I took some time out from David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King to read the latest McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 37, packaged as a hardcover book which has been decorated and trimmed to give the illusion of, yep, a hardcover book. Leave it to McSweeney’s to produce yet another cool, well-produced (sewn binding, actual cloth cover) object containing some great writing.
Favorites in this issue include Jess Walter’s Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington, John Hyduk’s great story (essay?) about being unemployed (which has the great image of a warehouse building at night: “It’s dark and raining, but the building glows like a birthday cake”), and Joe Meno’s Lion’s Jaws. I didn’t really get into the five stories from Kenya, but I guess they were interesting from the standpoint of reading within a totally different place and culture.
I recently purchased Building Wireless Sensor Networks in electronic form. O’Reilly offered it for download in several electronic formats, including ePub (for my iPhone) and PDF formats. After looking at the content, I decided I wanted to print out the first couple chapters to make it easier to work with the devices without having to continually fiddle around with my phone.
I used the following commands. psresize enlarges each page, in this case by 20%, and pstops is used to move the right-side page to the left by an inch. For the cover page, and other full-bleed content, this will cause the right-side page to overlap the left, but because of the margins around the text block throughout the majority of the book, this overlap doesn’t matter and it allows us to make the text bigger when it’s printed two pages per side.
$ pdftops Building_Wireless_Sensor_Networks.pdf $ cat Building_Wireless_Sensor_Networks.ps \ | psresize -W8.5in -H11in -w10.20in -h13.20in \ | pstops "2:0(0,0),1(-72,0)" \ | psnup -2 > wireless_networks_nup.ps $ ps2pdf wireless_networks_nup.ps
To print, choose double-sided, flip on short edge.
In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, destroying the levees designed to protect the city, flooding 80% of it, and killing 1,464 people. City of Refuge, written by the author of Why New Orleans Matters and a resident of the city, is a fictional retelling of the disaster and it’s aftermath. It’s an emotional story, well written, and does a good job of making New Orleans and the devastation of Katrina real. Read next to Dave Egger’s Zeitoun, it’s hard to imagine how the maintenance of the levees, emergency response, and relief efforts could have been worse. Thankfully, book mostly stays clear from making political arguments or assigning blame, focusing mainly on how two different families cope with the destruction of the city they lived in.
I enjoyed it—learning more about the disaster and the rhythms and flavor of the city itself—but I wouldn’t recommend it except for readers interested in another perspective on Katrina.
After my disappointment that Skippy Dies was eliminated from The Morning News Tournament of Books, I decided I should read the book that beat it, and which eventually won in the final round by a one-vote margin, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, just out in paperback. After beating Skippy, Goon Squad was beaten by Franzen’s heavyweight, but came back in the zombie round and eventually met Freedom (again) in the finals.
Some of the comments from judges choosing Goon Squad:
- Sarah Manguso: Franzen made me weep for lost love, but Egan reminded me that death is coming.
- Jennifer Weiner: Egan gets my vote, because if Franzen takes the prize, then the terrorists win (and because even if he doesn’t, you know the Los Angeles Times will run his picture anyhow).
- Anthony Doerr: Which of these two books might help, to borrow Zadie’s Smith’s clause, “shake the novel out of its present complacency?” Egan’s.
- Michele Filgate: There’s no comparison. Egan’s novel is innovative and playful, while simultaneously smart and captivating.
- Andrew Womack: For me, this decision comes down to pacing, and Franzen is the Pink Floyd to Egan’s Sex Pistols; by the end of Freedom I couldn’t take another meandering guitar solo, while I was dazzled by how much Goon Squad packed into such a compact space.
Jennifer Egan (on hearing she won):
- A rooster will fit perfectly into our Brooklyn landscape…our sons will be thrilled; our two cats, even more so.
I just finished it, and I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting to like it much: a “novel” of connected short stories, ho hum. An entire chapter done using a piece of software implicated in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster (PowerPoint), yetch. But the way the stories weave through time and from one character’s viewpoint to another, never so obvious as to touch the same scene twice, but covering such a wide swath of time was amazing. For me, it wasn’t until the last chapter, which takes place at some point in the 2020’s, that the collective effective of the stories really came together into a very real feeling for the things we gain and (mostly) lose in our lives; the way our decisions combine to make a life.
The final contest in the Tournament really was a fitting one—both Egan and Franzen are attempting to describe modern life in America (as cliché as that sounds). Franzen does this by filling his book with the full lives of his three main characters. Egan does it by sprinkling her chapters with short bursts from a wide range of related characters, varying perspective, time, age, and narrative style in each. The challenge for Franzen is how to tell the full story of three people without the reader growing sick of them. The challenge for Egan is getting us to actually care about the characters in the short time we spend with them, or at the very least be willing to listen to what they have to say.
She succeeds, spectacularly.
Jenson’s yawn pretty much summarizes my feeling about this book. The main character has convinced himself he needs to murder someone to avoid stabbing his child with an ice pick. He carefully plans how he’d do this but when he gets a prostitute who will serve as victim, she’s as damaged as he is. Much of the story concerns the back and forth as these two damaged individuals try to figure out what is going on with the other. My problem was that I really felt no investment in any of the characters and the whole premise seemed really unlikely.
One good thing: the book was short.