Saturday, April 30, 2011

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked
by Nick Hornby

When reading Nick Hornby, I take on the role of an indulgent spouse. I have loved Nick Hornby so long and so hard, my opinion is irreparably colored by the moment in which I first read High Fidelity in 2000. I think I must have seen the movie first, as a lot of people did, but they are entirely different animals. While I have much appreciation for the Chicago-set film version, my heart will always be with the London-based heartsickness that comes when women and music intertwine.

We’ve spent a little over a decade together, Hornby books and me — almost as long as Duncan and Annie in Juliet, Naked. Having spent fifteen years in a relationship, they have never married and perhaps were never truly enamored with one another. Theirs is a steady, comfortable existence in the cheerless seaside town of Gooleness, England. Except now...

Sometimes Annie felt less like a girlfriend than a school chum who’d come to visit in the holidays and stayed for the next twenty years. [...] They started drinking together in the evenings and sleeping over at weekends, until eventually the sleepovers turned into something indistinguishable from cohabitation. And they had stayed like that forever, stuck in a perpetual postgraduate world where gigs and books and films mattered more to them than they did to other people of their age.

Duncan had put her to sleep, and in her sleep she’d been desexed.

Taking up far more of Duncan’s energy is the music of Tucker Crowe — a reclusive, Dylan-esque singer-songwriter who disappeared from the music business in the late 80s. The internet has prevented Crowe’s obscurity, and Duncan considers himself one of the ‘Crowologists’ who study and theorize over the man and his songs on an online message board. His most popular album, Juliet, remains a constant source of debate — his references, his musical influences, the woman behind the songs — no detail is too small.

And then one day a CD arrives in the post — a stripped down, acoustic version of that album titled Juliet, Naked. It is Annie that hears it first, and her critical review (and first post) on the message board brings two emails to her inbox:

It was very short. It said, simply, “Thank you for your kind and perceptive words. I really appreciated them. Best wishes, Tucker Crowe.” The title on the second was: “P.S.,” and the message said, “I don’t know if you hang out with anyone on that website, but they seem like pretty weird people, and I’d be really grateful if you didn’t pass on this address.”

Thus begins a friendly, semi-flirtatious correspondence between the two. Tucker is living in Pennsylvania after a string of wives and children, determined to be a good parent to his six year old son, Jackson. He is aware of his shortcomings, but that does not mean he is able to properly deal with them. He and Annie are lonely, and their respective relationships have met their end, and it is not an insignificant thrill to be able to connect with someone again.

Now, to anyone to whom this premise seems awfully convenient, let me remind you — The internet is magical and weird. There are people who I would consider friends, people who I have spoken to for nearly a decade, who I originally met on a music message board. (Though I must clarify – we were “General” section members. Yes, those “Music” section people were pretty weird, ha.)

In the realm of books, I stumbled across Pajiba after clicking on one of their ads on Go Fug Yourself back in both sites' early days, and here we are with the Cannonball Read. Because of Cannonball, I’ve had the opportunity to receive books I might not have otherwise noticed, as well as used my reviews as a springboard to other writerly things. However, perhaps my greatest “The Internet is Weird” story, I cannot talk about yet. It concerns books, it concerns music, and it concerns subject matter that would make the young, obsessive me flip the fuck out. Everything can be connected, and that is why I have no problems with this Juliet, Naked plot device.

More “serious” literary critics like to dismiss Hornby on the basis that he’s too “readable,” too “easy,” which is a rather — and if you’ll forgive my slipping into Britishisms — massive heap of bollocks, if one bothers to consider notions of “easy” for more than ten minutes. While I do enjoy a good chinstroke and mental stretch, just because something goes down smoothly does not make it any less valid. One devours Nick Hornby books. One reads them aloud to passersby, half-listening partners and friends. He takes our admittedly silly and at times superficial motives and gives them validity.

She stopped typing. If she’d been using pen and paper, she would have screwed the paper up in disgust, but there wasn’t a satisfying equivalent with e-mail, seeing as everything was designed to stop you making a mistake. She needed a fuck-it key, something that made a satisfying ka-boom noise when you thumped it. What was she doing? She’d just received communication from a recluse, a man who had been hiding from the world for twenty-odd years, and she was telling him about a shark’s eye in a jam jar.

Next time you are emailing someone you don’t actually know but who has gained a level of importance in your life in some way, I’d like you to take note of your thought process during the composition of said email.

However, yes, there are some conveniences within the plot along the way. Lest I be spoiler-y, I won’t say how, but the ending makes the book a little less than perfect. It feels not necessarily incomplete, but rushed. I’m all for sudden realizations, but maybe I’m not used to them being quite that brisk in good fiction.

Still, Nick Hornby is as smart and funny as ever, and I appreciate how he made Annie and Duncan somewhat immature despite their age. They have, after all, been together since their twenties, and it stands to reason that their stagnancy isn’t only confined to their relationship.

Apart from the commentary on love both fanatical and diminished, Juliet, Naked also talks about what it means to be a great artist and a not-so-great human being, and how one needs to learn to separate the two. Tucker Crowe and his fans have confused the two, and while his fans are forgiving and prone to legend-crafting, Crowe can only see the dishonesty in his work. He has lost sight of his skills’ value, and in the process, lost the ability to write songs.

This is also one of the first novels I’ve read where the author is not afraid of the internet. I’m guilty of technology fear, as are a lot of other (and certainly more notable) writers who can barely summon the will to involve a cell phone. Juliet, Naked not only involves email and message boards, but Wikipedia as well. Hornby has done an excellent job crafting the history of this fictional musician, right down to the fake song lyrics. One gets the sense that maybe — in some roundabout way — they’ve heard Tucker Crowe’s songs before.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Juliet, Naked as the introduction to Nick Hornby’s work, I still immensely enjoyed reading it. There is no shame in devouring a book, nor is there any in not struggling to read its prose. When a story works, and the characters make us feel, outside opinion should be inconsequential.


This was a library book. Support your local libraries!

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

I Curse the River of Time
by Per Petterson (translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund with the author)

Love, lust, loneliness, and longing — If I were asked to name the elements which make up satisfying literary fiction, I would answer alliteratively. If you’ve followed my reviews for any length of time, you know that the books reviews in which I tend to rave have a high incidence of those four L-words. Others may disagree with my definition, but that’s where my tastes lie. And oh, does I Curse the River of Time encompass these elements. It is a novel about one man trying desperately to hold himself together as everything he has ever held dear slips from his hands. I simply loved it.

In 1989 Norway, Arvid Jansen is on the brink of divorce and his mother has stomach cancer. He has one dead brother, a strained relationship with both parents, and a crumbling sense of his idealistic communist youth. His mother has decided to spend her last days in their Denmark summer home, the country of her birth, and he goes to visit her. He needs her, somehow, and he needs to hear something that will make the ache in his chest go away.

At first the sofa swayed like the ferry only a few hours earlier, and it made me feel a little sick, but then I got used to it and after awhile it was quite pleasant. The coarse cover of the sofa smelled of summer and the Sixties, I could hear my mother leafing through a book at the table behind me. The Razor’s Edge, I supposed. And then I heard the click of her lighter as she lit up another cigarette and I let go, went into freefall and was asleep before I hit the ground.

The man can write, and his translator’s no slouch either. (I have to give love to the translator, in part because the translators can often be ignored despite the immense amount of work involved, and also because my friend Karo is a translator, of the English and German variety. So, should you be in the market...) Petterson has a style that manages to be both stark and detailed, and his Arvid feel so much at once that he tries (and often fails) to overcorrect, to shut down before he is found out for being so sad.

How do we navigate the passage of time and all the punishment that comes from dashed expectations? Throughout the story, time bends backwards to Arvid’s youth, the day he told his mother he was leaving university, the nights he spent by his future wife’s side. He longs for love, the full on kind, a body wrapped around him. His communism comes from the desire for all people to do what is right by one another. It comes from a deep sense of fairness and nervousness around absolute power. He wants his headstrong mother to have empathy towards him.

I walked on around the bend and down to my school where the buildings stood dark in the autumn evening and looked strange, alien even, in an almost menacing way. When I got there, I crossed the empty courtyard and the sound of my boots threw echos off the walls on both sides and suddenly I could feel my mother was there. I’m not joking, she really was and she looked at me through the damp dark of Groruddalen School, and the windows on both sides showed no one leaning out the first floor window to call something nice to me, something embracing I had longed to hear, and I knew she was thinking: Has the boy enough about him, she thought, will he manage on his own or is he too fragile, that there was something about my personality that made her skeptical, that my character had a flaw, a crack in the foundation only she knew about, things had been handed to me, was what she thought, but life was not like that, nor should it be.

I feel for this man. I have felt like this man. Though my life may not resemble his — I am neither communist nor divorced — but I know what it is to curse a body for failing, to need another body next to yours, to be hurt so acutely when the ones you love no longer or maybe never felt the same. I have a crack in my foundation and am constantly putting work into it. Arvid is a man who has not yet crawled out from the unyielding hole of depression. In fact, he’s up to his graying hair in it. It’s not as though one roots for his perseverance, exactly, but rather nods with understanding. The reader who has been there knows what his mother does not — it is not always so easy to make up our minds and pull up the proverbial bootstraps. Sometimes, one cannot even lift their head off the bed to find the boots themselves.

That said, I cannot comment on how “heavy” this book reads. It’s not terribly long — 233 pages — and it’s not melodramatic, but I don’t know how it reads to someone with normal brain chemistry. I would like to think that anyone can relate to the cruelties that time imposes when we need to rectify the past. I would like to think that everyone has things they wish they’d said or done, and even if there are no major regrets, when the opportunity becomes a limited commodity, perspective changes.

I Curse the River of Time does not answer all its questions. It is neither tidy nor gushing with confession, even though we are privy to Arvid’s thoughts. And that’s okay. Though it may not be perfect, it is a remarkable book and one of the best I’ve read so far this year.


Full Disclosure: Graywolf Press sent me this book as a review copy. I thank them, and will continue to be fair with my reviews.

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The long overdue SEXT post:

People reading/ SEXT book display

At the end of December, my friend Naaman asked me to contribute to a book and art display project that he and his boyfriend John were doing with Dreyer Press and the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery. (The K-S, you may remember, is where we did the show MONTH last year.) Titled SEXT, the book would offer personal essays of 300 words or less. Naaman and John (who work under the name Boys Who Like Butterflies) were inspired by this story about Antjuanece Brown in the Willamette Weekly and wanted to delve "deeper into the depths of human experiences of gender and sexuality."

The show opened on April 1st.

For the gallery walls themselves, they enlisted the help of AHA! Creative to print these "textual portraits" on vinyl lettering, which were then meticulously stuck to the walls. "She measured right down to within an eighth of an inch," Naaman said of AHA!'s Ali Koski. "Go look at the back door. It's amazing."

Some serious lettering skillz.

Coincidently, one of my pieces was part of the text that made the jump from the door frame to the door itself. Looking around at all the perfect lettering, about all I could say was, "Wow. This took some doin'."

How to read: Visitors were to start on the top line that began on the wall sharing the entrance, and then work their way around the room before jumping to the next line. It took a little getting used to, but I loved how it made people linger, and on average, I'd guess that people stayed inside the gallery longer than they would have with more "typical" art -- they want to read.

Another shot where my name appears

Bottom line, the beginning of one of my pieces

With the book, people sat on the floor and read for a long time. Books cost $20, with proceeds going to the Spokane YWCA, and I don't know how many they sold that night total, but one man bought three. He gushed to John while writing a check, telling him how he loved seeing work like this in Spokane.

I signed a fair number of books, though many of them were for other writers who had contributed and purchased books for themselves. I tried to write something in each one, even if it was just "Thanks for reading."

(There are still some books available, email Naaman at naamancordova AT

Naaman likes to puff me up -- he was telling people that my signature would one day be valuable and that my two pieces were "beautiful" and "perfect." It's a little funny to me, but in a nice way. I don't mention it to be arrogant (though even saying that seems arrogant); it's just flattering to have fans. Even if I've made next to nothing in cashmonies from my writing so far, I'm glad that there are people who enjoy what I write. Naaman had read my writing in SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine before we'd ever met, so I like to say that he's my first fan who didn't know me otherwise.

Speaking of being a fan, Jess Walter turned up at the gallery. This is one of the advantages of having one of my favorite authors live in Spokane. I said hello to him, but it's not as though he remembers who I am from the couple of times we've met. I was standing with his neighbor, Joy, who read my "Shine Now Sandalwood" at the accompanying SEXT show that was on April 16th.

The SEXT show was a live reading of all (or near all, I'm not sure) of the book's material by the authors or stand-ins. Since I couldn't make it back to Spokane so soon, Joy and another writer, Nicki Weller, read on my behalf. I'd met Nicki before, but not Joy. I spent most of the night talking to her, and I'm very pleased with both of my readers.

A peek inside the SEXT book

Naaman and John always seem to have a project going, and I think Spokane needs more people like them showing such initiative in the name of art. Spokane has made great strides in the past year or so within the creative community, and there are more organized efforts with art than there used to be. I hope it keeps up, and I hope to do the same now in Great Falls.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Otherwise Elsewhere by David Rivard

Otherwise Elsewhere
by David Rivard

April is National Poetry Month, and while I would like to tell you that I picked up Otherwise Elsewhere on April 1st and blew right through, I had to start and stop since March 10th. I’m not a natural poetry reader, and my inexperience became apparent when I had a massive head cold and could not concentrate on more than one line at a time. Poetry requires full attention, and I wanted to give it.

My difficulty with poetry is not the fault of poetry itself, but the untrained way in which I read it. I have a tendency to latch onto specific lines, but I often miss the bigger picture of the poem itself. Do not trust me as a reliable source for what the poet is “getting at” in his/her work. Unless the work falls into my areas of expertise — love, lust, and loneliness — I barely feel qualified to comment on it at all. Poetry is a different language, and I respect those who are really able to understand, discuss, and even write it with skill. Apart from the usual bad teenage attempts, it’s not something I do. Still, I am trying to get better at reading it. One improves by doing, after all, so when I see a book of poems that looks interesting, I try to make an effort.

David Rivard’s poems in Otherwise Elsewhere often deal with dreams, people lost and remembered, and nostalgia. He is both floating above the scenes he describes and intimately involved. His mind wanders, but in a nice way. I know “nice” isn’t too terribly specific, but it feels apt. It feels like the wandering mind of a person who, yes, writes poetry for a living — a real, live poet navigating the world.

Stopwatched in this world amid party chatter & dance music
for 15 minutes, 39 seconds I felt everything I had felt
for her in middle school then — charmed, itinerant, slap-happy & razed —
rewound to fantasies of petting in the class cloakroom during gym.
— from “Crush”

Lots of times I would be stopped by the thought, “Holy cow, now that’s a line.” (Yes, I’m one of those people who still say “Holy cow.” See also: “Dude,” “awesome,” and other similar outdated 90s phrases.)

Reagan dead this Saturday the last —
the falsifying mind cratered,
the brain that was a salt block America loved to lick —
— from “Double Elegy, with Curse”

because there are two kinds of distance between us — towards, & away
— from “Otherwise Elsewhere”

Rivard also reflects on himself and the people who have the good sense to be honest with him, people who he respects and loves. He talks often of his wife and daughter, and the effect the have on his sense of well-being. They help him stay aware of his weaknesses and quirks.

I am as you would know
strongly sometimes
impatient & inside a swarm of loud thoughts
self-absorbed & locked-up,
If you were to die
who would remove me
from those thoughts?
— from “Forehead”

My tastes with poetry tend to swing more towards appreciating the personal content over “State of the World” musings, but then, that’s how I like my reading in general. I want to know how you feel over what your prescription for the world is. I want to know what drives you to be passionate about a subject and not only hear your ranting. Rivard does all of these things well. I tended to prefer his more straightforward, almost prose-like poems, but I will admit that’s because they were easier for me to read. That does not discount the others.

Other highlights for me were “Pirated Music,” “To Simone,” “Coffee House, Eastern Standard Time,” “To Lynda Hull,” and yes, one called “Nostalgia.” Rivard has a particular talent for titles — how could I not be intrigued by something called “Somewhere between a Row of Traffic Cones and the Country Once Called Burma?”

Otherwise Elsewhere is a slim volume and certainly not impenetrable to one not acquainted with poetry in general. I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad that it has contributed to my self-inflicted poetry education.


Full Disclosure: I won this book from Graywolf Press through a giveaway on GoodReads.

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Self-Tooting/Internal News Roundup:

This is more or less a rip-off of Warren Ellis' "Who I Am and Where I Am" that he often does, and also a handy way for my fuzzy brain to be able to easily see what exactly I've been doing during the past 2 years.

This roundup was bigger than I thought it was going to be.

Without further ado and with your forgiveness, I give you the following:

I'm Sara Habein. I live in Montana. I write many things and spend too much time doing non-writing related things online. Like playing Lexulous/Scrabble.

But here are some of those aforementioned things:


1. "The Place I Come From" [Version 1] - (NEST, RiverSpeak, February 2010)

2. "New Year's Eve, 1992" [excerpt from Show Me How to Shine Now] (Kinetic, RiverSpeak, September 2010)

3. "Mister" and "Little Infidelities" - (RiverLit edited by Taylor Weech and Keeley Honeywell, January 2011)


1. Recipe contributor, Godtopus Eats (ongoing)

2. "Full of Lust and Longing: Readers Share Their Playlists" [start at "Let It Ride" and end at "Someday Soon." Those are mine.] (Used Furniture Review, January 2010)

3. "Shine Now Sandalwood" and "Definition" (SEXT edited by Boys Who Like Butterflies, Dreyer Press. April 2011)

Book Reviews (elsewhere)

Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig (November 2009)
Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (December 2009)
Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary... edited by Ted Thompson with Eli Horowitz (December 2009)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (February 2010)
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (March 2010)
American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson (April 2010)
A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell (April 2010)
War Dances by Sherman Alexie (May 2010)
Everything Will Be All Right by Tessa Hadley (June 2010)
Lawnboy by Paul Lisicky (July 2010)
The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott (September 2010)
Electric Literature, Volume 1 Stories from Michael Cunningham, Jim Shepard, T Cooper, Lydia Millet, Diana Wagman (February 2011)
It Gets Better edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller (April 2011)

(The Rumpus)
The Zero by Jess Walter (July 2010)
Midnight Picnic by Nick Antosca (October 2010)

(Used Furniture Review)
The Truth Lenders: A Multi-Media Novel by Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen (January 2011)

Editor/Journalism/Publishing Etc.

1. SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine, Co-Editor/Writer (January 2009 - March 2010, with a profile on Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen appearing in the May 2010 issue)

2. MONTH Artist in Residence - Kolva-Sullivan Gallery (March 2010, organized by Black Rabbit Magic)

3. Electric City Creative, Editor/Writer (July 2010 - present)

4. Nouveau Nostalgia: A Micro-Press, Co-Editor (October 2010 - present)


1.Infinite Disposable with Tyson Habein (Nouveau Nostalgia, Spring 2011)

2. More!

Until then...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Record Machine: My Ever Changing Moods by The Style Council

Record Machine is an ongoing project where I document my vinyl collection. Photos of varying quality, compulsive list-makin', inventory-takin'. (Somewhat predictably, this is where I nicked the title for the project.)

The Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods

I got this album for ONE DOLLAR at Jackpot! Records in Portland, Oregon. I got it at the same time as picking up a Paul Weller Hit Parade CD and Echo & The Bunnymen's Ocean Rain, also on CD. ONE DOLLAR. How could I say no to that? I already knew I loved the title song, and it would cost me at least that to download it. And we all know that physical copies are more satisfying, right?

Overall, it's a bit of a strange album and a mishmash of styles, including the classic Weller SlowJam, "You're The Best Thing." The bios on the back are rather funny, and once again, I can manage to tie things back to Oasis -- Steve White drums on this album. His brother Alan, of course, was Oasis drummer #2.

Also, the epigram from Jean Paul Marat is still relevant for today:

Everything still plays well and the cover's just a bit worn, and I don't know why this was marked down so much except maybe that Americans have forgotten about Style Council. It even still has the liner notes inside, which you certainly wouldn't expect in a $1 LP.

The video makes me giggle. The road bikes on an obvious trailer! The weird small helmet! And yet, Weller still manages to own it.