Friday, December 31, 2010

52 books in 52 weeks

22. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

I don't know the name for this genre - suburban realism? a la Tom Perrotta? - but I always enjoy it a great deal. The fact The Slap took place in Australia and was read shortly after I returned did not hurt either. The novel of linked stories hinges on a BBQ where one man slaps another man's child. So simple, yet the perfect catalyst to reveal the characters' petty prejudices, selfish motives, and human limitations.

23. If Trouble Don't Kill Me: A Family's Story of Brotherhood, War, and Bluegrass by Ralph Berrier, Jr.

I reviewed this book for the LA Times on October 10, 2010.

24. If You're Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki

This novella is a gem - sharp and sparkling - and I'm not just saying that because Edan's a friend. I first heard an excerpt at the book release party, and the voice of the narrator was totally compelling. Funny as shit and perversely intriguing in her self-involvement. When I read the rest of the book, I was impressed by Edan's ability to sustain the pitch and stay true to the character.

25. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I got lucky at the end of the year, and I read a bunch of awesome books by women in a row. A Visit from the Goon Squad is probably my favorite book of the year. Each linked story is so rich in its own right, with details so unique and bizarre but also so plausible, and the characters are drawn so fully I still think about them regularly. Jennifer Egan wins again. Brava.

26. Room by Emma Donoghue

Where Goon Squad was remarkable for its characterization and detailed mini-plots, Room was a model for distinctive voice and style. The story is told by a young boy (age 5) who has been held captive with his mother in some suburban shed since birth. All he knows is Room. At first, it's a bit hard to accept he'd be so intelligent and cognizant and basically healthy, but the suspension of disbelief is worth it. Donoghue eerily captures what it would be like to only know such a small world and then...

27. The Best American Short Stories 2010 edited by Richard Russo

It appears that Richard Russo and I have similar taste in short stories. While I didn't love every story, there wasn't one whose inclusion I questioned. And then there were stories I loved, especially Brendan Mathews's "My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer." I can't explain why - uncanny images, emotional turns of phrase, pacing - but I haven't been so creatively turned on by a story in a while.

28. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

In the library version I read of Bad Marie, Marcy Dermansky writes that she wanted the book to be like a French film. Aside from the fact it took place in France, that hadn't occurred to me while reading, but it makes perfect sense. The story is decadent, surreal, uncomfortable, detached, and immersive. Marie and Caitlin somehow keep surviving and ending up in the bath, and that is life affirming in its own way.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

sunday short stack

"There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."
- George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

thanksgiving video mix

Not too long ago, someone asked me to make a mix of 20 of my favorite songs. In no particular order, here they are. Happy Thanksgiving!

The White Stripes - Effect & Cause [Live]

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings - Let Them Knock [Live]

Neko Case - Furnace Room Lullaby [Official Video]

Heavy Trash - Bumble Bee [Live]

Donnie Iris - Ah! Leah [OMG Official Video]

Devotchka - Such a Lovely Thing [Live]

Raphael Saadiq - 100 Yard Dash [Official Video]

The Magnetic Fields - I Wish I Had an Evil Twin

Mike Doughty - Nectarine (Part 2) [Live]

Jeff Buckley - Everybody Here Wants You [Official Video]

Johnny Cash - The Gambler (Kenny Rogers Cover)

Liz Phair - Divorce Song [Live]

M. Ward - Magic Trick

Lucinda Williams - Righteously [Live]

Herman Dune - I Wish That I Could See You Soon [Official Video]

Etta James - You Can Leave Your Hat On

Eels - Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)

The Geraldine Fibbers - Jolene (Dolly Parton Cover)

Cousteau - Last Good Day of the Year [Official Video]

Money Mark - Color of Your Blues [Live]

Gogol Bordello - Start Wearing Purple [Official Video]

Cake - Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

The Hives - Love in Plaster

Daniel Merriweather - Chainsaw

Tom Waits - Little Trip to Heaven

Saturday, September 25, 2010

52 books in 52 weeks

14. Bluets by Maggie Nelson

I love what Maggie Nelson is doing with prose. Bluets doesn't have the macabre power of Jane: A Murder, but it is a beautiful and moving exploration of her relationship to the color blue. The one thing I don't like about the combination of poetry/memoir/aphorism Nelson practices is that I want to bite her style.

15. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

It's unfortunate that I started here in the Carey canon, because I really could not get into this book. I picked it up as part of an Australian literature immersion around my trip to Adelaide, etc. this summer, and I was not engaged. Ned Kelly is certainly a memorable bushranger, but there was nothing for me to grab on to as a twenty-first century woman living (for now) in Los Angeles.

16. It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden

I bought this book on a whim at the National Gallery of Victoria. The graphic design grabs you, and then Arden - a British advertising guru - gives you small nuggets of wisdom he acquired on his rise to the top. I read it in one sitting and felt energized, but not for that long.

17. Mission to America by Walter Kirn

My introduction to Kirn's work was his appearance at the Central Library for Lost in the Meritocracy. If you were there, you know the excerpt he read was memorable. (Teaser: there is college humiliation and piano destruction.) So I started this book, which had been on my shelf awhile. Mission to America is enjoyable as a subtle parody of the current state of American spirituality and lack thereof.

18. Dream Stuff: Stories by David Malouf

Unlike Carey's novel, Malouf's short stories gave me a smorgasbord of Australia. I was able to have a quick taste of urban Australia, rural, mid-century, contemporary, adult, child, dark, lyrical...I am very much looking forward to reading more of Malouf, and if you haven't checked him out, it's worth it.

19. Ilustrado by Miguel Sycedo

There are elements of Sycedo's rich, far-reaching novel of the Philippines and the writer's life that are derivative, but he chooses his influences well: Bolaño, Vonnegut, Pynchon...Ilustrado won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008, and as a first novel, it's very impressive. There are moments that call out for pruning, but for the most part, it's quite well done.
20. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

If you know anything about me, you know I adore David Mitchell, so I was half heartbroken when I started reading this new novel. I wanted another Cloud Atlas, and this epic history of an eighteenth-century Dutch-inhabited island-ette off the coast of Japan is not very similar at all. But once I got over myself and started reading this novel on its own merits, I longed to escape to Dejima every night before I slept.

21. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtyengart

I'm looking forward to reading more Shtyengart. While this novel started to lose me when New York descended into chaos, I was very impressed by his ventriloquism. Both main characters speak - or actually write - in very distinct styles and voices, and I never doubted their authenticity. I'd love to see what Shtyengart could do with characters I really cared about. His portrait of the dystopian near future made me feel ickily anxious.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

sunday short stack

"The penalty for success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you." - Nancy Astor

Saturday, September 18, 2010

mid-century los angeles

Check out more Echo Park/Silverlake photos from Paul Furlong's collection.

Check out more Bunker Hill photos from George Mann.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

sunday short stack

"Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it." - Mark Twain

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

et ce n'est pas fini!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

sunday short stack

"There are years that ask questions, and years that answer." - Zora Neale Hurston

Sunday, July 25, 2010

sunday short stack

"Every moment of one's existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit." - Norman Mailer

Saturday, July 24, 2010

hero worship

Skylight has been kind enough to post a recording of the reading here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

sunday short stack

"No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one." - Elbert Hubbard

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday, May 09, 2010

sunday short stack

"The trouble with being poor is it takes up all your time." - Willem de Kooning

Saturday, May 08, 2010

52 books in 52 weeks

I'm only five books shy of being on target. Not bad...

5. Free: The Future of a Radical Priceby Chris Anderson

My friend often talks about how much the internet loves him because it gives him all this free stuff. Ha ha, I would say, not actually understanding the real explanation. Now, thanks to Chris Anderson and his concise explanation of the multiple "free" models that structure much web commerce, I get it. I know there was some controversy when this book was published, but I don't remember what it was.

6. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

When I first started reading this short story collection, I was taken aback that it had won so many awards because three of the first four stories have basically the same plot. A pretty, poor girl is taken in by a more wealthy landowner/official who denies/abandons her shortly before his death. It was startling and a little surreal. However, the plots and characters vary much more as the collection continues and no doubt, Mueenuddin is a writer to watch.

7. A Dark Matterby Peter Straub

About once a year, I break from my typical reading material and pick up a popular, recently released horror novel with great hopes for spooking. Last year, I read Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, which was pretty entertaining. This year, it was Straub and I sadly, snobbily found the whole production a little silly. I was not spooked and thought all the characters - especially this Eel chick - were a bit insufferable.

8. We Have Always Lived in the Castleby Shirley Jackson

Now, this was spooky and great fun. Just look at the cover of this recent edition! Creepy! Jackson's classic tale of these recluse sisters - whose family was taken by arsenic poisoning years before, for which the oldest sister was tried and acquitted - is suspenseful and richly drawn. The narrator is delightfully unreliable. When their cad of a cousin arrives on the scene, all hell breaks loose.

9. The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand

I'm not sure who the audience is for this book. I would think it would be me, but I felt I was hearing a lot of what I already knew/could guess. So if it was written for a more non-academic audience, I'm just not sure they'd be all that interested. Beyond that, it's a brief, accessible overview of four different aspects of the current university climate.

10. Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us (with Bitchin' Soundtrack)by Steve Almond

I reviewed this for the LA Times on April 29th. Check it out here.

11. Just Kidsby Patti Smith

I did not expect to love this book as much as I did. I thought I'd like to support Smith's writing and learn more about Mapplethorpe. I did not suspect that I would not be able to put this book down, reading every evocative detail with a hunger for that time period in New York that I didn't know I had. I certainly did not know I would finish the book sobbing. Beautiful and moving.

12. Fun with Problemsby Robert Stone

I'm still hungover from Stone's latest story collection. It took me about four attempts to get into the title story, but once I got past that, the remaining stories were lively and pleasantly uncomfortable - full of messy drunks causing messes.

13. Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum

I reviewed this for the LA Times on May 9th (yes, in the future). Check it out here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

sunday short stack

"The universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf." - Shakti Gawain

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

los angeles festival of books 2010

Another Festival of Books has come and gone...I may have more commentary at some point, but I'm going to let photos and my panel coverage for Jacket Copy do the talking for now.

The first panel I covered on Saturday was Rebooting Culture with Ander Monson, Nicholas Carr, and David Shields, moderated by David Ulin..You can read the coverage here.

That afternoon was Carol Burnett...

And on Sunday, I had the pleasure (ahem) of covering Bret Easton Ellis.