Simple: a kick-ass short story collection. So kick-ass, I'm saying it's kick-ass before I've even finished it.
Why is it so kick-ass? It is honest, funny, sad, painful, straight-up storytelling with awkward, messed-up, self-conscious characters at its core. No fancy deconstructions, no look-at-what-i'm-doing-there-right-there-in-that-chapter tomfoolery, no meta-themes and overarching themes and subgenre themes melding together to create the stuff of a thousand and one grad student papers gone bad. Instead, Rivecca offers characters who are honestly struggling, honestly telling it like they see it, honestly trying to sort their shit out. How refreshing after months of plowing through theory and meta, meta, meta lit.
Why does it matter? I've been on a non-blogging, non-reading, non-writing, non-loving-books-at-all jag. Again. For the umpteenth time. Call me a jaded reader. An unproductive writer. Whathaveyou. I'd lost the spark. Rex, while fascinating in many ways, felt like an exercise in what literature could be if we all tried very hard to make it so. A puzzle to deconstruct and re-make and discuss at dinner parties. Same with Shields (but that's a separate matter) after awhile. I wondered if it was me or what I was reading or both. Hell, Tinkers didn't move me. I kept skipping pages and pages thinking, I'm bored. Bored to tears with the Pulitzer prize-winning novel that all those I respect & admire have praised loudly, effusively. The only reading of any kind that has wowed me in any way since Maggie Nelson's excellent Bluets is the street-style photo compendium The Sartorialist by the fantastic Scott Schuman. Seriously.
So: For long-time readers, you know the drill. You get my gig. You are totally hip to this dip in readerly-writerly interest. I lose interest with the seasons (sometimes more often, on good years...less) and a book and a trip (thank you NYC) often conspire together to yank me right out of my complacency and place me firmly back on solid reading/writing ground. The most recent book to yank me out of my nonsense is Rivecca's debut short story collection Death Is Not an Option. Go check it out & let me know what you think. Would love to chat you up about it before I fall into another fashion blog coma.
Tags: bluets, death is not an option, debut short story collections, maggie nelson, short stories, short story collections, suzanne rivecca
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These words are overdue & I'll attempt to speak as plainly as possible:
As I struggle to maintain the many different writing hats I wear every day, I take comfort in Alice Feiring's (wine writer extraordinaire and self-proclaimed wine bitch) recent words on what she looks for in a wine:
"I’m looking for the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want my wines to tell a good story. I want them natural and most of all, like my dear friends, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I’m trying to swell the ranks of those who love the differences in each vintage, who abhor homogenization, who want wines that make them smile, think, laugh,and feel sexy. For better or worse, it seems as if I am a wine cop traversing the earth, writing and speaking my mind, drinking and recommending wines that are honest."
I, too, want my wines - and my novels and my films and my cookbooks (more on that later) - to tell a good story. As I find myself covering wine quite a bit more frequently than I used to, I've been struggling with maintaining my literary self whilst indulging in my vino self. I realize that the two are far more related than I had at first expected. Not only does Feiriing's description accurately describe what I want out of a wine, it captures (quite well, I think) what we are all looking for in a good story: the truth.
As I find myself ever closer to being fully immersed in my novel writing, I must also admit my right-now truth: when I'm in full-fledged writing mode, the idea of blogging about books and writing is terribly distracting and a bit of a chore.
I'm drawing inspiration from so many things these days...none of which are novels. I expect this is a fleeting phase and that I will return to "normal" soon. Until then, I do hope you'll stick around as I explore the many things that are feeding my writerly imagination.
It has been a busy week and a half here at Counterbalance - and very little of it is directly related to books...although much of it is related to music and film and cookbooks, if you can imagine that. As always, time away has inspired more writing and ideas than I would have expected. A very, very good thing.
I'll be back with posts later this week just as soon as I catch my breath.
The bummer about reading Human Smoke right now is that when you have a bad day (like today, the day in which I got the worst haircut ever and it's not even fixable because it's now so short there is nothing to do but stand tall, walk proud, and ask Buddha for both the larger lesson in this and rapid hair growth; this is also the day in which Mr. Counterbalance messed up his foot, which is a big problem as he owns Walk Fido, wherein it is important that you can actually...you know...walk) reading a good book is often the only antidote. But when the book you are reading depicts the unraveling of the world in the run up to WWII, it becomes easy to not want to read that book. Or any book that is heavy and hard and serious. Which is just about all the books I've lined up for myself over the next three weeks.
Yet, it is the very subject matter of Human Smoke that makes me realize how dumb it is to be upset about my haircut. There are bigger issues than my unintentionally pseudo-punk rock do (that I am sure I won't be able to re-create on my own once I wash it) and I need to remind myself of that every day for however long it will take to grow out.
That is all.
Despite my recent declaration that "Nothing is Revolutionary Road" (a phrase that seems destined to be on a t-shirt, no?), I soldiered on by reading Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances. This worked for me as a follow-up to RR mainly because it is zany and brainy and science-y in a way that it can't be compared to RR. (Although I got impatient near the end of AD and the final summation left me both groping for more and missing Scarlett Thomas...)
But that book is now finished and I'm casting around for something else to read. Something that will match the depth...nay, the protein-laden meat paired with a gorgeously sophisticated Burgundy...that was RR.
I've opened & closed many books in the past few days. Cookbooks (too spot on with the meat & wine bit, eh?), manuals, photographic retrospectives and a longish essay on Wong Kar Wai (My Blueberry Nights remains in the DVD player, mid-film, and the monotony of it is breaking my heart. Whither the perfection of Chungking Express? In the Mood for Love? And all the films in between?) that did nothing to placate me in my post-RR quest.
It came to me in a flash (really) this morning: I must now read Human Smoke. What tome could distract me - wholesale - from the merits of Revolutionary Road if not Baker's massive WWII tome that has been quietly intimidating me ever since I learned of it? I will dip a toe in today and let you know.
As I mentioned last week, I've been traveling a lot for work and this week is no exception. Which is why it pains me - pains me - to direct your attention towards the remaining events in LA this week. I will be missing some very good stuff, including:
Here's what I won't miss: Nam Le (yes! Nam Le!) discussing The Boat this Sunday at Skylight Books @ 7pm. More goodness where that come from later this week...stay tuned.
Long story short (because this is about Twitter after all): I was a regular twitter-er several months ago. Then I stopped because blogging plus twittering was just too much. I've started again. Twittering instead of blogging...so much easer!
I'll continue to do both on a regular basis but I've noticed that many bookish (and not so bookish) observations don't merit a full blog post. Follow or no, follow or lead. My brand-spanking new twittering is @calliemiller or you can passively observe my recent twits at the column to your right.
...of the nasty politicking by HRC.
...of the false memoir.
...of actually being sick with the flu for days on end.
...of not being up to posting my love letter to Millet because of said flu.
A bright spot: this just arrived in the mail. Ahhhh - here's to being in bed with the flu for a whole weekend and having some Tom McCarthy to read. Delish.
Marisha Pessl: Night Film: A Novel
It promises much. Those kinds of promises rarely deliver.
Robin Sloan: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
I feel as if this will be a sort of End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas kind of thing. No idea why but if that's anywhere close to the case, I'm in.
Fiona Maazel: Woke Up Lonely: A Novel
Have heard remarkable things about this novel. Have you?