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Reading With Sea

A book club on your own time

Category Archives: reading experience

I know, I know it’s April.

I am just behind on writing for the group.  I finally updated the Sea’s Reads page, which always feels funny to do as I am always surprised how many people are interested.  I realized that out of all the books I purchased last month I only read one full length novel. Of the other two books I read – one was abandoned and the other was experienced only in portions.  March was not productive.  March was not a good reading month.

This month, though short in days, holds wonderful promise.  I have a small stack of books being read simultaneously and half will be through soon.  Last month was a reading struggle.  This month only enjoyable.

-Sea

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Corinne Hofman is not a writer, but as far as storytelling goes – she has nailed it.

About three years ago now I read a book by Corinne Hofmann entitled, The White Masia. As the story begins Corinne, originally hailing from Switzerland or Germany heads with her  boyfriend to Kenya for vacation.  While on vacation she spots a Masai warrior who she instantly falls in love with while internally remarking that this warrior is the most beautiful person she has ever seen.  She makes her mind up to try and be with him.  At the end of the vacation she breaks it off with her boyfriend, heads back to her homeland, dissolves her business there, settles her affairs, and makes the preparations to return back to Kenya in hopes of finding the Masai warrior.  She goes through a lot, A LOT, trying to find him and while I am choosing not to divulge any more detail because I do not want to give the story away, it is an incredible story.  It is entertaining to say the least and I remember that when I read this book it only took me a day.

Fourteen years after the first book, Hofmann wrote a sequel called Reunion in Barsaloi, which I am currently reading.  Apparently, she also wrote a third book about her story which I intend to read when I am through with the sequel.  Hopefully, I will have the chance to finish it this evening.  If anyone is interested in reading a story full of adventure that is completely out of the ordinary read The White Masai.  Hofmann, as I said, is not the most eloquent writer, but she has definitely assumed the rank of a writer in her ability to keep a plot and push it along at a rate that keeps the readings’ fingers inching to turn the next page and the next and the next.

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Have you found what you are looking for … this month at least?  Have you discovered a read that has met your taste buds with satisfaction?  I am still reading The Savage Detectives and I am enjoying it.  It is really different than anything else I have read, but it was not originally written in English and I am having a hard time deciphering what is due to the translator and what to pin to the author.  Either way, it’s been a fun read so far.  Tonight: red wine, candle light, Otis Redding and more Roberto Bolano.

Cheers,

Sea

It was the last thing I wanted to take up the space of today, but the only thing I read today – American Rust.   Intellectual gravity has grounded me in the center of this novel for days, no weeks now.  I have been avoiding it, while muttering insults and gripes about it in my head like a frantic person.  I have been trying my absolute best for a month now to read this book and at last, today, I have given up.  I have abandoned and I am eagerly admitting that I find this book dumb.  Simply and utterly, dumb.  Really, on every level I can think of.

The character develop lacks… everything.  The plot is strictly and outrageously contrite.  I have found myself bored and bored to no end.  I am drawing a line, holding boundaries and making a claim:  I have abandoned American Rust.  Philipp Meyer, I want you to chose a different career or, in the very least, get some help and practice in before attempting another novel.  I cannot get the word dumb out of my mind.  I feel so aggravated by this book that I am finding no capacity within myself to articulately divulge the details of failings this book makes.

I spent so much time last month, with American Rust, avoiding, persisting, becoming irate, avoiding, persisting, becoming provoked, avoiding, persisting, becoming exasperated, that my reading was completely unproductive.  And now I feel more pressure than ever to make up for the loss that was last month as I have collected new books with no slowness.  I hate abandoning books.  It does not provide good feelings.  When I am evading finishing a book that I am not enjoying I carry too much guilt to pick up and read anything else.  Now that I am through trying with this book, I feel such a relief, such weight lifted.

(sigh) Ahh, well, on to better books I go…

-Sea

March becomes April.

The turning is complete and we find ourselves in April.  The Book Discussion page is updated.  At the request of members, I have kept the discussion questions from previous month’s selections on the page and people are welcome to continue their conversations.  Please continue to mark clearly which book you are referring to when posting.

A few of you have offered suggestions on restructuring the book discussion, which included having questions that allow for discussion while reading, rather than needing to finish the book before being able to answer questions.  As a response to this request, I have posted very generic book discussion questions for The Savage Detectives and Tokyo Vice.  These questions refer to subjects such as content, tone, character development, etc.  I used the questions posted on the author’s page for The Help.

I will not be reading The Help and I wanted to announce that I will leave the discussion on this book to those of you who are actually going to read it for April.  Personally, I am in the mood for more seedy, dark, sarcastic, sharp, rough, and raw sort of reads so I am going to stick with the other two selections to begin with as they seem like they may fit into my current appetite.    On that note, I will be updating the Sea’s Reads page soon as I know that some of you do actually want to know what I am buying, reading, loving, rejecting and so on.  Also, at the request of members, I will be writing more about the books I am reading and what I think of them.  On this note, I wanted to write a short disclosure, first:

I allow myself to get swept away with what I read whether that means being in love or full of disappointment, so as a forewarning, my comments will be gushy and sometimes flirtatious despite leaning on one side or the other.  I enjoy sinking into what I am reading.  I am stating this clearly, here and now, so that it does not surprise you.  Whether I am writing about an ex-dominatrix I admire, a female pastor that stretches my intelligence, a philosopher who often opens my mind, a poet who tickles and pleases, or a novelist who phrases something just right I will gush about what I like and gush about what I do not like.  The first to these posts, was written a few days ago about Whip Smart by Melissa Febos, which you can read here.

Also, I will be writing about books that I read, some of which are written by people that I know.  In the first month, September of 2008, in Nick Horby’s first collection of essays he wrote for the magazine, The Believer, entitled, The Polysyllabic Spree, he lays out some ground rules for his entries: “I don’t want anyone pointing out that certain books I write about in this column are by friends – or, in the case of Pompeii, by brothers-in-law.  A lot of my friends are writers, and so some of my reading time is, inevitably, spent on their books.  I won’t attempt to disguise the connections, if that makes anyone feel better.”  I echo Hornby’s statement.  I am confident in what I like enough to know that the reasons fall outside of who the author is.  Seriously.  I promise.

When my friend, Isaac Marion, years ago, wrote a short story about zombies, I read it.  Immediately, I asked him: “what did you even write this?”  I have always enjoyed Isaac’s stories, but his zombie feature was not something I appreciated.  I do not have a taste for vampire or zombie stories.  Never have.  Years later, after he wrote that short story, he turned it into a full length novel and now that novel has been picked up by an agent and a publisher, talked about by bloggers and reviewers and optioned in Hollywood.  This is my example.  Isaac’s zombie story is his most popular writing yet, but my least favorite.  Despite my understanding of what he was doing with this idea and what he was saying through the story and though I have absolute support for Isaac, I do not like something just because I support the author.  Just like I do not enjoy The Flaming Lips’ newest album simply because I think they are brilliant musicians.

Stay tuned. And feel free to email me.

seabenjamin@gmail.com

-Sea

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No, not Liz Phair, but Melissa Febos’ Whip Smart.

“Do I want to have smooth or my current state of unshaved legs?”, I asked myself internally.  I was reflecting on how I wanted to look when I jumped into bed with Melissa Febos (or her recently released memoir, Whip Smart, that is). I was thankful that the experience of listening to an ex-professional dominatrix caused me to reflect on my own… let’s just say issues and driving forces and self-understanding.  Let me note here, that I have always believed that being aware of our desires intellectually, sensually, sexually are each of equal importance.  In any case,  I wasn’t planning on purchasing a copy of her memoir the night of her reading, since I had far surpassed my pre-determined limit on reading material for the month of March, but when I returned home, I had more than a book with me.

I have been wanting to write about Melissa Febos since I returned home from her reading, at the Elliot Bay Book Company, this past Saturday night.  I am one of those readers who breathe in what I am consuming and allow it to stir what it may in me.  My ability to open myself to influence, allow it to resonate and then filter out what I don’t want to possess or be possessed by made this book a difficult read to begin.  It was intimating to enter this story; knowing nothing of the world you are entering creates a wide spread tantalizing tension. I am not entirely comfortable in predicaments of minimal understanding.  I was apprehensive and expectant and the anticipation was thrilling.  No matter the thoughts spinning and teeming inside my head, I could not help but read it.

I remained curled under the blankets for hours with only a small lamp for light.  Each night that unfolds into early morning finding me under covers infatuated with a read leaves me feeling like I am with a secret lover.  I felt giddy.  I felt ache.  I felt heartache, sadness, strength, determination and a human connection that I am sure runs along the most raw, existential line.  This is a short list of what I felt and am still feeling even now, after finishing.

We have a mixed readership here, at Reading With Sea, so I will not go into every explicit detail, but basically, Melissa Febos worked as a professional dominatrix while earning a MFA from Sarah Lawrence University, somehow maintaining a 4.0 GPA and living in a state of addiction to Heroin.

Now, I have worked with a population of addicts of all kinds for years now and I cannot recall one person who was able to simply maintain a part-time job while using Heroin.  How Melissa was able to walk away with a 4.0 GPA with so many other intense distractions is a mystery to me with the exception of understanding that she is a truly brilliant being.  She has this determination that is beyond the word determination.  This is incredibly rare. I am completely inspired by this woman.  Truly taken by her.  From the moment she stepped up to the platform and microphone I was captivated.

Critics have written that Melissa’s memoir is “titillating, seamy, honest, brave, provocative, curious, disturbing, funny, dark.”  All of these things are uniquely true of this story, in their own context, but Febos, as a writer, is more than these limiting descriptions.  She is expansive and limitless.  Though a fair amount of people grow up with the experience of having at least one person in their life tell them that they are capable of anything they put their mind to, Melissa Febos, actually is.  She does not live in the possibilities of life, but in the movement, the upheaval, the roar, the friction.  There is some privity that resides in Melissa Febos, that she may not fully understand, but I like the way she carries it around.

I can only lament the paucity of time I was able to observe and be near her, but I look forward to her future bodies of work.  Some times there are people that you feel instinctively drawn to.  My innate intuition flared and Melissa Febos does not disappoint, no matter how many layers exist in her daily existence.  After the experiences she had and the ones she wrote about, I hope she knows this simple fact: she does not disappoint, regardless of circumstance, it is just who she is.

-Sea

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It is Saturday morning.  The sky, grey when I awoke, is making its collective effort to reflect blue.  Either way, no clouds in sight and that is a welcome situation.  I am meeting a fellow reading group member, Kelsey, for brunch in a few hours.  Later tonight I will be heading to the Elliot Bay Book Company for a reading, possibly their last, to hear Melissa Febos read from her recent publication, Whip Smart.  More on this later.

Here are my prospective focuses:

1. After brunch I will return home, straight to my desk, to write.  This will take hours as I have a lot to get done and my goal is to make my mind work like a machine.  Or, at the very least, be productive like an assembly line.

2. After hours of writing, I will return to my car, the highway, the streets of downtown Seattle, the blocks of Pioneer Square to hear Febos dazzle my mind and most likely make me blush, though involuntarily.

This isn’t making any sense to you yet.  Let me explain.  Melissa Febos is a woman who paid her way through a MFA program at Sarah Lawrence University by working as a professional dominatrix in New York City.  Now living in Brooklyn, she’s made the necessary sacrifice to travel across country, through the adventures of the Pacific Northwest, landed in Seattle and I will land in a seat in the crowd this evening and hear what she has to say.

Febos’ book, Whip Smart, is her first memoir.  And I say first because I am attempting to be realistic.  Everyone and their mother and third cousin, thrice removed are writing memoirs and if my tone sounds mildly sarcastic, it’s not.  I am up for the challenge of wading through the crap load of crapy memoirs to find the few gems, which is the balance that I believe exists in the collective existence of memoirs.  I have decided to collect memoirs by writers who will talk about their writing careers.  Namely, writing memoirs of writers.  Mouth full.  This idea being the only reason I recently bought Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate, when I have never read any of her work.

So, on this Saturday, I have adventures to run, writing to write and all the while I still have not finished American Rust.  I am taking it with me everywhere today so that I have the option of sneaking in a page here, a page there, a sentence, a word, anything that claims progress.

If I can run like a machine today, making use of every moment, today should be enjoyable.   I am announcing, just in case, that I am forcing myself to finish American Rust this weekend.  By the end of Sunday, sleep deprived or shame-filled, I will make the announcement of my next read.

-Sea

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