Wednesday, March 31, 2010

good luck with this one . . .

Watanabe, Naoko, and Midori

Just read that a movie version of Murakami's Norwegian Wood is being made, to be released in Japan this December. This makes as little sense to me as making The Road, or maybe as little as turning any novel into a movie. Sarah Dessen or Judy (Julie?) Picoult books do make sense, I think, as movies--so much sense that they could probably skip the book stage and go straight to the theater (not hatin', just sayin').

But Murakami? I know people are kind of divided on his value as a writer, but I've always really liked his detached style and the way it makes the mild absurdities of his stories seem almost normal. It's nothing like the way Marquez will do it, spinning these baroque-ly unreal settings and pretending that they are a part of the normal universe while still kind of winking at the reader "isn't this all just so gorgeous?!" I like Marquez; he can just overwhelm me sometimes.

Murakami is different, though. With him, you'll read about a man standing in a well for hours on end or a logo for a whiskey that eats stray cats and you have to decide for yourself just how weird it is. It will not feel that weird at the time, but it will later.

So, the main point here is that I don't see how any movie can achieve this effect without using a lot of voice-over straight from the novel. You can tell from the still picture above that the director probably told the Watanabe actor to use the "thousand-yard-stare" to express the floating wonder he carries around. That might get old. Maybe the best thing about the movie version is that it will get me to re-read a book I liked ten years ago and still remember fondly.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's raining so it's perfect for Middlemarch, which lately is starting to feel like a joyless Northanger Abbey. The first few sentences in of this book are always confusing for me as I have to pose questions to myself like "who is Mrs. Bulstrode's niece?" and "have I met any of these relations of Mr. Farebrother's before?" After a re-read sentence or two, I either answer a few of them them or push on with my slightly tempered bafflement intact.

I'm reading this one slowly, but one part I keep remembering from the Ashbery article I read a few days ago is how he read poetry quickly and prose slowly, with more consideration, and I think I do that too, so that is one way I am like a famous poet.

Today, there was some action, though, as Dr. Lydgate's cruel and thoughtless courtship of Rosamond suddenly exceeds his control, and, in a moment of surprise intimacy, he ends up engaged. A lovely line in there describes how "flirtation was shaken into love" or something like that. This book might seem, to the outward eye, as slow-moving at times but what I love is the way Eliot documents the private movements--the dramatic shifts of public regard in general and also the individual expectations and disappointments--all these things happening out of sight but revealed with Eliot's careful voice.

That word, "expectation," too--that's one of my favorite expressions right now. Men here have to be careful not to hold eye contact too long with a woman or risk there arising "an expectation" between them that they will have to answer for. Every step here is so fraught with social dangers.

Friday, March 26, 2010

so it turns out that I am probably not going blind

but it felt like a close call there for a couple of weeks. Being told you have a rare disease of the retina, an actual thing that starts with somebody's name and ends with the word "disease," and then being told to come back in two weeks to make sure that it isn't something even worse, well, it is not the doctor routine I have grown accustomed to. Try forgetting about it for those two weeks . . it doesn't work.

And of course something about your anxieties calls out to the universe, which in turn declares it "Universal Blindness Week." Everywhere I looked it came up. I read to the kids and Mary goes blind in By the Shores of Silver Lake. I pull out Dubliners from a shelf and Joyce stares back with his eye patch. George Eliot describes something really bad as "spreading ominously like a disease of the retina." I read that one and yelled out "Are you kidding me!!?" It wasn't. Eliot may delight, but she does not kid. I did walk right into the Joyce one, though, only myself to blame, but still, where were the books about happy things? Maybe I don't own any.

Ultimately, the news was pretty good yesterday and so I can scale back my emergency plans to create a memorized Noah's ark of poetry. Or maybe I should do that anyway.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Birk showing us "how Chinese people sit" at Mahnin tonight during our pre school carnival meal. It was a great meal, but not quite long enough because by the time we were done eating, the carnival was still going on.
So we spent an hour at school, squeezing around excitable children, casting nervous glances at the school fireman, who did not seem concerned enough about the way the cotton candy machine filled the halls with sticky smoke.
Even though this is an elementary school, I always, always learn a lot just by reading the homework on the walls. I will never smoke again, for example.These things are rarely cute enough to not be entirely draining, but they come so close. Most of the games are crafted by parents from Tupperware in basements and are all versions of scams I never pay to play when professional carnies roll them in for the annual Marshmallow festival, but this money goes to something important. I'm not sure what, exactly, but it's something for the schools.

My kids lost most of the games they played but everyone walks away with candy, which is good because the Valentine's day candy just ran out.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

i could live here

my house looks a lot like this sometimes, actually. A little less Wes Anderson, though.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Joseph came over on the train this weekend and it rained. He came to the house on Saturday and told me that the raspberry bushes I had just bought would be devoured by squirrels. Then we went out to lunch. This place used to be a used car lot, then it was vacant, then it was a taco shop, and now it sells Burmese food for cheap. These windows are great for looking at rain while you eat.

At first, Joseph and I talked about funny things and then my friend John came in and we talked and then he met and interviewed a pleasant Burmese gentleman who was on crutches and I didn't ask but I think he was some kind of victim of the political violence over there. After that, Joseph and I talked about serious things, like school reform and I think escrow accounts.

Then we went to Hyde Bros. I saw my friends Sue and Jeff there who of course were buying all the cool books that I never would have found even if they had given me a full day's head start. At first, Joseph thought it looked like there were "fewer books" there, like the book store equivalent of going back to your old school and not being able to get over how tiny the lockers look.

But we ended strong. It helps to look at the bottom shelves that you usually skip. I won a few good things:

Yusef Komunyakaa, Dien Cai Dau, in which a prior owner has written "Crazy Shit" on the title page. If that alone weren't worth the $3.95, it also has "Camouflaging the Chimera" and "Tu Do Street" in it. It has "Facing it," too, but I haven't liked that one ever since I watched a national Poetry Out Loud finalist recite it a couple of years ago.

Charles Wright, Selected Later Poems. It has poems with titles that reference Li Po and and southern place names like Chickamauga.

Donald Justice, Collected Poems.

Tony Hoagland, Real Sofistikashun, a book of essays and the first one is good.

So anyway, a good day. And today I will read some of these and go to a five year old's birthday party and also go outside to continue construction of the world's lamest-looking cold frame because that's what back yards are for. If my neighbors don't like it, it will be my mild revenge for them hiring someone to cut down one of my trees without asking me.
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm still reading nothing in particular, but that's okay. I enjoyed as much George Eliot as I could today at the doctor's office until the eye dilation drops kicked in, but tonight I jumped from reading about building a cold frame in my back yard to some of a Keats biography to grading essays about All the Pretty Horses to remembering this John Ashbery profile from a New Yorker that came out like five years ago and of which I had dim memories of enjoying. So I find it on their web site and print it and sit down to read it at midnight and I'll be gosh-darned if it doesn't start out like this:
He read the newspaper. He dipped into a couple of books: a Proust biography that he bought five years ago but just started reading because it suddenly occurred to him to do so, a novel by John Rhys that he recently came across in a secondhand bookstore--he's not a systematic reader.
How funny is that? This article was calling out to me across the years--well, five of them--because it knew something about my state of mind right now. So, this is what I'll be reading for the next half hour or until I fall asleep, I guess.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Seems like this place is turning into a kind of reading log or something. Hope that's okay.

Somehow I left Middlemarch at school today so I had kind of a listless paging through of various books I couldn't quite commit to tonight. Middlemarch has such a different feel compared to Mill, and I miss the smaller canvas, I think. Eliot as narrator is much more/ too willing to stand on stage here and dictate. I looked forward to those moments in Mill because the interruptions feel like polite asides, but there are pages of dictum in Middlemarch with nary a paragraph indentation to rest the eyes. Still, Rosamond is amusing and I look forward to the Fred/ Mary courtship, too.

Because Talking Heads are in my top 1 bands of all time, I like bikes, and it is such a pretty book, I spent twenty minutes with David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries tonight, too. If it ever comes true where you get to invite any 10 people you want to a dinner party, he would be one for sure. The problem with this book for me is that his prose matches the kind of flat effect of his real-life voice, too. Or is that "affect"? I think it is. Anyway, it was a pretty book to hold for twenty minutes, reading about the different cities he's ridden around in. My favorite brief chapter is his account of riding from inner Detroit to the suburbs, which sounds insane for a number of reasons but which now strikes me as an essential ride that I must undertake. I've always loved Woodward Ave. in Detroit for the same reasons he suggests, basically that this route is a kind of core sample of the city, or a museum or a time-line. It's so sad, but it's hard to look away. I will probably come back to this book.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

first pedals

45 degrees today and sunny and so I made it out for my first bike ride of the year. The legs were more tired than they had any right to be. Thanks to my father in law for the hand-me-down flip camera.

Bright Star was not all that bad.

Bright Star was not all that bad. I planned for it to be, but it was not. I mean, most movies are bad the way most poems are bad and also the way that most parts of even the movies and poems that I like can be bad, too but still be good enough. Campion's version of this relationship and its setting is a little too self-consciously beautiful sometimes, like in the picture here, but then the dresses and hats that Fanny wears are so ridiculously gorgeous that it is okay. I mean, those dresses. I've watched a fair number of period dramas but don't remember ever being this drawn to a movie's wardrobe.

The guy who plays Charles Brown is over the top, and the Keats actor guy does a lot of acting with his eyeballs, but he is also quiet and I like the way they show him spending so much time just lying around waiting for inspiration, worrying about finding a subject. Those scenes seem more true than the readings of the actual poems, which, even though they are shot in fragments to feel casual, still feel like set-pieces rolled out to fanfares.

So on my personal movie scale of Avatar on the low end up to "not bad" at the high end, Bright Star earns an "I really like the dresses and the lying around parts."

Friday, March 05, 2010

special purpose

Watching this video, it's like, finally I know what I'm supposed to do with my life next. I'm guess I'm kidding, but really, what these guys do is a kind of found poetry with with beats. They hang out, dig around in thrift stores for oddball vinyl, and then sample it into some new patchwork. My favorite part is like twenty minutes in where their compositions start coming together for them and you can feel it happening. I know no one sits around for 29 minute videos anymore, but it's really cool. I'm just saying.

EDIT: The video this links to is no longer the one I had originally, which is too bad. It was cool.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When Dawn is done with her book about re-reading books I hope she writes one about that time that happens between when you finish the reading of one and commit to the next. Something needs to be said about that. When you're in the middle of some weighty project like The Mill on the Floss, even if you're loving it, every other spine on your shelf catches your eye and sparkles with the glow of what might have been, but as soon as you're done with the Eliot, all of those other books disappear on you, or their shine does. There's this listlessness.

I almost fell back into re-reading The Savage Detectives, just hit the first few pages and I almost got sucked in, but somehow this George Eliot momentum sent me to the used bookstore to get a nice $7 copy of Middlemarch and now I'm fifty pages in and mainly concerned how much Dorothea pales in comparison to Maggie. It's not fair to Dodo, and I'll get over it, but Middlemarch will have to make its own way out of The Mill on the Floss's shadow, if it can.

The marriage proposal letter that Dorothea receives from Casaubon cracks me up, though:

"Such, my dear Miss Brooke, is the accurate statement of my feelings for you; and I rely on your kind indulgence in venturing now to ask you how far your own are of a nature to confirm my happy presentiment."

No, Dorothea's not making a mistake at all here. They'll be great together.