Sunday, November 26, 2006

Virtual Love by Avodah Offit

Emailing depth analysts explore mutual self-analysis and discover they share more than a profession. Offit is a psychiatrist who has pretty good storytelling faculty. Dialogue driven plot in emails is a bit of a different spin on the novel written as shared letters. Both analysts share experiences with significant patients. And yet it is the whole premise of reading and writing as a means of self-examination and active imagination that raises the novel above the norm and the following quote shows Offit has made a conscious effort toward a new definition of bibliotherapy.

p. 120
"Theorists of deconstruction say about stories that it is not easy to distinguish what is in the text from what is in the reader. So, in practicing psychiatry, it is not easy to distinguish what is in the patient and what in the analyst. Even more complex, in writing about doing analysis, it is virtually impossible to know whether one is the imagined reader, the patient, the self as psychiatrist or the self with its own personal history. Furthermore, in the interest of confidentiality as well as with a view to improving the story, one may combine cases, elaborate on the nugget of an interesting plot or fabulate one's own past. Is what emerges fact or fiction. How is it to be presented? How can I best tell the story...and why do I want to tell it?"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Well worth reading if you can sympathize with a precious adolescent mind coming into its own. Always a painful prospect, with or without crazy parents. Kind of a coming of age, adventure, who-done-it. My favorite passage, "I knew how complementary it could feel when Hannah talked to you, when she singled you out--opened your meek cover, boldly creased the spine, stared inside at your pages, searching for the point at which she'd stopped reading, anxious to find out what happens next. (She always read with great concentration, so you thought you were her favorite paperback until she abruptly put you down and started to read another with the same intensity."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

Somewhere between William Gibson's Microserfs and Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon; yet clearly a voice of her own, Thomas brings global ethical concerns into her narrative in a fresh and honest examination of individual responsbility. Commercial/capitalistic practices such as sweat shops or marketing scams are under fire as she questions why we work for someone who exploits the short-sighted masses? Are we in effect buying into the whole totem system? Are we lost in a forest of corporate camouflage where our buying power, (which we are told by advocates is one of our social conscience tools), is fated to eventually flow into the same multi-conglomerate pockets, regardless of our best efforts to read the packaging.

However, don't be put off by the seriousness of the sub-plot, the primary story is an infectious mystery tale of secret treasure and espionage left over from her parents and grandparents and a love story that is closer to the bone than most any I've read lately. In this day and age, love isn't the simple "happily every after" prince charming, will he won't he, that it was for women of a "marrying age" a few short decades ago. Thomas has a new version of the happy ending for intelligent, well-educated women with choices for whom being "together" doesn't necessarily have anything to do with another person. The story for post-modern women is the existential issue made manifest: What am I committed to in my life and how can I take responsibility for my own happiness without selfishly ignoring the rights of others to happiness.

Or something simpler: if I'm not part of the solution, am I part of the problem and can I live happily ever after, alone or with anyone else, with that knowledge?

On a side note: Love the contradiction of social conscience that doesn't extend to smoking. Yes, I smoked for 10 years, but gave it up as one of the few socially responsible things I've ever done in my life.

A few quotes of note: p.65
New friendships can also be like a children's birthday party; a big table laden with cakes, sweets, crisps and multi-pack chocolate bars wrapped in foil. It's as if there's just too much sugar there, all at once, piled on the table. You stuff yourself but it's too much and you just can't think about sweets again for a long time. Or sometimes new friendships--the ones destined to be focus-grouped but never launched--can be like playing an out-of-tune string instrument: when you find yourself carefully fingering the chords for your favorite song but hearing the sound coming out all wrong. Your input is the same as always, but the thing responds erroneously, playing you back an unfamiliar non-tune which gives you a headache.

Deleuze, Baudrillard, Virilo are tossed out as "thinkers" linking science and art. Food for later thought.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter

Beautiful. Prosaic. New Orleans father of jazz, whose genius ultimately drives him insane. Ondaatje IS Buddy Bolden. We feel the brilliance of mind tortured by life's quintessence.

California's Over by Louis B. Jones

Worth reading if only for the references to California then and now.

Coupland disappointment

Just as you should not judge a book by it's cover, you shouldn't review it before you finish it. From the point in the story Coupland becomes a character, the story turns to mush. "Just fill the pages to meet publisher's contract obligation" is how it ended.
Unfortunate. I read on and on, page after page waiting for it to all come together in some way that would validate the hours I had spent so far. To no avail.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Douglas Coupland "master of everyday insanities"

If you are readersanonymous addict in recovery, do not read Douglas Coupland. He's dangerously compelling, demanding on one level (makes ya think) but chewy toffee obsessive on the other. Thinking while reading tends to begin to develop along non-linear lines, e.g., list made while reading Jpod:
A-"eh", B-bee, C-sea, D-"death", E-ecstacy, F-fuck, G-"gee", H-heroin, I-eye, J-joint, K-"'k" (okay), L-el, M-thousand, N-"'n" (and), O-oh, P-pee, Q-queue, R-are, S-sss (hisss), T-tea, U-you, V-"victory", W-double you, X-"omit", Y-male (xy), Z-zzzz (sleep).
Post-mcluhan deconstruction defined reality predominates Coupland's worlds. Some of us live here today and most of us believe consensual reality isn't far behind. And, yes, we shape our worlds as assuredly as we shape ourselves. Whether we consciously choose the shape, is another question altogether.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

on love by Alain de Botton

de Botton numbers each paragraph in each chapter starting with one. I've included them to give a sense of the author's rhetorical device in bringing order to an incredibly disorderly subject.
29. There is usually a Marxist moment in most relationships [the moment that it becomes clear that love is reciprocated] and the way it is resolved depends on the balance between self-love and self-hatred. If self-hatred gains the upper hand, then the one who has received love will declare that the beloved [on some excuse or other] is not good enough for them [not good enough by virtue of association with no-goods]. But if self-love gains the upper hand, both partners may accept that seeing their love reciprocated is not proof of how low the beloved is, but of how lovable they themselves have turned out to be.
Ever decided that you're not good enough for the person with whom you're 'in love' and what they really deserve is a short sassy blonde?
3. ...Because the "I" is not an integrated structure, its fluidity requires the contours provided by others. I need another to help me carry my history, one who knows me as well, sometimes better, than I know myself.
This is absolutely the clearest and most rational explanation of why love is indeed a desirable experience, especially if the thinking person's 'know thyself' is more realizable through the knowledge of oneself by another.
11. ...It is an active mirror that must 'find' the image of the other, it is a searching, roving mirror, one that seeks to capture the dimensions of a moving shape, the incredible complexity of another's character. It is a hand mirror, and the hand that holds it is not a steady one, for it has its own interests and concerns--is the image one wishes to find really the one that exists?
Totally my experience the last time I succumbed to a deluded sense of having "fallen" into "love" with what turned out to be a disappointing reflection of what I thought I wanted and that turned out to be exactly what I've been avoiding my entire life (read psychoanalytical theory-projection.)
13. Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are.
(read psychoanalytical theory-introjection)I.e., be careful who you invest your time in or you may end up getting a negative return on your investment.
16. ...Overcoming childhood could be understood as an attempt to correct the false narrations of others, of our story-telling parents. But the struggle against narration continues beyond childhood: A propaganda war surrounds the decision of who we are, a number of interest groups struggling to assert their view of reality, to have their story told.
10. The unknown carries with it a mirror of all our deepest, most inexpressible wishes.
Somewhere in the Electra/Oedipal complex neighborhood perhaps?
23. ...What is identity? Perhaps it is shaped around what a person is disposed toward: 'I am what I like. Who I am' is to a large extent constituted by 'what I want.'
24. Life for the emotional is very different, comprised of dizzying revolutions of the clock, for 'what they want' changes so rapidly that 'who they are' is constantly in question.
10. But longing for a future that never comes is only the flip side of longing for a time that is always past. Is not the past often better simply because it is past? ...anticipation in the morning, anxiety in the actuality, and pleasant memories in the evening.
12. The inability to live in tbe present perhaps lies in the fear of realizing that this may be the arrival of what one has longed for all one's life, the fear of leaving the relatively sheltered position of anticipation or memory, and hence tacitly admitting that this is the only life that one is every likely [heavenly intervention aside] to live.
14. ...We wanted to test each other's capacity for survival: Only if we had tried in vain to destroy one another would we know we are safe.
Wouldn't know, I've never made it past the battleground stage.
6. "I think therefore I am" had metamorphosed into Lacan's "I am not where I think, and I think where I am not."
And on that note, I will defer to the Canadian band whose name I cannot remember who sang "I think I better think."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Behold the Many is life-affirming and inspirational. The characters are imperfect and vulnerable. Consumption claims the life of sisters who in term claim the rights of sisterhood beyond death. The individual sisters, upon reflection, read best as representing parts of the whole. We are each the wicked & wild, rebellious sister, the gentle sister in our weaknesses and the heroine in the combination of these qualities. We all haunt the ones we love, possessing one another through assimilation of qualities rather than projection of best and worst.

Men have obviously been a point of contention for Yamanaka. Damaging relationships with a father and/or lovers has required binoculars to bring into focus the potential good that can be had from an equal relationship between the sexes. Actually, we are challenged to provide our own positive examples upon reflection when reading as Yamanaka seems willing, though unable, to come up with anything remotely resembling equal when it comes to the sexes. The differences, resulting from biological functions and anatomy, seems to supercede the possibility. There is not getting around the physical facts. Segue here into re-reading the reviews on fiction by the father of the Pill for general direction of mental tangent.

Yamanka is still quite young and writes with wisdom and vision. Her work is bound to deepen in wisdom, as she ages. Have read BLU's HANGING and HEADS BY HARRY, both charming and original re-creations of life in the Islands as seen through the eyes of its children (often multi-ethnic & minimally bi-racial). For anyone quesitoning the influence of Indo-European VS Asian values, Hawaii has been and continues to be geographical litmus paper testing ground.
Father of the Four Passages...
I just learned Yamanka has also written some children's boks and am ordering them for our library. Also, another novel: Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Joyce Carol Oates' MISSING MOM

Some of Oates I connect with, others not. This one worked for me.
"If I look back, it's to look forward."
"'Parts of you that go out from you and into other people.'"
"Most of 'writing' is 're-writing.'"
Simple words, ideas stated lucidly, gracefully. Oates' Missing Mom is effortless prose, dealing with a subject that could easily become maudlin in less capable hands. The twist of a murder plays well against sibling rivalry and inter-generational communication gaps. Much of growing up and growing old results in the old adage, "If the young knew; if the old could..." (Which reminds me, I must do a blurb on the Doris Lessing novel by the this same title.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning

Sometimes reading, and the guilt that goes along with lying in bed for days on end with no more ambition than to finish one novel in order to get to the next, has uses not obvious in physical reality.

For instance, does reading perhaps prepare us for death by allowing for an experience of living outside of the body or occupying another's thoughts.

Tan's book prompted the notion and a memorable passage:
"I was stuck in these thoughts, unable to leave my breathless body, until I realized that my breath was not gone but surrounding me, buoying me upward. ...every single breath, the sustenance I took and expelled out of both habit and effort...had accumulated like a savings account. And everyone else's as well, it seemed, inhalations of hopes, exhalations of disappointment. Anger, love, pleasure, hate--they were all there, the bursts, puffs, sighs, and screams. The air I had breathed, I now knew, was composed not of gases but of the density and perfume of emotions. The body had been merely a filter, a censor. I knew this at once, without question, and I found myself released, free..."

However, all in all, I was disappointed with the novel. This has happened to me before with Tan. I think KITCHEN GOD'S WIFE was the only book that met its promise. Seems like Tan has insight and experiences to share, talent to do it, but something is missing in the follow through. Sustaining a level worthy of the ideas may be the problem. Curiously, a term from her latest "insufficient excess" comes to mind "too much that was never enough."

I really liked the dead narrator's POV. The justification for reading as a means to a deeper awareness of the eternal questions came to me very early on and I had hoped for more AHA, intuitive leaps of imagination, from the protagonists' metaphysical experience.