Short Story (novella) of the day, The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic,with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage,animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Some-times, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that the paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt.

—-Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

 

The Situation, by Jeff VanderMeer

from Wired Magazine

About a year ago I started going to book club meetings at The Wild Detectives – a bookstore in Bishop Arts that features beer and coffee… a great place. Even though I don’t have much in common with the other readers and it’s really tough to get across town after work, I like to go. Actually, now that I think about it, the fact I don’t have much in common with the other readers is the best thing about going.

The book we will discuss the first Monday in February is The Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer. I’m cranking through the book and haven’t made up my mind yet. It’s very imaginative and well written but exceedingly weird. I like weird – but only if, at the end, there’s a point… some emotional connection. I’m not a big fan of weird for weird’s sake. I have a feeling that I will be a Jeff VanderMeer fan at the end.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s always good to find a new author isn’t it? Even though I have a ways to go on my Zola reading project and enough other books to… well, to fill up my rapidly declining lineup of years left.

Looking at other Jeff VanderMeer works there’s the Southern Reach Trilogy (I’ve seen the interesting movie Annihilation which was adapted from the first book in the trilogy) and I think those books will get added. Also there is the Borne novel which is set in the same insane world as The Dead Astronauts. That’s four more books to read. So little time, so many books.

As I was looking around for info (The Dead Astronauts is difficult enough I’m not worried about spoilers) on The Dead Astronauts and the Borne world I discovered an online short novella called The Situation. It is billed as a proto-Borne story – set in a preliminary version of that universe (are we reading about the origin of the giant bear named Mord?). So I sat down and read it.

And liked it. It is a sort-of comedy about the difficulty of surviving sane inside an evil bureaucracy. Quite a harrowing story. And well-worth the time and effort.

Shit. That means I’ll eventually have to read all those books. So many books, so little time.

Short Story of the Day, The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I liked to lie like that; a sleeping man is not molested, and meanwhile one can dream and think. But I could not dream, my heart was beating uneasily, and M.’s words, “Je haïs ces brigands!” were echoing in my ears.

—–Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Peasant Marey

The Wild Detectives in the Bishop Arts District.

Dallas Streetcar

Reunion Tower, taken from inside the Dallas Streetcar. On my way to Bishop Arts for a discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

Starting in January of this year, every Wednesday after work I took the DART train downtown, then rode the Streetcar to the Bishop Arts district – arriving at the bookstore The Wild Detectives. I was part of a group called the DRBC (Difficult Reading Book Club) and were slogging our way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It was a ton of fun, and when we finished up in the summer, it was announced that the next Difficult Book was going to be a trilogy by Virginia Woolf. I thought hard about it (even bought the books) but at the end decided that I didn’t want to give up the time to criss-cross the city… plus I had my own long/difficult reading project to complete (which I’m still working on after well over a year).

Today, though, I received an email outlining the next DRBC book – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In theory, I read that book in college, but have no memory of it (at the time I was mixing literature and writing studies with Physical Chemistry classes – and the combination almost broke me) and suspect I might have made too liberal use of the study guides. But now, I want to read it, and read it in a diverse group, and maybe get a bit more out of it.

This will start up in January… sometime. In the meantime I thought I’d do some research on the deeper meaning of Dostoevsky’s work (without reading any of The Brothers Karamazov before it’s time) and maybe brushing up on some of his shorter works.

Thus, the short story of the day:

The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

available along with a number of Dostoevsky short stories at Project Gutenberg.

Here’s an audio version, if you prefer:

This is a (on the surface) simple story of a man in a Siberian Russian prison reminiscing about a slight incident from his childhood. There is a lot there beneath the surface, however. Worth the read.

 

Go From Dream To Dream

“You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you’ve found life. I’m no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are ‘yours’ and which are ‘mine.’ It’s past sorting out. We’re both being someone new now, someone incredible….”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow, marked for reading goals (one marker per week)

So I sat down with my Penguin Paperback edition of Gravity’s Rainbow and put in little tabs for each week’s worth of reading for the Wild Detectives Reading Challenge that I’m doing now. My bookmark is an old Ten Cordoba Note that I laminated.

 

A Screaming Comes Across the Sky

Gravity’s Rainbow fractured literature, which previously had been fractured only by Ulysses and which no book has so fractured since. Pynchon’s novel transcends assessment: whatever you think of it, whatever you can even begin to think of it, you can’t resist it, it’s inexorable, the event horizon of contemporary literature.

—-Steve Erickson, introduction to One Picture for Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow, 2004, by Zac Smith

 

A few days ago, some of us were getting together for the holidays and wanted to eat somewhere in the Bishop Arts District. Everybody met at one of my favorite haunts – The Wild Detectives – a bookstore with coffee and beer (right?) and then walked out together to find some vittles.

As we were walking down the front steps, I saw this sign:

Sign at The Wild Detectives bookstore, Dallas, Texas

Wednesday, January 2, Gravity’s Rainbow Reading? What is that?

Then this morning, I received an email inviting me to a three month group reading of Gravity’s Rainbow. Oh hell yea.

I’ve read the book, starting in, say, 1976 – only a few years after it came out. I finished it twenty five years later. I think it’s time to read it again. We’ll be reading about ten pages a day – which doesn’t sound like a lot – but Gravity’s Rainbow is no easy read. We’ll get together every Wednesday at Wild Detectives at 7:30 to discuss what we have read that week. I’ll have to postpone my reading of Zola for the duration, but I wanted a break anyway. It will be a haul to get down to the Bishop Arts District after work on Wednesdays – but I’m already working on mass transit options.

I drove down there tonight for the introduction. There were a good number (maybe 25?) folks ready to dig in. We’ll see how many make it to the end.

What fun!

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

—-First Line, Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

Swedish Edition of Gravity’s Rainbow

Beer and Batuman

“I found myself remembering the day in kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo, and I realized for the first time that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, rooted for Dumbo, against Dumbo’s tormentors. Invariably they laughed and cheered, both when Dumbo succeeded and when bad things happened to his enemies. But they’re you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn’t know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.”
― Elif Batuman, The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman

Oblique Strategy: You are an engineer

In my struggle to live life outwardly, I spotted an event on Facebook that looked interesting. There was going to be a Book Club discussion at The Wild Detectives in Bishop Arts. I love that place – named after a Roberto Bolaño novel – it has a carefully curated collection of books, coffee and beer. What else do you need? On the weekends, they turn the wifi off – so people will be forced to talk to each other.

What could be better than to meet in a place like that and talk about a book?

The selected tome was The Idiot by Elif Batuman. The book is a bildungsroman about a ninteen-year-old woman attending her first year at Harvard.

I only had a little over a week before the meeting so I set up a spreadsheet with the number of pages per day I had to read. I have a terrible confession to make. I had a nice heavy hardback copy and the Kindle version. I never picked up the physical book. The new Paperwhite is simply too good.

I’m sorry.

The book was very interesting. Terribly well-written, it was unique in that the protagonist, Selin, was the most passive main character I have ever read in a novel. She drifts along, only slightly buffeted by life. Reading about her, I had the image of a person sliding down a featureless sheet of ice, silently observing the scenery go by (in very great and subtle detail).

So my feelings on the novel were mixed. It was interesting in that this woman’s life in her freshman year was incredibly different than mine (in a bildungsroman you can’t help but compare the protagonists experiences to your own) – for example: sex, drugs, and rock and roll make no significant appearance in her life at all.

One interesting aspect of the novel is that it takes place at the very beginning of the internet age: Selin is confused at first by this email thing – until she embraces it and has the most significant relationship with a slow email conversation with someone she met in Russian class.

The Wild Detectives is way across town from my ‘hood and I fought through the traffic after work, arriving early enough for a preliminary beer (Texas Ale Project‘s Fire Ant Funeral – if you are interested).

I really enjoyed the discussion. We started talking about the cover (I never even noticed there was a rock on the cover). Talking about the email, someone brought up that it was like letter writing in the time of classic Russian Novels (like Dostoevsky’s own version of The Idiot) people would write letters to each other, the distance and time separating the two adding a surreal aspect to a relationship.

A very nice way to wile away an evening.

The next novel we will discuss is The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet. I bought a hardback copy at the bookstore – I’ll avoid temptation and not buy the Kindle version. We won’t meet until January, so I won’t need a spreadsheet to egg on the pages.

What I learned this week, June 25, 2017

The Best Bookstores in Every State

Texas: The Wild Detectives

Dallas’s hip gathering place specializes in fiction, poetry and Spanish-language lit, plus top-notch food and coffee. And how could you not love a place with a “buy a book, get a drink” policy?

One thing I love about The Wild Detectives is that they turn the wifi off on the weekends… so the people, their customers, will actually talk to each other, like real human beings.

The Wild Detectives’ name is a loose translation of Roberto Bolaño’s Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Detectives, 1998), from which the business takes a lot more than just the name. Our mission at The Wild Detectives is to curate all those things that matter, those serious pleasures which turn life into experience.


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