September 2009

Wicked is Wickedly Disturbing and Delightful

When, after reading the first page of a book, you squeal, “I am gonna love this!” you know… you’re probably going to love it. I know I’m sort of pulling up in the caboose of Wicked’s fan club—I’ve heard quite a bit about the musical. However, from what I’ve read, it’s quite different from the book—and the book was spectacular.

Modern day movies seem to be bent on giving villains—as well as heroes—more depth. Gone are the days where there is absolute evil, absolute good, and a thick, darkened line of graphite in between. Today’s characters are multidimensional, with histories, love stories, and both redeeming as well as repugnant characteristics. Gregory Maguire seemed to have this in mind when he crafted the amazing Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

The Liar's Club

Recently Sarajean talked about Entertainment Weekly's "100 New Classics," and I bookmarked it in order to start filling in some of the gaps in my reading list.  I spent an awful lot of time reading dusty old classics in college, and don't get me wrong, I loved them (or I wouldn't have been working towards an English Lit degree) but sometimes I feel like I missed out on a lot of pop culture novels in that time.

Mary Karr's The Liar's Club is an excellent example of a book I missed out on, because it was published in the year I graduated the University of Washington.   And believe me, the year after I graduated with a BA in English Lit is the year I read the least in my ENTIRE LIFE.  By the time I was finished with college, I wasn't sure if I could ever read a book again.

Knut Hamsun's Mysteries

I stumbled upon Knut Hamsun’s work as a result of Henry Miller name checking the Norwegian. I can’t say as to why Hamsun stuck out when compared to the litany of other folks that were listed or referenced in either of the Tropics books, but there ya go. After having found Hunger in a local library and not being taken with it, perhaps only the cover of Mysteries prompted my to pick it up. Regardless of the reason, getting through that book the first time was truly enjoyable. So much so, in fact, that I returned to the novel, but only after reading Pan – which was a piece of trash.

Truths, Events, and Individuals (Part 02)

Throughout “Children of the Sea” there are constant references to violence, a “son’s head” being carried down the street and fathers being forced to “lie down down in bed” with daughters. The downtrodden are subservient to those in power and desire freedom, but are inundated with so much disturbing imagery as to have the concept remain a foggy dream. Concurrently, the masses, when voicing its displeasure become a nuisance to the powerful.

Recognizing that either perception of Haiti’s political situation is valid to a degree, doesn’t reconcile the problems inherent in that nation, but obfuscates truth, events and how it affects individuals. There are two sets of good guys and bad guys. Each exists in a different conceptual plane just as Dybek’s childhood Chicago emerges only in recollections and stories not as one walks down the street.

Truths, Events, and Individuals (Part 01)

Despite textbooks representing history and truth as a set of immutable facts and declarations both are defined through the narrow scope of an individual’s experiences. Hinging upon one’s upbringing and eventual interaction with those not from the same background, the understanding anyone possesses of cultural events, milestones and even history can be drastically different. There isn’t a singular truth to any one occurrence or concept, but myriad views that shift through time.

Nymphomation

I've read good reviews about Jeff Noon's books and thus wanted to try out his books. Here's a headsup for anyone else thinking along the same lines – do pick the first in the Vurt series. That would be the perfect introduction into his style of writing and the overall plotline. Don't meander into it via the fourth book. Fair enough, you will understand the story and it is a fantastic novel overall … but I can't help thinking that the first few chapters would not have been such a rough introduction if I had some sort of prior reference.

 Now for the plot itself. A brand new type of lottery system has a hold over the city of Manchester. Somehow folks are addicted to it; to the idea of winning, the idea of making it big via a small chance buy. Not exactly a functional way of thinking, especially if you are going to be hooked to the lottery weeks on end. On the other hand, this was the perfect way for the powers that be to control the city and its people. The company running the lottery was called AnnoDomino and so far, they were wowing the authorities with their attention-grabbing system.

JPod, Douglas Coupland's Brave New World

I think the last time I read a Douglas Coupland novel it was "Generation X," in the early 1990s.  I vaguely remember liking it, but it was so terribly overhyped that it was difficult to read the book on its own terms.  It both set off and fed upon the huge national discussion about Who We Are, or alternatively, Why These Kids Won't Get Off My Lawn.  I remember that it was difficult to read it as a book on its own merits.  This may have been the author's intent, what with all the little snippets of jargon in the margins.

At any rate, a friend recently mentioned Coupland's novel "JPod" in such glowing terms that I simply had to give it a try.  

Celebrate Banned Books Week!

To me, banning a book shows a sign of weakness. Does a book really have that much more power over your kids than you do? If you are so worried about people—particularly children—getting the “wrong idea” from a piece of printed literature, and think that a book has the power to brainwash people into anarchy or—gasp!—atheism,  doesn’t banning it defeat the purpose?

If you disagreed with a piece of literature, wouldn’t your sentiments be better served by, I don’t know, taking the time to talk with kids about the book, rather than entice them to read it by saying they can’t? Would a rational discussion about the ideas within not be better than banning its existence—and then either A. encouraging it to be read anyway by making such a controversy out of it, or B. sheltering kids from ideas only to keep them ignorant of important issues and literature?

Salem's Lot: King's Worst Novel?

I went through a big Stephen King phase when I was in my teens.  (Who didn't?)  This was in the 1980s, which many feel was King's peak years of output - coincidentally, also the years when he was abusing the most drugs.  In fact I seem to recall that Salem's Lot is one of the books that King now cannot remember having written, thanks to the huge volume of coke he was snorting, but now I cannot find a reference for that.  

At any rate, this is his second published novel, published in 1975, after Carrie but before The Shining.  I had a vague recollection of having liked it, although not as much as I liked some of his other works.  Having recently re-read it, I have to wonder what I was thinking.  Perhaps due to the callowness of youth, I simply didn't know any better.

Why I Hate Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" I HATE IT SO MUCH FROTH FOAM GNASH

For some reason, The Road just refuses to go away like it ought to.  Now as Sarajean recently mentioned, it is at the #1 spot on Entertainment Weekly's list of "New Classics."  (It's an awesome list, by the way, and I'm metaphorically pinning it to my wall to reference for reading material.)

My problem with The Road is purely logistical.  In the abstract, if I lift myself above such plodding concerns as "things in books should make sense" and "fictional characters should act like human beings," I can see how this would be an interesting and emotionally affecting book.

Night Watch

Since we are getting closer and closer to the release of Unseen Academicals – the brand new book by Sir Terry Pratchett – perhaps it is time for a review of one of his books. And what better book than Night Watch, my all time favorite?

All of you who are fans of Pratchett, especially those who love the Sam Vimes storylines, will be familiar with the Night Watch. Unlike some of his lighthearted ones, this one is more indepth, it makes a lot more social comment (if that is even possible with Pratchett) and it reveals some important details about the beloved Discworld cop.

This is the novel where we learn about Vimes, where we find out why Vimes thinks the way he does. Think of it as a fictional semi-biography of Commander Vimes, if you will.