Thursday, December 31, 2009

I want more of Lorrie Moore.

"Don't make your own life your project in your own life: total waste of time.
People were not what they seemed and certainly not what they said.
Madness was contagious.
Memory served melancholy.
There could be virtue in satirizing virtue.
No one loved a loser until he completely lost."

I loved this book. Finished it on the way back from our Xmas vacation and dog-eared many pages that stuck out in my mind. This is a year in the life of Tassie Keltjin, a quirky twenty year old Midwestern daughter of a boutique potato farmer, who has moved to a university town as a college student. She becomes the nanny to a 'glamorous' (in her view) couple who have adopted a 2 yr. old biracial girl, learning to adore this baby and trying to understand the eccentric mother and father. Helping to raise the little girl provides all kinds of interesting material on race in America. For example, on learning that Tassie has taught the toddler the song "I've Been Working on the Railroad", Sarah (the mother) distastefully announces that there will be no more singing those lyrics on account of its use of poor grammar and hints at slave labor. Lorrie Moore throws in several other interesting characters along the way...Tassie's younger brother, lost and pondering the possibility of signing up for the army (did I mention this takes place right after 9-11?), Tassie's parents, her new love. But not everything is as 'clean' as it seems. There were twists, turns, shockers and what surprised me the most was how I could be humorously snickering at one part and reading with a huge lump in my throat at another. Ultimately, this is the story of a young woman's lessons on the bizarre behavior of seemingly normal people. Lorrie Moore's wit combined with tragedy blind-sided me every step of the way.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sun, Won't You Come


Black Hole is a graphic novel I had never heard of before it was handed to me by my friend Morgan. He said it had been all over the AV Club, which I trust beyond all things, and that it was weird but I should read it. It was, in fact, weird.

The story, told through the eyes of multiple high school students in narrative, flashback, and dreams, takes place in a 1970's alternate universe where a nameless disease (called only "the bug"), passed through bodily fluids, causes its victims to mutate. Some have barely noticeable or easily disguisable changes (a small mouth on their neck, the ability to shed skin, a tail), whereas some break out in boils or have a skull instead of a face. And then things get weird.

The story was actually rather hard to follow (owing in part to the fact that two of the main male characters look sort of similar and are called by both first and last names interchangeably) and because it jumps around from flashback to present, so it can be hard to tell what is happening and what is being remembered. The "bug" device, while at first seeming like just an allegory for AIDS or similar STD's, becomes much more the further in one reads. The bug isn't life threatening, and it manifests randomly...but it seems the popular kids all lead more or less normal lives with it, while the dorky kids are the ones that are most deformed and stay outcasts. Its a world where casual sex and random drug use have consequences, but don't seem to prevent anyone from doing them (much like high school). In fact, the risk (and even the result) seems to be attractive for some of the characters. As a less obvious, but no less blunt and apt allegory for puberty and adolescent changes, the grotesquery of Burns' world works incredibly well. While I'm not sure I liked it, I'm glad i read it. Zeke, here's looking at you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Ripping Yarn


It has been a long time since I got so lost in a book that I would rather be reading it than doing just about anything else. Or rather, I should so it had been a long time. I came late to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I'm glad I did. This was the rare book that I stayed up later than I intended to to keep reading, and then woke up early and read some more. It's not great literature, but its a great story, a gripping mystery with characters that get under your skin and told in a simple, straightforward manner dripping with forward momentum.

To reveal too much about the plot would be unfair, it is a mystery after all, and a highly readable one that I would unreservedly recommend to just about anyone. But the basics are this: Investigative financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist is convicted of libel for printing an unverifiable story in his magazine that accuses a prominent Swedish business man of criminal acts. This brings him national attention, and one of the people who takes notice is an elderly titan of industry named Henrik Vanger. Vanger has a proposition for Blomkvist, one that gets Blomkvist tangled in the possibly sordid history of the Vanger clan. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander, an extremely bright but socially awkward sort-of PI (and the titular tattooed girl) is also on the case. Their paths cross, and together they uncover a mystery more twisted than they could have imagined etc etc...

My one complaint about the book is that I may have enjoyed it more if I was, like the author and all the characters, Swedish. It references Swedish geography, laws, history, rules, and themes that, while its possible to pick up on, could only be more resonant if you are already familiar with them. The epigrams that begin each section of the book deal are all statistics about violence against women in Sweden (a theme that runs throughout this book and apparently all of Larsson's novels), and there is a major plot point that deals with how Swedish legistlation deals with persons the government has deemed incapable of caring for themselves...neither of these things are unique to Sweden, or hard to get a basic handle on if you are, say, American, but they feel particularly Swedish in a way that means I feel like i missed something. In spite of all that, I enjoyed the act of reading this book more than any in recent memory. I can't wait for my dad to finish the next one and send it to me, and I'm glad I didn't read Allison's post on it a few weeks ago any closer than I did.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

ALBERT.

A beautiful book about dreams and time! A whimsical and sad poem about the way we see things and the way that we maybe ought to see things. In one world, time moves backwards. In another, time is illogical. Time is erratic. Time flows like water. In yet another, time is a flock of birds, and if you wish to stop time, you must catch one of these birds in a glass jar. Albert Einstein has been dreaming, you see. He's been working on a new theory of time, and his mind has been doing the strangest things.

Mao Mao Mao Mao Mao Mao Mao Mao Mao

Gone is the playfulness of White Noise. This time, Don DeLillo puts on a much more serious face to deliver a kind of meditation on writing and terrorism, solitude and congregation, Semtex explosives and upper crust art. At the center is Bill Gray, an aging novelist who used to move the masses with his words, who now sees that bombs and gunfire do his work for him. Around him swirls his assistant, his lover, his loneliness, his failed novel-in-progress, a hostage in Beirut, an apartment in New York, the teachings of Mao Zedong, the imaginings of Andy Warhol. Bill's afraid that he might be losing his touch. That he can't do it on his own. After all, the future belongs to crowds. Quoting Bill.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Grew Up in Gordita Beach

While this may only be significant to previous Vice-readers Andy and Zeke (okay, who am I kidding, its only significant to me, but I digress), perhaps my favorite thing about Thomas Pynchon's sprawling, drug-and-surf noir Inherent Vice is that it is set in my hometown. Okay, Gordita Beach is made up, but Manhattan Beach (my hometown) is mentioned by name as being a neighbor city, as are Manhattan Beach neighbor cities Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, El Segundo, and Torrance. The Manhattan Beach neighborhoods of El Porto and the Tree Section (where my parents house is) are mentioned by name, as are streets like Sepulveda and Artesia, and even my high school (Mira Costa High) gets a shout out. Granted, the yuppified, multi-million dollar home Manhattan Beach is a far cry from how it was in the 60's setting of the novel, but still, I thought that was neat. Plenty of novels are set in NYC or London or Chicago or the Greater Los Angeles area, it gives me a little thrill to read one set in my backyard.

When I say that was my favorite thing about the novel, that might be bit understatement, but it really is not a compliment. While I like Pynchon's writing style, his flair for colorful characters and dialogue, and the way he captures the pervading sense of dread and end-of-an-era-ness that surrounded LA after the (oft refrenced in the novel) Manson murders, the book felt about 100 pages too long and about 45 characters too big. The central noir mystery gets lost after a few chapters, so much so that I didn't even notice when it was solved at first, which happens maybe 2/3 of the way through the book. That mystery is of course replaced by a bigger one, but, you know what? Neither are that mysterious. The fun part of the book is watching PI Larry "Doc" Sportello wander around the South Bay in a pot haze, dodging or failing to dodge the various people who wish him ill or want something from him. But after a while, it starts to feel as if Pynchon had a list of his infamously silly and descriptive names and refused to finish the book before he managed to use every single one of them (some favorites include Sauncho Smilax, Riggs Warbling, Bigfoot Bjornsen, and Vincent Indelicato). Mostly I was ready to be done with the book long before I was, and that's never a good sign.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Three Acts

The Humbling by Philip Roth

65 year old Simon Axler has lost it. A famous actor who has lost all confidence on the stage, who has become the laughing stock to his once adoring audience, has lost his wife, and lost his will to live, vanishing "Into Thin Air" as this first of three parts is titled. The suicidal Axler checks himself into a mental hospital and after 26 days, is released. Thus begins Part II, "The Transformation". Axler is visited by the 40 year old lesbian daughter of long-ago actor friends, they fall in love, she for the first time with a man, and she 'transforms' him....giving him back his will to survive, lots of kinky sex, and the stirrings of desire to re-enter the acting world which he had given up on. I won't ruin "The Last Act" , Part III. Suffice to say that I read this book in a couldn't-put-it-down sitting. That's the powerful punch Philip Roth handed out. Excellent!

Is there such a thing as Too Much Happiness?

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

I've never read anything by Alice Munro before but I found her new collection of short stories intriguing and found myself thinking about some of the stories long after closing the book. She incorporates the "usual" fiction fare: murder, suicide, adultery, illness, theft, crime, dysfunction, mental instability, cruelty, violence, emotional abuse......yet never does the story end up where you think it will, such is her creative twist on our expectations. Don't expect anything "usual" about these stories at all. Alice Munro will suck you in and keep you on your toes while doing so.

And on a different note: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FAVORITE OLDEST SON!!!!!!!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And then what happened?

"Invisible" by Paul Auster

Somewhere in the many reviews for this incredible book was a perfect description of what you enter when you begin reading this one: A hall of mirrors. Adam Walker, a 20 year old Columbia University undergrad of literature and poetry in 1967, is about to meet the intriguing Rudolf Born and his equally mysterious French lover, Margot. From that moment on, his life will never be the same. I anticipated every turn of the page to see what would happen next, what is truth, what is fiction, can we trust our memories, but most of all, I was in awe at the clever style in which Auster told the story. (Those of you who have writing aspirations, take note! Yup...I mean you!) Add this one to the pile on your nightstand. Meanwhile, I'm going out to buy another Auster novel....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Asterios Polyp

About once a day, an asteroid the size of a grapefruit burns through our atmosphere. And if lithium had been available a few thousand years ago, the world might be a very different place. Paper architects can blueprint their entire lives with T-squares and ink, but sometimes a well-placed lightning bolt can be the catalyst to a very undrafted kind of journey. Relationships are messy, clunkers can run on sunshine, and reality seems to be split between those who divide everything into two, and those who don't. Cells regenerate, people change, mistakes are made, and the larger asteroids still remain, hiding just beyond the sight of any curious telescope.

Points to Pat King. This is stunning.

Heaviness and Light


Milan Kundera, you beautiful bastard, this is exactly the book that Blindness thought it was gonna be before it sank under Saramago's thuddingly heavy Hammer of Laborious Obviousness. Because dudes! Kundera is right up front with how he's interested in wedding a philosophical inquiry to a character-based narrative! Early on (to my boundless delight) Kundera breaks from the action to note that Tomas was born not from a mother, but from the idea of a man staring out a window into a courtyard with two possible life paths ahead of him. There's something really lovely and refreshing about acknowledging the construct of the fiction at play (some would call this "lampshade hanging"), and I think it's at least partially responsible for the piece's levity and readability.

More importantly as a distinction from Blindness (and after this I'll leave Saramago behind because I know other people like it, and Unbearable Lightness of Being is just operating on a much higher plane and deserves to be discussed on its own), Kundera's philosophical inquiry is just that: an inquiry. He's toying with contradictions (building the book around the conflicting desires for heaviness and light, or the dichotomy of the body and mind, and so forth) and proffering ideas as to how to look at the world, but it's all done with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Contrast that with Saramago's leaden parable in which a civilization goes blind and Just Happens to behave in a way that ploddingly illustrates his "Dudes can be pretty bad to other dudes" theme.

But I said I was done with Saramago, and I am. Unbearable Lightness of Being is really quite joyful and wide-ranging, skipping from Nietzsche's philosophy to an exploration of romance and eroticism to the agony of infidelity to a sharp, personal sketch of life under Soviet rule, with detours exploring the absurd pageantry of political activism and the purity of the love a master bears its pet. It's emotionally barbed, deeply humane, and wildly affectionate. I loved it, guys.

Next up: a book of interviews with Uwe Boll? I WISH! But seriously, it's probably gonna be a history of Disney. Suck it, literati!

Now that's more like it...


I promise that my books aren't just going to alternate between pulp detective noir and compendiums of interviews with filmmakers (it really can't, as I've already read my next book, and SPOILER ALERT it's a Czech novel of instant-classic status and almost no goons busting in on private-eye protagonists). But I gotta say, if there are more interview collections of this caliber out there, particularly for directors who fascinate me endlessly (Altman, Leigh, etc.) I may keep disappearing down this rabbit hole.

Okay, that's just to say, this was pretty great. Allen is a brilliant mind, and these interviews find him mostly (and delightfully) free of the obligation to entertain -- it's just a set of very sober, probing, sometimes quite insightful reflections on his body of work (about which he's largely ambivalent, considering all of his films with the possible exception of Stardust Memories to be failures), his philosophy, the nature of mankind, and a generalized riff on dating (loosely paraphrasing: a guy will look at himself in a mirror, change ties, change to a gray suit from a navy blue one, change ties again, change shirts, and meanwhile the girl he's about to go on a date with has already decided whether or not she's going to sleep with him). It's fascinating stuff, deeply enjoyable, and if nothing else, reminds me that for all that I've seen a dozen of his films and change, I have major gaps in my Woody education. So thanks, Reading-Blog, for adding an impossible list of films to my to-do list on top of your grueling literacy demands! Will you leave me no rest, no rest at all?

I Listen To the Same Music as Joe Meno and Still Didn't Love This Book


I remembered someone reading this book and feeling ambivalent about it last year, but honestly I thought it was Andy (because it is, frankly, Andy and my kind of book). Turns out it was Zeke, who was anything but ambivalent about it, in that he seems to have hated it with the special kind of hate metalheads reserve for their wimpy friends and neighbors. Fair enough, Zeke, fair enough. Unfortunately, for me, while my reasons were different, my conclusion about this book is largely the same.

Even though by the end I was pretty over it, this book is almost worth reading for the premise alone. The idea is that the titular "Boy Detective" is a detective wunderkind, solving all sorts of crimes before Bar Mitzvah age with his beautiful sister and fat best friend. Time passes, as it is want to do, and when the Boy Detective leaves for college, his sister kills herself, an act which is a mystery to the BD, and one which he will spend the rest of his life trying to solve. He has his own suicidal nervous breakdown, and decides it is safer to spend the rest of his life in an institution largely populated by the criminal masterminds who he helped catch in his youth and their prime. For anyone (me) who grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown (which is, I think, clearly the model for the BD...he is also like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, obviously, but the HB show up as thinly disguised brothers I think named the Handy Boys, who know work as the ticket taker and asst. manager, respectively, at a movie theater).

I am all for post-modernism, especially in literature. And this book is full of it, which out of order chapters, digressions, footnotes, and a special decoder ring in the back which lets you, the reader, help the boy detetcive, at the urging of the narrator. The narrator also often pauses the action to talk directly to you, the reader, using the second person. This is the largest problem I had with the book, and it got to be an overwhelmingly large one. Joe Meno has a great gift, I think, for premises and for capturing small, achingly sad moments and crafting pathetic, heartbreaking characters. But the man cannot get out of his own way to tell the story he has set up so well. While I am sure it is done slightly more artfully than this, Meno (or his narrator) comments in the action in such a blindlingly obvious way that it really starts to feel that at the end of any sad chapter, there are a few sentences where we leave the BD, alone in his room or whatever, and the narrator says "Isn't that sad? Isn't your heartbreaking? Wasn't that last scene just so sad and awesome and you have feelings that you are feeling now don't you? And they are sad feelings? Because of the story I am telling you" etc. I know its sad. I just read it. And if I didn't think it was sad, you, Joe Meno, have frankly failed and no amount of you asking me if I found your sad story sad will make me go, "Oh, that was supposed to be sad? I get it now!". While I imagine that was not his intent, it feels like it sometimes, and the meta-commentary that points out exactly what I am feeling is so alienating and distracting that it prevents the book from being intimate for any sustained stretch, which is what it needs to be affecting when its story is so small and precious.

And as for precious, the book drags on and on (I felt like I should've been done at about the halfway point, and its less than 300 pages long) but it really lost me with one chapter towards the end. The BD and his object of affection finally get together, after much mumblecore posturing. The chapter is nice but I was, as I said, mostly over it. The problem was the entirety of the next chapter was roughly the following (i am paraphrasing, but not as much as it might seem):

"Did you read that chapter while holding hands with someone you care about? No? Well, go find someone to hold hands with and reread the chapter? wasn't that better?'

UGH.

4 LISTS FEATURED IN THIS BOOK


1. 26 Songs That are As Good as Short Stories
2. 37 Sound Effects Created By Al Jean for Mad Magazine
3. 21 Films too Painful to Watch Twice
4. 6 Keanu Reeves Movies Somehow Not Ruined By Keanu Reeves

etc. etc. I'm at a coffee shop, the book is at home, and I'd like to get caught up on posts, so I'm going to stop there. If you'd like more lists of lists, I'd be happy to comply. The point is, I love lists. I also love pop culture. Furthermore, largely because of the previous two statements, I love the A.V. Club, the Onion's culture section/blog/website. I read it religiously, and I started reading it religiously for two reasons: 1. I was working in an office with access to the internet and 2. Their weekly "Inventory" feature, where they would make up a list (this week's is 21 Great Albums with terrible cover art, they did a double list not long ago of 42 songs about suicide, which has long been a fascination for me. My favorite is probably Jets To Brazil's "Conrad", which also made their list) of something to do with pop culture, but something very specific...those of you who know me well may remember a love I have of theme mixes, and my little brother probably remembers my love of thematicly built Magic Card decks (I had a particularly good Goblin one, if I recall). This book is a collection of mostly new, mostly funny and fascinating lists of this type, with pithy descriptions of each entry. For most, its probably exceptionally bathroom reading. For me, I went to the reading on the release day like it was the album release from my favorite band.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

-Ten minutes, please.
-Excuse me? To whom did you wish to speak?
-To you, of course. Ten minutes, please. That's all we need to understand each other's feelings.

Toru Okada is 32 and unemployed. He spends his days looking for his missing cat, swimming laps at the ward pool, boiling spaghetti for breakfast, and sucking on lemon drops. He lives in a quiet house on a quiet street that dead-ends in both directions, and is watched over by an unseen bird that seems to wind its spring to start each morning.

And then Mr. Okada's wife disappears, and our Japanese Everyman sets out on a journey to find her, from Manchuria to Kyoto to the world of dreams. The strange telephone calls persist. Many, many sexually alluring women of all ages enter his life. I would say that Toru Okada has no less than three wet dreams over the course of the first 200 pages. Our narrator is wrapped up in political conspiracy, war stories about men getting skinned alive, undercover bald profiling for a wig company, mystical healing powers and mysterious blue scars. He beats the shit out of a man with a baseball bat. He finds himself at the bottom of a well. And there's someone waiting for him in a hotel room in a reality just beyond the present one, if only Toru Okada can figure out how to pass through the door.

All in all, a very interesting read. It's chock-full of images and stories and dark Japanese history. It's consistently engaging. It's also really sad, when consumed on the human level of a lonely man who's so broken by the loss of his wife that all he can do is spin a massive all-encompassing fairy tale to trick himself that the pain isn't real.

However, it's also an unnecessary 600 pages long, which is not a terrible length if justified. But after finishing, I didn't think it was justified. A little too swollen, perhaps. It seemed like Murakami just couldn't bring himself to whittle it down.

I don't know. I'm still looking for that one Murakami book that just knocks my socks off. I know it's out there. It has to be. But so far, every Haruki tome that I've read has me wanting just a little bit more. And I want to be satiated. Give me what I need.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson



The Girl Who Played with Fire (a sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is the second novel in the Larsson "I will soon be dead so i better crank out some international best sellers that i will never see a dime for" trilogy. Larsson wrote all three manuscripts before he died and did not get to see how popular they would become.


Like its predecessor, Dragon Tattoo, I inhaled this book. Larsson wrote modern, hard-boiled detective novels that you literally cannot put down. Both books have incredibly intricate plots spread over so many characters that it takes about half the novel to keep track of who is who. They center around an idealistic magazine editor and a socially awkward girl (who happens to be a genius) who unravel mysterious crimes, corruption, and government conspiracies. They are set in Sweden which can be a little confusing. Names are different and so is money. I still cannot tell you how much a kroner is worth. Every other page will say something like, the detective found 4000 kroner in her wallet (and you wonder is that a lot to be in a wallet, or not much at all...noooo idea), but once you get into the style and rhythm of the story it really hooks you.


Are these novels perfect? Absolutely not. I've actually never loved the incredibly observant free-wheeling hard boiled detective character who follows his own moral code while sleeping with every dame that crosses his path. And this is definitely that "hero", but there is something really enjoyable about the way Larsson tells his story that keeps me coming back for more. Both novels were great. I actually thought The Girl Who Played With Fire was better than the first novel, because it knew where its climax and ending was. A warning: if you choose to read these books, you do have to start with dragon tattoo to understand the plots of Fire, and Dragon tattoo does trail off a bit at the end. Everytime you think youve reached the dramatic conclusion its like BUT WAIT theres MORE. All in all, i would definitely reccommend these books for anyone who enjoys fast-paced thrillers.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Or "A Manhunt for the 2009-2010 Book Season"

I realize we're not even a month into this literary journey, but I'm pretty sure I just read my favorite book of the year. The last time I was this nerdgiddy about a book was last year's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, which I didn't think could ever be topped in terms of its edge-of-your-seat-informational-page-turner-ness. But Michael Pollan has matched it.

In Defense of Food is (as the cover says) an eater's manifesto: a look into how food science has replaced food culture, how foodlike products have replaced actual food, how industry and politics have divorced food from the natural world, how - in spite of America's obsession with "nutrition" and "healthy eating" - we have become more and more unhealthy, and (nerdbest of all) how to look at our relationship with food and eating in a healthy, productive, respectful way.

It's not a diet plan. Pollan never outlines exactly what we should or shouldn't do. He just presents some facts and philosophies and suggestions and leaves it to the reader to apply to his or her life. Some of his suggestions: Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Don't eat anything with ingredients you can't pronounce. Eat your meals at a table (No a desk is not a table).

It's chock full of fascinating facts and insights. Whether you buy into it or not, it definitely makes you think about your relationship with food and nourishment and the natural world in a really constructive way. I, for one, totally buy into it, but then again I'm on a bit of a food-and-nature kick these days. This is the first in a string of food-related books on my YMR queue, so if any of you are interested in chatting about food culture in America, I'm your gal.

Pollen's main argument is seven words long: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

Hard to disagree with that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Or "How Andy Lampl Ruined Thanksgiving."

I am wearing a dress from a thrift store, grey boots from Macy's, a scarf I bought from a street vendor in New York, tights from Target, and a necklace Reggie gave me, writing a review of a very disturbing book.

I won't say I liked it. I won't say I recommend it. But I will say that I thought it was very good and that, if you haven't, you should probably read it. And that I definitely dig this Mr. Ellis character and am looking forward to reading more of his stuff - although it will be awhile because I feel that I must regain the will to live before diving back into that awful world.

American Psycho is a miserable portrait of the young rich late-1980s Wall Street types told in first person through Patrick Bateman, an uber-rich 26 year old Wall Streeter-by-day-serial-killer-by-night. To describe the plot makes it sound like a trashy grocery store novel, but believe me it is not. It is part totally fucked up miserable psychological thriller gore fest, and part biting social commentary. It is nauseating, exhausting, and hilarious.

It's not a question of whether or not it is miserable to read. Without a doubt, it is the most miserable thing I have ever read. The question is what about it makes it most miserable? Because I can't decide. I honestly don't know which was worse to read: the way-too-long-and-detailed, violent, graphic, chauvinistic depictions of sex; the hideous descriptions of brutal torture and murder and hacked up body parts (including three vaginas that our hero keeps in his gym locker); or the scene where Patrick and some of his Wall Street buddies all talk on conference call and try to decide where they're going to eat that night. I am not saying that to be clever. Ellis's genius with American Psycho is that the rape and murder and disembowelment is just one part of Bateman's repulsive and meaningless lifestyle.

It's a horrifying look at isolation in the age of burgeoning technology, obsession with appearance and trends, where people's names and jobs and girlfriends are interchangeable and, ultimately, insignificant. Yes, he's a serial killer, but at the end of the day Patrick Bateman is just a sad lonely guy who can't even cook a meal for himself.

My warning to you, readers, is this: you can't un-read American Psycho. So just beware.

Now I have to go return some videotapes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A conspiracy theory by Allison Sanchez


I think SOME people (I won't say any names, I'll just give you a very difficult clue that only the worthy could solve. His or her name rhymes with Schmeggie) out there are jealous that I read 2 books and was well on my way to finish a third.

The facts of the case are this, On Saturday November 22, A Miss Lauren Cozzens met me at a restaurant. And 'who is she?' some of you may be asking yourselves as you peruse this blog at your leisure. WELL, "she" is Reggie Gowland's FORMER ROOMMATE.

Now, I arrived at the restaurant (A MEXICAN restaurant no less-everyone knows that a sanchez would never turn down an invitation to eat the food of their homeland), with the book I was about halfway through: The Lost City of Z (I had spent time reading it on the El). Lauren sneakily asked me why I had a book at dinner and then cruelly made fun of me. She then offered to hold it for me in her purse and I NAIVELY handed it over. This book is then NEVER RETURNED to me. And I will now be unable to finish it, until a future date when I hunt this fiend down and pay ransom for my poor dear book. I will also have to start over on a third book which will completely throw me off toward my 50 book goal.

Am I saying that Reggie made up a fake movie, got people to invest millions of dollars in it, made sure Laurens production company was involved in the project, made sure they chose her to go live in Ann Abor for 3 months during the filming, and then diabolically sent her down to chicago this weekend to steal my book? Well I think the facts speak for themselves. This is war, Reggie Gowland. It's on.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Push by Sapphire

In an effort to read this before the movie, "Precious" (based on this book), came to town, I didn't need to worry about finishing on time as it's a very quick read and I couldn't put the book down. This is a short yet very disturbing story of Precious Jones, an obese, illiterate, sexually and emotionally abused, pregnant 16 year old from Harlem who can't catch a break no matter where she turns until she is enrolled in an alternative school where she finally begins to value herself after a lifetime of self-hatred. Don't get turned off by the author's use of language. The flow of the writing takes a little getting used to but is necessary to give a voice to this girl and her attempt at understanding how to survive the hand she's been dealt....a horrendous hand at that. Makes you realize what cushy lives so many of us lead. Makes me want to pick up something light and airy to read next!

Friday, November 20, 2009

You + Me = Us (Calculus)

I really liked this book. A lot.

This was a weird mashup of forty different possible answers to the big question of what exactly happens when we die. Funny, bizarre, quantum-physics-esque. Many were incredibly poignant. All gave you something to think about.

In one possible afterlife, you get to relive every moment that you've ever had on earth, except this time, all the moments are reshuffled and placed into categories. So, in the afterlife, you spend five months reading magazines on the toilet, three years swallowing food, three days calculating restaurant tips, twenty-seven hours experiencing pain, thirty years sleeping, eighteen days staring into the open refrigerator...

In another afterlife, you wake up and find out that you and the rest of the human race were really just creations, super-complex walking eating cameras that have a lifespan of 80+ years and are built to record all the marvels of earth and space and figure out the essential questions of the universe, cameras which were constructed by these tiny dim-witted immobile creatures that aren't big enough to explore earth on their own.

And 38 more. The writer, David Eagleman, is a neuroscientist, which may or may not buy this book some street cred, you know, depending on if you're into scientists or whatever. But regardless, it's a book that makes you think for a long time after you finish. And that's always a good kind of book, right?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Gathering by Anne Enright


Actual Tagline of book: A moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish Family haunted by the past.
My (way more realistic) tagline: If you'd like to know what's motivating your actions, then why don't you ask your penis and/or vagina?
Honestly, I got so sick of every action of this book centering on sex. If someone had the urge to do the dishes, it was because of some burning desire in their loins. When one character meets another for the first time, not only do they picture the other naked, but the desired knows she's being pictured naked and loves it. And may I add that most of the sexual stuff was about the main character's grandmother? A direct quote, "When I was in college, I decided that Ada (her grandmother) had been a prostitute-the way you do." No, Veronica, I don't actually. Because NOBODY spends time imagining their grandma as a prostitute. But, I suppose I am getting ahead of myself, without further ado i present The Gathering: A review by Allison Noelle Sanchez:
This novel centers around Veronica, a middle-aged Irish woman from a very large family, whose brother has recently killed himself. As Veronica deals with her grief and guilt over the coming months she stops sleeping, becomes alienated from her children and husband and spends a great deal of time focusing on an obsession with her past. Namely, a past that revolves around her grandmother, Ada. Memories float through the narrative in non-linear fashion, some real (her childhood memories at her grandparents house) and many imagined (like her grandparents having sex on their wedding night).
I am torn about my feelings toward this novel. There were revelations about family behavior that I found brilliant and reread several times. Like the passage,
"Sitting on the Brighton train I am trying to put a timetable on my brother's drinking. Drink was not his problem, but it did become his problem, eventually, which was a relief to everyone concerned. 'I'm a bit worried about his drinking,'-so after awhile, no one could hear a thing he said, anymore."
And yet, there were also lot's of parts that i just found repetitive and boring. I found her sexual musings about her grandmother odd and ridiculous. When Veronica talks about memories or imaginings she breaks into this omniscent narrator voice and describes in detail events that she could not have witnessed personally, let alone get close enough to hear characters' thoughts. The author plays alot with memory and is constantly shifting her thoughts mid-sentance. I found this tool interesting at first. For instance, she starts describing she and her brother seeing her grandfathers body at a wake. Then suddenly she realizes it couldn't have been just the two of them there, another sister must have been there. And then she adds the sister into the narrative revising the earlier memory. While I enjoy the play on percieved versus real memory. This device was used so many times, that I started to get annoyed. This happened with lot's of things in the novel, the author does bring up an interesting point or idea, and then it's like if you don't get the point that is clearly spelled out the first few times? Don't worry the author will push that point home a few hundred more times to make sure you get it.
If you do decide to read this novel I will summarize the final 50 pages to save you some time:
So maybe none of that stuff that I remember happened. But it probably did. Except not most of it, I mean some memories have to be true. Or maybe not. I mean they probably happened. Unless they didn't. Maybe Ill go to spain. No i wont. Im gonna go home and have a baby with my husband. I hate him. but i love him. no i dont. Maybe ill go to scotland. On second thought, none of my memories are true. Yes, they are. No they aren't. They could be. Maybe they couldnt be. LIFE IS A BEUTIFUL MESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. (maybe not?) so just ignore everything i said. WAIT fooled you again, it was all true. haha no most of it wasn't. but some of it was......
Verdict: This novel felt like a great short story or novella that tried to stetch itself into an entire novel. It was tedious to get though and way too freudian for my tastes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Josh Likes Sci-Fi Blah Blah Blah


So, I accidentally read more words that can only be described as speculative fiction. As has been said before, by me, right here, spec fiction is the fancy new term for sci-fi/fantasy, used especially to describe things that are not traditional rocket-to-the-stars (think Larry Niven) or sword-and-sorcery (think Robert Jor...well, most of last year's entries, I guess). In this case, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern issue 32. McSweeney's are cleverly packaged short story collections by popular and up and coming fiction writers, all writing on one theme. They come out, well, quarterly, and over the summer when I was working three jobs and making good money, I treated myself to a combination Believer/McSweeney's combo subscription. 32 was the first "issue" that came, and, coincidentally enough, this quarter's theme was simply "2024" (which turned out to mean that every story was set in the year 2024).

As this is a story collection, featuring 10 stories by 10 different authors (including names someone might recognize like Jim Shepard and Heidi Julavits), its hard to rate it overall. Besides being set in the not-so-distant future, and being written by popular indie fiction writers who tend to have some overlapping themes (two stories are set in East L.A. and deal specifically with that locations demographics and concerns, a number of them deal with natural disasters linked directly or indirectly to global warming), one story is not necessarily leading to the other, and it's hard to judge them as a unit. I enjoyed pretty much all of them, some more than others, certainly. What I love about spec fiction, especially this type, is it deals with human concerns on a level that is a bit fantastic. The more traditional sci-fi/fantasies are mostly about big broad themes...good vs. evil, exploration and conquest, political machinations and betrayal. Most of them don't have room for nuanced looks on human beings. But these stories were all about the everyday human struggles...aging, growing apart from your spouse, dealing with the fallout of a failed relationship, making decisions as a teenager, trying to find out where you belong, etc etc, but viewed through a futuristic lens. Secrets threaten a formerly happy marriage as floods threaten to submerge all of The Netherlands. A man wants to commit suicide because he cannot forget his lover, but he wants to do it by jumping into a mysterious hole that appeared one day on Nantucket, a hole that many believe to be an interdimensional portal. A teen becomes an outcast after her blackberry, which had previously predicted the probability and outcome of every decision she made, is broken by a friend. They are stories we recognize, set in a world that is slightly different. Its the only kind of fiction for me.
well, not the only kind. but i like it a lot, okay? I promise the next two books will have 0 sci-fi components. so sue me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Man On Wire by Philippe Petit

Or "What a Precious Little Felony!"

Some necessary background in case you don't know: So there's this guy. Kind of a crazier, more French version of Omen Sade. Juggler. Pickpocket. Highwire walker. Decides he's going to wire walk between the World Trade Center towers. He does it. Holy. Shit.

AND I JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT TO MAKE OF IT!!! WHAT AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER THIS BOOK WAS! I alternated between furiously scribbling quotations into my notebook so that I could carry them around forever and consult them when I am in need of inspiration, and literally chucking the book across the room because I was too livid to even hold it in my hands.

The tug-of-war raging in my head goes a little something like this:

One one hand, this book was inspiring beyond all possible belief.

On the other hand, Philippe Petit seems like such an asshole.

On one hand, I was weeping - weeping, I tell you - with the beauty of the language and the overwhelming emotions of the story and Petit's descriptions of his experiences.

On the other hand, it's faux-poetic, pretentious, and overblown.

On one hand, I couldn't get past Petit's outrageous selfishness.

On the other hand, if he were the kind of guy who put others' needs before this dream, he never would have done it, and we would all be the worse without this breathtakingly gorgeous anything-is-possible story.

On one hand, it awakened in me this wide-eyed sense of optimism and idealism.

On the other hand, the cyncial voice in my head wouldn't stop asking, "Where the hell does he get the money to do all this?"

I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO THINK, PEOPLE!! I mean, read it. Without a doubt. Read it. I can't tell if it's the best or the worst, but regardless it is an unbelievable act and a beautiful story. It'll make you want to do all kinds of crazy things, in the best possible way.

Note to potential Man-On-Wire-readers: If you don't want to leave this book with a sour taste in your mouth - and I mean ruin-the-experience-of-the-whole-book kind of sour - for the love of God do not, I repeat, DO NOT read the epilogue. (Or do and then immediately call me to discuss it.) It is catastrophically miserable.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'd Make a Sweet Hacker

As dorky as I am, I don't read much of what I consider to be "traditional" science-fiction. I must prefer the fantasy end of the spectrum to something that is mostly about, say, rocketships or robots or technology. That caveat aside, I loved Snow Crash. Stephenson is one of those sci-fi/fantasy writers who are being rebranded as "speculative fiction" and moved to the proverbial front of the store (i.e. being marketed to readers in general, as opposed to geeky, pimpally mes).

Snow Crash is told from the dual perspecitves of Hiro Protagonist, a samurai-sword wielding super hacker, and Y.T., a skateboarding "Kourier", or super duper delivery girl. It's set in the not too distant future, where America has been splintered into various franchises, each with its own currency, residencies, and law (you can be a citizen of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, the neo-nazi New South Africa, the Uncle Enzo run Mafia, and hook your RV up to the Buy n' Fly to drive for you, pay for a bathroom, a jail cell, etc., all in the same strip mall). You can also (from you PC or a phonebooth) log in to the Metaverse, which is basically the internet where you can walk aorund, own a house, go to a bar, etc. Hiro, one of the lead architects of the meta verse, witnesses his friend Da5id, basically the most famous hacker in the world, be exposed to a new designer drug called Snow Crash, which shuts Da5id's computer and brain down simultaneously. Snow Crash users tend to speak in tongues, which leads Hiro (with the help of former girlfriend Juanita) to discover that what it actually is is a nam-shub, an ancient Sumarian magic that changes the brain's language center the way a hacker changes computer code. What starts as an exploration of this fantastic future world turns into a quest by the few (Hiro, Y.T., Mr. Enzo, Juanita) to take down a vast conspiracy that involves the church, the Inuits, the franchise United States of America, and millions of refugees who have lashed their rafts to an aircarrier. To try to explain the whole plot (the main villian is a former eskimo who has wired a nuclear bomb to his pacemaker) would be silly and unfair...if you have any interest in modern science fiction, read it.

The Bristles or the Handle

"Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden."

And so starts David Foster Wallace's first romp into the world of novel-sized metafiction. The Broom of the System is about a girl named Lenore Beadsman, who has a sneaking suspicion that she might be a character in a much larger story. But regardless of all that, things aren't going particularly well for Lenore. Her great-grandmother has gone missing from her nursing home, along with 24 other residents and staff members. Someone seems to have slipped her pet bird, Vlad the Impaler, a spoonful of genetically enhanced baby food, because all the bird does now is spat sexually ambiguous psychobabble ("Of course you satisfy me, Clinty. Don't think you don't.") and verses from the King James bible. Something's wrong with the phone lines at work, and Lenore's job as the switchboard operator for the flailing publishing company Frequent & Vigorous (which is really just an elaborate tax dodge) is insufferable. Her hygiene-obsessed therapist has taken to wearing gas masks during sessions and breaking everything down into membranes. The owner of her building, Mr. Bombardini, has decided that he'd like to consume the universe, and so he starts eating everything in his path. And added to all this, icing on top: the whole thing is set in a slightly-worse Cleveland, Ohio, a massive section of the state now being occupied by a huge black sandy wasteland known as the Great Ohio Desert, or G.O.D. when people are feeling lazy.

I really liked this book. There's not much of a plot that weaves through all the pieces, but that was okay. David Foster Wallace sets up this ridiculous, colorful, Looney-Tunes-esque (there's actually a really awesome mini-dissertation in here about the economics of Wile E. Coyote and his questionable Road Runner tactics) universe, and then holds you by the hand and takes you from place to place to show you all the different funny beautiful disturbing things that he's created. And so you just kind of let the book unpeel for you. And unpeel for you it does.

"and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn't sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, "Aha, that's because you want to sweep with the broom, isn't it? It's because of what you want the broom for, isn't it?" Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of domestics gathered."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We all know an "Olive"...

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Here is a collection of 13 stories (a novel in stories) so beautifully written that it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year. The common thread weaving these stories is Olive, a big-boned force of a woman in her 60's, cranky, abrasive, and not one to mince her words around anyone she encounters. Taking place in a small town on the coast of Maine, Elizabeth Strout draws us in to the subtle yet dramatic lives of the townsfolk of Crosby, interjecting Olive Kitteridge as both a meaningful figure in some and a peripheral figure in others. We come to understand Olive in her loneliness, love, her grief, and aging and grow with her when, after a lifetime of little patience for anyone she encounters in her life, she realizes and accepts her needs as well as those around her. This is life in all its honesty and a book you'll want to come back to time and time again. I loved it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hi gang! And ten books.

My name is Erika. I live with Josh. The copy of "Welcome to the Monkeyhouse" that the subletter stole from his bathroom was mine.

I love to read.

Thanks for letting me join your group! This is the first blog I've ever done. I like your noble goal and will do my best to put in my 50 by this time next year.

YES!

Since I'm joining late, I'll just count the book/s I've read since November 1st (posts to come):
  • Novel Without a Name, by Duong Thu Huong
  • The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough
For now, I want to throw out ten books in the spirit of catching up.

TEN BOOKS I SUBMIT

So these ten are the first smattering. They're either books I plan to keep rereading forever, or ones that I loved the first time and would like to put out there.
  • Another Country, by James Baldwin
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • West With the Night, by Beryl Markham
  • Nicholas & Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie
  • Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
  • The Elephant Vanishes, by Haruki Murakami
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • Emily of New Moon
  • Emily Climbs
  • Emily's Quest
These last three are all by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Decidedly young adult fiction. Possibly girly. But I find them to be more relevant and helpful to me now than they ever were when I was little.

Okay! Enough for now. Thanks again!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ROUND TWO! READ!

If I read 60 books this year, does it count as reading fifty each year?

1. The Gathering Storm- Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
2. Snow Crash- Neil Stephenson
3. McSweeney's Thirty-Two- Various Authors
4. Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop Culture Lists- The A.V. Club
5. The Boy Detective Fails- Joe Meno
6. Inherent Vice- Thomas Pynchon
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- Stieg Larsson
8. Black Hole- Charles Burns
9. The Satanic Verses- Salman Rushdie
10. Devil in the White City- Erik Larson
11. Born Standing Up- Steve Martin
12. The Girl Who Played with Fire- Stieg Larsson
13. The Corrections- Jonathan Frazen
14. Zeitoun- Dave Eggers
15. Killing Yourself to Live- Chuck Klosterman
16. Invisible Cities- Italo Calvino
17. Haroun and the Sea of Stories- Salman Rushdie

The Beginning of the End (Not That Anyone Else Cares)


I don't think there's anything else in literature quite like the sprawling fantasy epic series. Sure, there are serial novels, and novels featuring the same character over and over again (Agatha Christie and the "Do something for something else alliterative" novels come to mind) but while those may build on each other and carry over, Fantasy epics tend to focus on exactly the same characters, with the arcs and storylines carrying over from book to book, cliff hangers abounding. You may have to wait to or three books just to see the next chapter about the character you were enjoying so much in book four, and every time something seems resolved, some other plot crops up, or the overarching plot comes back in. In this sense, its more like serialized television then anything else. Like watching Lost or Battlestar Galactica, the narrative follows a point beginning to end, and if you don't stay with it til the very very end, you won't know how it turns out. Sure, you can drop in and out, but if you are a devoted follower, you need to know every detail, and keep track of every thread, and to do that, you need to keep up. But unlike Lost where you may have to wait a week, or at worse, nine months, in between, fantasy epics that are still being written can take years from book to book, and you find that in order to really be ready for book 12, you have to remember everything from books 5 and 7 and 9, and you don't. Hence, rereading the first 11 (last year) in preparation for this one (this year).

As this is the only WoT book I will read this year, I'll indulge in a fuller post than I usually do for these. The major thing about this book is it is the first of the series released after series creator and author of the first 11 books (and prequel), Robert Jordan. Jordan died in 2007, while he was well into writing what was supposed to be the final installment in WoT. As tragic as his death was (both for his friends and his fans) he supposedly left copious notes detailing how the series wound up, and even wrote the final chapter or some already. Enter Brandon Sanderson, a random fantasy writer tapped by Jordan's wife and editors to complete his opus. I was concerned before cracking the book...as excited as I was, and as much as I want (nay, need) to see how everything plays out...does Rand survive Tarmon Gai'dan (the mythic and much promised final showdown betwee the forces of the Dragon Reborn [good] and Shai'tan, the Dark One [evil])? Do Perrin and Faile reunite blissfully? What happens to Mat? does he find and rescue Moriane? Who is Verin, really? Where are the remaining Forsaken? What is Cadsuane's deal? Etc, etc...I was worried that the styles wouldn't mesh, the choices would seem odd, or worse, that they would seem to betray the nearly ten thousand words (and what feels like an equal number of reading hours) devoted to setting them up. But, thank the light, my worries were mostly for naught. The style is different, here and there (mostly in terms of dialogue with a more modern vernacular...characters using words like "ain't" or starting sentences with "Look..." where they didn't with Jordan) and some small choices are circumspect, but mostly it seems to like trudging down the same path I've been on for some time. And that's a good thing. Even with the end in sight.

Go ____ Yourself: an exercise in style


I've seen The Big Sleep, and I've read a good solid handful of books that follow Chandler's style (and a healthy handful of films as well, plus I think we're all familiar with the dozens of outright parodies that are out there). But I'd never read the book itself until I grabbed it while looking fruitlessly for the first installment in James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy (which I haven't read since high school and want to revisit en route to reading his final entry, just published). And those circumstances are pretty appropriate, given that Ellroy's style looks a lot closer to Chandler's than I would ever have imagined.

This is really great hard-boiled style, which is probably the most obvious thing you can say about it, but it's really pleasantly surprising just how sharp it still seems, SEVENTY YEARS after its publication. Chandler deals with a lot of grime here -- blood, guts, vomit, seduction, nudity -- that doesn't seem shocking until you reach a chapter where a young homosexual (hey, that sure didn't make it into the movie!) repeatedly tells Marlowe and anyone else he happens to meet "Go fuck yourself." Only Chandler, for obvious reasons given the era he was writing in, renders it as "Go ___ yourself." And then proceeds to spin pure gold from it over and over again; once he's established the kid's vernacular, he calls it back repeatedly ("He made a suggestion," one cop drawls, spitting and saying "I'm letting it drift") to increasingly sharp effect.

So there's a lot of that. There's a lot of stellar verbal sparring. You forget that not only don't they write movies with this crackling dialogue much any more, but they don't write much of anything like this any more. "You should see him sober. I should see him sober. Somebody should see him sober. I mean, just for the record. So it could become a part of history, that brief flashing moment, soon buried in time, but never forgotten -- when Larry Cobb was sober." I mean, the book is littered with throwaway lines like this. It's delight, pure and simple.

So you know, I'm still looking forward to that Ellroy, but I gotta say, he's got a lot of surprising-me to do if he's gonna out-grit Chandler. This was rip-snorting good readin'. More like it, please!

Two Serious Men



So after seeing A Serious Man (SEE IT, guys, it's great), and reading a truly excellent AV Club interview with the brothers Coen, I wanted to dig into this book of interviews and critical responses to their films. Published in the wake of Big Lebowski (and with a few of the later interviews in the piece hinting at what would become O Brother Where Art Thou), it's pieced together out of chronological pieces on, with, and about the Coens. Which is interesting, to a degree (seeing how Blood Simple was received and how they were perceived in interviews then as opposed to by the time Fargo came out), but ultimately leaves the book pretty short on context or reflection. There's an interview series I flipped through in a Berkeley bookstore about a year ago (I remember a Mike Leigh installment in particular) compiled of interviews one single author did with directors over the course of their career, and that seems like a much more fruitful approach -- a cumulative effect with much less redundancy and thin focus. Throw in the fact that most of these reviews aren't, say, Rosenbaum-esque Considerations Of Films (in fact, many are culled from Variety and Hollywood Reporter and include predictions of fiscal success or failure) and you have a pretty thin, unsatisfying volume. Frankly, you're a lot better off reading that AV Club piece to get a sense of the brothers that doesn't come with a gloss of incredulous "BROTHERS who make movies TOGETHER? What a country!"

Guys! It's the start to an exciting new year where I complain a lot! WHO'S JAZZED ABOUT THIS? ...JUST ME? Okay, well stick around, this next book blows the friggin' roof off with excellence and style.

UPDATE: This is the book on the Coens in the Interviews series I mention above. Might check it out if I have the time and inclination, though I'm actually much more interested in the Mike Leigh and Robert Altman installments. Intrigue!

Post-mortem, or SHAAAAAME

Well, quite a bit shy of 50, but tell you what gang, this was a swell yearlong project if only for keeping me focused on some "pleasure" reading in the midst of rehearsals, for-pay scriptreading, and the numbercrunching of an average day. Nice to keep a little pressure on an arena that I've always loved more than the things I Have To Do. SO! No grand promises or designs on hitting the mark this next year, but hells YES, I will give it another shot! And hey, I'm already two books in! (After a month of rehearsing a show while running another show, I'm almost overwhelmed by the sense of free time that comes with only doing one thing at a time.) So bring it on, my friends. And keep giving me sweet, sweet titles to add to the "yet to come" stack. I'd do summaries like all you clever cats, but I'm DONE with the shame of the past! On to the future! To glory! Et cetera!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Or "Kickin' Off the New Year in True Nerd Glory."

Pat read this book. I was intrigued, and have intended to read it ever since. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is the week that those intentions came true.

What a sweet after-dinner mint of factoids this little wisp of a book turned out to be! It's satisfactorily substantial without being dry, and leaps subjects, ideas, and times with the ease that Sarah Vowell wishes she could muster. And, best of all, it avoids any bullshit conjecture about Shakespeare's life and who he was and what he thought. Bryson is clear from start to end that, for all intents and purposes, we don't know a damn thing about Shakespeare.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage doses out some Elizabethan/Jacobean history, some literary scholarship, some peeks into the culture of 16th century England, some good ol' fashioned religion, and (my nerdfavorite of all) a thorough investigation the last four hundred years of Shakespeare scholarship. Which you'll dig, if you're into that sort of thing. I'm into it. I dug it. It's a lot of information, delightfully packaged, and breezy to read. My kind of history, indeed.

Book 1: mysterious benedict society and the prisoner's dilemma

So, this week I read the third book in the Mysterious Benedict Society. While I definitely enjoyed it(I thought it was improved from book 2) I have a problem with this series that are becoming clearer with each book.

The stakes feel low: Now I know the actual stakes are the world will be taken over by evil, and everyone the kids have ever loved will be brainswept or killed, BUT we all know that isn't going to happen. While you could loosely say that for a lot of books, (we often know the good guys will prevail ahead of time) it is especially annoying to me here. In the Harry Potter books we knew that people could die. They did die, and so in the constant battle of good versus evil there were real stakes for the reader. In mysterious, I just don't need to feel nervous or emotional about the characters' fates, because it doesn't matter how many hundreds of feet milligan falls, it will only result in a broken arm and slightly weakened voice.

That being said I enjoyed the slower pace of this book from the last. I also feel that the situations seemed less forced and more realistic (an across the world voyage alone made less sense). I look forward to more of the series coming out! Does anyone else think Kate and Reynie are gonna get it on soon? I mean, they are 13 and 14, and both attractive go-getters who live in the same house......

Ten excellent books on Dorothy's list, not necessarily favorites, but ones that made an impact and are unforgettable.

In no particular order and I'm sure I'm forgetting some choice titles (so many books, such poor memory!) , but these are stand-outs:

"Atonement" by Ian McEwan

"Love In The Time Of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

"Crossing To Safety" by Wallace Stegner

"The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

"Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides

"Falling Man" by Don DeLillo

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

"The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink

"Everything Is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safron Foer

"Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safron Foer

And I'll add an 11th one just because it was one of the first books I had ever read that, to this day, has stuck with me...

"Death Be Not Proud" by John Gunther

I'm sure I'll want to add to this list, probably as soon as I publish this post, but it's a start. I'm anxious to contribute to the Magical Reading blog. I've been a silent observer since this was started last year and have really enjoyed reading everyone's reviews. Thanks, Andrew!!! (Now go clean your apartment!)


Monday, November 2, 2009

I READ 25 BOOKS IN 6 MONTHS, DOES THAT COUNT?

Reeeecap....

Actual Number of Books Read: 39 and 5 halves

Number of Books Read for the First time vs. Number re-read: 25/14

Best Books Read for the First Time: Sharp Teeth, Bel Canto, Chuck Klosterman IV, Then We Came to the End

Book that Held Up as Unimpeachable: Black Swan Green

Days Before the Release of the Twelfth Book That I Finished Rereading the First Eleven Books of the Wheel Of Time: 4

Number of Books Read to Impress a Girl: One

Number of Books Read that, When Speaking To a Girl, I Wouldn't Admit to Reading: 13

Worst Book that Was Finished (sorry Julie edition): The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Book that I Wasn't Able to Finish Due to Boredom (sorry Pat edition): Born Standing Up

Book that I Wasn't Able to Finish Due to It Being Stolen From the Bathroom By Our Subletter: Welcome to Monkey House

Books That I Read Exclusively In The Bathroom: Songbook, Nights Of Passed Over, McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets, Shakespeare Wrote For Money

Books I Haven't Read But Plan to For Next Year (Other People's Lists Edition): Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Inherent Vice, Consider the Lobster

Classic Books I Will Plan to Read But Won't: Infinite Jest

Classic Books I Plan to Read: The Satanic Verses

Number of Pages Read in Wheel Of Time Series Read, According To Wikipedia: 9,392

Number of Wheel of Time Books I Will Limit Myself to For Next Year: 1

Post Number of That Book: 1

FINALLY I've been invited to the cool kids table: Allison's 2009-2010 books

I'll take your 50 books in a year and raise you 25. Is that how this works? Now excuse me as I have to go find some intellectual books to add to my young adult novels so I look like a college graduate.

2. The Gathering - Anne Enright
4. Her Fearful Symmetry-Audrey Niffeneggar
5. The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield
7. The Maze Runner-James Dashner
8. Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins
9. Catching Fire-Suzanne Collins
10. Shutter Island- Dennis Lehane
12. Beautiful Creatures- Tracy Chevalier
14. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang-Chelsea Handler
16. The Corrections-Jonathon Franzen
17. The Road-Cormac McCarthy
18. Shanghai Girls-Lisa See
19. Gang Leader For a Day-Sudhir Venkatesh
20. The Bedwetter- Sarah Silverman
21. Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris
22. The Long Walk- Richard Bachmann (aka Stephen King)
23. The Dead-Tossed Waves- Carrie Ryan
25. The Glass Castle-Jeanette Walls
27. The City of Ember- Jeanne DuPrau
28. Lucy- Lawrence Gonzales
29. The Lonely Polygamist-Brady Udall
30. The Passage- Justin Cronin
31. Sh*t My Dad Says-Justin Halpern
32. The Lost City of Z-David Grann
33. The People of Sparks- Jeanne DuPrau
34. The Prophet of Yonwood- Jeanne DuPrau
35. Outliers- Malcolm Gladwell
36. Why We Suck-A Feel Good Guide To Staying Fat, Lazy, and Stupid- Dennis Leary
37. Mockingjay- Suzanne Collins
38. The Cell- Stephen King
39. Everlost- Neil Shusterman
40. The Diamond of Darkhold -Jeanne DuPrau
41. Billy The Kid-The Endless Ride- Michael Wallis
42. The Other Boleyn Girl- Philippa Gregory
43. Alias Grace- Margaret Atwood
44. The Tent- Margaret Atwood
45. In Cold Blood- Truman Capote
46. The Weight of Silence- Heather Gudenkauf
47. I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, and I Want to Be Your Class President- Josh Lieb
48. Earth-The Book- Jon Stewart
49. The Almost Moon- Alice Seebold
50. The Lorax- Dr Suess

Sunday, November 1, 2009

2008 <----b----o----o----k----s----> 2009


The BEST
:
Inherent Vice
Infinite Jest
White Noise
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The DUDS:
I Love You, Beth Cooper
Girl in Landscape
Airframe

The GAYEST:
The Little Prince (I'm sorry, but come on. He's looking for the men! Please show me where I can find the men!)

The LOVELY, WONDERFULLY MOVING BOOKS THAT DIDN'T QUITE MAKE IT TO THE "BEST OF" LIST BUT STILL DESERVE TO BE INCLUDED IN SOME KIND OF LIST, BECAUSE SECOND PLACE IS STILL WINNING, ACCORDING TO GYMNAST SVETLANA KHORKINA, RUSSIAN, SILVER-MEDALIST, OLYMPIAN:
Black Swan Green
Revolutionary Road
Lunar Park
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The STEAMIEST AUTHOR AWARD:
Bret Easton Ellis (you could melt an ice cube on those words)

The FINEST PASSAGE ABOUT RIPPING A SHIN BONE OUT OF YOUR LEG AND USING SAID BONE AS LETHAL STABBING INSTRUMENT:
Beat the Reaper

The SPOOOOOOKIEST:
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Hiroshima

The BOOK TO BOYCOTT FOR NEXT YEAR:
Eating Animals (I love you Jonathan Safran Foer, but I can't have you crawling into my brain and convincing me with your flowery language why eating turkey sandwiches is not what I should be doing in any given moment of the day. I'm sorry. I really am.)

The NEW YEAR OF MAGICAL READING MEMBERS(!):
Michael Ian Lampl
Dorothy Samuels Lampl
(Julie, can you create profiles for them? Or can you tell me how to take matters into my own hands with easy-to-understand computer terminology?)

The YEAR:
2009.

Is OVER?:
Just about.

And WAS IT INDEED MAGICAL?:
Well, as you can see, this sword of stainless steel is clearly soaked in bunny blood, but when I open this cage here, well look at that, our bunny is still alive. So you tell me.


A Year in Review

Well, gang, here we all are.
I think we're all here, anyway. Dad? Are you still out there?

Either way. Here we are. One year older, one year wiser, and significantly more well read.
I'd like to take this moment to thank you guys for joining me on this journey. It has truly been a joy every step of the way.

A brief reflection on this book-filled year...

EVERYONE SHOULD READ
Black Swan Green and Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
(Tie!)

NO ONE SHOULD EVER EVER READ
The Book of Lost Things

THE UNEXPECTED SMASH-HIT
Pastoralia.

THE ONE I EXPECTED TO BE A SMASH-HIT BUT WAS REALLY A BIG OL' LOSER
The Book Thief

THE BEST BOOK THAT WAS THE LEAST ENJOYABLE TO READ
What Is the What

THE STRANGEST ONLINE MOMENT OF 2008
The brief and unexpected series of blog-comment exchanges with Dr. Jane Nelsen.

THINGS I AM EXCITED ABOUT FOR THE 2009-2010 BOOKYEAR
Getting some other women folk into this sausage-fest! Welcome, Allison and Andy's Mom!


So I'm on board for 2009-2010! And I'm gonna make it to fifty this time, because all I want in the world is to be just like Andy Lampl!! Who's with me, eh?!


I Got So Lazy About Posting!

Or "Hats Off To You, Andy Lampl!"

I solemnly swear that all these books were read in their entirety by October 31, 2009.

Also, for some reason my computer isn't letting me add images. Curse you, Safari.

Lightning round.
Haikus.
Get ready.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
by Lewis Carroll

I like these books less
Every time that I read them.
Not a thing happens.

Equus
by Peter Shaffer

Groundbreaking, I'm sure,
For 1973.
Now, a bit dated.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat
by Oliver Sacks

Don't take for granted
You know your face is a face.
The brain is fucked up.

Viewpoints
by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau

I used this book to
Teach students in Idaho
That they have bodies.

Mastering Shakespeare
by Scott Kaiser

Annoying structure:
It is written as a script.
Still, some good lessons.

Games for Actors and Non-Actors
by Augusto Boal

You've not read this book
for Actors and Non-Actors?
Do. Your life will change.

A Shakespearean Actor Prepares
by Adrian Brine and Michael York

Hands-down my favorite
Book about acting Shakespeare.
Such juicy language!

Heartbeat
by Sharon Creech

My favorite author
When I was in the sixth grade.
She's still really good.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
by Trenton Lee Stewart

I'm essentially
A ten year old, but hot damn,
This book is perfect.

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L'Engle

Much more religious
Than I seem to remember
From my younger days.

The Artist's Way
by Julia Cameron

A wacky hippie
Lady's advice on living.
Good Lord, I love it.

Admisson of Defeat.

Well. I failed. who's ready for round 2?!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry? Poetry. Poetry?!?


Mark Kozelek is the man (lyricist, composer, guitarist, and vocalist) behind two of my all time favorite bands, the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. Or rather, he is those bands, so saying they are both favorites is sort of redundant. He is often described as one of America's great living song writers (by people who listen to this sort of music) and last year republished this book, which while technically a collection of lyrics from his entire catalog, it is as much a book of poetry as my previous entry. While he is not Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen (or Jewel), and I would argue that his songs are much more that (songs, as in a harmony [pun intended] of music and lyrics) than some of the work of those men, his lyrics are poetic, beautiful, funny, often devastingly sad. Rather than go on and on, and I could, I'll just leave you with one of them. Maybe its not you thing, but it is mine.


This is "Duk Koo Kim" by Mark Kozelek (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite songs ever)

looking out on my roof last night
woken up from a dream
i saw a typhoon coming in close
bringing the clouds down to the sea
making the world look gray and alone
taking all light from my view
keeping everyone in
and keeping me here with you

around you now, i can't sleep no more baby
around you still, don't want to leave yet

woken up from a dream last night
somewhere lost in war
i couldn't feel my feet or hands
i didn't feel right anymore
i knew there I'd die alone
with no one to reach to
but an angel came down
and brought me back to you

i'd rather leave this world forever baby
than let life go the way it's going

watching an old fight film last night
Ray Mancini vs. Duk Koo Kim
the boy from Seoul was hanging in good
but the pounding took to him
and there in the square he lay alone
without face without crown
and the angel who looked upon
never came down

you never know what day could pick you baby
out of the air, out of nowhere

come to me once more my love
show me love I've never known
sing to me once more my love
words from your younger years
sing to me once more my love
songs that i love to hear

birds gather 'round my window
fly with everything i love about the day
flowers, blue and gold and orange
rise with everything i love about the day

walk with me down these strange streets
how have we come to be here
so kind are all these people
how have we come to know them