Monday, November 23, 2009

climbing and heights

On Saturday, the lovely Eric and I went rock climbing. Rock climbing is not something I normally do. To be precise, it's not something that I'd ever done before Saturday morning. But, Eric makes everything sound like fun. He doesn't gloss over the difficulties, not exactly, but there is a definite gleam in the eye to urge you toward the conclusion that your day will be better for having done whatever it is than not.

So, climbing.

There is something incredibly strange about watching a person cling to a vertical wall and locomote across it with thoughtful pauses every now and then to consider the next perch for hand or foot. It's not a pattern of movement that my eye understands. The arcs and levers are much flatter; things pull in instead of stretching out. It all feels contained and taut, and there's a sort of thrill in the practicality of it as someone creeps higher and higher.

I felt like I was trying to speak another language, and failing to understand how it worked. It was fun to mumble the sounds though, and I have always enjoyed heights. When I was young, I used to go to the park with my friend. We would climb trees, and edge out along the branches, and jump out of them, falling through our arms and legs and folding into the grass. It was one of my favorite feelings to fall along this unchangeable route where nothing but gravity had a firm grip on me, and then to hit the ground with the satisfying jolt of reacquaintance.

Hello, here we are again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

october reading

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
by: Jonathan Howard

This book was incredible fun, except for when it wasn't. I'm partial to stories about deals with the devil, and partial to stories about circuses and carnivals, and this is a novel about both. There were so many compelling, gory, sly, and touching fragments (yes, touching; it's not quite the word I'm looking for, but I can't think of one that's less generic... something that hits you in the back of the throat, anyway, or the bottom of your stomach), but they didn't stick together for me. I didn't feel the locomotive bearing down; didn't feel compelled to read at inconvenient hours. It felt like a box of shiny trinkets and, no matter how hard I shook it, it never sorted itself out into the wonderful device that I wanted it to be.

Lux the Poet
by: Martin Millar

I like Martin Millar. I like how briskly his stories move, and I like how they remain somehow stripped of padding despite the way they veer through a totally bizarre mash-up of things: ghosts and fairies and Led Zeppelin and drug addicts and sex and poems. He is very funny. But not funny in a slapstick sort of way. He lays out the absurdity of being a person, the way we can be so incredibly good and surprising right next to the way we can be downright hideous. I do think that I would be much more obsessed with Millar though if I had been a young person in the 70s, as opposed to not having existed yet. There's a flavor in his books that I feel I don't have under my skin. I can appreciate it, but I can't revel in it.

by: Neil Gaiman

is one of my favourite books. I find it utterly terrifying and comforting, and also the kind of book that is dangerous for me to read before bed because it invades my dreams. I read it again because it was the selection for the YA bookclub that my sister and I host at work. I had forgotten how much it feels like the stories I liked best when I was younger, the ones that turned corners of the world inside out so I could see that the shadowy things that I almost saw were actually real. It's a small-ish book, but it wraps around your head completely and lodges there, like there were bits of it that you already knew.

The Ghost in Love
by: Jonathan Carroll

I thought I didn't like Jonathan Carroll's novels. I really enjoyed some of his short stories, but disliked The Marriage of Sticks so much that it persuaded me to leave all of his other novels on the shelf. I only broke down and read this one because I was tired of everyone telling me that it was "my sort of thing, you know, beautiful and sad and full of weird stuff." I was secretly hoping that it wouldn't be my sort of thing at all. But there is a ghost in it who loves to cook, and talking dogs, and little pieces that really are beautiful, sad, weird, &etc. that made me want to thump the book's cover and say, "that's exactly right!"

The Wild Things
by: Dave Eggers

I thought that I would love this book, but it annoyed me so much that I wanted to yell at it every night when I read it before bed. I recently read an Eggers short story that knocked my socks off with its merciless wittiness and odd perspective. I was prepared to be similarly blown away by this incarnation of a picture book that I always found vaguely upsetting. I thought it would be like one of those weird little branches that people sometimes force into bloom by keeping them in vases -- extremely artificial and somehow fascinating because of how out of context it is. The novel grated on me though. It made the Wild Things into giant personifications of issues. It made Max into a child with issues. It made the story into one of those contemporary allegories about dealing with issues, which I guess might be what so many books that I do like boil down to, but here it was so obvious that I felt like I was drowning in it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

from a park bench on a november afternoon

The old man came toward us, assisted by a cane and wearing a yellow parka that hung, in modest and neon swags, over his shuffling posterior. He did not give in to the temptation to look away, but his eyes wobbled on the edge of sliding somewhere else.

"I remember then," he told himself. "Sitting on a bench like there was all the time in the world spilling, like fat and endless cats, into our laps."

He had started looking by accident, and now he had to keep going or risk looking shifty or embarrassed when he meant to be neither. His eyes held firm, and so did his face; and he was proud of himself until he discovered the noticeable pause that had developed between each of his steps.

Then had been fine, he thought. Back then, he had imagined he knew all sorts of things. Things that let him sit on a bench and pretend that he could say one honest story about the person with their shoulder pressed close into his. Not that he had dared to ask, in case he got it wrong. It was enough to have the gold and the blue and the green of an afternoon, a satisfaction to wallow in the thin sun with the knowledge that, if he tilted his head the slightest degree to the side, his cheek would bend the cool curve of her ear.

He put his feet down with care now, humming a little rhythm, just to himself. He could have closed his eyes if he had headphones, made believe that whatever song happened to be on was worth blotting out the world for; but he never walked with headphones on principle, so he kept his eyes open and shuffled past us, until all we saw was his back draped in yellow, and then even that faded around a corner, and he was gone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

helpful hints for bookstore customers, part 8

Best beloved bookstore customers,

While I love books, and love talking about books, and even love spirited and lively debate over books, it really is not necessary for you to call the bookstore and tell me -- for a lengthy and dreary ten minutes -- exactly why a particular book did not plant an undying love in your own reader's heart.

I don't need for you to tell me that you think the author is not "the right sort of person." Or for you to describe exactly how disappointed you are that the bookstore gave him the time and space for an author event. I don't need for you to describe your astonishment that such a person, with such differing views from your illustrious self, ever had a book published at all.

Please remember: We are a bookstore. We mostly like you. We are not, however, your friends. Those ten minutes that you spent with the perforated plastic of your phone pressed to the folds of your ear are now irretrievably lost. They would have been so much better, so much more satisfying, if they had been shared with a friend. Over coffee maybe. Or tea. And in the forgiving company of someone who might actually say how your displeasure makes them feel.

With warmest regards,