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July 12, 2004

Comments

Kathy P.

I was at the party last night too and shocked at how many people showed up and how much fun it was. The music was awesome. The space killer. Plenty of good drinks and intelligent conversation. I haven't seen anything like this in LA. The night was warm and almost everyone hung out at the back patio at some point, drinking and smoking and talking. Mark, you were pretty complimentary about everyone who read (maybe you really did think they were all good), and while I agree it was a great night overall, at the risk of offending the good people at Swink among others, I have a slightly different take on the readings that I thought I'd share:


1) Sara Cody's piece wasn't all that good, and she did this melodramatic nonsense that was over-the-top for a literary reading. Cringe-inducing, in my opinion. Someone should have told her this wasn't a high school drama club production. Also, most people won't get the Moll Flanders reference.


2) Vidya Madiraju's piece was solid, but nothing spectacular. Her reading was good-quiet and restrained.


3) David Hernandez rocked. The guy's poems were awesome, and he's funny! I loved that when the dogs were barking outside interrupting his reading, he muttered "critics" under his breath into the mic. Maybe you had to be there, but it was hilarious.


4) Although I agree that Darcy Cosper's reading was good, the book is pretty awful. Chick lit trying to be not-chick-lit because the protagonist is anti-marriage. It's a pretentious, boring tome in which women obsess about looks (theirs and others), status, and who they're jealous of. (Darcy admitted that Leelila rejected all her submissions for the reading and instead picked out an excerpt from the book herself. I think the Swink editor may have picked the only decent section in the entire book.) What I'm trying to figure out is why Cosper was reading at all. She's hardly a literary writer and doesn't have any affiliation with the magazine. Could it be an exchange of favors? After all, she is putting together this mediabistro thing tomorrow in which Strogov is a guest of honor. A ton of flyers were even passed out at the party for it. Smells a little foul to me.


5) Dylan Landis is a great writer, but she could have given a more inspired reading. I give her a 9/10 for the writing, a 6/10 for the reading.


6) David Ulin was predictably good. The new book promises to be an eclectic mix of ideas. After years of savoring him in the LA Times and LAWeekly (his essay in Swink is awesome too), I'll be psyched to pick that one up.


7) I've admired Meghan Daum's stuff for years, and she didn't fail expectations. Another of the humorous ones in the group. She started out by saying she might be dating herself by reading a satire of The Rules, published in '99, and then went on to say "Well, not dating myself exactly, not yet anyway." Clever.


8) Bernard Cooper's short-short is powerful, and the Swink staffer did an ok enough job with it, though he forgot to start with the title, something Strogov reminded him of from the sidelines like a schoolteacher. He started over.


9) Lisa Glatt read the beginning of "Soup," very good, a story about a "bad boy" teen who is friendly with the narrator's son. She read well. This is to be the second story Glatt will be publishing in Swink. But she's also David Hernandez's wife. Maybe another conflict here considering he's the poetry editor at Swink? Sorry for all the digs, but as rampant as it may be, I have an allergy to literary incest.


10) Andrew Foster Altschul was hands down the highlight of the night. For those of you who weren't there, the story's about a guy trying to fuck his way through the alphabet. Sounds like it could be trite, but it's not. I agree with Mark, it's one of my favorites in the mag. He's also an amazing reader.


11) Leelila Strogov was surprisingly good. Why surprising? Most editors can't write. She clearly can. But, as Swink's EIC and organizer of the event, I don't know how appropriate it was that she was the last reader. A convenient insertion.


So that's my take. I agree that Swink's a force, though. Might be almost as powerful in LA as in NY in gathering what literati we have, although I heard the NY launch a few months ago was insane. The backlog of cars headed to last night's party made me think of a Staples Center event, though, not a literary reading in Silverlake. Pretty cool.

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

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    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."