Monday, May 30, 2005

Intelligent Story-telling

I've been a fan of Umberto Eco for many years. I read The Name of the Rose (aside: a great list of SIPs for this book!) about 20 years ago while I was in college. It made for perfect summer reading. It was fine story-telling combined with amazing research and a fantastically imaginative intelligence.

I was also captivated by Foucault's Pendulum and The Island of the Day Before and a collection of essays called How to Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays. I still have Baudolino sitting in my pile of books to be read. And I know I'll have to run out and get The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana very soon.

I loved Foucault's Pendulum. I read it twice (the first time with a dictionary and an encyclopedia next to me) and ate up the complicated plot and twisted conspiracy theories. I am one of those who thinks The Da Vinci Code was a poor (okay, awful) substitute for Eco's amazing look into secret societies.

The Telegraph has a wonderful profile of Eco (who, I was surprised to learn, is 73 years old!) where he muses about his reputation as the thinking person's writer and his surprise at his fame.

On a side note: am I the only one who thinks The Da Vinci Code was a horribly written book? Most reviews I've read gush about what a page-turner it was and how astounding the premise was. I had already read the premise in Foucault's Pendulum and I barely made it through the book with my husband nagging me through it (he loved it). He actually ends Chapter 64 with "And then everything went black." Gah!

How do I make it onto this article?

I stumbled onto this great article about what they term "Litblogs." I like to think, perhaps wrongly, that this is what I am attempting to do here.

The big plus is that I have more places to go to look for good reads that might have missed the mainstream.

I'm still looking for any help in this department...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

I recently discovered that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Seem like a long name, but I suppose it’s sufficiently inoffensive and descriptive.

There seems to be some who take offense at the “celebration” of it. I remain noncommittal about it.

When I was younger, I didn’t make much of an effort to read books about or by Asian Americans. It wasn’t until my 20s, when I actually went to China, that I decided to seek out those books. The first book I picked up was The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. It is a delightful book exploring the lives of four Chinese immigrant women and their daughters. And while I loved the book, it didn’t have as profound an effect on me as the next book I read, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. It is probably one of my favorite books of all times. Her story-telling and use of the language is amazing, but the way she parallels old Chinese tales with modern life as an Asian American is where she astounds me.

Li-Young Lee is an amazing poet. I love his work as a poet, not merely as an Asian American poet. Also, check out the work of Marilyn Chin. She writes poems that are almost painful in their approach to being Asian.

I don’t write many poems that start to slip into the political, but this is one I wrote that I think would be appropriate for this month.


Dark Feel in Yellow Skin

being neither white nor male
as artform

raise my gaze
my arms
peel labels from my back

at imagined mailorderbrideclothes
footprints off my forehead
and sitting

I carry my lack of accent
in my purse
next to social security

in case anyone asks

23 April 2003

Thursday, May 26, 2005

He was grrrrreat

Thurl Ravenscroft has died at age 91.

I know most folks remember him as the voice of Tony the Tiger. But my enduring memory of him is the voice of Kirby, the vacuum cleaner, on The Brave Little Toaster. And one of the singing dogs (the bass, of course) on Lady and the Tramp. And he sang the original Grinch song in the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Such a great voice. He'll be missed.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Bad poetry lives...

Oh man. All you need is a weblog and a famous name.



2 night
i was the actor
on james liptons show
inside the actors studio
he is a charming man
with a beautiful wife

he wondered y this blog
is as it is
comma and capital free
hard 2 explain
but i tried

It almost makes me want to give up writing poetry if the world's going to stand for this stuff...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Baseball and Literature

I wasn’t always a baseball fan. My love for the game developed about 3 or 4 years ago. I had watched an occasional game, and even enjoyed it. But it wasn’t until I began discussing it with a friend, who knew a lot more than I did about so many things, that I began to see the art and science behind the game. I asked him about the finer points of baseball. What is considered a hit? How do you calculate ERA? What constitutes a good slugger?

He answered me without embarrassing me or gave me his well-thought-out opinions and commentary with patience and kindness (his puzzling love for the *gulp* Dodgers is a subject for another time). (Thank you, Frank.)

For my birthday one year, he sent me a book.

Now I have often pondered why the sport of baseball (among all sports) seems to have some of the best movies made about it. But I never realized that there was so much good writing as well!

As for baseball books, I do recommend The Brothers K by David James Duncan (who also wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The River Why); and a delightful book that combines poetry and baseball, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge (it’s a teen book, but anyone who loves baseball and verse will grin a lot while reading this book).

And imagine my delight when I discovered THIS! Good writing and baseball... what more could you ask for.

Go Giants…!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Literature as theatre

It seems someone in New York found a great idea of what to do with bad literature.

Performers -- comedians, authors, even drag queens -- get up in front of an audience and read selections from bad literature. "Since the series began in February, more than 40 books have been skewered. A $5 cover charge is imposed and, because of the subject matter, heavy drinking is encouraged."

Lit Lite is the brainchild of Kevin Malony and Grady Hendrix, both of whom stage productions for the Off Off Broadway theater company Tweed. Mr. Hendrix began the evening with a recitation from "Mission Compromised," Oliver North's military thriller.

"I am unfortunately one of those lonely sad people that reads a lot," said Mr. Hendrix in an interview, "and I've always been drawn to bad books." Asked why he prefers cringe-inducing texts to works from the literary canon Mr. Hendrix said, "Good literature is a little bit boring and precious." He pointed to Jonathan Franzen's "Corrections" and the works of David Foster Wallace to illustrate his point, saying he would rather curl up with "I Was a White Slave in Harlem," the autobiography of the drag queen Margo Howard-Howard.

It seems like someone could start a movement. Though I'm not sure I want to support anything that encourages bad writing.

Florent Morellet, owner of the popular meatpacking district diner Florent laughed through much of the show. "You know we could be doing this for centuries," he said, "There are so many bad books - it's an endless gold mine."

Though... it is nice to know the ones out there aren't going to waste...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

And oddly enough...

In the previous post, I'd just ranted about a book seen everywhere. It turns out the authors have their own blog, too. And a good one.

Check it out.

What about the little guys?

I always love finding a good book. I rely, mostly, on word-of-mouth to find worthwhile reading material. If someone whose word I trust recommends a book, of any genre, I will usually try to find a copy to read. Sometimes I'll go out on a limb and pull something off the shelf just on curiousity (judging it by its cover at times! For shame...).

But I love to stumble across obscure books, unknown poets, or eclectic essayists and find gems. Here's where I have a difficult time.

I love book reviews, and I scan them frequently for suggestions for reading material.

So why do all the "respectable" reviews all like to cover the same books? What happened to variety? What happened to the small presses? There must be books out there that aren't found on the front shelves of Borders that I can read about...

This weekend I scanned my usual litany of review sites and found a review of this same book in the LA Times, in the New York Times, and It's not that I don't think it'd be a good book to read, but I get tired of seeing the same titles again and again as I scan pages.

So does anyone have a suggestion for a site with reviews of less mainstream books? I don't want forums of people saying, "Good book! Read it!" or the like. I want insightful, well-thought-out opinions. Let me know...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Short essays about songs

Read a few of these. I had a blast...

My Proustian madeleine...

was a fried plantain.

I've always wondered about people who go to extraordinary lengths for seemingly trivial research. But there's something endearing about Edmund Levin's "reverse-engineering" of Proust's madeleine in Slate magazine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

NPR rocks

I'm addicted to Public Radio. I listen to it all day at work, and in the mornings, and when I can on weekends. In the car, I listen, but I have a tendency to channel surf. Apparently, Garrison Keillor likes to surf, too.

And of course, this book was written by a man...

And, finally, I know what I'm doing this weekend. Writing poetry. Join me.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Not that you need to remind me...

But every once in a while it's nice to know others know just how great he is.

Science and Art

This afternoon I got to listen to an NPR interview with Alan Lightman. He wrote a book I read a couple of years ago called Einstein's Dreams. It is a beautiful novel full of astounding insights and imagery and melds physics with poetry in a breath-taking walk through a point in time in Einstein's life. (Aside: SIPs include "giant clock"and the Flesch-Kincaid index is 7.3)

The interview was about Lightman's new book, A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit, which is a series of essays about science and art. I, of course, ran down to my local independent bookstore (Sundance Books!), and immediately picked up a copy of the book.

I am only 20 pages into the book and I am enchanted. This man can write! He discusses things such as the importance of metaphors in science, words, and meditations on our wired world. I can't wait to get back to reading.

On a side note, I hate to agree with Orson Scott Card on this... but enough is enough.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Zen of Writing

Tom Robbins is my hero. He treats the English language with the perfect mixture of respect and playfulness.

I always thought if I wrote prose, I'd want to write like him. I don't do too well with prose because I tend to spend way too much time crafting before moving on to the next part. I can't get my pacing right when I do that. I approach writing prose like I do writing poetry.

So, imagine my surprise when I read about how Tom Robbins writes his novels. He crafts them one sentence at a time. No planning. No editing. Wow.

And, as I suspected, he considers words the most important part of writing. In an interview about writing, he states:

"Our world isn't made of earth, air and water or even molecules and atoms, our world is made of language," he says. "Can you imagine a school of architecture in which all the emphasis is on floor plans and roof lines but no attention is ever paid to the properties of stone and brick and lumber? Well our creative writing programs focus entirely on structure and generally ignore the inventory of words on which those structures have to be constructed. So that's one reason why so many of our novels are so verbally boring."

He also says this:

"Consider Shakespeare - most of his plots or characters were borrowed or stolen from other sources, though what made him great was his astonishing genius for language. Shakespeare's long shelf life is due primarily to his love for words and the manner in which he expressed them. If it weren't for his language, Shakespeare would have just been another pretty plagiarist."

Which is something I've always thought...

In any case, I highly recommend any book by Mr. Robbins.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

They ran out of Shakespeare?

Okay, it wasn't just me. Billy Collins really does do the same show everywhere. But I shouldn't be too harsh on the poor guy. At least he's packing 'em in and poetry is being had by all.

Which reminds me: there's a job opening I know I'm perfect for. Heh.

And our headline for today: The Royal Shakespeare Company isn't performing any Shakespeare. Ostensibly, the reason they are doing this is "to give audiences a break from the Bard before the company presents the whole canon of Shakespeare’s work in a year (2006-7)." The whole canon. Wow. Does someone feel like funding a trip to England? I promise to bring back a full report...

Ah, well.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Some random thoughts on poetry

Currently reading: The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja

This is possibly the best book I've ever read on how to write poetry. And I've read a lot. A lot of good practical advice without getting too technical, and lots of good ideas for inspiration without getting too new-agey and touchy-feely. Highly recommended.

National Poetry Month is over, but please don't stop reading poetry, or writing it.

I found an interesting review of Billy Collins' reading in North Carolina. It sounded exactly like what he did here. Perhaps that is the slight ennui I found behind his readings? Too much of the same thing?

And, finally... Isn't it bad enough there are so many good poets who can't get published, without rubbing our noses in this? I guess I can always re-educate myself...