I was reading the comments on a blog post about the benefits of always seeking to learn new things and s...moreThis book found me at the wrong time. I think.
I was reading the comments on a blog post about the benefits of always seeking to learn new things and saw that someone recommended this book. A second person chimed in to say that he also considered this to be one of the most important tools in his productivity arsenal. That was enough for me, apparently. Because blog comments are a great place to find book recommendations.
Now that I've read it, I can see that these two commenters probably didn't. What they meant to say was, "the title of this book is a great tool for productivity." Because this book has fuckall to do with learning anything.
Except Zen, of course. And enlightenment and all that. Which is great. I've got something of a history of reading books of this nature. But it wasn't what I was looking for at the time. This bamboozlement resulted in a subpar reading. So my reaction isn't perfectly fair, as I wasn't interacting with the book on its own terms, but through a lens of general disappointment in the people who live on the Internet.
The book was okay. It wasn't the best Zen Buddhism text I've read. The conversational tone was great, but there were too many koans delivered in rapidfire succession for me to really get involved. Every page had some sort of "sound of one hand clapping" example, which is problematic. I guess you only need one to hit home for your pupils to dilate and your brain to become one and none with the universe, but it was too much. It's true enough, I suppose, that the intangible can only be dealt with in metaphorical terms, but that still doesn't make for a very readable book.
I'm sure I'll visit again when I'm in the right frame of mind, and it will be brilliant. I think.(less)
Running in downtown Phoenix is typically a mundane and rather warm experience. There's a lot of traffic and stoplights.
Sometimes it's a little bit in...moreRunning in downtown Phoenix is typically a mundane and rather warm experience. There's a lot of traffic and stoplights.
Sometimes it's a little bit interesting, though. One guy recently tried desperately to show me his junk as I ran by. Another dude I was stuck at a stoplight with licked his lips suggestively at me and murmured sweet nothings while gazing intently into my eyes. Another time, a homeless man wearing a dress chased me for a block. And a stripper just ending her shift yelled that I had a nice ass as I passed. People often very nearly hit me with cars. Sometimes they give me a high five as I run by.
When I was thinking about the best way to review this book, I figured I'd relate it to my own running. But, by and large, unless it involves something perverted or dangerous, I've found that folks just don't give a shit about your exercise routine. It's like telling people about your niece or your church group- people don't want to hear about it.
I kind of worry that potential readers will avoid this book for that very reason. You may like Murakami's writing very much, but you probably have no interest in watching him huff and puff his way down the street. On it's surface, this book is huffing and puffing. It's long distances and running mantras. There's talk of shoes and traffic.
But if that's all you can see, you're missing just about everything. I've read three pieces of Murakami's fiction in the last month, and I consider this little book to be a key to the rest. Inside of Murakami's running stories and philosophies, I found insights into his characters. Their stubbornness, determination, isolation, loneliness is all there. If you look hard enough, you can find pretty explicit reasons for spending your time at the bottom of a well.
This isn't a collection of quirky stories about running. It's a memoir that's tied together by a common theme. Even if you don't care about running, even if you'd rather eat glass than hear someone talk about it, give this a shot if you're an admirer of the man. If you read it and just saw running, try again. (less)
I always forget just how much I like Hemingway. In my mind, he's this stark minimalist who focuses on deathly serious subject matter. This, of course,...moreI always forget just how much I like Hemingway. In my mind, he's this stark minimalist who focuses on deathly serious subject matter. This, of course, could not be much more detached from the truth. A Moveable Feast is an autobiographical work that does a decent job of introducing most of the key Lost Generation players. It's fun to watch them through Hemingway's eyes. In spite of his legend, he seemed to feel inferior a lot of the time. Bigger personalities and talents he perceived to be greater than his own seemed to keep him humble.
I wish I'd read more of his stuff before taking on this one. There's a lot of dot connecting going on here, identifying crucial happenings in a key period of his life where the inspiration for and backgrounds of his novels could be found. The two books I snagged together (this one and Garden of Eden) were both released posthumously, so much of my picture of the author is drawn in by the years approaching his suicide. I can't help but think that view of him is incomplete.
But perhaps I should be thankful that my view is skewed in the way it is. Alcohol and bullfights are what attach him to public consciousness. He's almost taken on a caricature in that way, much the same way Kerouac has. It's good to be remembered, I suppose. It's just a shame that he isn't remembered for being a deeply flawed human being who wrote remarkably well about being a deeply flawed human being.
When I was in community college, I belonged to a writer's group. Every week, I'd gather around a table with a motley assortment of nerds to read our w...moreWhen I was in community college, I belonged to a writer's group. Every week, I'd gather around a table with a motley assortment of nerds to read our work. I read my first piece at the second meeting I attended, eager for the audience. The short story I read was a slice-of-life thing about a father taking his cancer-patient daughter to the McDonald's play area. The woman who ran the group, and who also happened to be my English professor, was aghast at my story. She asked if I had children. When I responded in the negative, she asserted that it was irresponsible for me to write such a thing without having lived it. Several of the other folks, a few of whom were teary-eyed, came to my defense- art should make you feel, they argued. Writer's have no obligation to live the things they write about. Fiction is fiction. My professor maintained her position, damning the story as manipulative and insincere.
Five years later, I was finishing up my bachelor's at the state university. I had to write a paper for my Science and Society class that disproved a persuasive argument in one of the class readings. The one I chose was from the book Skinny Bitch, where the authors claim that milk actually causes calcium loss in bones. I wrote a solid paper, giving several reasons why the authors' claims were erroneous and, ultimately, harmful. I was quite surprised when I received my paper back from the TA and saw that my work had earned me a B. There was nothing technically wrong with the paper, but my grade suffered, according to the note tacked on to the last page, because I'd chosen a topic that was too easy.
In The Revides Fundamentals of Caregiving, Evison (I think) commits both of the above sins. I searched the acknowledgements section of the book and did some frantic googling to determine whether or not he has kids. Because I do. And every day, I live with visions of them disappearing and dying. Suddenly, I find myself in the place of my old college professor- if this bastard is writing this shit based purely on artistic speculation, I'd like to kick him in the balls. If you pay attention to the news (which I try not to do), you see that kids die every day. That there are illnesses and accidents that are completely unfuckingfair. This is reality. If this is not Evison's reality, though...
Shit. My daughter just fell and hit her head on the floor. Where was I again?
Oh, yes. If this is not Evison's reality (and I can find no evidence to suggest that it is), then I think a line has been crossed. This kind of writing is inauthentic and opportunistic. You don't have to be a good writer to create an affecting story about a father who feels he is responsible for the death of his children. You can be a complete fucking hack and still move readers to tears. It's just about the lowest-hanging fruit you can find. He's arguing that milk provides the body with calcium here. It doesn't leech it from bones. It's a guaranteed home run.
I like Evison's work. I read All About Lulu several years ago and absolutely dug it. I like his style and voice. But this was just not a good book. In addition to the aforementioned issues, it as populated with stock characters (the underachieving protagonist, the career-driven mother, the rebel without a cause, the hapless asshole who can't get anything right, they disabled kid with a heart of gold, the stoic cop, the scary bear of a man in a biker bar, the country bumpkin with a scheme to strike it rich) who fill the exact roles you might expect them to. There is not a single character in the book whose motives I didn't understand from the outset. It was as if the trajectories of their lives were laid out the moment they appeared on page. And then there was the prolific use of cliches and unfortunate word repetition (Note to writers: don't say "to wit" at all. And definitely don't say it twice in ten pages). I find it hard to believe that this novel even had an editor.
I thought this book was cheap in just about every way. I am happy that I didn't buy it, and allowed the library to make that mistake for me. (less)