June 2015 Media Round-up (Books)


Shoplifting from American Apparel, Tao Lin

I hated this, but also felt like it managed to capture a lot of Essential Truths about millennials and modern communication and whatever, so basically: my feelings on Girls. I hope that someday Tao Lin and Lena Dunham fuck and each write vaguely funny but mostly unbearable essays about the experience for The New York Times that inevitably stir controversy over perceived misogyny (on his part) and orientalism (on hers).

The treatment of gchat dialogue was interesting, because that is something that I think about a lot in terms of is it even possible to portray contemporary electronic communication in a realistic and non-cheesy way? I’m not sure how I feel about Lin’s take on it? He writes the gchat dialogue like spoken dialogue rather than directly copying its “username: [words]” form, but still reflects the sort of unpunctuated cadence of chatspeak. Apparently his second novel, Richard Yates, does more with that, and maybe I’ll check it out, although it sounds like it’s probably even more unbearable than this one.

The character interactions in general seem to really accurately portray this aspect of communication that I’ve observed a lot but can never quite articulate. The type of ironic banter and quirky behavior that feels very clever when you’re a part of it but totally performative and inane to outside observers? Like the way that every friend group is sort of convinced that they’re hangout sitcom material, but in truth, their writers’ room is shit? I mean, I suppose it’s possible that Lin was trying to write legitimately clever dialogue and just failed, but as obnoxious as he is, I think he’s probably brilliant enough that this effect is on purpose.

Select quote:

After two months he called his father and said he was sorry and his father bought him a plane ticket and he went home and watched TV a lot and started to believe what he saw on TV was real. Sam asked Joseph if he became insane. “Yeah, I think so,” said Joseph. “But I was the only one who knew, because I was alone all the time.”

Female Friends, Fay Weldon

Such a good read. I said this about House of Mirth, but it bears repeating: I really love this style of “gossipy” narration where it’s like here, let me introduce this character and then dive back into the minutiae of their upbringing and past relationships. I mean I guess there’s some value in withholding information for graduate and impactful reveals—and it’s not like Wharton or Weldon reveal everything at once either—or even just leaving things as subtext for the reader to decipher, but I don’t know, I feel like a lot of authors just like to be withholding out of some sense that being ~enigmatic~ is more Literary and like, fuck that.

Not much really happens, but we do get an in-depth look at these three women—how they feel about each other and their parents and various men and, you know, themselves—and that’s kind of enough. There’s a lot of pettiness and deep-seated resentment in the titular friendships that feels very real and justified—it’s not the shallow view of female friendships being inherently “catty” and competitive, but it’s not quite the Broad City model of ~Female Friendship is the Most Beautiful and Precious~ either.

Select quote:

It was not uncommon for a nice young man, in those days, on first seeing a woman’s breasts—something which might well not happen until his wedding night—to be horrified by their appearance, having assumed that they were of necessity forward, thrusting, nippleless cones, uniform in every female.

The Petty Demon, Fyodor Sologub (trans. Andrew Field)

I’ll be honest: I did not really get this book. Ultimately, I just kept reading it so that I could say that I finished it. I think that if I had read this for a class, under a professor’s guidance, I would have really enjoyed it and actually extracted some meaning from it? There were certainly some great passages (see below), but as a whole, man, I feel dumb.

Select quote:

Earlier Perodonov had displayed these books openly to show that he had liberal ideals, although, in reality, he did not have any opinions or even the desire to from them. He kept these books just to show, not to read. For a long time now he had not read a single book—he said he had no time—and he did not even subscribe to a newspaper, but found out all his news from conversation. Actually, there was nothing for him to know, for nothing in the outside world interested him. He even made fun of those who did subscribe to newspapers, saying that they were wasting time and money. One would have thought that his time was very valuable!

JPod, Douglas Coupland

Very much enjoyed this book! Will begin reading Douglas Coupland’s entire bibliography forthwith! Nothing insightful to say here, so have a long quote to make up for it!

Select quote:

Kaitlin, surprising us all from behind her cubicle wall, snorted and said (without standing up), “You feel chilled because you have no character. You’re a depressing assemblage of pop culture influences and cancelled emotions, driven by the sputtering engine of only the most banal form of capitalism. You spend your life feeling as if you’re perpetually on the brink of being obsolete—whether it’s labour market obsolescence or cultural unhipness. And it’s all catching up with you. You live and die by the development cycle. You’re glamorized drosophila flies, with the company regulating your life cycles at whim. If it isn’t a budget-driven eighteen-month game production schedule, it’s a five-year hardware obsolescence schedule. Every five years you have to throw away everything you know and learn a whole new set of hardware and software specs, relegating what was once critical to our lives to the cosmic slag heap.”


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