Jessica Hendry Nelson’s If Only You People Could Follow Directions Is An Intimate Look At One Family’s Struggle With Addiction

if only you people

Cut.
Take gazillion and one.
This time with a little less weepy-weepy, please. A little less improvisation. A little less lip. A little more faith. A little more higher power. A little more prayer, a little less wine. Cut the crap. Cut the line. Tuck the chin. Look left, right, faster, slower. Pick seven dandelions on the first day of spring. Hate less or more. Work harder. Chew slower. Be better. Look to god, God, GOD. Watch your language. Watch your back. Collect rocks. Lick ‘em clean. Count the pigeons in the backyard and multiply times forever. Give it up, let it go, take it back, take control. Say yes, say no. Say no, no, no. Stick to the script. Steps One through Twelve. One through Twelve. Keep coming back. It works if you work it.
If only you people could follow directions.
–Jessica Hendry Nelson, If Only You People Could Follow Directions

Jessica Hendry Nelson‘s If Only You People Could Follow Directions is like a photo album of a family wading through the darkest depths of addiction. In a collection of personal essays, Nelson describes memories like snapshots, sad and bright and strange, jails and fear and funerals replacing the smiling faces that fill most family pictures.

Rather than try to explain addiction, in medical or historical terms, Nelson leaves those general concepts unexplored and focuses on her own family’s story. This narrow view forms addiction into an ominous cloud, an elusive force pulling and pushing those around her.

Nelson tells of fun, terrifying times with her father, dead early from alcoholism. She reveals guilt at having introduced her brother to drugs, as he’s now following in her father’s footsteps. And her mother does the best she can, smoking and drinking her way to something like peace. In one essay, Nelson traces that unquenchable thirst back for generations, to her great-grandmother. Nelson’s grandmother has memories of discovering her own mother so drunk she’d fallen out of bed, incoherent, and been sick on her nightgown. “Looking at her lying there, crooked and pale, I was so afraid.” Cynthia, Nelson’s grandmother says.

In writing of this as an ongoing saga, Nelson is almost like the survivor of a car crash, or a plane wreck, but not really even that because she’s still lost amidst this familial struggle. So she’s in a car, right now, crashing against this beast of addiction. She’s glancing around, despite the high speeds and the loud noises, and relaying how this crash-in-progress looks. She’s telling us how much it hurts, and how little she can do to stop the forward movement.

Books without much of a plot don’t work if the prose isn’t so moving that it propels you forward, and Nelson’s writing is sad in all the right ways. It’s bittersweet and at times so bare it hurts. It helps to be really interested in this topic, and people who haven’t experienced or been affected by addiction may just not get it. Other reviews are all over the map–some people say it’s overwritten, or that the drifting format feels overwhelming at times.

But sharp memories torn from a disorderly life seem to perfectly express addiction’s elusive, repetitious nature. In the prologue, a letter to her brother recalls the countless locales they’d visit to see their troubled father: rehabs, prisons, “Grandma’s big house.” Then, “He visits us every time you land in the same jail, your twin mug shots forever floating in the same county database, each one more fucked up than the last.” Addiction is such a muddy, messy thing; push up your sleeves, let down your guard, and grab your Kleenex.

If Only You People Could Follow Directions on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Spillover vs. Ebola: Which David Quammen Book Should You Buy?

ebola

A few months ago, Africa’s Ebola epidemic was the worst in history and infected physicians were being moved to America for treatment. My Facebook feed was filled with trending topics and endless questions about Ebola, and I wrote a post recommending David Quammen‘s enlightening Spillover as the important book of the day.

Spillover focuses on zoonotic diseases, those which make the jump from animals to humans in events called spillovers, thus the title. Ebola is one of these, as are Rabies and Lyme Disease. In Spillover, Quammen clearly weaves an in-depth narrative through rough African terrain, seeking the history of the Ebola virus in small villages and sick apes.

Now, as Ebola has made it to America in a less controlled setting, David Quammen has released a second book, called Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus. It is explained as “extracted from Spillover by David Quammen, updated and with additional material.”

So, which should you buy? If you’ve already read Spillover, is Ebola worth buying for the additional information?

The short answer is: no. If you’ve read Spillover, don’t spend your money on Ebola. You’ve already read it. It is more than 80% of the exact same material, edited slightly so as to not be in discord with current events. If you haven’t read anything yet, however, Ebola has all the information you need on this history of and basic information surrounding Ebola, without all the other zoonotic disease information of Spillover.

Ebola contains a new introduction and epilogue that are, as rapidly as things are changing, now out of date. The epilogue does contain a brief history of outbreaks in Africa (Quammen traces them back to December 2013, in the Guéckédou prefecture of Southern Guinea), but it doesn’t contain any information about the events in Dallas. The summaries here are nothing like the research done examining previous outbreaks, and Quammen makes it clear in a disclaimer that he hasn’t traveled to the areas experiencing the epidemics currently.

If you want to learn about the Ebola virus and diving into Spillover‘s nearly 600 page, detailed history of zoonotic diseases doesn’t sound appealing, then Ebola is the perfect book for you. It is the ideal book for the non-reader and the person in a rush, as Spillover‘s very long chapters have been broken up into very brief chapters. All the necessary information is there, in digestible bites, in a brief 128 pages.

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com

If you aren’t at all bookish and CNN’s “We’re all going to die” style of journalism has you holed up in your home with a gas mask, there are some other great resources out there as well.

On Twitter:

David Quammen, author of Spillover and Ebola.

Vincent Racaniello, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

Paul Duprex, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Director of Cell and Tissue Imaging, National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory Institute at Boston University.

Elsewhere Online:

  • Kim Yi Dionne has her own great list of people to follow, on Twitter and elsewhere, at the blog Haba Na Haba. She also explains that in some African countries, Twitter may not be as heavily used as Facebook.
  • This Week in Virology has some great science-based articles.
  • Science Magazine, in light of the epidemic, has made a special collection available to the public for free. This includes many of the research studies Quammen refers to in his books.

John Darnielle Quietly Releases the Wolves, withWolf in White Van

wolf in white van

But at that moment all I could see was the wolf in the white van, so alive, so strong. Hidden from view, unnoticed, concealed. And I thought, maybe he’s real, this wolf, and he’s really out there in a white van somewhere, riding around. Maybe he’s in the far back, pacing back and forth, circling, the pads of his huge paws raw and cracking, his thick, sharp, claws dully clicking against the raised rusty steel track ridges on the floor. Maybe he’s sound asleep, or maybe he’s just pretending. And then the van stops somewhere, maybe, and somebody gets out and walks around the side to the back and grabs hold of the handle and flings the doors open wide. Maybe whoever’s kept him wears a mechanic’s jumpsuit and some sunglasses, and he hasn’t fed the great wolf for weeks, cruising the streets of the city at night, and the wolf’s crazy with hunger now; he can’t even think. Maybe he’s not locked up in the back at all: he could be riding in the passenger seat, like a dog, just sitting and staring out the open window, looking around, checking everybody out. Maybe he’s over in the other seat behind the steering wheel. Maybe he’s driving.–John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van

Sean Phillips, the disfigured narrator of John Darnielle‘s highly buzzed-about first novel Wolf in White Van, pushes said wolf in said white van into possible existence when young, a boy with an imagination capable of hijacking reality. Young Sean watches TV at all hours, eyes glazed, seeking “a sort of shelter.” After all the other networks have gone down late at night, the Christian network stays on and Sean stays glued, learning about how some rock music, when played backwards, plays satanic messages. Satanic messages like the simple, ominous, unclear, “wolf in white van.”

Darnielle has crafted this short, shocking novel with care, he’s built it just like one of those bewitched rock songs which contains a hungry wolf when played backwards. Less deft prose would crash this book. Here, the story you come to understand is something overwhelmingly large, almost repulsive, but so often not talked about in this deliberate, compassionate way.

Sean Phillips is imaginative above all else, game and fantasy-focused. After a disfiguring accident/incident in high school, he’s become a complete social isolate. Living reclusively to avoid scaring people with his marred face, he directs players through the post-nuclear meltdown world of Trace Italian, his mail-based role playing game. The game sounds amazing, and seems to be much more clear and simple to Sean than the real world.

Few manufactured landscapes are as foreign to me as the terrain of the angry adolescent male’s mind, so inexplicable I can’t even make generalizations about it here. Maybe this is why some of the most powerful books I’ve read attempt to take on this frontier, so often dropped from our cultural narrative as we focus on the sexualization of young girls. What about young guys, these days?

Russell Banks’s Lost Memory of Skin introduced a young man so disconnected from physical contact, so plugged into chat rooms and visual delight, that he didn’t yet have the mental acuity to realize when he stumbled into a ‘To Catch A Predator’-like trap. Dave Cullen’s Columbine revealed disconnected kids totally lost inside their own minds, fueled by fantasy much more than anything around them. Not bullied, not trench-coat mafioso, but hormone-laden, romantic and imaginative guys who romanced their deaths into something worth doing.

Wolf in White Van joins this group. If books offer us understanding, a mainline into another’s thought process, then the most powerful books are the ones in which we find ourselves, page by page, understanding those among us that seem the least human, the least comprehensible. What begins as a possibly sympathetic story, of a man with a disfiguring injury, evolves into a story with so many flashes of dissonance that the text seems to shift around you and you realize you have possibly been empathizing with, or sympathizing for, a monster. Or look at things a different way, and you realize monstrous acts are always committed by struggling humans, trying to keep their own dark wolves in control, navigating mazes of problem and solution deep within their own minds.

Sean explains at one point, “Some lessons you learn gradually and some you learn in a sudden moment, like a flash going off in a dark room.” Darnielle teaches in both ways here, building to a moment the reader knows is coming but stuns all the same. I’m not going to say too much about plot, other than that. If you’d like to know all the details, the reviews revealing them are out there. Wolf in White Van has already received a National Book Award nomination, and I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about this little book.

Wolf in White Van on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

For the Love of Spam

Woolly Spam by Eugenia Loli (via)

Woolly Spam by Eugenia Loli (via)

In the spirit of The Paris Review‘s The Daily column last month, Postcards From Another Planet, which reviewed some of their most “ludic, cryptic, disquieting, emotional, and inadvertently profound” spam comments, I thought I’d post one of my own favorites for your review.

Submitted by ‘Trevor’ a few days ago, it has the feel of a robot a few short circuits shy of artificial intelligence, or an alien species jotting down how we talk.

Communication is so easy to break down, but so difficult to get right.

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
{It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view},
if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made good content as you did,
the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more} useful than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.
{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
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Do {you have|you’ve} any? {Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me {realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe.
Thanks.|
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{Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write next articles referring to this
article. I {want to|wish to|desire to} read {more|even more} things about it!|
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{approximately|about} it!|
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{It’s|It is} {lovely|pretty|beautiful} {worth|value|price}
{enough|sufficient} for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my
view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web
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the {internet|net|web} {will be|shall be|might be|will probably be|can be|will likely be}
{much more|a lot more} {useful|helpful} than ever before.|
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my {sister|younger sister} is analyzing {such|these|these kinds of} things, {so|thus|therefore} I
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{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I
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Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points!
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as a favorite} it. Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change, may you be rich and continue to
{help|guide} {other people|others}.|
Woah! I’m really {loving|enjoying|digging} the template/theme of
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A lot of times it’s {very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard} to get that “perfect balance” between {superb usability|user friendliness|usability} and {visual appearance|visual appeal|appearance}.
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{In addition|Additionally|Also}, the blog loads {very|extremely|super} {fast|quick} for me on {Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|
These are {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {great|enormous|impressive|wonderful|fantastic}
ideas in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging.
You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.
Any way keep up wrinting.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend
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Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve {incorporated||added|included}
you guys to {|my|our||my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey}! Someone in my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared this
{site|website} with us so I came to {give it a look|look it over|take a look|check it
out}. I’m definitely {enjoying|loving} the information. I’m {book-marking|bookmarking} and will be tweeting this to my followers!
{Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style and design|design and style|design}.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to
be} up too. {This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve
{incorporated|added|included} you guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would you mind
{stating|sharing} which blog platform you’re {working with|using}?
I’m {looking|planning|going} to start my own blog {in the near future|soon} but I’m having a {tough|difficult|hard}
time {making a decision|selecting|choosing|deciding} between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
The reason I ask is because your {design and style|design|layout} seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something {completely unique|unique}.
P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic
but I had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind letting me know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you’re
{utilizing|working with|using}? I’ve loaded your
blog in 3 {completely different|different} {internet browsers|web
browsers|browsers} and I must say this blog loads a lot
{quicker|faster} then most. Can you {suggest|recommend} a good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider
at a {honest|reasonable|fair} price? {Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I appreciate it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people}
{come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.
Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|
Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was a
amusement account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added
agreeable from you! {By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you
a quick heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I’m not sure if this is a {format|formatting} issue or something to do
with {web browser|internet browser|browser} compatibility but I {thought|figured} I’d post to let you know.
The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…
{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}!
{Where|Exactly where} are your contact details
though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out
any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to {books|textbooks}, as I found this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} at this {website|web site|site|web page}.|
Does your {site|website|blog} have a contact page? I’m having
{a tough time|problems|trouble} locating it but, I’d like to {send|shoot} you an {e-mail|email}.
I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
Either way, great {site|website|blog} and I look forward to seeing it {develop|improve|expand|grow} over time.|
{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading}
your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for
{a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage} to go ahead and give you a shout
out from {New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep
up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!
I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so I decided to {check out|browse}
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{I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that you just} {could|can} do with {some|a few} {%|p.c.|percent}
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{marvelous|wonderful|excellent|fabulous|superb}.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one and
i was just {wondering|curious} if you get a lot of spam
{comments|responses|feedback|remarks}? If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it, any
plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}? I get so much lately it’s driving me
{mad|insane|crazy} so any {assistance|help|support} is very
much appreciated.|
Greetings! {Very helpful|Very useful} advice {within this|in this particular} {article|post}!
{It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will make|that produce|that
will make} {the biggest|the largest|the greatest|the most important|the most
significant} changes. {Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}..
{Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme.
Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this
website|this site|this web site|this amazing site} yourself?
Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying to|planning to|wanting to|hoping to|attempting
to} create {my own|my very own|my own personal} {blog|website|site} and {would like to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find out} where you got this from or {what the|exactly what the|just what the} theme {is called|is
named}. {Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could
not} be written {any better|much better}! {Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article} reminds me
of my previous roommate! He {always|constantly|continually}
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{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have a
good|have a very good|have a great} read. {Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I
appreciate you for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just} like my old one!
It’s on a {completely|entirely|totally} different {topic|subject} but it has pretty much the same {layout|page layout} and design. {Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb}
choice of colors!|
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{I like|I love|I really like} {all the|all of the} points
{you made|you’ve made|you have made}.|
{You made|You’ve made|You have made} some {decent|good|really good} points there.
I {looked|checked} {on the internet|on the web|on the net} {for more info|for more information|to find out more|to learn more|for additional information}
about the issue and found {most individuals|most people} will go along with your
views on {this website|this site|this web site}.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, I {log on to|check|read} your {new stuff|blogs|blog} {regularly|like every week|daily|on a regular
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keep {doing what you’re doing|up the good work|it up}!|
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With A Vision of Fire, Gillian Anderson Moves From Screen to Page

a vision of fire

X-files fans across the world, rejoice!

With A Vision of Fire, Gillian Anderson has written a science fiction novel including just the right amount of homage to her eerie investigations as Dana Scully. Co-written with Jeff Rovin, the book is the first novel in what promises to be a supernatural and apocalyptic series called EarthEnd.

UN translator Ben contacts child psychiatrist Claire out of desperation–something strange has happened to the Indian ambassador’s daughter. The Indian Ambassador just survived an assassination attempt, and his daughter’s condition is now distracting him from crucial peace talks, as India and Pakistan edge closer to war. Claire, who goes where the trauma takes her, sees the young girl, Maanik, and knows immediately that her bizarre behavior isn’t PTSD. As the world moves towards war, a few young people across the globe seem possessed.

Could it be trauma, ghosts, aliens, seizures, past lives? Is there any difference between a traumatic event that I feel or a traumatic event that you feel? And is all this mystical stuff misplaced in a science fiction novel, as there might really be some sort of global conspiracy seeking contact with an alien race? What is really going on here?

This is a quick read, as you’ll find yourself skimming frantically through pages, looking for solutions. But brace yourself, as this is only the first book of a series, and the conclusion here is a promise for more answers in the next book.

A Vision of Fire on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

There is a ton of salacious news surrounding Anderson out there right now, but here is a link to an interview about the book:

Q&A with Gillian Anderson: Former ‘X-Files’ star talks about her foray into literature as co-author of ‘A Vision of Fire’

The Liebster Award

liebster award

Thanks so much to Ashley at For the Love of the Page and Emma at The Book Brief for nominating me for a Liebster Award.

The Liebster Award was created to help recognize new bloggers and welcome them to the blog-o-sphere. Ashley and Emma, I appreciate the electronic nod. Now let’s get to work!

  1. First, link and thank blogger(s) who nominated you.
  2. Then, answer the 11 questions your nominator gives you (I’m doing a combo!).
  3. Tag 11 other bloggers who have 200 or less followers.
  4. Finally, Ask the 11 bloggers you nominated 11 questions and let them know you nominated them!

First, the questions for me:

  • If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Ulysses by James Joyce, no doubt! I could definitely read that one forever. I think there are people who read it throughout the year, each year…

  • Which country in the world would you most like to visit?

I’m not big on plane rides, so although I’ve visited Calgary, Canada, I’d love to go back to Canada and visit the areas of Quebec that inspired Louise Penney’s Inspector Gamache series. She makes the village life sound so cozy and delicious, albeit bathed in terror…

  • What would be your number one book to movie conversion?

This is probably a tie–I think Chuck Pahalniuk’s Fight Club was actually made better by David Fincher’s movie adaptation, which is so rare that it was sort of remarkable. I also think Alex Garland’s The Beach is amazing; Danny Boyle’s film adaptation did a great job.

A close second to those two would be The Children of Men by P.D. James, adapted into the movie Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón. The movie has a wildly different tone than the book, but it worked.

More recently, I watched Dennis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which was inspired by José Saramago’s novel The Double. It was the smartest movie I’ve seen in a while, as it didn’t attempt to explain anything to viewers yet everything you needed to understand the story was there.

  • What’s your favorite book cover at the moment?

IMG_2652

I really, really love book covers! Here are a couple of my faves, two older books I’m reading. Errol Morris is always so brilliant, really looking from the outside in at the way we think. And the Pynchon cover is retro and hip in an accidental way, very current as everything old is new again thanks to hipsters and irony and all that.

  • What was the last book you personally recommended to someone?

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about David Quammen’s book on zoonotic diseases (including ebola), Spillover, lately.

  • If you could take any book characters personal style, who would it be?

I really liked the kitschy, vintage librarian-gone-mad style of Anana Johnson in The Word Exchange. It wasn’t the most pleasant book to read, as the characters started speaking and writing in garbled language, but I appreciated Anana.

  • What book are you reading right now?

What am I not reading right now? There’s a lot of booking going on around my apartment. I just finished A Vision of Fire, by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin, out this Tuesday. That was pretty addictive and hard to put down. I started, after a friend’s recommendation, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. On audiobook, I just started Alissa Wall’s terrifying Stolen Innocenceand I’m finishing up the slow prose memoir If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson. Clearly I need to read something lighter next.

  • If you could only read paperback or hardcovers for the rest of your life which would it be?

Paperbacks fo sho’! I have a lot of arm and shoulder troubles, and hardcovers can be killer.

  • What stand alone book do you think really deserves a sequel?

This is such a geeky answer, but I’d love Errol Morris to write a follow-up to A Wilderness of Error. I think there’s a lot more to be said on the nature of truth and narrative building in relation to crime in the United States. I imagine a book not attached to a specific case might be taken more seriously.

  • Who/what/where is your main source for book recommendations?

I don’t have a single main source, I’m big into browsing the new releases at bookstores and my library, reading interviews with authors where they talk about what they’re reading, and monitoring the hype surrounding releases on the internet (Goodreads, etc).

  • What is the last book you added to your Goodreads to-read list?

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

My eleven questions to the people that I’m tagging:

1. Did your parents read a lot when you were growing up? Do you think this influenced your love of books?

2. Do you listen to audiobooks? Why or why not?

3. If Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates were thrown into a pit and forced to battle to the death, who do you think would win? Why?

4. What is the last book someone recommended to you? Are you going to read it?

5. If a family member wanted to write a tell-all memoir Running with Scissors style, would you tell them to go for it? Why or why not?

6. If you could choose one adult fiction/non-fiction book to have illustrated by a favorite artist, what would the book be? (Extra credit question: who would the artist be?)

7. What are your thoughts on blogging negative book reviews?

8. What made you decide to start a book blog?

9. What is the next book you are planning or hoping to buy?

10. What up-and-coming/indie author are you really excited about?

11. What is the one question you’d like to ask yourself about your love of books?

The people I’m tagging for this round are:

Paperback Heart

Leila Reads

Books and Green Tea

Books and Tea and Sugar

Book Love

ReadEng. Didi’s Press

I Know What You Should Read

Grown Up Book Reports

Arkham Reviews

That Worn Book Smell

Dreaming Through Literature

 

JK Rowling masters her new genre with The Silkworm

the silkworm

You can’t plot murder like a novel. There are always loose ends in real life.

― Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm

With The Silkworm, JK Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, secures her spot in a new niche. As in the first novel of the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, private detective Cormoran Strike finds himself amidst a high profile investigation, swatting at paparazzi’s flash bulbs and scanning news headlines for his name.

The Cuckoo’s Calling explored the world of the glamerati, those untouchable rich and famous, as Strike investigated the supermodel Lula Landry’s suspicious suicide. In The Silkworm, Rowling gets her hands dirty much closer to home, when Strike stumbles into an ugly case involving the publishing industry. Strike seeks the missing author Owen Quine, whose desperate but nutty wife Leonora may or may not be giving the PI all the information on her husband’s whereabouts. Quine’s last book was a grotesque mockery of all those he knew and loved, so he had reason to flee on his own, but also reason to be killed.

As the investigation thunders through London, swirling between an endless array of loathsome characters in the publishing industry, the underlying tension between Strike and his assistant, Robin presents a delicious side plot. Strike’s brutish character, and Robin’s naivety, each polish here so they feel more fully realized than they did in the first novel.

Rowling masters all the elements of a great story in The Silkworm with the precision of a master storyteller. She combines the more irresistible, exposé elements of high profile cases with the best parts of the cozy mystery. She’s also building up the tension of a love affair between two wildly different people who respect each other in a way most others around them fail to see. Hopefully we see more of Strike’s entitled half-brother Al, as well. I’d love to see the trio of Al, Robin, and Strike work together to solve a case surrounding Strike’s rock star dad in the next book.

The Silkworm on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

David Cronenberg’s Debut Novel Consumed May Eat Off Your Hand While You Read It

consumed 2

You might think that a novel featuring a self-aggrandizing, hyper-sexual French philosopher who cannibalizes his wife’s body and flees to Japan, only to be stalked there by a self-aggrandizing, hyper-sexual young femme fatale of a journalist, is too much book for anyone to handle. In that thinking, you’d certainly be right.

David Cronenberg is also known as the “baron of blood,” so it feels right that his first novel, Consumed, would stand out on an artistic ledge, like so many of his movies have before: from A History of Violence to Videodrome, Cronenberg shakes us up with his work, making us aware of our bodies in a way we often try to forget. He offers us up conspiracies just as reasonable as much of what happens today, resulting in a constantly questioned paranoia.

So, then, how to describe Consumed? As tempting as it is to list off everything explored here, from 3D printers creating bent penises to kidnappings of Cannes Film Festival directors by the North Korean government, I’m going to attempt to summarize the plot. Freelance journalists Naomi and Nathan love each other in the most modern way you can possibly imagine–sexual in a passive aggressive and untrusting way, reliant upon the various technology which connects them as they flutter about the globe, competitive in seeking out the next juicy story. Nathan’s niche is medical debauchery, like those doctors who perform third rate surgeries in third world countries; Naomi has a regular relationship with a scandal magazine called Notorious. She surprises herself in how little journalistic integrity comes into play, when presented with art, with steady work, with an array of technological gadgets she spreads around herself like a modern human incubator.

Nathan finds himself reluctantly investigating Roiphe’s disease, an STD all but forgotten thanks to antibiotics, when he picks up a nasty case of Roiphe’s himself after a desperate romp with a dying subject. Naomi jets to Japan, to seek out Aristide Arosteguy, who may have just murdered his wife and cannibalized her corpse in their small French apartment before fleeing.

The two stories, of an STD and a mad cannibal, couldn’t seem further from each other but in Cronenberg-ian fashion they begin to intertwine, and everyone begins to lose it. Are Naomi and Nathan secretly working together? Or is there some sort of external force at work upon them? Could that external force involve a breast full of insects, hearing aids tuned into satellites, a North Korean propaganda campaign? Maybe it is impossible to write about Consumed without listing all its unusual elements, because as its impossible to explain how they all tie together by the end here, Cronenberg has built up a story full of nuanced and bizarre connections, unbelievably discovered around each turn.

In Cronenberg’s world, an all Apple-all-the-time-world, the zen of electronics, their cords and the safety of their lights reflecting back at us, the reassurance of their quick clicks or their silence when muted, brings us peace and makes so much sense; the electronic interfaces we rely on like a second brain are Naomi and Nathan’s only true companions. Consumed creates a Wild West-like human experience waiting for us beyond the computer screen, never pausing while we seek quick explanation from a Google search, full of raw and animal happenings, different types of consumption both wild and tame blurring into one uncontrollable, unbearable mess. Please, don’t try to read this book while eating.

Consumed on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Watch the (incredibly disturbing, you’ve been warned) book trailer

Further Reading:

Overdressed: Elizabeth Cline Rips the Cheap Fashion Industry Apart at its Poorly Sewn Seams

overdressed 2

Here’s an incredible fact–I paid less than $30 per item on average for each piece of clothing in my closet. . . That clothes can be had for so little money is historically unprecedented. Clothes have almost always been expensive, hard to come by, and highly valued; they have been used as alternate currency in many societies. Well into the twentieth century, clothes were pricey and precious enough that they were mended and cared for and reimagined countless times, and most people had a few outfits that they wore until they wore them out. How things have changed. We’ve gone from making good use of the clothes we own to buying things we’ll never or barely wear. We are caught in a cycle of consumption and waste that is unsettling at best and unsatisfying at its core.

–Elizabeth Cline, Overdressed

In Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline recalls her first trip into H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion giant now considered the second largest global clothing retailer, in much the same way I recall mine. With her heartbeat racing, she was wow’ed and woo-ed by “gleaming white walls and polished ash wood floors.” She quotes a fashion blogger who first walked into fast-fashion retailer Forever 21 and felt like “a kid in a candy story.” The affordable, indeed truly cheap, yet trendy clothing made shopping sprees possible for those on the tightest budgets. By the time H&M hit the Bay Area, the buzz was at a fever-pitch, and it seemed to be all fashion magazines talked about. Fast-fashion’s prices flabbergasted me at first, seeming too good to be true, but now I’ve grown to expect them. As Cline explains, we’ve acclimated to the sort of cheap fashion Zara, the pioneer of the fast fashion industry and now the world’s largest clothing retailer, H&M, and Forever 21 offer.

But what does it mean for fashion when consumers expect to pay $14.99 for a full detailed dress, or $5 for a t-shirt? Cline explores the dysfunctional state of cheap fashion from production, as clothes are made by workers overseas paid under a living wage; to the expectation of constant consumption, as fast fashion relies on constantly updating stock and huge amounts of product sold to make profit. She follows the trail of what we buy from our closets, to donation centers like Goodwill, to the textile recyclers who agree to take cubed “bales” of compressed unwanted clothing, weighing half a ton each, which become rags or get shipped off to Africa.

Cline explores the history of fast fashion, eye-opening for me in a way I’ve never really considered trade regulation and how directly it affects my life. First, let’s establish some basics–clothing is made for much cheaper in developing countries, where workers can be paid as little as $68 a month. Got it? Cheaper imported clothing means fewer jobs for well-paid garment workers in the U.S. It means more resources used on shipping clothes from across the globe to stores here. Cline explains the Multi-Fiber Arrangement, “a convoluted system of quotas that limited the import numbers of more than one hundred categories of clothing” from developing countries into industrialized ones from 1974 to 2005. The MFA expired in 2005, based on a decision ten years earlier by the World Trade Organization. This flooded the U.S. with incredibly cheap clothing, priming us to pay less in a system of great deals that is ultimately unsustainable.

I also learned how little I know about what I’m putting on every day–Cline talks about the fabrics and stitches used in much of the stuff we wear, many of which are derived from plastics and blended in ways that are non-recyclable. She interviews a 67-year-old woman whose childhood dolls wore clothing better made that what we’re wearing today, sewn with a blind hem, a “labor intensive and subtle type of stitch” that’s not often used any longer.

The blurb on the front of the book says, “Overdressed does for t-shirts and leggings what Fast Food Nation did for burgers and fries,” and this is a simple way to explain the dysfunctional fashion industry, only because we all now understand the dysfunction of the fast food industry due to raised awareness thanks to previous exposés. Like the issues surrounding ethical eating, buying fair trade and ethical clothing seems currently priced out of range for many of us. If $5 for a t-shirt is too little, then $50 for a t-shirt also seems to be quite a stretch. Cline’s message, however, is that investing in a few well made basics will save us money in the long run, as well as start a more sustainable cycle of consumption–the clothes will last longer, and create less waste as we’ll be keeping them.

She also suggests sewing, which sounded so bizarre to me when first presented in the book. That sewing would be so novel says something about the way I’ve come to view clothing. Cline opened my eyes to the power in modifying your own clothing, rather than tossing it for something new. As I read about Cline’s experience with sewing her own clothes, and offering to take in or hem something for a friend, I realized how life changing this simple skill could be.

Although published in 2012, this is a must-read for anyone who wears clothes today. Cline seemed to be more active in the media last year, and I wonder if this is because of a lack of press interest this year in this topic, or because Cline is at work on a new project. I’m interested to see what Cline’s follow up to this book will be–as Michael Pollan has shown in his detailed examination of the way we eat, this seems like just the tip of gigantic, compressed and unwanted, poorly sewn clothing bale of an issue.

Overdressed on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Review – Between Page and Screen by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse

Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse‘s Between Page and Screen is one of the wildest books I’ve read. A collection of poetry found only when the page comes to the screen, the book itself features code which can be read by your computer’s camera at BetweenPageandScreen.com, thus presenting animated poems in an augmented reality–neither fully on the page, nor fully on the screen, but requiring both to exist.

The book’s boggling format is also its subject matter, as it consists of poems back and forth between feuding lovers P. and S. They’re recovering from a blowout and each trying to find their own place in the world as well as seek to understand the other. They may “share text’s fleshy network,” but they’re struggling to connect.

As this book is quite visual, and almost impossible to explain without some illustration, I’ve made a recording of my screen as I’m reading Between Page and Screen. Enjoy and pick up your own copy to get this crazy reading experience.

Between Page and Screen on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

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