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Monday, March 24, 2008

Reading Tonight

posted by on March 24 at 10:11 AM


There are two open mics tonight and also two exciting readings and then one other reading I don’t know anything about.

Let’s start with the unknown quantity: Mavis Hara is reading at the Beacon Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library, with her book An Offering of Rice, which is a collection of short stories and some poetry. There is a blurb on the publishers’ website, from Sylvia Watanabe that reads, in part:

This long awaited book of stories from Mavis Hara is everything we hoped for—and more. Gritty and tough-minded, lyrical by turns, this is no mere nostalgic feel-good journey to the plantation past.

This is a very bad blurb; I would go so far as to say that it is how not to write a blurb. The phrase by turns is a horrible phrase overused in blurbs and reviews. What does it mean? At the same time, this book does both x and y. But it just sounds stupid and pretentious. Likewise, calling a book gritty doesn’t do a whole lot, either: Is it realistic? Is it full of sand? Who can say? But you shouldn’t hold a blurb against the author: More information on the book is here.

Also tonight, Parag Khanna is reading at the University Bookstore from The Second World, which is about how “America’s dominant moment has been displaced by a geopolitical marketplace.” This is important stuff, about empires and globalization and all that, and it would be grand to have a discussion about it.

If you’re more into fiction, Joshua Ferris is at the Elliott Bay Book Company, reading from Then We Came To the End. …End is a great debut novel, just out in paperback, about life in an office. And it’s told in the first-person plural: “We” is the narrator of the book, and, weirdly, it is not at all annoying. The book does have its faults—it’s one hundred pages too long, for instance, and a couple subplots could have been trimmed—but no fault is so great as the paperback cover, as seen above. The hardcover cover was so much better and can be seen here. It wasn’t the best cover in the world, but the paperback makes it look like a Chip Kidd classic. In any case, this should be a good reading, and funny, and at some point in the future, you’ll have to buy a ticket to see Ferris read at a large venue, so you should enjoy the free readings while you can.

Full readings listings, including the next week or so, here.

RSS icon Comments


Well, I think "by turns" actually expressly means NOT at the same time. Like it does one of these things and wanders along for awhile doing that and then BAM! switches to doing the other. Not that that sounds like a good way to write, so maybe it's even less suited to blurbs.

Posted by leek | March 24, 2008 10:53 AM

I found the 'we' totally annoying, and after I noticed it was never going to stop, well, we returned it to our library.

Posted by Lola | March 24, 2008 11:46 AM

Hey Lola @2: Yeah, it might be an acquired taste. As soon as I realized the 'we' wasn't like a prologue thing, I had a moment where I nearly tossed the book, but I kept on it and it was good. It actually paid off and there was a reason for it.

@1: You might be right. This is why I hate the phrase: It seems to exist only in reviews. Bleuch.

Posted by Paul Constant | March 24, 2008 11:50 AM

What I most detest in reviews is the characterization "lyrical" (as if it were something positive). It seems to be used to describe shitty prose that uses fancy, inappropriately poetic language, especially alliteration and other tenth-grade poetic devices. Fiction should not sound like shitty poetry. A prime example of this is Cormac McCarthy, whose most recent defecation, The Road, is guilty of lyricism in the highest degree. He uses rhythmic language, but it's always the same boring meter. His final paragraph in the book uses the words "torsional," "vermiculate," and "wimple" (as a VERB) - his final paragraph! Also I challenge you to find a verb in that book that's not actually a repurposed abstract noun.

The only explanation I can think of for this is that most people feel they're reading something Really Good and Artistic if they encounter pretty, unfamiliar words. That's how you know it's Literature! I think it's inexcusable and a load of crap. Reviewers, stop using the word "lyrical," except as a slur, as the rest of us use it!

Posted by Sister Y | March 24, 2008 12:00 PM

Hmm, well, if there us eventually a reason for it, maybe I will revisit it. It started out as a pretty fun read. Thx.

Posted by Lola | March 24, 2008 12:32 PM

Virgin Suicides is first-person plural, and worked all right for me. I am intrigued.

Posted by Levislade | March 24, 2008 1:33 PM

I loved Then We Came To the End and I don't normally like first-person plural. But it was perfect here.

Posted by Dawgson | March 24, 2008 2:04 PM

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