Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Read: "Uncertainty Principle" by Mark Kraushaar

Read: Uncertainty Principle by Mark Kraushaar, 2011, 9781904130505.

I've heard Kraushaar read a few of these poems (and others) aloud.  I feel like I am at an advantage because I know the cadence and voice her prefers.  I can use the memory of his performance while reading and catch the meaning.

Some poems I understand and some I do not.  Kraushaar writes about fate and future; how lives are random and change in unexpected ways.  Kraushaar writes about the sky.  Kraushaar has several pieces about fathers - or his father. Kraushaar writes about people he observes.  Kraushaar writes about biking Jefferson County.

1.  While reading these I was thinking I should ask Kraushaar if he wants to do another video.  I think I will propose that I pick 2-3 poems from here and read them aloud.  Kraushaar could then give explanation or background about the poem's story and then read the work as he intended.
2.  The difficulty here, as in all poetry, is that intent and meaning have to be crammed into such a small space.    A spoken performance makes all the difference to me in understanding feeling.  Or catching humor.  Or irony.  Or sarcasm.  I do not have the needed experience as a reader to catch all that.
3.  I do think I have gotten better at understanding what a poet is writing.  But, I have to take my time and think, digest, and ponder.  I do not enjoy using time that way.  After reading Razor Days and thinking about the poems for the library video I got to understand them even better.
4.  I liked this much better than the other poetry books I read for the committee.

Quit: "Clara and Mr. Tiffany" by Susan Vreeland

Quit: Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, 2011, 9781400068166.

Boring.  I read 97 of the 400 pages.  Clara runs the glass selection department of the Tiffany glass company.  Her women only department selects and organizes the thousands of glass pieces for windows.  Tiffany does not allow married women.  Clara is widowed but young and has a proposal from a second dude.

Nothing interesting was happening.  The hisotrical aspects of life in 1897 NYC were okay but not enough to keep reading.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Done: "Mothers and Daughters" by Rae Meadows

Done: Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows, 2011, 9780805093834.

Chick book?  Not, not exactly.  But, yeah. Meadows had thank yous to several people including fellow writing program Cheeseheads Susanna Daniel and Emma Straub.

Three generation story told across a century of time.  Each character told during a specific time of life.  Grandmother as an 11-year-old street urchin in (circa) 1900 NYC.  Mom as 70-something dying of cancer in 1999-or-so.  Granddaughter as 30-year-old helping her dying mom and, a year later, dealing with a 9-month-old daughter.

I'm not sure if there was an overarching point to the whole thing.  I suppose it is just how kids forget or do not realize the complex lives their parents live.  Grandmother never told her relatives she was given up by her mother in New York and sent out on a orphan train.  

Mom never expected to have daughter after already having a 10-year-old son.  Mom would likely have aborted except unable to find a place for the procedure in 1970 Chicago.  Mom had affair with married man after moving to Florida.  

Daughter did abort her first child when finding out the fetus would have [something I do not recall].  Daughter helped mom commit suicide with pills.  Daughter carries guilt while also adjusting to the emotional swings of early motherhood.

1.  The story of the grandmom, Iris, was most interesting.  Iris and her mother fled Iris's angry dad in Kentucky for NYC.  Iris's mom started hooking or mistressing upon arrival.  Iris's mom becomes opium junkie.  Iris loves her mother and wished her mother would straighten out.  Iris still chooses orphan train over going to home for kids.
2.  Daughter lives in Madison.  Much mention UW students and native WI students versus "Coasties".  How the Coasties are more refined and do not wear coats - implying that Coasties want to look good, to show off rather than be smart and stay warm.
3.  Gratuitous Madison weirdness and hippies.

Listened: "The Specialists" by Lawrence Block

Listened: The Specialists by Lawrence Block, 1969 (2011 audio by AudioGo).

Quick read.  Was there a point in Block's career where he was getting published but his work was kinda lousy?  I have not run across any books that are.

Eddie Manso is spending time with a hooker in Las Vegas.  The hooker is not a girlfriend but they are good buddies.  Hooker comes around to complain about a mobster who threatened her.  Manso gets info about the Mobster and finds out the guy owns a bank, the bank was robbed, Mobster collected the insurance.  Hmmm.

Manso is a gambler.  Manso used to be in the U.S. Army.  Manso does more than gamble.  Manso is more than a former soldier.  Manso's gambling is more like a hobby.  Manso used to be in the Special Forces and served in Laos.  On occasion Manso sets aside his gambling work to answer the call of his former Special Forces Colonel in Tarrytown, NY.  Manso and his former Special Forces comrades join together on those occasions and specialize in robbing crooks.

Manso brings the opportunity to the Colonel.  The Colonel is wheelchair bound from a war injury but is still a fine planner.  Manso and four other guys (whose names I do not recall because I rarely recall character names when listening to novels) get together to pull a heist of one Mobster's banks.  You know it's a heist because this is a heist novel.  

Block-like introduction to various characters.  Characters have character.  Characters have different ways of thinking and feeling.  Block draws out emotions and behaviors in a short amount of space using different activities and events to illustrate the characters.  There must be a literary name for this.  Maybe it is called the Blockensian Method.

Part of the robbery planning involves one guy pretending to be an unknown, illegitimate son of the Mobster so can get inside the Mobster's home and grounds.  Another guy woos a bank clerk for inside information.  Inside Guy is found out when he won't bone the Mobster's wife and she tells on him.  The heist goes on with one man short.  The bank clerk returns early to the bank and sees Wooer.  Bank Clerk kidnapped.  Inside Man rescued and various mobsters, Mobster, and Mobster's Wife are murdered.

Wooer has to decide whether to kill Bank Clerk or continue to pitch woo since she is a witness.  Wooer travels with Bank Clerk to the Caribbean.  bank Clerk has left her young children and her own parents.  They can only assume she was murdered and secretly buried by the bank robbers.  Bank Clerk does not care, she is having fun.

1.  The army guys do specialize in robbing "bad guys" but they are doing robberies with innocent people all around.  The army guys will use violence against anyone who gets in their way.  During the botched getaway they say that if a cop pulls them over they'll have to kill the cop.  Wooer and Colonel talk shortly after the heist about what to do with Bank Clerk and Wooer at first is adament against not killing her.  Wooer changes his mind when faced with having to marry someone.
2.a.  A take on racial identity and politics.  One army guy is black.  Discussion about his status as an Army officer and what it means to be black, follow black vs. white culture, how soul food is lousy and leftovers from black people had the worst things to eat.
2.b.  Kinda like lutefisk.  John Kieraldo (B.A. Scandinavian Studies) mentioned to me how lutefisk is peasant food.  It's the gross stuff that was left voer at the end of winter so everyone did not starve.  And yet people eat it for holidays and special events and treat it as something special.
2.c.  Anyway, Block can write anything and it seems to make sense.  How accurate would this view have been among middle-class black family's in 1969?  Answer:  It all depends.
3.  Very good narrator, Fred Sullivan, who does well with Block books.  Sullivan brings out a lot of humor.
4.  Let me use this last note as an opportunity to suck up a little more.  Mr. Block, you are so handsome and intelligent and witty and skilled and virile.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Done: "[sic]: a memoir by Joshua Cody

Done: [sic]: a memoir by Joshua Cody, 2011, 9780393081060.

A title designed to annoy catalogers.

Meh.  Some parts were okay but Cody's style is not for me.  Cody kind of rambles on as though chatting with you in a bar, with tangents and casual asides stuck in.

Cody's neck hurt.  Cody went to doctor.  Cody had biopsy.  Cody had cancer.  Cody had chemotherapy.  Cody still had cancer.  Cody gets radiated.  Cody gets bone-marrow transplant.  Cody almost dies.  Cody lives.  Cody dates bat-shit crazy doctor.  Cody survives bat-shit crazy doctor.  Cody writes a book sitting lakeside in Vermont.  Or was that New Hampshire?

1.  Cody covers several different parts of his life including his mom, his deceased father, a couple romances, hallucinations during illness.
2.  Not one of those blow-by-blow books about disease and treatment.  Cody has a couple details on what his body went through but talks more about life and the things he likes.
3.  Cocaine.
4.  Tightly wound girlfriend trying hard to stay away from pills, powders, alcohol, etc.
5.  Brett Favre love.
6.  Milwaukee love.
7. Manhattan love.
8.  Gratuitous Golden Ratio.

Listened: "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain

Listened: The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, 2011, downloaded off a OneClickDigital trial, I think.

Not so bad.  I enjoyed the book.  A neat look into people and places I am only faintly familiar with.

I know little to nothing about the literary types who gathered in 1920s Paris.  What I do know is that they were young, drank a lot, socialized a lot, and that some people find this fascinating.  To those fans of the '20s the title must be a quick tip-off to the story.

Paris Wife is Hemingway's first wife (of four), Hadley Richardson.  Except for three or four short passages about Hemingway's feelings the whole story is by Hadley.  Hadley was raised in St. Louis.  Hadley never had any romances until she was about 30-years-old and visiting a pal in Chicago.  Hadley meets Hemingway, eight years her junior, they fall for each other.  She returns to St. Louis.  They write one another.  She returns to Chicago.  They marry.  They end up going to Paris to give him a chance to write.

Hemingway can be a real dickhead.  After a time he rejects those who help him and he is controlling of Hadley.  Hemingway keeps journals on various daily chores and routines, including keeping track of Hadley's menstrual cycle.  That's weird, man.

Haldey and Hemingway meet famous people.  HadleyandHemingway drink a lot.  HadleyHemingway travel Europe.  HadHem want have pet names and want Hemingway to write.  HH are very close.  Cracks appear.  Hemingway digs chicks but keeps it in his pants.

Hemingway starts porking Hadley's best pal in Paris, Pauline.  Hadley finds out.  Hadley tries - what is she trying, and how?  To stay with Hemingway I suppose, even though Pauline inserts herself into the marriage, a a fait accompli menage a trois.  How's that for some Frenchy talk?

Hadley has enough.  Hadley skips France.  Hadley returns to France and marries a US journalist.  Hadley only talks to Hemingway a couple more times over the next 40 years.

1.  F. Scott Fitzgerald and other literary types appear as pals and party acquaintances.
2.  Many people spending lavishly and living beyond their means.  Many people living off family wealth.  Hemingway does not like the rich.
3.  Jack 'Bumby' Hemingway is always shunted off to a maid or sitter.
4.  Post-war Paris is free wheeling.
5.  Gratuitous Ezra Pound.
6.  Bullfighting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DNF: "Death of Dracula" by Victor Gischler, et al

DNF: The Death of Dracula by Victor Gischler, et al, 2011, 9780785156161 (comics compilation).

When a book says Gischler on the cover it should be all Gischler and not filled with other Dracual stuff from 1976.  Damn it. 

I read the Gischler story, Death of Dracula, and skipped the others. Gischler may have done this as a one-off - I don't know - but the story does not end.  Plot: Dracula has two sons, one good and one bad. Bad one kills dad.  Good one does not want to join the insurrection.  Intrigue and counterplots amongst the vampire clans.  Good son escapes death.

1.  The vampire gals in Gischler's tale have big boobs and skimpy dresses.  I approve.
2. I don't like that mid-'70s style artwork anyway unless it is in Tales From the Crypt.
3.  None of that "vampyre" crap.
4.  The vampires are cruel and violent, not "sparkly" and lovelorn.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Listened: "Storm Runners" by Roland Smith

Listened: Storm Runners by Roland Smith, 2011, 9780545282857 (CD).

Junior fiction I picked out for Boys #1 and #2 when driving to Champaign.  A fun story but the damn thing ended in a damn cliff hanger.

12-year-old Chase Masters travels with his father from natural disaster to natural disaster for construction work.  Chase's mom and sister died in a car wreck a couple years ago and shortly afterwards his dad was struck by lightning.  After recovering from the lightning strike John Masters becomes an autodidact on weather.  John his house, his business and puts anything of value in storage.  John buys a couple large trailers, hires Ramos from his old business, and they travel with Chase doing construction work after natural disasters.

Chase has been to three schools in the past year and, unfortunately, has not become closer to his father.  They have both become super-prepared and cautious with well-stocked go-bags always with them.  They go to St. Petersburg, FL in advance of Hurricane Emily and arrange trailer parking at a farm.  The farm is winter quarters for a circus. 

Chase meets circus girl and competitive swimmer.  John goes 40 miles away where hurricane expected to land.  Hurricane hits where Chase is.  Chase and school bus blown off a levee into the water.  Chase and two girls escape.  Bus driver killed.  Winds are strong.  Chase and co. walk.  Levee starts to wash away.  Huge alligator.  Near drowning.  Arrive at circus farm.  Mean and aggressive leopard has escaped.  Chase and two girls and circus grandmother in strong, steel barn as the hurricane eye passes through and the water level rises.  Story ends.

1.  A long summary for a 3 hour reading.
2.  Facts incorporated into story: hurricanes and dangers, alligators and behavior, safety, circuses, arrogance of local television news anchors.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Done: "The Bird Sisters" by Rebecca Rasmussen

Done: The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen, 2011, 9781611730883 (large print edition).

Well done but not my style.  Another example of where the book description on the flyleaf does a piss poor job of describing the story.  This flyleaf mentions several characters and events but misses the point. The whole thing is about family.  Family loss, regret and sacrifice.  Spoilers await.

Told through Milly and Twiss during their present-day old age and as teenagers in 1947.

Milly and Twiss are 16 and 14 and live in Spring Green, WI in 1947.  Their dad is a local golf pro and mom stays at home.  Their parents don't get along very well.  Dad is obsessed with golf and ingratiating himself with the country club crowd.  Mom makes the household work on a shoestring and, coming from a wealthy family, resents her husband's low pay and the snide behavior of the local Sewing Club ladies.

Dad wrecks his car in the river and miraculously survives but his golf game is ruined.  Dad starts living in the barn and building a miniature golf course.

Milly is the very pretty and responsible one.  Twiss is the wilder, outdoorsy one.  Cousin Bett - from Mom's sister - comes to visit.  Bett is older, plain looking, and asthmatic.  Both sisters look up to Bett.  Things happen.  Mom makes friends with church organist who dislikes current priest.  Past priest purloined parishioners and proceeds and took a powder.  Twiss kisses Bett and realizes she is a lesbian.  Milly is hot for the teenager who mows the yard.  Dad and Mom do not talk much but have the kids send notes back and forth.  Dad and Mom make-up and go to a local fair after Twiss fakes a note.  Dad says something like "You're wonderful to forgive me."  Mom says something like "Huh?"  Dad says "For knocking up our niece, Bett."

Things get worse.  Milly turns down marriage proposal from Lawn Mower.  Milly sends Bett out to talk to Lawn Mower.  Everything wraps up back to present day.

1.  Even though everything was told through Milly and Twiss I still felt distanced from the more unpleasant parts.  The (non-blood related) incest.  Milly's longing to have a family but never getting one.  Milly choosing to stay with Twiss over escape with Lawn Mower.  Milly still loving Lawn Mower and watching closely whenever his granddaughter goes jogging by the farm.  The ugly split between Mom and Dad.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tried: "American Busboy" by Matthew Guenette

Tried: American Busboy by Matthew Guenette, 2011, 9781931968973.

I tried.  Poetry.

Done: "One Hundred and One Nights" by Benjamin Buchholz

Done: One Hundred and One Nights by Benjamin Buchholz, 2011, 9780316133777.

Bleh.  Did not like it.  Went on too long and not much happened.  Spoilers await.

Abu Saheeh is living in Southern Iraq in 2005 (or '06).  He is new to town and just opened a small cell phone store in a dirt road market under the local highway overpass.  As the story goes on you learn more aboout Abu and what he is really there for and what his past was like.

Told by Abu.  Buchholz used the pacing and temperament of an Iraqi and the pace was dawdling for me.

Abu is there to observe American supply convoys.  Abu is building a bomb.  Abu works for local sheik.  Abu's old pal also ended up in town.  Abu's past as Iraqi Army soldier, then civilian medical student and doctor in Chicago comes out.  Single and eligible Abu is going to marry local widow with a wealthy dad.  Abu is hallucinating.  Abu drinks a lot.  Abu's daughter was killed in a bombing in Baghdad caused by Abu's brother.  Abu plans revenge on brother.

Abu's brother arrested by Americans.  Abu cannot get revenge.  Abu ends up in Southern Iraq because Abu Ghraib is being shut down and Abu's brother being transported through southern Iraq to new prison.  Abu wants to use the bomb to stop the convoy, board the prison bus and kill his brother.  Sheik is using Abu to do this so the Sheik can put the bomb blame on Hezbollah and use the Americans to crush Hezbollah out of town.

1.  About 50-100 pages too long for me.
2.  Acid attacks.
3.  Dirt.
4.  Heat.
5.  Clan loyalty.
6. Wasn't Iraq a shit-hole of bombs and bullets and bodies in 2005 and 2006?  How peaceful would this town have been, even sitting right next to the Kuwait border?  Buchholz was soldiering there at the time and would know but the everyday violence of the time seems to have bypassed the town.

Forced, Liked It: "Wingshooters" by Nina Revoyr

Forced, Liked It: Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr, 2011, 9781936070862.

Committee book.  I did not look forward to this one and ended up liking it quite a bit.  Plot spoilers await.

Narrator tells tale of her abandonment by her parents and being left with her grandparents in Central Wisconsin in 1974.  Michelle, called Mike by her grandfather Charlie, is half Japanese-half anglo.  She grew up in Tokyo learning English and Japanese.  Loved by her Japanese grandparents and living with her Japanese mom and Wisconsin dad.  Japanese mom skips out on the family.  Dad takes her back to Wisconsin.  Dad and Mike stay with grandparents for a time and then dad leaves to find the mom.

Deerhorn, WI is a small and racist town.  Mike's mother was never welcome there (parents met at UW) and Mike is either ignored or bullied by everyone but her grandparents.  But, even her grandparents are bigots.  That dichotomy between Charlie's bigotry and his deep, adoring and affectionate love for Mike is central to the story.

Mike's only refuge is at home or out on her bike or in the woods with her dog, Brett.  Mike is in third grade when the local medical clinic starts to expand.  Part of the expansion is the hiring of a black nurse.  The black nurse's husband is a teacher.  The town is shocked and upset that the Garrett's are moving to town and will be working with white kids.  Mr. Garrett is hired to fill in full-time during a teacher's maternity leave. Shit hits the fan.

Charlie is a strong personality.  He is well liked, handsome, personable, has many friends.  Charlie is not happy niggers are in town.  Charlie is not blind to his beloved granddaughter being called chink, gook, slant-eye.  Charlie is not blind to Mike having rocks thrown at her and being pushed, shoved and punched. Charlie is oblivious (at least outwardly) to the way his overt racism is not much different than the abuse put on Mike.

Mike sees all of these.  Mike likes the Garretts because they are nice people but also because they are going through what she is going through.  They chose to move there and are staying through the bullshit.

Things happen.  Things progress.  Brett the Dog is a perfect dog.  Brett the Dog is friendly but protective.  Charlie is loving.  Grandmother is subservient and quiet.  Mr. Garrett sees signs of phsysical abuse on a student and reports it.  Dad of student already hates black people and hates Garretts even more.  Dad of Student is best pal of Charlie.  Student ends up in clinic with a broken arm.  Mrs. Garrett calls the cops after seeing the obvious signs of beatings.  Dad of Student arrested by County cops - another pal of his is city's Police Captain.  Dad of Student goes off deep-end and kidnaps Mrs. Garrett.

Charlie and his brother bring Mike along with them when they help search for Dad of Student and Mrs. Garrett.  Mike and Brett stumble on Dad of Student in the woods.  Dad of Student kills Brett.  Charlie kills Dad of Student when Mike threatened.  Charlie dies a few months later of massive heart attack.  Mrs. Charlie unable to care for Mike.  Mike goes to orphanage home.  Mike does not speak at all for a year or so.  Mike moves out to L.A. once she is 18.

1.  I used the word dichotomy.
2.  A very sad story but does not read as such.  Narrated by present-day Mike but told from her 9-year-old viewpoint.  Mike is happy at home.  Mike is happy with Brett.   Mike has a crappy time at school.  But, even with all this the story is not a huge downer because Mike is a, somewhat, buoyant 9-year-old.
3.  Adult Mike is not a happy adult.  Mike writes about her internal anger when referencing her continuing love for the outdoors and the use of exercise to release that anger.  She stayed in WI until leaving the group home and has no family left.  Her father is alive but only called about 15 years after he left.  Mike hung-up on the dickhead when he insulted dead Charlie.  Mike seems to have trouble with romantic relationships.
4.  Intricacies of love and family.  Charlie deeply loved Mike and Mike still loves him but know the way he acted was wrong, wrong, wrong. Another reason to be grateful that my own family is not a bunch of jerks.
5.  Quote about about abused Student: Kevin Watson.  I realized that Kevin's weakness didn't stir compassion, but contempt - from his father, from other kids, even from me.
6.  Mike will not go back to visit Deerhorn.  There is nothing there for her.  I pondered how Mike would be received nowadays.  How much would the city have changed?  Would her former tormentors welcome her?  Would they remember her?  Would she tell them to eat shit?
7.  Brett is a great dog. Incredibly cheerful and friendly.  Also protective.  He must die in the end.
8.  Published by Akashic and it's not a [place name] Noir book.
9.  One of those books where the author and main characters share many traits and you wonder about how autobiographical the tale might be.