Month: July 2016

Flooded Announcment

I recently came across an editor and writer who is in the process of putting together an anthology that I find particularly interesting. Flooded will deal specifically with brain injury and concussions, a collection borne out of project runner Victoria Griffin’s own painful experiences. While I have no direct involvement in the project, I plan to submit to the anthology and I plan to support its Kickstarter when that goes live in a few months.

If this project is of interest to you, Victoria is collecting the emails of interested parties. Get involved and support independent publishing and independent writers!

DIRECT TO SIGNUP PAGE: http://www.victoriagriffin.net/flooded

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Susan Sontag’s Alice in a Bed

Alice in Bed is a wonderful concept play, a fantastic idea written deftly. A fantastic off-jumping from the real biographical details of Henry and William James’ sister, the play is an examination of gender, (historically, individually, and universally) a close look at a specific culture that still echos in our own, and one of the densest collections of literary references I can remember at the moment.

It’s a short play, somewhat simple, with extensive direction. There’s a lot of Beckett in here -the density of reference isn’t limited merely to name-dropping; many are stylistic, or variations on a form. It’s plenty cerebral, but at no point does the reader feel that he is watching people-shaped stand-ins for philosophical ideas talk at each other, like one might see in a Don DeLillo novel (no knock against the man, of course). The characters aren’t perfectly round -the whole affair is a bit too surreal for that- but they are entities.

Reading a play is always going to be a very different experience than seeing one performed, and writing a play requires an entirely different set of imaginative muscles than stories or novels. Sontag’s playwriting is clearly informed by the plays of the forty years prior, but is by no means mere emulation. Alice in Bed is a compelling look at depression, at gender, at creative and intellectual abilities and their fulfillment, and it deserves it’s own place at the table.

Recommendation: Go read it! And see it if you can.

Tina Fey’s Bossypants

Tina Fey’s wonderful show 30 Rock is one of my favorite TV comedies of all time, and her work on Weekend Update is also a favorite. Since her writing chops seem to have a pretty solid connection with my sense of humor, I was pleased to discover that they essay/memoir/nonfiction side of things is also an area she operates well in. Her book Bossypants has been on my radar for a bit, but I hadn’t owned a copy until recently, when it became a featured deal on Kindle. My Kindle gets heavier rotation when I’m doing a lot of backpacking on account of its literal lightness, so I’ve been reading with it a fair bit of late (hopefully I’m not going over-much into the minutia of how the sausage gets made).

Fey’s book is loosely autobiographical, with plenty of worthwhile side trails that grow out of the larger narrative. She plays with form, using lists and other devices to break things up, to keep everything fresh. Her life story is interesting enough, but her framing is the real point to all this. Her observations are well presented and suffused with the kind of humor that made me love 30 Rock so much. Fey does prose well, but again, it’s the funny side of things that makes it all go.

Having read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please within the year, (and not enjoyed it -more details here: https://seanvansickel.com/2015/02/16/reading-log-audiobook-listening-log-amy-poehlers-yes-please/)I’m struck by how similar the two books are. I understand that being offered a book deal as a comedian and a comedy writer is a big deal -these kinds of books have a massive mainstream audience, and need to follow a particular mold, at least to a certain extent. But in spite of Bossypants having come out three years prior, and seeming to have been a model for Poehler’s book, it seems to be not only more novel and unexpected, but just better comedy.

 

Recommendation: Read it! Lots of funnies, some solid insight.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

While I haven’t particularly been a fan of any of the Le Guin short stories I’ve read, I certainly enjoyed this short novel. Briefly, the novel follows a man who’s dreams can effect reality and the state-appointed psychiatrist who quickly learns the truth of the man’s powers and seeks to harness it to do good. I came to it by way of Electric Literature’s excellent list of “17 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read in a Sitting” -check out the other offerings there, too.

The conceit of the story, its structure, and the development of its characters are fantastic in their own right and would make the book worth reading on their merits alone, so I’ll not spend much time on the particulars, so as to leave the reader that specific pleasure unsullied. The prose is fantastic -never especially pyrotechnic or experimental, but always good, mostly out of the way. Simple, but specific, always in service of the work itself, not the sentences for their own sake. Especially flashy writing would seem out of place, but everything in here works wonderfully together.

I had avoided reading any of Le Guin’s books before, based on the two or three stories of hers I’d read in anthologies. I guess this further demonstrates the truth of a little knowledge being sometimes a worse thing than its absence. Don’t trust your own opinions of authors -especially if those opinions haven’t been confirmed by an honest and open read of examples of their work that haven’t been “Norton-ized”.

Recommendation: Read it, then check out some other short novels on this list:
https://electricliterature.com/17-brilliant-short-novels-you-can-read-in-a-sitting-a809de5a1046#.z4iom32gh