Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What I've Been Reading

>>> True story: Elisa Gabbert eats Vanilla Wafers.

I know because she sent me some chapbooks wrapped in a package of them. I'm reading her collaboration with Kathleen Rooney, Something Really Wonderful, which has a pink cover and is full of rhymes and little mysteries.

From "XII":

If there are bridges, we have to jump. Can you see me?
If you can, send a signal. At the very least, wave

your white hands or your periwinkle handkerchief.
They might look like birds from up here on the mountain.

>>> Little Children by Tom Perrotta

I saw the movie first and thought Kate Winslet was lovely, as usual. I usually hate voiceovers (why is it a movie, then, and not a book?) but since they lifted them straight from the novel, and the writing's so clever and sharp, they worked.

p79:

A half hour of Blue's Clues after lunch was the only time Sarah could have plausibly gotten to herself--a little time to read the paper, call an old friend, maybe practice some yoga stretches--but instead she'd sat beside Lucy on the couch and watched the show, fantasizing the whole time about Steve, the boyish host, who seemed like a guy she might actually hit it off with if they ever got a chance to meet. He reminded her of herself: a smart, somewhat passive person who'd somehow gotten trapped in Kidworld. He pronounced his words a little too clearly and made exaggerated faces as he dished out halfhearted compliments to his viewers (Wow! You're really smart!). A rumor had recently gone around the playground that Steve had a drug problem, and who could blame him? Oh, Steve, run away with me! We can hole up in a flophouse and smoke crack for a couple of days.

>>> The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

There are a lot of footnotes. There are not enough footnotes. Is it fair for an author to assume his audience knows so much Spanish? And not just high school Spanish, but a Dominican dialect? Whole sentences I don't understand. Not even italicized. I'm going to have to start using translators online, but it interrupts the pleasure of reading his runaway prose.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This might help with the Diaz.

http://www.languagerealm.com/spanish/spanishslang.php

But I think he intentionally interrupts his flow for reasons to do with the seductive power that voice (whether in the hands of a writer or a dictator) can exert. But I love this book anyway.

Mike Young said...

Yes, Elisa Gabbert, excellent. Excellent.

Julia said...

Ok, I just finished "Oscar Wao" two days ago, and I just didn't like it at all. I'm been freaking out about it. Leigh, I know that you read a lot more contemporary fiction than I do, so maybe you can tell me why the books written now that are supposed to be so good are SO BAD. My recent disappointments: Marisha Pessl's from last year, this year's Junot Diaz. Fuck both those books. Not any good. Not important or particularly well-written or beautiful, strange, profound, different, anything. Fuck them! Why can't all young writers be like Jhumpa Lahiri, with great skill and thoughtfulness?
My complaints about the Diaz:
1. Brief, undetailed, uninteresting writing. "For the next five years he ____. His childhood was spent ______. After that, he spent a year ____." Everything is reduced to these quips that tell nothing about anything. It is possible to tell a story in a hundred pages that spans fifty years without ignoring the detail that creates a world. The only scene that felt real--had sights, smells, texture, taste--was Oscar's return to the DR.
2. Oscar, who the story is about, who every character comes back to, who begins and ends this book, is so boring. We don't know him. He's uninteresting, nerdy not in an endearing but in an offputting way, isolated, never changes, never grows, is unwilling to try anything. I invested nothing in him, and his loss is not important. So, oops, this book's foundation is worth nothing.
3. Diaz's use of slang, which I found refreshing and straightforward and honest in "Drown," is in this book unnecessary, flippant, forced. Three repetitions in the narration of "Negro, please," in 150 pages? Hey, go kill yourself. Not cute. Not needed. Just distasteful attempts to add flair and personality to a barren and uninteresting story.
Um, I really didn't like it. I feel cheated, I don't understand why so many books come out now that are just exercises in being adorable and will never add anything to the world. Why doesn't anyone write a book that has some meaning? Where someone grows or changes? Why couldn't Diaz create a character in whom something was at stake, whose loss was the world's loss, who we feel for and get angry with and miss? This book was stupid. I can't stop feeling gypped.
I love you and I miss you.
Julia

Anonymous said...

Julia, everyone is of course entitled to their opinion, and your "not liking" The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao is your business. Calling it a "bad" book, however, is wilfully ignorant, and your suggestion that it is not well written suggests, in turn, that you have no idea what "well written" means.

Julia said...

Thanks for your reply a month after my original comment! I couldn't quite follow your reasoning about how my dislike for this book means that I'm an ignorant illiterate asshole--perhaps if you used more quotation marks in your next pointed anonymous post, it would clear matters up. "Looking" "forward" to hearing from "you".