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2011 Book #22: Americana

This is the third time I've read Americana. I really need to work on the Thesis Monster, and it had been a year since I'd read the book, so I figured rereading it would be a good start. I loved it the first two times: it was probably my favorite DeLillo book (hovering there with White Noise). This time, though, I was bored out of my mind. Michael Douglas narrated it in my head (a la Wonder Boys), and he just droned on and on.

I've come to the conclusion that my love affair with Don DeLillo is permanently over. The turning point is when I was researching the Thesis Monster and realized that he just writes the same book over and over: some dude with postmodern angst is running away from identity-creating media to find his own identity. Okay, that's not exactly the case with all of DeLillo's novels, but they're all basically about the same thing.

So much for the DeLillo Binge.

As much as I didn't enjoy Americana this time around, there are things about DeLillo that I still do love. His language is beautiful. If I could make myself sit down and write a novel, I'd want it to sound like his.
Literature is what we passed and left behind, that more than men and cactus. For years I had been held fast by the great unwinding mystery of this deep sink of land, the thick paragraphs and imposing photos, the galop of panting adjectives, prairie truth and the clean kills of eagles, the desert shawled in Navaho paints, images of surreal cinema, of ventricles tied to pumps. Chaco masonry and the slung guitar, of church organ lungs and the slate of empires, of coral in this strange place, suggesting a reliquary sea, and of the blessed semblance of God on the faces of superstitious mountains. Whether the novels and songs usurped the land, or took something true from it, is not so much the issue as this: that what I was engaged in was merely a literary venture, an attempt to find pattern and motive, to make of something wild a squeamish thesis on the essence of the nation's soul. To formulate. To seek links. But the wind burned across the creekbeds, barely moving the soil, and there was nothing to announce to myself in the way of historic revelation.
DeLillo's style is beautiful. It's just that I've become as jaded as the characters in his novels. David Bell would have no interest in reading Americana.
So. On to the Thesis Monster. Now, as reconnected with the novel as I can be, I have no excuse not to write. My outline is done: all I have to do is fill in the blanks between quotes. Because that's what the Thesis Monster is: a series of quotes. The postmodern problem.
I've made a schedule of sorts. On weekday mornings, I work on the Thesis Monster, and that's that. I've never been good for much after lunch, so the afternoon is mine. If I can be productive in the mornings, it'll be done soon, and I'll never have to look at it again. I'll also be done with academia, which is another - much scarier - issue. But I have some time left.

This afternoon, I'll ride my bike up to Palmer's, water some plants, and try to tackle The Moviegoer. I hated it when I read it at least ten years ago, but I change my opinions of books pretty frequently. The weather is nice, and I'm looking forward to propping my feet up and giving Walker Percy a second chance.

In other news, the Shreveport Library Book Sale was last Saturday. I usually don't buy much of anything since everything is so disorganized and it's so crowded. Here's what I got this time:


2011 Book #23: The Moviegoer

I read The Moviegoer when I was in high school, and I hated it, though I knew I should have liked it. For years, I've claimed not to be a fan of Southern lit in general - with exceptions like A Confederacy of Dunces and, more recently, Faulkner. I'm not sure why I don't like it. Maybe it's because I hear the words in my head with a heavy southern drawl.

Anyway, months ago, I decided to give The Moviegoer a second try, and I finally got around to it. I remembered almost nothing about it, but I had a feeling I'd like it more now. The protagonist is exactly my age, 29 and about to turn 30, and he has a lot of the general life issues that I have, so I can totally empathize with him. Here's an example:

Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies - my only talent - smelling merde from every quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall - on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.

The problem with The Moviegoer is that it bored me. I wasn't bored to put it down, but I wasn't excited to read it, either. Maybe it's the drawl drifting through my head - I don't know - but I just couldn't get into it. Walker Percy just isn't my kind of writer.

On a more interesting note, I've now read as many books this year as I did in all of 2010. I was on quite a bender, but then I started messing with the Thesis Monster again, and Palmer got me hooked on Warcraft, which is much more fun than you might think it would be. I'll still hit the big 5-0, just you wait. I'm glad I got ahead in January and February.

2011 Book #24: Watership Down

I tried reading Watership Down several years ago and failed. I remembered what happened more than halfway through the novel, so I'm surprised I didn't just finish it. It is long, though. And it's totally worth a read. I really enjoyed it, though reading from a rabbit's point of view took a bit of getting used to. The novel is about rabbits starting their own warren and the Things that Happen. It's amazingly violent - much more than I thought it would be. I haven't seen the movie (or if I have, it's been a really long time), but I bet it sticks pretty close to the novel's plot. And Adams is great at imagery. I felt like I was in the warren with the rabbits.

The first time I tried to read Watership Down, I lived in Mid City, New Orleans. It was probably a year or two before the hurricane. My condo wasn't in the best neighborhood, but it wasn't terrible, either. Except a girl named Ashley lived next to me, and she sold prescription drugs, so ne'er-do-wells were often about, yelling up to her window. "AshLEY!" Urgh. Anyway, I was sitting in a recliner next to a window that looked out to my small patio. It had a privacy fence a good bit taller than me. I heard a noise, and a dude I assumed to be one of AshLEY's "friends" jumped over my fence, grabbed my bicycle, shoved it over the fence, and jumped back over. Goodbye to my bike. Not that I really rode it or anything. I didn't know what to do, so I just sat really still and watched him. I figured it'd be a bad idea to try and confront him since the only thing between us was a thin pane of glass.

I don't really have a lot to say about this novel. I really liked it. There's also a Tales from Watership Down that I'll probably look into at some point. A novel about rabbits was certainly a change from what I've been reading lately.

2011 Book #25: The Silent Land

I usually don't read books like The Silent Land, which fits squarely into the pop-fiction category. I found it through a Facebook ad that claimed it's like a Murakami novel. I was, of course, skeptical, but I downloaded it to my (new!) Kindle and gave it a try. It's was really short: I read it in four or five hours, and I read pretty slowly. It's about a couple skiing in Spain when they get caught by an avalanche. The husband digs out the wife, and they get down the mountain, but no one is there. The whole town is empty. At first, they think that the resort has been evacuated for fear of another avalanche, so they try to get out of town, but no matter what road they take, the always end up back there. The reader wonders if they're dead, which seems kind of obvious if you've ever seen Beetlejuice, or if something else is going on. The power starts going out, and time gets confused. In the end, it turns out that only one of them is dead, which is a bit of a twist, I guess.

Though The Silent Land is a predictable pop-fiction thriller, I really liked it. Graham Joyce's imagery is really good: it was one of those novels in which I found myself totally absorbed. I was even creeped out at times. I wanted to find out what was going on as much as the characters did, so I found myself reading through it really quickly just to find out what would happen next. It's totally worth a read.

2011 Book #26: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I'd wanted to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell since I first saw it on bookshelves a few years ago. I didn't really know much about it except that it involved magicians but isn't really fantasy. Which meant to me that it might not suck. I had a feeling that I'd really like it, but I didn't even try reading it because it's so long. Like 900 pages long. In fact, if you count Lord of the Rings as three books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is the longest book I've ever read. But, you say, I have an English degree! Colleges don't assign long books anymore, so I wasn't in the habit. Even Lord of the Rings took me several months to read, and I was quite impressed with myself after finishing it.
Here's the most basic of summaries, as the plot is quite complex: In early ninetenth-century England, there is a society of magicians. They don't actually practice magic - they just study it. Someone gets to wondering why no one in England practices magic anymore, and a couple members if the society find the one magician who actually practices magic: Mr. Norrell. Mr. Norrell wants to get involved in the government, to help England in its war against France, but no one in politics seems to respect magic. He has a cousin in Parliament, Sir Walter Pole, who refuses to help him. Sir Walter's wife dies, though, and Mr. Norrell says he can bring her back to life, which he does, except he doesn't exactly know what he's doing. He asks a fairy, known as the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, to help him. The fairy makes a deal, saying he'll revive her as long as he gets half her life. Mr. Norrell thinks the fairy means that Lady Pole will only live for half her normal lifespan, but the actual deal is that Lady Pole will be spirited off to Faerie every night to dance in a ball, a captive of the fairy. So, since Mr. Norrell "helped" Lady Pole, he gets his foot in the door at Parliament and becomes involved in the war, using magic to defend England. Meanwhile, a younger man named Jonathan Strange stumbles into magic because nothing else interests him, and he eventually becomes Mr. Norrell's student. He learns quickly and then goes off to Belgium to fight in the war. At some point, the fairy decides he wants Strange's wife, Arabella, for his collection, so he charms a swamp log to look like her and then kidnaps her. The charm wears off after a few days, and it looks like Arabella is dead, though she is stuck in Faerie with Lady Pole. Then there are a few hundred pages of war and the like, and, somehow, it doesn't get boring. Eventually, Strange and Norrell separate, and since Norrell has hoarded all the magic books in England, Strange runs out of material to study. Not knowing what Norrell did with the fairy, he decides to summon his own fairy. The problem is that it's the gentleman with the thistle-down hair. The fairy refuses to help him, so Strange casts a spell and makes it to the fairy's mansion, and he sees his wife at the ball. The fairy curses him and sends him home, and he obsesses over getting his wife back, deliberately making himself crazy in the process. Eventually, he convinces Norrell to help him, and they team up again, fading off into magicland together.

And that's only the most skeletal of summaries.

I absolutely loved every minute of this novel. I was totally intimidated by its length, but it was so worth it. I was sad when it ended because Susanna Clarke had drawn me into a world I didn't want to leave. The funny thing is that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was her first novel. I can't wait to read the rest of them, though I have a feeling that after this one, I'll find myself disappointed.

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