Sunday, January 20, 2008

BooMOBYle - drop off 3

This week Cap'n Ahab hoped to soothe me a bit (after Atonement, you know) by bringing me a bit of fluff. I blew through it in a afternoon while sitting in the tub. It was the most perfect afternoon I've spent in quite a while and although Steve will sneer and groan, I'm not going to apologize for it. And what book has charmed me. Prepare to lower your opinion of me. It was
Bitter Is the New Black, a memoir by Jen Lancaster. Jen and her boyfriend had high paying jobs and lived the kind of life that I can only imagine. I, for example, have one pair of shoes, one pair of sneakers and one pair of sandals. Jen on the other hand had a closet full and I'm not talking Payless. They had a gorgeous apartment, cool cars, hung out in the hottest bars; they were everything I live to hate. But then Jen loses her job and can not find another. The top jobs, the ones she feels that she deserves, are swamped with applications from other unemployed, deserving people and the jobs she feels are below her don't want her either. Her unemployment runs out and then her boyfriend, by now her husband, is laid off. Then she becomes a real person.

What I enjoyed about this book is that she is funny. I'm still giggling about the scene where she goes to pick up Marathon information for a friend and realizes that she's the only fat person in the hall. She's also sassy and is not above telling unflattering stories about herself (she cancels her COBRA because her boyfriend's insurance covers "domestic partners" never dreaming that she doesn't qualify.)

So it's not Ulysses. I fell for it and I'm going to read the follow up Bright Lights, Big Ass. Put that in your shoe, Steve, and smoke it

Cap'n Ahab also brought me Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson. I found it quite interesting although I'm not sure that I'm completely buying it. I guess it depends a lot on what your definition of "smarter" is. His point is that the complexities of modern video games, television shows, movies and Internet are increasing our abilities to learn new things and to adapt our ways of thinking. I'll agree with that; we've all watched our children or young relatives pick up some new technology in minutes. He cites studies that indicate that IQ scores are increasing even in areas where standards of living have not. Okay, I'll go along with that.

I couldn't help but think of Steve while reading this, especially during the chapter on video games. I think that we'll all agree that Steve doesn't understand the complexities in video games because he doesn't play them. I, however, am addicted to Sims and do think that it does indeed teach something about life to kids (I, for example, have learned that raising twins is NOT fun.) Johnson discusses how the average video game takes 40 hours to complete and that a lot of logic is involved in solving the maze like sequences. There is a continual repetition of searching for and trying various alternatives that takes patience and hones thinking skills. Read this part of the book again, Steve, because it makes sense. Better yet, play a video game start to finish.

Johnson's take on television & movies is that plots are becoming more complex, more self-referential and the storytelling less temporally linear thereby making us think while watching. He cites "Momento" and "The Usual Suspects" as examples of movies that give our brains a work out; at the end of the movie, we often want to see it again immediately just to fill in things we missed. True enough. When I watched these two movies, I hit the play button on the DVD player seconds after the closing credits ran.

As for the Internet, Johnson focuses on e-mail and blogging, making the claim that although we may spend less time reading novels, we spend a lot more time writing and that this is beneficial. How can that be a bad thing? (Steve?)

My only complaint with the book is that Johnson overlooks the value of knowledge and that's where things fall apart. I think that we might be soothed by his arguments and not focus on the fact that kids "know" less than they did. It's an interesting topic for debate, so jump into the fray.

Because I enjoyed this, I'd like to read other, similar things and ask you all to make suggestions. I don't mean "similar" as in "presenting the same arguments". I just mean that I want to read other things that will make me look at things in a different way. I want to read some non-fiction that will get me thinking or will present facts in a new light. Recommend away.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(i'm owed) Atonement

I am very angry at Ian McEwan. In fact if he were here right now, I'd slap him. Not the little playful kind of slap that I give Steve when he is being an ass (ie daily) but a swinging-for-Landsdowne-Street slap. The kind of slap that would make every head in the room snap around and gasp. Yeah, I'm that angry.

It's an odd feeling, this anger. I've never felt it before toward an author or a book I've read. I've read books that disappointed me, books that betrayed me by their banality, books that I've hated but never a book that made me want to hurl it across the room in anger and hit the author. What happened?

I was with this book from the get go; it had me captivated. I was completely drawn into this world and its characters. I had absolute feelings for each and every one of them. We are first introduced to Briony Tallis, a 13 year old British girl who wishes to become an author. She is the villain of the piece because she has the kind of imagination that must create a story for every chain of events, despite the fact that, at thirteen, she doesn't have the understanding to do so successfully. She witnesses a scene from the playroom window involving her adult sister, Cecilia and the charlady's son, Robbie. She doesn't understand the sexual tension involved and describes to herself a scene of malevolence and perversion. Later, after a few more misunderstood events, her testimony sends Robbie off to prison.

Part two of the novel takes place in France, where Robbie is part of the retreat taking place at Dunkirk. He has been released early from prison upon his agreement to fight in the war. This is an amazing section of the book. McEwan writes the hell out of Robbie's experiences. I'm not sure that I took a breath for the full 70 pages of part two. It doesn't forward the initial plot very much, but it does add a whole new dimension to the idea of atonement.

Part three takes place in London, where a grown up Briony is working as a nurse. She realizes her errors and the nursing is part of her personal atonement. This is another well written section which pulled me into the era and the horror of the war. There is a small scene that seemed to me like a misstep on the author's part; Briony writes the story of what she saw from the playroom window and sends it off to a magazine for publication. The story is rejected for being too vague and stream of conscience. "Poof," I thought, "what does this have to do with anything?" But a few pages later, I found out that it does.

The interminable pages about light and stone and water, a narrative split between three different points of view, the hovering stillness of nothing much seeming to happen-none of this could conceal her cowardice. Did she really think she could hide behind some borrowed notions of modern writing, and drown her guilt in a stream-three streams!-of consciousness? The evasions of her little novel were exactly those of her life. Everything she did not wish to confront was also missing from her novella-and was necessary to it. What was she to do now? It was not the backbone of a story that she lacked. It was backbone.

Redeemed. The tiny misstep has been redeemed. How will McEwan atone for his giant misstep at the end (also known as London 1999)? I'm afraid that I can't discuss what I hated so much about this ending without talking about the plot. I can't discuss McEwan's betrayal of me, the reader, without giving things away. THIS IS YOUR SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading now if you care.

What so destroyed any enjoyment that I had gained for this novel is that when we fast forward to 1999, we discover that Briony is now an old woman and attending her birthday party, surrounded by her adoring young relatives. Since when does Briony deserve such adoration? Not since I started reading the novel. But okay, even Hitler had friends. Then we learn that Briony has polished up her novella, added to it and it has become the novel we have just read. A crappy ending to be sure, but Briony has also fucked with the details, just to piss me off even more. For example, the young couple separated by her misunderstanding as a child have not been reunited after all, but died during the war. Everything that we have just read unravels in that moment. It's all been a big fat lie as far as I'm concerned and that just isn't right. If I'm reading a story, I want to believe in that story entirely. If I shouldn't believe,I want the narrative to clue me in along the way-give me that unreliable narrator, give me shifting perspectives and contradictory facts- just don't slap it on as a postscript-like ending.

McEwan owes me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

BookMOBYle - drop off 2

I've been having a little trouble accessing blogspot this past week, but things seem to be fine now.

Cap'n Ahab and his crew made their scheduled drop off last Tuesday, right on time. As you might guess, this week's package contained Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. For those keeping track, it was the Two of Diamonds.

I immediately jumped right into it, having good memories from the last time I read it. If you've never read it, I'm not even going to explain what it is about. You are obviously a)illiterate b)unamerican or c)subhuman. What I'm saying is that everyone who has been a teenager has dug this book and if you didn't, how can I help you now? Even crazy serial killers have read this book!

I initially read it in college. I wanted to see if, now that I'm an adult, I'd bring anything new to the reading. I'm not so sure that I did really. Mostly I was just filled with a feeling of nostalgia. I remembered what it was like to be a much younger Beepy, which was a lot of fun (both being the younger Beepy and remembering her). I also realized that the guy I was dating at the time had a lot in common with Holden, except the craziness. He was a nice memory too. If you're out there, baby, Kiss Kiss.

By the way, the cover I have downloaded here is not the cover of my copy. Mine is the plain red cover with yellow lettering. I picked this cover to download because J.D. would hate it. I heard that he wanted the cover to be plain white and was horrified by the original cover which, I remember, was very busy. There was a kid, a bunch of shops, a street sign. It was not hip and cool. So angry was he, at the first opportunity he resold the rights to a different publisher. And yes, this ex-boyfriend of mine had a copy of that unapproved cover. Sigh.

The second book of this shipment is Spartina by John Casey (the Seven of Spades). It won the National Book Award a million years ago. Okay maybe 1988 or 1989.
You younger readers won't remember but it was once all the rage among the reading public. So far all I can tell you is that it is about a guy, who doesn't have a lot of money, building a boat - a big boat - in his back yard. I'll be spending today getting more acquainted.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

Somewhere on the open seas Cap'n Ahab is laughing. Ha Ha, the joke's on me. The salty dog picked a real killer as my first novel of the year. I think he knew full well that it would take me the entire week to read, therefore setting me back in my goal of two books a week in the VERY FIRST WEEK. Yes, he is a clever one. But Ha Ha, the joke's on him, because I loved this book.

Why was it so difficult to read?, you ask. Eddison's style and language is the culprit, although it is exactly that which made the book so delightful. Imagine that the daughter of Shakespeare and Elric of Melibone had a child with the son of Tolkien and Homer. Imagine that King Arthur was the godfather and you've pretty much got a sense of what The Worm Ouroboros is like. The language is archaic, as one can see by a brief scan through the notes at the end. gaberlunzie, I'd liever, tassel-gentle, trisulk, disard, cere-cloth, towsed - you get the idea. Speech is fancy and none to swift to the point:

"Well I see the blood thou didst drink in Melikaphkhaz will not allay thy
thirst, and war is to thee thy pearl and thy paramour. Yet, if it be, turn back
from Carce. Thou standest now on the pinnacle of thine ambition; wilt leap
higher, thou fall'st in the abyss. Let the four corners of the earth be shaken
with our wars, but not this centre. For here shall no man gather fruit, but and
if it be death he gather; or if, then this fruit only, that Zoacum, that fruit
of bitterness, which when he shall have tasted of, all the bright lights of
heaven shall become as darkness and all earth's goodness as ashes in his mouth
all his life's days until he die."

I'm just sayin' it's tough reading.

The basic plot is very basic. Witchland and Demonland go to war. Witchland's King is a greedy bastard named Gorice XII who has great powers in the dark arts. We don't see a whole lot of him; most of our time in Witchland is spent among his generals Corund, Corsus and Corinius. Demonland is led by several great warriors, the brothers Juss, Goldry Bluszco and Spitfire and by their cousin Brandoch Daha. Here we see the kinsman all lined up and ready for war:

Other lands become involved in the struggle through their alliances, Goblinland, Pixyland and Impland foremost among them. There is also my favorite character Lord Gro. He is a Goblin by birth and a traitor by inclination. At some point in the past he has gone over to the Witches and is quite tight with King Gorice XII (as he was with Gorice XI as well). If Gro were alive today, he'd be a jet-setting, cocaine snorting, champagne bathing socialite, although one with brains.

There is a diversion from the battle by an expedition by Juss and Brandoch Daha in an attempt to rescue Goldry Bluszco, who has been swept away into enchanted mountains by the evil of Gorice XII. Here, in these mountains, our heroes encounter manticores, enchanted castles, a hippogriff and the immortal Queen Sophonisba. We are also introduced to the idea of the worm ouroboros and it's importance to the plot. Ouroboros, for those who may not know, is a serpent or dragon feeding on it's own tail. It represents eternity and, we are told, is the symbol of the Gorice reign. Apparently when Gorice dies his spirit finds a new physical host and the next Gorice comes to power. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Anyway, I don't want to ruin the plot for any brave soul that might take to reading this book. It's not perfect by any means (come on, Lord Spitfire?) but overall it is magic. I wish there were sequels and prequels but alas, being written in 1922 instead of 2002, there aren't. It has won a permanent place of my bookshelf (cough, cough, I mean Ahab's BookMOBYle) so I can reread it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

BookMOBYle - Drop off 1

Here they are. The crew of Cap'n Ahab's BookMOBYle have arrived. After waiting nearly all day for my initial shipment, they have finally arrived. They reek of liquor and sea salt; they are disheveled and hungover but they are here. Ahab descends via the gangplank, throws a bundle at my "feet" and sneers "Thar ya are, ya dingy cow."

The package is small and rectangular, done up with brown paper and string. I am overcome with excitement. As I struggle to open the package, I realize the great drawback to my manatee flesh - I curse Neptune who gave me these fused digits and no thumb. I'll have to speak to the good Cap'n about different packaging for the next shipment.

After hours of tearing at the paper with my teeth, a small crab takes pity on me and snips my books free in a matter of seconds. The books tumble onto the rocks proving the old adage "no good deed goes unpunished" by nearly crushing my helpful friend, who scurries off a wiser crustacean.

I present to you the first two books I'll read in 2008. Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Worm Ouroboros by E.R.Eddison. For those of you who are keeping track, the former is the King of Clubs, the latter the Two of Clubs.

Check back later this week for my progress.