No matter what we tell ourselves, we all secretly want to live forever. It follows that a good memoir serves as vicarious life exPosted at Heradas.com
No matter what we tell ourselves, we all secretly want to live forever. It follows that a good memoir serves as vicarious life extension, toward this eternally minded, unachievable end. A glimpse into an alternate possibility. Between the pages unfolds what could’ve been — if. If we were born at a different time. If we had different circumstances. If we had different interests. If we were altogether different people through any number of natural or nurtural deviations against our norm.
I’ve long been obsessed with those whose lives are lived on the rough and ragged edges of society. The way in which William Finnegan splits his time between war correspondence and surfing — two extreme lifestyles on their own, together in one individual — was properly interesting. His clean prose and serious storytelling chops certainly didn’t hurt either. There’s a very good reason this book won him a Pulitzer.
Throughout his childhood in Hawaii, he didn’t fit. An outsider, ethnically and socially. As a child his whole personality seemed to ricochet off of the locale, grasping at a world filled with violence for a handhold to guide him. The time period in which he came of age added to his dissociation among his peers. Eventually he found surfing as a wild, violent, introverted escape from his lack of acceptance. It held just enough of a loner mentality to capture those with similar social needs. This conglomeration of loners he met while chasing waves became his friends; a tertiary social net composed of outcasts.
“We were fellow skeptics—rationalists, readers of books in a world of addled, inane mystics.”
He describes surfing as “a consuming, physically exhausting, joy-drenched reason to live”. One that had a “vaguely outlaw uselessness” that “neatly expressed one’s disaffection.” Who doesn’t want something like that in their life? It’s the reason people free climb, skateboard, race motorcycles, and spend time in the woods, running themselves to exhaustion. It’s why marathons are a thing, bull-fighting, spelunking.
Throughout Barbarian days, Finnegan contrasts the intensity of a life spent surfing, with that of a life spent chasing stories across war-torn countries. These are the divisions that comprise his whole. He sees himself as a man who needs to chase danger, and can only relax after having exhausted that part of himself. I can relate to a tiny degree. He can only be calm when he has faced his intense, possible death. I can only truly rest when I’ve exhausted my dual needs for effective productivity and creative endeavor. I need to see evidence of my existence in the world or I can never be still.
Eventually he would settle down: marriage, children, home ownership, and moving to New York City did indeed soften him somewhat, but the fire at his core was never extinguished. It only sat at a simmer, waiting to be flooded with the particular brand of fuel needed to burn up the excess energy of his life.
After writing up a report of those around him — including other reporters — dying in the act of journaling the insanity they were embedded in, he would surf. Every chance he got, he would surf. The fervor with which he expressed his desire to surf, was never repetitive. Surfing, it seems, is part addiction, part meditation. A calming obsession for the soul.
Being not remotely interested in surfing, or living that kind of life, I was still fascinated to see the myriad ways something I had previously thought extremely repetitious — the act of waiting for a wave, catching it, riding it back to shore, again and again — was instead full of rapturous intrigue, and a kind of fascination that I had not previously known associated with any sort of sport.
My favorite parts of this book, again having no interest in surfing myself, were the human moments between surfing sessions. The characters that populate this memoir, were so interesting, simply because they weren’t normal people. They live intense, chaotic lives, left of center, unstable, but full of passion. Something most of our stable, silly lives could use a lot more of.
A life in vans, sleeping on beaches, running from cops, defrauding American Express to pay for hospitalization due to malaria. These are wild lives. People who thrive only through chasing death, and therefore have a better grasp on what a good life might entail. Things most of us are far too cowardly to do ourselves—or I am at least.
“If this was a religion, perhaps it didn’t bear thinking about what was being worshipped.”
A particularly touching moment in Barbarian Days is when William asks his wife why she never gets angry about all of the “stupid risky things” he does. She responds that she simply assumed he needed to do them. “When things get bad, I think you get very calm,” she says. “I trust your judgment.” It’s such a tender moment that illuminates a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.
They all seem like intense people, even the girlfriends of his youth and his eventual wife. Artist to lawyer is not a normal career path to follow, but it makes sense for her. It shows an intensity in all things. A life full of passion. And who doesn’t want to read about passionate people?...more
I have to admit that I’m blown away. This is how you do a middle book in a series! I had a few misgivings about The Collapsing Empire (and some of ScaI have to admit that I’m blown away. This is how you do a middle book in a series! I had a few misgivings about The Collapsing Empire (and some of Scalzi’s earlier novels), but he has completely outdone himself with this second Interdependency book. It’s fun to see his writing get better and better as he goes. The pacing is tighter, the story flows with more fluidity, the characters are much more distinct from one another now, the prose is drastically improved over the last one, and the payoff is massive. I may have actually thrown the book down and said “Yes! Wow, that was satisfying.” when I finished it.
I’ve mentioned before that, thematically speaking at least, the Interdependency series is Scalzi’s Dune. That still rings true, but The Consuming Fire also feels as dense and conspiratorial as A Song of Ice and Fire, or like a solid espionage thriller. It tells a compelling story while also blowing the worldbuilding wide open and fleshing out some of the concepts that were underdeveloped in The Collapsing Empire. All of this and it does a fantastic job of catching the reader up with effortless exposition, in case it’s been a little while since you read the first in the series. I went back and reread the first book in the series just before starting this one in an effort to refresh my mind on the events thus far, but honestly, I think you could pick up The Consuming Fire as your first read in this series without really missing much. After 20-30 pages you’re all caught up and good to go. It’s impressively handled. ...more
Trying to live a life as tidy as possible, only following the “best” path, never taking a chance or a detour or trying a new roLet a little chaos in.
Trying to live a life as tidy as possible, only following the “best” path, never taking a chance or a detour or trying a new route is a recipe for a fearful life. It brings the fear of untidiness, fear of the new, fear of the unknown, fear of differences and eccentricities, but most of all… fear of change and its inherent force for destruction and growth.
This is a beautiful, humorous, touching story about allowing room for a little chaos in your life, and how embracing our differences rather than our similarities, makes the whole world more interesting, and in the process, makes us all a little less afraid. Particularly of each other.
When characters in this book begin to accept the chaos, they start to notice how pervasive the fear before acceptance was, how it underlined everything. The chaos was never to blame, only the fear:
“It was the fear that people noticed most, though. Within a year, most people could barely remember what they were once afraid of.” ...more
Mohsin Hamid has created something wonderful with this endearing, and perfectly formed short novel. What an evocative and striking waPosted at Heradas
Mohsin Hamid has created something wonderful with this endearing, and perfectly formed short novel. What an evocative and striking way to discuss refugees, ideological war, tribalism, and love. This book broke through my exterior barriers and nurtured something tender inside of me. It seems for the most part, people are really the same, and we all want the same things regardless of where we come from: security, companionship, and the means to better ourselves. The things we’ve lived through, our experiences, coalesce and form us into who we are, shaping the basis of what we might become.
"We are all migrants through time."
Windows and doors feature heavily in Exit West. The dangers of the ongoing war between the militants and the government in our protagonists’ unnamed middle eastern country, enter through windows. As the war grows more serious, every glass pane holds within it the potential to become lacerating shrapnel. The ongoing fighting perverts everything into something it was never intended to be. Windows into shrapnel. Streets into battlegrounds. Characters are killed accidentally through the glass windshields of their cars by misguided munitions. Windows are boarded up, taped up, or obscured for security, limiting the light available indoors.
Doors are where the magical aspect of the story comes into play. Most of the time doors operate as normal, allowing passage from one room to another, from outside to inside, or inside to out. But sometimes, at seemingly random and unpredictable moments, certain doors have started leading elsewhere, to adjacent doors in other lands. Offering a means of escape from local dangers, and passage to the relative safety and wealth of the West. Doors like these are opening up all over the world, and just as the relative size of the world was flattened and reduced dramatically with the invention of the internet, these doors literally fold and flatten the space between the Eastern and Western, Southern and Northern corners of the world. The myriad ways in which this change impacts the societies in the novel was the most interesting aspect of the story for me.
As the effective distance between continents diminishes, the realities of the world that were once far away from the wealthy and fortunate, were once nebulous and ethereal to them, are made vividly real and close. Travel, particularly meeting and interacting with those unlike ourselves, is said to be one of the best ways to overcome existing prejudices and preconceived notions about those from human tribes different from our own. With these doors that have started connecting us, everyone, everywhere has now come into contact with several individuals unlike themselves. Millions begin fleeing from the poorer nations to the richer ones, and this starts to cause a rapid change and instability among the natives of the richer lands.
"Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians."
This change is met with a variety of responses: fear, compassion, intrigue, curiosity, hope, etc. What Exit West does so well is give a glimpse into the daily realities of refugees fleeing from war torn countries, the sorts of terrors they can be running from, the sort of hope they often subside on. It broke my heart, and I think will go a long way toward making me a better, more compassionate person.
In addition to the wonderful social commentary, Exit West is also a love story of the highest caliber, a magically real fairy tale, unafraid to shy away from the realities of love, loss, and the changes quickened or postponed by devastating circumstances. The relationship between Saeed and Nadia grows and expands as the narrative progresses. They are one thing to each other in the beginning and another thing entirely by the end. They meet as students of higher education in their country of origin, and I found it interesting to compare and contrast their story with that of a western couple meeting for the first time at a college in America. In a lot of ways, the extreme situations they find themselves in, possibly hold them together for longer than would be ideal had they been born into different circumstances.
As someone who has never had a similar experience, I found the ways in which Nadia was able to insulate and protect herself in a culture she felt somewhat apart from, particularly interesting. The ways in which a system sometimes inadvertently makes available tools with which we can protect ourselves from that system is a fascinating area to examine. I think it speaks toward the ingenuity of humans to utilize everything that is available to us to better our prospects and secure the future we desire.
"He knew how little it took to make a man into meat: the wrong blow, the wrong gunshot, the wrong flick of a blade, turn of a car, presence of a microorganism in a handshake, a cough. He was aware that alone a person is almost nothing."
All of my friends who have previously read Exit West specifically mentioned to me that the ending crushed them, brought them to tears or reduced them into a weeping, bumbling mess. It didn’t have that effect on me at all. Instead, I found it unbelievably beautiful, and I sat in contemplative awe, marveling at how perfect the ending was, that the author had pulled it off so elegantly. How in retrospect it was the only possible real ending, and the one I hoped the book would arrive at. It was an evocative, emotionally satisfying scene to finish the story.
To me, Exit West is overall, a hopeful novel, but it touches on deadly serious themes and the brutalities of human existence. I found it moving and beautifully expressed. It is a book that I plan on revisiting many times throughout my life....more
“The totality of human endeavor is nothing when set against the stars.”
Sometimes the best way to experience a novel is going in completely blind. I found The Gone World at my local library bookshop and had no idea what I was getting myself into, in the best way. Reading it split my head clean open. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled. After finishing the novel, it left me in this kind of fugue state that I haven’t been able to escape. It completely blindsided me. Usually I dislike the phrase “compulsively readable” but it definitely applies here. I couldn’t put it down, I had to know what was going on in this story.
The Gone World is a bit of a genre-bender, so I’m going to back up and talk about genre a little. Several years ago the visual artist Ward Shelley created a piece chronicling the history of science fiction. He began with the roots of the genre: Fear and Wonder, Speculation and Observation, and traced them down through Philosophy and Cultural Criticism all the way to our current moment, marking notable works along the way. Forgive my oversimplification of this magnificent piece of art (you really should check it out for yourself, it’s quite a thing), but there’s a moment along the visual line where a branch occurs, Science and eventually Science Fiction coming through The Enlightenment, the Gothic Novel and eventually Horror following from the Counter-Enlightenment/Anti-Rational thread. These disparate lineages, one born of Fear, the other of Wonder, branch out into genres and sub-genres, staying mostly separate. What The Gone World does so expertly is marry the pre-horror Gothic novel “fear” back together with Science Fiction's “wonder” in perfectly equal measure.
Usually I’ve found Science fiction suspense thrillers to be a little ham fisted. There’s often a solid idea but the execution is clumsy, or the SF aspects are merely genre tropes. Sometimes the mystery is a little too obvious, or the characters are as translucent as the paper in a cheap paperback. Worst of all is when the story gets bogged down by the science and it becomes more of a textbook than a novel. This isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of “hard” sci-fi, but story and character need to come first. The Gone World doesn’t succumb to any of these traps. It works surprisingly well as both science fiction and a modern mainstream suspense thriller. The SF aspects help the story to avoid the tropes of suspense thrillers and vice versa, each genre serving to make up for the possible shortcomings of the other.
The Gone World’s prologue begins with a hell of a hook. I haven’t been hooked like this in the first few pages of a novel in a long time. This is a disturbing and unique take on time travel and alternate worlds that’s unlike anything I’ve read. Think the horrific existential dread of Lovecraft or Robert Chambers, that so obviously inspired the first season of True Detective, filtered through Arthur C. Clarke’s grand ideas, all told as an incredibly tight mainstream suspense thriller with a terrific protagonist. Throw in a dash of Minority Report, and a pinch of the complexity of Primer and you’ve got a good idea what you’re getting yourself into. Mysteries in mysteries in mysteries, and they all resolve pretty well.
I little googling revealed that both of Tom Sweterlitsch’s novels have been optioned for film adaptations, and that The Gone World is set to be written/directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). In addition to this, Sweterlitsch co-wrote several of those incredible Oats Studios short films that Blomkamp directed last year. If you haven’t seen them yet, check them out. They’re terrific. It's been recently announced that Blomkamp's next film will be a direct sequel to the original Robocop, which makes me worried his adaptation of The Gone World may be on the back burner for now. Only time will tell.
The Gone World gut-punched my head over and over again, which is enough to solidify my interest in everything that Sweterlitsch does from here on out....more
What you should know: The book is fantastic, and I couldn’t help but absorb it in just a few days. I feel like it really got at the coPosted at Heradas
What you should know: The book is fantastic, and I couldn’t help but absorb it in just a few days. I feel like it really got at the core of human insecurity, gender and income inequality, female friendships, and our hierarchy of needs. Somehow it’s also a page-turner and an engaging story. It blows my mind that all of those things are possible in one short novel. I guarantee that it’ll get under your skin and soak in.
Ferrante vs. Knausgaard: Even though I’ve only read this first novel in the sequence, it’s hard for me to resist the urge to compare Ferrante’s Neapolitan series to Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
Both series are: multi-volume, non-English, first person page-turner novels spanning several decades of their character’s lives, first published in English in 2012, with subsequent volumes appearing annually. They both feature straightforward, simple prose, detailing the ins and outs of their characters’ lives, and are deeply, sometimes disturbingly honest in tone. They both tackle a lot of the same themes, but from inside different experiences. If you enjoyed one, I’d highly recommend the other. Especially if you're a guy who enjoyed Knausgaard, you owe it to yourself to read something similar, but from a female perspective. Ferrante’s writing really put me inside that experience in an empathic way.
They are also vastly different from one another: The Neapolitan Novels are fictitious, set in Italy, viscerally violent, told in a mostly linear, chronological order, feature short chapters, supposedly gained a lot in translation, are written pseudonymously, and have a tight focus on the friendship between two female characters over the years.
My Struggle is wildly non-linear, purportedly autobiographical, set mostly in Norway, meandering, has no chapters whatsoever, steeped in nostalgia, and is tightly focused on Knausgaard's view of his general failings as a man, before, after, and during his journey toward becoming a writer.
Describing Gnomon is a challenge, because it’s simultaneously many different things: A cautionary tale about our modern moment’s convergence of technoDescribing Gnomon is a challenge, because it’s simultaneously many different things: A cautionary tale about our modern moment’s convergence of technology, surveillance, and human hubris. A matryoshkian novel, as narratively complex as it is straightforward and readable, that is itself ultimately all about storytelling, narrative, and books. A satisfyingly self-aware postmodern book that wants access to your mind as a tool to self-propagate. A beautifully designed physical book (Chip Kidd doesn’t mess around). A book that teaches you how to read it as you read it.
Gnomon is also staggeringly vast in its scope and ambition: It’s about math, immigration, surveillance, sharks, encryption, ancient Rome, video games, economics, hive minds, the near future, the far future, liberty and security, mirrors and parallels, disconnection, right angles, mythology, time travel, social manipulation, the human connectome, steganography, racism, intertextuality, detective novels, religion, castouts, manipulation, our ever changing definition of reality, interrogation, torture, and so many, many other things.
If you like books by Borges, Neal Stephenson, Cherise Wolas, David Mitchell, David Foster Wallace or Ted Chiang, this is one I think you will immensely enjoy....more
This novel was really something special, definitely a new favorite and a book that I’ll be coming back to often in the future.Posted at Heradas Review
This novel was really something special, definitely a new favorite and a book that I’ll be coming back to often in the future. It’s undeniably clever, darkly humorous, and highly self-aware. It’s cerebral and incredibly well written. It rewards the reader, and sends them down and through a rabbit hole of literature. I found myself torn between wanting to read it slowly, savoring the prose and unique deconstruction of language, and wanting to quickly arrive at the resolution because the story was so engaging. I ended up reading the first half over three or four days, and slamming the second half all in one sitting.
Growth's main character Bburke is a relatively uneducated fellow, living a simple life, rooted in the present. His primary pursuits are his artistic passion toward landscaping, and consuming a comically large but sadly plausible quantity of cheap beer. He’s never learned how to properly probe the depths of his lack of self-awareness. Ambrose Bierce’s highly cynical early twentieth century lexical masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, said it best when it defined Education as: “That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.” The question is: To which camp does Bburke belong? Is he wise or foolish?
Sometimes blissful ignorance may be preferable to a better understanding, especially when that better understanding holds the power to make us painfully aware of the sad state of our affairs. Enter S.A. and Dickie T, Bburke’s “well-read” recently higher educated hired helpers at his landscaping company. Bburke is about to receive an education of sorts, whether he’d like to or not.
I loved the unique structure used to frame the story. Different literary forms and styles are stacked and layered, like a cake that at first glance has six layers, but on closer inspection actually contains three sublayers inside each macro one. Hopping from style to style kept things fresh, but throughout all of this was a taut narrative thread, tightly connecting events and creating a barreling momentum. The result was a highly engaging, fun, character based tale that never sacrificed quality prose or form in pursuit of being fun and engaging.
It’s safe to say this is a book written for book lovers. Those familiar with the works of Camus, David Foster Wallace, Mary Shelley, Mark Twain and others will be pleasantly surprised. A lot of the main story revolved around the ways in which steeping oneself in literature can change a person, for better and worse. Reading a book is often said to be like having a conversation with the author, and Growth utilized a fun, postmodern take on that saying to illustrate the method in which Bburke internalizes what he reads. He is a non-traditional learner, and he reads in unconventional ways. Have I mentioned how fun this novel is yet? It’s very fun.
Growth actively comments on itself throughout. This is a living breathing thing. The narrator calls out obvious macguffins in the plot and marks future ones as such, the legitimacy of thin characters is called into question, and Bburke himself occasionally seems right on the cusp of realizing that he might exist only as a character in a novel. I’m a sucker for anything that continues in-line with that terrific Cervantes tradition.
The way that Dickie T and S.A.’s dialogue was handled is so perfect. They read like two halves of the same theoretical person, and their banter felt straight out of a DeLillo or DFW novel. Since they are the two characters who are readers, it seems most likely that S.A and Dickie T are familiar with those writers, wish they existed in their novels, and choose to speak as if they do. So much is revealed about them just through the form of their banter. Basically, they’ve read some books, and they think oh so highly of themselves for it. Writing their dialogue, and only their dialogue in this style shows fantastic restraint on Smith’s part. The form itself served the characters and story.
I’m not particularly well-read when it comes to the classics, but I could see Growth rewarding those who are. I wouldn’t say being well-read is a prerequisite for enjoying it, but I think there’s another layer of entertainment available to those who are. I think this works on many different levels for many different readers. Be forewarned though, it will instill in you a desire to revisit some classics, or maybe even approach them for the first time. There are definitely a few more books on my TBR because of this one.
I don’t want to say any more or comment on any vital story points, because I think this is probably best experienced with unspoiled eyes. Check it out, it’s fantastic....more
5/6/18 edit: Heads up, this is available in paperback now.
Finishing this magnificent novel was a bittersweet affair. Sweet becPosted at Heradas Review
5/6/18 edit: Heads up, this is available in paperback now.
Finishing this magnificent novel was a bittersweet affair. Sweet because it was a powerful joy to read; experiencing what a writer that possesses such a mastery of her craft can do with words, continually in awe at the bravery of this story, and how she approached it. Bitter because I’ve lived with her character Joan Ashby these past couple weeks, judged her a little unfairly at times, learned as she did, gotten to know her well as she grew and adapted, and now we are forced to part ways because the book is done. She’s such an interesting creation, and I want to keep her around a little longer. Most especially, I want to read the rest of her stories, and novels that she wrote during her life inside of this book. I’d be 100% okay if Wolas chose to write and publish them eventually.
This is Cherise Wolas’ debut as a novelist, but it is so well formed you would never think it her first published novel. It has none of the usual shortcomings that early efforts often do. I’m thinking she has always written. She is obviously very practiced, and a remarkably skilled storyteller to have put together something this comprehensive. If this book doesn’t get shortlisted for several big awards next year, I’d be shocked at the injustice. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins more than a few of them.
Her prose is beautiful and flowing, and her characters contain multitudes, especially Ashby as we get to see her create her own characters (some of them writers as well) and bring them to life with flowing prose. Wolas’ ability to write as herself, as her characters, and as her characters’ characters is just breathtaking. The subtle shifts in style as the novel dips into and back out of Ashby’s writing, were handled with grace, and they added some postmodern flair to the whole thing. It’s like a novel that contains a short story collection, and reminds me of reading both at the same time, breaking up the main story with little miniature ones that interject here and there, never taking away from the momentum. It just works.
My favorite part of this is seeing how Ashby learns about herself, and deals with events in her own life through her fiction; through the characters that take on some of the traits of those around her; never directly putting her own life, events, and acquaintances directly into her work, but borrowing bits here and there and reconfiguring them into new dramatic events and characters. It’s refreshing to see the creative process stripped bare and represented accurately like this. Everything is a remix of our influences, and our lives, blown apart and amalgamated. In the latter half of the book, we even start to get a small glimpse into one possible future direction for Ashby, through the fiction that she creates. It’s subtly done and I love it. We see her working things out, coming to terms with traumatic events, and coming out the other side, all part of her process of creation and renewal.
Our world has never been more filled with incoherent clutter masquerading as information. It’s present in every corner of our Posted at Heradas Review
Our world has never been more filled with incoherent clutter masquerading as information. It’s present in every corner of our lives today; tomorrow it’ll likely be even worse. The data pool has been so polluted with gibberish that in 2017 we have politicians who can’t seem to agree on what exactly constitutes a fact. Vapid internet-meme culture teaches us to repeat slightly modified nothings to each other, over and over again for internet points redeemable for exactly the same – nothing. We are bombarded with huge amounts of junk data every single day of our lives, and sorting through it to get to the morsels of useful information is becoming a necessary life skill.
How often do you read a headline, skip the article, and read the most popular comment to learn what your opinion should be? I’m guilty of doing that, big time, and I wasn’t even aware of it until someone pointed it out. There is just so much information available to us from every outlet, all competing for our attention – most of it trying to sell us something – that we don’t have near enough time to read it all. So, what do we do? Let’s circle back to that in a sec.
As defined in this book, Cruft is any text in a work of fiction that doesn’t particularly add anything to that work. You could call it “junk text”. When you hear someone complaining about a particular page-count heavy novel as “meandering” or “painfully boring”, they’re most likely complaining about the Cruft of that novel. Instead of merely being extraneous fat that should’ve been trimmed by a more talented editor, Letzler argues that Cruft may have a specific, useful purpose in these mega-novels, and he has well thought-out, very persuasive arguments to back up his thinking.
The gist of the argument is this: Cruft isn’t necessarily bad. It can be viewed as a tool to help us learn to modulate our attentional faculties. He argues that by reading Cruft containing mega-novels we learn the valuable skill of how to sift pertinent information from the non-important, and this skill can be applied to other areas of our lives; learning when to skim and when to pay attention. After all, mega-novels so often hide bits of useful information buried in a pile of red herrings. If you read enough novels like this, you’re bound to improve picking the useful bits through the clutter. This line of thinking redefines boredom and confusion as features of mega-novels, instead of pejorative descriptors. He also argues that these descriptors often say a lot more about the person doing the describing than the actual novel itself.
I tend to agree, and I love this argument. It’s something I’ve been dancing around for a while, but never really put into words. If you’re a fan of huge, “boring” novels (like I am), then you’ll undoubtedly adore this academic literary criticism deconstructing the inherent value of the most boring parts of those novels. I had to laugh at myself a little while reading it, because there’s something so deliciously postmodern about reading a book all about the most boring parts of boring books. It was always interesting, and to its credit, contained no Cruft of its own. Something that I consider a huge achievement, given the subject matter.
Of course, the argument is not without its own issues, the least of which being that it’s a tad self-serving for a fan of mega-novels to find a way to praise even the most boring parts of them, but Letzler does a wonderful job illustrating these counter arguments right off the bat. I love a good academic approach like this, because when it’s done correctly, the author will spend a good portion of their writing laying out all of the problems with their main thesis, and then work backward from there in order to argue their point more effectively. It adds so much solidity if you can show that you’re already aware of the detractions against your view. He pulls it off marvelously here, and covers absolutely every angle of the concept.
Each chapter is categorically organized according to the different types of extant Cruft commonly found in mega-novels. There are numerous examples and case studies from novels like Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, 2666, House of Leaves, J R, and lots of others that are notoriously Cruft heavy. It’s all very well illustrated and argued, and the sections covering the handful of novels discussed that I haven’t read, were often more interesting to me than the ones covering the novels that I have. I’ve always thought that good non-fiction books should introduce the reader to several more books to read, and this one is no exception. My TBR pile has grown, yet again.
So the next time you feel your attention wandering, try to approach your boredom as a feature rather than a failure. Focus in on it and see what it’s telling you. Instead of just reading that headline and skipping to the comments, read the whole article, but try skimming through it; pull the interesting bits forward from the Cruft. You just might be able to train yourself to be a more effective reader....more
Doctorow expertly breaks down and illustrates just how much we lose societally by allowing intermediaries to stipulate things entirelPosted at Heradas
Doctorow expertly breaks down and illustrates just how much we lose societally by allowing intermediaries to stipulate things entirely outside of their business through lobbying and extortion of all parties involved. It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted deep examination of digital rights, copyright, piracy, net neutrality, and the human tendency toward protecting our own interests at the detriment of everyone else (including, unbeknownst to us, ourselves).
At first it made me angry, then it made me paranoid, and finally it made me angry again when I realized just how paranoid I actually have to be now that I understand this stuff a little more. After working my way through that cycle a few times, I’ve actually come out the other side more hopeful than I was when I went in. I feel a little more informed on just how serious the situation actually is, and I now have a huge amount of respect for the EFF and all the work they’re doing to combat ridiculous things like SOPA/PIPA, and anti Net-Neutrality nutjobs.
I recommend it for pretty much anyone that would like to hang on to their privacy in an increasingly invasive world....more
“What was consciousness other than the surface of the soul’s ocean?”
Book five details Karl Ove’s life from around age nineteen to thirty-three, but in a lot of ways it feels like the closing chapter of My Struggle. Of course there is still one more book coming in the pipeline; whose english translation I hear has been delayed again, this time until “Fall 2018” due to it being twelve-hundred pages and requiring an additional translator in order to handle the extra page load. According to Knausgaard, the forthcoming sixth volume is supposed to be more about his friend’s and family’s reception to their portrayal in the first five books. That should be very interesting.
This wouldn’t be a review of a My Struggle book if I didn’t mention how fascinatingly readable the prose was. I say fascinatingly readable because I have no idea why it is. I really can’t explain it, but his writing gets inside of me and latches onto something. He does such a fantastic job of relating the deep rooted sense of isolation we experience from, and along with the rest of humanity. We seem to keep two groups in our minds: the self (Us), and everyone else (Them). We are always alone even in company, because we can never truly verify that anyone else really exists.
More than any of the others this book is all about Karl Ove coming to terms with the realities of being a writer. At 19-20 he is in love with the mythology of writing, but not so much with the actual act of writing. He loves the idea but not the reality. He takes criticism of his work very poorly, very personally. He sees himself as not having the depth of soul to truly write like his influences. He feels that there is a chasm between him and others; that he is living a duplicitous life; that he is an imposter and everyone else the genuine article. I think that this ties deeply into his ultimate reason for writing My Struggle: I think he’s trying to demolish the barrier between his private and public life in a way so destructive, it cannot be undone. I think he needs that barrier to break down.
He states several times that he feels he is a separate person internally than who he is perceived to be externally. He’s able to alleviate this somewhat through heavy drinking, but heavy drinking causes him insurmountable other issues. When he drinks too much, he’s finally comfortable, but he does all kinds of things that bring him shame, and this adds to his compartmentalization of his true self from his public self. In writing this 3600 page, six volume highly personal memoir novel, he is forcing his internal and external, depth and surface selves to intermingle and become one. Since he feels trapped in this situation, to me it seems like a way for him to force himself out.
The character of Karl Ove - I say character because he says over and over that he doesn’t remember much from the periods of time he’s covering, therefore there is definitely a percentage of events and memories that are invented - is the perfect anti-hero. He is often very abrasive to those around him, doing things that are terrible to those he loves, but we’re given so much of his internal thought process that we relate with the reasons for his actions. In a way, it’s more that he’s just very honest about his faults and shortcomings as well as his achievements. Usually when we tell our own stories, we leave out all of the rough edges, and paint ourselves in a much better light. Instead, he seems to be making an effort at self-mythologizing as objectively as he can. Worts and all.
Really, we are all anti-heroes in our own stories when we’re honest about both the bad and the good that we’ve done. I think this is why the concept of an anti-hero is so broadly appealing in stories; it’s really just a well developed character. If a character doesn’t have a little darkness inside of them, they don’t feel real to us.
In conclusion, I loved this book. It wove together the disparate threads from the previous four books very tightly. It was also the first to move almost entirely in a linear fashion, which was a big departure from the others. Finishing it makes me want to go back and reread book two, which was previously my least favorite, but I think the additional insight and perspective gained from reading five would make it much more interesting. The main narrative of book two chronologically lands right after the events of book five. I think that book five could be read before book two, and might even be best experienced in that order.
You’ll usually find this in the literary criticism section of a book shop, and having now read it, I can’t exactly argue with Posted at Heradas Review
You’ll usually find this in the literary criticism section of a book shop, and having now read it, I can’t exactly argue with that placing, but I can say that it would also be right at home in many other sections: cultural anthropology, sociology, memoir, philosophy, history, poetry, or even general fiction (if I’m feeling particularly objective). It’s a lot of things in one, which means that the book itself fully embodies the crux of its own argument, to get all postmodern on you, which simply put is: the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is not as black and white as we think. Or written another way, and quoting directly from the book: “Writing is writing. Every act of composition is an act of fiction.”
I picked this book up and put it back down several times before eventually breaking down and buying it. I kept bumping into it at my favorite used bookshop, thumbing through it and reading little bits here and there, finding myself confused by the format -- was it a book of quotes or a book of random thoughts? -- eventually judging it too odd and putting it back on the shelf. The next time I came back, it would be gone (of course!), and I found myself missing it, getting what I would consider the opposite of buyer’s remorse, wishing that I had taken it home with me when I had the chance. Eventually, of course, another copy would show up on the shelves and I would start the whole process over again. Eventually that Chip Kidd cover won me over and I took it home.
This is basically the postmodern literary equivalent of building a song out of samples. I was about halfway through before I realized that a huge chunk of this book is sourced from elsewhere, remixed, modified, recombined, and used interstitially between genuine writing done by Shields himself to tie this whole crazy opus together. It’s brilliant and absurd and since it’s sourced from hundreds of different people, it speaks in a lot of contradictory absolutes about art, writing, reality, “reality”, memory, copyright, fiction, identity, persona, subjectivity, the nature of creativity, etc. It contains a lot of things I agree with, a lot that I don’t, and a lot that I’m not so sure about anymore.
Whatever it is, it’s deeply misunderstood. Read a few reviews and you’ll find people who hate it with a passion or ecstatically adore it. You won’t find too many in the middle. Which honestly, is the exact kind of reaction you want something to evoke in others. Otherwise, it’s just mediocre right? Anyway, I think those people with intense opinions on it are thinking way too literally, and might benefit from the practice of trying to hold two opposing opinions in their heads at the same time, and mulling them over. I think what this book really is, is a jumping off point to start a conversation about what is real, what is fake, and why ultimately, maybe it really doesn’t matter that much, and maybe we should stop classifying things and let art be art. Let journalism handle facts, and let both our non-fiction and fiction pieces of art just be.. pieces of art. Maybe we don’t need to worry about which box to put things in anymore. Maybe the process of telling a “true” story injects it with fiction anyway. Or maybe none of that too. Or maybe -- and this is more realistic here -- just some of it. Pick and choose, etc.
It would be a mistake to read this quickly, which is easy to do since it’s so short, and presented in little bite size chunks. There’s just too much going on here to rush through it. It’s a genuine book of ideas. I had to take a lot of breaks -- short and long -- to give myself time to process the concepts. I took a lot of notes to organize my thoughts; trying to get to the bottom of what I was feeling about what was being said. If I came across something that really got my thinking, I threw the book down and went for a walk to mull it over a little. Or maybe I would just put it down for a few days, read something else, and come back to it when I was really interested again in the questions it was posing; when the ideas were pulling me back in.
Paraphrasing, of course, but some of those questions were: What sort of responsibility should a memoirist have to literal facts? Can we actually trust our memory enough to state anything we remember as fact? How much truth is there in fiction? How much fiction do we allow in non-fiction? If fiction uses lies to tell the truth, can memoir be just another literary genre, soaked in the author’s subjective experience, but the truth of that experience used only as a means to illustrate something more important? If the point of memoir is that more important bit, does it actually have to be married to truth at all? Just what is being “created” in creative non-fiction? Who owns ideas? Do we necessarily always need Form and Story and Narrative and the other usual pieces of storytelling? Is the space between truth and fiction actually more interesting anyway?
I don’t really have a conclusion on this. Like I said earlier, the book is a jumping off point, and I’m still kind of lost in all of the ideas it presented. If you’re interested in any of those questions, I’d suggest you check it out, it’s really quite bizarre, and I think you’ll enjoy it a lot....more
The time period is difficult to pin down. 1950s, 1960s? The setting is never explicitly said to be New York City, but it is. TPosted at Heradas Review
The time period is difficult to pin down. 1950s, 1960s? The setting is never explicitly said to be New York City, but it is. There are clues peppered here and there but the whole thing also has a timeless, every-major-city quality to it. This world is exactly like ours, except elevators are a big, big deal. Their creation has shaped the form and structure of cities; buildings with arrangements of floors vertically stacked ad infinitum up into the sky, a concept itself only possible as a result of reliable, mechanical elevation. Those elevators highly utilized only because they are safe, safe only because of the skilled elevator inspectors laying down the law regarding their maintenance, and upkeep.
All of this is true in our world as well, but here it’s more than just a technicality, it’s elemental as a foundation of their entire modern society; an alternate Americana. Elevators and elevator inspectors are given the same level of awe that airplanes and pilots once had in our version of America. Just as the airplane compressed our world’s surface horizontally, elevators compressed theirs vertically, bringing the unrealized potential of the sky down to earth.
Elevators aren’t just a large aspect of the literal plot of the novel, but used as a metaphor for the ongoing racial struggle of black Americans, among other things. It’s handled elegantly, and I don’t want to touch on it all that much for fear of spoiling the experience. Suffice it to say there are several layers to this elevator-as-metaphor aspect, and they have a unique dialogue with one another.
Almost every corner of the novel mirrors, and folds on itself. The narrative is broken into two sections: Down, and Up: a fall from grace, and a rise from the ashes. A literal crashing down of one elevator, and a possible rising of another, perfected model; a “black box”. The dual and dueling, mirrored approaches to elevator inspection, Empiricism and Intuitionism. The former being the familiar method of visually inspecting, and testing components to ensure their reliability, checking them against tolerances and allowances. The latter embodying what you might call a holistic approach; feeling and communicating mentally, or spiritually with the elevator in an effort to understand what issues may be affecting it. The concept of intuitionism is where a lot of the surreal comedy of the novel stems. Can you imagine a sillier approach to checking a mechanical system? It’s all very Pynchonesque.
This book is an exemplary illustration of the power speculative fiction wields as a form of literature. Because of course, intuiting what ails an elevator is completely ridiculous in the real world, but it’s oddly endearing in an America slightly off from our own. Empiricists don’t respect Intuitionists, but they can’t argue with their results, which statistically, are ever so slightly more effective. It’s a slap in the face for those living a life guided by rules and measurements, when “feeling” a system merits slightly better results than doing your best to follow the rigid structure you are trying to impose on the world. Couple this with the double standards governing white America and black America, men and women, and it becomes poetic. This is used to show that there is always more than one way to approach any topic, any reality that you can interact with. That only using our eyes, can sometimes blind us in other ways, to other things. Reality is what we make it, and limiting ourselves to just one sense can be a dangerous practice indeed. You have to be able to fathom change before you can start to affect it, and this novel has a lot to say about where innovation and change originate, and how best to implement them.
The Intuitionist reminded me, in an odd way, of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. I am unsure if it’s the somewhat similar setting, similar themes of an underclass breaking upward into America proper, or the general mystery aspect of the narrative. Both were published in 1999, maybe there’s a similar cultural background at play? Whatever the reason, I find them comparable novels....more
“...he would have to work out the social game for himself. He would have to learn he would get nowhere by whining or tellinPosted at Heradas Review
“...he would have to work out the social game for himself. He would have to learn he would get nowhere by whining or telling tales.”
Karl Ove isn’t talking about himself in this quote, but he might as well be. Eighteen year old Karl Ove spends most of the book whining about his inability to lose his virginity, and attempting to write short fiction (telling tales). You might think I’m joking, but I think the moral of this story is that people should masturbate more often, and especially in their early teenage years. Let me backtrack a bit…
Like book 3, book 4 doesn’t jump around as much as 1 and 2. It stays mostly focused on his life from age sixteen to eighteen, with an occasional leap forward to 2009; Karl Ove in his early forties writing the book you’re reading; his wife and children asleep in the next room. I have to mention that I’m a sucker for these sections where he reminds the reader of his present tense writing of the novel. I don’t know why, but I love it.
Karl Ove as a literary character, is a one of the most unusual protagonists I’ve come across, because he isn’t a protagonist at all. This is unheard of in memoirs. Usually when we tell stories about ourselves, we’re the hero, or at the very least we present ourselves and the situations we get into in the best possible light; painting others as the bully, or the one who deserved what they got, etc. Karl Ove is not like this whatsoever. He lays out every dirty detail, and is extremely hard on himself. He writes himself as the antagonist in his own life story. He also writes about his boner a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I started counting when I noticed the pattern, and eventually lost track at fifteen or so times around the middle of the book.
The main story in this volume involves Karl Ove as a young man who is lost, and his struggle to find the kind of world he fits into. His emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive father has left his mother, started drinking, and seems to be a completely different person than he was when Karl Ove was a boy. He’s starting to see that his father was never happy, and needed something different from life than what he was getting. Also, it’s appearing that he was always a very emotional person, like Karl Ove has always been, crying often, and begging forgiveness of his sons now that they’re grown. Karl Ove is still terrified of him, and doesn’t understand how to reconcile this new person that has replaced his father, with the father that raised him.
At eighteen Karl Ove leaves home for the first time and takes a job as a school teacher in a small fishing community in northern Norway; rural in a different way than he’s familiar with. He’s grossly under qualified for the position, knows it, but wants to be alienated from the familiar. He wants to step a toe outside of his comfort zone. He’s using this experience to save money, and isolate himself so that he can focus on writing more exclusively.
He is absolutely obsessed with losing his virginity, and extremely insecure about his pattern of ejaculating before the act has even begun. In an effort to ease his nerves socially, he begins to drink heavily, which helps him to remain calm while courting the women in this new town he finds himself dislocated in. Drinking also gets him into several situations where he makes a total fool of himself. Even while intoxicated, every time he finds a woman willing to sleep with him, he gets stuck in his own head, and it happens again. This is a great source of embarrassment for him, and he takes it very hard.
We already know from the previous installments of his story, that he sees himself as being too feminine or “feminized” as he calls it. At eighteen, he’s scrawny and lanky, and in this fishing community he’s surrounded by what he considers men’s men: manual laborers, fishermen, tough skinned, strong and silent. He constantly compares himself to those around him, and finds himself lacking in almost every way. To make matters worse, his upstairs neighbors are constantly going at it. All of this and more adds to the feedback loop and reinforces his feelings of inadequacy and shame, which in turn reinforces his inability to do the deed.
In addition to all of this, he’s teaching kids barely younger than himself, and having some trouble not being attracted to the girls in his class, especially the ones who have developed crushes on him. Some of them as young as 13. Oh, Karl Ove. Buddy. Come on, man. You can’t do that! About halfway through the book he has a realization that maybe the reason he Is having so much trouble maintaining control of his ejaculations, and controlling is attraction to his students, and his horniness level in general, is that he has never masturbated. Ever. He sees it as something childish that he should’ve done when he was younger, but now feels it’s too late to begin. He knows that if he were to *ahem* practice on himself a little bit, that he would develop the ability to control himself a little better when he’s with a woman, but he still won’t do it! Good lord eighteen year old Karl Ove! Jerk it already!
So, that brings us full circle to my point from the beginning: masturbation, it’s something everyone should do, especially when you’re young and just starting to develop into the adult you’ll become. Most of Karl Ove’s troubles in this edition would’ve been completely avoided if he had just jerked it a little. So, like I said earlier, if there is a moral here, I think it’s a simple one: masturbate....more
A wonderful collection of short essays, aimed toward every day people. Each designed to introduce some difficult ethical questPosted at Heradas Review
A wonderful collection of short essays, aimed toward every day people. Each designed to introduce some difficult ethical questions to those that may have never been forced to confront them in their day-to-day lives.
The only failure of this book is, in retrospect, actually a success, it being inherent to the function of what the book set out to achieve; the essays are too brief, and as a result, often too black and white. The author, a utilitarian, undoubtedly understood that this was unavoidable, and chose to sacrifice a more complete, complex examination of each ethical quandary, in favor of reaching those most likely in need of asking these questions, by keeping the essays concise and to the point. Easily digestible in a few minutes. Demonstrably, this could be seen as the more ethical choice according to utilitarianism, and with it Peter Singer has shown how legitimate his commitment to living an ethical life really is.
The essays really are perfect for reading while you're waiting in line at a bank, or waiting to meet some friends at a restaurant, etc. Bite size big questions about the world and how we fit into, both as a species, and individually. And you can read them whenever you have a spare 3-4 minutes. It's fantastic!
Since finishing this collection, I've started following Singer online and reading his essays, published fairly frequently on Project Syndicate and various other websites. They're all very insightful, and bring up all kinds of fun questions and dilemmas to ponder. I think it's good for us to have to think occasionally about things that might make us uncomfortable. It helps to free us of our various cages, protective barriers, ideologies, and comfort zones that we've constructed around ourselves over the years. It's good to stretch those bonds at least a little, so we can test them and see if they're still useful....more
Absolutely brilliant short fiction, mostly focused on ex-pats and people visiting countries during times of turmoil and revolution. Not a bad story inAbsolutely brilliant short fiction, mostly focused on ex-pats and people visiting countries during times of turmoil and revolution. Not a bad story in the bunch. Several incredible ones....more