Thursday, January 19, 2006

Litblogging long before the internet

The other night I read a couple of novels as a reward after finishing my own dreaded novel revisions; the first one was a really very entertaining first novel of a kind I don't usually read (fashion-industry semi-jokey-but-really-fairly-serious chick-lit/crime) but was pleased by, Fashion Victim by Sam Baker. I definitely recommend it, it's well-written (well, a few point-of-view glitches) and likeable and very much of the best of the Lipstick Chronicles-type fare.

It was eclipsed, though, by the next one I read, which I ABSOLUTELY LOVED. How come I never heard of this book before? (Actually, that's clear enough if you look at the Amazon reviews--it is a long time since I was a teenager, and this was first published in 1999....) It was recommended by Kevin Wignall (who blogs with a few others at Contemporary Nomad and is actually elsewhereblogging a serial novel called Like Plastic--go down to the bottom of the page and read upwards, obviously--but is chiefly notable for being the author of two superb if-you-took-the-fat-suit-off-the-best-of-Robert-Ludlum thrillers called For the Dogs and People Die which have my absolutely highest recommendation, they are so smart and well-written they had me drooling with envy when I read them). I registered the name of this book a while ago and then he recommended it again recently and I swore to get it at once. For some reason (hmmm, can't think why; the last name of the author, I suppose?) I had sort of mixed it up in my head with something like The People's Act of Love by James Meek (which I have not read)--like, uh (I realize this sounds completely idiotic and implausible), that it was a worthy and poetic novel set in Siberia near the beginning of the century. NOT!

So what's the novel in question? (Don't know why I'm having so much trouble getting to the point this evening--I guess I got distracted pasting in those links.) The absolutely perfectly lovable The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Oh, it's perfect, it's narrated (well, he's writing letters, so I guess it's an epistolary novel really) by a super-depressed teenage boy who's on a Dostoevsky-Fitzgerald-Ayn-Rand-Salingeresque reading jag & quite simply the voice is the most affecting thing you'll ever read, it's great. Very funny and touching and perfectly done.

It's sort of non-excerptable, the effect is cumulative, but here's a nice early stretch (seriously, this is the great novel of the mix tape, do you remember the pain and agony of making/receiving those in the teenage years? I was just remembering a non-love related one my friend Paul made for me, it was called "Trashy Novels" and it had T. Rex, Slider on one side and Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque on the other, two albums that I actually still listen to all the time though now on my iPod--not properly a mix tape, but still...). Anyway, here goes:

Honestly, I don't like doing dishes. I like eating with my fingers and off napkins, but my sister says that doing so is bad for the environment. She is part of the Earth Day Club here in high school, and that is where she meets the boys. They are all very nice to her, and I don't really understand why except maybe the fact that she is pretty. She really is mean to these boys.

One boy has it particularly hard. I won't tell you his name. But I will tell you all about him. He has very nice brown hair, and he wears it long with a ponytail. I think he will regret this when he looks back on his life. He is always making mix tapes for my sister with very specific themes. One was called 'Autumn Leaves.' He inlcluded many songs by the Smiths. He even hand-colored the cover. After the movie he rented was over, and he left, my sister gave me the tape.

"Do you want this, Charlie?"

I took the tape, but I felt weird about it because he had made it for her. But I listened to it. And loved it very much. There is one song called 'Asleep' that I would like you to listen to. I told my sister about it. And a week later she thanked me because when this boy asked her about the tape, she said exactly what I said about the song "Asleep," and this boy ws very moved by how much it meant to her. I hope this means I will be good at dating when the time comes.

Anyway it's a sad book (actually the end wraps things up a little too neatly, that's my only complaint) and a good one & will be added to my mental shelf alongside Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and (a particular favorite of mine, everybody should read this one as well as Chbosky) Ben Rice's Pobby and Dingan.

Ever since that I've just been sleeping weird hours and racing through Boswell's really altogether delightful Life of Johnson. The funny thing is that the whole litblog thing has taken off since I last read this book c. 1995 and seriously (this will sound overly whimsical or affected if you have never read [a] Boswell or [b] litblogs) Boswell is SO a litblogger avant la lettre! It would have been the perfect form for him--his writing is so much in the spirit of it--it's really just like, oh, what's a good example, Ed's recent post on David Foster Wallace. JUST like. Trust me on this.

Perhaps the most personally interesting quotations I've come across in the first five hundred pages or so are from Johnson's anxious/appealing letters just preceding the publication of the Dictionary. (That link's for a remarkable thing, the CD-ROM version which includes the first and fourth editions, it's quite amazing--well, the interface is a bit clunky, I think they are going to update this in some newer & online format shortly--and if you were going to blow $320 on something you could hardly do better. Or go and check it out at your local research library. It's amazing.)

Reading the letters Johnson sent as he's waiting to hear, anyway, seriously gave me a pang; I hope this is not hubristic, but it is hard to imagine a clearer expression of how you feel when you're an author awaiting knowledge of how your book will be received. Here's Johnson writing to Thomas Warton:

I now begin to see land, after having wandered, according to Mr. Warburton's phrase, in this vast sea of words. What reception I shall meet with on the shore, I know not; whether the sound of bells, and acclamations of the people, which Ariosto talks of in his last Canto, or a general murmur of dislike, I know not: whether I shall find upon the coast a Calypso that will court, or a Polypheme that will resist. But if Polypheme comes, have at his eyes. I hope, however, the criticks will let me be at peace; for though I do not much fear their skill and strength, I am a little afraid of myself, and would not willingly feel so much ill-will in my bosom as literary quarrels are apt to excite.

Or this letter, to a friend and colleague


I have sent some parts of my Dictionary, such as were at hand, for your inspection. The favour which I beg is, that if you do not like them, you will say nothing. I am, Sir,

Your most affectionable humble servant,



  1. Well, thank you very kindly for the comparison. But for the record, I don't copulate after watching a man get hanged. :)

  2. Ed, was the emphasis on "after" in that comment?
    Jenny, I'm so pleased you enjoyed "Perks". I agree, the ending is a little too neat, but that in no way detracts from the overall beauty of the book. It's a few years since I read it but I was smiling just reading what you had to say because it's so clear in my mind.
    Thanks, finally, for being so kind about my books, and good luck with your own.

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