Catch Up

I took last week off to have minor surgery. You'd think this would give me plenty of time to read*, but mostly I slept, or lay in bed groggy and unable to focus my eyes. By the weekend I had flushed enough of the drugs out of my system and started reading something that didn't require a lot of attention: Ken Follett's World Without End. My Dad read it when it came out (unlike me, he enjoys books in hardcover), and mentioned it wasn't as good as its sort-of prequel, Pillars of the Earth, which we both enjoyed very much. I'm about halfway through right now, and he's right. I remember loving Pillars the first and subsequent three or four times I read it, but those readings happened many years ago. Perhaps Follett's writing style has changed, or maybe I've grown out of it, but I'm finding myself scoffing at some details (especially in the sex scenes, good grief), and not transported in time as I was when I first read Pillars. Perhaps I need to re-read Pillars and see what's really going on here, but I don't really have the time to devote to another 1000 page monster right now. Anyway, it's fine, it's mindless narrative, and that's about all I can handle right now.

Before surgery, I finished Torpor, the second Chris Kraus novel. It's not nearly as world-changing as I Love Dick, but the thoughtful, well-read, extremely observant, honestly struggling voice is still very much present. Kraus continues to inspire, and makes me want to build little shrines to her. For some reason, the scene in which she casually writes of hanging out with Félix Guattari, and his heroin addicted wife, in Paris while watching the Romanian Revolution on TV really stuck with me. Three paragraphs later she quotes one of my favourite authors, Angela Carter. Her life is an amazing literary theory/rock 'n' roll dream; an autobiography of a literary, feminist Nancy to Sylvère Lotringer's professorial Sid**. Kraus, or the character Sylvie, is also my age in Torpor, dealing with the end of fecundity and the sexual magnetism that youth endows.
Sylvie remembers something her old acting teacher said when she was 22 and fucking him. She'd asked him why he left his wife and he'd replied, "When she was 35, she just became too bitter.
Once again, I tried to find an email, somehow, somewhere, but of course, no dice. I did, however, find a podcast of an interview and reading with Kraus, so the obsession continues. I feel a bit like Violette Leduc...

Sitting beside me, I have three magazines that need attention as well. I was tipped off to a Susan Faludi piece in Harper's by a friend who has a subscription. I do enjoy me some Faludi! As well, I went to Word on the Street on Sunday, and picked up the latest issue of Spacing, and subscribed to the Walrus, getting the October issue immediately.

And the library queue waits for no woman. Oy!

*Or write. I still feel like my brains are a bit scrambled, and this entry took far too long to write, but since I'm off work today, still feeling so, so ill, I thought I'd post something.
**This might not be nearly as weird as it sounds. Kraus was involved in the punk art community of New York in the 70s and 80s, and Sylvère is described as wearing leather jackets without shirts to teach classes, and constantly failing to meet publishing deadlines -- ie he's style over talent/substance. That said, they also marry, get a little dog, and own a house in a small town in upstate New York; I wonder how bourgeois Sid & Nancy may have become without the drugs...

Furious Love

I find it very difficult to allow my whole life to rest on the existence of another creature. I find it equally difficult, because of my innate arrogance, to believe in the idea of love. There is no such thing, I say to myself. There is lust, of course, and usage, and jealousy, and desire and spent powers, but no such thing as the idiocy of love. Who invented that concept? I have wracked my shabby brains and can find no answer. But when people die … those who are taken away from us can never come back. […] So I have decided that for a second or two, the precious potential of you in the next room is the only thing in the world worth living for.

You must know, of course, how much I love you. You must know, of course, how badly I treat you. But the fundamental and most vicious, swinish, murderous, and unchangeable fact is that we totally misunderstand each other. […] But how-so-be-it nevertheless. (A cliche among Welsh politicians.) I love you and I always will …. Come back to me as soon as you can …


— Richard Burton

I suppose it's apt that I'm writing this post on day two of an epic hangover, given the prodigious amount of alcohol both Richarch Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are reported to have put down throughout their lives. I can't say as I've ever cared too much about Elizabeth Taylor, and Burton died when I was a child, so he was never in my consciousness. However, my favourite gossip columnist (I'm not going to pretend I'm above such things) raved over Furious Love for a month, and I'm always up for a good Hollywood story.

To get access to private documents, many of them not published before, I'm sure the authors of Furious Love had to promise not to do a hatchet job on the love story of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Then again, I never got the feeling that they were pulling back from wanting to be snarky. There's a feeling of real respect and goodwill on the part of Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, for the two actors. While Burton and Taylor created quite the scandal in their day, there's no judgement in the writing, merely a spirited reporting of the facts. This is not to say this biography is simply a dry retelling of events (which for my taste, too many bios happen to be). Furious Love has excellent narrative flow, and moves along quickly, even through the frequent details of film-making logistics. More than anything, I think the best aspect of Furious Love is that it avoids being melodramatic (in opposition to what the title would suggest). It would be so easy to make an overly flowery, purple-prose laden book from the subject matter, but Kashner and Schoenberger manage to strike a great balance of journalistic distance and sympathetic interest that reminds the reader that Burton and Taylor were real -- though extraordinary -- people. There's also an interesting subtextual theory running through Furious Love about how the modern concept of paparazzi perhaps started with Burton and Taylor, as they were arguably the first couple to be hounded by the press to such a degree.

One needs only to look at the recent Eminem video/song "Love the Way You Lie" to see that we still tend to conflate "anger" with "passion." Taylor and Burton did so, perhaps because of their booze intake, perhaps they were just fiery people, but it's often said in Furious Love that it was the fighting that somehow kept their connection strong. I've had a relationship that mostly consisted of fighting (though, let me be very clear, not violence), in its last year especially, and I can't say as that ever made me feel more passionate towards him. Quite the opposite in fact. Make up sex? Forget it. More like not speaking for days, or sniping passive-aggressively. That said, there's still a part of my brain that insists that "real" love is the way it's portrayed in the "real" life of Burton and Taylor, because media have always told me so. Burton and Taylor aren't much different from a romance novel couple, and of course that's what makes them interesting to read about. One wouldn't read 400 pages of "Burton ate some cereal, then washed and dried the bowl, replacing it in the kitchen cupboard where he had found it." The Fiery Couple is what books and movies are made of. Since life is, in general, really about the cereal bowls, and if they're left out dirty, we need stories of people like Burton and Taylor to relieve us of that mundane world. The distraction, I think, is what keeps us able to deal with the cereal bowls.

I Want to Care About Your Book

When you give your Dad the url of your book blog, it's inevitable you're going to write a post on said blog that might not be Dad-friendly. This is that post. Dear Dad, you may not enjoy some of the language or vague personal details in this post.

There was such a buzz, at least within nerd girl circles, about I Don't Care About Your Band when it came out. Finally! One of us! Julie Klauser is my age, judging by the stories inside; she's not a cheerleader or the popular girl, she's a "chubby" (?) Jewish redhead who's into Broadway musicals. She's a bit odd, she's smart, she's funny. Not stand-out odd, like the goth kids, or the troubled girls who wound up in group homes. Just odd enough that people forget she's there some of the time. She's that dorky kid I was in school, that no one thought would ever have a boyfriend, let alone engage in one-night stands and a series of flings. Julie Klausner and I figured out boys at some point, and we made up for lost time.

When Tiger Beatdown made a passing reference to Klausner a couple weeks back, that was all the motivation I needed to pick up a copy. Later, a friend Twittered about not quite knowing what to do with I Don't Care About Your Band. There was something vaguely wrong about the book for her. I felt it too, and having now finished the book, I have some specifics.

First, I found the overall tone to be a bit too Sex and the City. I loved Sex and the City, but there's only room for one Carrie Bradshaw. Carrie rides that line between awesome and annoying a lot, and any immitators will always fall on the "annoying" side, by virtue of not being first. While Klausner actually says something about not being Carrie, she actually kind of is. She lives in Manhattan with mystery money (her sketcky employment record does not say "apartment in the City" to me), she talks about about Manhattan as the centre of her world, and boys, and clothes, and fucking. Sure, she likes different boys and clothes than Carrie would, but the way she talks about sex is pretty similar. Yes, she throws in the references to Usenet and MST3K that the dorky girls will grok, and she likes Slater-Kinney so she's got the 90s cool chick band cred, but she doesn't show enough of this personality to convince me that she's something different than I've seen before. It's almost the same girl in new clothes (and Manhattan apartment, and boys, and fucking). All this is a shame, because when we get pure Klausner, she is really, really likeable, and probably someone I'd want to hang out with*.

Klausner has some honestly weird and troubling things to say about gays and lesbians. She spends a chapter insisting that every straight girl procure herself a gay, as if he was a consumer product a girl simply shouldn't live without. She insists that straight girlfriends are too often fairweather, and friendships with straight men will often be complicated by sexual attraction (and activity). And you know, she's probably right about the relationships between straights. Thing is, gay men are still people and they should probably have a say in existing soley to prop up straight girls. As well, she has this weird idea about what sort of porn lesbians are into **.
I'm not saying I don't watch porn. Of course I watch porn, because I am not a nun. And I don't watch "erotica" with a "story" or "period costumes" in it, because I am also not a lesbian."
I realise this is an attempt at humour, Klauser being first and foremost a comedy writer. It just wasn't funny, and it rang false. It seems to me that the "erotica" is more aimed at that stereotypical middle-America minivan mom who enjoys a good Danielle Steel novel. Then again, I'm making judgments here as well. Who knows who that shit is made for. Let's just all agree it's dull, and not make anyone watch it. The point is, Klausner too often uses gays and lesbians as punchlines and props for her comedy bits, and I thought we had sort of gotten past that.

Also, little picky thing, but I hate Klausner's editor. I think they reined in her personality too much, while asking her to amp up the sex and preachy advice. In the meantime, [they forgot to correct her when she calls a verb a noun ("He was 'chill,' which is a noun that dicks have recently made into an adjective.")I stand corrected! One can catch "a chill." Still, it feels damn verb-y to me!!] they let her get away with strange anachronisms, like mentioning Miley Cyrus in the chapter where she describes being 15. Miley, my friends, was not even born then.

There's some really great stuff in I Don't Care About Your Band, like the part where she classifies vegans (Animal Rights, Anti-Chemical, and Anorexic), or her very insightful ideas on why some men want the plain girl ("The ultimate emo-boy fantasy is to meet a nerdy, cute girl just like him, and nobody else will realise she's pretty."), which she wonderfully dovetails into a warning about "nice guys." Ultimately, my problem with I Don't Care About Your Band is that it comes off more like a self-help book about ego and relationships, than a memoir. I would have enjoyed and identified with a memoir, but instead I felt like I was reading "The Alterna-Rules for Young Women." The target audience is likely younger than Klausner and I, someone who's in the midst of trying to navigate the crazy casual-sex 20s. I've lived this, and while I wouldn't mind laughing along with someone who lived it too, I don't need the slight pedantry and weird/wise older-sister vibe.

*Except, she doesn't care about Star Wars, and that's kind of unforgivable.
**I really wish I could remember where I read something about lesbians watching gay male porn, but I can't, and I'm SOOOOO not googling "lesbian+gay+male+porn" because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to find what I'm looking for... or will I?