Get Your Wine and Cigs Ready For “All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel”

Title: All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel
Author: Lan Samantha Chang
192 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Buy The Book: Amazon

Summary:

A haunting story of art, ambition, love, and friendship by a writer of elegant, exacting prose.

At the renowned writing school in Bonneville, every student is simultaneously terrified of and attracted to the charismatic and mysterious poet and professor Miranda Sturgis, whose high standards for art are both intimidating and inspiring. As two students, Roman and Bernard, strive to win her admiration, the lines between mentorship, friendship, and love are blurred.

Roman’s star rises early, and his first book wins a prestigious prize. Meanwhile, Bernard labors for years over a single poem. Secrets of the past begin to surface, friendships are broken, and Miranda continues to cast a shadow over their lives. What is the hidden burden of early promise? What are the personal costs of a life devoted to the pursuit of art? All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is a brilliant evocation of the demands of ambition and vocation, personal loyalty and poetic truth. (Summary provided by W.W. Norton & Company.)

My Thoughts:

Warning! Contains Spoilers!

All Is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost: A Novel by Lan Samantha Chang is like a fine Merlot that goes down smooth and is best consumed out of paper bathroom cups. The book is split into three sections. It is a short read at 205 pages in length. As the summary provided by Norton says, Chang’s writing is haunting. After reading this book for a long stretch I found myself reaching for my pack of cigs only to remember I gave up smoking years ago. The first part of Chang’s novel transported me to my younger years. A time spent in smoky poetry writing sessions at the homes of my creative writing professors where traditional classroom rules were cast aside for the sake of art. But this part of the novel takes place in the 80s, so the cigarettes and wine are actually consumed in the classroom. Cue Edith Bunker Those were the days.

I found myself at times both loving and hating the protagonist, Roman. The story largely centers around the after effects of a love affair between Roman and his poetry professor Miranda. His treatment of the women in in his life is at times brutal. Yet, I admired his independent spirit, and I begrudgingly admired his ability to walk away from “what could have been” to pursue his dream. Chang presents Roman’s choice to work in an academic setting while writing his poetry  in contrast to fellow poetry student and friend Bernard. Bernard is willing to live in poverty for years struggling to perfect his long poem. Yes, he works on one poem for decades. Bernard is one of the most fascinating characters I have come across in a while.

This book is not only a love story but also a comment on the current state of writing instruction. At the beginning of the book there are a series of “bludgeonings” in the classroom of poet Miranda Sturgis. Miranda’s words to her students are harsh and often end with the student being critiqued in tears. Later in the novel, Roman sees his experiences in Miranda’s classroom as the mark of a time long past:

Nowadays, Roman thought, the students expected not only to be noticed, but that their work- however absent the vision, however awkward the execution- be discussed with the assumption that the goals were far-reaching and accomplishment inevitable. Moreover they felt that they were owed these services, as their professors’ end of an official transaction. Many believed that writing could be “taught” by the dissemination of “craft,” and that anyone with the smallest speck of ability or desire was entitled to this dissemination. No one bludgeoned anybody anymore. One could write with utter mediocrity, but one had the same right to be treated as if greatness, or, at the very least, publication, were imminent. In Roman’s first years of teaching, he had struggled against what he perceived as this silent insistence on mediocrity, putting aside his own time to write with a sometimes brutal authority. But now, he was not writing; he had nothing else to do but teach the mediocre. (Chang 146-147)

Through Roman, Chang is making a very brave assertion. However, as director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Lan Samantha Chang is perhaps one of the few people in the United States qualified to make that statement. I really don’t know how I feel about this. It’s been about four years since I was a student in a graduate level poetry or fiction writing class. The harshness of the critiques in each class was largely due to the environment dictated by the instructor. So, I find placing the burden of blame on the students’ shoulders troublesome. Teachers need to rise above the lowered expectations of their students. And university administrators should give teachers any support needed to rise above “mediocrity”.

I think anyone that has ever had the pleasure or great discomfort (depending on the situation) of sitting in a writing classroom will enjoy this book. It is not just a love story. It is a manifesto of sorts on the state of writing instruction today. A manifesto unlike the unibomber’s I very much enjoyed reading. Many thanks to The Rumpus Book Club for making All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel the September selection.

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My Twitter Friends Don’t Mess Around: The Hunger Games Was Excellent

Title: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

374 pages

Publisher: Scholastic

Buy The Book: Amazon

Summary:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlaying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one girl and one boy between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has also resolved to outwit the creators of the games. To do that she will have to be the last person standing at the end of the deadly ordeal, and that will take every ounce of strength and cunning she has.(Summary provided by Scholastic.)

My Thoughts:

Recently Twitter was all abuzz with the release of Mockingjay looming. Everyone was wondering how Suzanne Collins’s beloved trilogy would end and endlessly warning everyone else not to post spoilers. Tweets would come across my feed sounding a little like this:

@iwannahumpheartedward: Mockingjay is the best book in the universe! Post spoilers and I’ll cap your ass be quite angry.

I’d see tweets like that and think, Hmmm… I wanna hump heart Edward too. This might be my kind of book. I better not post any spoilers.

So I promptly bought all three books and began reading.

At this point I have read all three books, and The Hunger Games is by far my favorite. In this first book of the trilogy, Collins creates a vivid world in District 12 full of alternating shades of gray. She depicts a community that lives in fear, and the sensation of fear is palpable throughout the book. Fear can be seen in the eyes of the inhabitants of District 12 and tasted in the game Katniss and Gale catch in the woods illegally to feed their starving families.

Just when the reader thinks things can’t get any worse, Katniss begins her journey to participate in The Hunger Games. We are thrown into The Hunger Games arena to view the games through the eyes of Katniss. Collins has created a venue where the worst kinds of physical and emotional torture are possible. One of the many things I enjoyed about The Hunger Games was that the romantic subplot stayed a subplot. As Katniss was fighting for her life, she remained a strong protagonist and did not let her emotions get the better of her. Very refreshing.

With The Hunger Games Collins not only gives the reader a strong protagonist of the elusive female variety but a detailed world for readers to explore as well.  Collins creates a world that is both believable and frightening. A horrible vision of what North America could become if we are not careful. I’m glad I listened to all of the Twitter buzz and read this one.

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Feel free to leave a comment on this post and let me know what you’re reading currently.  Also, I love getting new Twitter followers and lots of Facebook “likes”!

Yeah, I Like Richard Yates by Tao Lin. So What?

Title: Richard Yates
Author: Tao Lin
208 pages
Publisher: Melville House
Buy The Book: Amazon
Release Date: September 7th, 2010

Summary:

Richard Yates is named after real-life writer Richard Yates, but it has nothing to do with him. Instead, it tracks the rise and fall of an illicit affair between a very young writer and his even younger-in fact, underaged-lover. As he seeks to balance work and love, she becomes more and more self-destructive in a play for his undivided attention.His guilt and anger builds in response until they find themselves hurtling out of control and afraid to let go. (Summary provided by Melville House.)

My Review:

There have been times when I have hated something that it seemed everyone in my world loved. One of those times was in my grad school Film Theory class. I enjoyed/found some artistic value in every movie we watched (Crash, The Driver’s Seat, etc) until we got to the film Breaking The Waves. I hated it. I even thought the ending was kind of funny. I voiced my opinion in the class and the teacher made some big deal about how when the bells rang at the end of the movie a miracle happened. Now I find myself in the opposite situation: I enjoy Richard Yates by Tao Lin. A book that many people in my little world dislike. Oh joy…

I received a copy of Richard Yates by Tao Lin early because I am awesome a member of The Rumpus Book Club. To say Richard Yates has proven for interesting and lively discussion among the club members is putting it mildly. Richard Yates is an odd novel with an odd title and even odder character names. Oddly enough, it works…for me anyway.

Much of the criticism regarding this book surrounds Lin’s minimalist style and his “unlikeable protagonist.” As far as minimalism is concerned, I enjoy it. I understand why others wouldn’t.  However, I think it’s silly to criticize a book based on a writing style that one is predestined to dislike. I don’t enjoy action films, so I avoid watching them. I don’t go on rottentomatoes.com and write reviews that say things like Predator would be really great if it weren’t so violent. It’s an action movie. It’s supposed to be violent. So that’s how I feel about critiques of Richard Yates that cite not enjoying it because it is written in the minimalist style.

There has also been much criticism of the book based on the main character, Haley Joel Osment* not being a likable protagonist. Throughout the book HJO engages in some pretty horrible behavior toward his girlfriend Dakota Fanning. This turned off many readers, and I find that completely understandable. I found HJO’s behavior throughout disturbing, but I feel he is an ultimately sympathetic character. Early on in the book Dakota Fanning describes him as an “autistic vegan.” I took this as a cue along with many others throughout the book that HJO is socially inept and not completely responsible for the way he treats Dakota Fanning. Perhaps, I formed this opinion because I have a younger brother who is severely autistic and my heart tends to swell a little when it is inferred that a character is autistic. Yep, that’s a bit of personal bias on my part. Guilty. There was also much criticism of HJO because he is said to be somewhat of a reflection of Tao Lin. This made it hard for some readers to separate the fictional deeds of HJO from the author. I didn’t find the autobiographical elements bothersome.

So why do I like Richard Yates? I like it because of its divisive nature. I enjoy literature that is meant to evoke extreme emotion (i.e. disgust, sorrow, joy, etc). I think it takes considerable talent to use minimalism to bring forth such emotion. I like Richard Yates because at times it is hilarious. In the midst of all of HJO’s “misdeeds” there are comedic bits like this:

Headbutt girl was the 26-year-old Haley Joel Osment spent time with before meeting Dakota Fanning. He headbutted her by accident one night when they were standing in her apartment listening to Rancid in the dark. (p.76)

Tao Lin has been called the voice of his generation. Many young people beg to differ. Age and generation aside, I prefer to think of him as the voice of the disenchanted cynic of the Internet Golden Age. But I’m just a suburban housewife. Who cares what I think really?**

*Yeah, he named his main characters Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning.

**There’s a lot more I could say about why I enjoyed this book, but quite frankly I am tired of thinking about it.

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I Bought a Picture From Tao Lin on Twitter

One night last week I was on Twitter at 1 AM or so when I really should have been sleeping. I was laying in bed staring at the TweetDeck stream on my phone when what did I see but a *Tweet from Tao Lin, author of Shoplifting From American Apparel and the forthcoming Richard Yates. In the Tweet he said something about wanting to sell three pictures and that people should send offers to his email account. He gave links to the pictures in the Tweet as well. I decided to make an offer on one of the pictures. He accepted the offer.

The next morning I vaguely remembered that I bought a picture of upside down crosses on skateboards holding ice cream cones, and I smiled. I wondered if I would receive the picture anytime soon and went on with my day. To my surprise the picture arrived within a couple of days.

My three year old was looking over my shoulder as I opened the package and tried to claim the picture for himself. I quickly explained that it was “for adults.”

Tao also included a note and a few other little pictures.

Apparently all the fun stuff happens on Twitter after midnight.**

*He deleted all of the tweets about selling the pictures before I could get a screen capture. But I did get a screen cap of this tweet earlier today:

I thought his taping style was lovely.

**People like Tao Lin make the usually cut and dry literary world a fun place. I hope he keeps pulling his quirky stunts. I will be posting my review of Richard Yates by Tao Lin sometime today or tomorrow.

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Feel free to leave a comment on this post and let me know what you’re reading currently.  Also, I love getting new Twitter followers and lots of Facebook “likes”!

The Passage by Justin Cronin is Great and I’m Not Just Saying That Because I’m Drunk

Title: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

836 pages

Publisher: Random House

Buy The Book: Amazon

Summary:

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.
As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun. (Summary provided by Random House.)

My Thoughts:

Quite honestly, I read The Passage by Justin Cronin right before I left for my cruise a few weeks ago. I didn’t have time to write a review, because faster than Buster Poindexter could say “Hot Hot Hot,” I was on a cruise ship heading to Cozumel to celebrate my ten year anniversary with my husband. Sure, I packed the book in my suitcase with my notebook and my iPhone. My intentions were grrrrreat! But alas, I didn’t write a proper review. Also, I have just finished my fourth glass of La Crema Pinot Noir, so I’m a little tipsy. Oopsies! I’m relying heavily on my notes.

Here is my review (apologies to Justin Cronin):

Normally, I like my vampires sparkly or Viking. You know, a nice vampire with just a dash of ruthlessness. A vampire I can take home to Mom and Dad, marry, and eventually raise 2.5 vampire babies with. However, when reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, I was pleased to find that I can still be terrified of vampires. In a day and age where the vampire mythology has become heavily romanticized, Cronin takes the notion of the sensitive, vampire hunk and rips it to shreds. (This entire paragraph was in my notes verbatim. See what a good girl I am! Warning: It gets a little fuzzy after this.)

Here are the rest of my notes as emailed to myself from my iPhone:

WTF would I do if I didn’t have access to US weekly! How would I cope not knowing how Tom, Katie and Suri were handling the crisis? Would Perez still be online? (or would the vamps eat him first?)
How dare jc make these vamps nonsexy and scary-like! I like my vampires hot and turned at age 17 w/ carefully tousled hair that reeks of SEXI not YUCKY w/ glass shard teeth (whatever that is…)
Or kissable dr vampires w/ blonde locks that can round on me anytime w/ just a dash of ruthless Eric Northmen Viking  vampire in the mix and you’ve got a killer vampire novel but this one is about the humans and immortality is nothing to be desired in this book

It is crucial to keep in mind that I was not drunk as I sort of am now when I wrote these haphazard, lazy run ons notes. I guess I just didn’t think I would be using this book on my site. Anywhoooo… I’m using these notes now, because my drunk ass I think it’s funny.

What can be gained from the above notes:

1) I am apparently very worried I would not have access to US Weekly after the apocalyptic, vampire virus spreads across America.

2) I am also very worried the vamps would eat Perez Hilton.

3) The viral vamps are not sexy enough for me. (Uhmmm…What the Hell is wrong with me? Why do I care about how sexy vamps are?)

4) This book reminds me of the fragility of the human race.

5) I enjoy Cronin’s representation of vampires or “Virals” as frenzied immortals that no human would want to become.

In addition to the above thoughts, I also remember thinking that The Passage had many similarities to Stephen King’s The Stand when I read it. This is a huge compliment coming from me, because I was crazy about The Stand back in high school in the early nineties. I think The Stand was my first experience with post apocalyptic literature, and I instantly fell in love with the genre. So basically, I like the book even though the vampires were not sexy and actually scary. See, I’m not that shallow!

To sum up this train wreck of a review, The Passage is a fantastic piece of post apocalyptic literature. Cronin’s contribution to the vampire mythology is very original. Even though I worry about the fate of US Weekly, Tom, Suri, Katie, and Perez Hilton in the world Cronin created, I highly recommend his book.

*Tune in next time for a much more coherent review. I promise. In the meantime, feel free to comment on this catastrophe piece.:)

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Feel free to leave a comment on this post and let me know what you’re reading currently.  Also, I love getting new Twitter followers and lots of Facebook “likes”!