Monday, June 03, 2013

what i read in may

Fish wrangling doesn't pay a living wage.
I’ve hated making phone calls since long before texting and email became semi-preferred modes of communication. So I don’t have to wring my hands about losing touch with humanity; I never wanted to be in touch.

Getting my first job required me to call Lisa, the nice singing teacher who’d offered me free dance classes in exchange for filing sheet music and sweeping the wood floor at her studio. I must have practiced that phone call twenty times with my mom playing the part of Lisa before I actually dialed.

I just used my lunch break to make three phone calls that weren’t exactly traumatic (i.e. no medical test results involved), but which were heavy with the weight of a future I have no energy to plan. Guess what? Two voicemails and one message-with-a-secretary. I love being able to check shit off my to-do list on a technicality.

I actually really like people in person. And I like them in text form. It’s just phone limbo I hate. I also like fake people in text form. On that note, here’s what I read in May:

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting: The stories in this collection are sharp, both in the sense of wit and harshness. The first, "Dinner," features people being boiled alive. A later story, "She-Man," follows an MTF former prostitute as she tries to live the straight life. Her pimp catches up with her and she tells him, "You'll kill me just as dead as a real woman. As dead as your wife or your mother or your sister." Then he does. And she confides, "Their mothers and sisters, of course, are alive."

And that's how injustice plays out in Nutting's stories: a little absurd, a little soul-tearing. I was particularly drawn to "Ant Colony," a nice metaphor about cancer, the body and identity, set in a future in which people are required to house other organisms in their bodies due to planetary overcrowding. Nutting works in the tradition of Kelly Link and Aimee Bender, two other writers I was surprised to like as much as I did. Her writing lacks some of the warmth I find in Bender's, but she's funny and smart and good with a simile, and I will be reading more of her work.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: This was one of those right-up-my-alley books: turn-of-the-century urban squalor, a carnival (well, a World's Fair, which is like a giant, expensive carnival) and a murder mystery. Larson's loose thesis is that Chicago in 1893 showcased the best and worst of what cities of the future could offer: On one hand, there was Daniel Burnham's World's Fair, with its lush gardens, Ferris wheel and (usually offensive and exploitative) international demonstrations. On the other, the city was a vast and lawless place where independent young women could get taken in by the likes of serial killer H.H. Holmes and not be missed until it was too late. But somehow I didn't get fully taken in by the book, maybe because it's told like a true-crime novel and seems irony-deficient. I could have used a little more social commentary, or weird facts about the fair, and a few less leaps inside Holmes' head. Then again, I listened to the abridged version on CD--my librarian mom would be horrified--so maybe that's all there in the full-length version.


Peter Varvel said...

I don't hate phone calls but texting and email have really enabled/increased my passive-aggressive tendencies with those that I don't really want to reach.

And "heavy with the weight of a future I have no energy to plan" really articulates my recurring apathy. :D

Claire said...

I am so with you re: phone calls. I only check my cell for messages maybe once a week. I don't even text. Much prefer email.

Medical phone limbo is the worst.

Basic calls don't cause the anxiety they used to, but I do still run scripts in my head before some calls. My goal is always to be as clear, concise and straightforward as possible. I don't want to have to repeat myself.

Though I must admit I've had a couple of email customer service experiences where the response completely ignored my question, so I had to explain they'd completely missed the point and then repeat my dilemma. That really raises my ire.

Unknown said...

Thumbs up on both books, as I read both and loved them!

Cheryl said...

P and C: Good thing we're all email buddies, huh? :-)

I: You are the most prolific reader EVER!

Una said...

Devil in the White City scared the be-jeezus out of me. Maybe because I read it while dating a man who lived in Chicago. Maybe because I read it late at night with all the lights out but the one I was using to read. Now, I'm married to that man and have driven by where the White City used to be. Eeeks. Still freaks me out. Wanna come visit? :-0

Cheryl said...

Una, I am not above a murder tour! I totally want to visit.