Fare Thee Well


A piece by Shary Boyle goes on her own journey

I’m writing with my regrets that I’ll be taking my leave from Big Other.  I was a peripheral character at most, but I need to take some time to focus on some other priorities in my life.

I’ll still be commenting and trying to keep up with the book club schedule, but not initiating any conversations.

And because I have a habit of finding threads of commonality suddenly making themselves bold to me, I present to you some quotes about letting yourself not know where you’re going.  Suddenly it seems like everyone is thinking about that:

“To follow a wandering mind means having to get lost.  Can you stand being lost?” – Lynda Barry

“Strange though this may sound, not knowing where one is going, being lost, being a loser, reveals the greatest possible faith and optimism, as against collective security and collective significance.  To believe, one must have lost God; to paint, one must have lost art.” – Gerhard Richter (recently posted by Blake Butler at HTMLGiant, but it fit into my preoccupation)

“There is a finished feeling/ Experienced at Graves-/ A leisure of the Future-” Emily Dickinson (This sounds dark, but I’m just thinking about moving on from endings.)

“…got really out of my shell a bit with worried ideas.” – Travis Nichols

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself.” – James Joyce

“we were considering all of this ahead of us/ staring into the next step not turning our heads we considered everything/ and tossed it over our shoulders like salt” – Matvei Yankelevich

It’s been a pleasure.


Some Thoughts on Tom McCarthy’s C, One Week Removed

It’s been a week since I finished our first book club book, Tom McCarthy’s C, and I’m glad I waited to write about it. Had I written upon it last week, I think my opinions would have been less generous.

Last week, upon finishing, I let myself read reviews of the book – something I seldom do before reading the book – I enjoy not knowing what to expect of a book even if I’ve gathered a small handful of information through just mentioning the book to friends or reading the jacket copy.  In short, I like to make my own decisions, but I can also be influenced easily by others’ opinions.

Spoiler alert!  Read no further if you haven’t finished.

I enjoyed reading parts of C. There are recurring images and themes that pop up in really satisfying ways throughout.  Morse code, scientific formulas, bodies in various states of disrepair, beetles and bees and silkworms.

I thought Serge’s sister was a terrific character.  Too bad she gets killed off early on.  I thought his relationship with his masseuse was delightful at Klonebrady.  She was also a complex character that it was nice to see the main character fall for the unlikely love interest.  I liked Audrey the actress with the drug problem.  I liked Laura the archaeologist in Egypt. Many of the female characters were well-drawn: smart and complicated.  Serge seemed rather one-dimensional to me, but I get that that might have been intentional. He’s almost a sounding board for the experiences of the book and the women he attaches himself to.

The way the book wraps up, with Serge hallucinating his last hours away on a train, having fallen victim to the bite of the scarab beetle in an Egyptian tomb, at first struck me as cheap – very “And then I woke up.”  The more I read though, the more it seemed like the perfect confluence of those images McCarthy had woven so intricately throughout, and so I accepted it.  I find myself thinking about endings often.  As a professor once said, “An ending is often the thumb in the photograph,” and I couldn’t agree more.  If your disbelief has been suspended for the whole book, neatly tying up the plot often feels fake and forced and you can see the hand of the creator plain and clear.  This ending ties up the book in a way that both allows the reader to feel that nothing ends cleanly and also shines a spotlight on the writer making it clear that every bit of it was orchestrated.

My beef comes with the reviews.  Every review (previously linked in the last C post) seems to think that C is some radical new direction for the novel.  Perhaps I’ve just been reading strange books for too long, but there is nothing except that ending that feels new or surprising or alternative to me.  It is basically a bildungsroman employing creative use of historical detail capped off by a David Lynch dream sequence.  Perhaps I’m missing something?  Who read it?  Who feels this is the answer to all our worries about the death of the novel? I need a hand.

Reminder: Reading of C is Underway!

Hey, y’all.  I’m about halfway through C by Tom McCarthy, our January book club selection, if you don’t recall.  You still have two weeks to join the discussion.  I’m going to kick things off with some ideas of who I’d cast in the movie version of this book.  I bet there will be a movie version – it’s that kind of thing.  To make it fun, let’s cast it with actors as they existed in 1970.  For no real reason – the book doesn’t take place in the 70s.  I just think it makes it a little more of a challenge.

I like to wait to read reviews until after I’ve finished the book, personally, but I know some people like to use those in their decision as to whether they’d like to read a book, so I’ll post a few links on the bottom of this post to entice you as well.

Now, Serge exists at many ages in the text, but I’m only going to cast  adult Serge. Surely the studio can find some precocious child actor from the 70s to play Serge as a timid youngster.  So adult Serge, as he exists while visiting the Klodebrady and serving in the war will be: Bud Cort!

Circa Harold and Maude & Brewster McCloud

Continue reading

Announcing the Book Club Schedule!

The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C.  Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning.  I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued.  All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.

In the  mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:

January: Tom McCarthy C

February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy

March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth

April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas

May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood

June: Lyn Hejinian My Life

July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor

August: Gordon Lish Peru

September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh

October: John Hawkes Travesty

November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries

December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips

Book of the Month Club

Unanimous decision: Bridget Jones' Diary is the best book ever!

Big Other is starting a monthly book club!  We’ve chosen 12 books to tackle in 2011.  At the end of each month I’ll post discussion questions, comments on what I was confused about, lines I copied out by hand because they seemed super-pretty or poignant, pictures of what I imagine characters look like, fan fiction or a list of food that stained my copy of the book.  We invite you to do the same.  If our little backstage discussion of what to read is any indicator, the talk should be lively to say the least.

Here’s a transcript of some choice words:

Tim Jones-Yelvington: I want people to read Sweet Valley High: Double Love by the genius Eckhart Tolle, so I can talk to them about it.

Jac Jemc: There are lots of things wrong with what you just said.  Anyway, I read that recently and it sucks.

TJY: But I love it and I think it’s ripe for discussion and maybe the discussion will be better if people feel differently about it.

JJ: I don’t wanna.

TJY: Jac, this doesn’t sound like you. You’re usually nicer.  Are you feeling okay?

JJ: I’m an angry person now.  It’s my new thing.

TJY: Do you wanna watch the straight-to-video Disney release Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas with me?

JJ: Oh, that’s hard to find.  Yeah, let’s do it.

Anywayyyyyy: first things first.  Let’s vote on what to read for January.  I’m narrowing it down to the shorter novels on the list. I’ll reveal the full list after we decide this!  Get voting.

John Hawkes Travesty

Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth

Tom McCarthy C

Gordon Lish Peru

Djuna Barnes Nightwood

The Coming Envelope Issue 2

I was recently introduced to a terrific new magazine, based out of Toronto and Chicago: The Coming Envelope. It’s conservative in size (only five writers per issue) but wide in scope, giving a home to a myriad of work that might be declined elsewhere for being unclassifiable .

They describe themselves as such at their publisher, BookThug:  “The Coming Envelope is BookThug’s new publication of experimental prose fiction edited and designed by Malcolm Sutton. Every issue features work from five writers. It accommodates hard-to-classify work by those already treading various precipices: uncomfortable here, courting the perverse, typographically observant, exposed to the elements, politically not unaware, falling alongside language.”

The Winter 2010 issue tackles all of this adeptly.  The lineup is stellar: Matvei Yankelevich, Vanessa Place, Simon Brown, Jeremy M Davies and Joni Murphy.  The layout is artful and accommodates the wide-range of work present in only 5 pieces. Matvei Yankelevich’s “you & we” reads like a manifesto that asks more questions than makes statements.  Jeremy Davies’ story, “The Knack of Doing,” is perhaps the most traditional of the stories in the magazine, but that’s not saying much considering the company it keeps.  It’s strong and multi-faceted.

Cheers to The Coming Envelope! I look forward to seeing what else you have to offer.

On Reinvigoration

“If something works in the first place, you have to figure that it probably works, to some extent because of its freshness.  So if freshness is an element, or if novelty or exploration or experimentation is an element, then you have to continue to inject that into making the music.  The same song is not the same song tomorrow because it’s a day older.  And so how do you combat that? And it’s by approaching it in a way that keeps introducing itself to you.” – Will Oldham AKA Bonnie “Prince” Billy on reworking songs for live performances