Phaedrus' Street Crew
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About Hangdog

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  1. Idle thumbs sponsor deals

    Arise old thread to address this still existing dilemma! I was thinking I need socks. I thought, I could check out that Bombas site the Weekenders have mentioned. But I cannot recall the promo code. I would love to be able to help support the network and put my valuable sock budget to good use! This seems to happen to me every few months.
  2. Also, to add to the pile of possible discussion points for the show, there was one other omission that I found a little strange. I wondered, especially in the final chapters, why Kath never spent any time really discussing the bodily changes or physical condition of Tommy, Ruth, or other donors. The donations are ominously non-specific, but I have to imagine that we're talking about kidneys, livers, spleens, stomachs, and (maybe in that final donation) something as serious as hearts or lungs. I have to imagine that most of these donations would cause severe physical disablement--colostomy bags, dialysis machines, breathing machines, scars, severe changes to coloring, etc. To see a lifelong friend so bodily transformed seems like it would be of note. I found myself wondering why Kath never lingered on these details. The actual job of a "carer" is left a little vague, but I have to imagine it is somewhat similar to what a nurse does, right? Or is it? What do others think that a carer actually does? Is there some sort of implication embedded in the text that explains why Kath doesn't go down this road in her observations and ponderings? Is there something in their inculturation that wipes this visceral sort of curiosity from their minds?
  3. So, it's my first time really reading/posting in these forums, so I'm not entirely clear what the best practices are regarding spoilers. Do we post here assuming that all spoilers should be hidden? What's the etiquette? Having just finished, I have similar questions to those already brought up. First off, I did enjoy the book quite a bit. I loved the clean, elegant prose, especially in contrast to Fates and Furies, which I strongly disliked mostly for it's showy, overworked prose and metaphors. The language in this book, I thought, felt honest, actually artful, and emotionally earned. I also very much enjoyed the slow unveiling of this alternate world. It reminded me a bit of a quote I recently encountered via an that quoted science fiction author and editor Joseph W. Campbell as saying that the goal of science fiction is to "make the marvelous seem mundane, and then the mundane will seem marvelous." I love this approach to science fiction: a novel as carefully focused on human experience and character and perception as any realistic novel. The unveiling of the world is really what makes it such a page turner. At some points, this revelation via the plot felt too neat and crafted, but I forgave those moments for the most part (mostly because I was hungry to know more about this world). Looking forward to the 'cast! I'm sure this issue will be a major part of the discussion.
  4. What is the value in subtlety?

    Also, I think its worth mentioning that good art, including fiction, strives to illuminate or stir in the reader a sense of understanding about society/human nature/meaning that goes beyond our ability to actually articulate them. Or at least our ability to articulate them in a powerfully impactful way. I remember being a stupid kid in high school thinking that it was annoying that Nathaniel Hawthorne took all these ideas and encoded them as symbols in The Scarlet Letter because that's how my crappy lit teacher taught it to me. But of course, that's not what he did at all. Most writers are trying to express the ineffable. Generally, they aren't striving for subtlety, they are striving to express something that's really, really hard to express. And we readers use things like theme and symbol to explain (mostly to ourselves) as best we can, what the writer was trying to say. Most genre fiction isn't striving for that. And that's fine. It's trying to tell you a thrilling/inspiring/terrifying/heart-warming story that is baldly enjoyable. Nothing at all wrong with that. And it's not even an easy thing to do. I know lots of serious writers who've tried to take on genre writing to make a few bucks, and while they are good literary writers, they suck at it. It's a different skill. The subtlety isn't usually an affected or intended element of a work of fiction. It's a side-effect of trying to say something much much harder to say.
  5. I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned any Cormac McCarthy. I've read quite a bit, though I think some of his better known books--The Road and No Country for Old Men--are not really his best (though good). I'd love for you guys to read Blood Meridian. I sincerely put it in the cannon with books like The Sound and the Fury and Moby Dick. One of the best novels of the last 50 years. I'd also throw A Sport and a Pasttime in there. James Salter is also one of the greatest living writers, also difficult, but without being dense. He and McCarthy both manage to be difficult by omission not complication. A Sport and a Pasttime is one of Salter's best. As for a podcast suggestion: not to add more work, but I feel like a short mid-point book podcast would be fun, a sort of check in with your impressions of the book so far, things that are bothering or thrilling you guys, questions about what's to come. To compare to the game podcasts, quite frequently you discuss games while you are engaged with them, not after (which I realize is because games frequently don't have the arc, defined size, and coherency of a novel, but still...). It would also fuel good mid-reading discussions on the board, I think.
  6. I agree. And I think that even if I cared about these particular pop cultures, I would feel the same way. In Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys both, there is a lot of pop culture weaved into the books, but in those cases Chabon mines those artifacts for archetypal and cultural meanings. It's been so long since I read those books, but in my mind the wild Lovecraftian stories of the pulp writer in Wonder Boys expressed potential subconscious anxieties. The superhero stories (especially that amazing Golem stuff) resonated so powerfully with the aspirations in particular of boys from the that class and statra, but also the aspirations of mid-century American culture. And it was so good! In Telegraph Avenue, I feel like the cultures explored are used for nothing more than window dressing. It's name dropping, and beside an occasional delicious turn of phrase (of which there are many) or fleeting situational metaphor, they add no power to the book.
  7. I'm probably down to my last hour of reading. It has become a slog, though there is some tense actiony action in the final bit. But I've got the time now, and I may not later, so here are some of my thoughts: I've been a fan of Chabon's work since I bought Wonder Boys when it first came out in hardcover. I loved that book and especially loved Kavalier and Clay. Chabon definitely has a showy prose style, but I typically find it thrilling. He'll sometimes launch a sentence the way a gymnast launches into a routine, and it's this incredible, twisting and seemingly impossible feat. And usually, the thwack on the mat at the end is utterly satisfying because he's said something rather brilliant in a rather showy but thrilling way. There's some of that in this book, but mostly I found myself getting impatient as hell with his language. Some incredible flights, but lots of "please shut up and get on with it" moments for me. He seems self-indulgent in this one, launching these flourishes when something bare-bones would be better, obscuring a scene rather than heightening it. It's like having a conversation with someone who spontaneously bursts out into dead serious tai chi every few minutes. Not appropriate. It never bothered me in Wonder Boys or Kavalier and Clay. Perhaps it was the material in those case, but more likely he did it in those books with discipline. A good (non-spoilery) example: Later in the book, there is some escalating tension over Aviva and Gwen's practice, and the practice is in serious jeopardy. On page 319, we're back in Gwen's POV, and we know she's heading to a meeting that is one of the most dramatically important in her storyline. And yet...we endure 4 pages of her shopping for and picking out her outfit for the occasion as well as a scene of her with her hair dresser. These aren't completely worthless--we see her mental state in these scenes, there's a little bit of progression of her thinking, but not much, and there's certainly nothing interesting enough in those 4 pages to justify this agonizing setup (but the payoff scene is finally pretty good!) Good fiction is about the accrual of detail, and in the details the bigger themes are explored. But this feels like a house full of junk, and I can't even get from one room to the next without a massive effort. And despite being bloated with language, characters, scenes, throughlines, and pop culture gravitas, it feels like a small, unambitious book to me. Yes, he is a white man taking on race, largely from a black point of view, but that feels like an artificial ambition, or perhaps I only think that because I don't believe the book does much interesting with the question of race. I hope the podcast doesn't spend too much time dwelling on this issue (though it of course deserves a decent chunk, given Sean and Jakes's history with this issue; I just don't think the book itself speaks to race as interestingly as it could). Telegraph Ave feels more like Wonder Boys than Kavalier and Clay, if we're comparing against his previous work. But Wonder Boys felt charming and deliberately, enjoyably small (as opposed to confronting a Big Issue). Both books feature a lovable loser as the main protagonist (if you call Archy the main protoganist). They are both reluctant fathers, terrified of their responsibilities, man-boys, largely good-hearted but unable to act like the men they know they ought to be. We get glimpses of their partners' frustrations. In both books, you get a cast of quirky obsessive side characters, right down to the criminal characters who are both lovably goofy and yet sincerely dangerous. Both books too focus on niche-y pop cultures. The big difference here is that soul music, jazz music, vinyl, blacksploitation films, and midwifery all rank high on the relatively short list of things in the entire universe I don't care at all about. (Well, midwifery is kind of interesting..). Of course, this is my personal taste, and it's clear that Chabon put a lot of work into know these elements; I still just don't get any thrill out of an obscure rare print record reference, real or imagined. Perhaps those who do care about those topics (and I mean no offense if you do), can speak to how they enhanced the book for them. And the Little Local Shop versus the Big Soul-Sucking Chain Store, while a real life issue that I find worth following, sounds like a dreadfully trite conflict for a novel. At least Chabon gave us a situation with some level of complexity: that store probably would bring a lot of jobs and better real estate and it sounds like they do have good music taste--it's not a Walmart moving in). Of course, that's all a bit of a MacGuffin. But if you take out that and the music and the race, the book only seems to be about a group of characters who seemingly, despite understanding the stakes and repercussions, cannot make the right choice. And while that too seems like a theme worth pursuing, I do not follow it in these characters. I never feel like I understand why Gwen goes all the way up to a moment knowing what she ought to do, and then does something different except that she's "built" that way. I never understand why Archy always thinks about how bad he is for doing or not doing something and never does it. I found it frustrating that the moral stakes are so well-articulated yet the characters act always counter to what they understand. I feel like such mistakes are usually made because the stakes aren't well-thought out, so it feels false to me. The characters seem known and clear in their ruminations and opaque at the moment of action, which I found frustrating. I actually wanted more Nat and more Aviva. They seemed more nuanced to me than most of the other characters. Oh well. It might be worth noting, though I can't cite a source, I did read somewhere that this novel rose out of a TV show pilot or treatment that Chabon wrote, and which was never picked up. In that format, you need to open up a lot of lines to hand off to the writing staff. Maybe that's why there's too much going on here with so little focus. But I found little compelling in this. There were some great scenes and sequences and even some really great sentences. Sometimes he settled in and the drama carried the story, instead of the inflated language (most of the midwifery stuff was quite good, I thought, dramatically compelling), but I largely found the characters passively reacting to a situation thrust upon them, which rarely works in good fiction. I'm really disappointed, but I'm sure I'll pick up his next one too.
  8. Books, books, books...

    Perec is pretty great. You should look up some of the other OULIPO works. Interesting. I wish Life was a little more concise, though, as it seemed to drag for me after a while. As a technical feat, I think A Void is his most impressive novel. The entire thing is written without using the letter E (which is actually much harder in French, and it's ridiculous that he did it AND that someone translated it into English without the letter E).