0 babelonium


Codrescu's Messiah

We went looking for trouble at Eljay's last weekend, and I found a hardcover of Andrei Codrescu's Y2K novel Messiah in the Goth stacks.

You know Codrescu from his commentaries on NPR and his ceaseless New Orleans boosterism. In the Olden Days, when the internet was mostly ASCII porn and MUDDs, and I had more time to collect interesting material things, I knew of him as the editor of a long-format broadsheet called The Exquisite Corpse. I actually had a subscription, though it was printed in an unreadably tiny font on smeary newsprint and went belly-up after a handful of issues.

Thanks to the magic of pixels and bytes, the
Exquisite Corpse has re-risen in non-corporeal online form. Codrescu is still editor. I settled in, rubbing my hands, expecting good things.

There is some quite bad poetry ("I am the oak/ the wind speaks through me/ my red branches"), and an embarassing essay on laptop-failure-in-the-midst- of-writing-poetry-about-dead-parents ("In the morning...the laptop is still dead. But I have e-mail to read, clients to contact, Internet sites to research. (But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep ...Ed) Then there are the poems." Yes. Those.)

I don't know why I expect competence from Andrei Codrescu just because he is a Romanian poet with a regular slot on NPR. I should know better after reading the first couple hundred pages of Messiah, a novel about a young tough New Orleans girl who can't have an orgasm and gets kidnapped and brainwashed by Born Again Christians. On page 215, she meets her counterpart, an orphaned Serbian talk show host, at a strip club, and after a few minutes becomes instantly orgasmic. That's it. That's what happens. Aside from some pretty good speculations about the Kabbalistic nuances and international scope of Wheel of Fortune, there are no other events of note in this novel. Or if there are I don't know about them, because I stopped reading after the heroic quest (for orgasm) had been fulfilled (no thanks to the agency of the heroine, mind you -- all she has to do is meet her Serbian counterpart).

Yes, it's a shitty novel, but for some reason I kept reading it. The interchangeable characters and unobtrusive plot seemed merely a vehicle for the poet's need to bring Mark Twain and Nicola Tesla into the present in the form of angels; in a few places the author himself got lost in the characterlessness of his own creation and called his heroine by the wrong name. I don't know why I kept reading it -- probably because Codrescu really is a good writer. Sometimes that's enough.


calling all babelonians...

Guys, is anyone else ever going to post? because if not, I am going to move some stuff around and claim the blog. I may even change the name. but I am awfully lonely here...i give you a week, and if i have heard from no one, you're all toasty.


miscellania (is that a word?)

1. I finished The Winner of the Nat'l blah blah blah. I was underwhelmed. I kept waiting for whatever it was that was supposed to be truly horrible about this one character. Maybe I am just depraved and not easily shocked?
The guy that one of the sisters marries is supposed to be this truly horrible human being, and I just didn't think most of what he did was so bad - he tries to seduce the other sister, bad, but not un-understandable; he's a jerk, but many people are....I just didn't get that he was Satan incarnate which is sort of what you are led to believe. He is supposed to have induced his wife to anorexia, and be all psychologically brutal, but again, common garden-variety psychopath, not the devil incarnate. Is it just me? Am I immune to the Devil? Hmmm....

2. I am blowing off Snowleg - I was fifty pages into it and found it unsympathetic, somewhat unbelievable, and just not compelling. That's twice I've tried, and that's enough. If I don't care about East German political prisoners now, I never will, I'm afraid.

3. So I am starting Mona Simpson's A Regular Guy. We'll see how it is. I am also just starting the third Kate Martinelli mystery With Child. While King is a good writer, the Martinelli books remind me of eating McDonald's food - I read them because I know exactly how they are going to wrap up, and so it's comforting to that reptile part of my brain.

4. I went back to Bryn Mawr Vassar, boys in tow, and bought Walking on Walnuts and (drum roll please) The Faux Gourmet by Juli Huss. I do not understand why the almighty and wonderful Google could not find her, when I was only a letter off (Julia). Pay no attention to the search engine behind the curtain!

5. While searching Salon for book reviews (no luck, although I did find an archive site with all their reviews categorized alphabetically by book author which I seem to have lost, which sucks) I did find this gem: Stewart O'Nan's picks for "tales of creeping madness." I have really liked his books, and I will check these five out, esp. since Plath's is a classic I should have already read, and Laura Kasischke keeps popping up lately, so it may be a sign from the book gods that I am meant to check her out.


the winner of the national book award

I admit I avoided this for a while just based on its cleverer-than-thou name, but I picked it up at the library recently. You know, it's incredibly readable. So far. It sort of feels like Alice Hoffman meets Wally Lamb...that's a poor description but it's the best I can do. On Amazon's reviews, someone points out that Dorcas, the narrator of the book, goes from being "a funny, irreverent sage to an out-and-out pill awfully fast." And I agree with them. I see the pill-ness coming halfway through.

And while at the library, I checked out Snowleg *again*. Why? Why am I convinced that I am going to enjoy this book? Just because it was longlisted for the Booker this year is no guarantee - I mean, Line of Beauty WON and I found that book trite, cliched, and pretty much unreadable.

I stopped by my favorite bookstore today, since it was Wednesday and after 10 am - they have very restricted hours at Bryn Mawr-Vassar, I suppose necessitated by the fact that it is staffed entirely by volunteers - and stupidly went in with only ten dollars in my pocket. I winnowed down my choices to a Bill Bryson I don't have and haven't read, a book called From Paris to the Moon that I have been watching for what seems like years, and I finally gave in and bought it, and a book about shark attacks (I know, I'm weird.) I find my personal nonfiction library is leaning heavily towards shark books and arctic exploration/disaster books - God knows why we like the things we like.

Some of the things I left behind (sigh...): Jansen's History of Art. All the art majors on my floor in college had to buy this, and I wanted it so bad. BWV's copy was in pretty good shape and only fifteen bucks, but alas...
also, Walking on Walnuts and another book I read ages ago about the single girl and dining...
also, some random fiction...oh well. Again, too many books, too little time.

While searching for the title of the single girl food book, I found a mess of books that made me think, "Wow, I'd like to own that" and then I realized I used to, but when I weeded....stupid, stupid, stupid. DON'T WEED. Yes, you do indeed need every book in your house. You never know when you might want to read it, or need to look something up. Biggest, hugest mistake, weeding my collection when we moved. The wise person learns from others' mistakes. Learn from mine - keep your books.


the new Holy Grail

No, I mean it. We watched Elf the other night, and it is definitely going to be one of those movies that I quote every chance I get. It was just too absurd yet sweet not to.

Some of my favorites:

Hello, Buddy the Elf! What's your favorite color?
[See, I told you... - bb]

You sit on a throne of lies!

Francisco...that's fun to say....

Have you seen these toilets? They're GINORMOUS!

and for some reason, I think this is the best of the lot, but the least useful:

What about this: a tribe of asparagus children, but they're self-conscious about the way their pee smells.

because I LOVE her, that's why

Have you met Mimi Smartypants? Do so, forthwith.

I have read not much of anything this past week, book-wise, ever since Andrea-the-Ukrainian-stained-glass-person told me about Mimi Smartypants. I spend most of my free time in front of my computer, laughing my ass off. And you should too. (But your own computer, own ass.)


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

I picked up Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader on a whim once, mostly because I am fascinated by other people's reading habits. She turned out to be an engaging, charming writer, and someone I definitely identified with. (The chapter on her family's propensity for correcting other people's grammatical mistakes made me laugh, blush with recognition of incredibly arrogant things I have done in that regard, and laugh some more.) So when Nick Hornby extolled the virtues of this book in Polysyllabic Spree (which book has been directing my reading choices ever since I read it a month ago), I immediately ordered it from Powells. (Except here's the problem - I just went back to the Hornby and nowhere in that book is it mentioned. Nor is it mentioned in the other book that recently provided me with a reading list as long as my arm, So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading. OK, so where and how did I happen to order it?)

At any rate, I am heartily glad I did, as it's a wonderful book. It details the story of a Hmong girl with epilepsy, and the cultural clashes between her parents and her doctors. I can't even begin to describe it more than that - it's a compelling read, try it out. It is also the exact nonfiction I needed to cleanse my brain re: the Neutrogena shampoo idea of my previous post.


book slump....here battah battah....

All right, I am in a book slump. Help me.

I started Philip Roth's Plot Against America, which Gina assures me is worth it, but I am still not so riveted. Not that I don't trust you, dear...

I am halfway thru the 3rd Laurie King/Mary Russell mystery, and while it's as charming and compelling as ever, I don't want to OD on Laurie King and totally spoil a good thing, like I did with FiveStar bars. (Although the round of stomach flu that hit me the morning after I ate two peanut butter ones probably has something to do with that too). Also the reason I bought the second Kate Martinelli mystery but haven't started it.

I got Gregory Maguire's Wicked out of the library, but at the same time I bought a used copy of Patrick Suskind's Perfume, which is what I really wanted to start but I have library books that have to go back first, so I feel like they should be read first.

So I am skimming through Ken Kamler's book about extreme doctoring (in extreme places, like Everest and the Amazon, not like doctoring with a shortage of anesthesia or anything) for lack of any more compelling reasons to read something else. I need the equivalent of Neutrogena shampoo for my brain - you know, the shampoo that strips off the residue from all the other shampoo you use?