Saturday, January 27, 2007

"One of these things is not like the other... one of these things just doesn't belong."

From Sesame Street?


1. Readership has dropped from 200+ hits per day to a little over a hundred. I know about 89 of them. Pout.

2. I will not divulge much information about the job, but I can safely say that I love-love-love-freakin'-love it. It's like I went to eHarmony. Perfect fit.

3. My screenplay placed second in the Tinseltown 10 contest. I can't find a link, so you'll just have to trust me. Now, my screenplay will be shipped to the "top ten" agencies in L.A.-la land.

4. I'm going to be hypnotized at a company party next week.

Which one isn't true?

Friday, January 26, 2007

10. "Midnight's Children" Salman Rushdie

Second verse, same as the first.

Otherwise known as "see comments in number 9."

1.0 out of 5.0 Broken Down Golf Carts.

9. "Kim" ~ Rudyard Kipling

Perhaps if I had a version of this book with footnotes instead of a boatload of references to the bibliography, I would have enjoyed this book.

Perhaps if I had read The Guide to Reading Rudyard Kipling, I would have had the patience to try reading the entire book.

Perhaps if I didn't have a short temper and vicious protection of my free time, I would have made it past the first chapter.

But, I didn't.

-5.0 out of 5.0 Caspainachis.

Monday, January 22, 2007

8. "The French Lieutenant's Woman" ~ John Fowles

So, I'm riding through this tale of Victorian romance, recognizing the nods to Jane Austen, the winks to Tennyson, then hit chapter 13 with high velocity. The author deems us stupid/naive/ignorant enough to insert himself into the book?

You need to know this before you begin in order to enjoy the process.

Charles and his fiancee Ernestina are visiting Lyme Regis, a seaside town in England, to introduce Charles to the meager society and count down the days until their wedding. On their first walk along the port, they see a figure in black who stares seaward fixedly. Ernestina tells Charles about the "Tragedy" or "French Lieutenant's Woman," a fallen woman who still searches for her lover to return.

In twists of accident and purpose, the woman (Sarah) and Charles meet. Her circumstances and intelligence trap Charles into a less than moral desire to help her.

You can see what's coming.

Or can you? Because, since Fowles inserts himself into the work, actually describing the writing process and the people as characters, he creates a world where anything can happen, a very God-like task for someone whose characters are strict Darwin supporters.

Fowles writes, "Fiction usually pretends to conform to reality: the writer puts the conflicting wants into the ring and then describes the fight." So, in a very unique style, Fowles gives three endings to the novel. It's like the choose your adventure books from my youth.

It poses the question: what is truth? What is reality? Who is driving the bus?

After relaxing into this unusual style, I could not put the book down. Unfortunately, none of the endings satisfied my need for closure. Perhaps this was the author's intent.

4.2 out of 5.0 French Kisses.

7. "The Beautiful and Damned" ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anthony Patch meets a friend's cousin, Gloria, who dances "all over" during the American jazz craze. Eventually, they marry, then parry around New York City, waiting for Anthony's grandfather to die and begin a fat life with the inheritance.

Like most Fitzgerald novels, there is no happy-happy-joy-joy ending. Though the characters are glamorous, they all fall from grace, either socially or psychologically.

Still, a week after I've read this book, there is little I can recall. It went through me like a sieve.

2.0 out of 5.0 Pepperclears.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

6. Lolita ~ Vladimir Nabokov

Longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that Lolita has been in the "refrigerator" several times over the past year. The novel has alternately gathered dust and been wiped clean as I have attempted to dissect it.

That was my error. This is not a book that can be analyzed or scrutinized. It is a book that one must read for the emotional value alone.

And what a range. What prevented me from pressing through the novel was the main character, Humbert Humbert, and his absolute obsession with "nymphets" - prepubescent girls. Particularly, his fascination with Dolores Haze, the daughter of his landlord.

Humbert's observations are romantic - if you forget that he's waxing words over a pre-teen. The tug-of-war of language and the emotions it evokes made this difficult to read. We are bred to despise child molestors (and with good reason); however, I teased office workers and tricked bar goers when I was 14, 15. Is there not blame in Dolly's behavior?

Once the emotional wrestling ended in the second half of the book, I could relax into the tale. As Nabokov has said, "Certain techniques in the beginning of Lolita misled some of the first readers into assuming this was going to be a lewd book." I won't go so far as Vanity Fair's assessment - "the only convincing love story of our century" - but these are two of the most complex characters in literature. Measure your reaction to Humbert as the brilliance of Nabokov's abilities.

4.0 out of 5.0 X-Rated Flirtinis.

Banned Book: Obvious thematical elements.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life." ~ George Burns

One of my former students wrote a fascinating paper on the controversy over headscarves in Muslim culture. She sat with me after class, spending thirty minutes of her time explaining the prophet Mohammed's reasons for the headscarves, the social implications, the familial connections.

When she left, I realized that I have hidden behind my "pagan" wit for too long. I was baptized with my second son as a contingency. We have only gone back to church twice, and once was for a wedding.

So, amidst the other books in the "fridge," I'd like to put the following list in the "deep freezer." They are books that I'll be reading over the course of the next year (perhaps two). I'll write about them when inspired.

1. The Bible: New Testament in Modern English
2. Torah: A Modern Commentary
3. Qur'an, English Translation
4. A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism
5. The God Delusion

I must insist to my friends that I won't be going "all Jesus on your asses." It's been a concern before, though not of me. I've always been counted on for the yule logs, ritual burnings, and celebrations of moon phases. To create one's own religion and take over the world, one must be familiar with the competition.

P.S. If you didn't recognize the last sentence as sarcasm, please don't read this blog ever again.

Monday, January 15, 2007

5. "Where Angels Fear to Tread" ~ E.M. Forster

From Wikipedia:

"Caroline Abbott, along with the widowed Lilia Herriton, falls in love with both Italy and a handsome Italian much younger than herself, and decides to stay. Furious, her dead husband's family send Lilia's brother-in-law and his sister to Italy to prevent a misalliance, but they arrive too late. Lilia marries the Italian and in due course becomes pregnant again. When she dies giving birth to her child, the Herritons consider it both their right and their duty to travel to Monteriano to obtain custody of the infant so that he can be raised as an Englishman."

It's another early novel about status and society. Sure, Lilia is silly, but she is their former sister-in-law, not a ward of the family estate.

1.25 out of 5.0 Big Sticks.

Friday, January 12, 2007

4. "Main Street" ~ Sinclair Lewis

For the first of the "classic American novels," this book hit me hard between the ribs with its depiction of a small Minnesotan town. It was all so familiar - the gossip, the peeking behind curtains, the church as school. But also the sledding and ice fishing and the Sioux (which earned a footnote).

Meant to frighten people into seeing all of these "Main Street" towns across the plains, prairies, and mountains, a much more relatable topic than all of the New York City stories at the time.

Carol, the protagonist (I can't call her a heroine since she drives me crazy), tries repeatedly to do something to "improve" the town, whether it is a tennis tournament or a play. She fails to win over the townspeople and becomes the subject of much gossip.

It is a long book, and if you are not from a small town, you may get bored by the bickering. If not for the Minnesota references, I would have skimmed much more.

3.75 out of 5.0 Tootsie Pop Shots.

Monday, January 08, 2007

3. "Falling Through the Earth" ~ Danielle Trussoni

In this memoir, Danielle grew up with a brother, a sister, and a father who took her to the bar with him. She learned to roll dice for drinks, run from the cops, and listen to her father's Vietnam stories.

He was a "tunnel rat," a soldier who blew out the underground tunnel mazes that hid the enemy. One horrific moment changed how he looked at his life. Those moments are sticky as tar, and you either learn to scrape it off or allow it to cling to everything you touch. Her father chose to drink.

Typical Vietnam soldier story? Not really. It's also the story of how Danielle had her own battle scars based on her childhood. She doesn't allow her writing to get overly sentimental, but I felt like she played the blame game too much. If I were her mother, I'd be pissed.

2.5 out of 5.0 Vivid Dreams.

“Each of us wages a private battle each day between the grand fantasies we have for ourselves and what actually happens.” ~ Cathy Guisewite

1. I got a job.

2. It's not teaching.

3. I'll be writing all day.

4. But not for myself.

1+2+3+4= Fewer books will be read this year.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2. "Whale Talk" ~ Chris Crutcher

Crutcher is one of the best writers for young adult fiction today. He is to high school sports what Judy Blume was to hormone-hopping girls.

In Whale Talk, T.J. Jones, a mixed race high school senior ("I'm black. And Japanese. And white."), organizes a swimming team as a favor to a teacher and a snub to the stereotypical meathead jocks on the football team. Problem: T.J.'s high school doesn't have a pool. Or, by the meager response, much of a chance of winning.

The team grows tighter with each workout. T.J. banks his anger with the help of his lawyer-mom, Harley biker-dad, and uber-patient kid therapist.

A tightly scripted climax brings together all of the small town rivalries and ugliness. My only complaint is it felt over the top, but Crutcher is not one to play house. He brings his characters, faults and all, to life.

4.25 out of 5.0 Berry-Berries.

2006 Top Ten Banned Book - These are my assumptions and opinions about the reasoning behind banning and/or challenged books, which I will toss in at the end of a review.

In this case, language ("nigger," "asshole," and "bitch" are thrown around a bit), mixed race babies (hmm, don't kids have the sex ed. talk in middle school?), an angry teenager who stands up to authority (don't want to teach students to think for themselves, now, would we?).

1. "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" ~ Marisha Pessl

Blue van Meer is a clever teen beginning a new year at a special prep school after her father, a visiting professor, changes jobs for the umpteenth time. She is adopted by a part-time teacher, who has also taken several other students (the "Bluebloods," i.e. the popular clique) under her persuasion.

I say "persuasion" because that seems to be the entire purpose of Hannah, a slightly off character who divines too much interest in these much younger students and too much attention to their feelings about her and each other.

Someone once said that a book is only as intelligent as its author. In this case, Pessl must have an I.Q. of 180. This, however, does not translate into a good novel. In fact, after the kitschy-ness of toss-away literature, religious, and history references wears thin(shown as in-text citations like a good MLA style student), it is like plodding through a thick muck of pretentiousness.

And then there is a murder about 475 pages into this 500-plus page doorstop. Blue hashes it out in a quick narrative that spans 20 pages or so. It's meant to tie up a lot of hidden clues planted throughout the first pound of pages. Most readers won't realize they were meant to put on the detective cap and, if like me, will rebel.

I picked this hoping for a light young adult read to enjoy over the holidays. Not young adult. Not light. Not ever again.

2.0 out of 5.0 Acid Cookies.