Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I am studying up on my hiragana and katakana again. Tonight I bought a workbook, and as soon as I started writing the characters, the sounds began to situate themselves in my mind. There's a connection of some sort between making the symbols and recalling and memorizing the symbols and their sounds. That's how it worked last time I studied this language, and it's how it's working again. I studied French for a while too, but it wasn't the same because it used the same alphabet for the most part. I didn't feel like I was dealing with anything that foreign really. Learning Japanese feels like I really do have to go through a translation process, not just from word to meaning, but before that symbol to sound to word to meaning. As if there's an extra step in there that wasn't with a language like French.

I'm reading David Mitchell's novel, Ghostwritten, which is absolutely mindblowing. I'm asking for other people to pick it up and read it too. I want to talk about this book with people, and also his other novels. After I finish this one, I'm on to his second book, number9dream, which was shortlisted for the Booker. And then I'll probably order his third book, which just came out in England, called Cloud Atlas. This man seems to be able to write a novel with multiple narrators, none of which return, that only have one chapter to speak, but somehow it all feels like a novel and totally threaded together in ways that make it inevitably a novel, but like none I've ever read before. The closest I can think of is China Mountain Zhang, by Maureen McHugh, but in that book, one character returns to keep the thread, his voice is the thread of the book, and that's not the case in Ghostwritten. In fact, the thread of Ghostwritten that ties everyone together is a sort of chaos theory that lies behind our everyday banal lives, bringing us together in a really global way, a small world for sure sort of idea. And he blends genres as well. The mystery, the ghost story, folktales, and mysticism. It's quite amazing stuff. So please, if you've read this book or will read it, drop me a line.

I'm dilly dallying with revising a couple of stories and trying to figure out what to work on next. I have a new novel that I want to start working on, but something is telling me to hold off on beginning it in earnest for a little while longer, to focus on revising these two stories that are nagging at me with their ailments, and then to maybe even write one or two more stories before diving in to another big project like a book.

Has anyone noticed the new proliferation of cool kid literary magazines that are being started up lately? I hope that's good news for the short story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which cool kid lit zines are you referring to? Just curious.


4:37 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hey, Christopher--I read Ghostwritten a few years back, so my recollection isn't fresh, but I was impressed. Here's what I said at the time, in a review I put up on

"David Mitchell attempts a lot in this first novel, and for the most part he succeeds. This is a book best read twice, in order to pick up all the subtleties of synchronicity woven into it. Nine characters spread across the globe are all part of the same story, most without realizing it. Or are they? It's not clear, at times, whether these are reliable narrators, and the narrative itself calls into question the nature of ourselves and our actions. What's most unsettling, and becomes the part of the book that simultaneously succeeds and fails most dramatically, is the shift of tone from one chapter to the next--from light romance to melancholy ghost story to heist caper, from New Age road story to small-town charming to impending Armaggeddon. While showcasing Mitchell's range, this fragments the narrative more than it should, so that the tales seem to stand more apart than together. Still, Mitchell is a hell of a writer, with a gift for description and a lively imagination. This deserves to be read, and you deserve to read it."

I've yet to read it a second time, alas. Nor have I read his other work. I had forgotten all about David Mitchell--thanks for reminding me!

6:38 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Hey Trey, I was thinking of magazines that are starting up or that have just gotten started recently, like Swink, Land Grant College Review, Los Angeles Review, Black Clock. They're on the literary side of the tracks, but the fiction is just so weird and good most often.

Hey Dave, Thanks for the review of Ghostwritten! I have many of the same feelings myself. I'm both amazed and also exhausted sometimes by his virtuosity. I guess in his second novel, number9dream, he only uses one narrator, so maybe he was trying to see what he could do without breaking the narrative so often, which does make the reader continually have to reinvest, so to speak. Some of the switches in narrators worked brilliantly, others fumbled around for a bit, but ultimately really successful in general, which I just find to be magic. I think I like the first half of the narrators better than the second half, but I'm not sure why. Maybe the continual switching of narrators is beginning to wear on my patience. I hear his newest book, Cloud Atlas, has eight different narrators, a return to that form, but I also hear it works even better than Ghostwritten. Can't wait to read it. Hey, see you at Wiscon!

8:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home