Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Monday, January 24, 2005

Failure of the Day: Books and a Joke

It is a fairly rare occurrence that I don’t finish a book I’ve begun, but I seem to be in a kind of groove of unfinished books lately. None of them were so terrible as to be unreadable, although that was the case with The Normals, the first 42 pages of which I suffered through last fall, but nevertheless, these books just failed to make the grade for whatever reasons.

I was very optimistic about Dave Eggers latest, How We Are Hungry, because I liked his first two books and I adore the title of his third, not least because it echoes the text tattoo on the nape of my neck, (o my hunger). But I am generally impatient with short stories; I find them unsatisfying at best. There are exceptions, but very few, and almost all of them are found in the collection Speaking With The Angel, which includes an Eggers short so I gave it a whirl. But then it turned out that all those tics and gambits and quirks of his that I liked or at least was not overly annoyed by in the first books had utterly worn out their welcome. Utterly. I believe I’ve had enough of him.

And then there’s Douglas Coupland. Who’s OK. I’ve read all of his novels so far and although none of them are dazzling in any way, all are adequate. They are just fine. He usually muffs the ending but I’ve usually had a good enough time reading until the dumb part that I can overlook it, and plus, by now I know the dumb part is coming so I’m not too let down. Eleanor Rigby (and Oh. My. God. do I hate books named for famous songs) seemed like fairly standard Coupland fare—he’s pretty much the same age as me so his narrator usually is too, and right away we’ve got a common cultural frame of reference—until he introduced a character with a terminal disease called multiple sclerosis. Uh-Huh. Listen Up, Doug: MS is NOT a terminal illness. People sometimes die of it but it's pretty DAMN rare. So learn to do some motherfucking research or go fuck yourself.

Technically, I’m still reading Yann Martell’s latest; I haven’t exactly quit yet. But The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios is, well, a collection of short stories, and what am I, stooopid or something? I think maybe yes. I got through the first, quite long story, which is about a story that we are never told. The narrator said it was good though. So that was kinda frustrating because I kind of got the feeling that the story that the story was about was better than the story I was reading. Martell is a fine writer—I thought the prose and wit and imagination of Life of Pi were all just sparkling. But these stories are from early in his career and they just aren’t making the grade for me.

I picked up the new Haruki Murakami this weekend, as well Fatelessness by Imre Kertész, which has been dancing around the edges of my consciousness for a couple of months now. I can hardly wait to dig into the Murakami…I am really looking forward to reading it. I can't help but think that both of those books are going to be so much better than the stories remaining in the Martell book. And that’s not fair…no one would ever finish anything if the completion criteria was that there were no better books waiting to be read. Fair or not though—it’s not looking good for poor Yann.

(Extra! My New Favorite Joke!)
A sentence was at a job interview, and the interviewer said "we're starting a new paragraph and we have an opening for an unambiguous, declarative sentence. Do you fit that criteria?"
"Well," replied the sentence, "I'm pretty sure that I am probably the sort of sentence you may be looking for."
And the interviewer said "Sorry, but I'm afraid you are over-qualified."


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