Friday, July 07, 2006

I read three books in between leaving Olympia and arriving in Philadelphia. I wrote stuff in my notebook that responded to the work, or were basically blog entries. This will basically be me writing about those books, but if anything else in the notebooks is of interest, I'll write it out. I also wrote notes on my laptop, but the laptop power cord has melted and so I'm using my brother's computer.

On the morning I left Olympia I saw a sign I'd seen before and had meant to document, but didn't. Something like "Obscene language is unacceptable in recovery." It was by that Vietnamese place on Fourth Avenue, right after the bridge, like behind it on a street that ran perpendicular that I can't think of. I viewed it through a window. I didn't think that place was a rehab clinic, and I don't really know what it's deal is.

Also on the day I left Olympia, there were Nazis in downtown, at the street fair, waving flags and wearing armbands. Everyone just greeted them with ambivalence, not wanting to give them the satisfaction, but the temptation to engage them in a way that could lead to violence was tempting. I could've said "Hey Nazis! Go back to douche-land!" or a variation that turned "Nazi" into "nozzle."

I left on a Sunday. Friday I saw Art School Confidential and then partied until five in the morning, and in doing so learned I don't have to worry about whiskey-dick. (Or at least not complete impotence resulting from drunkenness.) Also on Friday a bit of my cartoon was erased from a DV tape, but I took it in stride. It might not be a total disaster.

Portland seemed nice for the half hour or so I spent there.

Anyway, so the books I read. The first being George Saunder's Pastoralia, which was fun. I'd read the best story before buying the book. Two stories end with a character acting humanely and sympathetically in accordance to their instincts, but against what they reason is their better judgment. In the title story, which is longer than the others, the nice human behavior is practiced throughout, until the end, where there is a figurative straw breaking the camel's back. Another story, "The Barber's Unhappiness," ends with unreasonable expectations and plans for the future, which will probably not be fulfilled, which is for the best. But basically, this is the sympathy that goes throughout the book. I didn't dislike this stuff, it's gentleness, but- Saunders is actually a really funny guy, and that doesn't come through with that much regularity here. Part of it's that maybe that sense of humor, which is basically satirical, runs counter to the human sympathetic impulse. I prefer the funny stuff. I wish he was better at doing both at once, and maybe he is in other stuff. "Winky" wins the book for it navigating between both sides more easily than anything else, and even there, the humor is mostly found at the beginning.

Following that, I read Alan Moore's Voice Of The Fire, which I didn't really like. I certainly wasn't compelled to finish it, so much as I read it for lack of anything else to do on the train. I read it in two days, which doesn't mean I enjoyed it so much as I'm pretty confident I didn't miss anything. It seemed overwritten, trying too hard in its prose. It's also- it's ostensibly a novel, but it's basically a set of connected short stories, and so it ends up becoming very much about its themes, which aren't really that interesting. And they're specific themes, in that the writer has others, that he deals with in his comics, that are much more interesting. Some of what unites the book isn't a theme so much as it is just reoccuring imagery. Nothing really gets resolved. In the last chapter, there's also a reference to Pig Bodine as a character in Gravity's Rainbow, but I think he's actually in V. Although that's a minor complaint. But mostly- it's not fun, it's self-consciously difficult, and for no real payoff. Moore's a guy who's able to write good prose in comics, but so much of that really varies from work to work. Here, it's just kind of overheated experimentation that's maybe beautiful but is mostly obfuscating.

I also read Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde, which is not really the type of thing I read regularly, but had heard was really good and it was a comic so it kind of falls into my purview even if I don't read a lot of nonfiction about recent events. I didn't dig it, which really shouldn't surprise me at all, considering. It's interesting, I learned stuff, even if I'm forgetting it now, but- Not my thing in a whole lot of ways. And really, I should've known this. I will offer this criticism though- He's not a very good caricaturist, and when he was drawing real people, I never really felt like I got an idea of what they looked like, and a lot of characters struck me as indistinct, which is a problem when you're doing journalism in comics form.

I wish I had more fun things to read on the ride from San Francisco to Chicago. Right now I've got my brother's books on hands, which means a lot of design books (Blue Note album covers , especially those designed and photographed by Reid Miles, are ill!) and I started to read Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird. I also read The R. Crumb Handbook, which I gave him for Christmas, and was reminded of what I suspected/knew- That I don't really like that dude's work. (The racist imagery is particularly weird, because it's deployment probably isn't to racist ends, and I don't think he's a racist so much as he's playing with the imagery, but it's just fucking weird imagery, classic racist stuff that's so beyond my actual experience, in that even if I'm going to admit to having the occasional racist tendency, it's more a question of urban fear than weird inhuman caricatures. Like, big black dudes might beat me up, but I don't think they're subhuman. Crumb's depictions are just like what the fuck? That Crumb's frequently made a big deal of for his honesty, especially where the misogyny shows up- which I'm uncomfortable with as well, for a number of reasons, one of which is that his set of perversions and obsessions strikes me as weird- puts the racist stuff in a weird place in terms of being meant ironically.) He can draw, though. Won't fault him that.

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