Such an odd and strange little book from O’Brien. What I liked: Definitely not a book you can easily categorize. The plot was meandering–more so than At Swim Two Birds–and completely unpredictable. A place wholly away from reality was the setting, and late in the novel we learn the “place” of the novel was a type of hell. Again, a novel reminding me of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks–an exploration of a created place parallel to reality trapping guilty souls. As multi-dimensional as a book can become–an exploration of time, place and dimension. I very much like the spirit behind the line, “A journey is an hallucination.”
Spending more and more time before getting to sleep at night reading and trying to re-develop my focus. And I decided to work on Barthelme’s syllabus and suggested readings. And O’Brien’s book At Swim Two Birds was a challenge–rather a maze of a book. A labyrinth, to steal from Borges. Have to admit I put the book away again and again.
What I enjoyed: I liked the meta-fiction and idea of a book about writing a book about writing a book. And I most enjoyed the idea of characters being developed by a writer–or I guess more specifically an un-skilled writer. And I enjoyed the idea of those characters turning on the author. It is telling I guess that I completely related to the idea of the lazy writer and student. I also like the idea of Gaelic mythology mixing with the author’s reality of writing a book. What I didn’t like: overly clever and overly cute opening.
When finally finished I was feeling a James Joyce vibe and thinking of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A parody of Irish styles of storytelling. A post modern version of Joyce’s modernist Irish style.
Margaret Atwood’s classic novel appears to have a well produced series adaptation coming to the internet. I was disappointed with the 199o film adaptation. This looks promising though.
Summer is for reading. And I have quite a few books stacked next to my bed. I used to worry about having too many books hanging around and felt bad if I couldn’t finish them all. I’ve since changed that thought. The more books the better.
Here are a few of the books I am working through:
Starting listening to this book on tape at the gym after watching the film trailer on Youtube. I like Ridley Scott and love science fiction. The book reads almost like science writing or nonfiction. Reminds me of Arthur C Clark’s 2001 series. Each section/chapter is a new problem for the protagonist to science his way out of. Also the story of Weir self-publishing the book and then becoming published by a major press is almost as interesting as the book.
This one is by Charles L. Adams who taught a course for years on the work of Frank Waters. I loved seeing very early short stories and passages from Waters’ more obscure books. Waters is a writer I’ve admired for years because his work is primarily set in New Mexico and Colorado and I admire the themes of the individual struggling for harmony within surroundings. PS: Found it at Myopic Books in Chicago.
Chameleo is the second book I’ve read from Robert Guffey. I read his book on conspiracy theory as art and found the work to be fascinating. I like conspiracies. This one feels Phillip K. Dick inspired. PS: Ordered this one from Guffey’s Cryptoscatology blog.
The year before last I read quite a few of Luis Alberto Urrea’s nonfiction and last year I finished the the Saint of Cabora and then the Queen of America. This summer I am enjoying Urrea’s border world similar to those of his historical fiction and his creative nonfiction. Also found this one at Myopic books.
I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel sequel to the popular novel. The artwork by Cameron Stewart is gritty and beautiful and the writing actually has surprised me. Set seven years following events of Fight Club Tyler Durden is very much alive and continues to create chaos. Actually he’s more of a villain than the alter-ego. I was also surprised to find Palahniuk himself within the pages of the first issue. And I am enjoying the book though I’ve read a few negative reviews–here for example. Found this one at Escape Velocity Comic Books in Colorado Springs.
Peter J. Kuznick’s research translates well to this Oliver Stone directed series of hour-long documentaries. I found myself admiring the post-structuralism historical mode as well as the well constructed mix of photographs, film footage and news reels.
Just heard of this film adaptation from Lois Lowry’s novel. Looks well done.
Lately for many reasons I feel I’ve been living inside of a Philip K. Dick novel, so I’ve been rereading a couple of my favorite–Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly.
What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.
And Richard Linklater’s film adaptation visualizes Dick’s themes of shifting realities–internal and external–and also shifting identities so perfectly in its animation. It’s funny how today we are reading post-modern novels with shifting narration, and Dick’s work was seen as genre and a lesser form of novel writing back in the sixties and seventies. I’m looking forward to tracking down his so-called “straight” novels.
Great documentary now available for streaming on Netflix. I’d been waiting to watch this one for a while. I was glad to see some insight into the reclusive artist Bill Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes has always been one of my favorite strips and I remember the last strip to this day. In fact, I found the description of Watterson and his thoughts on merchandising to be very Salinger-esque. And I’ve always thought of Salinger in relation to Watterson and his themes of youth and familial relationships. I also liked the discussion of high art and commercial or comic art.
The first time I heard Thug Notes I found it very funny and engaging. I played it for my Lit 111 students. We liked the break down in a less elite language. And I love to see books and ideas from books featured in so called new media. I wonder though if this quick summary of books perhaps might be what Bradbury was warning us about? Will quick summaries like this or another quick summary like SparkNotes take the place of reading?
Now I’m thinking I’d rather see videos like this on from The Pen Pixie:
I’ve long read and admired Junot Diaz‘ style of prose. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve modeled my own work after his. This latest collection of work contains all the themes of trouble and failure at its heart. And also the redemption. I continue to admire how the work follows a consistent universe and also how his work stays composite. Overlapping. The voice here feels just as dynamic and strong as his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown.
I will be reading from my book The House of Order at Colorado State University-Pueblo on Feb 4, 2014 as a part of the Southern Colorado Reader Series. I will also be speaking to several fiction classes on the subject of literary minimalism and composite short stories.
A few months back I wrote a quick review of Daniel Chacon’s book Unending Rooms. I admire Chacon’s aesthetic and overall writerly choices. I look forward to picking up his novel and his other work Chicano Chicanery. His work at times is surreal and also thought provoking. I find his work here playful and intelligent. And I’ve been in the habit of reading work that is more composite in terms of plot or character lately but in his work it is also refreshing to see each story linked by idea or abstraction. So does he choose idea over characters? Perhaps, at times, yes. And I’m not sure we have a collection of complete stories. Felt more like fragments but I think that too serves the chaos that is Chacon’s style.
My friend and mentor Will Hochman answers some questions and gives his opinion on the new Salinger documentary.
The good folks at CIELO: Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization here in Springfield, Illinois will be discussing my book at their August book club meeting. And they’ve invited me to come and discuss the book on Aug 6. I’m getting excited.
Here’s a quick excerpt from the writeup in the August San Francisco Book Review:
Star Rating: 5 out of 5
“Raw and highly emotional at times, Jaramillo’s stories give a realistic look in to the lives of his characters as he presents short vignettes that hint at a deeper family saga. His style is easy to read and his concise wording retains a surprising amount of detail. All in all, The House of Order is a compelling set of stories and should Jaramillo continue to present such fantastic storytelling, there is no doubt he will gain many new readers.”
Happen to be reading through The Man With the Golden Arm this summer. Now news of Algren documentary. I’m looking forward to it.
Enjoyed Sergio Troncoso’s fiction workshop the past ten days and wanted to post some of my notes on the rest of the Yale Writer’s Conference.
Day One: Keynote speech by author and medical doctor Richard Selzer asked us to combine our interests and occupations with our love for language. Loved the idea he gave us to avoid timidity in our writing. “Don’t be afraid to tell lies,” he lectured. He also gave us the idea that instincts are more important than our intellect; our impressions are more important than the facts of a story.
Day Two: Kevin Wilson’s craft lecture on his process in moving from short work to longer narrative works was so helpful. I loved the metaphor of short story as car crash versus a novel which is a road trip. Urged us to find the interiority of our characters. Also his exercises and group work with fellow writers was a great idea to push friends and fellow writers to write often. He shared some quotes from his mentor: “Your writing may fail but at least you will have the evidence.”
Day Three: Interesting thoughts from Deborah Triesman the New Yorker fiction editor. urged us to submit our strongest work to fiction @newyorker.com.
Emily Bazelon from Slate Magazine warned us about the difficulty of earning a living as a writer for hire–warned as about low pay for freelancers. Also her words on the worry from her staff that there is not much reporting and not much high quality reporting from publications.
Day Four: The master class with Zz Packer was an incredible experience. Her lecture on communication and the creation of image was helpful. Her notes and lecture she put up on the chalkboard followed these thoughts: 1. clearly communicate and create the image by unpacking sentences. 2. add action or motivational force. 3. plotting advice. She also went through a series of very helpful tips in terms of revision. I was most taken by her messy use of the chalkboard and her interaction with the class.
Day Six: An incredibly informative panel discussion with seven literary journal editors. Some of the journals included N Plus One, First Inkling, Atlas Review, and Hunger Mountain ; Fence and The Harvard Review were also there. Each editor gave great notes on what type of story to submit and how to avoid the slush pile. I was amazed how each editor suggested stories that begin immediately and also how each stressed the idea that there are many more writers who submit than folks who subscribe and read the magazines.
More notes to come…
Finishing up a particularly rough semester. Spending the last few days finishing up student publication editing as well as grading portfolios. Still have a few more hours of math and grade finalizing. Always amazed at just how much work we complete at my community college in writing and lit courses. Ready for a trip to NYC and the Latino Book Awards as well as more time as a student in Sergio Troncoso’s workshop at the Yale Writers Conference.
Just finished a very engaging What’s Write for Me interview on my book, writing and the process of writing. Thank you to the host Dellani Oakes.
On Tuesday I had the fortune of attending a private screening of the inspirational documentary film I am a Visitor in Your World . The film was about Rebecca Babcock, a young writer and blogger diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 25. The film was a poignant account of her life and struggles and Rebecca’s story was so affecting. I liked the idea that her poetry from her blog was used as voiceover.
After the film there was a Q and A regarding the editing, cinematography and the music used in the film as well as commentary from Rebecca’s mother, Mary. The DVD is currently available at the filmmaker’s website.
Drafting and revising semi-orphaned novel project but had some time to finish reading Orwell’s memoir/nonfiction/autobiographical novel about a young writer’s time in the ghettos of Paris and London. He works in restaurants and sleeps in homeless hostels. Pawns his clothes for food and also closely observes the down and out people he encounters. What strikes me most in Orwell’s work has to be his readability and the chapter movements. I’m also struck at his closely drawn character studies of those he encounters–the fat man in Paris and also Bozo in England are the stand outs. One thing that seems consistent throughout his writing is the strong sense of empathy and humanity. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
“Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out-of-doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course – but, then many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.
“Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that is shall be profitable.”
Spending time with Nick Flynn’s book and also watching some clips from the adaptation: “We all need to create the story that will make sense of our lives. Make sense of our daily tasks.”
Some nights when I’m supposed to be working on my big fat failed novel. When I am supposed to be sleeping. Or grading. I can’t and so I sit and listen to books on tape. A few months back it was Jesus’ Son. Something about Will Patton’s voice that grabbed me. This time out I have been obsessing over Ethan Hawke reading Slaughterhouse Five.
Maybe it has something to do with my hesitation to dig in to some memories. And then dig in to the revisions. Maybe, like Vonnegut’s characters–coming to me via Hawke’s whispering performance–I’m up at night obsessing over the memories and the dilemma of how to organize my stories. How to give them structure. How to do them justice. How to deal with people who are dead and gone. How to try and recreate their errors in the writing. To try and re-imagine them and understand.
It makes me think of Alberto Giacometti’s surrealist sculpture “the Palace at 4am” and how it influenced or inspired William Maxwell to return to his memoir or writing. How it represents that dread in the middle of the night that comes to people.
I tell my students to find those stories that are so difficult for you that you stay up late thinking and rethinking their importance. The stories that give you Phillip Glass–The Hours soundtrack–kind–of–dread in the middle of the night when decent folks are sleeping. When even my dog is snoring. Perhaps I should tell my students what you do when you find the ghosts from those stories and how to keep them at arm’s length so you can just get some rest.
The sad situation reminds me of Amy Hempel’s first assignment in her workshop. To paraphrase: find the story that reveals deep secrets that reveals and breaks down your innermost sense of self. I guess I’m stuck on the “breaks down” part now that I am hundreds of pages in to my manuscript and the characters based on dead folks from my youth.
More on this as I think of it.
I remember Kerouac biographer Ann Charter arguing in the documentary King of the Beats that Kerouac could write in any form and style and that in her extensive study of the man and his work she could see the struggle for a more unique and distinct style. In the Sea is My Brother and also in Atop an Underwood, another pre-On the Road manuscript I’ve read lately, I can see what Ann Charter means. His early work, or “juvenile work” as some reviewers I’ve read have called it, contrasts sharply with his later spontaneous prose style or his more stream of consciousness writing made famous in his classic On the Road. That wasn’t much of a surprise. I was expecting text similar to Town and the City than The Subterraneans. And I wasn’t surprised to see a third person limited omniscience means of perception but I guess I was most surprised in reading the book as to find more themes of brother searching or mentor searching.
The plot shows a very young Kerouac developing themes of friendship and perhaps also themes of the individual choosing more direct experience over the academic or over the intellectual experience. I also thought it interesting that much like Sal Paradise chasing Dean Moriarty in On the Road Kerouac gives us the similar William Everhart and Wesley Martin. William is the bookish and frustrated Columbia English Professor and Martin is the more experienced seaman who entices and convinces the lesser traveled Everhart to sign up for sailor duty. Again as in On the Road we see themes of travel and romanticized world experience—also travel without amenity as romanticized by young men. We also see another trend of Kerouac’s which is to show young men choosing friends, travel and experience—also choosing liquor and excess—over marriage and more secure pursuits. Or as Leonard Gardner calls it in the novel Fat City, choosing the fraternity of men.
My critique of the book is that so many of the conversations seem unnecessarily weighted. Folks drinking and talking about philosophy, communism and socialism rather than more organic and less-telegraphed thematic notes. We see much more subtle dialogue and interaction in On the Road. Again, as in Town and the City I feel like he is trying to be Thomas Wolfe or F Scott Fitzgerald—or maybe even Jack London—by giving important themes in a heavy handed way instead of giving us more natural and spontaneous emotion and dialogue. The sea here is a heavy metaphor whereas the metaphor of the road from later work seems much more effective. Kerouac’s ear for capturing voices and dialogue was evident though. The editor’s note at the beginning of the book is quick to remind that Kerouac sailed with the Merchant Marines and quotes pages from his 1942 “Voyage to Greenland” journal reminding us of Kerouac’s keen eye and ear for observing and his deftly drawn character studies.
In his article “In the Watery Part of the World”, Sam Sacks of the Wall Street Journal calls The Sea is My Brother a “bad book” and shows the young Kerouac’s “inexperience” and I guess I agree. But I have to say I find the study of Kerouac’s so-called failures and inexperience important in the way I admire reading Salinger’s uncollected stories. (I’m waiting for Salinger’s estate to publish a nicely produced version of those as well as the Hapworth 16, 1924 manuscript.) Seeing a major writer’s flaws can give insight into our own process and failures as well as give a strange encouragement.
Working my way through Sergio Troncoso’s list of suggested Latino authors. I began with Troncoso’s novel From This Wicked Patch of Dust and moved on to Daniel Chacón’s collection of short stories Unending Rooms. This has been a long week of grading final composition and literature portfolios so finding the time to read has been difficult. I’ve been reading late at night and early in the mornings. In many ways I’ve been willing it. The professor I share office space with asked me just today, “How do you find the time?”
And I found the answer in the book itself. Chacón writes:
What if the way we read a book is the way we live our lives? If we can’t stand the reading and are always looking at the bottom of the page, toward the end of the chapter, counting how many pages until the end of the book, surely we must live life the same way, impatient with a walk in the city or with sitting in a garden, waiting only to arrive, never to be. (81)
And this week I wanted to be the person who focuses and reads to escape to explore other possibilities but also to enjoy and understand–to complete. And in many ways I wanted to escape my students’ term papers and my own grading rubrics for some fictive spaces. It’s been a long-term.
And Chacón’s book came at the right time as many of his stories in this fine collection involve fictive spaces—alternate realities of the mind and place we are awoken to and also spaces we find ourselves trapped. But also spaces we can escape.
Chacón also writes: “Reading should be like entering different rooms of a house, creating walls that rise up around you and then dissolve into a mountain range or a tree on a hill” (230). These stories are well crafted and Borges-esque. I particularly enjoyed the Epilogue: Borges and The Xican@. I felt this story or essay or whatever one wants to call it is where I felt closest to the author and empathized with the experience. I also enjoyed the Meta aspect of the story and was fascinated as the author, the character/persona of Danny and Borges himself wrangled over the aesthetic at play in the book.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Dougan Jackson is the author of over a dozen books, including three about the family dairy farm in Wisconsin that her grandfather began at the turn of the 20th century. The Round Barn, volume one, is at the culmination of years of dedicated collection, research, and synthesis using family materials, historical sources, and cultural artifacts. In this interview, taped in Jackie’s home in Springfield, Illinois, the author discusses the origins of the book and history of the Dougan farm, the organizational strategies for each volume, and her decision to self-publish. Part two will continue the conversation about The Round Barn books and also delve into Jackie’s long career as novelist, poet, professor, and mentor to dozens of writers.