Monday, July 31

"The City of Dreaming Books" by Walter Moers

Books are not safe any more: this is one of the lessons of Bookholm and Optimus Yarnspinner, a yet unpublished writer from Lindworm Castle.

This book is one of the marvels of the literary world. It makes me sorry that I don't read German (I read an English translation, wonderfully and fearlessly made), which is quite a feat and has not been accomplished since The Neverending Story, and even that I did not delve into with such rapaciousness (had to have an excuse to use that word) that Moers' book elicits. It makes me glad I like to read books and drink coffee and sit in cafes till late, reading and rapt and content in the smell of old books.

How does one explain?

It fits within the realm of adventure, thriller, mystery, coming-of-age stories, and stories about stories and also books. It is about what it is to be a writer, a reader, and a dragon. Or maybe not a dragon--just a dinosaur with very small wings. It is about the importance of knowing what you read--that books and knowledge can be very, very dangerous and can sometimes hurt or even kill you. That there are all types of good books and all types of bad books--that you should be able to tell the difference.

The concept of literary identity is explored through the awesomest of venues; the cycloptic Fearsome Booklings that devour books and name themselves after famous authors (more to these creatures than first meets the eye!), the bookemists that try to make novel-writing machines and dabble in poisoned pages, the gagaists that remind one of Joyce and Cummings (is that heretical?), and the authorial godfathers that inhabit the world of bookhunters and authors and readers . . .

I almost literally could not put this book down. I frightened several waiters and cafe patrons with laughing out loud, feeling my eyes tear up and having to sniffle, and then sitting blankly at the cafe table staring straight ahead of me in absolute horror that the book actually ended.

Please go read this book. Please go buy this book. Give money to this author. We want this man to keep writing. He needs to pay his rent and his legal addictive stimulant dealers (probably a Lavazza cafe, since he's in Germany). Be a patron of art and literature! Buy the hardback!

Saturday, July 22

"A Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula Le Guin

As I was given this book, with a strong recommendation to read it as soon as possible, a friend walked by and expressed my sentiments:

"Well, her name WOULD be Ursula, with a title like that."

Yeah. But the book wasn't bad. It gives a good idea of what it is like to have been to an ancient port city, as well as the clearings in woods that let you see green hills below you . . . tries to portray what it is like to have a power and be able to use it for good or evil.

The narrative is very impersonal, lending itself to memorisation or to letting it be read aloud. Unfortunately, the characters are also very impersonal, and almost inhuman. They have some human feeling, surely, but there is no real connection between the characters in their humanity--I don't mean an emotional connection, I mean that they don't seem human. None of them sneeze.

I dunno, it just kind of drew me away from thinking they were human. Not antihero enough for me, maybe? Even Aragorn (LOTR) had some notion of what it was to be in the human indignity of human (and other) company . . . I don't know. Not a bad book, but definitely a class C book.

Thursday, July 20

about the song lyrics

What I mean is that "There's a ghost on the horizon when I go to bed" came from Antony & the Johnsons' "Hope There's Someone", that "When you lose something you cannot replace" is from Coldplay's "Fix You". The "What did I know of love's austere and lonely offices?" is from a Robert Hayden poem. And the most recent blog entry is by You Know That Band from their album "The One That Just Came Out".

Ha ha. So there. But I do tend to use song lyrics a bit--I do so like making playlists on my computer.

Friday, July 14

/ When song lyrics give a new dimension to short stories that are not really short stories but maybe will be one day/

There's three short, connected pieces about things I'm not altogether familiar with. I've never seen people kissing in a bar, for instance (usually places with greasily varnished mahogany bars and the sour smell of stale beer and old cigarettes; ew ew ew). And I've never broken up with someone or had to seriously comfort someone who'd just broken up. But I have made sausages fried with apples and served with mashed potatoes for a meal! I do have some worldly experiences! I do!

Oh, dear. What AM I writing about, anyway?

Poor Joan. She is a bit pathetic, but maybe she is just having one of those days where you are selfish and naive and can't stand to be yourself (or when I am that way, since I don't necessarily have to project ALL of my problems). Or maybe she is just pathetic and lonely.

Anyway. I have no idea where all that was going to or from, except that they both seem to be craving affection in the wrong places for the right reasons.

I'm so mentally tired. I need this creative high, I want it badly. Can't I be used to write something true? I've got to come up with something I recognize. I think moving might give me a chance to organize and arrange some things, read my old journals. Maybe that will give me some inspiration, heeheehee. Did I tell you I've kept a journal since I was 11 years old?

I'm wondering a lot, lately, what it is in me that I've written; what does my writing say about me?

Thursday, July 13

/ When you lose something you cannot replace /

William returned home late in the evening when Joan had already settled down at the kitchen table with her work (she was grading papers, maybe, or editing somebody's thesis), and was found himself relieved and still uncomfortable at how their evening routine of mumbling a hello, putting up scarves and coats on the rack, throwing his briefcase on the couch--how all those small things had become machinated because of their mundane familiarity. It annoyed him. Maybe he needed a change.

But not too much of a change. Today had been full of change; today had been the second time that Eric had broken up with him. William actually found Eric at at the bar with another guy (was his name Jack? did it matter?) this time, and Eric had most kindly taken his tongue out of whats-his-name's mouth to say something vague to William. "I can't do this any more; I'm sorry Will." Or maybe it was: "F* off, William; you never have time for me and [insert new guy's name] actually cares." It was something stupid. Eric always said stupid things. No he didn't. He and Eric had been good together. But what about the time . . . oh, don't think about it. That hurt too much.

He had felt his emotions building up pressure inside him. What to do now? He nodded slowly and walked stiffly out of the room, out of the bar, back to his little beater in the parking lot. Driving up the hill to the flat, he felt the evening hit--he'd worked hard all day into several hours of overtime he hadn't wanted to do--on a Saturday, no less: no reward. He'd done all he knew how for Eric: no reward. There had to be some place he was safe from that complete assault. He didn't even feel like getting drunk. He thought about going down to the docks and just sitting in his car, watching the water, but he realized he didn't really want to be there alone. So he went back to the flat.

The flat smelled of food; Joan had made dinner. There were sausages fried with apples in a pan on the stove, and some mashed potatoes. It was odd how all this made him feel mortally exhausted. He wanted to change clothes, get out of his starchy office clothes, maybe walk around the house in pajamas.

"You gonna eat this?"

"Go ahead."

"Eric and I broke up today." He said awkwardly. It surprised him how steady his voice was.

Joan could see two red splotches on his face, could see him wavering between emotions she couldn't identify. "Oh, William, I'm so sorry." She stood up, ready to . . . do something. Was it appropriate to hug him or should she just offer to make tea? The microwave made a little ringing noise, so he got his plate and sat down at the table; she returned to her chair and tried to move some of her things to make room for him.

"Can I do anyth--"

"No. Thanks."

"Do you want to . . . umm . . ."

"No, but thanks."

"Well, let me know if you think of something."

"Okay." He started to eat, and she tried to look at her stack of papers. When he was half-through with his plate, she rummaged around under the sink and brought out a bottle. The dishwasher was open; she pulled two tumblers out with one hand and set them on the table and poured them a finger each of something peaty.

"Just one?" He asked, looking up with what he thought might pass for a smile.

"Just one." She said quietly, not looking at his face. How weird. She wanted to back away.

He mumbled about having to go get something, retreated to his room, and ended up coming out twenty minutes later after a shower. Joan thought he looked a little better. She'd finished her tumbler and put it by the sink when he picked his up and sat down on the couch with a pillow and the ratty cover from his bed.

"Hey, Joan."

"Yeah?" She looked up from her work, a little worried.

"Thanks."

"Sure. Are you sleeping there tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Things will look better in the morning, Will."

"Good night."

"Good night."

She felt out of place, disconcerted by a grief she couldn't really take part in. What a strange day; she'd wanted badly to have his companionship earlier. Why did grief have to be such a private thing? Giving up on her studies, she flipped the lights on in her room and turned off the kitchen lights. She dragged out another blanket for William and spread it over him. She lit a candle, blew it out; turned on the heater, then remembered she'd brought out a blanket and turned it off again; thought about doing the dishes but decided she wouldn't risk waking William, and finally decided to go on to sleep in her own room. It was cold, and she slept fitfully until her alarm beeped at 5 a.m., and she got up to the sound of a thunderstorm.

Wednesday, July 12

What did I know of love's austere and lonely offices?

When she woke up, the apartment was filled with a morning twilight and very cold. She was alone, so for a few more minutes she huddled in the blankets William had left when he got up to go to work or sleep or wherever it was he went. In an effort to get up and around, she pushed the power button on the space heater with her toe, and pushed herself to a sitting position on the couch. The city outside the window was grey and foggy. Rivulets of water ran their accustomed paths down the sheet glass. On sunny days, you could see the lines that the calcium-loaded water left on the glass.

Only half awake, Joan watched the city in its Saturday routine. Ships didn't come into the dock so often, but there were smaller boats out--the orthodontists and accountants were out on their little sailboats, grilling seafood and eggplant for parties and families. She wondered idly how many of them had golden retrievers.

By the time she had an estimate, the room had become several degrees warmer. Not warm enough for her toes to be on the hardwood, though. She pulled her the elastic legs of her sweatpants down over her feet, and waddled in a haystack of blankets to her room. It was amazing how fast she could get dressed when she was cold (hoodie and jeans in 10 seconds flat--the hard part was getting on the three pairs of socks).

Still half asleep, she went through her weekend morning routine of washing and brushing and picking up--it occurred to her to wonder at which point William's habit of leaving two empty beer bottles by the couch had become something she didn't mind picking up after. Somehow it had just become so familiar that it seemed natural. Joan beamed at them with sleepy affection as she tossed them into the recycle bin.

After cleaning up, she felt better. The apartment was warming up a little with the heater. She'd stood by the window with a cup of tea as the sun came out for a half hour, a cold white light that made sharp shadows on the walls and then faded quickly as the skies clouded over again. Suddenly, the flat felt small and stuffy, the very air unbreathable, so she grabbed an empty rucksack and headed for the market.

Fresh sausages, a few apples, and some dishcloths later, she stood under the awning of a newspaper stand and stood a moment to experience the smell of rain-washed concrete and vegetables and the odd smells of cars and paper--she knew her life could not last and that she'd lose it all one day. Or at the very least, her life was going to change. Or maybe she would just move out of the city. Anyway, it was a smell she wanted to remember.

Riding the bus home, she made a point to remind herself how lucky she was to have so much time to herself on a Saturday. She would even cook dinner when she got home, and maybe William would be home. Maybe the flat wouldn't seem so stuffy when she got home, either; maybe she should light some candles or something. She urged the bus up the hills of the city. Maybe she'd go out and see a movie after dinner.

As it turned out, William was not at the flat when she returned. The flat seemed a calm place after the market, and she noticed how very comfortable it was to have a place in which nobody could see her face.

Tuesday, July 11

There's a ghost on the horizon when I go to bed.

She was a fairly private person--shy is what most people would call it--and she did not generally like the local dating pool even though she was optimistic about finding what she called a "soul mate".

"Well, how was the date?"

Joan closed the door behind herself and began untangling herself from her outdoor clothes. "It was fine. He's a nice guy."

The man on the couch turned over to face the door and rescued the TV remote from under his elbow. "But it wasn't fine, because you look like he put cod liver oil in your coffee."

"Oh, no; it wasn't him." Joan walked into her bedroom. "I'm going to change in here but I can keep talking--it was the movie. I hated the movie. It made me think of all the stupid things I've done in embarrassing social situations. Well, you know I have self esteem issues." She pulled on a pair of sweat pants and shuffled back into the den with a pile of books and a handful of writing instruments.

"Self-esteem? Joan. What crap."

"What else do you call it, then? I know I do stupid things, I don't like it, and I know that I shouldn't lower my standards of What Is Socially Acceptable in order to make myself feel good."

"That's right."

"But they still haunt me."

"Right."

"What do you do about that?" She set the books down and went to make a cup of tea. Her roommate, William, moved over on the couch to make room for her on their only jointly owned piece of furniture: the only piece of living room furniture, actually. It faced the glass wall, which looked over the downtown area of the city. At night, the sky seemed dim and orange near the horizon, fading into a sharp velvet blue in which there were never any stars. The lights from the buildings below sparkled in familiar patterns all the way down to the boardwalk and the docks.

"I generally ignore them."

"What if you can't ignore them?"

"Then you aren't trying hard enough." He turned back to watch the city lights.

"Well, thanks."

"What?"

"Never mind. I don't want to deal with that right now." She pulled the tea bag from her mug and left the soggy packet in the sink. Feeble revenge, since she knew he hated it when she did that. Joan felt as if she were unclean, felt as if she could use a bubble bath. But that would take energy. Never mind about that, too. "I know I can't get rid of them--even if I ignore them, it just means I spend effort doing that. It's probably better to deal with the issue where it is."

"Why did you take the issue with you on the date?"

"It isn't something I particularly like exposing to men I hardly know." She put down her mug on a newspaper that was lying on the hardwood next to the couch, and crawled underneath a blanket next to William. "You know what would be really nice?"

William sighed, sleepy and not particularly wanting to get any more self-reflective. "What would be really nice, Joan?"

"It would be nice if I could be with someone whom I felt comfortable being myself with. I mean, somebody that even if I felt these terrible thoughts about myself and knew they were true--if I could still feel that they loved me enough to see past that fault."

"You said 'whom'. Ha ha."

"I mean, it would just be nice to feel as if I didn't have to be so defensive and perfect all the time."

"Half the time I don't think people even notice those huge events you think happen."

"Doesn't stop them from being real in my head; I really don't know how to differentiate." Tea was cool enough now. It felt nice to finally be holding a mug and not one of those dainty teacups or commercial styrofoam things they had at work.

"Well, learn!"

"You make it sound so easy."

"It is."

"No it isn't." Joan said it too fast and realized that instant that she had just participated in the lowly elementary-school arguments they'd had forever.

"Pshaw. Is too."

"Are you just arguing to argue with me or what?" Maybe that would end it. She was too tired to deal.

"No, I mean it."

"No, you don't."

"Stop it." William was getting sleepy, too. He slouched down on the couch till he could only see the sky outside the window.

"You stop it."

"I think I need another beer."

"I'll get one."

"Oh, thanks." A pause while she got up to fetch a beer from the fridge. The room had darkened noticeably from the few minutes ago when she'd gotten home. Walking back to the couch, she heard William's voice before she saw him. "I wish you were a guy."

"Yeah, well I wish you were straight." She nudged their space heater a little closer to the couch and sat back down.

"Wow, that's messed up."

"Huh." They toasted with a mug of tea and a bottle of beer.

"Cheers."

"Bottoms up."

Sunday, July 2

I protest. This was not my area of literature. I feel slighted, cheated, rejected, and dejected.

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