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Your world is just beginning to descend into turmoil, you see the signs and you want out. Visa for Avalon starts with two retirees, Lillian and her lodger Robinson, in a small country town, and but quickly changes when the government declares they are going to tear down Lillian’s house to build an expressway. They spend a day or so trying to figure out if there’s anything they can do, but when they realize they can’t they decide to emigrate to Avalon. There are only a few visas given each year, and the rest of the book takes place in the following week of political and civic turmoil as they travel to the City desperately hoping for those visas.

This novel fell out of print until 2004 when it was rescued from used-bookstore obscurity by Paris Press; and I first heard about this novel in Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. I also recently read The Handmaid’s Tale and it was fascinating to read that dystopia and then immediately read a different dystopia-in-progress. When the novel takes place, in an unnamed future in an unnamed country, you can see fanaticism taking root but it’s definitely not there yet. There are mobs and protests and crackdowns, but, for most citizens living in places outside The City, the status quo is relatively uninterrupted.

The interplay between rushing and waiting is a particularly effective aspect tension-builder.  Bryher plays on everyday life and everyday stresses and fears (like being stuck in traffic) to generate that feeling of restlessness. Perhaps this worked so well on me because of my anxious nature, but I found myself reading faster and faster as the characters are kept on tenterhooks waiting for a visa, for traffic, for their departure time. “Waiting is a form of death, waiting is a form of death, Robinson repeated the sentence as if, like a child running downhill too fast, he could not stop himself.”

The prose is very interesting too. Some of the imagery might be a little much for some, but there are many small details of everyday life that I find very alluring. You get these snippets of how people interact with their environs. Not just their house or nature, but their offices, cars, traffic, technology, etc. Since you don’t get many big details of where the unnamed country is located, you get a lot of small atmospheric details. While you don’t know a lot about the specifics of The Movement, you know they are rebelling against technology. In these glimpses of everyday life, you don’t see any threatening machines, but you do see the prevalence of plastics and other trappings of modern production. Those kinds of details are really what draw me in.

A lot of the novel deals with the characters examining their life in the aftermath of making a very quick decision to emigrate to Avalon. They think of their attachments – to place, to people, to things – and reflect on their situation. They don’t know what their new lives are going to be like, they just decided to pick up and go. In their rush to get out of the country, there are periods of waiting wherein the characters are left with only their thoughts. Reading their internal reflections forces you to look to your own internal life. How quickly could you leave? Would you? What would you take? Who would you tell? I doubt I would do very well, and I doubt I would be able to handle the stress.

I have been reading a lot lately, and not really blogging about anything. Ugh. I know I should be writing more.  Baby steps. Here is a little bit about some of the fiction I’ve read lately.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
I was mostly familiar with David Levithan for writing 1/2 of the book Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Green, which I have read and liked) and as 1/2 of the team who wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (the book, with Rachel Cohn, which I have not read but I was pleasantly surprised by the movie). This didn’t blow me away, but it was certainly lovely and interesting. It’s organized as a dictionary so the stories occur alphabetically instead of chronologically. I like that you can read it differently any time you pick it up, and that it will feel different/read differently based on who is reading it. It was a quick enough read that I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a quick charming novel.

Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
Recommended. This is the second in the Dirk Gently series. Dirk, for those who are unfamiliar, is a private holistic detective. The first book involved a couple of ghosts and a lot of other wacky stuff. It was ok, but very very very slow to develop. This one was great right off the bat. It also draws heavily on mythology acting up in the modern world, which is something I LOVE (my very favorite book is American Gods). The story engaged me to the very end, and involved just the right mix of clarity and complexity. I think the first book had to many characters and plotlines and weird things going on you didn’t know were going on. This one took all the good stuff from the first book and jettisoned most of the nonsense.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I hated every minute of this book. Well there was one single minute when I liked it, but every other minute was spent hating this book. I am still so angry that spent so much time reading because it was vastly unsatisfying. I went into it pretty excited because it has gotten so much great press. My idol Linda Holmes on Pop Culture Happy Hour said she read it in one sitting while on a plane. She couldn’t say enough good things about it (mentioned about 41:15 in that linked episode)! Barrie Hardymon too! I cannot imagine that. I found it was pure drudgery and I felt like I was turning pages not because it was an un-put-down-able page-turner but because of muscle memory. I wish it were 75-100 pages shorter. I wish at least one of the characters was likable. I wish the twist was satisfying. I wish the format were satisfying. And I wish the writing were enjoyable. I hated it so much.

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
Recommended! I was really taken aback by this one. Ostensibly it’s a story about a man who breaks his shoelaces then buys new shoe laces over his lunch hour. The book is so little about that story though. He goes on all kinds of tangents about design and modern life that were fascinating and elegant. So much of the book takes place in the footnotes, and some of those footnotes stretch across several pages. It is not fast-paced or dramatic or exciting. It is cerebral and nuanced and careful. I found Baker’s (character’s) rich internal life a lot like my own and I was very impressed with this tremendous little book.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 150 books in 2012!

I have been reading a lot lately, and not really blogging about anything. Ugh. I know I should be writing more. Baby steps. Here is a little bit about some of the young adult novels I’ve read lately.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
READ THIS. Here’s the gist: a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash land on an island and have to fend for themselves.  It sounds pretty silly, but trust me it was amazing.

It was insanely awesome to read a book that is about all the things I love (disability, bodies, gender, sexuality, beauty pageants, television, etc.). Most novels (YA especially) I’ve read that deal with any one of those issues has done it in a way that is so tacky and dumb. This book was so goofy and fun while also being A+ on the stuff I care about. I was so energized by reading it!

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Do not read this. Here’s the gist: A boy, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator that opens into a glade with enormous stone walls where a bunch of different boys are living. This glade is in the middle of the maze, and the doors to the maze open every morning and close every night.

This book was so unsatisfying. About 100 pages in there was a really exciting moment that hooked me for about 20 pages and then fizzled out! I hated (HATED) the main kid. Obviously in these distopian novels, the main character is special in some way. But what makes those characters tolerable is that they don’t really know or believe that they are special. This kid knows it and he is insufferable.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Recommended! Here’s the gist: a girl living in a weird old house discovers a door that opens into a house a lot like hers but creepy. There’s her other-mother and other-father in the other-house with her other-neighbors, same but very different.

Neil Gaiman is definitely my favorite author, but satisfying endings are not necessarily his forte. This one definitely has a great ending though. I can’t believe this is for children, because it was very scary! All of the situations were very evocative and so strange. It was a fun, quick read and I can see how and why it was adapted into a graphic novel and a movie!

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 150 books in 2012!

It is no secret that I love science fiction.  I also love music, and I also love paper.  This video, animated by Eric Power, is a summary (ish) of the three original star wars movies set to the tune of “Tatooine” by Jeremy Messersmith.  I like it for several reasons:

  1. Messersmith is a Minneapolis-based musician, and while I am no longer in Minnesota I still have a terrible fondness for the place.
  2. It’s so nerdy.  The song is nerdy, the video is nerdy, it’s all nerdy.  But it’s the really sweet earnest kind of nerdy that I am such a sucker for.
  3. I love cut paper.

I hope you like it as much as I do. (Which is a lot)