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Oulipo Laboratory

REVIEW — Founded in late 1960 in France, at a colloquium on the work of Raymond Queneau, in order to research new writing by combining mathematics and literature (and also to just horse around) the Oulipo (The Ouvrior de LittÈrature Potentielle or Oulipo (The Workshop of Potential Literature)) expanded to include all writing using self-imposed restrictive systems.

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Trivial Pursuit

REVIEW — For Judith Slater Old Scratch lies in the trivial. Slater has written a volume of carefully crafted short stories with a cutting humor about seemingly trivial moments in characters lives that gradually expose the fragility of their hopes and the fleetingness of their satisfaction in live. Not to say that these are nihilistic stories, although in their simple flat sentences and carefully modulated first person voices the subject matter of couples and therapists and waitresses this books does hearken back to the eighties and that nasty word minimalism. Slater’s book does remind me a lot of Anne Beattie. Slater’s characters emerge as complex, contradictory portraits, in spite of the sometimes too good to be true situations. In “The Bride’s Lover” the bride hires an ex-boyfriend to photograph her wedding. In “Glass House,” a businessman has an affair with a visiting artist at his daughter’s school. His agoraphobic wife will not leave the glass house until an Oregon storm bursts the transparent walls.

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Psychedelic Monkey Droppings

REVIEW — Stewart Lee Allen theorizes in The Devil’s Cup that coffee launched history out of the slowly moving, drunken Middle Ages (where each man woman and child consumed the equivalent of a six pack a day) to our current, sober and caffeinated instant. Stewart Lee Allen begins with coffee’s obscure beginnings as an Ethiopian religious drug. The legend goes, “an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi one day noticed his best goat dancing about and baaing like a maniac,” and the goatherd noticed the berries the goat had eaten, ate them himself, discovered coffee, and forever altered history. This goatherd’s bean gradually stimulated history through the industrial revolution and spread of capitalism through the institutions of coffeehouses. Some of the world oldest and most powerful business, such as the East India Company and Wall Street, began as coffeehouses.

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