Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Slacking Again

House of Breath - William Goyen. Not at all like Nabokov. It was interesting. It was poetic. The language was amazing and beautiful. The plot? Non-existant. It is said that it is a love letter from the author to his hometown. It's hard to read a 130 page love letter. Particularly when the letter also goes into all the awful things that happened in the relationship. But there is one chapter told from the point of view of the well which is, to put it bluntly, brilliant.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee. This is one I should have read a long time ago, but never did. And now I wonder why not. The race relations are played subtly, but she definitely never shies away from them. It's tense and hard to read at times. The kid is believable and I like that the narrator is telling the story from a distance, looking back, as opposed to simply stating the past events. It makes it seem like there are two characters: the adult version and the kid version.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins. I am late to the game on this, but have been hounded by a friend to read it. I can't say my love equals that of the masses. I thought it was really well-written and an interesting concept. The fact that it is all told in present tense is really fascinating. It's really difficult to keep up the tension required for a present tense story. I'm assuming she keeps it through the whole trilogy. The characters are believable. I didn't really believe in the story, though. (SPOILERS) I guess I didn't understand why, if it was so terrible, all of the districts didn't somehow band together and attack the controlling district. I mean, I know that in the "1984" sense they are never really alone and organizing an uprising would be difficult, to say the least. I guess I just never felt the danger I was supposed to feel for the characters. I couldn't get into the idea of killing for sport. It just seemed uneccessarily cruel and I never fully understood why they had to sacrifice a member of the community. It never became clear to me. What was that one person dying for? Also, I found Katniss to be kind of a jerk. I want to see what happens in the next books, but mostly only because everyone else is raving about them and I need to know about things that other people like.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. Is amazing. Well...I's really good. I love precocious child protagonists and T.S. is the kind of character you just want to hug and help figure things out. He's too much in his head, too smart for his own good. He maps the world. He maps things like how many bad ears of corn his sister husks, or all of the McDonald's' of a certain area. He maps facial expressions and speech and, at the age of 12, has already had his work printed in prestigious magazines. And then he wins a big award at the Smithsonian. They don't know he's twelve, and he doesn't want to tell his family about it (they'd never understand), so he hops a train and lives like a vagabond, making his way across the United States. Something I love even more than I love precocious children? Hobos. After a terrifying incident, T.S. finally makes his way to D.C. The Smithsonian is confused, but give him the award anyway. But it's about more than that. It's about family, and fitting it, and figuring out what you want. It also made me want to take a train (not the first time I've been stricken with that idea).

Also read another Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys. Not too much to say as Neil Gaiman can really do no wrong. It's set in the same world as American Gods. I LOVED American Gods, and liked this book. His ability to flow so effortlessly between reality and "fantasy" is enviable. His descriptions are vivid, his characters rich. Seriously. The guy is amazing and there is a reason he's in my Top 5.

A few others that I will review briefly: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnston - Travel! Secrets! The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan - Demons! Dancing! Secrets! (I liked the first one better)

I've started The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Another writer of perfection. I find myself wanting to highlight every line, fold the corner of every page, because he's incredible. The way he describes people and uses language. They're not just words, it's art for him, and it blows. me. away.

I also have to read House of Breath by William Goyen for school. I should love this book. It has a great title. The first page is interesting, feels a little like Nabakov's Invitation to a Beheading, but I just can't get wrapped up in it. Which might be a good thing. It's easier to study a book you are able to look at objectively. Like, Would I ever be able to truly study Neil Gaiman? No. So. My weekend project is to read this one. And continue to freak out because I'm a writing student. What the crap?!

(Do not judge my blogs. No, really. Do not.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Something is Annoying.

I have come across a line in writing that I find to be uninspired and lazy and super annoying. It is like this:

The story contains a mystery. All good stories do. There is something beneath the surface driving the story. The characters are having a serious conversation. They are worried about a thing that is happening. They are discussing life, an event, multiple events. Then one of them asks a question and another gives the following response:

"Something is coming."

Really? Something is coming? You may as well say, "This book contains a plot." "This television series is interesting, just you wait for this particular thing that will happen!" Something is ALWAYS coming. In every story, no matter how ordinary, something will aways be coming.

I came across this line most recently in The Mysterious Benedict Society. In this book, messages are being broadcast behind television signals and people are being brainwashed. Only the most intelligent people are immune. So this guy is trying to make these really smart children understand. They ask a question. A simple question. "So what's wrong?" There is a dramatic pause. "Something is coming."

This is really hard for me to criticize as it is an effect that is also overused by my beloved Doctor. At the end of Season Two, just before the most heartbreaking finale in all of television history*, the Doctor and Rose are standing in the middle of the street looking at the stars and the Doctor tells her, "Something is coming." And I'm pretty sure that is not the only time he has said it. There have been storms brewing and something coming in every season. And as much as I love the show, and as brilliant as I believe the writers to be, it is still the most annoying dramatic device I can think of. Surely there is a more creative way to signify a major event is about to take place. Surely.

If Ishmael stands on the deck of the boat looking for the whale and then and announces that "Something is coming", I am throwing the book out of the window.

*I might be biased. I mean, I haven't watched all of television ever. But it's a pretty intense scene and there aren't many television shows that make me weep like I am the one experiencing the "thing that has come."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Call me Ishmael.

Actually, no, don't do that. But, I'll tell you what. I've just started Moby Dick and it. is. awesome. I don't know what I was expecting, but in the first chapters the main character is forced to share a bed with a cannibal who hugs him in his sleep. It's hilarious! I mean, I'm only on Chapter 7 (out of, like, 150), but still. Awesome.

Finished the second and third book in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. They were called specific cities, but I can't remember the order. I think there was some ash, some glass...the other one escapes me completely. Which isn't anything against her (though, really, varying titles is an awesome way for people to remember them). The books were exciting and easy to read, and I totally believed in the world and the characters. Characters are key, and these ones had me reacting to their actions. Seriously, the romance that played out over the three books nearly killed me.

Also read Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins. The story is about an ex-CIA operative who winds up cursed by a medicine man in the Amazonian jungle and then finds himself living in a convent in the Syrian desert with an Order devoted to the prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima. Also, the Abbess was the the model in Matisse's "Woman in Blue." No, really. My favorite thing about Tom Robbins is how many plots intersect. This wasn't my favorite of his books, but definitely enjoyable. Though long. I felt like I was reading it forever and some of the scenes seemed to drag a bit. But Switters was a great protagonist, and all the small parts that came together were really fabulous.

So. Back to the whale. (Whom I haven't met yet, but am eagerly anticipating.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

More books!

I am FLYING through books this year (I mean, compared to last year).

Newly finished:

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson. I liked it. It was cute. It's kind of how I feel about all of Maureen Johnson's books. I like them, but feel that if I were the actual intended age I would LOVE them. That being said, I totally want to read the sequel, Scarlett Fever.

Also finished: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) which I loved, loved, loved. I feel like the best way to describe this book is to just quote the beginning:

There were four of us - George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were - bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what he was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch - hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into - some fearful devastating scourge, I know - and, before I had glanced half down the list of "premonitory symptoms," it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for a while frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever - read the symptoms - discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it - wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance - found, as I expected, that I had that too, - began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically - read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

And so on.

This book is not about the various illnesses, but is mostly a book full of tangents and rants and is all together wonderful.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two More Down

Does it count as a new read or a re-read if it is a book that you have read but remember absolutely nothing about? Such was my situation with A Tale of Two Cities. I read this book my junior year of high school (I vividly remember staying up until very early in the morning to finish it on time), but I could not have told you one thing about it other than it takes place in both London and Paris. But I'll tell you what. I completely fell in love with Dickens again. I remember loving Great Expectations (though, this has much to do with the Ethan Hawke version of the movie and the greatest film soundtrack of the time), but I had no idea that I LOVE Charles Dickens. Who knew he was such a romantic? Sure, I remember a bit of romance from the aforementioned and also the idea of love which sprouts up in A Christmas Carol. But really, Charles? I'm a sucker for a good sacrificial love story and A Tale of Two Cities fits that mold perfectly. Not that it's only about love. There is a lot going on. Like The French Revolution and the Fall of the Bastille and La Guillotine etc. But there are beautiful moments in the house with the footsteps and on the bloody streets of Paris. Not necessarily an uplifting novel, but definitely beautiful.

I also finished Craig Ferguson's American on Purpose because I love a good Scotsman and also have a strange inclination toward stories about substance abuse. Great to see how he pulled himself out of that while acknowledging that not everyone in that situation is able to do so. It cemented a lot of my thoughts about addiction and, hopefully, made me a little more sympathetic. It's a feeling I struggle with being familiar with someone who is an addict. So while an encouraging read, also a little hard to take as his story is very much not like the one I am close to. Which is probably why I prefer my substance abuse stories to be along the lines of Infinite Jest where at the end you still question whether or not there is hope. It just seems more realistic, while this celebrity memoir comes off a bit like a fairy-tale. Not to belittle it, and I certainly know that it's a continued struggle and I appreciate that he is able to share. But compared to many in the world he is a lucky and rare case.

Currently reading Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome which is short and funny and begins with a man reading through a medical dictionary and realizing that he has every disease known to man except one. Something to which I can relate. I think this book and I will get along very well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Man Walks Into a Room - Nicole Krauss

It never fails. I think I have an amazing idea for a story. Then I pick up a book that I really know nothing about and find that it's been done way better than I would have ever done it. This has happened with both Nicole Krauss books. Both of which I've picked up merely because she is married to Jonathan Safran Foer. And then she has to go and be awesome about it.

So this guy leaves his job, walks across the country, and is found in the desert with no idea who he is. He has a tumor and in removing it he loses 24 years worth of memories. He's 36 and his last memory is from age 12. Brilliant idea. I did have some questions. For instance, if your last memory was from age 12, wouldn't you be a slightly more socially awkward adult? Samson seems to accept it pretty easily (adulthood). I'm (almost) 27, have all of my memories, and I find adulthood to be more awkward than this guy did.

What Nicole Krauss was great at, though, was playing with the idea of what loneliness means and why it's important or desirous to be in company with others if it doesn't always feel as though it eases that loneliness. And if you lost all of your memories, would you miss them? Would you even know what to miss? If you suddenly found yourself with someone else's most intense memory (as Samson does, thanks to some cutting edge science), how would you react? Would it make you more lonely? Would you crave companionship? We're created to be sharing people, but to know exactly what someone went through, to actually smell the same smells, hear the same sounds, feel the same emotions, what would that do to you? It's one thing to be a shoulder to lean on, but to actually *know*... To understand the way a person is wired because of a thing that happened. It would make you ache for that person for having to go through it. You might want to try and understand because now it's this huge thing in your life, but they just want to move on. They've dealt with it already and don't want to go into it. Can you imagine knowing another person so intimately and finding that they want to keep their distance because the memory you're drudging up is just too painful? So where do you go from there?

I can't say I had any concrete thoughts on this book when I finished it last week, but as I write this I realize the concept leaves me a little uncomfortable. Like maybe, instead of talking, one day we'll just have our memories and thoughts transplanted into another human being. Let's cut to the chase. Avoid that "getting to know you" nonsense and just lay it all out at once. It would be too much. It would be overwhelming. It's scary enough letting down that guard and choosing to be with someone. Knowing that even though you're together it doesn't mean you feel less lonely. But to have all of their thoughts, you would *need* that person in a way that we don't need people now. And that person might need you in return, but it would be for different memories, different reasons. There will always be a disconnect somewhere. I guess it's just a matter of choosing what it is. And now we have that choice. In that world we really don't.

This is not at all where I thought I'd go with this. But I'm tired and emotional.