Shirtless Others

All right, Jason Ockert’s Shirtless Others is something to behold.  You have to bleed a shark to death with your cursor just to read the short. Despite an overgenerous use of the words “my lover,” the story is wildly disturbing in its spare language and shift in interactive illustration at the end.

I’m usually not much of a fan of interactive media, preferring to let my left brain do just about the only thing its actually works for: associating images and emotions with words.  I’d like to believe that if I’d spent as much time following the migratory patterns of edible birds and hunting for food by way of the sun in my childhood as I did reading, I’d be more spacially adept.  As it stands now, I’m just good for narrative.

I’m apparently a dying breed. This summer in an AP training, I was informed that “students today” have a lot of trouble associating words with meaning because they are much more accustomed to associating images with meaning. Somehow, they get lost in the multi-step process of associating a word with an image and then ascribing meaning to that word.  I was told that in order to help students re-associate words with meaning, I’d need to have them “visualize” the images that words bring to their minds.  This involves, I think, asking them to shut their eyes every few minutes and paint a picture of what’s happening in the text behind their eyes.

This is how I get old.  This is how I notice age.

There are gulls quietly calling in Shirtless Others, and blood is spilling while the story unfolds.  In all, a lovely marriage of image, sound, and associated language.

Death Panel

It turns out that it was just a bad mood last Friday.  Food didn’t taste good, either.  In light of obvious human frailty, I feel obligated to revisit the stories I clicked through all day.  I’ve made a mental note not to look for good writing on Fridays, because I probably won’t find it.

This weekend, I found Death Panel by Belle Boggs.  This family, carefully structured in off- screen documentary moments, is admirably reprehensible.  It’s also immediately recognizable to those acquainted with a possible future of suburban toil, those committed to the guilt, emotional distance, and family obligation inherent in what passes for elder care in the US.

The people, however, are funny and dark, and fully responsible for all that they come to stand for:

“Our father, for example, had just this spring had knee replacement surgery—not of his own natural knees, but of the artificial knees he’d had installed eight years ago. They’d been replaced with titanium, and we feared he might live forever.”

Boggs’s first book is Mattaponi Queen: Stories (Graywolf Press, 2010).

Lightning Strike

I don’t know what I’m looking for today, but I’m having a hard time finding it.  I’ve read, in between classes and over my lunch hour, about fifteen shorts, and I feel more restless and angry with every passing story about cancer or the state of writing or the loss of a job or the death of a parent or the loss of a special pet.

So, instead of writing about a new story I’ve been lucky to find, I’ll take a page from Lam Phan’s blog and list a few stories I wish I’d written.

“The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death”    Shawn Vestal

  • I still think about this story almost daily, and have, for better or worse, basically taken it on as my own inevitable future.  I ask myself: “how many total minutes have I spent untangling earphones?  I’m probably going to regret this.”  I ask myself: “should I do this cool thing I don’t really want to do, or should I eat this weird food I don’t really want to eat – just as a favor to my future dead self?”

The Beginnings of Grief”    Adam Haslett

  • The perfect ending.

“Someone Ought To Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go”       Danielle Evans

  • Every story in this collection is like a small novel.  I’ve only ever felt this way about Flannery O’Connor, and Evans is nothing like O’Connor in delivery or structure.

“The Safehouse”   Michel Faber

  • I think it’s the image of the beds in the safehouse that are at once menacing and comforting.

Reading Landscape 2

I’ve been working, slowly, at using my Kindle more frequently.  I received a ton of amazon gift money for the holidays, so I’m making an effort to purchase a variety of well-established books for comprehension experiments.

Is there an ebook alternative for the Kindle?  I read four bullet points or something on Salon the other day that indicated Amazon is worthy of a sound boycott.

A student asked me today how to cite an ebook in-text.  I had no idea, and I’m finding the percentage (not page) number at the bottom of my Kindle to be particularly frustrating.  A cursory search proved fruitless, though I’m sure the information is out there somewhere.

Citation woes aside, I found this article to be especially entertaining.  The fact that Johnathan Franzen hates ebooks is not why I’m entertained.  Right now, I kind of hate ebooks too, but I’ve come to terms with the possibility that the hardware in our hands is faulty, not the concept or impermanence of ebooks.

good for hostess cupcake trades in the Weinert cafeteria

I have that feeling, too, of impermanence.  I have that feeling that nothing is precious, that everything I might desire is one click away, and probably disappointing.  My entire childhood is available on ebay.  My bank account has no real money in it, and final drafts of just about every story I’ve written in the past five years would be destroyed if the internet got closed down by a dictator from Arizona.  I don’t think that feeling has much to do with books, though.

Also, he’s wrong about the permanence of paper books.  Just about every time Tim O’Brien puts out a new edition of The Things They Carried, he revises.  Every time he reads, he revises as he goes.  He’s never done because no one is going to argue with him about what he needs to do to make his book better.

Kindle Books I’ve successfully completed:

Food and Loathing, Betsy Lerner

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

Books I have downloaded and left unread:

Checker and The Derailleurs, Lionel Shriver  (a few pages in, I missed Kevin too much)

All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus  (see previous Reading Landscape post about my slow and disappointing brain)

Why Be Normal When You Can Be Happy?  Jeannette Winterson (from netgalley, so free.  I just haven’t gotten to it yet)

The Awakening, Kate Chopin  (I had to teach this, and it was free on Amazon.  In the end, I had to go searching for a paper copy so I could write in it)

In all, I’m consuming books much differently than in past years.  I use audible, and listen to at least one book a month while I run and garden and move heavy objects around my yard.  I  shop for ebooks online, read reviews online, and maintain goodreads shelves so that I always have a to-read list at my disposal.  I return every few nights to the Kindle.  My in-store purchases are not what they used to be, though I’m still browsing the stacks at Half Price and B&N regularly.

Why are remakes now being called reboots?