It had been probably ten years since I read Anna Karenina the first time. It felt different reading it now, as I suppose it’s supposed to.
The idea in the late stages that Anna creates this whole betrayal by Vronsky in her mind instead of accepting the way relationships change was more terrifying to me now than it was in the past. A lot of Levin’s problems and ways of dealing with them annoyed me more than they used to. I think I used to see him as some sort of idealistic hero, but on this reading his pettiness and wilful stupidity came out much more. All the bullshit around Kitty giving birth just made me want to punch him. We’ll see if I feel the same way ten years from now.
But yeah. I think this is one of those books that needs to be read. The only part of it that’s seeped into the zeitgeist is the first line, and it really needs the whole text to be at all effective (as opposed to something like Moby Dick, which most people know the first line of, but also the general idea of the story). Maybe I have a misperception about how pervasive Tolstoy is.
For a very long time I avoided sexytimes in books. I wasn’t a stereotypical undersexed housewife so I didn’t need to spend my time on stupid Harlequin romances. (I’m still not and still don’t.) And isn’t writing about sex like doing math about a sunset or something? But Joey Comeau‘s book of sexy short stories, The Girl Who Couldn’t Come, is pretty great and he brought me around to the world of non-degrading/non-stupid sex fiction. (Well, he and Jess Fink.)
These aren’t grand romance stories filled with angst and yearning; they are funny (in that Joey Comeau kind of way) stories filled with sex. He refers to them, well, here’s his description:
This is a book of dirty stories. It is a book where sex is fun and good and people are kind to each other. Also there are ghosts and there is math and there are obsessive compulsive disorders.
These stories are weird and fun and often bewildering, like sex itself.
There’s rough sex (with a trigger warning, which I didn’t know was a thing till reading this book), gay sex, a werewolf and sex with the titular girl who needs to be listening to Johnny Cash’s voice to orgasm. If you are looking for a short collection of smut you can check out a bunch of the stories here.
Overqualified is a novel told in job application cover letters. It’s by Joey Comeau, who does the comic A Softer World and wrote the zombie novel One Bloody Thing After Another. (I haven’t read his latest, Bible Camp Bloodbath yet, but I will.)
When I told my girlfriend about the concept of this book she thought it sounded neat. Then I read her one of the letters and she said “Oh. It’s not very realistic. It’s just a gimmick. No one would actually write that.” And I was a little thrown off. I must have read it wrong, or prefaced it wrong. I mean, of course no one actually would write about their dead brother and throwing lightbulbs off an apartment building in a job application to GE, but it’s beautiful and sad. Or beautiful and angry like his letter to Gillette about razor-blades and sex. Or beautiful and cynical like his Hallmark greeting card ideas:
Front cover is a picture of a puppy dog with big, sad eyes. A Golden Retriever, maybe. Some breed that everyone loves, something vulnerable. The text on the front reads: “You think love has to last forever for it to be real. You think it isn’t true love unless it lasts until one of us is dead.” Inside text: “That isn’t love. That’s dog fighting.”
In every case there’s this desperation and weirdness that was weird and painful and amazing.
It’s not a clever story, which you might think it would be, with the tagline I gave it above. It’s just a weirdly emotional one about a man who’se trying to hold on to some sort of memory or reality by writing to corporations to the nonhuman beings that have all the power in our world. Reality shifts about him as he talks about all his many qualifications, but his pain remains constant.
So I should revise my original words. Overqualified is a dark, funny story about pain. Told in cover letters.
I finally saw the Scott Pilgrim movie. Fuck yes. That was great. There are lots of things different from the comic, but all around awesome adaptation, doing things in the movie that would be better than on the page and streamlining things to fit into a couple of hours. Excellent work.
So plotwise, Scott Pilgrim is 22 and starts the story dating a 17 year old named Knives Chau. Then he meets Ramona Flowers, and in order to date her has to defeat her League of 7 Evil Exes in awesome huge videogamey kung fu battles.
There are differences in the fights (Honest Ed’s doesn’t get destroyed in the movie), but I felt like the biggest difference was the playing up of Scott’s sort-of cheating on Knives with Ramona. Because the book is a lot more spread out timeline wise (taking place over months) the Knives thing gets kind of resolved a lot earlier in the story, whereas in the movie it’s still part of the ending. But really, fair enough.
There was less subspace in the movie, which I didn’t mind because there was already a lot of disbelief-stretching going on, so for the uninitiated it makes sense to leave that whole other world as something alluded to but not a huge plot-point. I did think that the use of the extra life was handled better in the movie as he actually went back to the last save-point and did things differently, the way you do in games. I liked that a lot.
I also liked the battle with the twins better in the movie because it took advantage of the whole movie thing, it being a battle of actual music. That was always harder to carry across in the comic, what Sex Bob-omb actually sounded like. The movie did it really well. And the fight between the gorilla and the dragons was pretty awesome.
So yeah. If you want more Kim Pine, and more subspace weirdness, and a very different ending you should really really really read the comic. And if you like the comic you should really see the movie. There we are.
Joey Comeau’s book One Bloody Thing After Another, keeps on getting billed as a zombie book. I bought it direct from his hands at Comix & Stories in Vancouver, asking “That’s the zombie one, right?” (and Emily Horne said, “Of course it is; it’s got a kitten on the cover!”). But it isn’t really a zombie book. It’s a ghost story and a juvenile romance/delinquency story and a story about family and a being crazy and letting people see story and a breaking glass story, but zombies? Sure there are a few, and they’re kind of terrifying, but it’s this cryptic weird emotional kind of terrifying that you have to turn the music up really loud so you can’t pay attention to the bad shit going down. It’s not a book about “oh no it’s the end of the world and zombies!” but about “oh no the world keeps on happening and nobody cares about your zombies/ghosts/idiot-dogs but you.” Which is kind of scarier.
It was a beautiful book and doesn’t really deserve to be lumped into any zombie fashions going around these days. I’m just saying.
Another book Holly had kicking around for me to read while hanging out at the bakery was Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I love this book so much. I think this was the first time I’ve ever read it while being in love, though, so it was a new experience despite being the 8th or 9th time reading it.
There are two parts to the book that I hate. Not that I hate the writing or whatever, I just wish things would go differently each time I read it. I hate what happens to the characters.
The first is the story of Reiko and the evil little girl who fucks up her life. Just for a lark. I mean, there’s not a lot of subtlety to how horrible this girl is and it flips all these sexualized roles around and is so creepy and it’s just to be evil. There’s this whole lack of control in the telling of that story that makes my guts twist up. It’s not Reiko’s fault, but this awful thing happens to her anyway. Shudder.
The other part I hate is how Watanabe doesn’t comment on Midori’s hair. How he goes to get a coffee and finds her writing him a letter. And then he’s fucked everything up forever. Because he didn’t comment on her haircut. Saying “Cute hair” is the kind of thing you can forget so easily. I hate to think about that being the gap between love and nothing.
But it’s such a good book. I can’t think of a better love story.
Children of Paradise is a love story about actors mimes and criminals. I sought it out because it’s mentioned in Still Life With Woodpecker as an important part of the resistance in World War 2. The film was made in France under Nazi occupation, which is not an environment super conducive to producing art. But yet this grand tale filled with thousands of extras was filmed. The idea in Still Life was that this movie was part of the outlaw fight for dreams and art, which is just as important as political freedom. It was an act of resistance to make something beautiful in horrible conditions.
And the movie is beautiful. There are four men who all love this beautiful woman. One is an actor, one a mime, one a criminal and the final a count (who really likes duelling). Baptiste, the mime, is too timid early, and so he loses her, even though she’s the one he loves, and he’s the one she loves. Garance spends most of the film with people she doesn’t love, and Baptiste tries to have a life with the woman who loves him, but everything falls apart beautifully.
The conversations the characters have about love are wonderful, witty, and insightful. It’s just amazing, the whole thing.
Isn’t The Forest of Hands and Teeth an awesome title? Carrie Ryan deserves any praise this book’s received for the title alone. I love it. The book’s pretty good too.
The story is about a young woman, Mary, in a tiny village that is beset by zombies (they aren’t called zombies, but they’re zombies), and has been for generations. They’re in the middle of the eponymous zombie-filled forest and have fences and a Sisterhood and Guardians to protect them and keep the people in line. Mary dreams of the stories her mother told her of freedom and a life outside the village. At one point she finds a bit of proof, in the form of New York Times headlines, firmly planting this in the post-apocalyptic subgenre instead of fantasy.
Needless to say everything goes badly when Mary’s mother causes a tiny breach and gets infected and must be killed in the first couple of chapters. Her brother turns on her, Mary gets sent to the nunnery because no boy wants to marry her, and then one does and It’s Complicated. The story moves along, building speed as it goes.
That building pace kind of gets in the way a bit. There are a few convenient big action sequences that push the characters along their paths, making some of their choices feel kind of pointless, since they were about to get forced into action without thinking anyway. But that’s only a minor annoyance. The urgency is always there with these moaning unconsecrated infection vectors surrounding them as they try to escape. The action sequences are really good and tense too, with almost every important character ending up dead (mostly in heroic fashion).
All in all, a good exciting read. Not as bleak as The Road but in kind of the same vein. It’s a YA novel and I’m bringing it to my next Teen Book Club as a (non-vampire!) recommendation.
On a friend’s advice, the first Ha Jin novel I read was Waiting. It’s about an army doctor who works in the city and has a wife (who was chosen for him when he was seven) and daughter in his village, but the woman he wants to marry at the army hospital in the city. He spends 18 years separated from his wife, trying every year to divorce her. Every year she agrees until they get to the courthouse when she changes her mind. Meanwhile the girl at the army hospital is waiting chastely for him. They’re concerned about propriety so there’s no sex or even leaving the hospital grounds in each other’s company. And they wait and they wait.
When I think about Chinese love stories this is the kind of thing I think of. People separated by duty or propriety without indulging what they feel they really want. Maybe that’s what all romances do. It seems like it would be. That’s where conflict comes in, right? But in the Chinese versions the rules seem more concrete than the unwritten codes of propriety in a Jane Austen novel. Or maybe I’m misremembering Jane Austen. But it feels different (to me) when it’s the state and glorified peasant ideals.
Anyway, sad and beautiful. I liked it a lot.