Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I have been a slow reader this week.  I have finally finished Audrey Niffenegger's sophormore(ish) novel "Her Fearful Symmetry", and to my surprise I feel apathetic to having read it.  I was eagerly awaiting the release of her second book for years, and then when it came out I hesitated to read it.  I don't why I hesitated.  It might have something to do with my Proust reading theory (more on that, later), or I might be able to blame it on an already clogged up reading list.  I first bought it when it was in hardcover, but sold it to Half Price Books when I was hard up for money.  I kept returning to the book, though, over and over again, wondering and plotting out when it would be that I would read it.  The time came when I borrowed it from my mother in law, after I saw it sitting in a pile next to her couch.  She highly recommended it, I was excited to begin.

And I did, and I initially loved it for the same reasons that I loved the Time Traveller's Wife-- the pacing was very nice, the overall feel of the novel was well thought out and the imagery and language was good.  Pop-bubblegum-y with a side of sugar, but good.  The novel felt like it had been dipped in light violet and pink dye and everything was drenched with color.

Color was something that stood out immensely in her novel; as were clothes, shoes, food textures, stuff that is utterly mundane.  The descriptions, though, didn't enhance the mundane and lift it into a more delicate and/or vibrant world.  This becomes a problem when the characters start venturing around London and Highgate Cemetery:  so much of London and the cemetery is foreign to a vast majority of her readers, but somehow she manages to forget to render it into life-- in other words, I don't really care what Mouse and Julia are wearing, but I would love to know what the Tubes were like, and more about the cemetery, and what does Tracey Philips' store look like?

Things go smoothly, albeit slightly syrup-y, up until Part Three when things go haywire for me.  Without giving anything away (like Reading Rainbow said, "Don't Take My Word For It") the novel became riddled with major issues for me.  The fictional dream was, in a way, totally ruined.  There was not enough ground rules set up for the way characters that were dead could act and there were not enough clearly defined emotional rules for the characters-- in the sense that arbitrary emotional muck surfaced very quickly toward the end of the novel and was not resolved.  Nothing is really resolved as far as the book goes.  It felt as though the writer didn't know how to end things and began to write frantically just to get to some end-- and it was an alright end-- but it was also a let down.  I still really like her writing style and I think that she is a really fun and inventive fiction writer.  I think that she just got some sophomore blues on this novel.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life as a Bookstore

I haven't updated in two days, two days longer than I have intended, and I don't wish to let it go any longer.  Last night I went up to Austin, TX with my husband on one of our usual excursions.  We try to do special and fun things to commemorate our time with each other; he finished his finals at UTSA yesterday and is one semester closer to becoming a lawyer or a teacher or whatever else he wants to be.  It is 3:10 in the morning and my husband is watching Easy Rider on the couch.

The scene is the part where the two main characters find themselves in a hippie commune camp, where everyone is singing continental soldier and she'll be coming 'round the mountain.  This scene takes me back to a time when I had this intense and all consuming desire for a life that wasn't mine, and that I knew instinctively that I would never live, but needed to experience in the realm of imagination--  an eternal journey of filthy hair and sacred mountains and waters that run sweet from spring fed streams; gypsy trailer parks, pork and beans and bandanas filled with mystical objects; canyons filled with wild coyote spirits and cactus growing out of the earths purple fingertips-- to be a desert saint in the realm of madness.

I loved Conor Oberst's music-- the soundtrack to this desert madness.

I got to live out a few of these fantasies for a crusty and weird year.  I became obsessed with gardening and making my own bread and political dissent-- I also became severely enamored with mind expanding drugs (though I never took any) and alternative thought.  I was one of those kinds of people-- the kind that said there was no difference between doing heroin and shopping, going so far as to suggest that the latter was worse than the former.  I also desperately wanted a desert retreat and obsessed over going to Marfa, TX.

I did get to experience my desert idyll, though.  

So what is the point?

I think the point, to me, is that there is some essential self to a person, and it often is the one that you imagined when you were young.  My desert idyll, my crusty creature, were all beings which sprung from the collective imaginations of people that I befriended in my late teens/early twenties.  Wonderful people, filled with ideals-- hard living losers as well-- but people that made up the cultural geography of my imagination and deeply affected my perceptions.  

When I met my husband I slowly but surely disconnected myself from that frame of mind and began to re-embrace (and am still learning to wrap my arms around) the things that really make my heart sing.

I always wanted to be this kind of girl.

I wanted, and still want, to sit on a crescent moon.

When I was in high school I dressed as Theda Bara to go to a prom.

So what else?  Yesterday, when I was in Bookpeople in Austin I made a huge realization when I was looking through a book of 666 Photography-- I love reading and bookstores, and I love glamour and kitschy fashion.  Bookstores have always been my place of personal Nirvana, wether it is a big chain like Barnes and Noble or Borders, or it is a small dive like the Antiquarian Bookmart or Cheevers Books, both on Broadway in San Antonio.  The smell of old books is enchanting to me, absolutely an aphrodisiac.  (I am not ashamed to say that I am an unabashed book sniffer-- the older, the better.  I especially like books that were bound in the forties and have stayed in a closed personal library for years; now that is a vintage I can get behind).

Below this I have a visual list of the books that I intend to read after I finish the Niffeneger (which should be tomorrow) and before I get anymore new books into my library:

And lastly, my favorite picture of David Foster Wallace:

And my dream reading room, without the television.

Monday, December 13, 2010

They're All Going to Laugh at You

I had a difficult time thinking about what I wanted to write today, dear reader.  I went for a long walk and traipsed around the woods and thought that perhaps I wanted to talk about nature or magical thinking, but I realized that more than enough has been said on the subject and I didn't have anything intelligent to add to the conversation.  If there is one thing that I achieve with this blog it will be to not superimpose thoughts onto anyone that don't speak to my actual self.  Forgive me for using new age psychological terms when describing my thoughts, but I do not know any other language that will do to explain what I feel.

Life is a freakish, magical thing.  It is full of strange and magnificent wonder.

I have been thinking more and more on what it is that I am, and what it is that I find to be important and beautiful and profound, and I find people to be funny.  If there was one thing that I could imbue on people is the ability to feel strange.  Really, really strange-- without feeling like they were about to die.  There is so much to be said and so much power in embracing the inner misfit, the inner weirdo, the strange thing that lives in your skin.

I want people to fit in less with each other, I want a society of mismatching socks and bad jokes and silly things that is so overwhelming that everyone feels uncomfortable and has to face up to that discomfort.  Being yourself is tremendously uncomfortable when you haven't done it in awhile, but it is never worse than oppressing yourself, especially in social situations.  I want a discomfort so great that people suddenly snap to it as a whole and quit with small talk and lasciviousness.

Fashion writer and fabulous window dresser Simon Doonan has some interesting things to say on the subject of Glamorous Eccentricity, and fun--

"I have a drug/booze theory-- not a popular one, I will admit-- that people who are incapable of having fun without getting smashed or high do not really understand fun...  As much as like was when I was guzzling booze, it is fifty times more hilariously surreal without the anesthetizing benefits of alchohol,  It was only after giving up booze that I came to understand the true nature of fun:  Fun is infantile.

Fun is about playing Twister of Ping-Pong.

Fun is about being unsophisticated.

Fun is about embracing embarrassment and owning it.

Fun is about dorky things like Renaissance fairs where you can wear your striped leggings without fear of being mocked.

Fun is running up to the Russian embassy, knocking on the door, and shouting, "Hello, is Len in?"

Fun is bringing a tambourine to work.

Fun is learning to play the theremin and then giving concerts to the funsters at the neighborhood old folks' home.

Fun is about squeezing a lemon on the cat and shouting, "Sourpuss!"

Fun is about enjoying fashion and not venerating it.

Fun is doodling mustaches on those dour fashion magazine with a big fat sharpie."

--Simon Doonan Eccentric Glamour To purchase click here!

Before I met my husband I was on a pretty regular regime of drinking and going to parties that I found to be utterly tragic.  I never liked drinking but I felt totally bored without it.  I always felt like I was betraying myself by getting smashed on Lemon Drops and Lone Star beer, but didn't see a good alternative to it.  Since I have been married my husband and I have an occasional glass or two of champagne, but I have re-learned to love how weird social situations are!  A clear mind and a healthy dose of how weird it is to be anything at all makes life positively wondrous.  Drop out of the redundancy of getting snockered, wearing bad J.C.Penney's fashion and hitting on your host's wife or hostesses husband.  Find interests outside of scrutinizing celebrities and have fun, Fun, FUN!

Until tomorrow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Dressing

Ultimately, I strive to become a singular being.  I have always said that I feel like I have a carousel of pictures spinning in my mind, a host of different ideas of who I am, and more so, who I can be.  This spinning has gone on for years, running all sorts of gamuts.  This is inconvenient when trying to build a closet:  when a new concept comes up it always felt like "Everything must go!".  Luckily, I feel as though I have gone through all of the self-incarnations and am finally stream-lining or at least coming to understand what it is that I value when it comes to style.  

I have always loved variations on prep school chic and silliness, or what I call 'The Unbearable Lightness of Style" (in reference to Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (which if you haven't read I thoroughly suggest that you get to it)  I think that in style there are two very important factors, which are seriousness and frivolousness.  Duality is necessary to serve whatever purpose it is that you are trying to get at in the long run.  And this is why I love the prep school/ professional/ suit up look.  It is completely functional and it speaks to what you are doing and automatically asserts your position on the world.  I had a friend that, when he put on a suit, would refer to it as putting on 'war paint'.  

The other half of this serious look is that it makes doing things like reading and public speaking easy.  Fashionable and utilitarian, there is a sort of abandonment of the senses in favor of intellectual ideals.  But...

There is something delightful on the other end, which is frivolousness.  And when the two are put together I think the results are spectacular.  And that, my dear gentle reader, is something that I whole heartedly believe that this past decade has been missing, and it is something that for the most part the late nineties capitalized on.  I am not a fan of the modern hipster look at all:  it is all surface without much substance.  I think that the indie movement is dead (for all intents and purposes) and there is now the empty shell of the hipster ideologue, equipped with beards and mustaches and skinny jeans.  While hipster fashion has given us many things, I want to see more of someone's personality shining through.  I want more Bjork and less Gaga, only because Bjork's fashions were apart of her mystique, not the only component. 

Serious frivolity is fashion that reflects a certain Je Ne Sais Quai-- the combination of artistic and intellectual fervor and light, airy, whimsical silliness combined with the seriousness and studiousness of the scholar...

I wish I would have gone to a school like this.

Danny Embling.

Frivolity with Billie the Vision and the Dancers.

Heaviness and Lightness.

Georges Melies 

Rene Magritte

Jean-Luc Godard's Masculine-Feminin

Seriousness and Lightness

Seriousness and Lightness

Suited up.

Intellect trumps Fashion, Creates Style




Heaviness and Frivolity.

I want fashion to be a feature of your life, not the only bastion of your humanity.  I want the books that I read and the films that I watch and the philosophies that I ascribe to create an outer display that can be worn as a jumping off point for the rest of life.  In my ideal world we dress in honor of our hearts and heroes and in doing so become those intangible things.  I want to materialize the souls greatest industry, which is imagination, hope and idealism.  I want to not only dress "Vive Le Resistance".  I want to be it.

Until our next read, take care of yourself and dress your part.