Sunday, January 31, 2010

Top 5 Favorite: Nadast Words

For his most famous work, Athony Burgess invented a slang for his characters. It's a bit Russian and rhyming with a cockney accent. These are my favorite nadast words:

#5: Cutter - Money
Origin: Rhyme; Bread and Butter.
Mostly what I love about Cutter is the word source. How can you not?
I tried to pay the veck, my brothers, but there was no cutter in my carman.

#4: Veck - Guy
Origin: Russian, short for chelovyek.
Here's what I love about Veck: Although it means guy, it sounds a lot like "fuck", and that fact adds a nice layer to Alex's way of speaking in novel.
The veck tolchocked me upside my gullier when he didn't get his cutter, and out the red red Krovvy went.

#3: Oddy-Knocky - Lonesome
Origin: Russian; corruption of odinok
Nothing in particular about this one, just the way it sounds.
There he left me, my brothers, all on my oddy-knocky.

#2: Appypolly Loggy - Apology
Origin: School boy term?
As I laid there, I thought like, Bog owes us one bolshy appypolly loggy.

#1: Horrorshow - Good/Well
Origin: Russian; corruption of khorosho
Again, here's a word that enforces Alex's character by its usage as well as being ironic to an extreme degree.
I pulled myself up, and looked at my reflection in the pool of my own krovvy, and I flashed my zoobies. He got me horrorshow, bothers. Real horrorshow.

Other favorites: Droog, Eggiweg, Viddy, Solvo, Moloko. Nadast dictionary and origin key.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

(10: 4/50)

"'I' I said, 'have been in charge long now. We are all droogs, but somebody has to be in charge. Right? Right?'"

The entry below will openly analyse Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

Well well well well well. Here we are. You may remember, my brothers and only friends, that I recently read a novel by a real horrorshow writer named Shirley Jackson. I racked my gullier thinking about that book, I did! Let me say straight off like, this veck Burgess isn't so complicated.

That's enough of that. Here's the thing about A Clockwork Orange, which Brugess himself acknowledges in the preface: It wouldn't be in the literary consciousness today if it weren't for Stanely Kurbrick. Here is the rare novel where the artistic weight of the adaptation is greater than the weight of the source.

What makes Jackson a great writer is that the intent of her novels is found in her characters. They exemplify through their thoughts and actions what she wants to communicate. What makes Burgess, at least in the case of A Clockwork Orange, a mediocre writer is that his characters-- multiple characters even-- say directly to the reader what he wants them to know. This is a book about free will; the ability to choose between good and evil, and its fundamental place at the core of humanity. It is more human to be evil with the ability to choose good than to capable of only good deeds. Or so Burgess says. We need both good and bad just to survive.

What I think is more interesting about the book, at least if you examine it in the context of its original American publication (with the final chapter edited out), it presents not only the aforementioned issue but also a portrait of humanity in which generous acts are done only in self-interest. Be it our humble narrator, his parents, the Government, or political activists. This happens because Burgess is presenting his idea of free will, and forces are consistently trying to control others within the novel. If Burgess was aware of this secondary effect, however, I have no idea.

Burgess apparently thought Alex didn't change in the American version of his novel, and the Kubrick adaptation. He felt that Alex, at chapter twenty, was the same villain that he was in chapter one. And real literature doesn't play that game, so there is chapter twenty-one, in which something ludicrous happens that severely damages the novel. It's a searching, amateur, last minute attempt to raise the novel, and Burgess makes a case for it in the preface, but what I don't think he realises, whether he intended it or not, is that Alex had already changed by chapter twenty. SPOILER: He goes from a street ruffian, desperately trying to maintaining control of others, to learning how to play the system. END SPOILER. At least, it's an argument that can be justified. The truth is Burgess didn't intend it, so it's not there as perfectly as we'd like.

I hate to say A Clockwork Orange is a bad novel, but it's thematically obvious, the events are a bit too convenient in the last section of the book, and the author's ending (Anything but the early American printings) is terrible in innumerable ways. It does have a really great narrator, and horrorshow vernacular, but otherwise the movie is far superior. It's more subtle, cuts down on the convenience, and uses the American ending. The book is ok, but really, stick with Kubrick.

Up next: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides

Friday, January 29, 2010

Observations: Salinger and the New York Times

After yesterday's emotional entry, I'm a bit of hesitant to take on any particularly meaty topics as they all seem a little forced to me at the moment. The New York Times, wonderful creature that it is, is always willing to supply some food for thought.

Naturally the Times had to write an article on Salinger's life and passing, it's the Times after all. This paragraph caught my attention:
In 1997 Mr. Salinger agreed to let Orchises Press, a small publisher in Alexandria, Va., bring out “Hapwoth” in book form, but he backed out of the deal at the last minute. He never collected the rest of his stories or allowed any of them to be reprinted in textbooks or anthologies.
This is true. However, it ignores something. Salinger reputedly pulled production of Hampworth 16, 1924 because of all of the press' trumpeting. The most notable culprit? The New York Time's Michiko Kakutani, who ultimately concluded a pre-publication review (using a pre-existing copy of the 1965 New Yorker publication of Hapwoth) by calling the novelette:
...a sour, implausible and, sad to say, completely charmless story.
I don't have any dislike for Ms. Kakutani (!). I understand why the Times wouldn't include information like this. But gosh, it's awful funny.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dear Mr. Salinger,

Consider this the fan letter I never wrote, the tribute that will never be eloquent enough. What I will try to be, more than anything else, is genuine.

I like to think that it made you very proud that The Catcher in the Rye became a high-school standard. After the bans, and the buzz, that your book could quietly sit in the hands of almost every young teen for the past forty plus years. That you very nearly were The Catcher in the Rye, scooping us up before we could fall as Holden did. I like to think that despite how disappointing, maddening or frightening you found the world, you at least took comfort in that.

I can't cite pages but I know you brought me to tears. I couldn't say if it's true but like I like to think that it's because so much of who Holden was existed in myself. Angry, Hypocritical, Frightened: your portrait of youth, fifty years old, still walked the Earth, even in a world as rapidly changing as ours today. I know I didn't understand what you were saying then, but I felt what you were saying and maybe that's how it's best said. Holden was a friend, a kindred soul, teetering not only on the line between youth and adulthood, but life and destruction. That you allowed him to walk those dark waters with us, that you did your best to preserve us, is enough merit your veneration.

It's possible I misunderstand you. I don't know why you left us for your remote home in Cornish, but I do hope you were never the image of the misanthrope. Through your writing, you have always seemed a man of great compassion. I want to smile and cry simultaneously-- and I am -- As I remember the way BooBoo held Lionel at the end of Down by the Dinghy, as he sobbed, hurt that he had been called a Kyke, though he had no idea of what one was. I cannot imagine your self-imposed exile was out of hate, I can only hope it was that your soul was too gentle. You were a man your neighbors protected, sending snoopers on goose-chases, and whom your son, when asked for comment today, simply hollered out the kitchen window "My father was a great father." And though I never knew you, I don't want to believe anything else.

You saw a world of tiny tragedies, and told stories of coping, acceptance, and sometimes the inability to do so with the enigmatic A Perfect Day for Bananafish. You were a brilliant writer, a misunderstood genius, a compassionate soul, a teacher by your sheer existence, and a hero to a generation and then some.

For all of the hopes I have already hoped here, I hope most of all that your passing is only the beginning of our acquaintance, that you're not yet done teaching us, and that you have left us with more of your life, now that your physical presence is gone.

Forever yours,
Joseph Miller

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson

(10: 3/50)

"It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed."

The entry below will openly analyse Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

Oh, where to begin with Shirley Jackson! I suppose I should first air my minor grievances with this woman before I start gushing affection: You're far too smart for me. If, at the end of The Tropic of Cancer, my interpretation was a puzzle, mostly in order, but with a few pieces missing, then Jackson has left me with an unruly pile of pieces, none quite connected to another. It's becoming something of a trend with Jackson, and I can't say I like it. What is it about this woman's work that leave me so clueless?

I consulted the novel's introduction before writing this (which, I might add, spoils the ending. What do these scholars think they're writing?), and it seems I overlooked a great deal of thematic material. What I had perceived was that Jackson's work was heavily referencing childhood, but to what effect I had no idea. It seems absolutely obvious now, with a push in the proper direction -- as it did with We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The ubiquitous presence of the notion of childhood is, of course, one of the keys to Jackson's novel. Hill House, it appears to be, is sort of an examination of unterminated childhood, when thrust against reality. To which Jackson uses the horrific manifestations of the novel to great effect. Ironically, for as lost as Jackson left me, her intent is written in plain english all over the book.

As impressively well constructed Jackson's novel is thematically (and it is), I feel uncomfortable talking about it for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that my comprehension of it is only half mine, and it seems silly to regurgitate the novel's introduction here.

I don't read much genre fiction (hardly any really), but I have a difficult time believing there's many who could surpass Jackson here. The premise she presents with Hill House feels as though it should be tired, it's been the basis for a great many things, and yet somehow the novel remains fresh, and captivating. The scares, as they are, feel as though they could be pulled from a truck of cliches, and yet their place in the novel isn't unwelcome. One, in fact, even had me a little unsettled as I laid down to bed the other night. Despite being the inspiration for countless writers, Jackson's work still holds up fabulously, and as I mentioned yesterday, it was a terrific bit of fun.

That Jackson-- a popular fiction writer of her time, a sharp literary mind, and major modern influence-- is largely out of print is nothing short of shameful. In June, Library of America will be releasing a 800-something page volume of her work edited by Joyce Carol Oates. If I haven't already hunted down her out-of-print work individually (which I'm just about mad enough to try), It's fairly certain I'll be buying it. Jackson is fast becoming one of my favorite authors; there's, quite simply, nothing about her to dislike.

Up Next: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Monday, January 25, 2010


As I read in the early AM hours, barreling through pages of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, something occured to me. It's not very often that literary-minded people read things they legitimently enjoy. At least I don't.

Here's the thing. I started this year with Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a wonderful novel I was happy to come to, and which did make me tear up on a number of occations. I followed that with Henry Miller's The Tropic of Cancer, a tough, literary beast that wasn't much fun to sit down with, but was intellectually rewarding. My 2010 reading list has hardly been disapointing, but as I read Jackson, something occurs to me: I'm having fun.

I'm laughing. I'm suspicious. I'm curious. I'm intellectually engaged. And perhaps more than anything I'm convinced Jackson is one of the most underrated writers of the century.

I hate to go on too much about the book, as I'll be blogging about it tomorrow, but the thing about Jackson is that she's able to write compelling genre fiction, that's infused with literary intent. Behind the simplity of her American-style prose and the simple nature of her subject, are books of subtle complexity. She is not an author whom you can read half of a novel, and say "Ah, Ha! This is what she's talking about!" She's far too smart for that.

And reading it, I've begun to question why all books aren't more like her's. Of course I have a certain affity for the genre, but I don't understand why appreciation and enjoyment are disperate things. I've always upheld that I want to write like Raymond Carver. Fuck it! I want to write like Shirley Jackson! No! I want to be the literary love child of Raymond Carver and Shirley Jackson! Yes!

Reading should be more fun, damnit! Because what I've noticed is that by embracing the narrative, I'm more rather than less interested in her intent. I'm thinking about the book more. What good is Joyce if I'm too busy wishing the book was over with to think about it?

A good book should never be a chore, and people shouldn't have to resort to pure genre fiction to have a fun experience. I'm not saying there isn't room for Joyce or Miller, but, well... the literary world should include more than broccoli and cheese doodles! Where has the middle ground gone?

I demand more fun!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Henry Miller's The Tropic of Cancer

The Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller

(10: 02/50)

"This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Love, Beauty... what you will."

The entry below will openly analyse Henry Miller's The Tropic of Cancer, and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.
In a moment of confidence, I decided that I would read Henry Miller's The Tropic of Cancer. I was approximately six pages in when I thought to myself , "What in God's name have I gotten myself into?" I still don't quite know the answer to that.

Cancer is a work of striking, enigmatic prose that Miller makes all the more challenging by stringing them together over numerous pages, occasionally leap-frogging from topic to topic, leaving one with only the vaguest sense of how they arrived at a particular place. Those who call Miller's autobiographical novel of his life in Paris a surrealist effort are spot on.

Miller's mind is a cynical, venomous place, dripping toxin out of it's every orifice. He exists as a wild dog; taking every handout and baring no love for anyone. He serves to epitomize his own ideas about humanity. We are disgusting, hateful creatures that infect one another with our own ugliness. We are a race incapable of solitude, but at our worst when with others. It is no coincidence that sex, the physical union of two human beings, in Miller's novel, is an act shared with whores, and leaves one diseased, or itching.

Perhaps what I found most astounding about Miller's work is his rejection of modernist ideas. Published in 1934 (in Paris), The Tropic of Cancer was released when, though on the precipice of decline, modernist ideas were still held true. The manifestos and ideas populated in the late 19th and early 20th century had yet seen their ugly realities; Hitler was yet to march across Europe, the Soviet Union was not yet Stalin's. Perhaps their immediate demise was in the Parisian air, but that a work of such an early date wholly rejects humanities ability to build utopia, and sneers at the hollowness of such ideas is stunning. Though not a political novel, the sheer level of pessimism expressed by Miller on such topics makes his position clear. Huxley's Brave New World (which I have not read) is the only novel that comes to mind that predates Miller's pessimistic thinking. Orwell's work seems absolutely retardataire by comparison.

Of course Miller's book is stylistically post-modern. I don't doubt that Cancer expanded upon what a novel could be, and given Miller's supposed intent with the novel, proposed in its first chapter, I'd say it unequivocally is, and for this it is equally remarkable, but it leaves less to comment on.

Miller rejects the notion of collective interest, and paints a picture of a selfish, ugly humanity that is in each of us. Early in his novel, he mentions that everyone has the nickname "Joe," to help take themselves less seriously. We are all Joes; judgmental, neurotic, egotistical, and incapable of genuine empathy. It's right that we should take ourselves less seriously. We're all pathetic.

The Tropic of Cancer is a stunning, rewarding experience, despite all its off-putting qualities. To my great surprise, I'm itching like mad (nudge-nudge) to read The Tropic of Capricorn.

Next Up: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Friday, January 22, 2010

They're all so bloody smart.

Something that has always bothered me immensely is that if you watch commentary by directors, writers, actors, whomever, the one notable thing about these people is that they are all generally very smart. How often to you see a dumb creative professional? Sarah Silverman comes to mind, but that's beside the point. It seems to me, that most creative people come off as observant articulate, and generally very intelligent when interviewed.

Creative people face a great deal of competition. Whichever industry they come from, there are thousands of others like them with the exact same goals (The Missouri Review receives 15,000 submissions a year). The reason the people we, the public, see are smart is because regardless of what they've failed at, they know enough about the history of their field, the world, and whatever else they may have needed, to make the proper impressions to get them where they are.

Luck, and networking plays into everything, of course, but these things account for very little when someone is served to the public. You have to be intelligent to succeed creatively. You have to know what came before you. You have to be able to apply your ideas in the modern world. You may make terrible creative choices, or produce a body of work that many turn their nose up to but you have to be intelligent to even have the opportunity to do so.

It's not rational that it should worry me that creative people are smart. Of course they are. It also shouldn't worry me that If I'm ever lucky or smart enough to become successful, I may also make a long string of horrible creative decisions. But it does.

If you think about it, the rational behind Joel Schumacher's Batman movies is wonderful. It doesn't mean they were a good idea. But who did he have to tell him that? And if you still think you could have done better, ubiquitous Batman fanatic, then I'd like to see the missteps would have made.

Creative people are smart. They make mistakes because intelligence and creative intuition aren't the same thing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Like reading a movie!

There a great number of writers that write pulse-pounding, relentless fiction, which quick chapter changes. Most notable among them is the gold-spinning Dan Brown. It's not uncommon that they are praised for their "technique", their ability to "grab the reader by the throat", or write their novel as if it were a movie.

At what point exactly did we decide this was a good thing? Dan Brown, if you can believe it, gets positive write ups in the New York Times and various other places for the derivative drivel he produces. Earlier today I stumbled upon a book included in Time's Best Books of the Year entitled Beat The Reaper. It's about a Surgeon who used to be a Hit man. His new life goes to the dogs when his former associates, the mafia, come sniffing for him. Sounds like a winner. And guess what? It's already in development for a movie!

Let me just say it upfront, clear and without question: Novels are not meant to be movie blueprints.

When a writer embarks on a project, be it a novel, play, screenplay, short story, poem, song, or what have you, the medium in which it is written is a carefully chosen creature. Each form requires a very different approach to be successful, and that's why when something gets adapted into a different medium, it's the person who adapted it who gets the award. It's not a matter of translation, but revision.

So when a novel is like "reading a movie" what I really hear is "The author wants to sell the film rights to this". A novel, even a piece of genre fiction, should always resemble a novel and nothing else.

I suppose that requires some elaboration. A novel should have some level of internal focus; it allows us to see the interior landscape of a human being. That's not something to use casually. It allows for slow-boil suspense; you don't have to jump from one point to another. Moreover, isn't it better that a car-chase be written for a film than a novel? It's true that you can do great things with words; gore will always be gorier, and suspense always more tense, but sometimes a picture can do more than a thousands words.

Wait! We're overlooking something, dear unnamed thing.

We live in a world where a book that reads like a movie will sell millions of copies, and I don't need to tell you that with the publishing industry, a single multi-million seller is a publisher's yearly bread. Yes. Perhaps Dan Brown is a literary martyr, pinning himself to a cross so the rest of us may read Chabon or Roth. He is not greed-driven and selfish, but selfless!

Yes. That's it exactly. So go forth writers! Craft your blueprints! Sustain us all! Even the Times falls to its knees in conspiratorial compliance. God bless the novel that reads like a movie.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Short Story Is Dead.

This is a subject that I've come across a great number of times, in a great number of capacities. Stephen King has commented on it, so has the New York Times, and a number of other sources. It is, not surprisingly, a question that's a great concern of mine.

There are two commonly held ideas with the writing community. The first is that the short story is dead; it's an animal that struggles along, bleeding and wounded, marching toward death. The other more optimistic (sort of) thought is that, in our modern age of portable devises and short attention spans, it's not the short story that has a gloomy future but the long novel. I don't, dear unnamed thing, know quite know where I stand.

What's true of the short story is that it has no audience. They are published in, yes, Harpers and the New Yorker, but beyond that they exist in a market sustained almost entirely by the very people trying to get into the journals they subscribe to. It's possible this "know the magazine you're submitting to" business is all a clever, shady business plan.

I do my part. I'm on my second year of The Missouri Review [Which I personally recommend. It's a nice blend of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and art essays]. But if only the writer reads the contemporary short story, what's the point? The answer is prestige. That's another blog entirely. It's true that you can find literary journals (or "magazines") in your local Barnes and Noble or Borders, likely two or three solid ones and some monthly mystery-types like Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock but the problem is deeper than a small audience pool.

If the short story is going to be the literature of the 21st century, then they need to step up their game. Literary journals now tend to be quarterly, roughly 8.5X11" and as thick as a short book (modern to me). The presentation is all wrong, as nice or as poor as it may be. If the suggestion that modern readers will go in for the short story has any credence, those journals will need to link with Kindle and have 99 cent downloads. As is, when I say "I do my part", All I really acknowledge is that I buy them. There's an article on Francis Bacon I've been meaning to get to for a week and that's what I want to read most in the newest volume.

But that the modern audience, given a well-packaged short story, will read is all a rather large presumption. Will a modern audience go for the short story? I honestly don't believe so. Reading isn't a matter of time, it's a matter of sentiment. The modern reader needs to be able to throw blinders up to the flashing lights and thudding car base systems that pervade out lives. It's a difficult request. Family Guy is always worth a few yucks, and you don't have to think too hard. I sing with the chorus a day or two a week on this one.

When the most read fiction of the decade are two young-adult series about a Wizard, and a Sparkly Vampire, I believe there is more to be concerned about than just the state of the short story, but of literature entirely. Art is art, after all. Money is money.

The short story is very dear to me. It's brevity necessitates focus. Your novel is a night a beers, a short story is a high-proof shot. I don't know what spawned the golden age of the short story in the 20th century, but we're weaker without them in our lives. They have a profound articulation that out 140-character society couldn't comprehend.

Is the short story dead? No. But I'm writing the Eulogy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Academically Creative.

This is something that I have been concerned about for a very long time. Perhaps expression will put me more at ease. There is something of a mantra among those who teach writing-- though this is universally applicable to any creative field-- that only those who work on their craft outside of their classwork will become what they're studying to be. The rest are simply academically creative. Writing or doing because they must for the grade.

I don't dispute that this has credence. Of course it does. It is its simplicity I find dubious. This notion suggests that there are writers and there aren't. Which, if we can be base about this, is true. There are people who will write, and people who won't without the pressing thumb. However, if there are people who write that aren't good writers, which of course there are- they write fan fiction, flowery or emo poetry and paperback genre fiction- then there must therefore be good writers who don't write.

Now. Would it be surprising if I considered myself an academic creative? I do for the most part. I, on my lonesome as I often tend to be, feel few creative impulses. This is not the case, however, when I have creative people near me. I feel competitive. Driven. It's a feeling doubled when I feel someone depends on me. This is why I like you, unnamed thing. You're just for me. But now that I've graduated from college, how often am I going to feel that way? How often will I be challenged by a peer creatively? So perhaps I am an academic creative.

The source of the problem, I think, is that I have little regard for myself. What do I loose if I let myself down? Not much. If I let someone else down? Well. That's another matter. Respect. Trust. Admiration. Those mean a lot to me. The connection here, I believe is the importance of real people.

I am far too self-conscious about writing this conclusion. I have erased what I've written four times. I don't believe I'm meant to be a creative academic. I fear my way of life makes me one. I am choked by isolation, and complacency.

The surprising thing though is that I wouldn't mind being a creative academic. If I didn't create ever again, I could be okay with that so long as I was writing something, I had good life company, and I was in a thriving place. The irony, of course, is that if I had those I imagine I wouldn't be able to stop.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I am twenty minutes into setting this blog up and I'm already considering abandoning it. I would clearly make an abominable parent.

I am generally sick of writing for an audience. There is an impulse that wells in me when blogging to write as though I'm on stage before my subject, my parents, my friends, my rivals, my enemies, and a faceless crowd not totally unlike the children from The Wall. This is an impulse to be fought at all costs.

The reasons for doing so are two-fold. One: I really enjoy blogging and if it's work to me than it's not worth doing. Two: Perhaps removing self-consciousness from blogging will ease up my fiction writing, which, since we're being not self-conscious here, I have always felt was stilted by a similar impulse.

Even now I'm fighting the urge to go back and reread all that I have written already. I don't want to appear weak in any way, I suppose.

It would be best, I imagine, if I informed you, you who I do not yet have a name for, what I plan to do here. I plan to write daily (Yes, daily) about different odds and ends, mostly pertaining to writing and literature, but in no way binding myself to any particular subject.

You can expect my response to every novel I read. Mostly you can expect, well, Grievances and Ruminations. A wonder that wasn't taken. I suppose not many people ruminate anymore. They Think. It just occurs to me know how ugly of a word that is. Think.

I feel compelled to say "I will try to be funny", or "I hope this entertains you" or "I will try to think linearly." but though I mean these things, they are irrelevant. You, unnamed thing, are a captive audience. I can do with you as I like.

If you were expecting a graceful landing there isn't one. This is my face hitting the mat.