book review: the diary of anaïs nin (vol 1. 1931-1934)

After years of searching (not exhaustively) used bookshops I found a copy of the first volume of The Diary of Anaïs Nin for $3.50 Northampton, MA in April. I was quite pleased. I refrained from reading it while I was in the States or back home so I had a reason to bring it with me to Australia so my girlfriend could also read it when she arrives.

I read the diary slowly and I’m glad I did. It would have felt disrespectful somehow to blow through it, when Anaïs so clearly poured so much into the diary. It’s about a few years of her life in France and features Henry Miller, a couple of psychotherapists, her estranged father and endless ruminations about art and how life should be lived.

I write about little things because the big ones are like abysses.

There’s so much in here about being an artist, about the pull to live and to write about life. There are people who embody those pulls, and because it’s a diary you’re pulled along with Anaïs as her opinions of them change without seeming predestination. She refers to the diary, to writing in it as her opium, and she sets down lies and sees so clearly.

The thing the diary didn’t answer was where her money came from. This is something I’ve been thinking about more since reading Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing, where he was very critical of fiction that didn’t acknowledge the economic realities of human existence. She has a beautiful home and by the end of the book she’s paying to have Tropic of Cancer printed, but you don’t get a sense of how that happens. There are other realities she’s much more interested in than how to pay for her dinner (or her psychoanalysis). It’s outside the dream.

If I delved into the history of the diary’s publication I wouldn’t be surprised to discover this is a heavily-edited version. It’s not as sexual as you might expect, though still filled with feeling. She was kind of an amazing woman.

book review: atlantis: three tales

Atlantis: Three Tales is a non-SF book by Samuel R. Delany, and one of the reasons I don’t go looking for Delany books systematically. I didn’t know it existed when I found it in a used-book store in Seattle in February.

It contains three stories. “Atlantis: Model 1924” is about a young black boy who comes to New York City in 1924 to live with his brother. Delany does some interesting parallel text things to represent memory and its strangeness. Sam crosses the Brooklyn Bridge where he maybe watches a man drown after pissing into the river and talks to a queer guy who invites him to his apartment in Brooklyn. “Eric, Gwen and D.H. Lawrence’s Esthetic of Unrectified Feeling” is about art and feeling and profanity. There’s an impressive cussing milkman in this one, and stuff about boys introducing boys to sex. “Citre et Trans” is about a queer young writer travelling in Greece who gets raped by a couple of sailors and his relationships with a bunch of expatriates, and a dog.

The thing that affected me most about the last story is how the rape was violent but more importantly, complicated. It wasn’t “These terrible sailors raped this writer” it was very complicated, even with the blood and the theft and the downplaying of the situation afterwards. It was the kind of story that sticks with you. Yeah. Delany’s really good even once he left science fiction behind.

book review: goldfish

I completely thought Brian Michael Bendis’ Goldfish was a true crime book (like Torso). I was reading it all amazed at how cinematic this real-life escapade had turned out. And then I realized that similar covers don’t mean identical format. Selah.

So Goldfish is about a grifter who comes back to town after ten years with revenge on his mind. It’s nice and twisty and violent. I had a slight problem telling a couple of characters apart, design-wise but that was more than compensated for by the great panel design. No simple grids going on here, especially in the biggish action sequences. And there’s a huge conversation in the middle that pretty brilliantly deals with the Talking Head problem in comics by doing the conversation as straight prose dialogue with a couple of illustrations to keep us up on the visible emotions. I liked it a lot.

I bought this copy at a used bookstore here in Vancouver (I just moved here so I’m trying to scout out the good ones.) and at the counter the owner of the store was all “Why are these things so expensive?” I said something about drawing being a lot of work, and she said “But your time to dollar ratio as a reader here isn’t very good.” I don’t know why she was denigrating her product and prices but I compared the value to that of a movie and it mollified her somewhat. “I guess it’s better than spending it at Starbucks,” she said.

book review: axiomatic

Another book I grabbed at the CBC Calgary Book Sale last month, Axiomatic is a collection of short stories by Greg Egan. The first time I read this book was when I was in Turkey. I’d never heard of Greg Egan and then these stories of jewels in brains and designer viruses and belief attractor zones were so intensely weird. Now, after reading a small pile of Greg Egan novels, I realize these stories are actually the more accessible chunk of his work.

There are two stories that are very similar in the collection. Both are about runners going into a disaster zone. Both involve describing these weird landscapes formed by the anomalous event. This was the only part of the book I wasn’t a big fan of, feeling like I’d already read that. It sort of highlighted the “ideas man” aspect of his writing. Apart from that one near repeat, the book was as good as I remembered it, and I’m super glad I own it now, since it’s long out-of-print.

book review: stars in my pocket like grains of sand

I’ve gone on about Samuel R Delany books before and well, here’s another one. In Calgary I found Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand at the CBC Book Sale for a dollar. If only every dollar a person spent made you think this much.

I can’t zip through Delany’s books, no matter how much I enjoy them. I need space to let them decompress, to be wrestled with, because that’s how they’re written. Glossing through things to get to the action, the pathos or whatever basically avoids everything interesting. This book is about two people in a galaxy where travelling 60 thousand light years is expensive but possible. There are two main factions the Family and the Sygn who form the political backdrop to the galaxy. There are aliens and assassins and Industrial Diplomats and a very internet-like thing known as General Information (the book was written in the early 1980s). But the space opera things you might expect don’t happen.

Rat Korga is the lone survivor of a world where he was a slave. His story takes up the first sixth of the book and is called a prologue. Then we hit Marq Dyeth and her world-hopping ways. And already I’m mangling everything up. In this book sentient beings are referred to as women, regardless of gender (and there are several alien species too who obey this grammatical dictum). So the males and females thorughout the book are referred to as She unless they’re currently an object of sexual desire, in which case He. Since the story of Marq and Korga is told primarily through Marq’s voice she is always she even though she is male. Korga (a huge acne-scarred nail-biting male slave who’d had anxiety wiped out of his brain and now wears the rings of a long-dead poet which allow him to think) is Marq’s perfect erotic match (down to 6 or 7 decimal places) and as such vacillates between pronouns depending on how lust drives Marq. So that requires a lot of paying attention.

And then there are the Evelm, the aliens who get the most spotlight time. Marq is part of an Evelmi stream (not family as there’s no genetic correspondence between the generations; they’re Sygn-aligned) and we never get a clear “Here is what an Evelm looks like” kind of statement, which leaves you to put a lot of things together yourself. It works from Marq’s point of view as she grew up in such a household. As an example, in Pride and Prejudice you don’t get Mister Darcy described as a bipedal mammal with manipulating limbs, two eyes, a nose, ears and a mouth that does both ingestion and communication duties. It’s the same sort of thing, doing away with the clunky expositions that happen so often in science fiction. You have to go with it, be carried along.

Marq is an Industrial Diplomat and brings up the cultural differences in other ways constantly. One of the refrains in the book is that even a world is a huge place, let alone a galaxy with over 6000 of them. Cultural differences between the north and south on his world are always being brought up as Korga missteps or does exactly the right thing.

But yes, it’s a beautiful weird book.