From the moment I picked up Kafka on the Shore I was a fan of Murakami’s. I have never read anything like him before or since, and I gorged myself on...moreFrom the moment I picked up Kafka on the Shore I was a fan of Murakami’s. I have never read anything like him before or since, and I gorged myself on his back catalog. By the time I reached 1Q84 I had familiarized myself with his work, his career, and his style. Murakami writes modern magical realism, blends in classical music and literature, and creates a whole universe we as readers can inhabit for the length of his book. I adore him and I am not alone. Look at how many people downloaded the Sinfoneitta by Janácek, mentioned repeatedly in 1Q84; that is no coincidence.
1Q84 is filled with his average cast of characters. A laid-back educated man who likes to cook and has trouble with women; a gregarious teenage girl with Asperger ‘s syndrome who sees beyond reality; benignly sinister cult members who are “just doing their job”; a sexually aggressive woman—with sensual ears—who is looking to fill a void; emotionally distant people who seem to be rootless in life; and plenty of cats. Set them against a landscape that is neither reality nor un-reality, with a lot of waiting alone in confinement, and see how they react. It is a sociological experiment gone awry. This is the first book bordering on 1,000 pages that I have read in more than a decade, and despite the glacial pace of this novel, I was unable to put the novel down until I finished it.
Overall, this is a love story with complications. Two 10-year olds who united in a classroom search for each other 20 years later, physically and metaphysically, in an alternate timeline. One grows up to be an assassin of men who abuse women, the other a “not living up to his potential” teacher/writer. There is plenty of unusual circumstances, disembodied sex, other-worldly creatures, urban ennui, and Proust. Did that get your attention? Then read the book. Those new to Murakami start off with something “metaphysically” lighter. (less)
The last time I picked up a book by Steven King I was still in college, which might be why it took me more than a decade to read his book On Writing....moreThe last time I picked up a book by Steven King I was still in college, which might be why it took me more than a decade to read his book On Writing. The author describes this work as more memoir than a book about how to write. His philosophy is there are great writers and then there are the rest of us who need to be very dedicated to the craft and work really hard to maybe be good. I found the memoir sections to be highly entertaining and King is more engaging as a narrator of his own life than from my memory of his fiction. He is down to earth, accessible, and honest about his humble background and battle with addiction. He is the kind of guy you want to sit down with and have a non-alcoholic beer and a long conversation.
As for the sections on writing, I can boil his advice down to: - Write a lot. - Read a lot. - Never use adverbs. - Be true to your own voice. - Set tight deadlines for writing your first draft, shelve it, then edit the hell out of it. - Get feedback from people you trust, not necessarily from people you love. - Don’t forget, writing is a lot of work.
Just as the best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more, King reminds authors that you don’t need an MFA or to read every book on writing in order to be successful. Writers write and writers read. End of story.
The one thing I most appreciated in this volume is his tying compensation to his craft. Many writers shy away from discussing money, and when you are first in the game you may have to do it for the experience, but if you want to do it professionally, you are either going to need an independent income or to make money from your craft. This is the one piece of advice I will take away from Mr. King. I’ll will also add 11 22 63 to my reading list to rediscover his fiction.(less)
This book has often been compared to M*A*S*H, though it only has 2 things in common, medicine and war; the comparison is tenuous at best. The novel is...moreThis book has often been compared to M*A*S*H, though it only has 2 things in common, medicine and war; the comparison is tenuous at best. The novel is relayed in a series of letters from the protagonist, Kurt Strom, a former baseball player who has decided to become a nurse in the Army during the Vietnam conflict. What is most inventive in the novel is that Kurt is a different person to each of his readers: stubborn and valiant grandson to his grandmother (Mom), a fighter and family gossiper to his cousin, Chloe, a good buddy to his friend, Arch, and a big time whore with Paul. To all of these people he is being honest about who he is to them, but to none of them does he reveal the real Kurt. Only the reader gets to put all the pieces together to build a picture of the man over time. Throughout his one-sided conversations, we get the lowdown on his complex family life, the mismanagement of the war with a special focus on bad sergeants, messy medical details (now I know what to do if a leech crawls up my urethra) and lots of man-on-man sex. I found myself looking forward to his letters to Paul, which often felt the most honest, but overall the concept wears thin and the letters often read more like a novel made up of letters than real letters to real people. However, there is still plenty here to enjoy if you can tolerate all the racial slurs about blacks and the Vietnamese. Although this book is out of print, I learned about it in Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered and was able to get a used copy online. (less)
Manzower traces the origins of the UN Charter signed in 1945 and the ways in which it succeeds, and more often fails, to live up to our expectations f...moreManzower traces the origins of the UN Charter signed in 1945 and the ways in which it succeeds, and more often fails, to live up to our expectations for this international organization. Our hindsight view of the UN’s original mission might be altruistic, even Utopian, but as the motives of the primary players are revealed we get the unsanitized reality behind the UN’s first decades. The charter was a document of its time, drafted as an optimistic response to the devastating aftermath from a second World War. However, it was more or less a continuation of the failed League of Nations, and created to secure the power of the ruling countries and keep imperialism alive and well. The charter’s European focus, led by Anglophile Jan Smuts, who dreamed of whites settling and improving Africa, completely—one might say intentionally— ignored the rights of minorities; it was in their best interest to be led by those who knew better. The chapter dealing with the resettlement of displaced European Jews in the Middle East, thus displacing Arabs and causing tensions that remain today, was the most fascinating section in light of current events. Luckily the UN has changed with the times, and though it may not be a perfect organization, the charter did leave the door open for smaller countries with less powerful voices, who have recently become more visible. (less)
I regret that I do not have the language skills to read this book in Portuguese. Once the reader gets accustomed the massive blocks of text—especially...moreI regret that I do not have the language skills to read this book in Portuguese. Once the reader gets accustomed the massive blocks of text—especially when there is a back and forth conversation with no quotes—the playfulness of the author and the firmly placed tongue-in-cheek wit of this short novel will win you over. In Portuguese I can only presume the language-play works on a higher level, although the translation by Margaret Jull Costa seems to capture the spirit and timbre of the original text.
When death (lower case intentional) takes a holiday to prove her (gender also intentional) value to humanity, it creates all sorts of bureaucratic dilemmas (what shall we do with the piles of non-dead?!) in an unnamed country (and only that country). Saramago has a field-day with the political machinations of not dealing with the national crisis of the not-quite-dead, and the self-congratulatory opinion of the short-sighted government when it actually makes any decisions, no matter how "Band-Aid" the approach is. This can easily be read as a political allegory of your choosing, which makes the novel that much more brilliant.
The last third of the novel focuses on death herself and her inability to do her job (kill a harmless cellist whom she sort of falls in love with), which somewhat destroys the momentum of the overall story. This novel can easily be referred back to the ageing baby-boomers bankrupting social security in the US, as well as political states in which one must leave the borders to be free… and we have quite of few of those in the media today. Whatever your personal reading might be, this excellent novel is a worthy read in any language.(less)
**spoiler alert** “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” came highly recommended by several people and for good reason. Jackson’s short novel is tense a...more**spoiler alert** “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” came highly recommended by several people and for good reason. Jackson’s short novel is tense and romantic with a Southern Gothic feel (I kept being reminded of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”). Anyone who has felt like an outsider can readily identify with the day-dream obsessed protagonist, Merricat (Mary Katherine), a “wandering” girl who cast spells, buries sacred objects and breaks things to protect her house and family, but more specifically to prevent any changes from entering her self-contained universe. When change enters her utopia in mud-covered boots her darker side blossoms and daydreams turn from flying to the moon on a winged horse to imagining everyone is dead except her sister. Death is a constant companion of this strange family. An unaccountable “accident” with arsenic killed the rest of their clan six years prior to the story, leaving the surviving sisters and their feebled Uncle Julian as social pariahs and suspected murderers in a small town which never forgives or forgets. Their large house becomes their own prison, an unchanging tomb that remains static from the day of the tragedy. This has been rewritten as a musical and a play, but I can easily see it as a film… anyone interested in working on the script?(less)
**spoiler alert** This novel, originally written under a pseudonym, reminds me of the big difference between gay and lesbian fiction; it is a full 200...more**spoiler alert** This novel, originally written under a pseudonym, reminds me of the big difference between gay and lesbian fiction; it is a full 200 pages before poor sexually stymied Theresa even gets a kiss out of her lover, Carol. In men’s fiction the story would start with how the guys hooked up. Much has been made out of their cross-country romance, but it is worth noting that the lead up to the trip is much more intense and exploratory as Theresa gains her footing in her first lesbian relationship. The 2nd half of the novel has a very American restlessness as the women drive aimlessly westward, finding themselves and their love along the way (think Thelma and Louise). Troubles bring them both back home, albeit separately, and the revalation of their relationship nearly destroys it. The novel, which was probably published as pulp in 1952, has been critiqued for its melodrama, but even as a gay man I found it hard to put the book down; enjoy the high-drama emotions of a young woman coming into her own skin. I think it is also important for younger gay kids to realize how much has changed in society; Carol has to give up everything including her family for her lover, and now lesbians are raising families. Thank you to all those who paved the way.(less)
I would love to deliver a copy of “A Report from Winter” into the hands of every opponent to gay marriage. I, for one, am glad that we are inching tow...moreI would love to deliver a copy of “A Report from Winter” into the hands of every opponent to gay marriage. I, for one, am glad that we are inching toward the option of marriage for same-sex-couples, but like most, am hesitant to embrace the traditional heterosexual rite of passage, as would Wayne and his partner Ralph even though they are as married as gay men get. Wayne is forced to deal with the lingering death of his estranged and verbally abusive mother, consoled only by his distant and uncommunicative aunt and older brother. It is not until Ralph, Wayne’s partner of 8 years, is brought into the picture that Wayne is able to face the challenges with any real spirit. Those who want to deny the rights for same-sex relationships to exist might better understand that we aren’t all that different from them; gay life ain’t all cocktails, anonymous sex and parties (for that aspect you might want to read Wayne Courtois’s more adventuresome fiction). I had a similar experience when I was forced to make end-of-life decisions for my equally estranged father and many of Wayne’s experiences rang true for me. The memoir, as honest as it is, is not without its shortcomings. Wayne’s observations often stray off the path and distract from the meat of the story. Even though my actual experiences were very similar—complaining about the lack of places to eat in the small town my father chose to retire in while facing the very real fact that he was dying—his story would have been stronger if it had left some of these diversions on the cutting room floor. The book claims to be “stubbornly unsentimental”, and I would agree to a point; when it comes to his relationship with Ralph you can’t help but see the trust and understanding Wayne was never able to find with his biological family. (less)