Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ad Astra, Jerry

By now, you've probably heard that J.D. Salinger has died.

Rest in peace, you old curmudgeon. It's a goddam shame.

My thoughts go out also to my high school English teacher, Robert Kaplow (who wrote the novel that became Me and Orson Welles). I remember how hard he took it when Welles died. I can only imagine how much tougher it is for him now that his biggest literary hero has typed The End.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Naked Guest Post (Safe for Work)

Earlier today, my first "guest blogger" post was published at Caroline Hagood's blog Culture Sandwich. I have to admit, I love seeing creative things I've written on sites that I don't control.

It's a topic I wouldn't normally blog about — nakedness. But Caroline's got a great site with a fun voice and perspective, and I felt comfortable there. She writes poetry as well as commentary and was my first outside book reviewer here at the Bookshelf.

Not that anyone was asking, but no, I was not in my birthday suit when I wrote it. And I'm sure you're all happier about that.

I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Resolutions/Goals Update

The decorations are down, the bottles have been recycled, and even the fruit cake is gone (and who knows if the same one will be resurrected next Christmas). All that's left are the promises we made to ourselves to work hard to achieve our personal goals.

So, we're a few weeks into 2010, and outside of still having trouble starting with a "1" in the date, I'm doing ok with my goals. I've been writing about 1,000-1,200 words a week so far, which for me is a whirlwind of activity

But how are you guys doing? Are you changing things up already? Are you surpassing your expectations? Have you forgotten those Champagne-induced promises? Have you gotten that impromptu elopement annulled?

Care to share?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: House of Leaves

The following is the first of what I hope will be many book reviews written by a guest reviewer. Thanks so much to Caroline and to other followers of The Elephant's Bookshelf who've said they would like to write reviews. ~ Matt

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Review by Caroline Hagood

Every once in a while, a reader falls in love with a different kind of fiction that changes how we as readers (and writers) think about characters.

In House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski uses the house in the title as a trope for the challenges of written testimony. Here, he has secured himself a space outside of time and narrative from which to survey both.

The inner flap reads: “House of Leaves by Zampanò with introduction and notes by Johnny Truant,” (two of the characters) with no mention of Danielewski. This is followed by an introduction from an edgy countercultural youth (Truant) who claims to have found a collection of writings in the home of an old man who has recently died (Zampanò).

The papers he finds are Zampanò’s scholarly analysis of The Navidson Record, a documentary by yet another one of Danielewski's characters, the world-renowned photojournalist, Will Navidson. The film catalogues Navidson's exploration of the house he moves into on Ash Tree Lane that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

With input and copious footnotes from still more authors and critics real and imagined, the text addresses the physical and psychological world that Navidson examines. The quality that makes Navidson’s house different from the average home is that it suddenly develops new doors, staircases, and hallways; this tortuous structure becomes the novel’s central metaphor for writing.

The labyrinth at the heart of the novel is not only a single location that the characters explore, but also a symbol of the intricate structural composition of the narratives of each of the authors, including Truant, Zampanò, Danielewski, Navidson, and even Navidson's wife, Karen, who also contributes a short film to the novel’s roster of texts.

Since the majority of the critics and authors mentioned either do not exist, or exist but did not say what the novel claims they did, House of Leaves critiques writing's truth claims when it comes to representing individual and communal history.

Danielewski is not at all interested in our progressing right-side-up trip through his literary phantasmagoria. Clearly, authorship is being turned on its head as unstable meaning is filtered through multiple creators. But how do we read a book like this? Easy: we have to change the way we read.

Danielewski is not concerned that we locate an answer; rather, he wants us to note how each new interpretation changes the labyrinth of the narrative structure. In this way, Danielewski demonstrates that the trajectory of history, or present reality, can be altered.

That one writer’s analysis is not an absolute truth is made clear to us as readers of a heap of invented criticism. In a novel that comprises stories from multiple authors, as well as criticisms of these authors that we are forced to engage with as though they were, like us, real outside readers, we are confronted with the changeable nature of written "truth."

In the end, the house represents not merely language but metalanguage. It is the commentary on all stories, both fictional and historical; it's a chance to rewrite reading, writing, and history.

Caroline Hagood is a poet and writer living in New York City. She has written on books, film, and culture for Film International, Film-Philosophy, Film Catcher, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Campus Progress, The Journal of Popular Culture, The DVD Lounge, in her own column on writing for Blogcritics, and her own blog, Culture Sandwich, among others. Her poetry has appeared in Shooting the Rat (Hanging Loose Press), Movin' (Orchard Books), Oxymoron, Angelic Dynamo and Ginosko. This is her first review for The Elephant's Bookshelf.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

So You Say You Want to Write?

It was the best of times it was the worst of times. Or something like that.

Lately, I've been feeling rather optimistic about a lot of things (and yeah, I've been worried about a lot of other things too.) While this blog is certainly not the most important thing in my life, I have to say I've been thrilled by the increase in visitors and the number of "followers" I've been able to see. I know most of it is related to my fellow aspiring novelists at AgentQuery, but I don't think all of them are.

I've also been a bit concerned about the state of freelance writing; I'll admit that part of my concern is due to my desire to do more of it in 2010 to help supplement my income and keep diapers on my babies' butts. (Note to self: Invest in companies that produce A&D ointment!)

But maybe I can mix these two things a bit and create a Net positive. An Internet positive, if you will. As those of you who read the short interview I did with Victoria Dixon of the Ron Empress blog already know, I had intended this blog to be a place where I could write and edit book reviews. So now that I have nearly twenty followers, I thought I'd see whether any of you have any interest in writing book reviews.

I'd be willing to post them here, I'd give it a quick copy edit (or depending on the quality, more than that, perhaps), and voila! you'd have a book review published. I know, getting a review published on a free blog is nothing too difficult; you could easily do it at your blog too. But I kinda like seeing stuff that I've written posted elsewhere. Maybe you do too.

To be honest, I don't expect many of you to agree to this — especially since I can't pay a dime. Indeed, it's possible I'll remain the lone book reviewer here at the Elephant's Bookshelf (Quick review: Blindness, by Jose Saramago is both disturbing and excellent!) But if just one joins, then I'll be happy as a clam.

So, what do ya say? If you're interested, you can let me know via the comments section or send an email to I look forward to hearing from you.