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review 2017-04-18 21:23
A marmite collection of unique characters and stories.
Homesick for Another World: Stories - Ottessa Moshfegh

Thanks to NetGalley and to Vintage for offering me an ARC copy of this collection that I voluntarily chose to review.

I read Moshfegh’s novel Eileen (nominated for the Booker Prize, read my review here), admired it (perhaps liking it is not the right way to describe it) and I was curious to read more by the same author.  When I saw this book on offer I took the chance.

This collection of short-stories does reinforce some of the thoughts I had about Eileen. Ottessa Moshfegh can write, for sure. If the stories in this collection have anything in common, apart from the quality of the writing, is the type of characters. They all (or most) are lonely, only a few are likeable (they can all be liked, but that’s not what I mean) and easy to relate to, they often have disgusting habits (although I suspect that if our lives were put under a microscope and every last little detail was looked at and written down we might not look very pretty either), and are lost. The characters made me think of Sherwood Anderson and Flannery O’Connor (not the style of writing, though): those people who don’t seem to fit anywhere and are utterly peculiar, although many of the characters in the stories are only peculiar because we get a peep into their brains. One gets the sense that they would appear pretty normal from the outside. A man who lives alone at home, watching telly, and is friendly with the girl living next door. A Maths’ teacher, divorced, who might cheat on the students’ exams. A Yale graduate, who does not know what to do with his life, spends too much money on clothes and gets infatuated with a woman he only met briefly once. A couple of children, twins, telling each other stories. An aspiring actor who can’t get any acting jobs.

Of course, there are other things we discover. The man seems to have a strange interest in the girl next door. The Maths’ teacher drinks so much she keeps a sleeping bag at the school (well, it’s really a room in a church) so she can lie down between classes. The graduate has to sell his clothes in a desperate attempt to get the attention of the woman he is mad about. One of the twins is planning to kill a man. The aspiring actor doesn’t know who Scorsese is (or much about anything) and can’t even kiss a girl on camera. The author digs deep into the characters’ façade and pulls a distorted mirror to them, that like in caricature drawings, emphasises the weirdest characteristics rather than what might make them seem ‘normal’ because normal is a construct after all.

Not many of these stories would fit comfortably into standard definitions of what a short story is supposed to be like. If the author pushes the boundaries with her choice of characters and her descriptions (a lot of them have acne that they squeeze, they are sick or make themselves sick, their bodily functions are described in detail, and some are … well, let’s say ‘alternative’) she does the same with the stories. Quite a few of them seem to be slices of life rather than stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. There are some that have more of a conventional ending (even if it is open ended), but plenty do not and it is up to the reader to decide what, if anything, to make of them. If I had to choose and extract something from the stories (not a lesson as such, but a reflection of sorts) is that perhaps the only characters who end up in a better place or experiencing some sort of happiness (or contentment) are those who don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations and accept what might appear to be strange alliances and relationships. But perhaps it is just that those are the stories that have stuck more in my head.

Reading the comments, this collection, much like Eileen, is a marmite book. Some people really love it and some hate it with a passion. As I said, the writing is excellent, but you’ll need to have a strong stomach and not mind detailed descriptions of bodily functions and less than flattering individuals (nobody is tall, dark and handsome here, although some characters believe they are). Although many of the stories might feel dispiriting and depressing, this depends on the point of view of the reader and there are very witty lines and funny (but dark) moments.

Here some examples:

‘Oh, okay, there were a few fine times. One day I went to the park and watched a squirrel run up a tree. A cloud flew around the sky.’

‘I had a thing about fat people. It was the same thing I had about skinny people: I hated their guts.’

‘Her face was pinched, as though she’d just smelled someone farting. It was that look of revulsion that awoke something in me. She made me want to be a better man.’

In sum, I wouldn’t dare to recommend this book to everybody, by a long stretch, but if you want to check great writing, have a strong stomach, and don’t mind strange and not always likeable characters and unconventional stories, dare to read on. It will be an utterly unique experience.

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text 2016-02-01 02:05
Reading progress update: I've read 106 out of 485 pages.
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Carson Ellis,Trenton Lee Stewart

It's kind of crazy but this kids' book has bits that are sort of like... postmodern or whatever. (I guess mostly just because the "The Emergency" is making me think of "The Airborne Toxic Event" in Don Delillo's White Noise.) 
Things are getting a little trippy. I'm addicted, I can't wait to see where this goes! It's so awesome to know that kids are reading unique books like this. 

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review 2015-05-18 00:00
Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal
Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal - Regina Brooks I wanted to learn about this field, but this book didn't really teach me anything I didn't already know. The first 10 chapters are just basic story-craft. If you have never studied ANY literature -- or just don't remember your ninth grade English class -- this will be helpful; it is accurate and solid (and well-edited!). If, on the other hand, you have read most of the YA novels the author references, you already know everything she has to teach you (you just might not know the technical terms). As "Fiction 101," this book rates 5 stars; unfortunately, it is not being sold as "Fiction 101." It is being sold as "Everything You Need to Know," which it is definitely not.

Like other reviewers, I found it strangely bothersome that the author kept referring to the immaturity of YA readers. Okay, so young adults are by definition "immature," as in they have not reached the biological maturity of adulthood. Young adults still have growing to do. However, I would argue that complicated and serious fiction helps the growth process along. Talking down to your YA audience won't get you anywhere
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review 2015-02-15 17:48
Review: Process by Sarah Stodola
Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors - Sarah Stodola

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Published by Amazon Publishing, January 20, 2015

 

What are we looking for when we look at the lives of great writers? I would assume many of us want the dirt; the broken relationships, alcohol problems, madness and eccentric behaviors we associate with artistic types. This is not a book about those things.

 

Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, is exactly what it says it is. These are not biographies of writers in the grand sense, but a focused look at the schedules, behaviors and work preferences of particularly successful and memorable authors. In the introduction, Stodola states her intent to create a book that is of interest to both writers and general readers, and while probably true, I think it may skew slightly more towards writers than fans of particular authors. The information that has been rigorously gathered by Stodola (and rigorously cited- this book is 20% end notes) is fascinating, though occasionally on the dry side. There are bits of interesting trivia to be had, and lots of encouragement if you are looking for writers that succeeded despite strange or unexpected working habits.

 

All of the writers chosen are novelists, in that they have published at least one novel, and all began publication in the 20th and 21st centuries. The chapters each cover a pair of writers, placed together either because of a similarity or to compare and contrast. There are the Nine-to-Fivers (Kafka and Morrison), the Productive Procastinators (DFW and Richard Price), and others defined by their particular style. Later chapters contrast the Social Butterfly Fitzgerald with the Lone Wolf Roth. The closing chapter looks at the different approaches of Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in relation to technology (specifically the internet and social media). Each is straightforward and mostly undramatic, with lots of quotable facts sprinkled throughout, like Virginia Woolf’s preference for purple ink, or Vladimir Nabokov’s habit of writing in the bathtub. Each author’s entry ends with “A Day in the Writer’s Life” segment, which is interesting but unnecessary, as it really just sums up what was already covered in the longer text.

 

In the end, what Process does, aside from providing an enjoyable look at famous authors, is show us that there is no one correct or commendable way to write. There is always a lot of talk about writers absolutely having to write something every day, establish set times and word counts, which the many examples in this book proves to be untrue, or at least nebulous. There is no one way to write, and even the hardest circumstances don’t have to limit a writer’s potential, if the drive is there. Joyce went blind, Woolf and DFW dealt with severe mental illness, Nabokov was a perpetual refugee, Morrison was a single mother, Kafka was thwarted by his family, Rushdie was driven into hiding by a fatwa- and yet they all worked within their limits to the best of their abilities, and we are still reading their work and analyzing their lives today.

 

Cross-posted on Goodreads:Process

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text 2015-02-08 21:28
Reading progress update: I've read 50%.
Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors - Sarah Stodola

Great info for writers, a bit dry if you're just looking for trivia.

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