Welcome to the new and improved BookBlog featuring all CSS, all the time. Although the design and layout haven't changed much, those evil tables (At least, that's what the Internet seems to say.) have been banished. Figuring out how to set everything up using CSS felt like learning another language, so I'm pretty proud of myself even if only the home page is finished. Eventually, the redesign will filter down to the rest of the site.
The best feature, I think, of the redesign is that the text can be re-sized through the browser's "view" menu without messing up the layout. I'm half-blind (a.k.a. old) and often have eye strain (a.k.a. sit in front of the computer for too long), so this nifty change makes me feel like the effort was worthwhile.
As you probably have already noticed, I made a (very hard) decision to place more advertising on the site. Supporting The Gender Genie and its few thousand visitors each day is expensive. I have attempted to make the ads as unobtrusive as possible, and I hope they won't interfere too much with reading entries on the site.
Now that the new code is live, I already see a few things that need to be tweaked. For starters, my (crappy) IE6 has added a scroll bar to the bottom of the page for no good reason other than to annoy me. Add that to the fix list. If you happen to see anything looking wonky or if there's something with the design you really, really don't like, please let me know. The input would be very helpful.
Whew. Three posts from me in one day. I better curl up in bed with a good book before I burn out with web overload.
During the last several days, I've been obsessively working on a non-table, all-CSS redesign of BookBlog. The new home page should be ready either today or tomorrow, with the rest of the site following in dribs and drabs. As a result, I find myself unable to concentrate on anything longer than an html tag (Seriously, I've been dreaming about them.) and can't compose my thoughts enough to write a substantive entry.
In the meantime, here are my results to a little reading quiz:
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader
You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.
Although I should be in bed right now, I have just stumbled across another book contest at Magnificent Octopus. The winner will receive a like-new review copy of Bang Crunch signed by the author, Neil Smith. I have already submitted my entry and have my fingers crossed.
I'd enter, since I like free books, but I've never been to a hair metal concert. Plus, my most terrifying, excrement-depleting experience wasn't caused by a horror film. It happened when I was very young while watching an episode of Sesame Street. To this day, the scars still haven't healed. But, you could be a winner. I'm looking forward to reading the entries.
I almost started this with "Good morning, it's..." Now that I've written a few posts attempting to imitate A Box of Matches, it feels a bit like habit. Once Nicholson Baker got the inspiration, I suspect it was an easy book to write. Slipping into "Emmett Mode" and jotting down every thought that comes into your head is an awful lot like blogging. Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion, which will remain open for as long as the posts remain on the home page. Even if you haven't read the book, please feel free to add your own thoughts since discussing it is actually a jumping off point for discussing our own lives.
Going back to last month's discussion, here's an article from Times Online: "How the CIA won Zhivago a Nobel" (via aydin.net). According to Ivan Tolstoy, author of soon-to-be-released The Laundered Novel, the CIA helped publish Doctor Zhivago in Russian in 1958 as a means of securing the Nobel Prize for Pasternak. In my mind, there's no doubt the prize is, in part, political, so CIA intervention in promoting propaganda against the evil Soviet Empire doesn't surprise me at all. Although I hated both the novel and movie versions of Doctor Zhivago, Tolstoy's book might be one to add to the TBR list. The Washington Post also reports on this in "The Plot Thickens" (may require registration).
I'm well into February's selection, What is the What, and I've been enjoying it immensely so far. It's a timely read considering all the "Save Darfur" commercials on television. In a Conversational Reading post about David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest Barrett Hathcock wondered, "What would it be like to read Eggers’s What is the What without any memory of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and all of the hype and back-lash hype (and on and on) that exists?" I have no idea since I read and was annoyed by Eggers's memoir, but I can say that this book (so far) is written from a first-person perspective in which the narrator isn't completely full of himself. It's tragic and sad, but I'm liking it.
Good morning, it's 8:54 a.m., and I think this is going to be the last post I write in the style of A Box of Matches because I'm starting to get tired of Nicholson Baker. The fire caught quickly this morning and I did not have to resort to using a starter stick. I spent most of yesterday splitting wood, which was a smart decision since it snowed overnight. The wood I've been using recently is contractor's scraps from a house being built near where my mother and her boyfriend live. Her boyfriend knows the homeowner so he drove up and asked for the scraps. It took five car loads to bring it all here, and I've been busily using my hatchet ever since. According to Emmett, "Contractor's scraps burn with many little explosions and whistling sighs (p. 24)," and he's right.
For me, most of the charm in this book comes from Baker's powers of description. When I burn wood, like the contractor's scraps mentioned above, I do it out of the need for warmth and saving money. My thoughts are usually occupied with making the fire grow and spreading the heat throughout the house. Until I read A Box of Matches, I hadn't thought much about "little explosions and whistling sighs." I do, however, know that I like the scraps with nails in them the best. Most of them are mistakes because the nails either bent or went in the wrong direction and I like the idea of freeing the misguided nail by eliminating the wood. When I clean out the ashes every few days, the nails at the bottom of the firebox clink happily as the shovel scoops them up.
Not only does Baker describe normal things in curious ways, he also turns normal things into curiosities. Making morning coffee is something many of us do every day. But have you ever thought about it like this?
First you pull out the old filter, with its layer of coffee sludge, and pin its sides together like a soft taco so that you can get it safely into the garbage can without spilling, and then you rinse out the filter basket and the carafe, taking special care to clean the little hole in the plastic top of the carafe, which is like the hole in the top of a baby's head, where the coffee tinkles down from the basket and into the baby's brain (pp. 16-17).
Uh, coffee tinkling into a baby's brain? Or how about Emmett's suicide fantasies?
If you kill yourself, you are being inconsiderate, because others must deal with the distasteful mess of your corpse. The self-filling grave solved that. You dig for a long time, mounding all the dirt on a sheet of plywood by the hole, and when you've gotten the grave just the way you want it, with the roots neatly trimmed off and a layer of soft, cool, fertile dirt in the bottom and no stones, you put a chair in the grave—not one of any value—and you clamp a revolver to the back of the chair pointing diagonally out and fitted with a remote-control trigger; and then you arrange a complicated system of pulleys and weights so that when you shoot yourself fatally and fall into the soft cool fertile earth, your fall will cross a tripwire that pulls away a prop and allows the load of dirt to slide in after you (pp. 120-121).
Nearly everyone, I'm confident, has thought about suicide at least once in their lives. When I was a moody teenager, ideas about my own death usually followed a family drama and ended with, "That'll show them." However, I never devised ways of hiding the corpse because guts and gore was the guarantee that they'd be sorry for whatever stupid thing they did to wrong me.
Did Emmett's curiouser ideas keep you interested in the story? Do you ever have unusual thoughts? Would you be willing to share them in the comments? If not, why?
Good morning, it's 9:59 a.m.—late. I was able to wake up naturally since the cat decided to take a day off from breathing in my face. I rolled out of bed and moved into the doorway for a yawn and a stretch, and the cat came trotting from somewhere unknown. He let out a blood-curdling meow, which was his way of telling me that he was extremely unhappy about his breakfast being late. After feeding the cat, I started the coffee and the fire. The fire refused to catch again with balled up newspaper and torn cardboard from the packaging from a new duvet cover, so I gave up in defeat and used a fire starter. It's still cold in the house and I'm sitting at the end of dining room table, which is even closer to the wood stove than the end of the couch.
So begins my mundane day.
In A Box of Matches, Emmett describes many mundane things yet somehow manages to make them seem not so mundane:
"What I saw, instead, was a middle-sized, yellow-leafed sugar maple tree. It was behaving oddly: all of its leaves were dropping off at the same time. It wasn't the wind—there was no wind. I stood there for a while, watching the tree denude itself at this unusual pace, and I came up with a theory to explain the simultaneity of the unleaving (p. 35)."
"Yesterday my son and I got haircuts from Sheila in town. I like her because she's fast and she doesn't care that I have what Claire calls a 'roundabout,' meaning that I'm well on my way to being bald. Nor does she want to give my son a shelf haircut. She's a person who just likes cutting people's hair (p. 55)."
"I just laid a Quaker Oats container on the fire, which had burned down to a dim red glow. The cylinder flamed, blindingly, and the Quaker in the black hat, smiling, was engulfed (p. 106)."
"While on the subject of fuel—I think I know why I'm feeling especially lucky this morning. It's because yesterday I hit sixteen dollars exactly when I filled the car with gas (p. 145)."
Leaves falling from a tree, getting a haircut, starting a fire, filling the car up with gas. These things happen all the time, often without barely a thought. For Emmett, such regular events become food for thought and a jumping off point for more thoughts. Eddie feels that the journal-like presentation is "effective." Is it effective for you? Did you find yourself interested in the mundane goings-on from Emmett's life? Do you ever muse on the goings-on in your own life?
...it's 7:22 a.m. and I'm already sitting in my office attempting to write another post in the style of Nicholson Baker. I woke up extra early this morning and the fire has been going strong for nearly two hours already. After balling up some newspaper, I put some charred bits of last night's logs that had fallen to the back of the stove on top, then I put some split kindling on top of that and finished it off with bigger pieces. The newspaper lit quickly but fizzled into a black papery heap, defeated by the wood's refusal to succumb to peer pressure. I made several attempts to manually nurture a flame, but finally broke down from cold and slid a fire starter stick under the pile. The house is now a toasty 73 degrees.
The cat woke me up today by sitting next to my pillow and nibbling on my fingers. When I sleep, I usually tuck everything under the down comforter except my head, which gets snuggled into a deep crevice at the center of my overstuffed pillow. This morning, before I was awake, one of my arms decided to crawl out as I lay on my side because it was more comfortable stretched out than crushed under my torso. Hunger sent the cat to my fingertips in order to let me know that he wanted to be fed as soon as possible. He didn't like yesterday's can of food—sliced turkey in gravy—and spent the day picking at it but not eating. When the cat first arrived, he would wake me up by rubbing his wet nose against mine but has changed his technique because I respond to that by rolling over. Finger-nibbling is more likely to get me out of bed since it subtly sends the message that he would have no problem eating me if he became hungry enough.
My cat's name is Mocha because he has the coloring of a cup of coffee with a little bit of chocolate and cream swirling in it. He's a street cat who showed up here one day and never left. I also have two parakeets who don't have actual names and have gotten by with being called "green bird" and "blue bird." Emmett's family in A Box of Matches has both a cat and a duck.
The duck emerges, making her tiny rapid cheeps, excited over the prospect of the warm water, which steams when I pour it in the bowl. She makes long scoops of water with her under-beak and then straightens her neck to let the warmth slide down. I hold out a handful of feed, and she goes at it with her beak, very fast, with much faster movements than humans can make, moving like the typing ball on an old IBM Selectric (pp. 13-14).
Greta, although not very bright in some ways, is shrewd about cats. What you do is you walk up to the cat slowly, as if you want to say hello, and when the cat tentatively extends its nose in the willing-to-sniff-and-be-sniffed stance, you peck at him sharply. Then, when the shocked cat turns to walk away, his ears back, his feelings and nose hurt, lunge at him and peck him directly on or near his anus. That makes him gallop off—for no animal likes to be pecked on the anus by a duck (pp. 51-51).
In the comments of the previous post, Ana mentions that her favorite subject in the book is the duck. Did you find yourself wanting to hear more about the duck? Do you have a pet of your own and do you ever make observations about its activities?
Good morning, it's January and it's 11:34 a.m., and I'm sitting here with the laptop on the coffee table. I'm in the living room in my blue sweatpants and a tee, at the end of the couch that's closest to the wood-burning stove. The fire is going strong right now because I built it over an hour ago out of last night's charred bits of wood, newspaper, and lumber scraps. I'd normally be writing in my office, but the heat hasn't spread through the entire house yet. This part of the living room is inside the temperature zone that begins at the stove and radiates outward. Sometimes when it's like this, I imagine that the heat is like the ever-expanding bubble of the universe. I'm steering a spaceplane through the known warmth, and as it expands and takes over the unknown cold, I can explore strange new worlds. As of right now, my office is the final frontier.
If I were Emmett in Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches, I'd probably describe my morning in the above way. I made a quick connection to this book because I also build a fire every morning. My house is normally heated with propane, which is quite expensive at $2.89 per gallon, so using the wood-burning stove each day is an economical alternative. All the wood I've been using this winter was given to me, and free is free even if it takes a lot of work to cut it up and haul it around. For me, building a fire results from necessity while Baker's Emmett uses it as thinking time. He muses about the fire itself, the previous day, his job and family, Greta the duck, and the mundane from striking a match to plunging out the bathtub.
In previous posts regarding this discussion, I've mentioned that A Box of Matches does not have a plot, at least, not a linear one. Yet, it still manages to tell a story. We learn about how Emmett met his wife Claire, about their children, about his home and work, and about his thoughts. In fact, the entire book is about thinking, so let's get started by thinking a bit on the book itself:
How would you classify A Box of Matches? Is it a novel? A series of short stories or vignettes? An experiment?
Were you able to connect to the story? Do you have a thinking place? Have you ever mused on any of the same topics as Emmett? At any point, did your own inner monologue kick in and send your thoughts in different directions?
Does this book have literary merit? Is it worth discussing or is it 175ish pages of fluff?
Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches: The discussion of this title begins on Monday. If you were planning on reading it but haven't, there's still plenty of time. A Box of Matches is feather-light reading since it isn't really a novel, has no conflict or resolution, and doesn't bother burdening the reader with having to follow a plot. It does have a setting, though. I plan on rereading it tonight in order to put together topics of discussion, and I anticipate being finished in an hour or so.
Dave Eggers's What Is the What: Last night, I picked up my copy at Borders and was pleasantly surprised by the hardest working bookstore employee I've ever encountered. Their computer said it was out of stock, so he naturally offered to order it. I refused by saying I needed it for a book club, and he walked me over to the "E" section explaining that sometimes their computer system says zero when there is actually one. And I got the last copy. Later, he offered assistance again as I looked confused after losing my co-shopper somewhere in the aisles. When I checked out, the same dude was working a register. He was everywhere.
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: As you can see by the left sidebar, Eddie will be moderating in March. Things Fall Apart should be an interesting follow up to What Is the What as each tells a story from Africa. I would also like to compare it to Doctor Zhivago because both were first published in English only a year apart. Doctor Zhivago, in my opinion, has lost a lot of its initial impact as time has passed. Things Fall Apart is a very different kind of book, but I'd like to think a bit on how well it has withstood the test of time.
Spelling Counts: This has nothing to do with books or future discussions, but it does relate to writing well. After Borders, I went to the grocery store. While browsing produce, I saw a weird-looking item called "Catus Pear." At least, that's what the sign said. I picked it up for a closer look and immediately regretted the action because it was actually a "Cactus Pear." Over the course of the evening, I found several tiny but painful spines stuck in various fingers by the most malicious fruit ever. Spell check, people.
Back when the book was all the rage, I wanted to read it simply because everyone was reading it. However, I refused to buy the hardcover because the publisher was being greedy by holding off on the paperback release. My curiosity increased when I had a brief fling last year with a man who read it despite saying: "I hate to read" and "This is only the second book I've ever finished." (Although I didn't know at the time, these statements foreshadowed the venture's demise.) Eventually, a coworker gave me a gift of the mass market paperback.
And I hated it.
The entire book is made up of puzzles, which, honestly, are pretty easy to solve. For example, here is a condensed version of a riddle scene with dialogue completely made up by me:
Rebel Cryptographer:Mon dieu! What does it mean?
Sir HolyGrail Obsessed: The trickster! We may never know.
Professor of Obscure Symbols: Um, I have a headache.
Three painful pages later...
Professor of Obscure Symbols: You see, the pentacle was originally a pagan symbol representing the sacred feminine. The Star of David, in contrast, is made up of a combination of the symbol for man, the blade, and the symbol for woman, the chalice. Not only that, but Leonardo Da Vinci was known for hiding symbols in his paintings just to piss off the church. Clearly, this means that we're looking for the resting place of Mary Magdalene.
Sir HolyGrail Obsessed: Mary Magdalene was not a whore!
Rebel Cryptographer:Sacrebleu! But what does this have to do with the clue?
Professor of Obscure Symbols: We need a mirror!
Sorry for ruining it if you're one of the ten people who doesn't already know the story.
When Eddie mentioned that the movie was next in his video queue, I insisted that I be invited over to watch. He wanted to see it because he enjoys Tom Hanks movies. I wanted to see it because of two personal issues that should probably be worked out in therapy:
When I am unhappy with something, my first thought is usually that the problem is me. This is because my mother's voice is in my head. Back in grammar school, I'd come home and tell her that so-and-so kid picks on me or Sister Mary So-and-so hates me or whatever unjust abuse I suffered that day. Her first response would always be, "Maybe the problem is you." After a while, I gave up complaining because that sentence, in her voice, would pop into my head and silence pleas for empathy. Later, after I became a teacher, it blew my mind when I discovered that some parents will actually go to the school in order to demand justice for their maligned child.
Because of the above, I am also a masochist. For example, I have never understood why George Eliot is considered a great writer. I have read her entire catalog but just can't see it. Since the problem is me and I'd like to understand the appeal, I frequently reread her books in the hope that I might finally understand. As such, The Mill on the Floss is in a TBR pile around here somewhere. My sister, who is not psychologically damaged in this way, finds my Eliot obsession amusing but has considered an intervention to break the cycle of self-inflicted reading torture.
So. I did not like The Da Vinci Code as a book. However, I really wanted to see the movie because the problem is me and I am a masochist. Eddie kindly extended an invitation.
Over on the left, you can see that Ana has chosen February's book, Dave Eggers's What Is the What. I haven't picked up my copy yet and may run out to Barnes & Noble or Borders to see if I can find it. In searching for places to buy it online, it looks as though prices and shipping vary:
What Is the What is also available from other places since the above is just a sampling. The variation in price obviously relates to seller discount. I suspect the longer shipping times might relate to McSweeney's relationship with the recently beleaguered Publishers Group West:
Although I haven't paid much attention to the AMS bankruptcy story—in my book days, publishers and booksellers went in and out of business all the time—this development is a real shame. If you don't mind paying full price, buying it directly from McSweeney's would be the most philanthropic thing to do.
In any case, if you plan on getting this book for next month's discussion, you might want to start looking now. February is a short month.
I love it here. I really do. Contained within a tiny plot of land is the best and worst of everything. We have big cities, manicured suburbs, rural towns, great food, culture, museums, the arts, sports, industry, etc. We also have the ugliest stretch of highway in the country, chemical plants spewing a whole lot of pollution, and really stinky swampland. If the best isn't enough or the bad gets to be too much, we have easy access to the biggest city in the world yet can sleep securely in the comfort of knowing we don't have to live there. Other people love it here, too. Jim of Parkway Rest Stop recently linked to a video homage to famous Garden Staters. A lot of us have gone on to do great things.
But here's what bothers the resident in me. The New Jersey Hall of Fame has good intentions and is designed to celebrate our achievements. However, it still subtly perpetuates the inferiority complex that has plagued us since the dawn of the United States. The web site claims "voters enter to win Ultimate New Jersey Fantasy Package." And what is the first prize in an Ultimate New Jersey Fantasy Package? Meeting Joe Torre and four tickets to a Yankee game. Huh? Last I heard, Torre is a New Yorker, born and raised, while Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx. Second prize is a concert in the Meadowlands and third prize is a night down the shore. Garden State-y, yes, but they don't make up for the fact that the best of an Ultimate New Jersey Fantasy Package is a trip to New York.
And here's what annoys me as a book lover. Nominees are sorted into five categories: historical, general, sports, arts & entertainment, and enterprise. All are very fine areas of excellence. Arts & entertainment, though, includes only TV, film, music, art, and dance. Where are the writers and poets? In the general category. Despite writing being both a form of art and entertainment, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Toni Morrison are lumped in with William J. Brennan (U.S. Supreme Court Justice), Norman Schwarzkopf (Military Leader), and Harriet Tubman (Underground Railroad). Walt Whitman, on the other hand, is grouped with the historical nominees. What a hodgepodge of mis-categorization.
i finally watched the movie (my companion slept through most of it, if that is any indication of its merit). the story unfolds as zhivago's brother interviews zhivago's daughter. not only is this not part of the book, but also the rhetorical import of doing so appears null (it might have been more interesting if the daughter actually had something to say). the movie depicts the love story more than any tale of social commentary. unfortunately, despite being a high budget film (for its time), the love story is just mediocre. maybe it has something to do with the stoic manner of zhivago's character, or the lack of insight into the inner workings of zhivago's heart and mind (no poetic verse here), or maybe i came to it looking for more consistency with the book... it did seem to have pretty good cinematography (good camera angles, for example), but in all, i give it a "thumbs down." the book was better. i wonder how i would have felt if i had seen the movie first...
Yes, I slept. However, I did begin the video session with enthusiasm:
Me: So, this movie has a pretty famous piece of music from it. Eddie: [splashing water while washing dishes]
But, then. The overture went on and on and on. The opening credits went on and on and on. Finally, something happened.
Me: Eddie! Something's happening!
After a few sentences discussing the first scene, which technically takes place at the end of the book but which also doesn't actually happen in the book, I was asleep.
The next three attempts to watch the movie resulted in more napping. I fell asleep when Pavel marches with the workers. I fell asleep when Komarovsky takes advantage of Lara for the last time. And I fell asleep after Zhivago deserts the unit that conscripted him. Finally, tonight, I made it to the end without snoring and was pleased as punch when the final credits rolled.
Like Eddie, I give it a thumbs down. The love story stunk, and I still have no idea why they got together. Omar Sharif was an even more boring Zhivago than the one Pasternak created. I also would have gone mad if I had to hear "Lara's Theme" again. Eddie didn't mind the cinematography, but all the emphasis on eyes got on my nerves. There had to be at least a dozen scenes where everything is in shadow except for Omar Sharif's eyeballs or Julie Christie's eyeballs or their eyeballs staring at each other's eyeballs. And what was with that white halo around Zhivago's head when he flashes back to thinking he sees Tonia in the snow? Gah!
Despite not reading it, I did participate in the discussion with one comment: "I hate this book." At the time, I couldn't expound further. Every sentence felt like torture. I simply wanted to be rid of Calvino as quickly as possible and move on to the next book since second person doesn't work for me. With first- or third-person narration, the reader is along for the ride like a fly on the wall. A casual observer, if you will. But when a book starts talking to me, I can't keep from talking back.
Like when I'm in the grocery store and the self-checkout scanner repeats, "If you are done scanning, please press 'finish and pay,'" as I fumble in my purse for a bonus card because there's no way I'm missing out on the 5-cent discount per pound of American cheese even though my eight ounces will only net me 2.5 cents and the machine's incessant nagging about pressing a button on its unsympathetic, cold screen forces me into telling it firmly, "I am trying to finish and pay, so back off," even though the rational mind knows it doesn't care about the pressure I'm feeling.
And that's another step closer to insanity.
So I didn't read If on a winter's night a traveler. But I participated in the discussion. And I'm going to add an entry to Kate's Calvino Meme.
Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages:
That would be every book in my TBR pile, which now numbers over 200. Just to name a few that happen to be near at hand, we have 10th Grade by Joseph Weisberg, The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad, and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.
Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success:
I'm not much of a collector, so I've never found myself thinking about hard-to-find editions. However, I would love to know what my mom did with the reproduction turn-of-the-century spelling text I won at the county spelling bee. It was clad in fine-smelling leather.
Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case:
The BookBlog Library. Although a discussion may be over, I often go back and refer to them again. I have a handful of reference books, like The Vogue Sewing Book.
Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer:
I have never understood the summer reading thing. Why put off to summer what you could start reading now?
Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified: Everyday People by Stewart O'Nan. Besides Clyde remarking on the author's name, it's been compared to Clockers by Richard Price. Both are books by white guys about black guys. I thought Clockers was only okay, but enjoyed it enough since many of the scenes took place in and around my hometown. Everyday People is set in Pittsburgh. I'm curious to see how the two compare even though the first was only okay, I know little about Pittsburgh, and I'm not a white guy writing about black guys.
On January 22, 2007, we will begin our first discussion of the new year: Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches. When I realized I'd be hosting again, I wanted to find a short, low-stress read. Our last three books—The Dew Breaker, Wuthering Heights, and Doctor Zhivago— were heavy duty. In sharp contrast, A Box of Matches is written using uncomplicated prose and does not burden the reader with keeping track of minuscule details. In fact, it doesn't even have a plot.
Good morning, it's January and it's 4:17 a.m., and I'm going to sit here in the dark. I'm in the living room in my blue bathrobe, with an armchair pulled up to the fireplace. There isn't much in the way of open flame at the moment because the underlayer of balled-up newspaper and paper-towel tubes has burned down and the wood hasn't fully caught yet. So what I'm looking at is an orangey ember-cavern that resembles a monster's sloppy mouth, filled with half-chewed, glowing bits of fire-meat. When it's very dark like this you lose your sense of scale. Sometimes I think I'm steering a spaceplane into a gigantic fissure in a dark and remote planet. The planet's crust is beginning to break up, allowing an underground sea of lava to ooze out. Continents are tipping and foundering like melting icebergs, and I must fly in on my highly maneuverable rocket and save the colonists who are trapped there.
If you just asked yourself, "WTF?" you'll be repeating that question throughout the book. Unless you're like me. Then the question becomes, "Wasn't I just thinking about that the other day?" In any case, A Box of Matches is an interesting exercise in breaking most conventional rules about novel writing.
For future discussions, Ana is looking for a title for February while Eddie is considering hosting March. If you'd like to moderate April or another month, please feel free to leave a comment here or send an e-mail to mistress[at]bookblog[dot]net.