Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today at the bookstore

There was a sale and, as usual, I picked up more books than I should have. In addition, there are some books I've been reading lately and haven't written about. Expect spewage and gush on the following list:
  • At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O'Brien
  • The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien
  • Murphy, by Samuel Beckett
  • Watt, by Samuel Beckett
  • Trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) by Samuel Beckett
  • Clockers, by Richard Price
  • The Newton Letter, by John Banville
  • Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart (yes I know I'm a little late coming to this one)
  • The Dream Songs, by John Berryman (ditto)
  • Collected Poems, by Richard Wilbur

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pregnancy as Pink Sock

Michelle Cottle has a brilliant blog post on what to tell teenage girls to stop 'em trying to get pregnant.
Instead, let's talk turkey about the havoc pregnancy wreaks on the body. Forget upset tummies and weird cravings. That makes the whole process sound quaint. Instead, dig into the grittier details (preferably with colorful photo illustrations and videos) of any number of common side effects including acne, hemmorhoids, non-stop gas, joint pain, leg cramps, bleeding gums, bloody noses, massive bloating, yeast infections, sinus infections, inhuman constipation, and a combo of funky smells, discharges, and swelling delightfully dubbed "cheeseburger crotch." Better still, long after delivery--and long after that dreaded pregnancy weight has been shed--many moms are left with such enduring mementos as incontinence, breasts that have no intention of returning to their pre-pregnancy state, and stretch marks that never, ever fade.

Obviously, not every pregnant mum experiences all of these horrors. And, biologically speaking, it's easier to bounce back from such physical trauma at age 16 than at age 26 or 36. Still, I don't see any harm in giving teen girls the most brutal dose of reality possible when it comes to the joys of motherhood. They may not care that having a baby now could ruin their (already vanishingly slim) chances of becoming a brain surgeon. But one or two might turn up their noses at the thought of pregnancy leaving them with saggy boobs, hemmorhoids, a stomach that resembles a map of West Africa, and a disturbing tendency to piss their pants every time they sneeze. Forever.

Maybe not. But it's worth a shot.

Monday, June 23, 2008

John Bayley is Unimpressed

"To think the more of a poet because he is revealed to have been sexually in love with his wife—this has surely all the vulgarity of the modern age about it."
--"Family Man" (about Wordsworth), New York Review of Books

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dept of Good Writing: Littlefoot 27

This is one of the better poems in Charles Wright's excellent new volume. My favorite is #20, but that doesn't seem to be online.

Deresiewicz on Powers

Via Wikipedia, a spot-on review of Richard Powers in general and The Echo Maker in particular. Too complimentary if anything, I don't think Powers's prose is as good as Deresiewicz makes it out to be, the would-be-purple passages about cranes are overwritten and just not that impressive. But Deresiewicz makes the obvious point -- which, say, Michael Wood does not -- that the novel's pretty awful as a novel because the characters are tiresome and the plot comes across as a vehicle for Powers's Deep Thoughts.

I also agree with this general diagnosis:

But the extravagant praise that has been heaped on him mainly derives, I think, from our culture's skewed understanding of the nature of fiction, and of knowledge. It's not just that we don't understand the relationship between stories and ideas, it's that there's a particular realm of ideas to which we assign supreme value: science. Much of Powers's early training was in physics and computer science, and the ideas around which he builds his novels are mostly scientific ones. (The chief exception is music, but music, with its quasi-mathematical nature, has always been the art most attractive to the scientific mind, and Powers's treatment of it often focuses, precisely, on its mathematical aspects.) It is telling that Powers is typically praised for his intellect: his "vast intelligence," "intimidating brain," "high-wattage mentality"; his ability to "think in ink." His capacity to elucidate scientific ideas and speculate about their larger meanings is indeed impressive. But intellect and scientific acumen are not synonymous, though our culture seems to thinks so. "It's not rocket science," we say, or, "It's not brain surgery." So a novelist who understands science must be really smart, and a really smart novelist must be a really good one.