Jay Gatsby, you poor doomed bastard. You were ahead of your time. If you would have pulled your scam after the invention of reality TV, you would have...moreJay Gatsby, you poor doomed bastard. You were ahead of your time. If you would have pulled your scam after the invention of reality TV, you would have been a huge star on a show like The Bachelor and a dozen shameless Daisy-types would have thrown themselves at you.
Mass media and modern fame would have embraced the way you tried to push your way into a social circle you didn’t belong to in an effort to fulfill a fool’s dream as your entire existence became a lie and you desperately sought to rewrite history to an ending you wanted. You had a talent for it, Jay, but a modern PR expert would have made you bigger than Kate Gosselin. Your knack for self-promotion and over the top displays of wealth to try and buy respectability would have fit right in these days. I can just about see you on a red carpet with Paris Hilton.
And the ending would have been different. No aftermath for rich folks these days. Lawyers and pay-off money would have quietly settled the matter. No harm, no foul. But then you’d have realized how worthless Daisy really was at some point. I’m sure you couldn’t have dealt with that. So maybe it is better that your story happened in the Jazz Age where you could keep your illusions intact to the bitter end.
The greatest American novel? I don’t know if there is such an animal. But I think you'd have to include this one in the conversation.(less)
There’s a story regarding the movie version of The Big Sleep that I love, and if it isn’t true, it should be. Supposedly, while working on adapting th...moreThere’s a story regarding the movie version of The Big Sleep that I love, and if it isn’t true, it should be. Supposedly, while working on adapting the book the screenwriters (William Faulkner & Leigh Brackett) couldn’t figure out who killed one of the characters. So they called Raymond Chandler, and after thinking about it for a while, Chandler admitted that he’d completely forgotten to identify the killer of this person in the book and had no idea who did it. Since no one complained about the flaw in the book, the movie just repeated it and didn’t bother answering the question either.
And that’s the thing about The Big Sleep. The plot is overly complex, and it’s pretty clear that Chandler was making it up as he went. It’s still a crime classic because Philip Marlowe books weren’t about the plot, they were all about the character and the atmosphere.
Marlowe is hired by wealthy and dying General Sternwood to see what he can do about illegal gambling debts that his daughter Carmen has incurred. The general’s other daughter was married to a bootlegger named Rusty Regan that has disappeared, and the old man was fond of Rusty and misses his company. Everyone that Marlowe deals with assumes that he’s been hired to find Rusty, and the detective is soon caught up in a web of blackmail and several murders.
Chandler’s first book is a classic and would help redefine and reinvent the mystery genre. With Philip Marlowe, the prototype to the small time smart-ass private detective with an unbreakable code of honor would be established and it’s influenced countless fictional detectives since. Chandler’s no-nonsense, razor sharp cynical prose is still a delight to read.(less)
After finishing McCarthy's No Country For Old Men and The Road, I felt like I was stunned for a day or so afterward. Add Blood Meridian to that list....moreAfter finishing McCarthy's No Country For Old Men and The Road, I felt like I was stunned for a day or so afterward. Add Blood Meridian to that list. At first, I thought this was going to be a Lonesome Dove-style western, but it's something far different. The descent into butchery by the Glanton gang in the desert is one of the most disturbing things I've read. And the Judge is now on my top 10 all-time fictional villian list.(less)
There’s a very nice restaurant that my wife and I frequent that has become our go-to spot for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. When...moreThere’s a very nice restaurant that my wife and I frequent that has become our go-to spot for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. When we first started going here, I saw that they were serving absinthe. I’d been curious about the drink since first reading Hemingway’s descriptions of it in The Sun Also Rises back in high school.
Banned for most of the twentieth century in the U.S. for wildly exaggerated claims of it’s hallucinogenic qualities, it was made available to be imported here again in 2007. When I saw it on the menu, my mind immediately conjured images of Hemingway and his fellow expatriates sipping it in Paris with ironic detachment. (The restaurant even features a Hemingway inspired version mixed with champagne that’s called Death in the Afternoon.) I wanted to try some, but it’s $12 a glass, which seemed a bit pricey for the sake of literary cocktail experimentation. And I gotta admit that I was slightly nervous about having some kind of absinthe-based freak-out.
However, I’ve been on a Jazz Age book kick lately, and a few weeks back when we were having dinner at this place, I finally said to hell with it and ordered a glass. The waiter asked if I’d tried it before and must have had some bad experiences with newbies drinking it. I promised him I was indulging for purely experimental purposes and would not hold him responsible.
So he brought the absinthe out and did the whole bit with the special spoon and the sugar cube. I would have been lost there except I’d seen Johnny Depp do this routine in From Hell.
Finally, I tried my first sip.
It tasted like a combination of black licorice and what I can only assume is the flavor of rotting corpses. And I hate black licorice so much that I almost would have preferred just the rotting corpse taste.
However, when you pay $12 for a drink, you choke that mother down. So I drank it, cursing Hemingway the entire time and wishing I could dig his body up and reanimate him so I could give him another shotgun blast to the face for ever putting the idea of drinking that vile stuff into my head in the first place.
Oh, and that night, I had some of the most fucked up nightmares I’ve had in years so maybe the hallucinogenic qualities weren’t exaggerated all that much.
So when I was re-reading The Sun Also Rises and Jake gets completely hammered on absinthe, I almost tossed my cookies as the memory of that black licorice flavored corpse came back to me. Repeated exposure to that drink would also explain why Jake would put up with Brett’s routine. Your junk doesn’t work but you keep hanging out with the woman who claims to love you but demands your help in hooking up with other men? I would have been on a boat to Antarctica to get away from her man-eating ass, but he was deranged from drinking that shit.
This book is still pretty damn good, but I’m deducting a star just because it tricked me into trying absinthe. Take that, Hemingway! (less)
My Neal Stephenson reading has been all backwards. The first one I read was Cryptonomicon, then the Baroque Cycle and then Anathem. So going back to o...moreMy Neal Stephenson reading has been all backwards. The first one I read was Cryptonomicon, then the Baroque Cycle and then Anathem. So going back to one of his earlier and 'simpler' novels seemed like it'd be a breeze after having to practically learn a fictional language to finish Anathem.
While Snow Crash may have some more familiar sci-fi tropes (hackers, skateboarders and virtual reality are now almost stereotypes although I'm sure it seemed fresh in '92 when this was written), it still has the brain-bustin' Stephenson style theories in it.
In this case, his whole premise of ancient Sumerian languages as an audio virus was definately something that took a lot of explanation, and it's those types of intricate ideas that make Stephenson one of my favorites.
But the other thing I love about Stephenson is that he can explain this crazy theory for page after page until you forget about everything else in the book, and then the next chapter will have an epic action scene with swords, gatling guns, and a variety of other near-future weapons.
Terrific book. And I think there's probably a lot of material written or filmed since '92 that should probably cut Stephenson a royalty check. I'm looking at you, Matrix!(less)
God, do I hate Rabbit Angstrom! How much do I hate him? If I was in a room with Hannibal Lector, the Judge from Blood Meridian, the Joker from Batman,...moreGod, do I hate Rabbit Angstrom! How much do I hate him? If I was in a room with Hannibal Lector, the Judge from Blood Meridian, the Joker from Batman, and Rabbit Angstrom, and someone handed me a gun with only 3 bullets, I'd shoot Rabbit three times.
This is the first book by Updike I've read, and his reputation as a writer was well-earned. I'd had a vague idea that this story was about a former hot shot basketball player struggling to adjust to a regular life. I was completely unprepared for this spoiled, impulsive, selfish guy who really only cares about himself and his whims and manages to completely destroy almost everyone around him and still refuses to accept any responsibility for it.
It's obvious that Rabbit isn't meant to be a hero, or even an anti-hero. Updike does a masterful job of tricking you into initially liking Rabbit, even after he leaves his pregnant wife and son and takes up with a sorta-prostitute, but then slowly showing you Rabbit's true nature. And the trick is that it was right in front of you all along.
Brilliant book, and I'd planned to read the other Rabbit novels, but I honestly detested him so much that I don't know if I'll have the stomach for another one in the near future.(less)
I should have hated this book. 1079 pages of small text with loooooonnnnggggg paragraphs and little white space so it feels like you’re reading a news...moreI should have hated this book. 1079 pages of small text with loooooonnnnggggg paragraphs and little white space so it feels like you’re reading a newspaper from 1881. Plus, 96 goddamn pages of endnotes. *1 The plot, such as it is, doesn’t really come into focus until several hundred pages into it, and even though it’s set in the near future where something very strange has happened in North America, this doesn’t get explained until about mid-way through the book so you’re left feeling confused and bewildered a lot of the time.
There’s an almost endless cast of characters. Long sections of the book have detailed descriptions of things that don’t seem crucial to the plot. *2 And then there’s the fact you have to use two bookmarks because you’re constantly going back to the endnotes. *3 Some of the endnotes contain long wandering passages that also don’t seem relevant to anything. *4
The ending isn’t very satisfying. *5 The main plot point about the search for a cartridge of ‘entertainment’ so good that it will literally make anyone who sees it immediately stop living their live and stay in front of the television until they die because they’ll refuse to do anything but watch it, including eating, drinking, using the toilet, etc. *6, isn’t given much resolution, either. The book just kind of stops, and you have the distinct impression that DFW could have done another 1000 pages or so without breaking a sweat if he hadn’t eventually eliminated his own map. *7
So after all that, why was my first instinct after finishing it to go back and immediately start re-reading it? *8
I was completely engrossed when I was reading this book. No matter what weird detours it took, I was more than happy to just keep turning pages like one of those poor suckers who got snared by The Entertainment. If this book was endless *9, I probably would have spent my life cheerfully reading it and then asked for a copy on my deathbed just to try and squeeze a few more pages in.
I’m not sure why I liked it so much. In fact, the way this book got into my head gives me a slight case of the howling fantods *10 Considering it’s a book that deals a lot with obsession, this is more than a little unsettling.
I’m sure someone with an English degree could spend the rest of their life trying to deconstruct this book, but I don’t have the intelligence, skill or patience to even try. Wallace did something unique and crazy with this, and he had the talent to make it work. I don’t know how, and I think that figuring it out might be like when you learn how a magic trick was done so I’m just going to shelve it, always be glad that I took it on and managed to finish it, and re-read it someday once the memory of the endless pages of endnotes has faded. * 11
Oh, and I would have given it 5 stars, but you know, the endnote thing… *12
*1 - Yes, 96 goddamn pages.
*2 - I now know way more about tennis drills and Alcoholics Anonymous than I ever really wanted to learn.
*3 - Seriously, there are 388 endnotes in this freaking thing.
*4 - There’s an 8 page filmography listing all the movies that were supposed to have been made by one of the characters.
*5 - Somebody email me and explain what the hell happened.
*6 - The closest comparison would probably be a really kick-ass episode of The Wire or Battlestar Galactica.
*7 - ‘Eliminating maps’ is a slang phrase from the book meaning to either kill someone or kill yourself.
*8 - I didn’t. Mainly because I couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with the endnotes again.
*9 - And DFW did his best to make it that way…
*10 - ‘Howling fantods’ is another slang term from the book that means to get creeped out. E.g. Seeing Michael Jackson’s horrifically surgically altered face on magazine covers after his death gave me the howling fantods.
*11 - Some of the endnotes are so long that they have their own endnotes. That’s just messed up.
*12 - I’m not kidding. They are completely out of control. (less)
There was hardly any sports in this book at all. What a rip-off....
Frank Bascombe craves a 'normal' suburban existence the way a junkie craves heroin...moreThere was hardly any sports in this book at all. What a rip-off....
Frank Bascombe craves a 'normal' suburban existence the way a junkie craves heroin. Once an up-and-coming writer living with his wife in New York, Frank quit fiction writing and fled to the 'burbs in Jersey when offered a sports writing job for a weekly magazine. Frank's efforts to be a plain old suburbanite with zero introspection of his own life haven't exactly worked out, though. His young son died of a wasting disease and his wife left him with his other children when she found evidence that he cheated on her during one of his trips to cover a sporting event.
The book takes place over an Easter weekend that begins with Frank meeting his ex-wife (that he refers to only as X) at their son's grave on the anniversary of his death, and most of the book deals with Frank's inner monologue about the way things should be.
Frank claims to love the solid suburban lifestyle he still clings to even after his divorce and has nothing but thinly veiled contempt for academics and other artsy types, even though he used to be one. He prides himself on being a literalist who deals only with what's in front of him and doesn't waste time on 'dreaminess' like he used too.
Frank is so square that ninety degree angles are jealous of him. His idea of a romantic weekend with his new girlfriend, Vicki, is a few days in Detroit on one of his sports writing assingments, and when a male friend confesses a homosexual encounter, Frank thinks of it as 'monkeyshines'. Frank would probably live inside a Norman Rockwell painting if he could.
However, despite all of his claims of literalism and suburban tranquility, Frank is quietly having a meltdown. He prides himself with dealing with life as it is, but he's disappointed and ill equipped to cope when things go off the rails. For example, he had hoped to write an uplifting story on a former football player paralyzed in an accident about how the player had overcome adversity. When he finds that the man is actually devastated, Frank thinks only of how he can make the guy fit into the story he planned to write, not of how he could honestly tell how the man's life has fallen apart.
Very well-written, but I had a hard time dealing with Frank. Maybe it's because as a male suburbanite looking down the barrel of middle-age myself, I had little patience for Frank's self-deceptions and fairy tales of suburban life being the best place to live to keep one 'normal' and 'happy'. I like my 'burb, but it's just a quiet place to live. As I close in on 40, quiet has become very important to me. Now get off my lawn, you kids!
A grim little tale of a pack of losers leading sad and desperate lives in L.A. in the 1930's. Tod is an artist with a job at one of the movie studios,...moreA grim little tale of a pack of losers leading sad and desperate lives in L.A. in the 1930's. Tod is an artist with a job at one of the movie studios, and he's in lust with Faye, a wannabe actress with no talent and a sick father, who has made it clear that she has no interest in Tod, but that doesn't stop her from teasing him. Homer Simpson (Bear in mind that this was written before Matt Groening was even born.) is a yokel in from Iowa who came to California for his health who apparently has some form of OCD that involves his hands having minds of their own. Throw in a Hollywood producer, a handsome cowboy who just leans against a building all day, a guy who runs cock fights, and a very small bookie, and you've got a crowd of misfits who will make almost anyone feel better about their own lives.
This has some incredible writing with short spot-on depictions of hopelessness and quiet despair. Just to make this an even happier read, the introduction tells how the author, West, was friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald and was killed in a car accident while rushing to F. Scott's funeral. This is the book that just keeps on giving. Unfortunately, what it's giving is depression.
The worst thing about the book isn't even the author's fault. Having a character named Homer Simpson makes it hard to read something as serious fiction, especially a book like this. Every time I saw the name, I started grinning, even as as the story is describing his sad and shabby little life. All that was missing was an alcoholic named Barney.(less)
Set in the early '70's as the Vietnam War was winding down, Converse (a guy, not a shoe)is supposedly a journalist, but in reality has gone to Vietnam...moreSet in the early '70's as the Vietnam War was winding down, Converse (a guy, not a shoe)is supposedly a journalist, but in reality has gone to Vietnam mostly as a tourist. As he gets ready to return home, he gets involved with a deal to smuggle a large quantity of almost pure heroin back into the states, and he has reason to think that the CIA is covertly sponsoring the plan.
Converse recruits a former soldier, Hicks, to get the dope back into the States and hand it off to his wife, Marge. Marge is supposed to hand it off to others per arrangments Converse has made. However, once the drugs are in the states, things go wrong, and Hicks and Marge end up on the run from a couple of thugs and a government agent. Converse returns home to find the deal is blown and is soon in desperate trouble himself.
Even though most of this book is set in the U.S., it's really about the effect that Vietnam had on America. Once your government has unleashed large scale death and destruction on another country for murky reasons, keeping your own moral compass seems naive. Get what you can, do what you want, and don't worry about the consequences. It explains most of the 1970s.
But the book is a cautionary tale about this view. It says that if you go this route, beware. You've bought into the law of the jungle, and there are a lot of predators out there. Just because you think you're ready to live outside the law because you saw some bad shit and think you've jettisoned the conscience that comes with your place in society, that doesn't mean you're ready to deal with the people who never had one to begin with.
I don't know why but I always get a huge kick out of reading an older sci-fi story that was set in the near future, but it's a date I've lived through...moreI don't know why but I always get a huge kick out of reading an older sci-fi story that was set in the near future, but it's a date I've lived through. In 2001, I'd just randomly shout, "Kubrick and Clarke were wrong,! We don't have bases on the moon! Those fools!" This is another one where Phil didn't exactly nail 1992 writing in 1969, but it's still a pretty good story.
In this 1992, there are people with psionic powers like telepathy or precognition that are used for industrial sabotage, and rival firms are hired to stop it. The dead can be kept in a half-life state and can have limited communication with the living.
Joe Chip is a tester for Glen Runcitor's anti-psi security firm, and when a job with a team of Runcitor employees goes horribly wrong, Joe finds reality shifting around him and is soon unable to distinguish past from present and what's real from what isn't. The only constant thing are ads telling him to try the wonderful product Ubik.
This is Philip K. doing his usual mind-bending thing, but this time instead of just questioning identity or memory, he's questioning the nature of reality itself. A little dated, but pretty good stuff with a lot of dark humor, which is something there isn't enough of in sci-fi.(less)
I really want to like Thomas Pynchon. I love the whole brilliant but reclusive author act, and all the cool kids at the library seem to think he’s the...moreI really want to like Thomas Pynchon. I love the whole brilliant but reclusive author act, and all the cool kids at the library seem to think he’s the cat’s ass. But I’m starting to think that he and I are never going to be friends.
I tried to read Gravity’s Rainbow twice and wound up curled up in the fetal position , crying while sucking my thumb. Supposedly, this is his most accessible book. It was easier to read than GR, but easier to understand? Well…….
Oedipa Maas unexpectedly finds herself as the executor to a wealthy former lover’s estate. While trying to deal with that, she begins meeting odd people and seeing symbols that lead her to a bizarre conspiracy theory about a centuries old society called the Trystero that is mostly known for running an underground postal system. But the more evidence she finds about the Trystero existing makes Oedipa increasingly paranoid about whether she’s the victim of an elaborate hoax or if she’s losing her own sanity.
This is one of those books that I enjoyed while reading, but knew that I was missing a whole layer of meaning. I loved the idea of a rogue postal service and how Pynchon played with it as the idea of an urban myth or conspiracy theory. It’s probably the kind of book that I’ll really only get on a second reading so I’ll try it again someday.(less)