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2012 Book #10: I'm Starved for You

But wait, you say. I'm Starved for You  is a Kindle Single and is too short to qualify as a novel! And I reply, That’s okay! Because it’s a novella, and it’s awesome! Last year I read and blogged about The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is only 26,000 words, or so. Also, it’s my blog, and if I say it qualifies, it qualifies. So there. That said, it really is just a longish short story.
Anyway, I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, which you’ll know already if you’ve read my reviews of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood from last year or my dystopia rundown from a couple of weeks ago. I especially enjoy her writing style, which is easy to read but not condescending at all. And we all know how much I like dystopian fiction.
I can’t give out too much information on I’m Starved for You without a Super Duper Spoiler, which, in this case, I don’t want to do, especially since this story is so new. It’s a dystopian novella about a near-future city in which the residents (voluntarily) alternate months between prison and home. They go to prison for a month and have a job, etc, there, and then they return home to their houses and families for a month. While one couple is in prison, Alternates stay in their homes until the Alternates go to prison, and so on, and so one. Families and their Alternates are allowed no contact. Except the protagonist, Stan, finds a note under the refrigerator and starts to investigate. Which is where I stop.
I think I discovered this novella from Margaret Atwood herself: she’s very active on Twitter, which is soooo cool. (Incidentally, one of my other favorite writers, Salman Rushdie, is, too.) It’s a Kindle Single, and it’s only $3. You can’t, of course, check it out from the library because publishing companies make it as hard as possible for libraries to offer ebooks. But that’s another story.
I don’t have that much to say about I’m Starved for You except that it’s very Atwood-y and that it’s fantastic. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can read it anywhere that there’s Kindle software, which includes PCs.
 

2012 Book #11: The Gunslinger

The Gunslingerhas been on my to-read list for a while. It came highly recommended from a few of my friends, so I finally broke down and read it. You see, it’s not the kind of book I usually like. You tell me gunslinger, and I say, nope, nope, I don’t like westerns. No westerns for me, thanks. (I think my aversion to westerns is my dad’s fault. He’s read every Louis L’amour book ever written, and he used to read loooooooooong passages at the dinner table. My stepmother and I would feign interest.) Then there’s theStephen King part. I’m a little ambivalent here. When I was about 12, I read The Tommyknockers and liked it well enough. At some point when I was in high school or college, I read The Shining, which is a legitimately good book. Later, I read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which is not a good book.
An aside is in order here: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a little girl who gets lost in the woods. She has a little radio with her, and she listens to baseball games and is encouraged by her favorite player, Tom Gordon. Something creepy has been following her the whole time, and it gets creepier and creepier. You might think it’s something supernatural. But (spoiler!) it’s not. It’s just a bear. You’ve wasted several hours of your time reading a Stephen King novel, thinking you know what to expect, and in an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist, you get a bear. Seriously, yall. Istill want my money back on that one.
Anyway, that should explain my ambivalence toward Stephen King. I do have a little confession to make, though: I love the made-for-TV movies. I even spent last night watching the third episode of The Stand. And then there’s The Langoliers, which I’ve seen dozens of times over the years. I’m embarrassed to say that I even own several of the DVDs. So: TV, yes; books, sometimes. But I digress. Again.
I’ll cut to the chase: Turns out The Gunslinger isn’t a western. Yes, there’s some desert and some good ol’ gunslingin’, but that isn’t the point. It’s a fantasy novel, and I like fantasy. Especially the good vs. evil kind of fantasy that thinks it has higher implications. This series totally fits the bill. I thought I’d be able to stop after the first one, but that’s not gonna happen. I’ve already loaded the second, The Drawing of the Three, onto my Kindle.
I guess a bit of a plot rundown is in order. I’m not giving you much this time. A gunslinger tracks a “man in black” across the desert. He meets a few people on his way, and you get just a piece of the backstory as he progresses. He meets a boy at a way-station and takes him along. Things Happen.
This is the kind of book that you’ll enjoy more if you don’t know anything about it. I had no idea except that it involved a gunslinger, but I’ve already talked about that. The Gunslinger was a very happy surprise. Now, of course, I’m hooked: I’ve already started reading the next book in the series, The Drawing of the Three, and it’s really interesting. In a good way, so far. Once you finish The Gunslinger, you have all kinds of fun to look forward to, including my very favorite creature yet, the lobstrosity. If you can’t find any other reason to read The Dark Tower series, read it for the lobstrosities.
Which reminds me: These novels have pictures!
 

It's Spring! (plus a little poetry lesson)

We’re beginning to wonder if it’s really summer here in the south, but most of the rest of the country is celebrating the end of a long, dark, snowy winter. And, since I’m reading a Really Long Book that I don’t plan to finish until next week at the earliest, I figured it would be nice to explore a little springtime poetry by some of my favorite poets.

 

e.e. cummings is just about the springiest poet I can think of. He was a Modernist, and he’s known for playing with language. Here’s a good example:

(If the formatting of this poem isn't really weird - meaning if it's lined up on the left, click over to the blog.)

                             r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
                      who
  a)s w(e loo)k
  upnowgath
                  PPEGORHRASS
                                        eringint(o-
  aThe):l
             eA
                 !p:
S                                                         a
                          (r
  rIvInG                         .gRrEaPsPhOs)
                                                         to
  rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly
  ,grasshopper;
Whaaaaaaat? you ask? This is a poem about a grasshopper leaping. cummings, though, doesn’t stop at describing the leap – the words themselves form a visual image. Without the spaces, it might make a bit more sense: “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r who a)s w(e loo)k up now gath PPEGORHRASS ering t(o-aThe): leA!p:s a (rrIvInG.gRrEaPsPhOs) rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly ,grasshopper;” Remember Poetry in Motion from the 1990s? It’s like a performance on paper.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have started with such a (only seemingly) tough poem. Here’s another:
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and from moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and
without breaking anything.
This one’s about the coming of spring and how gradually it appears and how subtly. e.e. cummings takes some brainwork, but he’s totally worth it.
Here’s another poet I associate with spring. And another modernist. Like e.e. cummings, Hopkins plays with his word choices. Here’s “Spring”:
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
  A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
  Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
This is a good poem to say out loud so you can appreciate the lushness of the wording. Where cummings makes his poem look like the grasshopper, Hopkins uses a traditional sonnet (14 lines, set rhyme scheme) to emulate the sounds of spring – the growth and blooming and beginning
Here’s another poem by Hopkins that you might recognize from high school or college English classes. It’s called “Pied Beauty.”
Glory be to God for dappled things—
     For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
      Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
      Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
        With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
                                           Práise hím.
This poem isn’t specifically about spring, but it gives a similar sense of freshness. It’s about how things that might not appear perfect really are. Hopkins is playing with sounds again. Note the accents over some of the letters. Hopkins wanted the reader to hear the poems just like he thought they should sound, so those accents are over syllables he thought should be emphasized even though they might not be naturally stressed. (I read this poem for the first time when I was in high school, and I thought it was the Corniest Poem Ever. I don’t think I learned to love Hopkins until grad school. Which also goes for the next poet.
Ahh, Whitman. I have a love-hate relationship with Whitman. I really like some of his stuff, and I hate the rest equally. I’m not sure he doesn’t fall into the summer category rather than spring. Most of his poetry is a bit long for a blog post, so I’ll just post bits and pieces. Here’s part of “Song of Myself”:
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if eer there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, [take that, Yeats!]
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
“Song of Myself” isn’t one of my favorite Whitman poems – I find it annoyingly celebratory – but I love this part. I read it a couple of times, and my eyes tear up. Whitman, by the way, is another modernist. He goes to show how diverse the Modernism movement was.
Just one more. How can there be spring with no Wordsworth? I’m including his poetry last for contrast. Most of my favorite poetry is modern or postmodern, and sometimes I skip over the roots. Wordsworth was a Romantic poet whose major works appeared around 1800, a century before the Modernists. Wordsworth (and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” fame) tried to write in common language, as opposed to the super-formal language of his poetic peers. It might not seem that that’s the case now, but Wordsworth was a revolutionary. Here’s “Lines Written in Early Spring”:
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played:
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
See the difference? This is a totally different kind of poem than that of the Modernists. All of the poems here are of the optimistic variety – if you want some rainy day spring stuff, I might direct you to my favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, and his Waste Land (“April is the cruellest month”) or A.E. Housman‘s Shropshire Lad, both of which are totally awesome.
So happy spring! It’s my favorite time of year.
 

2012 Book #12: The Drawing of the Three

    It’s really hard to write a review about the second (or third or fourth) book in a series without exposing too much about the first one. So if you haven’t read The Gunslinger, I’ll point you to that post. Want a summary? Read it. That’s my summary. I wouldn’t suggest starting The Dark Tower series with The Drawing of the Three, so if this is the first you’ve heard of it, and you think you might read it, go elsewhere to avoid a huge spoiler.
Okay, since we know, at the very least, that The Dark Tower is about the gunslinger’s quest to, well, the Dark Tower, we can pretty safely assume that he’ll survive the first book. At the end of The Gunslinger, we leave Roland (the gunslinger) as he heads to the coast. The Drawing of the Three picks up there. He wakes up on a beach at night as some lobsterish creatures are swept up next to him with the tide. One attacks him, clawing off three of his fingers and one of his toes. He calls them lobstrosities, and I’ve already talked about them and their awesomeness.
Seriously. If you’re looking for a reason to read this book, they’re it. I digress. So the gunslinger hasn’t only lost some digits: his wounds get infected. In his world, he’s SOL. But! At the end of The Gunslinger, the Man in Black mentions something about drawing, but there’s no explanation until Roland is just about dying on the beach, and he sees a door appear out of nowhere. He opens it and finds himself looking through the eyes of a junkie named Eddie, who is about to try to smuggle cocaine through customs. Roland can control Eddie to varying degrees depending on how far into the door he goes. He can just look through Eddie’s eyes, or he can take complete control. Things Happen. I won’t spoil that part. Just keep in mind that this is a huge chunk of the novel. Like the title says, the gunslinger draws three. One of them is a schizophrenic woman in a wheelchair who is alternately a very nice person and a homicidal maniac. Do with that what you will. And that’s all the plot you’re getting on this one.
I didn’t like The Drawing of the Three nearly as much as I liked The Gunslinger, though it’s not bad. It’s just really different. Most of it takes place through the doors in the twentieth century, and that kind of disappointed me. And some parts were annoying. The gunslinger, probably coming from some post-apocalyptic time when technology is all but gone, doesn’t understand a lot of what’s going on in the twentieth century, and he uses words he knows to describe what he sees. Which is fine to a point, but it goes on all through the book. Here’s an example:
The potions that really worked were kept safely out of sight. One could only obtain these if you had a sorcerer’s fiat. In this world, such sorcerers were called DOCKTORS, and they wrote their magic formulae on sheets of paper which the Mortcypedia called REXES. The gunslinger didn’t know the word. He supposed he could have consulted further on the matter, but didn’t bother.
(In case you’re wondering, the Mortcypedia is the brain of one of the characters.) I like the shifting POV throughout the novel, but the gunslinger’s parts get a bit old.
I think I’ll take a break from this series for a while because, after this book, I’m not too enthused anymore. And a friend told me that the third one gets pretty bad, and he stopped reading it about halfway through. I’m in the mood for some good writing, anyway, so I think I’ll go for Cormac McCarthy‘s Suttree. McCarthy is a dependably good writer, and Suttree has been on my to-read list for quite a while. If you’re reading along, break out your dictionary! You’ll see why.
Bonus: There’s a Tumblr for everything these days, and I happened on one about The Dark Tower. Enjoy.
 

Don DeLillo and a sick cat, or What I've Been Up To

Okay, I know I said I’d post every week, and now it’s been at least two. But I’ve been super-busy!
I’m currently reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and it’s pretty good so far, but I’m only a quarter into it. In my defense, it’s another really long novel, probably the longest I’ve read so far this year. I’ll finish it. Eventually.
In the meantime, I figured I’d give you an update on what I’ve been up to, along with a couple reading recommendations.
I’m about to finish my master’s degree in liberal arts. I say about to finish: I still have two-thirds of my thesis to write. Here’s a lovely rendition of what I call my Thesis Monster, drawn by my husband:
As you can tell, I’m not exactly into this thesis business. Anyway, my thesis might as well be called “Don DeLillo Writes the Same Novel Over and Over” because that’s basically it. I didn’t realize that until I was far enough into it that changing my topic would be ridiculous. So I’m stuck writing a thesis I’m not really interested in. So it goes.
But what do you mean, he writes the same novel over and over? you ask. I think I’ve talked about it before on this blog, but I’ll repeat. DeLillo basically follows a formula: his protagonist finds his world saturated with postmodern commoditization of some sort (in my thesis, it’s three kinds of media: film/video, music, books), and he tries to escape it. He withdraws from the world, but usually comes back, and his quest for an identity beyond what the media has created him is almost entirely unsuccessful. (Every time I say it, it makes a little more sense to me.)
If you’re interested in Postmodernism and what media is doing, and you’re looking for a challenge, check out BaudrillardJameson, and McLuhan.
Anyway, the probablility of LSUS merging with Tech has scared me into working on the Thesis Monster again, and I’ve funneled most of my pleasure-reading time into that. And I have a sick cat who I have to feed five times a day through a tube:
As I’m sure you can imagine, I don’t have a lot of time on my hands.
But! I’d like to direct you to some DeLillo! I talked about Great Jones Street early this year and Americana and Cosmopolis last year, but I haven’t reviewed what  I think is DeLillo’s best novel, White Noise (absolutely no relation to the movie that came out a few years ago with the same name). It’s about a family in the midwest and what happens when a train wrecks and causes a huge black cloud to spread all over town, forcing an evacuation. It deals with death, family, religion, and general awesomeness. It’s a good (and not boring) introduction to DeLillo. Too bad I’m not using it in my thesis!
So. I’ll eventually finish reading East of Eden, and then I’ll post a good ol’ proper review of it. In the meantime, I’ll try to post snippets about other things. If you’re really hankering for new book reviews, ask your favorite librarian to contribute to the blog!
 


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