Monday, April 20, 2009

Maybe overrated?

INVISIBLE CITIES

Okay, yes I like Calvino, esp. when I first read him years ago. I read most all of his books in a row in a short period, infatuated with someone talking that way. Recently, though, I went back and started flipping through 'Invisible Cities' and realized that what was going on there really wasn't as much as I remembered. Really, was it that difficult a thing to make? Probably not, and that doesn't really matter either, but I have to say that I don't think the weight here is as much as it becomes in memory as on the page.

I actually also tried to reread 'If on a winter's night a traveler...' the other day and got so frustrated with the opening section that I couldn't even make it through, which was odd, considering that the first time I read it, I read it twice in a row.

Perhaps it is how tastes change, or how I have found things since then that do what he does but even more so: Gert Jonke, for example, or Oisin Curran. Still a great writer in my mind, especially 'Cosmicomics,' but the hype particularly on IC and such I think could use a little flagging.




JESUS' SON

Really? Is this book really that huge to so many people? I don't get it. I mean, again, this is something that I enjoyed 5 years ago, but I think people put just a touch too much weight on the evidence at hand. Some of these stories here are actually pretty weak on their own, and more covered over by the strong opening, and the way he seems to have nailed the off-the-cuff-but-literary mode so well, making it simply, to me, more accessible and good than it is just good.

Add to this the fact that any other Denis Johnson book I've tried to read outside this one has been so brain numbingly dull I usually gave up in less than 100 pages, and I have to call nuh-uh on this one, at least just a little bit.




THE MOVIEGOER

This book seriously makes me want to beat myself to death: the voice, the smarmy dick voice. I hate whoever made me touch this.




ARKANSAS

I'm sorry, I have no idea what there is to like about this book beyond the first 10 pages. You'd think a book about drugdealing white hick kids would be the shit, but repeating the same scene over and over and drawing it into another damn love story makes me want to fight.

I wish McSweeney's would put out another one as good as 'The People of Paper,' that is by far their capital achievement I think. Also 'Happy Baby'.




REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

How this relationship drama with a plotline that could be laid on top of 1 of 10000 other books and movies got so popular with the minimalist post-emo kids, I'll never know. It seems as arbitrary as being all about Dr. Phil.

Also, why do writers often have such bad taste in music?

35 comments:

Rauan Klassnik said...

you can't be talking about me--- i like ABBA

Radish King said...

Isn't bad taste in music rather subjective?

BLAKE BUTLER said...

nope

jereme said...

library of meatloaf

BLAKE BUTLER said...

LIBRARY OF MEATLOAF

Brandi Wells said...

i've been trying to read invisible cities and i keep getting bored and chewing on cat's face or something.

Matthew said...

Amen.

Scott Garson said...

love this post. can't say i'm in full agreement -- especially re: Jesus' Son -- but this was fun.

the moviegoer: ha ha ha ha ha (and can we throw Ford's Sportswriter in the same receptacle?)

re: Invis. Cities. I never really thought the point of that book was such that you had to worry about finishing it. I just like picking it up and reading it sometimes, random pages.....

Sabra Embury said...

I liked Jesus' Son because I used to be around a lot of junkies.

I guess sometimes positive relatability in stories relies heavily on personal experience--whether someone's life been fairly vanilla and they want to explore into some safe dark place on pages, or see something pretty about an experience that mutilated their soul a little. I guess that's why tragedy is a huge theme in art as some transcendental device.

Scott Garson said...

second thought on Calvino: i don't think the ones they bill as 'experimental' are near as good as some of the others. Like Difficult Loves -- couldn't do without that book. And Baron in the Trees, of course......

BLAKE BUTLER said...

yeah calvino definitely shines in the right light. even the less so is pretty grand. but i dont know, i dont know how he got the status he has

BLAKE BUTLER said...

you are probably right about the 'experimental' qualification: it's badly billed in that way, and yet those are his most renowned works

sam pink said...

i've tried to read invisible cities three times and i can't do it. i'm not trying to be cool or funny, i mean i actually can't do it.

pb said...

Blake, someday I'm going to get you all by yourself and strap you down in chair, all Clockwork Orange like, and read The Great Gatsby out loud to you very slowly with great emotional inflection (like changing my voice in the dialogue to fit the character speaking) and occasional tears and bursts of standing up, hand held to my breast- sort of like the scene in Handful of Dust where the guy dies being slow tortured by having Dickens read to him (Waugh was no fan).
Then I might light the chair on fire and dance around it, reciting the entiretly of Rumplestilskin while you burn peacfully knowing you'll never have to hear the Great Gatsby again.

hanne david said...

i've been missing the shit talk. this made me happy.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

dickens is righteous

h, yes, i need to return to more shittalkin roots

Michael Goroff said...

One of my friends keeps trying to push IC on me. I picked it up when I saw it on her dresser and started reading it and thought, "Nope, won't finish, not ever." I keep putting it off, all "Oh, yeah, definitely, I should borrow that" whenever she brings it up.

I don't know much about Calvino. Are you saying he has more plotty word-things? I would probably like that more.

Matt DeBenedictis said...

It took me almost over six months to finish reading ARKANSAS.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

not necessarily super-plotty, but the baron in the trees is closer to that. there are lots of mini plots in 'If on a winters night a traveler...' i haven't read some of the others that might be that


i feel you matt, i think i gave up and just thumbed through the last half

Michael said...

Denis Jonson -- agreed.

The Moviegoer -- agreed.

Revolutionary Road -- almost sort of agreed, except for that opening scene with the amateur play is so perfect, and the way we switch back and forth from loving the wife and hating her husband to loving him and hating her and never once feel manipulated: now that is a thing.

Lily Hoang said...

agreed on all but invisible cities. the book is about form, about the constraint, etc. but that doesn't mean that the content should be ignored. personally, i love invisible cities. it's not my favorite calvino (then again, neither is if on a winter's night, which is pretty low on my calvino list). i do love t zero & his science fiction-ish books.

then again, i'm totally biased. i did write a ms in reaction to invisible cities, which i think you've read blake, one piece of which you've made into an eBook.

over-rated? maybe by this small, elite group of go-getter readers. by the mainstream: calvino who?

also, we should be happy we've got the damned books in english. with our awesome translation selection, well, yeah...

DJ Berndt said...

Blake, you make me feel like an emo kid because I like Revolutionary Road.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

hehe, hi lily, yeah, i am being mega hyper critical, among a very small circle. as i said, i still like calvino, and i understand the constraint, but something about it lacks movement for me.

your response to the book is amazing, i can't wait for people to read it in full

Radish King said...

Ok.


heeeheeeheeeeee.

(I'm only caving in because I'm on drugs.)

Donald Dunbar said...

i don't know man. let me be a dick for a minute:

"if on a winter's night [etc.]" is actually pretty fantastic in my book, what, calling all what I'm feeling & thinking at any given moment during the text exactly.

"Invisible Cities"--I've read "Geometric Regional Novel" and the reason it isn't "Invisible Cities" is because it isn't "Invisible Cities"--the spread of the KK/MP dialog gives "IC" something just formally yeah, but perhaps [generously] there ain't been a translation of Jonke's work to rival the translation of Calvino's? Or what. Certainly you've got a pretty specific aesthetic yourself, as a prose writer...but basically, really? Because "Invisible Cities" is amazing, and worth the ten dollars etc.--basically, really?

And as for Johnson, yeah man, "J'S S" is by far his best work, but how is his lesser work evidence of it not being fantastic? Trying to get even ten pages into a poetry collection of his is impossible, and "Tree of Smoke" wasn't a stellar novel (though it was better than most every other prize winner)--one hundred pages? The last two Dalkey Archive books I've read ("Judith" by Nicholas Mosley and "The American Woman in the Chinese Hat" by Carole Maso) sucked ass compared to it. "Judith" especially. [which is not to say anything but "thank you" for turning me on to that publishing house. seriously: the best fucking thing around for sure in prose, and the press that has published certainly my most favorite books I've read in the last couple years]

but I dunno man, Calvino and Johnson are your targets? Or even are to you people who aren't interesting? Have you heard of these people "Paul Auster" and "Joseph O'Neill"? People actually way, way overrated?

BLAKE BUTLER said...

i'm obviously being hypercritical. i own all of these books, and still enjoy calvino. but are they made they are made out to be? i don't think they are. and obviously i'm speaking to a very small group of people, as for most anyone in the world i'd be thrilled to see them reading probably any of these.

re: jesus' son, i wasn't saying it was colored by any of his other books. i just don't think it is the masterpiece it is widely referred to as, regardless of anything else.

not targets, just subjects for discussion.

Evan Lavender-Smith said...

I agree that all of these books are overrated. I think it's especially important to note Calvino. I hated Invisible Cities and IOAWNAT. It's always irksome to me when I see Calvino's name placed alongside Beckett's and Borges's and Pynchon's and Acker's as among the great PoMo fiction innovators. It's much like seeing Kundera's name there. I know some really smart readers who say they like Calvino and I always wonder if it isn't because they read him in high school and are nostalgic for that excited sense of discovery when they didn't know any better.

Rauan Klassnik said...

Evan, what's wrong with Kundera?

Evan Lavender-Smith said...

I guess I feel that Kundera writes the Novel of Ideas but oftentimes forgets to include the ideas.

Rauan Klassnik said...

i'm guessing then that you don't like his writing about writing:
The Art of the Novel
Testaments Betrayed

??

Rauan Klassnik said...

and taste is taste, Evan, opinion, opinion... so, i'm not arguing with ya. but i will say that i saw Kundera write somewhere that one of his books was supposed to be built around a cluster of words. or clusters of words for each character. like colors. when i read Kundera i appreciated in that sort of way i guess: colors, clusters-- music....

anyways....

BLAKE BUTLER said...

to be honest i never really got kundera either. i think the 'novel of ideas but forgot to include the ideas' could not be more apt

Evan Lavender-Smith said...

Rauan,

I may like MK's writing about writing more than I do his novel writing. I remember feeling like I learned something from The Art of the Novel, and what you paraphrase above sounds beautiful. But I don't remember feeling all that intellectually or emotionally challenged by any of the MK novels I read; I don't remember ever feeling that the way I think about life or art was disturbed or altered by reading his novels. I guess that's what I mean. But also, and this is probably not a very cool thing to say -- and I suppose it sort of contradicts the method by which I just now bagged on MK, but I'm writing this with my phone and it's hella hard to go back and change shit -- I do not believe in the concepts of 'taste' and 'opinion' as they pertain to aesthetic judgment.

clarkknowles said...

Great job Blake... especially getting people to think and talk about these books, or any books, getting people to be specific about WHY they like books, too. Lots of books fit specific times in my life and I don't really want to go back to them again. There are too many good books out there for me to return again to what has been read. I can't even catch up with the "to be read" pile, let alone the "already read pile." It's all so subjective too. For instance, I think you are a fan of Suttree, right? Good lord, I hated that book so much. Hated it! I was forced to read it for a book group and felt such revulsion at the thing that I tossed it in a garbage can on the way out of the building. I love Moviegoer, Revolutionary Road, and Baron in the Trees, but I don't feel the need to return to them. Thanks for the post.

Landrum said...

I guess I like smarmy dick voices because Moviegoer>Sportswriter //and it's not close. I keep Percy on the desk and read a paragraph every so often. Philosophy fuckers are the bee's tits.

Jesus' Son is a book I read, enjoyed, and loaned away.

I couldn't finish Revolutionary Road for the feeling of mediocrity. This was after liking Easter Parade and loving his stories. Also, I believe Yates and Cheever were either separated at birth or were one person.