October 2009

ArchEnemy a Disappointing Finale

When critics cried out things like one dimensional characters in regards to Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series, I always turned a deaf ear while enjoying the writing—and then defended the work after. This time, I could do neither.

After coming to the series as a skeptic, thinking how on earth could someone take Carroll’s classic and warp it so much—and then being captivated into the vibrant and creative story—I’m now feeling quite disappointed having finished the series.

And it’s not simply because it’s over.

Robert Jordan’s Latest Book Released

The twelfth book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series was released today; posthumously, and with the writing assistance of Brandon Sanderson.  According to the product description on Amazon, this book "begins [the Wheel of Time series'] dramatic conclusion."  Whoa!  Begins?

When I ran across this news item, I had to stop and reminisce for a little while.  The first Wheel of Time novel was published in 1990, just as I graduated from high school and started college.  I was actually passing out of my fantasy phase then, but The Eye of the World was a huge blockbuster hit (within the genre) and everyone told me I had to read it.  I picked it up, enjoyed it, and read the next few novels in the series as well.

Sean Graney's Frankenstein

Re-imagining Frankenstein is old hat at this point even as Sean Graney, who directors a unique version which runs through November 1st at the Museum of Contemporary Art, renders production of the Mary Shelley classic sans forth wall.

Instead of doggedly adhering to the novel’s narrative, Graney has chosen to create a staged version of Shelley’s story that incorporates unwitting theater goers into the proceedings. With a hand gesture any actor can tell ticket holders to shove over and get out of their way. Bench seats are cleared and crowd members crane their heads around as the mass of people move alongside actors from one end of the theater to another in attempts to actually see what’s happening.

A Brief Tour of the Chicago Public Library

Having recently moved to Chicago and acclimating myself to a new and somehow inhospitable tundra of concrete, becoming familiar with the public library system became an important goal. So while the Chicago Public Library hasn’t failed me in regards to its selection, the reserve process allows potential readers enough time to write their own prose long enough to take up an entire book.

So as I lament the slowness with which the CPL operates, let us take a moment to reflect briefly on two selections recently donned by my night-stand.


Slowness by Milan Kundera

I don’t generally read authors who work in fiction that are still alive. It’s not a rule, just something that’s happened and has only to do with my working through the back log of undeniable classics that litter every bookstore and library shelf.

M.F.K. Fisher's "How To Cook A Wolf"

References to M.F.K. Fisher's "How to Cook A Wolf" are popping up everywhere, and for good reason.  "How To Cook A Wolf" was published in 1942, and is designed to help the harried housewife cope with food shortages, rationing coupons, and the crushing residual poverty left over from the Great Depression.  Many of its themes still ring true today - dare I use the clichéd phrase "In These Difficult Economic Times"?

"How To Cook A Wolf" is a fascinating read, because two thirds of it is relevant enough to have been written yesterday, while one third is so bizarrely antiquated that it has become the literary equivalent of a freak show.  Step right up!  Five dollars gets you a glimpse at a recipe for roasted pigeon!  (Ingredients: 1 pigeon, 1 lemon, 2 slices bacon, parsley, red wine, water, salt, pepper.)

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

My personal Halloween fiction festival continued with Joe Hill's novel, "Heart-Shaped Box."  This is a ghost story starring Judas Coyne, an aging heavy metal rock star, and his latest girlfriend who he has dubbed Georgia.  Coyne calls all of his semi-disposable girlfriends by the state they originate from, and in this case it's Florida that starts all the trouble.  ("Jude Coyne" is himself escaping from his past as a Louisiana pig farmer's son named Justin Cowzynski.)

The Professor and the Madman, a Review

This book is not just the story of a dictionary; it is the story of how two men’s lives, both on completely divergent paths, became intertwined by the love of something much greater than almost anything on earth.  Although human beings give meaning to words, the ironic twist is that it wasn’t until we as a species were able to communicate that we were able to evolve into what we now are: modern man.  In a sense, it was words (or their precursors) that gave us meaning.  And it was the power of words that gave one man, who was completely insane, the ability to have as much of what we might call a “normal” life as the man with which he communicated.  Now, however boring one may find a subject such as the formation of a dictionary to be, each and every person who decides to pick up The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of th

So Long A Letter, by Mariama Bâ, a Response

Instead of the traditional book review, I thought I’d write more of a journal entry style piece on Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter.  First, a brief description.  The novella, as the title indicates, takes the form of a letter from one friend, Ramatoulaye, whose husband has just died, to her friend Aissatou.  The majority of the letter speaks of the difficulties Ramatoulaye faced when her husband (while still alive) decided to take another wife, something condoned by Islam in Senegal.  Aissatou had previously divorced her husband for making this decision, and so Ramatoulaye seeks solace under the banner of friendship from someone who has experienced this painful, life-changing event.  Without waiting, here is my first reaction to this book.

Another Reading Holiday is Upon Us

National Book Month is upon us, which means another good excuse to read. What I keep wondering is, why do we need all of these excused to read? It seems like every month has either a weeklong, daylong or month-long observance related to reading somehow or another. Can’t we just read because we want to in the first place? I’m not knocking any opportunity to read—if it works, let it work, and I’ll definitely use any excuse to read than to do anything else!

But it’s almost as if we’re being conditioned to hate books. With so many reading observances, “Reading is Fun!” posers plastered around schools and libraries, and book reports assigned, it’s no wonder that kids often turn to TV instead of a page-turner. And it’s not like we have a “Watch As Much TV As Possible!” Week to encourage them to do that particular activity.

Chuck Klosterman IV

I like Chuck Klosterman a lot, but if I had to point to one of his articles to explain why, I'm not sure I would be able to.  One thing I realized from reading this giant collection of Klosterman's articles is that it's something about reading only one or two at a time that makes my favorable impression.  Trying to read an entire anthology of articles, each of which is pre-pended with a mini article about the article itself?  A little much.

I didn't even get very far into the second half of the book, which contains articles that discuss hypothetical situations.  I read halfway through the first article, which discusses the difference between your nemesis and your arch-enemy, and decided that I'd had enough Chuck for a while.

The Court Theatre's Ma Rainey

The Court Theatre’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is presented as a currently relevant discussion of social issues even as theater goers are greeted by Rev. Gary Davis performing “Samson and Delilah” over the P.A. system. The August Wilson play includes parallel conflicts inherent in Ma Rainey’s band, problems that Ma has with her management and the world that black’s lived in during the ‘20s.

The entirety of the play takes place in a recording studio owned by Sturdyvant (Thomas J. Cox). Awaiting the arrival of Ma Rainey takes up a great deal of the first act while the studio owner, Rainey’s manager Irvin (Stephen Spencer) and the singer’s band discuss race as well as business.

Once ensconced in the rehearsal space, each of the four musicians spin tales and relate unique perspectives on art, music, work and race – the concepts which the play’s narrative is hung.

Paradies Shops Read and Return Program

The Paradies Shops are a chain

of more than 500 shops, mostly in airports and resort hotels all over the U. S. and Canada. A few months ago I was in an airport, and out of books to read. I stopped at Paradies book shop and bought a book. The clerk carefully taped my purchase receipt inside the cover of my book with removable tape, and handed me a bookmark explaining the program, with a list of shops that participate. He handed it back to me, and I suppose I looked puzzled because he explained "You can bring it back to any of our shops in six months, for a 50% refund."

I thought it was a super idea; I often buy books when I'm traveling that I don't plan on keeping, and would just as soon not lug them around in my luggage.

Duma Key, by Stephen King

As far as I know (or can remember), Duma Key is unique among King's novels in that it's written from the first person.  Aside from this peculiar little quirk, the book feels as if it has been assembled from material recycled from The Shining and The Dead Zone.  Which is a pity, because it only serves to remind you how much better those other books were.

Review of Call Me Magdalena, by Alicia Steimberg

     I once read a murder-mystery in which the identity of the killer was not revealed until the last sentence of the novel.  There is something to be said for a writer who can build a mystery that well.  To be able to keep track of details, and extremely small details at that, requires an amount of precision that many writers do not possess.  But there is also something lacking in that writing style.  Quite often the characters and their descriptions are introduced at the beginning of the story.  A reader knows almost everyone’s identity, except perhaps that of the criminal being pursued, and full details of the crime committed within the first three or four chapters.  The middle of the story consists of apprehending the criminal, maybe with a setback or two thrown in for dramatic tension, and the conclusion, hopefully, consists of h

Review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, by Elena Poniatowska

     Here’s to You, Jesusa!, written by Elena Poniatowska, is a fictional biography set during and after the Mexican Revolution.  The title character, Jesusa Palancares, is a captivating character that transcends traditional gender roles and lives an extraordinary life of laughter, sorrow, and pain.  When I initially began writing this review I tried my hardest to talk about the book as a whole, but found myself incapable of focusing on anything but the title character.  For good or for ill, this is what you, dear reader, are going to get.