le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Hardly a new issue, but the abundance of quotes zooming around the internet that are not attributed, incorrectly attributed, inaccurately sourced or documented is immense, and infuriating. I hadn't seen this one before, though, and now I'm really annoyed.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! In every place I've seen this where a source is mentioned, it is attributed to Lewis Carroll.

Those lines seem to be in Tim Burton's rather dreadful 2010 adaptation of Alice, spoke by the Mad Hatter and Alice, respectively.

This particular image pairs the fake Carroll quote with one of John Tenniel's original illustrations for the 1865 publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I also saw the quote with Tenniel's illustration of Alice talking with the Cheshire Cat, while he is perched in a tree. THAT illustration comes at the end of Chapter 6 "Pig & Pepper," and is when Alice and Cheshire Cat have their discussion about madness.
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't be here."

Getting the attribution correct matters. Carroll didn't write the "Have I gone mad" quote. It's from a bad movie made four years ago. I knew it was wrong the moment I saw it, because I have read and/or taught *Alice* 300 million times (not an exaggeration). I know every line in that book absurdly well. And "bonkers"? come ON.
It's quite easy to check the text, as well, if you don't trust me: the text is free on Project Gutenberg, and you can do a find/search for the words from the quote.

If you love the Tim Burton quote, fine! Just don't say it's from Lewis Carroll. If you want to quote the original Carroll text on the subject of madness, Alice's conversation with the Cat is perfect.

Give credit where it's due. Care about accuracy. Words matter, and so do the people who write or say them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle + No Future

I'm jumping happily onto the Grasshopper Jungle bandwagon; I read it over the weekend and loved it, of course. I love Austin and Robby as characters; I love Austin's histories; I love Eden Five Needs You 4; I love that this is a book that stars a bisexual teenager (bisexuals get short shrift everywhere); I love that sperm and balls are major plot points/motifs. I love that, very late in the book, there is a wonderful small clever joke referring to a whaling accident. I love that the book manages to be funny, anxious, deeply loving, dissatisfied, and completely horny all the time. I love that everything makes Austin horny. I am dying to teach this book already, though I anticipate students disliking the - what should I call it? omniscient isn't the right word - multidimensional? view and knowledge of history that Austin has, which is one of the things I loved most about the book. Austin is writing from a kind of 360 degree view of history - the only way I can describe how it felt to me as a reader is the way that certain video games and google street view and things allow you to rotate your view in every direction. Austin sees the past, the present, the future - they are both diachronic and synchronic. Everything is always happening, everything has always already happened, everything will always have happened. It's great and a bit dizzying. Andrew Smith has knocked everyone's socks (and Eden jumpsuits) right off with this novel, and all the praise he and the book have gotten are totally deserved.

The thing I mainly want to say is that Grasshopper Jungle and Lee Edelman's No Future belong together. Late last night this occurred to me - the "no futureness" of the book, the dying Iowa town, all those lost balls and discarded sperm, the "unstoppable" everything, the fact that it is a record, as Austin tells us immediately, of the end of the world. There is a smidgen of reproductive futurity in the book, but not in a way that really makes the reader believe in that future. Grasshopper Jungle, with its gay hero Robby, and its bisexual narrator Austin, and the lurking megalomaniac Dr McKeon are all figures of non-futurity. What I find wonderful and curious is that Smith somehow makes this non-futurity seem, if not exciting or positive, then far from bleak. This is not an unhopeful book, though it is not a hopeful one, either. It is an exercise in synchronicity, in apophenia, in lines converging, crossing.
But it is not for one moment a book where Our Hero takes the Romantic Interest by the hand, and steps out into the sunshine and into the bright new future. There is something Else in Grasshopper Jungle.  I don't know what it is, exactly, other than queer, though queer doesn't seem totally accurate. It's been several years since I read Edelman carefully, and I don't have time to revisit him now, but I think if you put No Future and Grasshopper Jungle alone in a room together, some kind of exciting and intriguing critical reaction will take place.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

If you liked The Fault in our Stars....

A friend just asked my opinion on this list from mashable of "9 YA Books To Read if You Loved The Fault in our Stars."  It's an okay list - Eleanor & Park; Winger; Wintergirls; The Spectacular Now; An Abundance of Katherines. I haven't read every title, but I've read a bunch, and read about a few others.

But because I'm me, I made my own list of 13 YA Books To Read if You Loved The Fault in Our Stars, and it is:
*Jellicoe Road,* by Melina Marchetta
 *Going Bovine* by Libba Bray 
*Life As We Knew It* by Susan Beth Pfeffer (first in her Moon trilogy)
 *Boy 21* and/or *Sorta Like a Rock Star* by Matthew Quick *The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen* by Susin Nielsen. 
*Where Things Come Back* by John Corey Whalen
*Why We Broke Up* by Daniel Handler, with amazing illustrations by Maira Kalman. (Handler, of course, is Lemony Snicket). 
 *This is not a test* by Courtney Summers
*Last Night I Sang to the Monster* or *Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood.* by Benjamin Alire Saenz 
*The Last Summer of the Death Warriors* by Francisco X. Stork
*The First Part Last* by Angela Johnson

And not technically YA, but about children and teenagers for much of the book - *Never Let Me Go* by Kazuo Ishiguro

Thursday, June 05, 2014

choosing my battles

Slate.com posted an awful short article by Ruth Graham, titled "Against YA" which instructs adults to be "Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books." Graham writes many tiresome things which mainly reveal her poor critical skills and her lack of knowledge of YA lit, but the one I'm choosing to reply to is this:

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists. Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.
 A lot of YA and children's fiction end on an "up" note. There's at least a thread of hope, or hopefulness, injected into the conclusion of even the grimmer YA novels (Peter Cameron's fantastically good Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You) may be the best example. On the other hand, novels like Mockingjay inject a grim note into an *apparently* hopeful ending.
One could argue that, if you consider that most YA fiction is either narrated or focalized by an adolescent, the hopeful ending is the most realistic: at age 16 or 14 or 19, most of us do believe that things will get better, than upward progress is the really the only progress or trajectory our lives can take. Lack of experience is one thing that makes this perspective possible, and Graham's reaction to the "up" ending as unsophisticated and stupid makes the old mistake - one I am increasingly annoyed with - of confusing "lack of experience" with "stupidity."

But the real point I want to make is this: a great deal of adult fiction has an up ending. Almost every piece of popular fiction - film, book, tv - ends on an up note. Even the classics, which Graham seems to regard positively, do this. Jane Austen? Courtship novels end with a wedding. They end with happy couples about to embark on their lives together. Shakespeare? Well, the tragedies and histories don't exactly leave us chortling with delight, but the comedies? End with weddings. Happiness. Looking forward to the future.
How about Charles Dickens, my own beloved? Has Ruth Graham ever read any Dickens? Our Mutual Friend, or Bleak House, or The Old Curiosity Shop? Nicholas Nickleby? The impossible coincidences, inheritances, legacies, couplings, weddings - even when they recall sorrow (Little Nell's death) it's through a haze of happiness (Kit and Barbara's pairing, Dick Swiveller and his Marchioness).
Crime and Punishment has an up ending, for heaven's sake. So does Robinson Crusoe and Paradise Lost and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Wordsworth's Intimations Ode and Jane Eyre. I think you could make a case that The Great Gatsby has an up ending. Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, undoubtedly a complex and sophisticated novel, has an up ending.

Of course there are classics that don't end happily, with all loose ends tied up. Henry James is quite the purveyor of these - Portrait of a Lady, for example. Wuthering Heights, with all those miserable vile characters.

But the stories that are popular - they don't end in wrack and ruin, for the most part. I know this because I actually really like stories that end bleakly. A friend once said "It's a good movie if, at the end, you kind of feel like you want to die." And yes! This is true! One of the greatest movies I know, and also one with the bleakest ending I can think of, is the Russian film The Thief. It is a tremendous film, and ends terribly. It's great.
But who has seen The Thief? Much more likely that you've seen Love, Actually, or There's Something About Mary, or Star Wars. And the books, the fiction, that people read: most of it has satisfying, unambiguous conclusions. The couple get together/get married/reaffirm their relationship. The criminal is caught. Justice is delivered. The world is saved. Even in stories where there's something sad/difficult/devastating - say, maybe, Armageddon, there's an up ending - because the Youth will Go Forward Into a Bright Future.

Pretending that "adult" literature is sophisticated and complex and challenges triteness at every turn is absolutely dishonest in every sense of the word. The only way you could really believe this is to never have read any books at all. "Snobbish" doesn't come close to beginning to describe what's going on, if you're trying to stake a claim for the sophistication of the endings of adult fiction as opposed to that for younger readers.