Non-Fiction

Sarah Manguso

MangusoCheck out, Sarah Manguso.  Her website lists her books, and connects to lots of her articles.  Is what she does “prose poetry”? Probably.  But it doesn’t matter. It’s phenomenal. Tightly written short pieces.  Often autobiographical.  She has re-awoken my interest in prose poems.

Prose

300 Arguments (Graywolf, 2017)
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Graywolf, 2015)
The Guardians: An Elegy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)
The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape (McSweeney’s Books, 2007)

Poetry

Siste Viator (Four Way Books, 2006)
The Captain Lands in Paradise (Alice James Books, 2002)

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Kaizen Applied to Writing

Sarah Manguso:

“The Japanese term kaizen translates literally to improvement, but it’s a term that has come to mean gradual, continuous improvement of a piece of collaborative work. It’s most commonly associated with manufacturing operations, but I think it has general application to almost everything, including writing. In companies that implement kaizen, workers look continuously for small improvements that can be implemented immediately. The philosophy was developed to adjust the work process from its traditional practices, back when making a new iteration of something was laborious and had to be done all at once.”

Last Things by Marissa Moss

Last Things Marissa Moss Cover (2)

An uncredited reviewer in Publishers Weekly writes: “Deeply affecting and harrowing… This is not a sentimental story of how suffering ennobles people.  Moss’s deliberately naive drawings effectively accompany her painfully direct text…The fact that the family does endure is impressive, and this book demonstrates how art can transmute suffering into literature.”

S/he is right on the mark.  Moss is a successful children’s author best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series has written and drawn the most grown-up of books.  When her husband, Harvey, is diagnosed with ALS, he becomes more and more distant from the family, and there is no easy resolution to their relationship or his illness.  This is not an illness story where everyone becomes a better person, but eventually, as Moss writes in her introduction  it is about the “strong bonds of family and how they can sustain us.”

Everything about the book brings home the situation they find themselves in. Like life, it has to be lived, and like life, there are ups and downs: many, many downs.  Moss is clear-eyed about what the disease is, what it does to Harvey, how she and the kids react.  In a way, this with the clear text and the expressive drawings and varied and inventive design of the pages to suit to the story would be enough.  But what makes this a great book is that alongside the story of the family and the illness,  There is more. Beyond the day to day, there is the life of the mind.  Of connecting to the thoughts and history of humanity. For Harvey, a professor of medieval art, this involves hanging on to his intellectual journey trying ever more desperately to finish his book Picturing Kingship on King Louis IX’s personal prayer book.  He cuts himself off to write his last work.  King Louis is christian, the family are Jews. And for the family it is Judaism and life-cycle events of a bar mitzvah and later on sitting shiva for Harvey when he dies that locate the mundane in a wider world. Human beings live, love, struggle and die, but our minds put this all in the context of humanity.

Book Trailer:

Review from The Forward
Washing Post article about the Jewish aspects of the book
Publishers Weekly review
Kirkus Review

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Just listened to HMMaMG on disc. Its a rock memoir, but Brownstein is not glamorizing Sleater-Kinney or her life.

People know Carrie from Portlandia .  From her previous career as a musician in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag. This story of her life up to the final S-K show in 2006.

She begins Chapter 1 by writing “I’ve always felt unclaimed. This is the story of the ways I created a territory…something that could steady me, somewhere I belonged.” Something many people feel on some level. The first quarter of the book is growing up in Bellevue, WA.

She formed a band in 11th grade called Born Naked: “We agonized over band names (though clearly not for long enough).

After high school, she dropped out of Western Washington U and  moved to Olympia, WA and was deeply immersed in the music and art scene.  Bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bikini Kill were inspring her.

The book moves through the different stages of Sleater-Kinney and Carrie’s relationship and friendship with Corin.  The details are a joy to read if the music means something to you, but if it doesn’t Brownstein draws the reader deep into the punk life and aesthetic–the make do, the camaraderie, and because of the relative success of the band, she is able to tell the story about how that very basic view of the world expands as success draws the outsiders back into itself.

The book doesn’t really get on to Portlandia, but as Brownstein says in the interview that is a bonus on the disc set, her description of life in Olympia is where ideas and material for the IFC show comes from in part.

Reading this along with Viv Albertine’s book brought back my sense of the late seventies early eighties, however much I was drawn to this music–especially female voices, X-Ray Spex, Penetration, Siouxie, the Slits–I only touched on the life as I moved through the world of fringe theatre rather than music.

http://pitchfork.com/artists/29213-wild-flag/

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

29340182The penultimate paragraph of Shrill begins: “My little victories–trolls, rape jokes, fat people’s humanity–are world building. Fighting for diverse voices is world building.” and the last paragraph is “We’re all building our world, right now, in real time.  Let’s build it better.”  Lindy West has spent the last several years writing loudly, and shrilly towards that better world,and many people have had to stand up for their behaviour because of her work.  At the same time, and nothing she is asking for is more than common decency, she has been thoroughly vilified on social media and even in regular media.  It seems that all this has made her stronger and more determined, and this book is testament to her fortitude. She is has written for Jezebel , The Guardian and The Strangerthe alternative newspaper in Seattle.  And despite all this work, I hadn’t really noticed her until This American Life told the story of how she met with one of her trolls.  She has been trolled out of all decency, in ways that truly make you wonder about a whole section of what I struggle to call humanity with vile threats and insults.  It is impossible to write this without feeling that trolling has become central to our daily lives under this current regime–but that is another story–listen to the segment, and see if you don’t feel disgusted and realise that there can be humanity behind that anger and that somehow, the rest of us have to be as brave  as West is in speaking out minds, in speaking out when one human insults and dehumanizes another.  She has, understndably, left Twitter, and social media is the poorer for her absence, but if Twitter and the other companies don’t trolling and other similar abuses, we will all leave for something that allows us to build a better world.

Shrill-Title

The Arab of the Future 1 & 2

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To be published in US/UK Sept. 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TThese  are  the memoirs of Riad Sattouf’s childhood. He was born in France, but when his father graduates with his doctorate, they move first to Libya, and then to his father’s homeland, Syria.  The series was originally published in France to a mixed reception. The son of an Arab father and a French mother, Sattouf is often seen as anti-Arab. At the same time he s admired and seen as a master of graphica up there with Spiegelman, Satrapi and Sacco.  He has the hard satirical stance that worked for his regular column in Charlie Hebdo.    Sattouf has come to fame recently as the only Arab contributor to Charlie Hebdo, at the time of the massacre.  You can read more about him and the controversy around this book–some people find him racist and insensitive, others are great admirers.

These are full integrated graphic works.  The drawings are essential to the storytelling.  The people are cartoonish– each character’s nose is the most prominent feature. Despite the simplicity of the drawings the characters thoughts and feelings are clearly communicated.  A nice touch is that even though each the format is basically black and white, each country has it’s own colour wash: France is blue, Libya is yellow and Syria is pink, with the occasional object in full colour. Abdul-Razak (his father)’s radio is red. Gadafi, and portraits of him and his green book are green and the soldiers’ berets, when they get to Syria are deep red.

New Yorker
New York Times review of AotF
New York Times review of AotF 2
Guardian AotF
Guardian AotF 2
Arab of the Future website

Cory Doctorow Writes About Freedom

doctorow_jacket_press_draft6.pdfCory Doctorow has written an important book.  Many good friends have been telling me this for years about his other books and his on-line writing.  Finally I took their advice.  I borrowed his book out of the library.  I could probably have downloaded it for free somewhere, found the audio book on a torrent site, but I went with the old fashioned media sharing establishment in my town.  They probably own all of Mr. Doctorow’s books and the ones they don’t happen to own.  I wouldn’t ever have to buy one, although at least they bought them.

This is what Information Doesn’t Want  to Be Free  is about.  It’s about how the internet has completely turned much of artistic production and business upside down.  The old ways of making money from books, from recorded music have been smashed and all the federal agents, all the business tycoons, all the artists in the world will not put back together again.

“Computers are copying machines.” and that is why we need a book that reminds us about the “reality of the internet today and the regulations that surround it, and the ways that those regulations shape successful strategies for earning a creative wage.”Cory_Doctorow_in_Borough_Market