Friday, May 4, 2007

some recent capsule reviews

A temporary break in the workload allowed me to get a chance to breathe yesterday, so I spent it making this collage and hanging out at LibraryThing reviewing books I read back in March. (April reviews coming soon, if all goes well, although I'm getting a new batch of papers today.)

Anyway, here they are:

Crypto Zoo, by Rick Veitch
Hearing other people describe their dreams is supposed to be famously boring, but Rick Veitch has developed quite the knack for it: his autobiographical dream-comics are enormously compelling. Even "inspirational" -- each time I read one of these Veitch volumes I'm driven to re-start my own intermittent practice of dream-journaling. Any book that can motivate me to write first thing upon awakening, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, must be powerful indeed.

Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative
Nearly fifty essays compiled by the creators of the online journal Narrativity. The book promises, in its back cover copy, to represent writers "from Tijuana to Montreal," and sure enough they're there: the overall thrust of the book, however, is Bay Area through and through, and readers' enjoyment of the book will likely vary proportionately to how much mileage they can get out of that particular scumbling-up of aesthetics and theory and personal experience and politics that the San Franciscan literary scene has been reliably producing for a generation now. I tend to enjoy that stuff, but this collection is a mixed bag, in part because of the length restriction: averaging only about five pages apiece (a remnant of their Web origins), many of the pieces are able to squeak out a provocative line of inquiry, but very few develop fruitfully beyond that. This leaves the book feeling like a kind of intellectual snack food: often tasty, but not particularly nourishing.

The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood, by Martha Nochimson
Critical appreciation of Lynch's work, up to and including Lost Highway. Iconoclastic to the point where it almost qualifies as "zany," Nochimson's read on Lynch is that he is not only feminist but also radically empathetic: she claims his films are designed "to bring the greatest consolation to the greatest number of people." Along the way we get lots of stuff about surging energy, living vs. constructed form, and forces beyond rational control. Odd, but never boring—in fact, its weirdness makes it often totally engaging. Recommended.

Baby by Carla Harryman
Carla Harryman has described her work as being a series of "studies in sentences, paragraphs, and the relationship of narrative to non-narrative," studies which allow her "to consider the social meaning of form without having to forsake [her] impulse to make things up." If that's the kind of stuff you like, check this one out: it produces a set of quasi-characters (most prominently a baby and a tiger) and suspends them in a void which has narrative elements but manifests as something quite different from a story. Intriguingly strange.

The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula LeGuin
Eerie SF novel about a world whose continuity is repeatedly revised by a man's dreaming mind, an ability which, predictably, begins to be exploited the very second another person gains a sense of it. Fascinating premise, but the book's real strength is in the way it locates the emotional heart of the story, becoming (at its best) a moving meditation on memory and loss, on power and the renunciation of power. Recommended.