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Adult Blog

2011 Book #49: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If I had read The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was 15 or 16, it would have blown my mind. I really wish I had read it then: it might have made the melodrama that was my adolescence a bit more manageable. Or, at least, I might have realized that other kids had similar things going on. And while it makes me a bit nostalgic for the good (and bad) times I had in high school, it also reminds me how much easier things get when you grow up.

 It’s about a somewhat damaged kid who starts high school and makes friends with a bunch of   seniors who introduce him to the things kids are almost inevitably introduced to: sex,  alcohol, drugs, cigarettes. The kid’s name is Charlie, and he’s very innocent at the beginning (I was beginning to wonder if he was mentally challenged). He’s a good kid and always thinks of the needs and wants of others before his own. He’s generally not a troublemaker, but he occasionally has Donnie Darko-style fits (that’s another thing I wish had been around when I was fifteen). He almost instantly falls in love with Sam, one of his best friends, and he deals with unrequited love for her throughout the book. A bunch of angsty teenager mischief ensues. There’s also a big reveal near the end that I don’t think was necessary but that might explain some things.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is poignant, but it can also be funny. Here’s one of my favorite passages, in which Charlie describes his first girlfriend. It made me chuckle.
I did go to the dance, and I did tell Mary Elizabeth how nice her outfit was. I did ask her questions, and I let her talk the whole time. I learned about “objectification,” Native Americans, and the bourgeoisie.
But most of all, I learned about Mary Elizabeth.
Mary Elizabeth wants to go to Berkeley and get two degrees. One is for political science. The other is for sociology with a minor concentration in women’s studies. Mary Elizabeth hates high school and wants to explore lesbian relationships. I asked her if she thought girls were pretty, and she looked at me like I was stupid and said, “That’s not the point.”
Mary Elizabeth’s favorite movie is Reds. Her favorite book is an autobiography of a woman who was a character in Reds. I can’t remember her name. Mary Elizabeth’s favorite color is green. Her favorite season is spring. Her favorite ice cream flavor (she said she refuses to eat low-fat frozen yogurt on principle alone) is Cherry Garcia. Her favorite food is pizza (half mushrooms, half green peppers). Mary Elizabeth is a vegetarian, and she hates her parents. She is also fluent in Spanish.
I think I like Mary Elizabeth so much because that’s who I thought I was in high school. I wasn’t, of course.

My plan for this blog post was to explain why I’m too old fully to enjoy this novel, but I think I’m changing my mind. Sure, it’s in the YA section of the library, as I guess it should be. In fact, here’s a review on the Teen Scene blog by one of my coworkers (It makes me feel ooooooold and highlights the difference in perspective seven or eight years can make).

I’m not sure if I’d want my kid reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I say I’ll leave my bookshelves open and encourage reading of any sort, but I don’t think I’d want my twelve- or thirteen-year-old knowing about all of that stuff just yet. Fifteen, sixteen, sure. Hopefully my kid will have a much easier time in high school than Charlie did.

Bonus: The author, Stephen Chbosky, isn’t primarily a novelist. He wrote the screenplay for Rent and the short-lived CBS series, Jericho.
 

2011 Book #50(!): The Loved One

I arrived at The Loved One because I was looking for a very short novel (I had two days to read it!), and I read a random article about how prolific Evelyn Waugh was. I was first introduced to him earlier this year with Brideshead Revisited, which is now one of my favorite novels. Then I read A Handful of Dust and liked it, too. I’m really surprised at how much he wrote and how much I like him. When I picked up Brideshead Revisited, I expected something serious and stuffy, but it’s really funny – and fun.

The same goes for The Loved One. I went to Starbucks yesterday and read all but the first fifteen pages in one sitting. It’s a really entertaining read.

Dennis Barlow is a really bad British poet transplanted to Hollywood to write a film script about Shelley. The other expatriates are unhappy with him because they think he’s tarnishing their reputations because once the film doesn’t pan out, he gets a job at a funeral home for pets called the Happier Hunting Ground. Barlow lives with another Brit named Sir Francis Hinsley, who promptly dies. Barlow has the task of dealing with the human funeral home, Whispering Glades, which is entirely excessive on every level. While he’s there, he meets the cosmetician (Hinsley hanged himself, so he has an interesting facial expression that must be dealt with), Aimée Thanatogenos, and begins dating her, regaling her with his terrible poetry. He soon discovers that he gets better results when he uses poems by Shakespeare or Tennyson or Poe because she’s too dumb to realize where they come from. He asks her to marry him just after she’s offered a promotion so she can support him: he says it’s perfectly acceptable in England. But! He has a rival in Whispering Glades, Mr. Joyboy, who also has his eye on Aimée. Ridiculous mischief ensues.

The Loved One is a very English novel, and it reads like one of the old shows that come on LPB on Saturday nights. It especially reminded me of Are You Being Served. It’s about English snootiness and American excess, and it’s hilarious. And a very quick, light read
 

2011: The Year in Books

I did it. I read fifty books this year. After 2010's embarrassing performance, I'm rather proud of myself, especially since that fifty includes some really long ones like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and 1Q84 and some really hard ones like The Satanic Verses and Midnight's Children.

I enjoyed the vast majority of them, and I enjoyed the experience of spending most of the year ahead of my quota, then playing catch-up at the very end. I wasn't sure I would make it: I finished #46, Midnight's Children, only a couple of days before Christmas, leaving a week to read four novels. Luckily, I found some good short ones. I'm looking forward to some longer ones this year, but I think I'll try to stay away from the long and difficult. Rushdie does have some shorter novels.

Here's my list from 2011, formatted like my 2010 list. Bold means I really liked it, and italics means I really disliked it. If it's neither of those, it was good enough. I'll use strikethrough for the few books I tried to read and gave up on. You can check out the reviews in the 2011 archive in the right column.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Franny and Zooey
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
  • Good Morning, Midnight
  • Things Fall Apart
  • Oryx and Crake
  • The Satanic Verses
  • The Hunger Games
  • This Side of Paradise
  • Popular Hits of the Showa Era
  • Labyrinths
  • Catching Fire
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Disgrace
  • Mockingjay
  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • Crime and Punishment
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Herzog
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • The Blue Sword
  • The Year of the Flood
  • Americana
  • The Moviegoer
  • Watership Down
  • The Silent Land
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • The Short Stories of Conrad Aiken
  • My Life in France
  • The Savage Detectives
  • Cannery Row
  • A Handful of Dust
  • Sweet Thursday
  • O Pioneers!
  • The Lake
  • Lullaby
  • Everything that Rises Must Converge
  • Cosmopolis
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  • The Hero and the Crown
  • The Devil All the Time
  • The Book of Sand
  • The Castle
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • The Night Circus
  • 1Q84
  • Wise Blood
  • Midnight's Children
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Sense of an Ending
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • The Loved One
I haven't yet announced my favorite book of the year. Last year, it was David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, with Murakami's Dance Dance Dance as a close second. If you would have asked me then, I would have predicted that 1Q84 would top my list this year, but I didn't like it half as well as I thought I would, though that doesn't mean I didn't like it. And, if you've been following my blog recently, you might expect Midnight's Children, but no! It's a close second to...

Drumroll please...



Yep. The best book I read this year was the very first one. I think it's My Very Favorite Book Ever. I'm not going to rehash my review here. The closest rival is, as I said, Midnight's Children, but that's because they're so similar. I hope I find a book half as good as either of those in 2012.

So, that's it. Out with the old, and in with the new, as they say. I have another fifty books ahead of me, and fifty-two weeks to read them. Wish me luck.
 

2012 Book #1:Great Jones Street


I’ve read Great Jones Street three times – and only once because I wanted to. It’s the topic of the second chapter of my thesis on How Don DeLillo Writes the Same Novel Over and Over Again. Okay, that’s not my official topic, but it’s what my Thesis Monster is really about. Translated: I read through this novel really, really quickly so I can read what I want to read. Which is not Don DeLillo.
That said, I’m not saying the novel is bad or that DeLillo isn’t a fantastic writer. Because it’s not, and he is. Great Jones Streetis the “least interesting and most plotted of DeLillo’s Novels,” according to Michael Oriard. I’m not sure that I agree. Surprisingly, I generally enjoyedGreat Jones Street this time around.
It’s about a jaded rock star, Bucky Wonderlick (supposedly modeled after Bob Dylan). As with most of DeLillo’s protagonists, he’s surrounded by media, which is imposing an identity on him. In this case, he’s supposed to commit rock star suicide. Instead, he holes up in his girlfriend’s apartment, trying to escape the music industry and his fans. But he can’t really escape, and he becomes involved with a superdrug, and he’s swept up into chaos again.
It’s really not a bad novel, but one read was enough. The vast majority of DeLillo novels (I’ve read most of them) follow a general formula, and they all sound the same. I hear all of his novels like Michael Douglas is reading them to me. All of the characters follow the same speech patterns, which isn’t terrible: my favorite thing about DeLillo is his writing style. It’s beautiful. Here’s the first paragraph of the novel:
Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic. Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation. Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors. Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity–hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs. Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.
Michael Douglas read it in your head, too, didn’t he.
What having read this book yet again means to me is that I have to start on chapter two of my thesis tomorrow. Meh.
If Great Jones Street seems interesting to you, give it a try. If DeLillo sounds interesting, read White Noise first. It’s so much better.
 

2012 Book #2:Ready Player One


I only need one word to describe Ready Player Oneoverkill. Seriously. This novel is like the Treme of 80s references:  it’s basically a list of all of the Things about the Eighties Ernest Cline could come up with. It’s also juvenile: In the past, I’ve said that several YA books should be put in the Adult section (most notably the Hunger Games trilogy). Ready Player One is just the opposite: it’s a kid’s book. The only problem is that kids wouldn’t understand any of the 80s references.

Ready Player One is set in 2045, after we’ve used up most of our fossil fuel, and the world is a pretty miserable place. The protagonist, Wade, lives in the stacks, a literal pile of trailers. He spends most of his time playing a game that’s a mix between Second Life and Warcraft, called OASIS, as does everyone else in the world. The creator of OASIS, a very wealthy man, has just died. He didn’t have any heirs, so he created a contest within the game for his company and his money. It’s an easter egg hidden behind three gates that have to be opened with three keys within the game. Obviously, everyone wants to win, and there are thousands of players after that key. They call themselves gunters. There’s also a huge corporation, IOI, after the prize, but they want to take over OASIS for monetary gain. And they’re evil. Anyway, five years pass after the game begins, and lots of gunters have begun to lose interest, thinking that the easter egg is too well hidden for anyone to find. Then Wade finds the first key, and the race begins to find the egg. There’s also a stupid love story subplot.

The general plot is good: it’s the details that annoy me. Halliday, the creator of Oasis, was obsessed with the 1980s, and to understand the clues to where the keys are hidden, one would have to know everything about Halliday. And it’s all 80s references. If it’s pop culture, and it happened in the 80s, Cline worked it in somewhere. It just doesn’t end. At one point early in the novel, Wade has to supply the dialogue for all of the movie WarGames, and we hear too much of it. Later, he has to survive an entire videogame. We hear too much about that, too. By the time I was halfway through the novel, I was downright angry.
It also didn’t help that Ready Player One invaded my dreams. I hate it when novels do that, even if they’re really good. I spent one night in a sort of twilight state calculating how to get those keys, and the next night, last night, I could hardly sleep at all. What I learned from this experience: no scifi novels at bedtime. Not that I read many scifi novels, anyway.
Other than the 80s overload, Ready Player One is a decent novel – if you like pop fiction (I don’t) and if you really like the 1980s. I still think it belongs in the YA section.
 


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