It's terribly unfair to read a writer's first novel when you know how incredible his later works are. This could have been a four-star read if it hadIt's terribly unfair to read a writer's first novel when you know how incredible his later works are. This could have been a four-star read if it had any name on the cover other than Vonnegut's. It just didn't have the uniqueness of style that I've come to expect and adore from him.
There's more, of course, but I demand sleep first....more
I've only read the two Cormac McCarthy books that everyone else has read (this and "The Road," which I probably enjoyed far more than any sane personI've only read the two Cormac McCarthy books that everyone else has read (this and "The Road," which I probably enjoyed far more than any sane person ought to, thanks to my sick lust for understatement as an emotional device) but I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm smitten with his talents as a writer. Not many wordslingers could get me to read about the kinds of tales that McCarthy spins, and even fewer could keep me as unflinchingly absorbed as he does. Especially when I come into a story already knowing that the bad guy comes out on top.
McCarthy's got a knack for offering up harshly believable scenarios and making the reader eat it up. Wanton violence? Laying most of the main characters to waste? A nihilistic body count comprising mostly unlucky or innocent bystanders? Watching the book's only real narrator grow progressively more beaten by an unsolved serial-killer case? A win for the scary-as-hell villain (I could have said "Anton-agonist" but that's too cringe-worthy even for my indiscriminate pun-love)? It's all there and it's all holy-shit-that-car's-on-fire mesmerizing. A story driven by stark realism can only be hurtling toward bleakly believable conclusions to each storyline, and McCarthy buoys the inevitable with just enough false hope and foreshadowing to make every tragedy within this novel hit like a metal bolt between the eyes....more
Herein lies the eternal conflict of the individual who derives just as much enjoyment from reading books as she does writing about them: One interestHerein lies the eternal conflict of the individual who derives just as much enjoyment from reading books as she does writing about them: One interest always has a way of interfering with the other. Sometimes I have a lot to say about a book but don't quite know how to go about it so I wait for a solution that may or may not be chanced upon; sometimes I just want to dive right into the next novel. Both leave me with a queue of unreviewed books (like this one almost was), and I know that I can't be the only one in a gaggle of languid overachievers who feels like not bothering to write even a few sentences about a book is a show of unconscionable laziness, even if those half-hearted efforts are more like a snapshot of life at the time of the reading than a literary critique proper.
Somehow, "Brave New World" is one of those classics that was never forced down my throat, nor did I know much about the plot itself. Having read "The Doors of Perception" and "Heaven and Hell" (coupled with a sporadically firing up but always present intention of getting around to "The Perennial Philosophy" for its gnostic relevance) gave me an idea of what Huxley's more academic interests were, so I figured some of that had to leak into BNW. All I knew about this widely championed example of required reading for humanity is that it might include people tripping their faces off while riding bikes all in the name of research (spoiler alert: soma isn't anything like LSD).
I enjoyed this more without an English teacher stripping it of all its vitality but Present Me has more notches in her bookish bedpost than High School Me did, so certain snags in the narrative were much more irksome than they would have been more than 10 years ago. Like, a higher-up reminiscing for pages about the lady friend who got lost in the savage madness of New Mexico in response to an underling's request to visit that same untamed land? Gosh, I can't imagine that'll be significant later on. And John the Savage being the only one who can readily quote Shakespeare, whose writings will always be symbolic of literature's high-water mark? My affinity for John forgave the obvious trouncing of what could have been a powerfully subtle implication (that is, the savage is the only truly civilized person in the book) for the sake of making sure the reader really, really gets the point.
Huxley's vision of dystopia might have scared the crap out of a 1930s audience, but, honestly, the fact that science is such a dominant presence without the trappings of technologies used for the idle occupation of the self-absorbed masses didn't sound that bad to me. Though the deification of screamingly anti-Semitic Henry Ford should be doubleplusungood enough to make me reconsider that stance, I suppose. ...more
I've been reading and loving Douglas Adams's works since I was in middle school; while it's possible to translate this as my sense of humor not evolviI've been reading and loving Douglas Adams's works since I was in middle school; while it's possible to translate this as my sense of humor not evolving much in 15 years, I'd rather embrace the notion that I was saddled with a funny bone (among other things) that would have served me much better had I been born on the other side of the Atlantic. Either way, the real point is that diving into anything penned by one of my all-time favorite writers always feels a little bit like coming home or slipping into a pair of lovingly wrecked Chucks. Especially since I've had a hankering for something delightfully British and wryly executed ever since rewatching the 2005 "Hitchhiker's Guide" movie, which was really the only bright spot during my recent run-in with the modern plague.
This goofy little book starts out with the only instances of me both being positively tickled by a phonetic guide and finding an alphabetical sequence of maps to be decidedly hilarious (my usual inability to accept skewed images of familiar land masses -- like an upside map projection, which just freaks me out -- was deftly avoided by the masterminds' execution). I wasn't really sure what the point was until I deigned to read the book jacket and discovered that the whole premise of the book is reimagining funny-sounding place names (the easy target of Gobbler's Knob is woefully absent but Wetwang picks up that slack) as simpler ways of naming those hard-to-summarize nouns, verbs and social gaffes that no one wants to acknowledge as common experiences or ever thought to wrap up in easy-to-express packaging for mass usage.
The breakdown of these definitions is equal parts polite renaming of slightly less polite realities (Moisie: the condition of one's face after performing cunnilingus), identifying those small annoyances that comprise a lousy day when you've encountered just the right frequency and combination of them (Salween: a faint taste of dishwashing liquid in a cup of tea; Fladderbister: the part of a raincoat that trails out of a car after you've closed the door on it), recognizing those awkward inevitabilities that come with maintaining the illusion of ours being a civilized society (Shifnal: an awkward shuffling walk caused by two or more people in a hurry accidentally getting into the same segment of a revolving door) and addressing those annoying habits that result in an individual's repulsion being universally agreed upon (Dinsdale: one who always plays "Chopsticks" on the piano), with some uncategorized silliness thrown in for variety.
A celebration of humanity's finer points, it's not (because where's the humor in THAT?). But it is an entertaining and quick little read that offers the unexpected bonus of a warm, tingly assurance that someone, somewhere, appreciates the need for words to describe all the things that one wonders if anyone else has ever experienced. Like that three-week-old unidentifiable lump in the fridge or the feeling one gets when cornered by the least agreeable person at a party, only to have a moment of ecstatic relief to realize that that person isn't you....more
I propose that the titular "V." is neither a person nor a place but a preposition.
What, really, is more personal than a first novel? It's that all-or-I propose that the titular "V." is neither a person nor a place but a preposition.
What, really, is more personal than a first novel? It's that all-or-nothing, balls-to-the-wall debut effort that can either send a fledgling writer plummeting to dream-shattering depths with an effort that falls flat for any number of reasons or it can be the inaugural celebration all starry-eyed young scribes dare to hope for, that which heralds a staggering new talent to a canon populated by the many great wordslingers who've scribbled their way to well-deserved immortality. (For argument's sake, we'll work under the assumption that those flimsy flavor-of-the-month bestsellers that are so in vogue for their seemingly eternal 15 minutes will, in time, be forgotten and written off as yet another regrettable mistake born of groupthink's lapse in judgment while these truly remarkable feats of literature persist through the ages.)
If one is to write what one knows, how daunting must it be to know so much about such a wide range of complicated topics -- minute historical details of a time one either never experienced or was simply too young to fully digest, regardless of youthful precociousness; engineering equations requiring mathematical acrobatics and a more than adequate grasp on physics; an insider's take on the naval experience; an innate understanding of how to perfectly mix high-minded concepts and lowbrow humor with a dash of poetic lyric -- and attempt to whittle it all down into a tome that won't crush potential readers under the weight of both the volume itself and the awe-inspiring ideas roiling within?
The little we do know about literature's most elusive enigma points to pieces of Pynchon being flung along the narrative's parade route like confetti, adding flashes of biographical color to his intricately structured and beautifully written first novel that pits the animate against the inanimate and the internal self against the external veneer (and has the best-ever bonus of an Ayn Rand stand-in reduced to baby-talk in the presence of a pwecious widdle kittums-cat?). Aside from what can only be thinly veiled allusions to his Cornell days with Richard Fariña and their cult of Warlock -- regarding the Generation of '37: "And we did like to use Elizabethan phrases in our speech"; "A farewell celebration for Maratt on the eve of his marriage"; "Dnubietna leapt up on the table, upsetting glasses, knocking the bottle to the floor, screaming "Go to, caitiff!" It became the cant phrase for our "set": go to."; "The pre-war University years were probably as happy as he described, and the conservation as "good."", to say nothing of the nod to a novel called Existential Sheriff -- the internal conflicts of the writer seem to be scattered throughout V. like a breadcrumb trail back to the source himself.
Because Pynchon has be one conflicted dude. To be a notoriously private man juggling such derision for the spotlight with the compulsion to write for unseen but rabid fans, to churn out maddeningly, densely obscure works that are nevertheless guaranteed to meet both critical and commercial success (and increase sales of Excedrin in the following months), to posses such finely tuned right and left brains that he can be considered nothing less than an engineer-poet in his own right, to walk such a fine line between historical fictions and fictional histories -- is it any wonder that a man so in touch with dueling perspectives would build his first novel on the foundation of This v. That?...more
I've neither studied nor seen this play before picking up a copy at my favorite used-book store, but I have heard and read references to it so many tiI've neither studied nor seen this play before picking up a copy at my favorite used-book store, but I have heard and read references to it so many times that I had a pretty solid idea of where the plot was going before I even digested the first page. The third act might not have been much of a surprise, but it sure let me appreciate the writing itself because I could pretty much tell how everything fit together.
The honesty and humanity of "Our Town" are its strongest assets: The characters and their stories are so universal that one doesn't need to have lived in turn-of-the-century small-town New England to relate to any of it. For someone who errs on the side of embracing the bigger picture instead of getting all caught up in the little things, spending some time with this play was a welcome reminder of all the beauty found in daily life's smallest moments, which is what gave this play so much heart. ...more
ETA, 5 Sept. 13:To say I've been thinking about this book all summer would be a lie, as I have been thinking about this book since I finished it in FETA, 5 Sept. 13:To say I've been thinking about this book all summer would be a lie, as I have been thinking about this book since I finished it in February. Obsessively. A novel hasn't stuck with me and invaded my thoughts like I gave it a key to the place since Gravity's Rainbow. And I can honestly say, with nary a trace of exaggeration, that it has absolutely changed how I look at people, all for the better. Where was that fifth star? It was waiting for me to realize how deeply IJ's characters, passages and ideas burrowed under my skin and into my brain and will continue to badger me until I finally give in and spend another three months getting lost in the jagged beauty of DFW's intricately crafted universe. Well done, sir.
By the time I hit third grade and had still demonstrated absolutely no inclination toward athletic pursuits, my parents forced me into the township's local softball league. Because that's what you do when your bookworm daughter begs to take art lessons and possesses a nigh prodigious talent for falling up stairs, right? My first year of being a young ball player was punctuated by lots of praying for rain, daydreaming in the outfield and swinging at every pitch just because I liked how it felt: Somehow, despite my staggering disinterest and vast physical ineptitude, my team won the championship that season, heralding another god-awful year of my father's rabid commitment to an array of drills that still have phrases like "loosey goosey," "call for the ball" and "keep your HEAD in the GAME!" providing the hellishly looping soundtrack to my nightmares.
Miraculously still, I landed a spot on the all-star team my second year, which only led to more rigorous and more time-consuming practices after school, on the weekends, before games, after games, whenever there was even half an hour to spare in the pursuit of athletic greatness -- time I would have preferred to spend with my nose in a book. Any book. By my third year, I was pretty much self-sabotaging myself at every step of the game, eventually sacrificing the only thing I cared about: my beloved spot at second base. By the time I was a sullen eighth-grader and limply going through the motions I’d had mercilessly drilled into my rote memory for nearly five years, I made it pretty clear that my parents were wasting their time and money on misguided wishes that I’d conform to whatever young-athlete ideal they had mistakenly thought could be pinned on me. This was only a viable exit strategy because the one thing they hated more than relinquishing control over their children was throwing money at hopeless endeavors that would just end in (their, not my) public embarrassment.
But my doomed-to-fruitlessness years spent toiling at the batting cages and the local baseball diamonds and the front- and backyard were not why this book resonated deeply with and brutalized me as severely as it did. Though being forced into the arduous efforts of participating in a sport I didn't much care about save for the way it occasionally diverted the otherwise endless torrent of parental disappointment sure endeared Enfield Tennis Academy's students to me in a way I didn't see coming.
It's incidental that I gave up smoking pot about a month into the nearly three I spent reading this gargantuan tome. It's a cold-turkey move that was a long time coming, as I realized quite some time ago that my affinity for herbal refreshment stopped being an occasional comfort and grew to a full-blown, all-consuming vice. I won't go so far as to call it an addiction, as it was a habit I dropped with surprising ease. And I sure as hell didn't have half the troubles as I learned (thanks to this book, which I'm pretty sure the completion of is the equivalent of a master's degree in twelve-step programs) true addicts do. But when my coping method of choice in unwinding after a thoroughly demoralizing day at work, the thing I compulsively relied on to comfortably pass time and the way I eased myself into unfamiliar social situations started to look awfully similar, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the unfortunate reality that I was on the precipice of becoming a career stoner, sacrificing the pursuits and interests and friendships that I value far more that leaving my mind behind for a while instead of facing my trubles head-on.
For as easy and as shockingly non-disruptive my sudden cessation of a years-long habit was, you're goddamn right there were moments when my resolve almost caved -- not of weakness, really, but just because, meh, why not? That's about when I realized that the ritual of the vice was just as comforting as the substance itself. So I focused on the distance I put between myself and my last toke: One week without a visit from Mary Jane. Two weeks. One month. Now almost two months. And every time someone would pass me the bowl or the bong or a joint out of habit before apologizing profusely and sincerely whenever I declined (it’s weird, the odd deference I found myself receiving –- unknowing echoes of the very things I’d once said to those who abandoned the herb before me -- just for trying to kick a deeply ingrained habit: “Oh, man, you’re cleaning out? That’s awesome, congrats. I could never do that.”), it got a little easier to stay on the wagon.
Pardon the descent into clichéd territory for a second, but every journey of 1,000 miles begins with just one step: My attempt to shake a years-long bad habit began with one day of sticking to my guns. Just like conquering the beast that is “Infinite Jest” began with the turning of a single page. Both had their moments of me wondering just what the hell I’d signed up for but, even with their lesser moments, both efforts have been more than worth their comparatively few and fleeting pains.
I’ve made it abundantly clear before that I don’t give a leaping, prancing fuck about tennis but DFW sure made it interesting in the two essays he devoted to the sport in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Coming into this having read even one collection of his non-fiction ruined IJ for me from the beginning, as it is the man's non-judgmental but deeply, quietly observant presence in his writing that draws me to him the most. But it also made me realize that the guy could have rewritten the phone book and I would have vomited praise all over everything because he’s that good at honest storytelling.
There are truths pouring from every page in IJ, which do lend a certain familiar presence reminiscent of DFW's non-fiction: The AA meetings, the depression, the internal conflicts, the biggest truths coming from the most inconsequential moments and, yes, even the tennis all resounded with real-life personal experience. Even the characters I absolutely hated (like that fucker Lenz) were crafted in a way that made them so human and multidimensional that it was obvious they were intended to be victims of circumstance who demanded more than black-and-white consideration.
The ways DFW blurs the lines and draws parallels between seemingly at-odds concepts show how polar opposites aren’t even as far removed from each other as we like to tell ourselves, that perspective, motivation or a simple name are all that separate, say, physically brutal athletic training and mindlessly indulgent entertainment, as the former is shown to be just another means for an individual to deliver the latter to the many. Similarly, an elite tennis academy really isn’t that far removed from a rehabilitation program: It becomes screamingly clear that both house addicts of some kind when you’re forced to examine what really lies at the heart of each institution. Even, obviously, sexual encounters and the family of one's childhood are complicit in one's effect on the other(view spoiler)[, as seen in Orin’s tendency to seduce mothers and how his own mother, in turn, carries on an affair with a boy young enough to be her son and who is wearing a disturbingly familiar football uniform when their tryst is brought to the reader’s full awareness (hide spoiler)]. Because, really: Is the path to learned, painstakingly accrued greatness not all that different from a seizuring, pants-shitting junkie in the realm of addiction? Filling a void with finely honed talent that will one day destroy the body is revealed to not be entirely unlike filling that same void with a destructive substance that, too, renders the addicted vessel to a ticking time bomb of physical and mental ruin.
But in a time when one can no longer be certain of what the future holds -- the country is run by an increasingly unstable president, when something as indelible as a country’s topographical familiarity is eliminated, when one can’t even rely on the unfailing numerical certainty of what to call the next and all subsequent years -- is it any surprise that extremes are no longer separated by distinct boundaries and that the sweet escapist nectar of entertainment has ascended to such obsessive, pervasive heights? All people can be sure of is that the television show or movie that provides comforting relief from the unflagging instability of the real world is never more than an always-available cartridge away. In this regard, DFW presents a strange sort of dystopia where any addiction or superficial sense of microcosmic control is necessary to cope with a world whose only constant is perpetual upheaval.
It is that very instability that dominates the end of this book(view spoiler)[, as demonstrated by characters being (sometimes violently) uprooted from the surroundings that the reader has spent the length of three normal-sized novels relegating them to and replanted in wholly surprising locales: Hal is taken from the strictly regimented ETA where children are turned into perfectly performing machines and thrust into a regressive support group where adult men are encouraged to embrace their inner infants; the imperturbable Remy descends from his southwestern heights to the rock-hard bottom of Ennet House’s desperate pursuit of getting life back on track; poor Gately is ripped from his more-or-less secure life of sober, middling authority to being completely dependent upon machines to keep him alive, where he is at constant odds with his rational mind to avoid all addictive substances no matter what necessary relief they bring while battling unimaginable physical pain; the less said about Orin's upturned world the better; even the long-deceased JOI returns to the mortal coil in a sense –- by the way, I could have happily read nothing but the interfacing between Gately and Himself the friendly wraith for 1,079 pages and been as happy as an addict on a weekend drug binge (hide spoiler)].
Life is not always interesting or without its flaws and, honestly, neither was this book. For me, IJ wasn’t a perfect novel, nor was it the absolute best thing I’ve read. But it was the most human, the most humbling and the most honest: As far as I’m concerned, those are much more difficult and far more noble superlatives to reach for, especially with a piece of fiction that manages to resonate with more desperate sincerity than some people can ever hope to manage.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Your recent tango with a David Mitchell novel reminds you that he wrote "Cloud Atlas" under the influence of "If on a winter's night a traveler," a boYour recent tango with a David Mitchell novel reminds you that he wrote "Cloud Atlas" under the influence of "If on a winter's night a traveler," a book you've been meaning to read since gleaning this information. You're anticipating a slow week at work so you'll need something to stave off the excruciating boredom you expect from the days to come: You grab the book on your way out.
You arrive at your job and are, indeed, greeted by a dearth of things to do. It looks like your day is going to demand even less of your time and attention than you thought. Excellent. You get as comfortable as you can in your office and crack open your first taste of Italo Calvino.
A few pages in, you read: You are at your desk, you have set the book among your business papers... you seem to be concentrating on an examination of the papers and instead you are exploring the first pages of the novel. Gradually you settle back in the chair, you raise the book to the level of your nose, you tilt the chair, you pull out a side drawer of the desk to prop your feet on it....
The part of you that appreciates tongue-in-cheek narcissism -- a rather large part of you, really (which is probably why you'd enjoy a book written in the second person) -- snickers and would deadpan a "How does a dead man know I'm reading his novel, published five years before I was born, at work?" if you weren't certain that your coworkers already harbor doubts about your sanity that would only be exacerbated by overhearing you pose questions to yourself or, worse yet, to a book from which you're clearly expecting an equally audible answer.
You settle for keeping your chuckles to yourself and read on: But doesn't this show a lack of respect? Of respect, that is, not for your job... but for the book.
This gives you pause. You wonder, with less self-congratulatory irony coating your thoughts now: "Mr. Calvino, are you judging me from beyond the grave?"
You consider this. Ghostly criticism of your reading environment is a fate better than seven hours and fifty-four minutes of tedious inactivity, you decide.
You happily forge ahead.
As you are drawn deeper into the tale that Calvino spins, you realize that you've had an intermittent reading companion. Not an Other Reader and most assuredly not a specter nearly made solid by his own judgments, but your own dreamily intoxicated grin. The kind of unselfconsciously foolish smile often found in the throes of puppy love, the kind you reserve for the books that transport you somewhere magical.
You find this book to be a celebration of reading, writing and creative pursuits, all of which are things that you appreciate. It helps that you're the kind of person who seeks a certain kinship with fictional characters, especially those who steal your thoughts nearly verbatim from your brain. You find many of them in this book, highlighting passages and phrases and epiphanies that you recognize as your own.
As you near the end of the novel, you identify the connection linking each chapter. The dopey grin that nearly breaks your face grows wider as you read the final word, flip back through the pages in reverse and notice that your own handwriting and added notations are nearly crowding out Calvino's words.
My woefully late introduction to David Foster Wallace came earlier this year when I noshed greedily on “The Broom of the System,” which humbled and faMy woefully late introduction to David Foster Wallace came earlier this year when I noshed greedily on “The Broom of the System,” which humbled and fascinated and tickled and impressed the ever-loving shit out of me to the point where I only gave it four stars because the guy wrote it when he was younger than I am now and I have it on good faith that his later works are even better.
Reading this made me feel a lot of things -- the way it eased my unshakable sense of being lonely in a totally cliched existential sort of way that I feel like I maybe should have grown out of by now being one of the biggies; most of said feelings were staggeringly positive -- but the most persistent and lingering one was this quiet sadness. The dates imprinted on a lot of these pieces (the early to mid-‘90s, not one predating my exit from elementary school) are just long ago enough to start taking on the sheen of gauzy quaintness that I'm beginning to understand and is plain fucking weird while also being an unpleasantly vague reminder that since time stops for no man, death comes for everyone. (Interestingly, the offerings herein don't come off as dated -- cell phones as shiny new things that only the elite few possess! the rise of irony in popular culture! the advent of the internet! Rather, they serve as one big time capsule for a great mind reacting to really strange times. It was so weird (and rad as hell, too) to read about a very smart and very aware adult reflecting about a present I can only recall from a child's long-ago vantage point.)
And it was thinking like that, in the moments I stopped reading this collection to process the range of thoughts it reflected, the ideas it proposed and feelings it gave rise to because I was so dazzled by how DFW made me care about things I’d never had two shits to rub together in regard to before, how he had a wicked knack for turning a simple observation into an unobtrusively significant moment, how he didn’t so much observe as understand the intangibles that were the driving forces of these pieces, that just made me sad that someone with a unique grasp on the human condition and inner workings of everything isn’t around to keep pointing out the unassuming but ever-present imperatives of absolutely all the things, including the pants-shittingly terrible experience that is putting oneself at the mercy of (or simply considering) a Midwestern state fair's death-trap carnival rides. And that I didn’t know to mourn DFW's passing until much later, leaving me to feel like my newly hatched enthusiasm for his brilliance is somehow insincere in its belatedness, however genuine I know it to be.
It also forced me to (very unwillingly, because my brain stops at this station a lot and I kind of hate it, even if it is something made of pure conjecture) think about what terms would drive me to check out early, too. Such things are worth mentioning because someone as willing as DFW was to look deep inside everything's inner workings to find their true meaning, to me, deserves the same kind of respectful concern. Rather than turning me off entirely, though, that train of thought made me even more willing to take DFW's careful deliberations to heart and try to see things as he does in the pieces comprising "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."
I know it sounds like a cop-out but each one of these essays and arguments brings something different to the table, which made it hard for me to decide whether or not I have a favorite piece in the collection. But I also don’t think that’s fair because each of the seven pieces has a different intention. (Get ready for the oncoming wall of text!)
It’s terrifying to see the dangers of mindless consumption via television’s manipulation addressed almost two decades ago -- the way advertisers always knew how to create a selling image for a blindly consumer-happy, image-obsessed American audience, the way societal conventions change television archetypes every so often, how all alternative trends eventually become bastardized into some mass-produced dross -- and fascinating to retrace the path of Metafiction's influence on today's entertainment in “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction." The nod to New Journalism in “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” and the way DFW turns his experiences and observations at the ’93 Illinois State Fair into something bigger and more universal than it appears while capturing what exactly makes it such a unique beast should sound cynical and self-involved but doesn't. “Greatly Exaggerated,” or deconstructing a literary trend that is all about deconstructing previously accepted literary trends, was the headiest of the pieces; if I thought my ever-growing love for postmodernism in all its flavors was the only thing that made me appreciate the piece, then I would have entirely missed the points of both “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” (DFW’s own forays into high-school tennis, the success of which he owed to a mental rather than athletic prowess that he seems unnecessarily apologetic about, the way someone who’s really good at something but is humbled rather than bolstered by it is) and “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness,” which does address all those things (and more!) in relation to Joyce’s unflappable straightforwardness and tennis philosophy and has quite a bit to say about the nature and sacrifices of professional athletes and other applicable-to-everyone’s-lives truths. “David Lynch Keeps His Head” may have began as a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the birth of "Lost Highway” but winds up examining Lynch’s catalog and pinpointing all the ways he thoroughly messes with American moviegoers’ expectations and gets labeled as “sick” or “inaccessible” because of it (let me tell you something, “Mulholland Drive” made a hell of a lot more sense than it had any right to after reading this, which kind of freaked me out). Lastly, the piece that shares its title with this collection, a dissertation on the crises, implications and microcosmic representations of the id’s insatiable demand to get back the fuck into the womb for the relief of helpless indulgence via the luxury of Caribbean cruises, might just be the most thought-provoking and metaphorically successful vacation piece ever wrought. Ever.
So, yeah, there’s some varied stuff here but commonalities do emerge. One of the other things I'm liking best about DFW's stuff is that I absolutely have to read every single word and perform a few mental gymnastics to accommodate both the accessible-but-high-minded assertions and the asides that layer his writings with brilliance: It creates a kind of focus that has helped me retain more of his works than more simply written fare. Intentional or not, that same kind of keen attention appeared to be what DFW wanted to coax from his readers, imploring the audience to go forth and value the little things for their unique place in the world in order to better understand (or deconstruct, if you like) and appreciate them. Because nothing is just one thing: Everything comprises lots of unnoticed little things, and appreciating that makes it all worth the effort.
DFW infuses all of his topics with the same careful dissection (and flurry of pitch-perfect, lovingly applied ten-dollar words, which deserves mention for being delightful in its own word-nerd right), approaching an understanding devoid of all judgement, which is what appealed to me the most about this collection. It's so hard to approach a topic without bringing any sort of preconceived notions to the table -- like, DFW acknowledges the possibility of being perceived as an East Coast snob throughout his state-fair peregrinations, negating the impression of such a thing (to the reader, at least) with his conscious honesty -- but none of that lives here. There is no depressed acceptance of the way things are in his intellectual explorations; instead, he finds a way to break down the necessary humanity behind everything, bringing them to a wholly sympathetic, neutral at worst/misunderstood necessity at best sort of light. He analyzes social situations with a mathematical precision, offering a rational discourse instead of a detached report. He wants to pick things apart to achieve not reductive meaningless but sincere realization and factual certainty of a thing's nature and composition and intent.
In this way, he's a champion of eliminating the false veneer of fantasy that shrouds so many unattainable-by-normal-people things in seductive mystery -- that also drives the average Joe to the depths of jealousy and deluded despair. Breaking down the misconception that lies between the behind-the-scenes reality and the polished final dream, looking behind the curtain to understand the hard work and sacrifices of those in the public eye (writers to an extent but mostly film-industry professionals and celebrity athletes) makes them less scary, more systematic, and far, far less enviable.
One of the hallmarks of a genius, to me, is the ability to inspire curiosity and critical thinking in others, which is exactly what this collection does. I don't care if I'm betraying my terminally uncool tardy-to-the-party over-eagerness in this review; I do, however, care that DFW made me give an earnest fuck about tennis. Twice....more
One of the few reasons I bother (albeit rarely) with Twitter is that John Roderick, the sasquatchian mastermind behind one of my all-time favorite banOne of the few reasons I bother (albeit rarely) with Twitter is that John Roderick, the sasquatchian mastermind behind one of my all-time favorite bands, has an account there. I can read his 140-characters-or-fewer bursts of dry wit for free, aye, but he can't very well autograph my computer screen when I see him next month, can he? (Though the internet doesn't get ink from its cover all over my hands and its pages dont't start falling out halfway through the reading experience, so score one for gadgets.) To appease the unbridled fangirl in me, I ordered this book, which arrived the same day as the tickets to John's January solo show. Is that the hand of Fate scrawling out a message for me? Of course. Duh. What, the universe doesn't rearrange itself for you?
I gleaned some crucial information from this collection of amusing assertions. Like me, John talks to machines in the hopes that the human behind the curtain hears him. He, like me, has a soft spot for songs in 3/4 time. He clearly enjoys dropping allusions to "Idiocracy," "Kashmir," Janis Joplin tunes, MST3K and Gabo, much like I do. He scoffs at folks who make responsible life choices, uses "sarcasm to soften [his] fury and use[s] over-formal politeness to soften [his] sarcasm," looks for grammatical errors everywhere, knows that Sarah Palin is evil, appreciates aging technologies, hovers somewhere left of center (unless the punchline calls for an exaggeration of political ideals), feels like his nature alienates him from modern society, likes watching fat animals be fatties, stays inside for days, and facetiously revels in his complete lack of interest in other people (including his future self), all of which sound just like me.
All of this leads me to believe that JoRod and I should be the bestest of buddies, complete with those plastic heart necklaces everyone rocked like they was pimpin' in the early '90s. I'm sure he'd appreciate my hilariously ironic fake-racisim just as much as I'm tickled by his -- even if I can't play guitar like a middle-aged prodigy or cover 80% of my face with a beard that would make everyone in ZZ Top drip with envy.
I'm also now armed with the knowledge that John Roderick, like my darling husband, is a left-wing gun nut who embodies many bearlike qualities. This will be useful in convincing my beloved that I'm not really dragging him to a show he's guaranteed to be lukewarm about....more
Score another point for the It's Not You, It's Me rating. In books as in life, I just can't get past certain character flaws.
Miss Jean Brodie is theScore another point for the It's Not You, It's Me rating. In books as in life, I just can't get past certain character flaws.
Miss Jean Brodie is the kind of teacher my high-school self would have gone positively apeshit over. Younger Me would have eaten up her determination to shirk the stifling curriculum to impart the wisdom and knowledge she felt formed a remarkable mind, hoisting her onto a pedestal made of hero-worship for having the temerity to rock the establishment's boat. That cynical bitch Older Me, however, was suspicious of her motives and couldn't shake the feeling that this tale was like an all-girl "Dead Poet's Society" with a less purely intentioned teacher and less naively worshipful students (minus the saccharine charm of departing the story before the awestruck pupils grew up to be disillusioned adults). My other problem with this one was my lingering hostility toward the type of woman Miss Jean Brodie seems to be. (Really? You're in your prime? I can't wait for you to hammer home that conversational nugget, like, 87 more times and talk all about yourself some more.) And also possibly the distracting scrawlings of the book's previous owner, which were clearly jotted-down lecture highlights littered with words' less common spellings, like "desparite" and "bicariously."
I feel like I'm missing something in not better appreciating what is a much-lauded novella by being so turned off by just a small facet of the main character's personality because there was quite a bit more going on than one might expect from a deceptively slim tome. The titular lady certainly is a complex character who seemed to be preserving her own fading youth in those select girls in whom she saw protege potential (I want so badly to make a "Brodie set : Jean Brodie's prime :: horcruxes : Lord Voldemort's soul" comparison but I feel like that's just setting myself up for a rabbit hole of recreational thesising). Brodie is determined to tear through life and distill her experiences into vivid life-beyond-cold-academia building blocks for her chosen pets. I was fascinated by her ability to dedicate herself completely to whatever passion tickled her fancy at whatever point -- teaching; art; strategically placing a favored student, as a stand-in for herself, in the best position to carry on an affair with a much older married man -- without it ringing with the falsity of a passing, half-hearted fad. There was something desperate in her determination to suck the marrow out of life, though -- like it was missing the unselfconscious joie de vivre of a person truly enjoying existence with reckless abandon. She was the cat parading around her mouthful of feathers, pushing societal boundaries for the sake of daring others to take notice of her untamed ways and marvel at her free spirit.
The non-linear narrative neatly packed 10 pounds of enlightening exposition into a five-pound bag; I'm generally a fan of chronological meanderings, so that was a definite plus. The Brodie set was a gaggle of foils, both among themselves and for their teacher: Their innocence and adolescence played so perfectly against the surrogate mother figure whose own purity was abandoned long ago and whose peak has already begun its decline. And I positively adored Sandy, the most prominently portrayed of Brodie's elite, even though I knew she was the obvious choice.
Definitely worth the read, especially for a book I grabbed on the sole basis of its length as the end of the world 2012 loomed ever closer with my year's reading goal still unmet. I just wish I hadn't chanced upon it more than a decade too late, as I feel like this is one of those books that's a primo gauge for measuring how far one's come over the years....more
Since I doubt I'll be finishing "Gravity's Rainbow" in the next 19 hours, I can safely say that this was an excellent (though unnerving) way to end thSince I doubt I'll be finishing "Gravity's Rainbow" in the next 19 hours, I can safely say that this was an excellent (though unnerving) way to end the reading year. My next decision will probably involve wine. Huzzah!
Here's a placeholder story until I can cobble together an adequate reaction to the book: I bought this as a Christmas gift for the hubs because we both have giddy adolescent crushes on that "Prophets of Science Fiction" show. I glommed onto this novel before he could as revenge for the Kindle he gave me last year and has been hogging like a champ lately. (Love, she really is a battlefield.)...more
I finished this book, like, two weeks ago, right when my job's special breed of life-consuming crazy was bearing down on me with an animalistic rabidiI finished this book, like, two weeks ago, right when my job's special breed of life-consuming crazy was bearing down on me with an animalistic rabidity. Let's see what I remembered about it, aside from the fact that it was generously packed with treats that made my inner word-nerd dance oh-so-whitely with joy.
First of all, the author's first language is Yiddish. Seeing as I know far more native-tongue butchers of English than I do folks who can finesse the language like they're trying to get into its pants on the first date, it always disproportionately impresses me when a non-native speaker can so thoroughly rock this notoriously tricky tongue. Every well-executed pun (my ultimate linguistic guilty pleasure, for sure), every beautifully rendered lengthy sentence, every GRE-worthy word did something extra-special to my brain because I just couldn't get over how flawless and stunning Deutscher's English is. There are people who can write literately and there are people who should be getting paid to write because they're so bloody good at it: Betcha can't guess where I think the author fits on that spectrum.
The book begins with a lengthy examination of how color names and thresholds vary across languages. The strangeness of Homer's color vocabulary in "The Odyssey" ("wine-dark sea" being the jumping-off point here), possible biological mutations of the eye over a couple millennia, different cultures' attitudes toward the importance of naming hues, and how red always seems to be the first proper color to be saddled with a name are just a few of the topics explored in the book's first half. Since the influence that language and culture have on each other is apparently a concept in its respectable infancy (being the victim of red herrings, faulty conclusions and plain ol' stereotyping had reduced the line of thinking to rather embarrassing lows), it seems like using color-naming conventions as a primary example was the best way to go; however, had I not come to this book with a background in art and color theory (waning as they may be), I probably would have gone cross-eyed many times before yelling at the book to get to the bloody point already.
In exploring a topic as broad as cultural variations, even confining them to their linguistic mirrors leaves room for numerous forays into surprise discoveries. The failure of translations -- when, for example, one language employs gender nomenclature in ways the other doesn't -- was especially interesting to me. Realizing how a passage can be so packed with implications and inherent musicality in its original tongue but so flat and uninspired in another left me with a whole new respect for the difficulties of translating an entire work, especially once this book offered up snippets indicating that knowing a language is only half of truly understanding its place as a living, malleable part of society.
There were other things that tickled me enough to hastily scribble a few now-nonsensically truncated notes to myself, like how this book didn't focus on just the more popular Germanic and Romance languages, as quite a few tribal tongues received considerable attention. A number of languages seemed to reflect a less-than-modern view of women (I'll be damned if I can think of any examples right now). And it seems as though Latin has been key in uncovering cultural differences, though I could have told you that as a high-school freshman, thanks to my then-textbook's inclusion of "plagosa" (which means "fond of whipping") in its back-of-the-book dictionary. ...more