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Finish Line 2009! > Brian's Books for 2009

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message 1: by Brian (last edited Mar 10, 2009 12:51AM) (new)

Brian (banoo) Time to play catch up since I just joined this group. Bear with me...

01. Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Chekhov is now my favorite Russian author. This book of 30 short stories cut slices of Russia and laid them bare. Though some may see them as vignettes of hopelessness I thought that most characters displayed at least a glimmer of, if not happiness, contentment. The message most stories seemed to convey was that what is, just is, and so shall it always be with me or without me. Amen.

The Huntsman was an interesting short sketch of two people meeting in the fields, exchanging a few words, and then moving on... that’s all. So how can I explain how wonderful it was to read it? It’s times like these I wish I could tear apart the text word by word like some of you can and explain why his stories just seem perfect. Since I can’t here’s a bit from the introduction written by Richard Pevear:

Chekhov’s contemporaries were struck by his originality. He invented a new kind of story, which opened up areas of life that had not yet been explored by Russian literature. Tolstoy saw it at once. "Chekhov is an incomparable artist, " he is quoted as saying, "an artist of life... Chekhov has created new forms of writing, completely new, im my opinion, to the whole world, the like of which I have not encountered anywhere... Chekhov has his own special form, like the impressionists." Tolstoy was not alone in using the term "impressionism" to describe Chekhov’s art. We may see what he meant if we look at "The Huntsman, " the story that first caught Grigorovich’s eye. Written entirely in the present tense, it opens with some fragmentary observations about the weather, a brief but vivid and (typically for Chekhov) slightly anthropomorphized description of the fields and forest, a few spots of color - the red shirt and white cap of the huntsman. A woman appears out of nowhere. She and the huntsman talk, she tenderly and reproachfully, he boastfully and casually. "Ashamed of her joy, " she "covers her mouth with her hand." He scratches his arm, stretches, follows some wild ducks with his eyes. It is clear from what he says that they cannot live together. He gets up and leaves; she watches him go: "Her gaze moves over the tall, skinny figure of her husband and caresses and fondles it..." He turns, hands her a worn rouble, and goes on. She whispers, "Good-bye, Yegor Vlasych!" and stands on tiptoe so as at least to see the white cap one more time." That is all. The story does not build to any moment of truth; it does not reach any significant conclusion. It simply stops.

In a letter of May 10, 1886, to his older brother Alexander, who had taken up writing before him with only modest success, Chekhov, from his new position as a recognized author, set forth six principles that make for a good story: "1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality: flee the stereotype; 6. compassion." It is a remarkably complete description of Chekhov’s artistic practice. Authorial commentary, if not entirely absent, is kept to an absolute minimum. The most ordinary events, a few trivial details, a few words spoken, no plot, a focus on single gestures, minor features, the creation of a mood that is both precise and somehow elusive - such is Chekhov’s impressionism.


There... Mr Pevear said what I could not... Chekhov, damn fine writer.


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Brian (banoo) 02. A Prescription for Love by Leeanne Marie Stephenson

I don’t think this book was proof-read. There are numerous misspellings, missing quotations, and paragraphs separating incomplete sentences... but, really, none of that really matters because it's a stupid book, pure and simple. There's a reason I read it, but I won't get into that here... I got into it here: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/1...


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Brian (banoo) 03. Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley G. Crawford

A married couple on a barge sailing the seas with everything needed to sustain life including a forest... Mrs Unguentine writes her story in a log retelling her life with Mr Unguentine. Though in an unlikely and unusual setting as a floating 'island', I couldn't help but think that she was actually a wife recounting her life, as she defined it, from her house in the suburbs. Interesting book.


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Brian (banoo) 04. Please Don't Call Me Human by Wang Shuo

Wang Shuo's goal is to never write anything that he or others find necessary for society, particularly if it is uplifting. "The Propaganda Department has said my works are reactionary and that they ridicule politics. They say the taste and the language are vulgar. I do not deny this." from the Introduction

Giving face, losing face. In Chinese culture 'face' can be translated to mean honor, prestige, respect. To lose face is to lose that honor (I once in a heated moment intentionally made my client lose face in a room full of people by proving he was wrong... I got fired. That was my intention. My motto is "When you've got no face, you've got no face to lose").

Please Don't Call Me Human is about a rogue committee attempting to regain China's face in the sporting world by training a citizen to be a superhero, a national hero, an icon of the new China at any cost... and the cost is great.

The book was not a smooth read, very turbulent. I think Wang Shuo's style may have been lost in translation. There were some brilliant sections scattered throughout the book, some hilarious moments, but you had to kind of slog your way through to find them. And if you do decide to read this DO NOT read the blurb on the back cover. It gives away the shocking ending. No Exit Press screwed up on this one.


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Brian (banoo) 05. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Enjoyed the characters and the little shifts of attitude between them. The house was really not that scary or haunting; it's Ms Jackson's words that are haunting. She's a master of creating subtle, uneasy tension between people and slightly twisting common occurrences. And a house built with no true right angles? Built to deceive? That's a house of interest to me. I would make a reservation to stay at Hill House.

Don't watch the 1999 movie The Haunting. It nearly ruined my reading of this book.


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Brian (banoo) 06. The Giants by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

The Giants is a tirade on consumerism, mega marts, urban progress (or decay), technology, language, and communication. The book surprised the hell out of me. The first few pages left me wondering if I could even get through it; it was preachy, long winded, and repetitive. But Clézio’s words started to have an effect on me. They started to excite me, drew me in almost hypnotically. I no longer looked at the page numbers or the clock. I had vivid dreams, that were influenced (possibly by the xanax I started taking) by the ideas, images, illusions, that were perfectly captured in words. Words. He trapped me with his words.

But heads are not equipped with an anus, and whatever enters their brain-pan is stuck there for ever.

Le Clézio creates a dystopian society in our own backyard. Even something as tranquil as the horizon (a razorblade)seen over the sea becomes oppressive.

There was this sort of thin wire that separated the sky from the sea, a scacely visible line just below the countless tons of weight of the air that pressed down upon the sheet of water: air and water were like two blocks of marble, one on top of the other.

Words, in this society, our society, today, are weapons used by ’the Giants’, unknown masters that tell us to buy Crest and use Mobile Oil and we really would be better humans if we just sprayed a little Chanel No. 5 on our skin.

There are so many sounds competing within a single head that the cranium might well explode like a bomb. Craniums are dangerous. When on sees them balanced on top of bodies, like that, row after row of them, one can feel a kind of tremor pass through them, and one knows that at any moment they might explode.

The plot, threadbare, is inconsequential and there are only three characters; Tranquility, an employee at Hyperpolis, the mega market, Machine, a trolley collector at Hyperpolis, and Dumb Bogo, a mute whose fascinated with the pebble beach near Hyperpolis. But the words are beautifully poetic. I would give this book more than 5 stars.


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Brian (banoo) 07. Utz by Bruce Chatwin

Utz is a man obsessed with porcelain figurines and dishes. I do not possess knowledge of porcelain wares. That's knowledge I can live without.

Utz lives in Czechoslovakia. It's oppressive. He wants to leave. The government let's him travel once a year. He must leave behind his precious porcelain collection. He realizes that the freedom enjoyed in free countries is tainted (luxury is only luxurious under adverse conditions). He decides to stay in Czechoslovakia with his porcelain. He dies. His porcelain disappears.

And some other stuff happened but it was really boring stuff.


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Brian (banoo) 08. Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe

It's a mystery set on the fringe of Tokyo. A father has a family and he has a cyber-family. He likes his cyber-family more than his real family. Someone gets killed. Someone gets accused. They talk a lot and then they figure out who did it. Not very mysterious. Kind of a let down. This book was recommended to me by a Japanese bookseller in Kyoto. Last time I seek his advice.


message 9: by Brian (last edited Mar 10, 2009 01:06AM) (new)

Brian (banoo) 09. Sixty-Nine by Ryū Murakami

A coming-of-age novel. Man how I hate those generalizations, but that's what it is. The year is 1969. Yazaki is a senior in high school. He listens to Hendrix and read Camus. He aspires to be a rebel and a cool dude. To impress a Lady, Lady Jane, he barricades the school and wants to create his own festival.

It wasn't that I didn't read a lot myself, of course. The complete Sartre; Proust's Remembrance of Things Past; Joyce's Ulysses; the World Classics and Masterpieces of Oriental Literature series published by Chuko Books; Kawade's The World's Great Thinkers and Sacred Texts of the World; the Kama Sutra; Das Kapital; War and Peace; The Divine Comedy; The Sickness unto Death; The collected Works of John Maynard Keynes; The Complete Lukacs; The Complete Tanizaki...I knew the titles of all these books by heart. But the works I really loved and actually read and underlined in red ink were the great comic-book serials "Joe Tomorrow," "The Way of the Dragon," "Muyonosuke the Ronin," and "The Genius Bakabon."

There were no icepicks, no exploding neck goiters, no greasy fat perverts, or no women with piercing fixations. Coming from Ryu, this was a bit of a disappointment. Ryu without an icepick is not a Ryu.


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Brian (banoo) 10. The Nimrod Flipout Stories by Etgar Keret

The fish shut up again and so did I. Almost a minute later, it added, "Never mind, forget it, I'm depressed."

Halibut was probably my favorite story and I must remember to order the talking fish next time I eat out... though in my case it will probably be a talking crab since I prefer the company of crabs over fish. Fish are just... too snooty.

The title story, The Nimrod Flipout reminded me of me and now I realize that my troubles could be due to my close circle of buddies being gone and the cycle not cycling anymore... so I classify this book, or at least this story, as self-help. I'm screwed up. Thanks for dying.

Teddy Trunk... what a story well told. I read Teddy twice. Teddy Trunk. My new literary hero.

This is a book that shouldn't be read too quickly, but because most of the stories are short it is kind of hard to rein in the page flippers. Humorous at times, tragic at times, strangely familiar at times, this book will make you run out and listen to Sinatra's My Way because it is the best damn song.


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Brian (banoo) 11. Terra Amata by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

This was my second Le Clézio book. Terra Amata, the Beloved Earth, is daunting. I would not recommend this as a starting point to reading Le Clézio's works. It deeply troubled me, depressed me, made me close my eyes for a while and try not to think.

The beginning had an interesting scene when the young protagonist, Chancelade, plays with a bunch of potato bugs. It was a riveting scene that ended in tragedy.

The book follows Chancelade throughout his entire life as the headings of the chapters may indicate:

On the earth by chance
I was born
a living man
I grew up
inside the drawing
the days went by
and the nights
I played all those games
loved
happy
I spoke all those languages
gesticulating
saying incomprehensible words
or asking indiscreet questions
in a region that resembled hell
I peopled the earth
to conquer the silence
to tell the whole truth
I lived in the immensity of consciousness
I ran away
then I grew old
I died
and was buried

This is an experimental novel reminding me a little of Italo Calvino. There was a section written in morse code, a section in sign language, C: Open hand profile little finger down. Closed hand thumb crosswise. Closed hand thumb up. Hand profile index pointing up. Closed hand thumb and little finger up. This scene went on for 5 pages. And of course in the section called 'saying incomprehensible words' the dialog was something like this, "Woolikanok mana bori ocklakokok. Zane prestil zani wang don bang."

But even with it's quirky (yet effective) 'tricks', I found the book deeply depressing. The section 'I died' ripped me. I felt it was I breathing that last death rattle. And when I was finally buried, only then did I sigh with a bit of relief... at finishing this book.

Le Corbusier said that God was in the details. We are in the details. We are that pebble on the beach, the heart that was pierced on the battle field in 1812, the potato bug walking aimlessly around the sidewalk, we are the words of this book, the sun, the stars, the mole under the girls left breast, and that layer of rock between the granite and flint. This book is full of details.

I think having a beer with Le Clézio back in 1963 may have been a downer. But then, I am beer also, and I am the belch of relief after having one too many.

I gave it 4 stars for successfully messing with me.


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Brian (banoo) 12. Prufrock And Other Observations by T.S. Eliot

I admit that T.S. Eliot confuses me and I have a difficult time understanding his poetry. Saying that, I do love the way he uses the words. Though I may not fully understand what he is saying, the image reception is pretty clear.

I love this passage from 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night':

Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.



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Brian (banoo) 13. Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom

When I stand outside here, I do not just see the stars, I hear them.

My first Nooteboom and it was a good one. This book is in two parts, two stories, separate stories, but they're related. And as the title might suggest he taps into the energies from Paradise Lost. I've never read Milton's Paradise Lost but I'm sure there are some theme overlaps or a game of theme tag going on in this book. But then maybe not. Like I said, I never read Milton though there are a few excerpts of his epic poem scattered in this book.

What might you find in this book? Lost souls searching for meaning, Aborigines, spas, and angels... beautiful angels. Angels you can make love to while their wings flap.

Nooteboom is a clever writer and his words are delicate. He makes you think without giving you a headache. He makes you laugh. And he makes you just say, "Damn!" while shaking your head and smiling.

How much thinking can you do without ever leaving the room? I took a trip in my head and ended up back where I started - in the stillness.


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Brian (banoo) 14. The Tenant by Roland Topor

What would happen if you suddenly realized you didn't know yourself? The Tenant is a little nightmare disguised as a book. Topor creates a spiral into madness gradually and in places and circumstances that seem at once familiar but melt into the surreal. Was Trelkovsky, the subject of this madness, crazy? Or what he perceived to be the truth... the truth? (Polanski directed a movie called Le Locataire in 1976 based on this book).

This edition of the book also included an introduction by Thomas Ligotti, four short stories, and a sampling of Roland Topor's art. His drawings are both disturbing and humorous... much like his writing.

He could hear the birds. There was always one that began the concert, and then all the others joined in. Truthfully speaking, it was not really a concert. If you listened to it carefully, it was impossible not to notice the resemblance between this sound and that of a saw. A saw whose teeth were tearing painfully into wood. Trelkovsky had never understood why people insisted on comparing the noise of birds to music. Birds don't sing, they scream. And in the morning they scream in chorus. Trelkovsky laughed aloud. The mere idea of likening a raucous cry like this to a song must surely be the height of something or other - futility, no doubt. He wondered what would happen if men should suddenly adopt this practice of greeting the new day with a chorus of despairing screams. Even if only those with good reason for screaming were to take it up, it would still result in an unholy racket.


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Brian (banoo) 15. Fever by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

If you really want to know, I'd rather not have been born at all. I find life very tiring. The thing's done now, of course, and I can't alter it. But there will always be this regret at the back of my mind, I shall never quite be able to get rid of it, and it will spoil everything. The thing to do now is to grow old quickly, to eat up the years as fast as possible, looking neither right nor left.

When a book begins with the above lines in the introduction by the author you should immediately know that this will not be a book about hope, about the little wonders of life that make you smile and be happy about being alive on this planet, or about cuddly little bunnies that go hopping in the fields or wildflowers. This is Le Clézio's second novel and I am amazed he stuck around long enough to write more and ultimately win the Nobel instead of walking to the sea and drowning himself.

Nine short stories of people who are tired of life, dead within, or just plain dying.

Like the two Le Clézio books I read earlier, this is a book that just goes on and on and on about the earth's decay, about time and death, about the overbearing sun.

The sun struck down vertically on his skull and on the ground. One seemed to hear the sound of its shafts, and they drove into the soil and stuck there, upright, making patches of tall, stiff grass. Paoli advanced through them, without parting them, without feeling them; but he heard them fall, the great rays of light, he heard them bursting round his feet with tiny, violent explosions, heavy drops possessed of fantastic speed, machine-gun bullets that had travelled about 150,000,000 kilometres.

The above is from the short story called The Walking Man and it begins by describing water dripping from a rag in the desolate apartment that Paoli lived in; 3 pages devoted to water dripping from a rag. When Paoli gets the rhythm of the dripping water embedded into his head, he leaves the apartment and starts walking. He walks for about the remaining 24 pages. That's what you can expect from Le Clézio's earlier work; hundreds upon hundreds of words describing the mundane, hundreds upon hundreds of words elevating the simplest scene into a universe where we are but a speck of dust.

My favorite story was called Beaumont Acquainted with His Pain. Poor Beaumont had a toothache and it tormented him. He seeks ways to disown the pain but he soon becomes obsessed with the abscess and becomes the pain.

In A Day of Old Age, Joseph closely watches an old lady die. He wants to understand the pain she's going through, to see the death that is projecting images in her mind, to breathe in her death rattle.

From A Day of Old Age... In forty years, or perhaps sooner, these will be words written by a dead man. And in two hundred years, in any case, nothing exists today, nothing of this second, will still be alive. When You've read this line, you must turn your eyes away from the mean little scrawl. Breathe, take a strong, deep breath, be alive to the point of ecstasy. Because soon, there won't be much left of you.

And on that positive note I would just add that the writer of this uplifting piece exceeded his forty years and won the Nobel Prize in 2008. It is a wonder, not the winning, but the living.


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Brian (banoo) 16. Karnak Cafe by Naguib Mahfouz

Once in a while I read a book that sparks my interest in the history and culture of the writer's country... well, more often than not that is the case. And it is definitely the case with Naguib Mahfouz's books.

Written soon after the the June War of 1967, this book explores the post-1967 era of Egypt's history, an era of profound dismay, of reflection, of recrimination, of "looking back in anger". It is a short novel that takes place in a small Café. The Café is frequented by 3 young people and several older people. The young people periodically disappear and reappear. And their story of imprisonment, brutal interrogations, and betrayals is pieced together by the narrator.

This is a book that is still relevant today.


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Brian (banoo) 17. The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata

Kawabata is still one of my favorite Japanese authors. I planned my trip to Kyoto by reading The Old Capital. I learned about the meditative quality of the game Go in The Master of Go. And in A Thousand Cranes Kawabata taught me about the tea ceremony and love. Now, after finishing The Lake I possess knowledge of ugly feet and the beauty of young girls.

I've heard people complain about this book; about it's subject matter. I've heard say it was one of Kawabata's worse efforts. And I just don't buy it. From the little I've read of this author I've been introduced to small vignettes of Japanese life and culture, albeit in an historical context. The Lake is no different. Kawabata touches on the obsession men have with women, young women, maybe too young at times. Is it sinister when you're almost brought to tears when seeing beauty that touches your soul? The protagonist in this story, Gimpei, does cross the line from appreciation of young beauty to the need of possession. He is a troubled man, with ugly feet. This contrast of young, radiant beauty with his ugly feet runs throughout the story.

This is a book of tortured souls. And yet, it is a book of beauty.

Every day we read in the newspapers about some horrible crime against women and young girls and my wife is always asking what is it about men? I like what the young girl Miyako says: "Perhaps there's a race of devils living among men but quite different from them, and perhaps they have a quite separate world of their own."

Kawabata shows us this world in The Lake.


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Brian (banoo) 18. Bayou Farewell The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast by Mike Tidwell

This book was special for me. It spoke of a place, of customs, and people I'd nearly forgotten because of distance and time put between us. Through weekly talks with my parents, emails of news articles, and reading of online bayou papers I've been kept informed of the disappearing Louisiana coast. My annual trips to the bayou also remind me how fast the land is sinking. I see the differences each year and they're not subtle differences. Places I used to walk, build 'camps', sit under trees and fish are now just water. Prairies of marsh grass around Leeville with little trinasse's (water channels) meandering through the fields of green are now just open water. The community is drowning.

Mike Tidwell's book is non-fiction, but it reads like fiction, even like science fiction at times. His message about the disappearing coast is clear. But this is not simply a study of coastal erosion. He travels and lives with the people who call the bayou home, refugees of past wars, people pushed to the southern extremes to eke out a living; the Cajuns, the Indians, and the Vietnamese (before the giant hurricane of 1893 there was even a Chinese community living on the bayou).

I learned just recently that FEMA does not recognize the levee system protecting the lower Lafourche Parish. As a result of this, flood insurance is expected to triple. People are now paying nearly 3 times the amount of their mortgages on insurance. Many are forced to leave. Many don't have insurance.

Simply put, the taming of the Mississippi River and the oil rush of the 20th century created the problem we see today. Plans have been developed to right this wrong. But it appears that once again the Cajuns, the Indians, and the Vietnamese will have to move on and look for other lands, exiled again.

• "Diz life down here," he says, "it's in [the:] blood. He just don't realize it yet. He don't realize he can go wherever he wants but he'll never be happy unless he lives down de baya. What good's a job payin' a million dollars if you ain't happy?"

• Before we drift off, Phan lights a final Marlboro in the dark. His Asian face glows with a faint orange hue as he says, "I think, you know, I'm like special eel in Thailand or salmon in Alaska. Many years go by and I travel far from home and I grow up and now, much time later, I make long trip back, thousands of miles back, to place where my life began, to place where I was born."

• My travels along the coast are almost over, and the sadness that comes at the end of any meaningful journey is now compounded by the very real possibility that I will never pass this way again. Not because I don't want to, but because the place won't exist. It might be gone. In all my travels around the world I've never had to say goodbye to a place in quite this manner. I've never even imagined such a place could exist. The traveler is supposed to go away, not the destination.

• ... land is still disappearing at the astonishing rate of 25 to 35 square miles per year.
(this was a pre-Katrina/Rita estimate)


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Brian (banoo) 19. Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K. Dick

My first Philip K. Dick book and it's not even science fiction. But I didn't let that put me off since I'm not a big science fiction reader. The book reminded me of Charles Portis' writing.

There are 3 main characters: Jim Fergessen is an old man newly retired. He's a racist and crazy old bat with a bad heart. Al Miller is a dimwit, but an interesting dimwit who lets others drive his life. And Chris Harman is a rich businessman with possibly dubious enterprises. The three of them get embroiled in a potential business deal and paranoia sprouts causing both intense and hilarious scenes. The characters are what this book is all about.


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Brian (banoo) 20. This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

It's true that during the last ten years I've read more fiction. It's as if every book is concerned with people's efforts and striving to escape or overcome some difficulty. Stories about happy things are never interesting. They are not stories about people and their lives, but about heaven, and clearly do not take place on this earth of ours.

This Earth of Mankind is the first of the Buru Quartet, four novels that were first orally recited by Indonesian political prisoner Toer to his fellow cellmates in daily installments. This book was interesting so the quote above works as a book review.

Basically a love story set in 1899 near Surabaya, Indonesia with the Dutch colonial environment and race/class relations providing a rich backdrop to the story. The book evokes anger and sadness, rarely happiness or humor. The last few pages were devastating. The second book in the quartet, Child of All Nations, picks up where this one left off. I'm squeezing in a Henry James book while my depression abates. Then I will continue with Toer's epic. I'm also throwing out my Dutch Lady ice cream.

At the beginning of all growth, everything imitates. All of us, when we were children, also imitated. But children grow up and begin their own development.


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Brian (banoo) 21. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

This book annoyed me. Although the book was short, there were too many words, funny words and annoying words mixed together. It took me about 80 pages to get into the rhythm of the writing but by then the book was almost finished and I no longer cared. I found that if I read the passages like Captain Kirk talked, with pauses in unsuspecting places, it was easier to digest what was going on. For example, read the following like Captain Kirk:

I stopped, I almost dropped, with the real relief of this; but I took in the whole scene - I gave him time to reappear. I call it time, but how long was it? I can't speak to the purpose today of the duration of these things. That kind of measure must have left me: they couldn't have lasted as they actually appeared to me to last. The terrace and the whole place, the lawn and the garden beyond it, all I could see of the park, were empty with a great emptiness.

Now wasn't that fun?

It's a ghost story, a ghostly psychological story. Kids are bad. Kids and ghosts are worse. Throw in a housekeeper and you have a nightmare on your hands.

I'd give it 2 stars but I added one because I liked the way it ended.

In the introduction it stated: James had an extraordinary grasp of the English language, which is reflected in his highly stylized writing - Thomas Hardy called it 'a ponderously warm manner of saying nothing in infinite sentences'. In The Turn of the Screw, a book of 120 pages, James said nothing for about 80 pages in a ponderously warm manner.


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Brian (banoo) 22. Child of All Nations by Pramoedya Anata Toer

From the Introduction:

"We fought back, Child, as well and as honorably as possible."

These were the words that ended Pramoedya Ananta Toer's novel This Earth of Mankind, the first in a quartet of which Child of All Nations is the second. This Earth of Mankind was indeed a story of people fighting back, of resisting the worst of colonial oppression and greed.

It was also a gripping story of remarkable characters caught in the cultural whirlpool that was the Dutch East Indies of the 1890s. Because Pramoedya's vision extends far beyond parochial politics to reach for more universal human concerns, it is a bitter irony that, in 1965, he was arrested by Suharto's junta, and his entire library, including research and notes assembled over many years, were burned to ashes. He was jailed, without trial, for fourteen years. Denied access to writing materials, he kept his literary vision alive by recounting his stories to other prisoners. Only in 1975 was he permitted the facilities to commit his novels from memory to paper.

----

Stories about happy things are never interesting. They are not stories about people and their lives, but about heaven, and clearly do not take place on this earth of ours.

The above quote was from the first book of the Buru Quartet and the second book just reinforces that Toer does not believe in happy endings, happy beginnings, or happy in-betweens. But then when writing about colonialism from the oppressed point of view, what can one expect? Certainly no book about heaven.

"Life is a matter of balance, Mr Minke. A person who concerns himself only with the light side of things is a madman, but someone who is interested only in suffering is sick."

In this book the story continues where This Earth of Mankind ended. And if that ending was heartbreaking, the beginning of this book totally destroys any heart you may have left. Minke, a Dutch educated Javanese writer continues getting abused, cheated, and punished by the people that taught him, the people he admired, the Europeans.

Toer's simple prose and knowledge of Indonesian history puts you smack-dab in the middle of the conflict and it is truly a frightening place to be.

Europeans wearing pigtails! Even the Americans, during their revolution! During France's period of triumph and glory, they not only copied the pigtail but also the habit of eating frogs, which the rest of humanity looked upon as degrading... The pigtail in China was a symbol of triumph, at one time, during one era. In China people used to eat frogs because of their poverty; in Europe it was a part of grandeur. So topsy-turvy is history.

-----

It was not only from Europe that so much could be learned! This modern age had provided many breasts to suckle me - from among the Natives themselves, from Japan, China, America, India, Arabia, from all the peoples on the face of this earth... In humility, I realized I am a child of all nations, of all ages, past and present. Place and time of birth, parents, all are coincidence: such things are not sacred.

-----

The interesting thing was that the behavior of a middle-aged man who had fallen in love was no different from that of a teenager. Both turned into heroic exhibitionists, out to get everyone's attention. No matter how clever a man is, if he's been smitten he becomes as stupid as the greatest idiot.


message 23: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 23. Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

This book doesn't waste time... or words.

I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers... 'Bite me! Bite me!'

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.


That was soon after Frank met Cora, page 9. They didn't dilly-dally, you see.

Frank was a little religious...

I kissed her. Her eyes were shinging (sic) up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church.

and

We lay there, face to face, and held hands under water. I looked up at the sky. It was all you could see. I thought about God.

But frank fell for a 'hell cat'. Cora was no weak little housewife. She could disarm and handle 3 men if the need arose, and arose it did.

I've read this book at least three times and still enjoy the simple, coarse prose and base story.


message 24: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 24. Ubik by Philip K. Dick

My first PKD book was Humpty Dumpty in Oakland and i really liked it. but it wasn’t science fiction. I really enjoyed the characters PKD created. I liked the little piece of world that he captured. There was something so real about the people, places and circumstances. Ubik is no different. Great set of characters living in a world that doesn’t seem so different from our own, they just have things we don’t have... this week. Although the setting is not quite Oakland, it’s close enough for me to relate. But then I’m not reading this as science fiction. I’m reading it as just good writing.

That's what I first wrote when I first started the book... then after the first 4 chapters...

I really like the characters and as I read this I can’t help but compare it to PKD’s non-fiction Humpty Dumpty in Oakland. The characters are believable. I feel I know them. There is no difference except in the trades. Instead of selling used cars they’re selling anti-psi services. Humans are humans regardless of the setting or gadgets and I really do like PKD’s humans. Though in a way, some of the sci-fi stuff distracts me from just enjoying his characters. I kind of like them selling used cars instead. but that’s just me, Mr Reality...

And... near the end of the book...

i’m not finished with ubik yet but i’m getting near a conclusion, i can feel it.

this book is kind of like an acid trip. it started pleasantly, the tab slowly dissolved on my tongue and i felt tingly and good all over... that feeling that tells you, ’hey, if one tab will make you feel this good just think what another tab will do...’

so now the other tab, or tabs as i can no longer remember how many were on the sheet, has dissolved and the giddy, warm feeling has turned into this harsh, sweaty unreality where everything seems overly sharp and pointed and cracked and i hear static and zappa isn’t fun anymore and how long will this last?

that’s what the book is like... for me. it’s not a bad thing, totally. but it has gone off in an area that’s leaving me hoping that this trip will end soon and end pleasantly.

i just don’t know yet... is pkd legal?

Finally...

i finished last night, curled up in bed in a fetal position. i have a question... questions... i just don't know how to ask at this moment...


message 25: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 25. Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

What does anyone imagine? A hundred things a minute. Whether I imagine a thing or not, it's real to me. I have syndromes where they're real, from Malaysia for example...

I liked this book. It took place in one day. A 'Master of the Universe' kind of guy, Eric, just goes bonkers. I like reading about people who lose it and he lost it in a weird and wonderful way. DeLillo just had this annoying habit of throwing in a sentence on every other page to show how clever he is and I would read these and think, 'yeah, whatever... you're clever', and then get on with the story. This could have been a near perfect book if he hadn't tried to be so clever. These sentences took away from the momentum. They were distracting. He seemed to ease off towards the end to make me happy, I think.

Eric himself is a complete asshole but he surrounds himself with interesting people. His wife is crazy in a cute way.

Overall I'd say this was a strange, slightly surreal book worth the time to read. The fact that Eric could see himself on the video monitors doing things before he actually did them left me wondering... The book was also witty, and also short. I liked these passages:

"All these limos, my god, that you can't tell one from another."...
"That I'm a powerful person who chooses not to demarcate his territory with singular driblets of piss is what? Is something I need to apologize for?"
"I want to go home and tongue-kiss my Maxima."

"I noticed the toilet. It's one of the first things I noticed. What happens to your waste?"
"There's a hole below the fixture. I knocked a hole in the floor. Then I positioned the toilet so that one hole fits over the other."
"Holes are interesting. There are books about holes."
"There are books about shit..."



message 26: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 26. Hell by Yasutaka Tsutsui

"The false death of dreams. The real death of the afterlife. Hell and the world of the living. They're all connected."

Yasutaka Tsutsui has taken an eraser and rubbed out that line that separates life and death; the two become intertwined flowing seamlessly through dreams and wakefulness. In death there is Hell. In life there is Hell. And after recently finishing Ubik this was one helluva book to start.

"You know what Hell is? It's just a place without God. The Japanese don't believe in God to begin with, so what's the difference between this world and the world of the living?"

One difference... in Hell you're stripped of the emotions of desire, revenge, and hatred which is a good thing because you also have the ability to read each other's minds. You can come face to face with your murderer and feel no need for revenge. Or you can see your best friend or boss screwing your wife and look on with indifference.

The book has no chapters but many small breaks. Yasutaka floats us from character to character, revealing small tensions and conflicts that eventually become intertwined. Hell and earth, death and life, merge. Death is not an end but a continuation.

At one party a man just collapsed and died. A crowd of greying heads peered down at the pale man lying on the floor. It was clear from the looks on their faces that they were all imagining themselves in his position.

The book, Hell, is not a horror; it's a surreal slice of life and death, or just a window into 'being'. It's poetic, funny, and surreal. The author's shifting focus from one character to another and from life to Hell gives the book a dreamlike quality. A funny and tragic and intense moment in the book is a 7 page narrative of passengers on a plane about to crash. Here's a sample:

A passenger who understood English jumped up and shouted, "They're saying they can't fly the plane!" The cabin filled with panic, people screaming and wailing.

"We're going to crash!"
"We're going down!"
"No!"
"This can't be happening! We're going to die!"
"You've got to be kidding!"

The middle-aged man sitting next to Izumi suddenly clasped his hands together and began to mumble a stream of words: "
Kuchichuchipa, kuchuchipa, kuchuchikuchikuchichuchipa, kuchukuchuchipakuchikuchikuchikuchi..." Izumi supposed that the man was speaking in tongues. How had he ended up sitting next to someone like this? How could he come to terms with his own death with that going on next to him?

A stewardess, her hair dishevelled, ran towards the rear of the plane crying, "Mother! Mother!" This, more than anything else, made the hopelessness of the situation clear. People became hysterical.

A company president, realizing this was his last chance to reveal his true feelings, turned to his vice-president and embraced him. "I love you. I want you!"
"Sir! I'm sorry! I just can't!" cried the vice-president. "Please just let me die with dignity!"
"Am I that repulsive?" yelled the president, starting to choke the other man.

A stewardess, naked from the waist down, stumbled down the aisle in a frenzy of lust. She clung to the chest of a muscular man and pleaded sultrily, "Let's do it! Please, fuck me!"
"You idiot! You think I can get it up at a time like this?" said the man, pushing the stewardess away.


And it goes on and on... until they all just land in Hell. There is no death. There is no life. There is just Hell.


message 27: by Aprile (new)

Aprile (aprileb) Wow, you are doing great! And welcome!


message 28: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) thanks aprile... i haven't whipped out the 'big' books yet. that will slow me down.


message 29: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 487 comments Hi Brian,
Great book choices! I have added Karnak Cafe to my TBR list.


message 30: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) hi melanie... this was the second book by naguib mahfouz that i've read and i enjoyed both immensely. you might want to try The Thief and the Dogs too.


message 31: by Samara (new)

Samara Really liked your more in depth reviews. I had to comment because your review of "Turn of the Screw" is exactly what I'm feeling about it! I'm 20 pages away from finishing it and can't seem to make myself pick it up again. Can't read it at night because it is putting me asleep and it's supposed to be a scary story! Hopefully I will feel a bit more rewarded at the end as many people have said that they liked it.


message 32: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 487 comments Brian wrote: "hi melanie... this was the second book by naguib mahfouz that i've read and i enjoyed both immensely. you might want to try [b:The Thief and the Dogs|96562|The Thief and the Dogs|Naguib Mahfouz|htt..."

Thanks! I will put that one on my list too.


message 33: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 27. Hauntings Bangla Ghost Stories, edited by Suchitra Samanta

Interesting book, not scary, not creepy, just interesting and atmospheric. This is a book of 13 ghost stories from Bangla literature and folklore. The first 3 stories were written by Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1913. The writing, or perhaps the translation, I found to be on the dry side. Put simply... some of the stories were boring.

But the cover kicks ass!

And I liked the story called Wedding Night by Shishir Lahiri. Here's how that tale begins...

Sudha knows that after I died and became a ghost I took up residence in the skylight above our room.

This is not breaking news, this is a matter of some six months past. Returning from work one day, I slipped and fell trying to board a crowded bus with a tiger painted on it. The rear wheel made my head one with the earth.




message 34: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) Samara wrote: "Really liked your more in depth reviews. I had to comment because your review of "Turn of the Screw" is exactly what I'm feeling about it! I'm 20 pages away from finishing it and can't seem to ma..."

so did you end up liking it? i tried to like it, and feel i should like it, but i'm thinking maybe i just wasn't in the mood. that happens sometimes. a book just pops into my hands at the wrong time.


message 35: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 28. Footsteps by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

The first book in this quartet This Earth of Mankind made me cry. The second book Child of All Nations made me cry. This third installment of the Buru Quartet made me angry. Colonization just sucks. And when a nation of mixed cultures fight each other while working towards independence, freedom if achieved is tainted. Footsteps is the biggest of the quartet and the most political. From what I understand it is also the last of the first person narrative from Minke's point of view. One more to go and I really hope that Indonesia gets it together... but now in 2009 I know how this earth of mankind stands both politically and culturally and I don't know if Minke would be proud.

"So what is the use of the French Revolution then?" and her voice was so gentle, as it had always been ever since the first time I heard it. "You said it was to free men from the burdens made by other men. Wasn't that it? That is not Javanese. A Javanese does something with no other motive than to do it. Orders come from Allah, from the gods, from the Raja. After a Javanese has carried out the order, he will feel satisfied because he has become himself. And then he waits for the next order. So the Javanese are grateful, they give thanks. They are not preyed upon by monsters within themselves."

Although nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Pramoedya Ananta Toer gave up his chance of ever winning when he died. Damn it, why didn't he wait a little longer before dying?


message 36: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 29. Audition by Ryu Murakami

I saw the movie first so this little book held few surprises for me. The pace was perfect... a steady climb to near vertical. The movie actually contained more story content with additional scenes. The book had more explicit sex, a good thing, and the rough stuff was more intense than the screen version, another good thing. No kiri kiri kiri kiri in the book, a bad thing... for that I have to revisit the film.

As expected the book was deeply disturbing and graphic so made for a nice, light read. What I like about Ryu is his perverse, twisted imagination... his ability to create damaged people and put them together to inflict various damage to each other. His characters are always fresh, psychotic and have a tendency to carry sharp pointed objects wherever they go.

Moral of the story: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is... but it's still probably worth it for that moment of pleasure.

Ryu is one of my favorites. He even creeped-out Rob Zombie... that big wuss.

Movie responses:

Rob Zombie found the film very difficult to watch, given its grisly content and one enraged woman viewer confronted Miike (the director) by shouting at him: "You're evil!"

Read the book. It's creepier.


message 37: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 30. Five by Endo by Endo Shusaku

I really wish this would have been called Twenty-eight by Endo but then the title wouldn't have appeared so zen and balanced as Five by Endo. I loved this small collection of shorts... melancholy, introspective, and so very refreshing. Nearly all of the stories dealt with old age, death, and faith... or a struggle with one's faith.

Unzen touched on the torture and martyrdom of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan. A Fifty-year-old Man introduces a Mr Chiba who while taking ballroom dancing to keep his spirit young and legs limber faces the death of his mongrel dog and older brother (my favorite in the collection). Japanese in Warsaw, one of the lighter and more humorous stories, still slams you with the power of faith and sacrifice. Retracing a story through old postcards found in an old wooden chest in the story called The Box reveals a mystery and surprise. And The Case of Isobe, the opening chapter of Endo's novel Deep River is a sad story of death and rebirth.

A truly great collection of stories I'd heartily recommend to everyone.

Haiku from the short story The Case of Isobe:

Not telling the truth
again today I went out
of the hospital

With a shudder, I
open my eyes and think of
life without my wife



message 38: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 31. In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

In the west people tend to emphasize light in their environment... big windows, skylights. Shiny, gleaming surfaces are important and appear clean and fresh. Tanizaki wrote this short book to explain the importance of shadow and darkness in oriental culture... shadows that have been chased away with the welcomed technology of the west.

This is an essay on the aesthetics of shadows, on some of the differences between the west and the east. Tanizaki's text flows from one topic to another almost dreamlike and ranges over architecture, jade, food, skin tone, and toilets.

Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet truly is a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Soseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, 'a physiological delight' he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.


message 39: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 32. My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper

This book pissed me off. The cover is filled with accolades about the writer. They say only he can tackle such a dangerous subject and get away with it. Bullshit. He shouldn't have got away with it.

The story is about a bunch of idiot teens that are obsessed with gayness, sex, murder, and self-punishment. Many of them are cutters and wear the body scars like war medals. Obviously inspired by all of the recent school shooting and in particular the Columbine incident, the book follows one idiot as he tries to learn why he's so fucked up. Written in the first person point-of-view by a kid who can't even think one coherent thought it rambles on in disjointed sentences and clunky thoughts.

If shooting, hacking up, and strangling your school mates is not enough, Dennis threw in a little incestuous sex and gay issues along with a juvenile Nazi fan club.

It's just a stupid book. I gave it two stars because it was short and I liked the shrink who was an even bigger idiot.


message 40: by Brian (last edited Apr 02, 2009 12:53AM) (new)

Brian (banoo) 33. The New Life by Orhan Pamuk

'I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. Even on the first page I was so affected by the book's intensity I felt my body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the book that lay before me on the table.' Light surging from its pages illumines his face: 'Its incandescence dazzled my intellect but also endowed it with brilliant lucidity.' The book seems to be about him, so that 'my point of view was transformed by the book, and the book was transformed by my point of view.'

Pamuk is a writer that helps me understand why I like reading; for the discovery of ideas, cultures, language, worlds, and most importantly, self. When reading his novels, the space and things around me just disappear. His plot lines are at times tenuous, something seen peripherally, weaving in and out of focus. I don't read Pamuk for the pleasure of a well-crafted story-line (though I do find the story-lines well-crafted). I read him for his style. He continually pulls me into his writing. I can't leave his books alone once started and when finished, cannot easily forget them.

'A good book is something that reminds us of the whole world - Perhaps that’s how every book is, or what each and every book ought to be.'

In The New Life, Osman (maybe that's his name), reads a book (also called The New Life) that completely changes his life and propels him on a quest to find the meaning of the book, and life. Along the way he falls in love, aimlessly travels on buses, visits bus crashes to walk among the dead and dying, hunts down spies code-named after watch brands, and he speaks to the Angel for guidance and absolution.

'Some went into solitude with the book, but at the threshold of a serious breakdown they were able to open up to the world and shake off their affliction. There were also those who had crises and tantrums upon reading the book, accusing their friends and lovers of being oblivious to the world in the book, of not knowing or desiring the book, and thereby criticising them mercilessly for not being anything like the persons in the book’s universe.'
.
.
.

DAMN! I wrote the above with 50 pages left to go. Well, I just had lunch unknowingly eating a chicken pie as I pored through the final pages. When I closed the book I found myself fighting back tears, not tears for the characters in the book, tears for myself. It's more than puzzling to me. Magical words these were. And although I immersed myself in the first 250 pages enjoying every single word I was not fully aware what the story was about. I had a hint. I imagined. I guessed. And then the last 50 pages. And then the last 2 pages. Nothing is black and white. I still can't tell you the secret to the mystery of The New Life. I only know that this book hit a nerve with me and I can only now appreciate Osman's (if that's his name) opening line... 'I read a book one day and my whole life was changed' and understand what it feels like to have 'my body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the book that lay before me on the table'. I'm still shaking...
.
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.

The book is a labyrinth. There are hidden traps. The words deceive. The words tease. Pamuk plays games with text from other books by Jules Verne, Dante, Rilke, Ib'n Arabi... Comparing Pamuk to Borges? I can understand. This is not a book that I think many would appreciate or enjoy. It is filled with thoughts on Westernization, Islamic fundamentalism, Turkish nationalism... Ultimately, 'what is important [of a book:] is your own perception, what you read into it...'


message 41: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 34. Dark Water by Koji Suzuki

Reading this collection of short stories was like eating a bag of chips with the munchies... empty calories but tasted good. The stories were creepy, nightmarish... just downright scary... most of them anyway. All were linked by the element of water... and water, especially dark water and little kid ghosts and kid's shoes and abandoned boats... all that stuff scares me. But still, potato chips. And then I had a bad dream last night but the dream was about air and missing my flight... go figure.


message 42: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 35. Diary of a Mad Old Man by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki

This book is about an old man who is sick, horny, and has this sexual urge to make it with his daughter-in-law. The family is ok with that. Even the son has a 'sure... go for it dad' kind of attitude. The daughter-in-law lets the old man play a little but he has to pay. Since he's impotent he can only kiss her feet or lick her legs or let her dribble spit in his mouth. But all of this excites him and raises his blood pressure to stroke levels. So he thinks about death a lot. Actually the old man is pretty cool. He has no self-pity and likes to start trouble in the family. It's a simple story, um, diary.


message 43: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 36. House of Glass by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Well... with this book I've now completed the Buru Quartet. That was one of my goals for this year. Now I'm wandering aimlessly through my library picking things up at random.

Book four, House of Glass, was different from the first three. The point of view switched from Minke, the main protagonist to a Indies Government official, Meneer Pangemanann, spelled with two 'n's. His was a tormented soul with a unlikeable narrative voice.

The quartet ended with what read like a history textbook lesson. I was a bit disappointed. I wanted more spirit, more inner dialog from Minke... But remaining true to the first 3 volumes... there was no happy ending.

"We all have to accept reality, yes, that's true. But just to accept reality and do nothing else, that is the attitude of human beings who have lost the ability to develop and grow, because human beings also have the ability to create new realities. And if there are no longer people who want to create new realities, then perhaps the word progress should be removed altogether from humankind's vocabulary."


message 44: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 37. The Ministry of Fear An Entertainment by Graham Greene

This was my first Graham Greene and I liked it. It was one of his entertainments. WWII, London's getting bombed, Rowe wins a cake, people are not who they seem and then they are, and I craved cake but not the fruity kind. It's a book of identity... lost identity, made-up identities, mistaken identities... and the fear of learning the true identity.

I liked the London night scenes with the sound of bombs dropping, and then that second of stillness before the 'boom' and the ground shaking... and people, weary, trembling or standing on corners mumbling or turning pasty gray while scuttling down a deserted street, or lost and confused in a public bathroom... Those scenes scared me. I'm pretty sure I would have been living underground all day and night. I liked the way the city changed overnight with buildings disappearing, streets closed, phones that no longer rang when dialed... It was surreal but real. It was nightmarish. I thought those scenes were the best part of the book.

'Is life really like this?' Rowe asked. Mr Prentice leant forward with an interested air, as though he were always ready to abandon the particular in favour of the general argument. He said, 'This is life, so I suppose one can say it's like life.'
'It isn't how I had imagined it.' Rowe said.


I bought a bunch of Greene at a book fair... I'm glad I did. This was a fun little ride.


message 45: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 38. Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges

This was good. It's seven lectures that Borges gave in seven nights in Buenos Aires in 1977 (that's a lot of sevens). But it felt more like it was me an Borges sitting in a small room across from each other. He started talking to me about The Divine Comedy: Inferno; Purgatorio; Paradiso and urged me to shed my fears and read the book. He said I would greatly be enriched. So I told him ok, I will. I was a still a bit intimidated by his presence and at that point would have stuck my hand in boiling water if he told me to. Then he started talking about nightmares and I started to loosen up a bit. This guy had some pretty crazy nightmares and it turns out that one of his friends and me shared a certain kind of nightmare... dreams that try to encompass infinity. I wanted to ask questions but he continued on by talking about the book Tales from a Thousand and One Nights and my mouth just hung open. He said he had the complete volumes but would never get to read all of them. Just knowing they were there gave him comfort. And then he went on to Buddhism and my world started spinning. He made me question too many of my foundations... I wanted to scream but he was relentless never giving me a chance to take a breath. This topic more than any he shared with me that night haunted me. Luckily he switched over to the topic of Poetry and I started to relax a little. And then it was on to the Kabbalah and I had to stifle a yawn. It was getting late. I was tired. And I couldn't get Madonna's vision out of my head. But when he told me he was going to wrap up this little talk by discussing Blindness, I perked up. I sat there looking at this old kindly man. I was probably just a greenish or bluish blob in his eyes but I'm sure he noticed that this blob didn't move. He spoke of blindness as being a gift. He said it taught him so much. He ended our time together with a line of Goethe: Alles Nahe werde fern (everything near becomes distant). 'Goethe', he said, 'was referring to the evening twilight. Everything near becomes distant. It is true. At nightfall, the things closest to us seem to move away from our eyes. So the visible world has moved away from my eyes, perhaps forever.'

An excellent book.


message 46: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 39. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Reading Murakami (Haruki) is kind of like dreaming. This was a book of 24 of his short stories. What I noticed is that unlike some short story collections I've read, Murakami has the talent of writing a few first lines that just grab you and make you rush on with the story. But then what seems straightforward, say a simple love affair, ends up being just a firefly stuck in a jar or an endless trip to the south pole; the end sometimes has no relation to the beginning or no apparent relation. Some of the stories lack resolution or obvious resolution. They leave you thinking... the last few lines of text radiating ever wider and overlapping like ripples in a pond. It's like when you dream and all of these seemingly unrelated people and things and places interact and you wake-up thinking 'wow' that was a cool dream. Although the dream made no sense when you woke up, you can't help but think about it, and sometimes tell your best friend. That was this book. My alarm clock is going off now...


message 47: by Brian (last edited Apr 24, 2009 08:02PM) (new)

Brian (banoo) 40. gather the weeds by Patrick Kilgallon

Intense... just pure concentrated intensity. When I read The Road sometime ago my only comment about it was I thought it too dark and gloomy from page one to the last. Gather the Weeds makes The Road seem like a happy little fairy tale with cute bunnies hopping among the daisies while sunbeams twinkle in the crystal air... really.

The weeds are the less fortunate among us... the physically or mentally impaired. The world is a garden. Weeds don't belong in a garden. They're kept in a place called the Gate. The story is about the Gate, the people who are imprisoned there, and the flowers, healthy young men called Whysees, who look after the weeds... like a gardener would do with a fresh batch of Roundup weed killer.

It is horror. Not the supernatural-spirit-gonna-possess-you kind of horror. It isn't the fleshy, scaly, or furry bloody monster kind of horror. It's human horror. It takes place in an another time, possibly a future where the populous elected the wrong people to run the future. Or, the populous just got infected with some bug that resulted in a major moral and conscience deficiency. Who the hell knows?

This is a book that will haunt me for a while. It's a book that taught me a little about what it might be like to be deaf. Actually, from what I previously knew, this book taught me a lot about what it might be like to be deaf.

This is the author's first novel. It won't be his last. That makes me happy.


message 48: by Brian (last edited Apr 25, 2009 07:33PM) (new)

Brian (banoo) 41. Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed by Lance Carbuncle

If shit were funny, this book would be funnier than shit. Lance Carbuncle, I'm assuming a brother of Fester Boyle but I may be wrong, writes like Hunter S. Thompson if Hunter S. Thompson were on heavy drugs... ummm... heavier drugs... well, like if he were brain dead but could still write.

Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed gets it's title from a breakfast dish comprised of potatoes that have been what those verbs imply with butter and pork. It actually sounded tasty.

It's an adventure about a lost dog and it's owner who journeys to find it... sort of. A lot of things happen during the journey, weird and funny things. Mr Boyle, I mean Carbuncle, also likes to use footnotes to highlight information loosely related to the story that might come in handy when you're drunk and in a corner and don't know what to say to yourself or to that guy passed out on the floor. For that I am grateful.

I would have given this book 4 stars but the chapter about the heavy metal b-list groupie that collected poop kind of grossed me out.


message 49: by Brian (new)

Brian (banoo) 42. Inferno by Dante Alighieri

'Here any doubts must be dropped,
any cowardice has to die now.
We've arrived where I told you,
where you'd see spirits in agony,
losers of the intelligence's good.'


My second excursion into hell this year (my first was by way of Yasutaka Tsutsui). I never realized there were so many Italians and Greeks in that place. This book is kind of a Who's Who of Hell. If I ever find myself lost in a forest (which happens frequently) and Virgil appears and offers to guide me out, I think I'll pass. Virgil takes the long way out, the long and inconvenient way. Virgil is a crazy man... and he's dead. One should never follow Virgil. I hope you understand my repetition and insistence on this matter. Avoid Virgil if you get lost.

Canto 21 was probably one of my favorites. I like the idea of being on a bridge over bubbling hot tar filled with screaming souls that surface like dolphins while having monsters chase me. Yet another reason to avoid Virgil. You shouldn't need to take this path to get out of a forest. It's just not right. Screw what Beatrice has to say about all this. Better still... stay out of forests.


message 50: by Brian (last edited May 03, 2009 03:51AM) (new)

Brian (banoo) 43. Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami

"You're always trying so hard to see something, just like you're taking notes, like some scholar doing research, right? Or just like a little kid. You really are a little kid, when you're a kid you try to see everything, don't you? Babies look right into the eyes of people they don't know and cry or laugh, but now you just try and look right into people's eyes, you'll go nuts before you know it. Just try it, try looking right into the eyes of people walking past, you'll start feeling funny pretty soon, you shouldn't look at things like a baby."

One of the few quotes I could find that didn't deal with vomit, semen, spit, bleeding orifices, throbbing protuberances, sweat...

One word sums up this book... yucky
Did I like it? oh yeah

If you've never taken drugs or lived a depraved life read this book and you'll feel like you've taken drugs and lived a depraved life. I'm still tripping...

There is no plot. Things just happen. Many, many things happen. Some things best left unsaid here. Think Kawabata... now imagine his complete opposite. This was Ryu's first book. It was awarded the Akutagawa Prize. Not for the moral majority or minority or anyone with morals at all.

And it has the best cover of any book I've seen.

"... a charred body is one thing you don't ever want to see, you know, it's really bad."


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