animals talk in the zoo — and they won’t stop asking her to smuggle things in for them.
Anyone know something I’m missing?Â Mo Willems is also very charming, though I’m not sure how many times I can get excited about telling the pigeon not to do things.Â Sooner or later, the pigeon is just going to have to learn from his mistakes.
My freshman year in college, my adviser encouraged me to take a film class instead of french literature because I needed to do something “fun.”Â So I signed up for the gateway course into the film major, which was a history of cinema to 1945.Â Joke was on that adviser, because film studies turned out to be one of the most selective, competitive majors in the school, and my “fun” class was a crapton of “work.”Â But I was introduced to films like Journey to the Moon and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and M. and Golddiggers of 1933, and we learned to take them apart an examine how, exactly, they told their stories.Â I was hooked, and I ended up majoring in film.
I first learned about Guy Maddin in another film class.Â The professor introduced his feature film “Careful,” by showing us his short “The Heart of the World.”Â Afterwards, she confessed that she thought that, really, this was his finest film.Â Heart of the World is a mesmerizing, impossibly concentrated piece of work.Â In six minutes Maddin fits in sibling rivalry, a beautiful scientist, a lusty industrialist, the end of the world, and its salvation.Â Instead of simply riffing on the strangeness of early cinema, not to mention the dream-like feeling of watching a partially decayed print, Maddin uses those things, plus manic, breakneck cutting which I associate as much with action movie trailers as I do with Eisenstein, to create a film that is not only strange and arresting but profoundly urgent.Â I have watched this film more times than I can count, and I still spot something new, even on crappy youtube quality.Â It may be a sin to see this via the old youtubery for the first time, but, hey, that’s what the internet is for.Â Sin
So Jeff wrote me an email a few months ago and asked if I would “guest blog” for him for a week. At the time I was all like, “ooo, ‘guest blogging,’ that sounds fancy.” And, friends, it is. I get my own little login and everything.
Previous guest-bloggers have done some awesome, fancy stuff, too. I especially enjoyed Vandana Singh’s essays and taking a crazy trip with Moles. The thing is, I have a confession: I am not that fancy. My blog, especially since moving to New York, has been intermittent posts of pictures confirming for myself, as much as anyone else, that I am still, in fact, in New York. I sometimes include the occasional tirade, because, hello.
But that is me as a blogger. As a guest blogger, things will be totally different. I imagine this will be like how you wait for visitors to act like a tourist in your own town. Sure, the Met is always there, but that’s just it: it’s always there. For people who sweep into town, the Met is only there for the next week, and you better damn well take advantage of it.
As for me, my short fiction has appeared in a number of fine publications, and a good deal is available online. I’ve been on Live Journal for awhile, and I recently have been seduced by Tumblr, which I like to think of as a live journal for my visual side, but is really just live journal for the ADD set. There’s even drama! My current obsessions include found photographs, Buckminster Fuller, Barbara Stanwyck, Stumptown Coffee, and children’s books.
A few promised posts: the best short film in the world, why we should all pay more attention to books we read when we were ten, a report from my post-apocalyptic book club and a vampire movie you should see instead of Twilight. Hope you stick around!