abigailnicole: (Default)

I wish that I had known before I read this book that Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is really creepy. I wish someone had told me: "Hey, this is an entire book written in dream-logic, and it works, but it's really creepy." So there's that.

some things about this book: it is slow. Very slow. Long stretches of time pass where the narrator (Toru Okada) simply sits on his couch, or goes for walks, or sits on a park bench, or sits at cafes. There is a lot of sitting. The most significant sitting happens when--spoiler!--Okada decides to sit, for three days, at the bottom of a well. I mean, there's action, too--the random scene where the main character assaults a random passerby for reminding him of the wife who left him--but overall there's just a lot of nothing happening.

And what you get from it more than anything is atmosphere. You meet other characters and hear their stories, and for the most part the stories of Creta Kano, Lietunant Mamiya, Malta Kano and even May Kasahara are far more interesting than our main character. If I had such a boring main character I'd go insane and throw up and follow someone else and Murakami sticks with him, persistently, stubbornly, clinging to his every move. And sometimes (usually) his monologues go something like

She seemed to have some kind of a clear image in her mind of how I should look. It took her no time to pick out what she bought me. I would have spent more time at a stationer's, picking out a new eraser. But I had to admit that her good taste in clothes was nothing short of astounding. The color and style of every shirt and tie she chose seemingly at random were perfectly coordinated, as if she had selected them after long, careful consideration. nor were the combinations she came up the least bit ordinary. (p380)

which sounds straight like, ugh, bad fanfiction. I do not care how long it takes you to pick out an eraser at the stationer's, why would you tell me this, do I need to know it? Magical woman magically buys you expensive clothes while you sit around doing nothing? Cool. Right. I believe it. NO. I say fanfic because this...this passive main character, who while doing nothing begins to have magical things happen to them, is very fanfic. It's very wishful thinking, and it clashes entirely with my experience of reality and it grates on me, rubs me the wrong way.

In fact, the entire book is best when the main character is not present. Then the simple writing turns from banal to beautiful, as in

This submarine has come up from the bottom of the ocean to kill us all, she thought, but there's nothing strange about that, it could happen anytime. It has nothing to do with the war; it could happen to anyone anywhere. Everybody thinks it's happening because of the war. But that's not true. The war is just one of the things that could happen. (p 398)

which is magical. When the narrator gets out of the way, the book becomes a dark wooden box full of small, delicate, ornate objects. Too bad the narrator is an ugly newspaper stuffed over these objects for most of the book. All the other characters actually tell the interesting parts of their story, while our narrator either can't seem to figure his out or won't tell us what's going on. Is he running a psychic detective agency/prostitution service/spiritual healer? Is he a dream-walker? I mean, we assume that much.

The end of the book--as a warning--is really creepy (especially when you're finishing it at midnight alone in bed). I wish all the people who told me this book was charming (how? what?) would have told me that. The dream sequences, because the book is written in dream-logic, make the most sense and have the most internal consistency, and provide the most poignant atmosphere:

"This place is dangerous. You are an intruder here, and I am the only one on your side. Don't forget that."

"Who are you?" I asked.

The faceless man handed me the flashlight as if passing a baton. "I am the hollow man," he said. Faceless face toward me, he waited in the darkness for me to speak, but I could not find the right words. Eventually, without a sound, he disappeared. He was right in front of me one second, swallowed up by darkness the next. I shone the light in his direction, but only the dull white wall came out of the darkness. (p 575)

It also reads a bit like a detective story--in the way that all these mysteries are presented, you--and the narrator--both feel like soon, there will be a fact handed to you, and that fact will act as a key, and you will be able to Figure This Out. There's even a little explanatory scene at the end, insofar as we get any explanations, but they're all rather vague. I've included excerpts, but if you're afraid of spoilers, don't be, because there is no big reveal to spoil:

I sensed the darkness around me increasing in density, much as the evening tide comes to fullness without a sound. I had to hurry. I didn't have much time left. They might come looking for me here once the lights came back on. I decided to risk putting into words the thoughts that had been slowly forming in my mind.

"This is strictly a product of my own imagination, but I would guess that there was some kind of inherited tendency in the Wataya family bloodline. What kind of tendency I can't be sure, but it was some kind of tendency--something you were afraid of...And your sister, I'm sure, didn't die from food poisoning. No, it was more unusual than that." (p 578)

I'd like to say the rest of the explanation gets more specific, or that this is the explanation for a big plot point of how Toru Okada's sister-in-law died--but it isn't. Those things don't really matter to the plot, as best as I can tell. (It's hard to interpret a book written in dream logic.)

And don't get me wrong: I like dream logic. The sequences when he is dreaming, dreaming of a hotel with endless rooms, labyrinthine hallways--I love those dreams, I have those dreams, and Murakami writes them well. They're creepy and suitably vague, and only in dream logic would sentences like "there is some kind of inherited tendency in the bloodline" be a solid conclusion to draw that explains your problem. The way that time moves slowly in a dream, the way events that happen in separate places, to separate people, or even maybe in separate timelines seem to be connected--all this is beautifully put into place in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and written well. There's just too much stuff in the middle: too much picking up clothes from the cleaners, too much brooding on the couch, too much reading junk mail and opening the fridge. This is how time passes in real life. We really do spend a lot of time waiting in traffic and opening mail and licking envelopes and doing unthinking, meaningless work. But that's not what I want to do when I read a novel, and sitting through the domesticity to get to the eccentricity feels a lot like a bore.

abigailnicole: (dreams)
So this isn't a book, but it fascinated me enough that I wanted to give it some attention nonetheless. If you are unfamiliar with the internet's habit of making up terrifying monsters and then making terrifying videos about them or /x/ or creepypasta then all you really need to know is that people love to make up ghost stories and put them on the internet and they can be bloody frightening.

Often these stories are not well done and that is part of what makes them frightening: the very fact that they're told as if by someone you knew, unprofessionally and with imperfect grammar and sketchy details, lends them amateur credibility where more professional scary stories often come off sounding fabricated. My encounter with the Marble Hornets' Slenderman videos a few months ago may have made walking through my house at night impossible for a couple of days in that "wow, amateur horror videos on youtube can still be TERRIBLY FRIGHTENING" way. It is really great! If I love anything in literature it is subtlety, and for a monster meme to succeed it has to be creepy in a subtle way, a makes-you-check-your-closet way. It's like there's weird competition built in to this unofficial ghostwriting collective, and whatever monster makes it to the top of the internet's consciousness does so because it's a good one.

Which is all to recount a conversation I was having with Faine, anyway. She will actively seek out scary things while I do not and sends them along to me sometimes: the latest one she sent me was a novella called 200 Phenomena In The City of Calgary.

The concept is that it's almost a how-to manual, and in that sense it reminded me of a video game: each phenomenon, three or four paragraphs long, describes a location or scenario in the city of Calgary. It is written in the second person imperative: you must go to this location, at this time, and give this item to this person and say these words. Usually there is a reward attached (which makes it feel even more video-gamey), such as the gain of some mystical power or object you will need to finish some phenomena, like obtaining the Key or objects you can use to defeat Them. In the end of many sections there is a warning about that particular phenomenon, what will happen or not happen or what you should definitely avoid or must do to leave unharmed, which gives each section a sinister note that sometimes feels forced and sometimes enhances the creepiness of the whole.

The plot (insomuch as there is one) unfolds really slowly which actually I found really satisfying. At first the phenomena seem unconnected, as if someone really is just writing about weird supernatural events in the city of Calgary. Eventually there come to be recurring themes: a TV you find in a hotel room will show you a channel where They are torturing people, and as you keep going you have to learn Their secrets, secrets of torture and mutilation. Themes of torture run very strongly throughout the piece, especially focused around violence with blades. One of the little end-note warnings, for example, is

And you will have to kills subtly and quietly. If you cannot smile and murder while you smile, your days are numbered.

which is the same level of direct warning that you can take as either very subtle or very heavy-handed depending on how you read the tone. Eventually you learn a little about the narrator and other 'acolytes' completing this same quest and series of actions, though you don't really know why. I wish there were some kind of climax at the end, a confrontation with Them, but the last phenomena offers you instead only one possible way to safety.

One of the things Faine and I were talking about is why Calgary? Presumably the author is from Calgary. I said this piece could do with a good copy editor (as we are both copy editors) but really what it does is make me want to write one for New Orleans. I know nothing about Calgary; these hotels, the +15s, the Viscount Bennett Center, etc. could be entirely fictional and I would not know the difference. I know New Orleans well and it has a lot of real places that would be entirely suited to this type of bizarre combination of interactive horror story and place description. The barge at the levee, the pipes that go down into the street, the abandoned churches downtown, hospitals with entire wards that have been walled off and untouched since Katrina, empty skyscrapers, old industrial warehouses that are now in various states of disuse. All of these things are really in New Orleans and would really make for great ghost stories with whatever bits of urban legend and traditional ghost story you want to put in around whatever frame story you like. It would be tons of fun to write and I am only sad it's already been done with a less interesting city.
abigailnicole: (books)

It was a bad weekend, so I spent all of it reading Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. You probably know it as the Let The Right One In movie become the Let Me In movie to be released soon (that will release. English is weird). I was reading this book in a bitter-sour t-shirt-and-underwear, in-bed mood and devoured it; I had seen the movie first and was reading fast because I wanted to see how they were different and the same.

The book is obviously better. The movie, if you haven't seen it, is very good, and does a very good job fleshing out this plot within time constraints. Some of these things translate well to images. There's a lot more here--the one random chinese-restaurant scene with the old people seems very disconnected from the central world of Oskar and Eli in the movie, whereas here they are a major set of characters in their own right. This is the entire account, without cutting things for length: Lacke and Virginia and Jocke, Oskar and his bullies with their own home life, Eli and Hakan, Tommy and Staffan.

One of my friends was talking about how the american Let Me In will be awful, because American inability to make a good movie that's not rated R (I disagreed; Stranger than Fiction) and how we will have to make it a large-scale explosion blockbuster. But that's what happens here. There are police helicopters, there are cops running through buildings with guns blazing, there are three buildings that completely or partially go up in flames. There are press conferences and newspaper headlines. If Let The Right One In successfully interpreted the book to be quiet, bullying-based and internal, leaving out the most grotesque and biological bits (and there's a lot of that, too), then remaking it "American-style" with action and gore isn't uncanonical. All of it is there. I don't read scary books (the last 'scary book' I read was House of Leaves last summer) and this is scary, gruesome-scary. There are bodies that won't die, there are children killing other children, the whole horrible Tommy-in-the-basement scene, there are graphic rape scenes and bathtubs full of blood. There is no good description of sex (the only 'happy couple' of Lacke and Virginia end up with one dead and one insane), no healthy food ever mentioned, no caring and intelligent people. Adults who think they know what is going on are wrong and most don't even try. There is prostitution, castration, genderbending, poverty, alcoholism, broken families, teenage drug use, and graphic murders.

And it's a vampire book! Right? But it's not really. It's not a bullying book either, for all the Lord-of-the-Flies parallels going on (lots). Mostly it is bildungsroman, the coming-of-age novel in the disenchanted modern age (though, as Eli's story points out, not so modern). It is the unhopeful tale of people feasting off each other. The theme of theft runs through the whole book, weaving all the characters good and bad (if such distinctions can be made) together. The boys who drown Oskar are doing it in revenge for his burning the only scrapbook of family pictures they have. Hernan's circle-of-hell questions (he will not be in the innermost circle. "the one reserved for traitors"), giving his money to the toothless boy, raping young boys and hanging up bodies from their ankles to drain their blood.

Everyone is a thief. Hernan steals blood, Oskar steals candy and toys, Tommy steals the trophy. Only Virginia, I think, is exempt. Fire also runs through the whole book, from Hernan's house fire, Eli burning the first cat-woman's house, Oskar's school-fire, Tommy in the church-fountain, Eli running to burn the corpse, Virginia in the hospital bed, Tommy running through the basement with a lighter. I loved Eli and came to hate everyone else. Everyone is revealed to be a monster.

I wish he'd left it open just a bit, that there was the chance he was infected at the end.

I'm not really coherent right now. My brain is a tumbling mass of images and words, of things I should be doing (molecular biology) versus what I want to do (hide in bed forever). I still have quite a few books I need to write up, even if I'm not going to do my for-class books. I hope your weekend is going well and that you are thinking more clearly than I am.
abigailnicole: (books)

I was expecting to be dreadfully depressed when I read this book since I read Love In The Time of Cholera first. I was pleasantly surprised; though it is not a light book, One Hundred Years of Solitude didn't have near the darkness of spirit and inherent doom of Love in the Time of Cholera, at least for me. This may be my pessimistic attitudes on love speaking, rather than the content of the actual books themselves.

I also devoured One Hundred Years of Solitude in two days. Which, let's be honest, is totally disrespectful and all my friends were shocked and appalled at me (at least, the ones who read books. I am fortunate to have friends who are avid readers of things old and obscure and important, who tell me what I should read with good humour and are living in the shoes of a grumpy English professor before they turn 21. Thanks, Erik). I texted him the "What kind of world is it where men travel first class and literature travels freight?" that kind of friend. I think most people don't have this kind of friend and I feel terribly lucky. Bailey told me it is the kind of novel you should read with a class, so you can catch all the meanings; perhaps she is right.

One Hundred Years is a book about solitude--it's in the title. While Love is necessarily about couples. Families don't, to me, have the inherent sadness that relationships do; I realize all these things I am saying about why I found this book to be less depressing than Love are subjective, and based on individual experiences of family and amorous relationships, but families are constant. You can change lovers but your parents are your parents, your blood is your blood and it is their blood too, it is deeper within you, it is a connection not easily severed, whether by the cross on forehead or the look in your eyes. Only with the yellow butterflies was there the despair of the couples, and even then it was dismissed as silly, which made me feel better. Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula at the end just made me sad; once Ursula died the book was over for me. I understand that the decline, as well as the rise, was part of the family history, but I wanted the book while the Buendias were still ahead.

I devoured this book. I am sure I will buy it and read it again, someday, when I can reread it as many times as I like and catch all the new flavors each time. I am convinced that it will take many rereadings to fully appreciate the beauty of that last line.
abigailnicole: (books)

I read Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions today, while lounging around in my usual fashion. I really like Vonnegut; his pessimism aside, his prose is so conversational and fresh and easy-to-read yet still beautiful and good. As am I an in a creative writing class where my teacher adores beautiful prose (sometimes to the exclusion of other elements of whatever we're reading; to be fair, he is a poet) I am growing particularly watchful of the fault of beautiful prose and how it can hide flaws in a story. NOT FROM ME, IT CAN'T. But when you get passages like
“Your parents were fighting machines and self-pitying machines,” said the book. “Your mother was programmed to bawl out your father for being a defective money-making machine, and your father was programmed to bawl her out for being a defective housekeeping machine. They were programmed to bawl each other out for being defective loving machines.

“Then your father was programmed to stomp out the house and slam the door. This automatically turned your mother into a weeping machine. And your father would go down to a tavern where he would get drunk with some other drinking machines. Then all the drinking machines would go to a whorehouse and rent fucking machines. And then your father would drag himself home to become an apologizing machine. And your mother would become a very slow forgiving machine.”

Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut.

I'm in an evolution and psychology class, which I find really interesting. We're talking about the evolution of neurocognitive mehanisms; they're quite difficult to explain but the best way I know to understand it is that the human brain is made of programs (heuristics or modules is the favored term). We have evolved, not specific behaviors or actions, but ways of thinking, like we are robots that evolution has programmed to act a certain way. We're not programmed with responses; it's like we're computers are are given a set of guidelines, by which decisions are made. If food is involved, our brains process things one way. If mating is involved, we process things another way, with a different part of our brain, a different module. And watching Star Trek, which is watching Data evolve from an android with very specified programs into a more complex real human, and then reading Breakfast of Champions with humans being reduced to that same level.

And for all I like Vonnegut's absurdism, his self-insertion, his characters, his wishy-washyness as an author is very postmodern and a little absurd. I am a literature traditionist, I like my works of fiction to be beautiful, finely-tuned and handed down from an author who is fully in control of their own creation. Vonnegut is very much on your level, telling you why he's writing it this way and jumping back and forth, mentioning things that were in earlier drafts that he didn't really get rid of in the rewrite that show up unexpectedly. It's chaos but it's self-acknowledged chaos.

I really wish Kilgore Trout's books actually existed and that I could read all of them, though.
abigailnicole: (books)

I finished White Noise in an afternoon of pool lounging; the post-apocalyptic book, with the infamous airborne toxic event that surprised me with its appearance halfway through the book (because I don't read dust jackets, apparently). I did my usual pool-lounging of stopping and swimming between odd sections of chapters, when ti got too hot or I wanted to stop and refresh. You start to notice little things in the air, in the water, look for symbols in meaningless events--it is that kind of book, one that creeps into your head.

And yet, and yet. I don't like our passive narrator because he is so passive. I think this is the problem with reading books like this on your own--if I were reading it in class, I would have someone else to modify my opinion of him by bringing out points I didn't notice, things that make me say "oh! you're right, he's not a passive coward, he's a wise philosopher" but as it is, reading it on my own, I do get a little bit of the oh, he's a passive coward. I myself am judgmental of characters in books: I want them to be strong-willed and actively seek out their own happiness, not just continue in terrified mediocrity to accept their fates. I have seen too many people in real life do this, I do not also want to be disheartened by fiction. Which, I mean, I suppose it is realism at that point, sometimes your fate is bad and there isn't anything you can do. But I want you to do something! Even if it's just acknowledge it and go buy yourself an ice cream cone! I want characters, just like I want my friends in real life, to do things for themselves that will make them happy.

So yes, I'm glad he shot Mr. Gray at the end; it was logical and it completed the novel, and even if I started out liking Babette I disliked her at the end, for those reasons.

And this was a good book, don't get me wrong, my personal issues with the characters aside. It gets inside your head, makes you notice things, makes you gloomy and grateful at the same time. The prose is fantastic. But being in a creative writing class where we focus so much on having beautiful prose is making me realize just how much I want more than beautiful prose in my stories: I want strong characters, clever plots, good dialogue too. I WANT IT ALL. There's a Vonnegut line I'll probably quote on that in a bit, if I can find it again.

But as far as apocalyptic fiction goes, I'd highly recommend it. This also led me to think about writing an apocalyptic fiction column--I don't remember if I told the blog but I'm doing a book column for the school paper, so I need to come up with bookish things to say each week. I thought about doing a list of good apocalyptic fiction? This would be on there; if you have any other ideas, feel free to suggest them.
abigailnicole: (books)

I read John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible all in one day (it's very short). I picked up this book because a.) Arcade Fire! and b.)Confederacy of Dunces guy! I didn't even know he alum'd from my college.

Neon Bible is a coming-of-age story you don't see very often anymore: a kind of actual account of Why I Had It Harder At Your Age, with a bizarre twist ending and colored with the ways in which a religion harms a community. There's the omnipresent element of how poverty destroys a family as well, though this takes a backseat to the rest of the story of family strife, mostly affecting David's social life. I loved his escape at the end.

He wrote this at fifteen, and you can tell he wrote it at fifteen--there are very powerful symbols that need to be tied into the rest of the book, and events could be polished to give them more symmetry and add more depth to the book. I assume when I read Confederacy of Dunces these elements will be present. Some of the characters are better-done than others: seeing Aunt Mae through the child's eye was very well-done and fascinating, but his mother never develops enough of a personality that we miss her by her insanity. Perhaps that's a reflection of David's age when she starts to crumble, but that excuse doesn't hold up for Aunt Mae.

I'd love to do an in-depth CD/book comparison because I'm fascinated in the ways people pay homage to as well as blatantly rip off (another form of homage?) books. Maybe later!
abigailnicole: (Default)

I picked this up on a whim; I've only ever read Isabel Allende in Spanish before, and while my proficiency in Spanish is better than it was, it's still not quite good enough to get a sense of someone's narrative voice (and since I've ceased taking Spanish, it is halted there). This book is historical fiction, in that Ines Suarez and her fellow Chileans were real people and the events portrayed were real, though obviously Ines Suarez did not write this book as her memoir.

The books I've been reading up to this point are not known for their fast pacing and I was a bit shocked at how quickly this moved forward--she was born, grown, married, and her first husband gone within the first fifteen pages. The story slows down a bit once she gets to South America, but it doesn't really hit its stride until we get to Chile, which is the focus of the story. Her charm is her ability to capture a real voice so well: the pauses Ines makes to speak of aging, and how she can feel herself at death's door and the arms of her dead husband around her, interrupt the narrative well and give it a good sense of flow. Ines tells the passages first-hand but through the curtain of age, so the horrors she recounts are softened by the years that pass between her telling the story and its events. Even starvation, mutilation, and torture are given enough distance that they can be read without pain to the reader.

Perhaps that's a weakness of the book, though: there isn't enough emotional punch. When Ines describes how Pedro de Valdivia cut off noses and hands of defeated Mapuche and sent them back down the river to their leader, it seemed like just another atrocity committed by conquistadors, no different than reading it in a history book. Even Valdivia's being-roasted-alive death, when Valdivia shares screentime with Ines for a good half of the book, feels distant enough that I was unaffected by it.

I liked this book: it was engaging, fast-paced, and I now know a lot more about the founding of Chile than I ever thought I would. The character of Ines, lone Spanish woman in a world of men and Yanaconas, is brilliantly painted and I love her ruthless determination to be happy. It is perhaps the strong-woman book I've been wanting all summer, which was why I wanted the details to be a little richer.
abigailnicole: (books)

The last few books I have read have been about sufferings of the lower class due to their poverty; immigrants with the Gravedigger's Daughter, black people with Bailey's Cafe (though how race influenced me when I read this book was, not at all). The (stunningly gorgeous) masterpiece that is All The King's Men, however, is entirely a book about upper-class white people and the power they hold.

I read this book because a.) Willie Stark is loosely modeled on Huey Long, famous corrupt governor of Louisiana, and b.) Robert Penn Warren is from Kentucky. Also it won the Pulitzer and other things like that.

The narrator is Jack Burden (last name symbolic much? Not an isolated incident either) who is a former-reporter who is employed by Willie Stark after he loses his job. And this book is pretty marvellous. The prose jumps on you from the very beginning: in my head I was comparing Jack Burden to a grown-up Holden Caufield, because that's exactly who he talks like, constantly comparing things to other things and talking about why certain moments mean so much. But unlike Holden Caufield, Jack Burden has a story to tell: the events he narrates so vividly have a meaning in and of themselves, he is not trying to extract meaning from random events in life. When I started this book I had no idea how all these different people were going to be woven together. The scenes seemed disjointed and the flowing prose at direct odds with the direct characters. But they connect. Only at the end of the book do we realize why Jack Burden is telling us his first impression of Willie Stark and his christmas-tie and how first impressions blind people. It jumps back and forth from intense (albeit down-home, Southern) politics to intensely personal revelations of paternity, intimacy, and family history, and the marriage of the public to the private is flawlessly executed.

I read a large part of this book sitting around by a pool ("I feel like a Californian" I told Kelsey) and so Jack's description of his childhood with Adam and Anne--the tennis matches in the morning, swimming in the ocean in the afternoons--didn't feel quite so far away. No one is raped or abused (there are mentions of bruises on Jack's mother's arm in her second marriage, but nothing earth-shattering), no one is sold into slavery (though racism is prevalent--it is the 30s), no one goes into a self-destructive spiral. You could argue that Jack goes into a self-destructive spiral, but I believe him when he says that "The instinct for self-preservation is more deep-seated than a decision". He's a clever, funny, narrator and he may be skewed in his perception of events but he relates them with utmost accuracy, you are with him every step of the way, your heart is beating with his, systole and diastole.

And for all that this prose took me a while to get into, god it is fantastic. From the "If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting. In the end they just ask you these crappy little questions" to the "All the bright days by the water with the gulls flashing high were Anne Stanton. But I didn't know it. And all the not bright days with the eaves dripping or the squall driving in from the sea and with the fire on the hearth were Anne Stanton, too. But I didn't know that, either. Then there came a time when all the nights were Anne Stanton. But I knew that"

and then it's in your head.

My comparison to Holden Caufield is not an idle one; Holden Caufield has power because he is so real that he gets into your head. You see things so completely his way that your convictions, momentarily, become aligned with his, you see the phonies and the 'fucks' scribbled on the walls of elementary schools and you too might briefly drown in despair. And I don't know if I believe Jack Burden's Idealist sayings and his convictions about the nature of men and how to deal with them, but seeing that point of view so strongly, presented to you from the inside of someone's head, aligns you however briefly with them. You find yourself thinking of driving as scenes in a movie, or looking at a girl's face in profile, noticing the bone structure under someone's skin. I don't believe that people can be summed up in a glance but when Jack Burden does it, I know irrevocably that he is right, because he knows it. What did he call Lois's friends? Human garbage? You buy that without a second thought. It's a book that crawls inside your head and taints your thinking and that is why it is an effective book. I sincerely hope Holden Caufield grew up to be as well-adjusted as Jack Burden, and I'm glad I got to read this book.
abigailnicole: (books)

I finally finished Arsene Lupin vs Herlock Sholmes on my iPod. It was very clever and I enjoyed it immensely, however, reading books on an iPod doesn't really feel like I'm reading a book... Long years of fanfic, coupled with the tongue-in-cheek "Herlock Sholmes" leave it feeling not-quite real. But it did suffice to entertain me when I hadn't gone to the NOLA public library yet; ie Sunday.

n contrast, I am reading The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce carol Oates which I got from the NOLA public library, which feels super like a real book. I went from virtual, clever tongue-in-cheek literature (Arsene Lupin is literature if Alexander Dumas is) to serious, bound, depressing tales of the degradation of the human spirit. It's soul-crushing. I hate it for the same reasons I hated The Glass Castle. I set it down to read Bailey's Cafe, which has the same kind of soul-crushing tales of abuse and prostitution, but the difference is in the tone: Bailey's Cafe is...almost optimistic. Not quite optimistic, because many of these people don't have a happy ending. But they have the Cafe, they found the place where they can be themselves. Whereas the Gravedigger's Daughter (what I've read of it; to be fair, I stopped at chapter 23) doesn't have that. The degradation never stops, the people never find a place to rest or respite. Even in the Cafe, Eve provides a place for these women to work out their issues with sexuality and abuse and helps them. Help given in The Gravedigger's Daughter is fleeting and ultimately futile. Maybe it gets better. If I can stomach reading anymore I'll tell you.

But when it comes to being able to stomach a book I think Bailey's Cafe takes the cake. I got through the second chapter (thirteen-year-old being whored out and accepting it to please her mother, paying for good china and geraniums with a week-long gangbang) all right, mostly because the tale of horror was somewhat cushioned by Bailey and his Cafe. Because she gets with the iceman at the end (I choose, as a reader, to pretend that the last paragraph of that chapter didn't happen and that they did get married). I got fine through Peaches' mutilation of her face; she had to do it in order to be free, and she liked it, and she was fine with it, so I could be fine with it. I got through Eve's walking through the delta. But when it came for Mary (Part Two), specifically the
Even on the wedding night, the ensaslaye, with a willing bride and a cautious husband, the village will still hear screaming. Sometimes it will months, and many trips to that hut of blood, before the wound he slowly makes allows him to penetrate her without pain

I had to stop reading because I was getting physically lightheaded, sick, and queasy.

It's not the physical descriptions so much (though female genital mutilation is not for the faint of heart) as it is the cultural attitudes surrounding it. How the mother really thinks she is doing the best thing for her daughter, who is almost mentally retarded and will certainly never get a husband another way. I just couldn't stomach it anymore.

So I made bread. This one. I'll tell you how it tastes when it gets out of the oven.

Anyway. I haven't finished either of these books yet, so there might be another post when I do--I definitely will Bailey's Cafe, not sure about The Gravedigger's Daughter. Bailey's Cafe, at the end, is the Cafe, is Eve's house, is a place where people with bad pasts can stop and rest, and that is where the book starts and ends and that's what makes it all bearable, that light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe later, when I can pick it up again without getting nauseous.
abigailnicole: (books)

I read Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon in the car on the way down, finishing up the last chapter yesterday in the apartment. It reminded me a lot of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything for the reason that they're both wacky science history books: books about the history of science and how these scientists actually came up with all the stuff we know now. This book, however, was just chemistry, instead of the catch-all of A Short History, and that's why I loved it....because I love chemistry. It's subtitled "and other true tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements" and !!! I love the periodic table. I got a periodic table app and was so excited because you can click on an element, and it give you the founder, and the date it was founded, and a picture of the most thermodynamically stable form of that element. :D So I was playing around with this and exclaiming to my mom: "Look, elemental sulfur!" until she was like "NICOLE GET A BOYFRIEND" (actual quote, I was hurt) but then it reminded her that she got this book for me.

I think I liked this so much because you're not given a science history lesson. You learn the Nernst equation and what Lewis acids and bases are, but not who Nernst and Lewis were. Gilbert Lewis, by the way, he of Lewis structures and the famous Lewis acids (electron pair acceptor!) and bases (electron pair donor!), was a brilliant scientists who contributed to our knowledge of how electrons are important in bonding in atoms. He got passed over for the Nobel prize five times :( and eventually killed himself with cyanide gas after one of his younger, more attractive students won the Nobel prize. Tons of his students won the Nobel, by the way. Poor dude.

But that's just an example. Besides giving a brief history of almost all the elements (it get a little jumbled, just because there are so many and transition metals are all very similiar) and how they were founded, you also find out fun things like which one is the most rare? (actinium) and why? (radioactivity: there are only 20 ounces in the whole world). I suspect if you don't like chemistry you won't find this engaging at all--some prior knowledge of chemistry will definitely make you a lot more familiar with the concepts, but I don't know if someone who doesn't like chemistry or knows nothing about it would be able to keep up.

That being said, I want everyone who's taken AP or college chemistry to read this book, maybe before your second semester. It'll make the subject matter a lot more interesting and give life to those equations you've blown off all year.
abigailnicole: (books)

I've been reading Clay's Quilt. It's all about Kentucky, and it's accurate. Not just the bad bits, religion that endorses abusive relationships and drunken parties with cocaine and bourbon every weekend, trailers with single dads with pregnant daughters, men and women with only a fleeting notion of fidelity or relationships. The good bits, too, all the true loveliness of it, the descriptions, the winding roads and gardens, the fireflies and winter snows on the mountains.

One of my favorite parts is where Clay is imagining the death of the man who shot his mother.
'We all wanted so bad for him to be dead, that he just was. Something took care of it for us.'

Her words were final, and that was enough for Clay, anyway. He pictured the death wishes of everybody that had loved his mother--Easter, Gabe, Marguerite, Paul, Sophie--all of those vengeful prayers rising up into the air, becomine one solid and real entity. He imagined that they became a mass of red, crying birds, flying over the mountains, casting a shadow on the land beneath them. They were redbirds, and their bright bodies were stark and beautiful against the gray sky, the white earth. They sliced through the winter air as they zeroes in on Glenn. The murderer was so frightened by the oncoming flock that he lost control of his vehicle and plummeted off the side of the road. He tried to run, until he fell into the creek, where the birds rested heavily upon him--the thousand of them. They sat on him,flapping their broad, shiny blood wings, their eyes perfectly round and opaque. Finally, all of his breath was in the creek, and ice started to collect back around the corpse. Then the birds took off, one by one, like drops of blood being sucked up into the clouds, up to become a part of the gray, rolling sky of January.

It's hard for me to be objective, because everything I loved about Eastern Kentucky I loved about this book. The descriptions, the wildness of the land, the mountains arching off into the sky, the weather and the rocks and the trees and the wildness of trees over a creek bed with the spots of sunlight coming through, the way the snow crunches underfoot and it's so quiet you can hear your blood rushing through your body, the hot muggy nights when you open the windows even though it's raining.

But everything I disliked about Eastern Kentucky I disliked about this book. We don't have a lot to do to keep ourselves busy; there aren't shopping malls, or many cinemas, or art galleries or theatres or cafes or bookstores; things close at dark, people go home and watch TV, or people go out and entertain themselves. Evangeline's honky-tonk with whiskey-beer-chasers and lines of coke before you go on stage isn't a far cry from it. I hate how relationships are here, how people decide to get married so young, how they cheat on each other without a thought, how intelligent boys don't see a point in education anymore and stop being intelligent, how nice girls with a future ahead of them throw it away for some boy who won't stay with them for another six months, how commitment doesn't last and you're either giving up all worldly things or you're going to hell, how everybody's cousins with everybody else and outsiders are so distrusted. How people have such a deep, abiding love of this place and don't want to leave, they don't want to move away to somewhere where there are other things to do and other things to think about. You're in or you're out. And Clay Sizemore, and his wife Alma, and Easter and Anneth and Silas House....they're all in.

But not Marguerite. She's brought up to the mountains as a bride. No one really likes her or gets the time to know her but Anneth, she doesn't fit in with the locals, she only gets close to other people after Anneth is dead, and even then, in the last scene of the book, where there's the uncomfortable "If you were really worried, you would have come to see me instead of coming to Easter's" that hits home to even her son. I felt sorry for her, and I identified with her; sitting on her porch, reading books, playing records no one else listens to, surrounded by a sea of people who are all so close to each other that there's no room for anyone else. Marguerite stayed but I moved away.

This book got to me in a couple of different ways. I started it back in June, but after Alma dreamed the rising-water dream that signified death, I became absolutely certain that she and Clay were going to die and stopped reading it. I just finished it Saturday, waiting for their death in the final passages. I don't understand why Alma felt so out of place, why she hated all the other people at the beach, why she didn't want them listening to her music. She feels like they're judging her for being from the mountains? But that doesn't make sense, either; it's like she's afraid of them, of them disapproving of her and of not fitting in with them, so she jumps on them when they're saying nice things about her playing. I don't understand why. Did living in such a tight-knit community make her suspicious of anyone else? Is it just another extension of the distrust-strangers mentality?

I like not being afraid of the end of a book, so I'll tell you now: they don't die. Instead of the death by rising water that I feared, Anneth and Clay have a child, and Clay finally gets a piece of his dead mother back in the form of a quilt made from her clothes. It's a good ending, not the poetic one I fearec was coming, but a good one nonetheless. I'm glad this is the last book I've read this summer before going back to school, because it brings some closure to leaving this state, trying to idenitfy all those mixed emotions about whether it's home. It's lovely and lush and cool and deep, and it depicts its setting perfectly.
abigailnicole: (books)

should I feel bad that I just spent a good half of my workday reading Videogum? Because I don't, I had a morning of fail (Leverage fail, hair fail, Doctor Who fail, food fail) and felt crappy and didn't feel like doing anything except trying to stifle laughter behind the front desk. Mom sent me an email this morning that was a forward of a thousand billion cute animals and at the bottom it said "if it made you smile, don't regret it" because that's the kind of thing those forwards say and I know she would never forward me something unless it had cute animals or was NPR concerts she knew I'd like, or something. Short story I don't regret it.

I do regret not posting this book review earlier, because The Gates by John Connelly was a charming book. If you remember the demon-summoning premise of A House With A Clock In Its Walls (which I really remember because living in an old house full of clocks with a crazy uncle and getting to eat chocolate in bed while you read books seemed like a great way to spend your time) then add some particle physics for elementary school kids and clever prose that made you wish childhood was actually that cool and you get The Gates. It's in tone a lot like Discworld, the same blend of puns/narrative humour and slapstick, with a fantastic narrator voice and a good main character (I wish real kids/childhood were this cool).

My problem with it is the pacing. It would be a good movie, because in movies, you have one main plot. But if you've seen a movie made of a book, the first thing you realize is that they cut out a bunch of stuff. Books have side plots to make the characters and situations and settings interesting. When you make a movie, you don't have time to show all the side plots and so you cut them out. If this book became a movie it'd be exactly the same as it is now, no side-plot cutting-out needed. Even the minor side plots could be done with a twenty-second jump cut. It's a charming book, and I'm glad that I read it, I just wish it had more plot, something to take up the extra space that happens when the undead rise and you get a lot of dumb policeman filler, about which I care not. His friends, Maria and wahtshisface the cricket player, I wanted to hear more about them. Why does an 11 year old know about Einstein-Rosen bridges? Maybe you should have told me more about her!

I would still recommend it--my fourteen-year-old brother is about the perfect audience, and it's clever and not terribly time consuming. So if you want a funny beach read about particle physics and how the LHC causes all Hell to break loose, go for it.

also I watched the Season 3 premiere of Leverage with mum and dad. We had no idea what we were watching--Dad thought it was a movie, mum a new show, and later I googled it and found out surprise! season 3. I was totally retroactively right in my prediction that Nate has an ex-wife. So I'm going to try watching the first two seasons, I'll tell you how that goes. I still haven't finished Doctor Who or started Deadwood yet. sorry ladies...

also I'm reading all these things simultaneously, and probably won't review most of them:


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March 2013


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