Too Many Books In The Kitchen

I'm Michael Hingston, books columnist for the Edmonton Journal (new columns every other Friday).

My first novel, The Dilettantes, was just published by Freehand Books. Here's everything you might want to know about it.

Other topics under discussion: podcasts, strange sodas, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Moby-Dick.

Email me, if you like, at hingston [at] gmail [dot] com. I'm available for hire and I like free books.

WRITING

Favourites: 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013
What I Read: 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 (so far)

All Reviews /
All Interviews /
All Columns

Mark Abley (1)
Henry Adams (1)
Chris Adrian (1)
Charlie Ahearn (1)
César Aira (1) (2) (3)
André Alexis (1)
Rona Altrows (1; interview)
Jonathan Ames (1)
Kingsley Amis (1)
Martin Amis (1) (2) (3)
Karen Armstrong (1)
Margaret Atwood (1)
Jane Austen (1)
Paul Auster (1)
Tash Aw (1)
Todd Babiak (1) (2; interview) (3; interview)
Chris Bachelder (1; Q&A)
Jacqueline Baker (1; interview)
Nicholson Baker (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Rosecrans Baldwin (1)
Jesse Ball (1)
J.G. Ballard (1)
Julian Barnes (1)
Kevin Barry (1)
John Barth (1)
Arjun Basu (1)
Elif Batuman (1)
Samuel Beckett (1)
Robert E. Belknap (1)
Katrina Best (1)
Otto Binder (1)
Laurent Binet (1)
Mike Birbiglia (1)
Heather Birrell (1)
Caroline Blackwood (1)
Andrej Blatnik (1)
Roy Blount Jr. (1)
Boethius (1)
Roberto Bolaño (1) (2)
Mike Boldt (1; interview)
Jacques Bonnet (1)
Jorge Luis Borges (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Grégoire Bouillier (1)
Thea Bowering (1; interview)
Tim Bowling (1)
Stephen R. Bown (1; interview)
C.P. Boyko (1; interview) (2)
Inge Bremer-Trueman (1; interview)
Bertram Brooker (1)
Grant Buday (1)
Nellie Carlson (1)
Raymond Carver (1)
Adolfo Bioy Casares (1)
Michael Chabon (1)
Marty Chan (1; interview)
Dan Charnas (1; interview) (2)
Corinna Chong (1)
Chris Cleave (1)
Lynn Coady (1; interview) (2) (3; interview)
Douglas Coupland (1; interview)
Buffy Cram (1)
Lynn Crosbie (1)
Amanda Cross (1)
Nancy Jo Cullen (1)
John D'Agata (1)
Mark Z. Danielewski (1)
Diana Davidson (1; interview)
Don DeLillo (1) (2)
Charles Demers (1; interview)
Kristen den Hartog (1)
David Denby (1)
Helen DeWitt (1) (2)
Patrick deWitt (1; Q&A) (2; Q&A)
Marcello Di Cintio (1; interview)
Nicolas Dickner (1) (2)
Dave Eggers (1)
Alison Espach (1) (2; Q&A)
Percival Everett (1) (2)
Jim Fingal (1)
Anne Finger (1)
Meags Fitzgerald (1; interview)
Jonathan Safran Foer (1; interview)
Kaitlin Fontana (1; Q&A)
Cheryl Foggo (1)
Mark Frauenfelder (1; interview)
Jim Fricke (1)
Bill Gaston (1)
Marie-Louise Gay (1)
David Gilmour (1)
Malcolm Gladwell (1)
Misha Glouberman (1)
Adam Leith Gollner (1)
Manuel Gonzales (1)
Adam Gopnik (1)
Emily Gould (1)
John Gould (1)
Lee Gowan (1)
Linda Goyette (1)
Gwethalyn Graham (1)
Amelia Gray (1)
Chris Hadfield (1; interview)
Daniel Handler (1; interview)
Adam Haslett (1)
David Hayward (1)
Alan Heathcock (1)
Steve Hely (1)
Aleksandar Hemon (1)
Lee Henderson (1; interview)
Kira Henehan (1)
Lawrence Herzog (1)
Sheila Heti (1) (2; Q&A) (3) (4)
Jessica Hiemstra (1)
Miranda Hill (1)
Nick Hornby (1)
Robert Hough (1)
Sean Howe (1)
Mary-Beth Hughes (1)
Maude Hutchins (1)
Neamat Imam (1; interview)
Isol (1)
Harry Karlinsky (1) (2)
Esmé Claire Keith (1)
A.L. Kennedy (1) (2)
Etgar Keret (1)
Ross King (1; interview)
Chuck Klosterman (1) (2; interview)
Ryan Knighton (1)
Jane F. Kotapish (1)
Louise Ladouceur (1; interview)
Sarah Lang (1; interview)
Annette Lapointe (1)
Grant Lawrence (1; interview)
Nam Le (1)
Perrine Leblanc (1)
Fran Lebowitz (1; interview)
Shelley A. Leedahl (1)
Alex Leslie (1)
Lawrence Lessig (1)
Jonathan Lethem (1) (2) (3) (4)
Adam Levin (1)
Michael Lewis (1) (2)
Naomi K. Lewis (1; interview) (2; interview)
Tao Lin (1) (2; Q&A) (3)
Ewa Lipska (1)
David Lipsky (1) (2)
Sam Lipsyte (1)
Erlend Loe (1)
Lisa Lutz (1)
Janice MacDonald (1; interview)
Pasha Malla (1; interview)
Ben Marcus (1)
Adam Marek (1)
Clancy Martin (1)
Lisa Martin-DeMoor (1; interview)
Zachary Mason (1; Q&A) (2)
Colin McAdam (1; interview)
Tom McCarthy (1)
Franklin Davey McDowell (1)
Yukari F. Meldrum (1; interview)
Herman Melville (1)
Laurence Miall (1; interview)
David Mitchell (1) (2)
Lorrie Moore (1) (2) (3) (4)
Horacio Castellanos Moya (1)
Haruki Murakami (1) (2) (3) (4)
Michael Murphy (1)
Billeh Nickerson (1; interview)
Jason Lee Norman (1; interview) (2; interview)
Dorthe Nors (1)
Benjamin Nugent (1)
Andrew O'Hagan (1)
Michael Ondaatje (1; interview)
Daniel Orozco (1)
John Ortved (1)
Patton Oswalt (1)
Boris Pahor (1)
Chuck Palahniuk (1; interview)
Orhan Pamuk (1)
Amanda Petrusich (1)
DC Pierson (1) (2; Q&A)
Hannah Pittard (1)
Padgett Powell (1)
Thomas Pynchon (1) (2)
Jennifer Quist (1)
François Rabelais (1)
Nathan Rabin (1)
Kadrush Radogoshi (1; interview)
Ross Raisin (1) (2)
Simon Rich (1; interview) (2) (3)
Edward Riche (1)
Ringuet (1)
Santiago Roncagliolo (1)
Adam Ross (1)
Nicholas Ruddock (1)
Salman Rushdie (1)
Karen Russell (1)
Richard Russo (1)
Mike Sacks (1; interview)
Daniel Sada (1)
Laura Salverson (1)
José Saramago (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
George Saunders (1)
Elissa Schappell (1)
Anakana Schofield (1)
Salvatore Scibona (1)
Will Self (1; interview)
Carol Shaben (1)
Leanne Shapton (1)
Mikhail Shishkin (1)
Gary Shteyngart (1; interview)
Norm Sibum (1)
Katherine Silver (1; Q&A) (2; interview)
Zadie Smith (1) (2)
Lemony Snicket (1; interview)
Carrie Snyder (1)
Muriel Spark (1)
Dana Spiotta (1)
Kathleen Steinhauer (1)
Cassie Stocks (1; interview)
Cordelia Strube (1)
Alan Sullivan (1)
J. Courtney Sullivan (1) (2)
John Jeremiah Sullivan (1)
Miguel Syjuco (1)
Justin Taylor (1) (2; Q&A) (3)
Rob Taylor (1; Q&A)
Lysley Tenorio (1)
Lynne Tillman (1)
Ken Tingley (1)
Miriam Toews (1; interview)
Wells Tower (1)
Matthew J. Trafford (1)
Neil Turok (1)
Ellen Ullman (1)
Deb Olin Unferth (1)
Jean-Christophe Valtat (1)
Richard Van Camp (1)
Padma Viswanathan (1; interview)
Jorge Volpi (1)
Sarah Vowell (1)
David Foster Wallace (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Russell Wangersky (1)
Mélanie Watt (1)
Teddy Wayne (1; interview)
Chris F. Westbury (1; interview)
Colson Whitehead (1)
David Whitton (1)
Ian Williams (1)
John Williams (1)
D.W. Wilson (1; interview)
Kevin Wilson (1)
Michael Winter (1)
James Wood (1)
Molly Young (1) (2; Q&A)
Vlado Žabot (1)

OTHER PIECES

"Comic Sans" (The Incongruous Quarterly)
"'No Fear' T-Shirts Based on Board Games" (McSweeney's)

"The Men in the Mirror"
"Moby-Dick; or, My Favourite Book"
"The Pop-Culture Annotated 'Lord's Prayer'"
"Tumblr Recommends"

Field Notes: Self-Help, Electric Literature #3

SELF-HELP

SYNOPSIS: Lorrie Moore’s 1985 debut collection of short stories, nearly all of which were written as part of her master’s thesis from Cornell University.

CONDITION: New, off Amazon.

THOUGHTS: The week before my vacation I was feeling pretty down. I was mopey, and my stomach felt twisted up in a pretzel. The whole time I couldn’t figure out what was going on—until I realized my supposed “illness” had lasted exactly as long as I’d been reading Self-Help.

Nobody quite makes me feel sick to my stomach like Lorrie Moore does. She doesn’t use shock or gross-out tactics, though; hers is a purely emotional, existential pummeling. You can count the number of her characters who are fundamentally happy (with their marriages, with their children, with themselves) on one hand. For everyone else, life is a series of days to slouch numbly through. Good thing Moore is also so witty, and so stylistically stunning. Otherwise nobody would put up with so much misery.

Self-Help is the collection that launched Moore into the literary world, and many of the stories bear the hallmarks of a writer just starting out. She describes a lot of photographs, easier to capture in their immobility than the chaos of everyday life. There’s also a lot of narrative architecture, from diary entries to a reverse-chronological gimmick in “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)”. These are crutches, poses, used by writers who are still not quite confident in their own voices. But it’s understandable—Moore was in grad school, for crying out loud.

In fact, the collection as a whole revolves around the framework of the title. Fully half of the titles function as DIY manuals—”How to Become a Writer”, “The Kid’s Guide to Divorce”—and some of the others appear to be answers, of a sort.

It’s one of the latter stories, “How”, about a depressed woman whose boyfriend gets a mysterious kidney disease right as she’s about to break up with him, that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It wouldn’t look out of place inserted into Moore’s masterful 1998 collection Birds of America. Not coincidentally, it’s also the one that ditches the gimmicks and lets time float by amorphously, which is a device that Moore can turn damn near into a weapon. She sucks the air out of a room, and replaces it with a kind of clear, sluggish goo. It’s hard to breathe when she’s at the top of her game.

I’m glad I read Self-Help, and Moore is a writer whose work I’m always recommending and seeking out (by the way, check out her 1986 novel Anagrams. It’s my favourite). In this instance, though, the side effects—uncontrollable nausea, ennui, wanting to quit your job/dump your partner—outweigh the benefits. Make sure you read the label first.

—-

ELECTRIC LITERATURE #3

SYNOPSIS: The winter 2010 issue of the venerable multi-platform literary journal, featuring short stories from the likes of Rick Moody, Aimee Bender, Patrick deWitt, and more.

CONDITION: New, from Powell’s.

THOUGHTS: Once actually on vacation, however, I didn’t read very much at all, despite the hundreds of dollars I spent on new books in Portland and the slew of review copies I picked up in Vancouver.

Just about the only thing I made it through was an issue of Electric Literature, which as a journal has quickly gained a reputation for both its forward-thinking philosophy (you can buy it in almost any format you choose) and its payment model (each of the issue’s five contributors gets a cool $1,000).

I’m historically pretty bad at reading any kind of fiction outside of a book format. I can’t even read the stories in The New Yorker. But this entire issue went down so easily, and was so exciting on a page-by-page basis, that either I’ve got the whole medium pegged wrong, or else Electric Literature is simply very, very good at what it does.

And what it does is showcase good stories. Aimee Bender kicks things off with a tale about a husband with a prostitute fantasy, and a dutiful wife who then becomes obsessed with monetizing her interactions, sexual or otherwise. Patrick deWitt (who, full disclosure, I had the pleasure of having drinks and macaroni and cheese with while in Portland) has a shaggy, delightful story about two high school friends who start a half-assed moving company. Two more tightly wound, language-soaked stories, by Jenny Offill and Matt Sumell, respectively, were also impressive and unpredictable.

The most experimental story in the issue is Rick Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters,” which is told in 140-character installments and which debuted on the Electric Lit Twitter feed over a three-day span late last year. It uses the micro-blogging format to tell the story, from alternating perspectives, of a brief romantic fling between a young woman and a decidedly older man.

While the plot is familiar, the ultra-short form nonetheless gives it some fresh life—and not in a flashy or cheap way. There’s no indication these are meant to be actual Tweets, or text messages; they’re simply the kind of brief, oversimplified crystallizations that can form in your head as you ride the bus home alone. It’s like watching individual brainwaves bounce back and forth. It helps to know the original format of the story, but it isn’t essential. Moody has used the restrictions of Twitter to make something that still manages to resonate, as literature, on the printed page.

Electric Lit also has a YouTube account, where they do these incredibly cool animations based on a single sentence from some of their stories. There’s no doubt that these guys are hustling to get the reader’s attention; the good news is that they also deserve it.

Aug 27, 2010
Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus