SirTheory’s Treatise on Life

(opinions on just about anything)

Anti-Story: An Anthology of Experimental Fiction

Experimental fiction can be really hit-or-miss. However, the short story is the perfect way to showcase such a thing. If you succeed it is short yet sweet without overstaying its welcome. If it is really terrible it won’t last too long. It is inevitable that in a collection like this there will be some really terrible stuff.

Anti-Story, which was edited by Philip Stevick, is split into eight section: Fiction About Fiction, The Uses of Fantasy, The Primacy of Voice, Fiction In Search of Something to Be About, New Forms of Extremity, The Phenomenal World, Forms of the Absurd, and The Minimal Story. If you could feel your pulse quicken when reading those section headings, go and pick this collection up immediately.

There are quite a few really good stories, insane though they may seem to the logical mind, in this anthology. From “Life-Story” by John Barth, a story about writing a story which switches point of view, to “Rhinoceros”  by Eugene Ionesco, which is about people turning into rhinos. Perhaps the best of the lot is Tommaso Landolfi’s story, “Gogol’s Wife.” It is a tale of a man who loved a blow-up sex doll. It is imaginative, crazy, and has a warm heart that really brings the story alive.

Some of the stories are completely incomprehensible due to being so experimental that they’ve lost all meaning, becoming just words on a page that don’t connect to each other. The worst in the anthology can be followed, however, is excruciatingly long and lacks any plot or characters. It is called “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” by William Gass. At 28 pages long it is no simple walk in the park. Gass splits the writing into multiple sections with a header to describe what that section is talking about. It all centers on a specific yet nameless town. But rather than telling a linear story (or any story) it just gives details about the area. Without any plot to keep track of it is hard to keep turning the pages. Yet you have to turn through 28 of them.

Thankfully, even with the worst of the worst, the nature of this anthology means that every story expands your idea of what fiction can be. Which is nothing but a plus, especially if you are writer. If you are just a reader, looking for an easy time, then this anthology is probably something to skip. You’d be better off getting a John Grisham trade paperback.

September 10, 2007 Posted by | Literature | Leave a comment

R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

To call Madeleine L’Engle my favorite author might be overstating things a bit. But not so much as to consider the statement untrue. It was only last year that I truly grasped the grandeur of her writing. Yet in that year I read almost every novel the woman wrote, I gave a speech about her in my speech class, and I wrote a paper on her poetry. Other authors have probably had a great influence on me, yet few have engaged me the way L’Engle has.

She is best known for her novel, A Wrinkle In Time, which is usually considered a children’s science fiction novel despite her protests. Yet she has written so much more than that. My personal favorites are The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, the first dealing with the main character as a child, the other as an elderly woman. Camilla is another one I highly treasure.

Even though she hasn’t released a novel for a while, I kept holding on to hope that we would get a follow up to Charles from The Time Quartet. His tale demanded a follow up. But it was, apparently, not meant to be.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends, and fellow fans. Thank you, Madeleine, for the great stories that transported us into your world, making us feel like we were getting to know you through your characters.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/08/books/07cnd-lengle.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=books&adxnnlx=1189191828-26XbKyxB9vwAhW8ooxQy+Q

September 8, 2007 Posted by | Literature | 1 Comment

I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman

Children’s books are highly underrated by most people. Harry Potter, of course, gets read by a lot of adults. Yet it still gets labeled as “just” a children’s book. People just seem to think that writing children’s books means dumbing things down. And most people don’t like dumbed down. The attitude is one that I try to fight hard against. Well written words are well written words, regardless of the audience.

Gordon Korman wrote one of my favorite books ever. I Want To Go Home, even now, is one of the funniest books I have ever read. I would put it above Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy or Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. (Both of which are, in their own right, super books.) Gordon Korman has a fantastically dry sense of humor and mixes it with amusing characters and situations.

I Want To Go Home is where all of what Korman does well comes together in a perfect storm. Mike is your average non-athletic guy. The only thing that stands out about him is that nothing stands out about him. A nice enough guy, but not bold enough to really make friends. He is forced into camp and it is with no enthusiasm that he arrives. The only other person at the camp who hates camp more than Mike is the mysterious Rudy.

Camp Algonkian is situated on an island which is devoted entirely to the camping of kids. So when Rudy and Mike become friends the suggestion of escaping camp is ludicrous. It would take someone really smart and able to succeed. Thankfully Rudy has a plan.  And another plan. He implements more plans than can be counted on one hand. Yet escape always seems to elude them.

What sounds like a simple story gets twisted in Korman’s situational humor and the result is catastrophically funny. Reviews on Amazon are littered with adults who reminisce about reading the book over and over as a kid, and who still reads it and dies laughing. It is laugh out loud funny, will warm your heart, will make you say “oh no he didn’t!”, and more. Give it a try.

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Literature | 2 Comments

Just, like, Books ‘n’ Stuff

How sad is it that the last really good book I’ve read was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Yes, it is still considered a recent release… but I literally finished it the day that it came out. I picked it up at midnight and was finished by 6pm. Since then I have started several books and finished exactly zero. I started working on The Elves and the Otterskin by Elizabeth Boyer. It isn’t horrid and is getting more exciting as I get deeper into it. Yet it lacks subtlety and finesse. Nothing about it really separates it from the crowd.

Several days ago I re-picked up The Other Side of the Sun by Madeleine L’Engle. Precious few recognize L’Engle beyond her children’s classic A Wrinkle In Time, yet she has a massive catalog of books to her name. Last year I decided to try her other stuff and was amazed at how well written it all was. Very quickly she became my favorite author. Yet there were a few books that scared me. This one and The Love Letters. I had to put The Love Letters down for about three to four months before I could work up the courage to finish it. Once I did that I picked this one up and got about one chapter into it before setting it down. Now, over a half year later, I find myself picking it up again and getting engaged. Maybe I had simply burned out on her stuff… after all, I read most of her novels in a one and a half month period. Whatever the case, here I am and I know I’m going to finish it this time. It is a novel which, to quote the cover of my trade paperback version, is about “a family divided by hatred and greed…” Yet there seems to be an underlying mystery that is boiling which should serve as an anchor as the waves of the family problems are ridden. We’ll see. After I finish this one I don’t think there is much left, fiction-wise, for me to hit up from L’Engle. I can think of maybe two more off the top of my head. Then there is a whole slew of biography and Bible-related books that she’s done. Not to mention poetry and such. (She is one of the few poets I can not just tolerate, but enjoy. But I am glad that most of her stuff is in prose, regardless.)

When I do get around to finishing the Boyer book and several others in my room with bookmarks in the mid-way point I recently acquired the follow-up book to Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece, Ender’s Game. I have heard that the rest of the series is also good, although I have trouble believing that they are as dizzying or awe-inducing as the first. Ender’s Game had a twist that M. Night Shyamalan would give the world for.

If anyone has any good book recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them. Particularly newer releases as I have a tough time keeping up with new authors of note.

August 16, 2007 Posted by | Literature | 1 Comment

First Post

“Glory, glory hallelujah…” goes the common refrain. In this case it is a reference to my discovery of wordpress, which looks like an honest-to-goodness free (FREE!) serious blog site. I had always been under the opinion that Xanga served my needs quite nicely. I still think that Xanga would work great for serious blogs. I mean, the set up and layout is great. There are two serious problems with xanga. 1) You have to become a xanga member to comment. 2) The general population has Xanga stereotyped as a social journal kind of site. Regardless, I have no qualms in acquiring more of a serious blog on which I will various reviews and commentaries. The Xanga shall continue to exist for updates on me. And it was good.

A little about me:
Name: Jacob
Age: A totally mature 23
Beard-growing Capacity: Amazing.
Location: Central PA

I am into music, particularly that of a quirky/avant-garde nature. Examples: Sonic Youth, The Residents, The Fiery Furnaces, The Danielson Famile, and so forth. I also like normal indie stuff: Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, Hella, The Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, blah blah blah. And more mainstream things: Eagles of Death Metal, Queens of the Stone Age, Bjork, Kelly Clarkson, The White Stripes, etc. There are very few genres I don’t appriciate to some extent, although I have a tough time enjoying emo, ska, and r&b.

Movies are pretty cool, and although I don’t pretend to be an expert on them, I will talk about them occasionally. I tend to gravitate toward the pretentious serious films like anything from the Tarantino catalog: specifically Jackie Brown, although Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill are both excellent. I also quite enjoy comedies like Office Space, The Princess Bride, and Saved!. Not to mention anything Monty Python related. In fact, British humor is definitely more my speed.

I would say I love books more than movies on the whole. My favorite authors include Madeleine L’Engle, Tad Williams, J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, and oodles more I am forgetting at the moment. My genre of choice right now seems to be children’s or adolecent fantasy because it does a much better job of capturing the spirit of fantasy than a lot of adult fantasy which insists on throwing in obnoxious, gratuitous sex and stuff.

The one thing most people don’t realize about me when they meet me is my fanatical obsession with Phillies baseball. I am a huge, huge fan and I watch every game that I can on TV. Also a big fan of football (go Eagles)… but nothing really rivals my commitment to the Phillies. The one sport I truly, honestly hate with a passion is basketball. Really, what is the point?

I am a beer snob. I love microbrews. Thankfully Central PA has quite a few very good ones… and is only an hour and a half drive to Philadelphia where there is a whole slew of microbreweries. And hey, we have Stoudts! Every month some church friends and I go to a brewpub and check out the local goods. Expect opinions and reviews on beers right after such trips.

Television. I am a much bigger fan of the products created for TV than the big screen. I mean, Arrested Development? Futurama? Classics. Then there is the old Police Squad show that lasted exactly six episodes before getting canceled… the creators of that went on to do movies like Naked Gun and Airplane!. And can’t forget Monty Python’s Flying Circus… that was one of my best ebay finds.

I have long been a creator of content on the internet. I started off on h2g2.com, a website created by the awesome and clever Douglas Adams, who wrote the entirely too funny Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. I was young and naive. It’s a good site but I only go back really once a year and try to remember my bloody log-in info. Then I moved on to the afore mentioned xanga and blogcritics, of which blogcritics is the most prestigious. Check it out, it’s awesome. Blogcritics.org, a “sinister cabal of superior writers.”

The last thing I shall mention in my virgin post here is that I go to Millersville University where I am in the process of making sure everyone realizes that I am totally awesome.

August 7, 2007 Posted by | Beer, General, Internet, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Television | 1 Comment