Monday, January 31, 2011

reading, of late

I have been lax in keeping track of the books I've consumed in the last few months, but they are, roughly, as follows:

All Clear

by: Connie Willis

Not a sequel as much as the second half of Blackout. I enjoyed the first book more, but since I adored the first book, it's difficult to expect the second one to be quite as scintillating, without the spark of novelty. Still, it was very satisfying, in that particular way that the endings of good stories about time travel are. Details are explained. Separate pieces of the puzzle click into place. Those lost are found, and all the separate threads get smoothed out, braided together, and tied off with a nice, cathartic bow.

The Radleys

by: Matt Haig

I picked up this book because I couldn't resist the terrible cover and the premise, which waivers on the edge between disastrous and brilliant, of suburban familial dysfunction, with vampires. It was entirely better than I expected. Not, probably, something I would read again, but also not something I would dissuade friends from picking up. Which is saying a lot for a novel about vampires in the current environment.

The Silent Land
by: Graham Joyce
(publication: March 2011)

This novel is beautifully written. It's also one of those still, strange stories that aim to produce a certain effect, a sort of isolated and claustrophobic experience inside the characters' heads. It didn't quite touch me, though I can imagine that it might get under other people's skins.

Moonwalking with Einstein
by: Joshua Foer
(publication: March 2011)

I LOVE this book. I enjoyed it so much that I am just going to reproduce the review I wrote for the bookstore here:

This book drove me crazy. I could hardly put it down. It crept into my thoughts and badgered me with the intoxicating, alluring question: what can I remember?

Joshua Foer invites us to join him as he explores the strange world of memory. He digs through research on neurology, history, and culture. He introduces us to savants and eccentrics. He plunges right into the thick of memory techniques and finds himself–in what begins as a fantastic journalistic stunt and grows into a witty study of something universal, extraordinary, and strange–on the hunt for the U. S. Memory Championship. I love this book. It’s saturated with the kind of revelations that explode the mundane and offers them with such humor and intelligence that it’s an absolute pleasure to discover how unfamiliar we are with the contents of our own heads. Seriously, folks, this is my favorite out of all the books I’ve read in the past six months.

And that's that. Sometimes I gloss over little things that bother me, or amplify my affection for a book, but I really did like it that much.

by: Lili Wilkinson

This is a fantastic young adult novel. It has a terrible cover, but please ignore that. It manages that trick of character that puts you in complete sympathy, even when they commit those terrible things that we all do to each other from time to time. It's very funny, intelligent, and completely honest. It manages to do what I wish all stories about relationships could do, which is make you feel like you somehow figured out something about your life when you get to the end.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by: Michael Chabon

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this. It is absolutely brilliant. It made me cry. All the fame and glowing blurbs on the cover are completely deserved.

Guys Read: Funny Business
edited by: Jon Sczieska

Sczieska is editing a series of books aimed at encouraging reading among the younger, more reluctant male crowd. The table of contents is populated by many extremely famous children's authors, and the pieces range from great to pretty good. Mostly, I am just completely excited about the project in general.

The Emperor of All Maladies
by: Siddhartha Mukherjee

Terrifying. Cancer is a terrifying subject to think about, especially in the company of someone so intimately familiar with the workings of the disease on both a scientific and human level. But this is one of the best books I've read lately. The writing is astonishingly vivid and graceful, and the structure of the book, the simultaneous investigations of both history and current cases, makes it difficult to put down.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I wonder if it was a very sad moment when they first switched it on.

Project THRUST, Project BUST

My friend, Malinda LaVelle, is a dancer and choreographer possessed of extraordinary powers.

She started a company last year (Project THRUST) and is working on a piece (Project BUST, also known as BOOBS) which will eventually be an evening length extravaganza.

Project THRUST is performing on Sunday, and I want to give this more volume than my general internet shouts of excitement in the face of a friend's accomplishment because BUST is something rare and honestly thrilling. It is a night in the theater that presents a pungent, gut-socking, gorgeous, and hilarious argument for why dance should matter. It makes standing up on stage and moving under the eyes of other people as relevant as real life, as good film, as human interest stories ought to be, but mostly aren't.

Things I would compare it to: This American Life (the episodes that make you stagger in recognition, like "What You Lookin' At"), the photographs of Sandy Skoglund, Boccaccio '70 turned inside-out, reading old letters from people you once knew so well you imagined you would know them for always.

I've always had to miss previous performances of this piece. I've always had to be at work, or in rehearsal, or out of town. I'd heard it was good, and I knew it had to be a certain level of decent because Malinda has an interesting taste for movement and a particularly talented cast of dancers, but I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. I have trouble with art that is about "being a woman," and a piece about boobs is inevitably, at least partially, that.

But, my god, it impresses. It is the best dance thing I've seen in the past year. It is a piece of sheer and shameless entertainment, by which I mean something that engages you, that looks you in the eye and is not afraid of handing you your humanity on a plate. It carries you across a landscape of movement and emotion, and it periodically explodes with hilarity and sadness, sometimes at the exact same time.

It's the kind of thing that makes you recognize how silly and messy all of us are, and then it makes you happy that you do indeed suffer those side effects because you're lucky enough to be alive.

I say go. Sunday, January 30th, at 8:00 PM. And, if you can't go now, plan on August. That might be even better. The full shebang.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

little boxes

I like taxonomy. The art and practice of arranging things (organisms, ideas, postcards received, a pocketful of coins after international travel) like with like, in ever finer and more precise relationships, is a pleasure that thrills my enthusiasm for the particular.

(I do realize that I use the term "taxonomy" extravagantly and carelessly; I'm sure it would horrify any actual taxonomists.)

If there's something that bookish people love to do, it's arguing about genre classification, the names we give to certain types of books and the shelves where we keep them. My friend, the magnificent Kat Howard, calls the stories she writes "speculative fiction." Catherynne Valente, a writer whose work I admire, finds the term irritating. Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. LeGuin, two of the most brilliant authors I've ever read, have semi-famously (in a friendly way) sparred over what, exactly to call each other's work.

I have never inhabited academia, and have only recently walked into a bookshop with a foggy idea of where "speculative fiction" might be found, so I come from an entirely different, possibly uninformed, point of view.

(Yes. This is probably one of those subjects which looks like splitting hairs, storms in teacups, mountains from molehills, and etc. Unless you work in the business of books, or are armed with a taste for specificity.)

In my mind: "speculative fiction," is the label on the box where we most often throw stories of science fiction and fantasy. It is the box where anything might happen. At its best, it's a box where you find stories that refuse to accept the strictures of the literal moment they're written from while they're exploring what it's like to be a human being. They are curious about what might happen, how the world might be, if only.

I like the term. It's roomy. It tells me that the rules of the stories it contains are not exactly the rules of this particular world, at this particular point in time.

Of course, what you put in the box is a matter of personal opinion. I would put in "science fiction," which could be anything from I, Robot to Oryx and Crake to Super Sad True Love Story. If it gets its fizz of "might" by expanding on a scientific idea, either realistically or extravagantly, I think of it as science fiction.

I would put in "fantasy," including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Lord of the Rings and American Gods, among others. Angela Carter resides here, next to some of A. S. Byatt. If it plays with some kind of mythology or magic--our beliefs, familiar, ingrained, and strange--then, to me, it's fantasy.

I would also keep "magical realism." I like my (probably inaccurate) idea of what this term means. To me, magical realism identifies stories where the world is almost certainly ours, but aspects of the story's engine are unexpected, improbable, fantastical, and extraordinary. Everything is Illuminated, most of Haruki Murakami, Etgar Keret. This one is murky. There is plenty of spillage between this and fantasy. Maybe it's less soaked in the magical; maybe it only lets it through in bursts, bizarrely accepted by everyone living on the inside. Maybe it's sort of a fungus, sometimes more like an animal and sometimes more like a plant.

There could be "alternate history" (Michael Chabon, I'm looking at you) and "horror" (relatively easy to identify, though my horror shelf would hold both Peter Straub and Zoe Heller).

I guess that the whole point of putting things into boxes and labeling them is to make them easier to find. If you like this, then you might like that because they are cousins or residents of similar countries. These boxes aren't the same as the ones that make up "good" and "bad," "worthy" and "un-." They're the boxes that make up kingdom and family, regardless of how much you love or respect a particular specimen. It's one kind of division (work in a bookstore and you gather all kinds of others: "books for airplanes," "books with white covers," "books for people who are ill," "books for people who are tired of falling in love.") and one kind of terminology. Of course, what we call things is important, because it's a reflection of how we see them. Values and prejudices are all tied up with names. I know that lots of people conflate "speculative fiction" with "stuff I wouldn't be caught dead reading on the train," or "stuff that doesn't win proper awards," but it's also just a box and you can always change what people think belongs inside.

Besides, categorizing, organizing, and boxing things up is fun. And you can always rearrange it if you want.

Monday, January 24, 2011

five things I learned at Clarion

In the summer of 2008, I spent six weeks being someone who, up until that particular chunk of sunny, strange time began, I didn't know existed.

Clarion and Clarion West are workshops for writers whose brains inhabit that slippery territory of "speculative fiction." Science fiction, fantasy, surreal this and magical that. They are hot houses, sparring rings, and summer camps. They let you go careening round the theater of story-telling, wielding real swords and shooting real guns (in a figurative sort of way, if you know what I mean), and then they pull up the work lights to point out where you made a mess. They are currently accepting applications and Jim Kelly, one of my Clarion instructors, asked that we talk about five things we learned there.

I went to Clarion because I tore a ligament in my knee. I applied because, while slouching on the sofa in a groggy, post-surgery haze of impatience and self-pity, I read Neil Gaiman's blog. American Gods was one of the books that made the hours of impersonating a sloth under the influence of vicodin and weirdly humming ice machines more bearable, and now its author, one of my literary heroes, said that he was teaching at this thing called Clarion.

I almost didn't go. I was scared that six weeks away from the studio and my brilliant physical therapist would derail me from the dancing life. My mom pointed out that I was being ridiculous. When else would I have the freedom to go off and explore? When else would I get to learn from someone who wrote stories that permanently haunt my head? My mom is very smart.

I'm telling you all of this because it's part of the most important thing I learned there, which is:

1. I love writing stories. Before Clarion, I didn't take writing seriously. I dabbled in it. I was completely ignorant of what a joy it is to craft a story, what an exhilarating and infuriating process goes into condensing the wild explosions in your head down to something that fits on the printed page. I can approach writing with the same level of seriousness and devotion that I give to dance. Life-changing revelation right there.

2. You have to walk the fine line between giving them everything and leaving them space to make art, and, at the same time, you can't be afraid of saying what you mean.


You have to care about the people in your stories. You are God. You have to believe in them and they have to matter. They better be worth caring for, worth crying for. Otherwise, they're just words on the page.

3. Stories can be about anything at all, as long as they're true. We had stories about crazy things. Zombie pregnancies, Oz mash-ups, advertising robots that crush an old lady's flowers. And something about these, admittedly unrealistic and wildly imaginative, stories felt absolutely honest. They were true, which is sometimes completely separate from being real.

4. Don't run away from conflict. Placidity is not your friend.

5. If you smash apart the dull, chronological line of cause and effect and replace it with story, you can start stringing together the tiny, pinprick lights of theme into a narrative of meaning. You can also more effectively lure the reader into the character's skin.

I highly recommend going. It's a crazy experience, but it can also be an amazing one. And you'll meet people who will absolutely delight you.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

read me

Senses Five Press has put up Sybil's Garage No. 7 as a free download until February 15th.

(Free! Can't get better than that!)

This is the home of my very first published story ("The Telescope). Go ahead, wallow in my deepest, darkest secrets.

(Okay, not really... but maybe a little. Don't all stories have a tiny bit of our mucky selves creeping in round the edges?).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

kind words

A friend of mine (the fantastic Paul Berger) just emailed me the following:

Hey Megan. Just wanted to make sure you saw this SF Site review:

Megan Kurashige's "The Telescope," which relentlessly reminded me of the films of the Brothers Quay, with its finely wrought sense of tragedy (often critics describe prose as "painterly" -- Kurashige, a dancer, writes with the vigour, precision and delicacy of the dance) leaves the reader with some of the most lasting and haunting images of any of the stories.


I do believe that this is my very first writing review (Thank you very much, Seamus Sweeney of SF Site!). I feel so grown up.

Possibly related:

One of the first comments that my fellow writers made to me at Clarion was that I must be a fan of David Lynch.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because your stories kind of remind me of him."

As I had never seen anything by David Lynch (except for Dune, once, when I was very young... the only thing I remember are silver unitards), this comment remained mystifying.

Some months later, I watched an episode of Twin Peaks. I was flattered, and also disturbed.

Every now and then, someone sends me a link to something with a caption that mostly goes like this: "This reminded me of your writing."

The Brothers Quay.



I am, obviously, very flattered that there might be even a passing resemblance or whiff of similarity between my work and these rather mercilessly strange, but lovely, things. I am also beginning to think that my own imagination might not be the safest thing to wander around in when it's dark, without a flashlight, and possibly not the most reassuring thing to look at in the eye.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

stuff wanted

Spoiled rotten.

My birthday wish, made forty-eight minutes late, is to meet some people in the next 365 days who are so wonderful, and from such utterly different stripes of life, that I am helpless to do anything but love their magnificence and eat up their enthusiasms, whether they be for spelunking or coding or phosphorescent fish or chandeliers or movies made by obscure French directors in the 1930s.

If some of them are, perhaps, suitable for kissing, that might be nice too.

I also wish, of course, for long conversations over tea with the friends I have, for family dinners and lazy afternoons, for great stories, for evenings in the theater and days in the studio. I want mad adventures, a dose of gumption, vast and wordless vistas of imperfect trees. I'd like to drive someplace in the summer with the windows rolled down, to visit a place unfamiliar, to dance away an entire night accompanied by a DJ worthy of angels and watch a sunrise arrive by rooftop. I'd like a minimum of finite goodbyes. Health, obviously, for me and mine. A distinct lack of newsworthy upheavals. I could do with a painting that stops my heart, just for a moment, and a song that sticks in my throat. I want to be useful. I want time to play.

I am greedy beyond belief, but it's my birthday, and that's my wish.

Friday, January 14, 2011


My grandpa and I share a birthday. We were born on the 14th of January, sixty-two years apart.

My grandpa managed to be one of those very few people who somehow exist as heroes and gods in the part of my head or heart that tells me stories about the way I wish the world would be. He was an icon of my personal mythologies, but also a man who sat at the kitchen table and read the paper every single morning, comforting and vivid in his ordinariness.

A little more than a week ago, he died.

This birthday is a lonely one. It is, for the first time in my life, singular.

I spoke at the funeral. It was the hardest piece of reading that I've ever done. I stood there, alone, and a thousand moments, each of them sharper and more heartbreaking than I imagined possible, flew at me, one after another.

I wish that you could have met him. He was an astonishingly good man, and I loved him.


A few years ago, my sister and I asked Grandpa Megs to tell us about an adventure.

He said: “No need.”

We asked him again, and he asked why we wanted to hear things like that.

Because, Grandpa, we want to know something only you can tell us.

“Like what?” he said.

Like an adventure.

He didn’t say very much at first, just rubbed at his hands and nodded his head.

“Well,” he said. “There was a boat. We built it out of totong. We were really young and we took it down the river.”

We imagined that, my sister and I: the river sliding through Anahola, the little boat made out of metal scrap, and the magnificent captain, our own Grandpa Megs, but so, so young.

“Those were good times,” he told us. “On the river, you know, with friends.”


Megumu Hamamura—Megs—my grandpa—was a man who I cannot imagine as anything other than himself. If we could travel in time, we would recognize him immediately—man or boy, dad or grandpa, husband or brother or uncle or friend—as our very own Megs.

He once told me about a trip he took, about the way gutters smell in Morocco, and how it feels to look at the Rock of Gibraltar from the deck of a ship on the Mediterranean Sea. He told me about hijacking the little carts that transport sugar cane, and joy riding them down the hills of plantations. He told me about how movies used to be, when he rode to them in pick up trucks, and watched the cowboys and outlaws projected on the side of a tent, all for a few cents. He told me about the proper way to make a tin can.


These are not my memories. I never hurtled through a cane field, or strung wire through a house, and my memories are of Grandpa, telling me the stories of his. But maybe you were there. Maybe some of these memories are yours. If you are so lucky, I want you to examine them closely. They are an endangered species now, the last of something wonderful, and we should keep them for as long as we can.


My Grandpa Megs wears a navy blue worksuit. He parts his hair with a silver comb, and vanishes cigarettes inside his palms. He stretches out on the floor, and crosses his legs at the ankle, or sits in the yard in front of a fire, talking to his dog, or a cat, or me. He smells like brillantine… like smoke, coffee, and well-worn clothes. He can fix anything. He can wait patiently, forever. He is a man of character, in that old-fashioned and rare sense of stubborn goodness. He is kind and curious, graceful with competence, and loves so steadily and so deeply that there’s not much that he needs to say. He takes me riding, for beaches and ice creams, and he reads all the signs in every museum we go to.

“Incredible,” he says. “All of these things. Amazing, no? The way they all are.”

I’m sure you recognize him. I’m sure that if you could run into him, my Grandpa Megs, you would know him from last week, last year, or all the time you had in his company.


If he were here, now, I’m sure he would say: “Enough, already.”

He didn’t need so many words to say the things that he meant.

But since this is a day, the first day, when we can all start to say goodbye together, I think he would like it if we just remembered. Tell yourself the stories of the way you knew him best. Make your life a useful one. And say the things we all said to him, many, many times:

“You’ve got yourself a good life, Megs.”


“I love you.”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

how to pronounce loxioides kikuichi

When you say goodbye, the day is long.

It takes the time, in whole and parts, between the black, dull dark that slips behind an eye just before it flicks awake, and the softer dark--more grey, more endless--that presses it shut when all is done and there is nothing left but still and quiet.

Say it:


How round it is. How soft. How lacking in edge and point and anchor. It drifts into distance. It walks away. It leaves, at its tail, a shape that would be familiar, even beloved, if only you could see it, or if it were there.

Run hard.

Stay ahead by inches, by shivers, by the space left in the absence of a single breath. It will eat you alive; it will devour you whole. Its mouth is wide and its jaw, when it embraces you (with all the time in the world), is as crumbling and insidious as bones, turned suddenly to ash.

Dust your face. Dust your hands. Press them across every minute, all of these and all of those. Leave their tracks, both smudged and pale, on the ones dredged up from oceans where they settled and drifts where they sit abandoned. They were orphaned by breakfast, lunch, and dinner, by alarms and dates, by errands, trains, novels, love affairs, noble ventures, accidents, and plans.

Examine them closely. These are all there are. An extinct species, the last and lonely, gone.

These are your cages, golden and fine. Hold them up and see nothing between the bars. Keep them safe, like relics in stone, like bones in dirt, like long gone moments pinned still under glass. Let them rust and erode, and even when they are so old, you might hold one up, still empty as the couch unoccupied, and send an explosion of birds (loxioides kikuichi) across the long and grey.