Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: novels

I never do anything today. Black Friday keeps me safely home, away from bargain-seeking crowds in the retail jungle.

Still, who doesn’t like a good deal, right?

Which is why, for a limited time only, all my books for Kindle are just 99 cents.

This includes the essays and short stories, of course, “Jamais Plus” and “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and “Blues’n How to Play’em.”

But it also includes both:

Meets Girl

and

The Prodigal Hour

Both of which have been consistently well received and so far well reviewed.

So if you’re looking for some Exciting books to give to people you love, filling up their digital readers or sending them a gift for their phone they can read during their morning commute, they make for a perfect gift. And just 99 cents for a very limited time only.

(pretend there’s a little accent thingy over that ‘e’, please, because I think there should be one there. I could be wrong)

Wired‘s Paul Boutin notes that “blogging is so 2004.” Basically, Boutin seems to think that Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook have not so much rendered blogs obsolete as taken their thunder. Why blog when we can micro-Twitter and Flickr to our hearts’ content? His first paragraph indicates I need to quit blogging, because it just ain’t worth it, and I’ll never reach a level of, say, Gizmodo, the popular gadgets blog with a team of writers producing dozens of posts per day.

He’s probably correct. I think I hope he’s correct, in fact. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with blogging, I’ll admit, for personal reasons; while I do love to do it, and I love the instantaneous and often-collaborative nature of it, I feel like . . . well, I feel a lot like it takes away from my real writing. And I hate to say this isn’t my ‘real writing,’ but I’ve never thought of it that way, probably because I use different writing ‘muscles’ to blog than to write . . . well, pretty much everything else. I’ve been discussing with my students the idea of frameworks in writing, and I’ve always thought blogs have a different framework than anything else, probably because everything has its own framework.

Then again, that may be just me.

Continue reading

I hadn’t planned to blog today, but earlier today, Chartroose pinged my “Batman Noir” post to tangent from as she wrote about Christian Bale and American Psycho, and now, in the truest spirit of Internet meta, I ping back to her in response, because I started to write a comment I realized might as well have been a blog on its own.

To sum up, while she was not a big fan of either the book or the movie, Chartroose seems to appreciate the book for what it is: a non-comedic satire. She mentions the outcry that occurred when the book was first published, then her own reaction to it:

I read until the wee hours of the morning and finished it the next evening. I decided the novel was total trash and stuck in my bookcase, thinking I would probably end up throwing it away later on. Disposal of the novel never happened though, in fact, over the next several days I found myself pulling it off the shelf and rereading entire passages just to make sure that I was recalling them correctly. I had American Psycho on the brain, and it was not an enjoyable experience. Even though it was creeping me out, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the most disturbing book I had ever read.

She goes on to make some extraordinarily cogent points re: sociopathy and . . . oh, hell. Did you read it? You totally should. It’s totally worth it. In fact, here’s that link again, because otherwise I’m going to have to quote her penultimate paragraph, anyway.

Okay. So.

I can’t say that I loved American Psycho; like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, it’s not an experience you can really love–it’s bleak and disturbing and kind of even hurts as you read it, so it’s not really something to love.

But good?

Yes, I think so.

I never heard the media outcry over the novel; I was a sophomore in college in 1997 by the time a buddy of mine read it and recommended it to me. And perhaps that’s very crucial; sophomore is Latin for “fool,” or thereabouts, if I’m not mistaken, and where I was in life at that time might have been instrumental in my reading of Ellis’ novel. To wit: back then, I was struggling with my identity. I’d just left my bucolic South Jersey hometown for Jersey City to attend a small Jesuit college that was, ultimately, a seminal experience in my life even though it wasn’t exactly the prototypical college experience. When most of my friends at other institutions were getting their bang on every bit as much as they were getting their book on, I had buried my head in credits and writing (back then I had just completed the first draft of my first novel, which clocked in at nearly half a million words, not one of which was actually really worth anything). I was struggling with identity to the point that I was even questioning my own name; my given name is William, and every man I know with the same name had become “Bill” by high school, and so I did, too. Until well into college, when I just wasn’t sure what I wanted people to call me anymore.

And finally, I was a nearly twenty-year-old dude, which meant I felt like society had certain expectations of me that I was meant to fulfill. Except I had absolutely no idea how to actually be a guy, and so I sought advice from the only resource readily available: Men’s Health. Not to mention Esquire and GQ. Every man depicted in the pages of those magazines seemed to be the ur-man, not just the uber-man but in fact the sort of prototype on whom the entire idea of masculinity is based. Washboard abs, Colgate teeth, well groomed hair, chiseled biceps, perfect jeans, tailored suit . . . you get the idea.

The perfect ideal of masculinity.

That was the mindset I had when I came to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and for that reason, it was the perfect book at the perfect time in my life. Not only did I feel like I got it, and what he was trying to do, but I felt too as though he had captured precisely the perfectly incredible absurdity of pretty much everything I was experiencing at the time. One device Ellis makes frequent use of in the novel is the extraordinary attention to detail the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, pays to the wardrobe and effects of those around him; anyone who’s ever read Esquire has encountered precisely the same thing. The ten best face washes. The thirteen best new colognes of the season. The four most realistic-looking fake tans.

And no woman can tell me such is relegated to the pages of men’s magazines. Cosmo does it constantly–this season’s hottest shades of lipstick! Next season’s hippest designer!

When I read American Psycho, I read it as a pretty much brilliant critique of precisely that aspect of our culture. Chartroose mentions:

American Psycho is trying to tell us that capitalism is as violent and merciless as Patrick Bateman, and Bateman’s disregard for women as anything but body parts to be abused and discarded is a mirror reflection of modern society’s objectification of women.

But I think it’s more than that; it’s not modern society’s objectification of women but rather our culture’s collective objectification of ourselves. Bateman doesn’t merely objectify women; he objectifies everyone, which is why every new character is described not in terms of a quality or a smile or a trait but rather in terms of the suit he wears or, famously, the business card he carries or, even more famously, the music he likes. When Bateman enjoys something, like Phil Collins’ “Su-su-sudio,” he does so not because he actually likes the music but rather because it is something everyone else seems to enjoy. He uses a Sony Walkman and wears headphones quite often, and when he listens to Whitney Houston, it’s not because he wants to dance with somebody but rather because he wants people to think he wants to. If Bateman objectifies everyone, it is because he feels himself an object; his lack of empathy comes not from his detachment from other people’s feelings but rather from the fact that he has none of his own. His clothes, his beauty regimen, his workouts; he’s not improving himself so much as improving the way the world sees him, and trying all the time to be a more beautiful object to those who view him.

I think it’s a rather brilliant critique, obviously, and I think it ultimately springs from the same sorts of disillusionment as inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Patrick Bateman is the reason Fight Club exists; he is a rockstar, basically, and he doesn’t chase cars and clothes because he already owns them. He has achieved everything society has told him he should want but still feels he has no purpose or place. He kills people, but mostly he understands that “On a long-enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero” for everyone.

“Shut up! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?”
“No, no, I… don’t…”
“Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.”

Patrick Bateman has achieved, as both a man and a person, pretty much everything society expects of him, or is on his way to. Society has convinced him that, if he does so, he will be happy, but that happiness . . .

Where is it?

Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.

Precisely.

Willy Wonka promised that the man who got everything he ever wanted lived happily ever after, but Jagger got it arguably more right; happiness isn’t getting what you want but rather in getting what you need and understanding why you needed it in the first place.

I read somewhere, I believe, that something like three of the top five bestselling novels in Japan last year were published via cell phones. Interesting, in its way; the idea seems popular, and I’m all for getting new readers and new books to those new readers any way possible. But I wonder a bit about the content. I try not to judge such things, because it makes me feel like a pompous douchebag, but I worry that the kind of novels that lend themselves to being read serially via cellphone are the kind of novels, say, Tila Tequila might write (if you don’t know who she is, count yourself lucky).

Amusingly, though, I caught a feature in the latest issue of Esquire–great works of literature as text messages.

Click the image below to visit the slideshow:

I had some ideas for others:

Macbeth: “I can haz crown? Out damn spot!”

American Gods: Meet new godz. Same as old onez.

Old Man’s War: “I fite everything! My DAN makes me teh wassum!!11”

Hamlet: 2 b or not? Not.

Caught this article on the New York Times site this morning. Seems to be a day or so old, and it’s supposed to be about a movie that takes place in academia, but the article seems to be about how strange it is for a fiction writer to work in Hollywood, and what a difficult time of it said fiction writer would have.

I actually get that, at least considering the author in question, one Mark Jude Poirier. I’ve never actually heard of Poirier, but he’s apparently got two short story collections and two novels under his belt, and he studied at both the University of Iowa and Johns Hopkins, both of which have renowned writing programs, though the article doesn’t mention what Poirier studied. It does mention what Poirier writes about, to some degree:

His published writing, which also includes a second story collection, “Unsung Heroes of American Industry” (2001), and a second novel, “Modern Ranch Living” (2004), is distinguished by good, dry jokes, a fine appreciation of messy families (he is one of 11 children), a tremendous affection for teenagers and losers, and a strange fascination with amusement-park rides. Only the last is missing from “Smart People.”

I could see why that might not work in a movie, or at least might become one of those pointless, “character-driven” pieces that inevitably come up for Oscars. Rafferty uses this dichotomy, though, to make some blanket statements:

But mostly nothing happens, except in the sense that novelists and short-story writers understand. For them moving a character from not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event.

And that may be why so few writers of fiction manage to succeed, or even to be minimally comfortable, in Hollywood. There was a time when the studios, hankering for prestige, would throw money at well-known literary figures and set them to work on projects to which their actual talents were almost risibly irrelevant: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, William Faulkner, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, among others, all did their stints and went home, for the most part, baffled. (Playwrights, with their expertise in dramatic construction and ingrained audience-pleasing instincts, usually fared better.)

These days Hollywood — even “independent” Hollywood — doesn’t frequently come calling on novelists of any literary stature. John Sayles, who directs his own screenplays, has had a productive career, and Richard Price and Larry McMurtry get work too, but it’s a short list. Producers care less about prestige than about marketable stories, and what in the world do fiction writers know about stories?

The fact that “not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event” for many current writers of short stories and novels is I think, for the most part, why some many current short stories and novels suck worse than a gaping chest wound and are crappier than a sewage treatment facility.

I can’t argue with Rafferty’s list of writers of the golden age, nor with the quality of their output; I’ve often said that the best thing William Faulkner ever wrote was The Big Sleep, and the thing about it was that Ray Chandler had already done all the heavy lifting for him. Most successful novel adaptations weren’t written by their novelists; The Shawshank Redemption was written by Frank Darabont, and Jo Rowling hasn’t touched any of the Harry Potter scripts (well. Except to approve them). There are a few writers I can think of who do both successfully: Alex Garland (The Beach), David Benioff, and Neil Gaiman are, roughly, it, but the thing about them is that each seem to have an understanding that, for stories to work, something must happen and someone must change.

If nothing happens and nobody changes, is it really a story?

Or is it actually just a handful of competently composed sentences, told by idiots full of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing?

I’d argue most fiction is the latter, nowadays. Which I suppose makes Rafferty right, in his way, but for all the wrong reasons.

Not long ago, for my business course, I had to do some market research for ‘competitive’ projects; books or other media that were somewhat like mine but not so much. Acknowledging there’s anything out there remotely similar is difficult; whoever wants to admit that their stories aren’t actually unique? One’s first instinct, often, is to point out differences; no, that’s not at all like what I did. My characters are like this. Etc.

While browsing through time travel fiction on Amazon, though, I encountered a novel called Discipline, by Paco Ahlgren I’ll admit I clicked through, at first, based on its cover; it really is a good-looking book, with a well designed (if rather vague, now that I think about it) cover. Its description mentioned quantum mechanics, time travel, and Buddhism, and I was all kinds of like “Sold.” It also mentioned chess, which is up there with golf in terms of activities I just don’t get, but I figured, hey, I’ll give it a go anyway.

The novel follows Jasper Cole as he learns about some unique abilities he has. It’s approximately like The Matrix, story-wise, except without the Matrix thing itself, which I liked; Ahlgren sets everything pretty much here and now, and its ‘fantasy’ elements can be explained away to quantum physics/mechanics. Uncertainty principles and the like.

This is an idea I’ve been fascinated with; the question of reality, and what it means. There are places where philosophy and quantum physics supercollide, and this novel is sort of about them.

It’s not perfect. There are some long sections of pretty much completely expository dialogue, where one character explains something to another pretty much for the sake of the reader. Cole, too, comes off like a whiny little bitch sometimes because his mentors feel, at moments, that he is not yet ready for new concepts, which would be fine except one gets the impression Ahlgren is simply holding his cards just yet, which makes Cole reader-proxy. It clunks down at times, and it neither starts nor ends well; I get the sense it’s because it’s the first in a planned series, but still it could have satisfied more.

At the same time I ordered Alhgren’s, I ordered Caprice Crane’s new book, Forget About It. The premise is rather awesome; a girl with a life she doesn’t much like gets into an accident, so she fakes amnesia for a ‘do-over.’ I was a huge fan of Crane’s first novel, Stupid and Contagious, with which this new one shared its wit and charm.

It isn’t quite without its problems, either; for a do-over, its protagonist, Jordan, starts down pretty much the same path she’d led before. She’s a bit of a pushover (which is part of the premise), but she also seems like she tries her best to avoid every confrontation she could have with people. Which is true to life, certainly, but novels aren’t life.

Overall, I enjoyed it for what it was; light and fun, with some romance and plenty of humor.

So what was the last good book you read? I’m looking for suggestions for my next read.

And by the way, A couple new photos (again of fountains) over at Imagery.