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2011 Book #39: The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown is Palmer's favorite kid-book, which is why I read it. I read The Blue Sword first because there was some confusion which of the two is actually his favorite. Here's why: both were written by Robin McKinley, whowrote The Blue Sword first, but The Hero and the Crown is its prequel. I'm glad, though, that I (kind of) read them in the wrong order because The Hero and the Crown is so much better. I really, really enjoyed it.

This one's about Aerin, daughter of the king of Damar. She's a bit of an outsider because her mother was a commoner from the (evilish) North, and lots of the citizens consider her mother, now dead, a "witchwoman," and think some sort of evil rubbed off on Aerin. Tor, a cousin, is slated to become king, and he is in love with Aerin, who keeps getting into trouble. She befriends and rehabilitates her father's lame warhorse and investigates an ancient ointment that protects the wearer from fire, then runs off to fight dragons (which are about the size of dogs but much more dangerous). Her father is having problems with the Northerners, and while he goes off to battle, she kills the last of the giant dragons, Maur, and is seriously injured. As she lays in bed dying, she dreams about a silver lake and a blond-haired man who says he can help her. She musters her strength and makes it to the lake, where she meets Luthe, who saves her but also makes her "not quite mortal," and once she is well, she travels to fight her uncle in a tall black tower. Then more stuff happens.

It appears that McKinley has taken care of some of her style issues that made The Blue Sword seem sooooo long. The Hero and the Crown flew by, and I found myself wishing there was more. There's a scene about three-quarters through the book in which Aerin is climbing up an amazingly long flight of stairs, but we only find out later that it's taken her thousands of years. McKinley made it seem like a couple hours. But there was less awkward language, and it was an easier, more pleasant read. I wish she'd write more in this series.
 

2011 Book #40: The Devil All the Time

I really need to be better about posting quickly after I finish a novel. Unless it falls into the Best Novel Ever category, I forget what I wanted to say before I write anything down. Once I hit this year's quota, I might take a break from the writing part. Or not. We'll see.

I decided to read The Devil All the Time because it sounded similar to stories and novels by Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy, at least in substance. I'm generally pretty bad at reading pop fiction, a category into which this novel definitely fits, though I didn't have a hard time getting through this one. I think it's a story that could easily have come from either O'Connor or McCarthy - and it's certainly as gruesome.

The Devil All the Time is about various damaged people in terrible situations trying to survive. One is a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer. His father wants his mother to live so badly that he builds an alter in the woods behind his house and sacrifices animals (and one person), hanging them onto homemade crosses. Then there's the couple who drives across the country picking up young male hitchhikers, raping and killing them. The storylines eventually converge.

I enjoyed this novel more than I thought I would. It's better-written than I'd expect it to be, though I'd never heard of Donald Ray Pollock before, so I guess I didn't know what to expect. The plot is well thought-out, and the style is good. Pollock wrote another novel that, I think, is somehow related to this one, called Knockemstiff (the name of a town that reminds me of a certain author who wrote a series of novels set in another town with a stupid name, though Knockemstiff really exists), and I think I might be interested enough to read it. We shall see.
 

2011 Book #41: The Book of Sand

Several years ago, I dated a guy whose mother so often said that Kevin Costner was originally cast in Patrick Swayze's role in Ghost, that her sons came up with a gesture to express it more succinctly: they would simply touch their index fingers to their foreheads. I need to come up with similar gesture for my usual excuse of waiting too long after I've read a book to write about it. Or I could just abide by my general rule of posting about the book I've just read before I begin the next, though that idea doesn't seem to be working for me too well. So maybe I'll raise my hands above my head and cough.

Anyway. About a week ago, I finished The Book of Sand, my second Borges collection. This time it was all fiction, which was a plus, though, in general, I enjoyed Labyrinths much more. I felt challenged and entranced throughout the short stories in Labyrinths, but I found myself a bit bored with The Book of Sand.

The only story I really like in this collection is "The Book of Sand," which is about an infinite book. A bible salesman appears at the protagonist's door, offering to sell him a book with no beginning or end. As you turn to the back of the book, more and more pages appear, and the same thing happens when you try to find the front. Pages also continually change in the middle.  The protagonist (who calls himself Jorge Luis Borges) buys the book, becomes obsessed with it, and realizes that it's a curse, so he does his best to get rid of it.

There are a couple more good stories, like "The Mirror and the Mask" and "The Disk," but I didn't see any comparable to one like "The Library of Babel" in Labyrinths, which just might be one of my favorite stories ever.

I still love Borges, of course, but I hope that most of his work (that I haven't read) is more like Labyrinths than The Book of Sand, though I guess they're both the same type of thing. One of the blurbs on the back of the book compared it to Labyrinths, but it's certainly not as good.
 

2011 Book #42: The Castle

I had forgotten that Kafka died before finishing The Castle , or I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Few things annoy me more than not knowing how a novel is supposed to end, though, I guess, good ol' Wikipedia gives us a clue, but that's only a bit of a consolation because, of course, it is Wikipedia. The Castle has been on my reading list for a few years. I started reading it a long time ago, but I didn't get very far. I don't remember why. I think it might have put me to sleep. This time, though, it held my attention throughout, and I really enjoyed it - until it cut off at the end with absolutely no resolution.

Here's the general plot: A man named K. wanders into a village governed by officials in a castle not far away. He checks into an inn, goes to sleep, and is awakened by the innkeeper and one of those officials, who says he doesn't have permission to stay in the village and that he must leave immediately. K. claims to be a land-surveyor summoned by the castle (we never really learn whether he is or not, but I assume he's lying), and after some phone calls, he is allowed to stay. So he sleeps. The next morning, he tries to contact various officials, but he finds it impossible. He thinks he has a chance at talking to an official who knows an official, etc, etc, etc, but, of course, he doesn't. It's the same general idea as The Trial , though they're certainly two different novels. And then it breaks off. The end.

It doesn't sound like it, but I really do like Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I read The Trial when I was in college and, for a while, thought it was the best novel I'd ever read. The Castle was okay. Next time, I'll read one Kafka finished writing.
 

2011 Book # 43: The Mysterious Benedict Society

I generally like kids' novels - Harry Potter, for instance, or The Hunger Games, or The Golden Compass, or The Blue Sword, etc, etc, etc. I think it's because I can usually identify with the characters, and an adult having written them probably helps. That said, The Mysterious Benedict Society didn't work for me. It might be aimed at a younger crowd than I'm used to, though these kids are 11 and 12, and Harry Potter started out at that age. I was also somewhere around 18 at that point - certainly nowhere near 30.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is about four kids, all of them basically orphans, who see an add in the newspaper offering adventures to kids who can pass a test. They're the only for who pass, and they're taken to a large house and, eventually, told what's going on: There's a Bad Guy who is sending out subliminal messages saying that he is awesome and that they should do whatever he says. He runs a school on an island just out of town, and they're supposed to infiltrate it and discover his secrets. Well, they do both, then, in a heroic move, they decide to stay and try to destroy him. Things continue to happen. The end.

Again, I'm not a fan. It almost seems like Trenton Lee Stewart started writing a novel for a slightly older age group, then, mid-novel, decided he should aim a bit younger. I liked the beginning well enough. Stewart's style is okay, though the characters are a bit flat, and there aren't any particularly slow points. I found myself thinking too many times through the novel that the kids were being dumb and taking risks that even kids wouldn't take. They seemed to be acting even younger than they were, which really irritated me. And then there are some stupid twists that made me roll my eyes. For instance (spoiler!): one of the kids is really short and pouty, though she turns out necessary. She's probably as smart of the rest of them, but she has a really bad attitude. We find out why at the end of the novel: she's a precocious two-year-old. Urrrrgh. Then, there are the life issues brought up in the beginning and then tied up way too simply at the end. Like (another spoiler!) one of the kids has a ridiculous photographic memory, and his parents take advantage of him, signing him up for game shows and amassing piles of money. He runs away, and his parents get tons of donations to help find him, which they spend on themselves. The kid seems a bit bitter, as he should be. At the end of the novel, though, when all the kids are being adopted (meh), his parents show up all apologetic, and all, saying they decided they missed him and went into debt looking for him. Instead of being angry like any normal kid would do, this particularly smart kid is perfectly happy to be reunited with his parents, and things go on as if nothing had ever happened. Yeah, right. I was annoyed.

So I guess I've just found a novel aimed at too young an audience with which I can identify, though the top of the book's cover claims that it was at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list, and I don't know how it could do that without a bunch of adult readers. It's also a series: the Mysterious Benedict Society has quite a few adventures on the bookshelves. I won't be checking those out anytime soon.
 

2011 Book #44: 1Q84

1Q84 finally made it into English. I'd been waiting to read this novel since the Japanese version was announced a couple of years ago. I even pre-ordered it on my Kindle (who wants to lug around a thousand-page hardback?) and got it at midnight on October 25th, the very second it was released. And I dove right in.

1Q84 is being called Murakami's magnum opus, but it's pretty run-of-the-mill for him. It's just really long. In typical Murakami style, the point of view snaps back and forth between two people, Aomame and Tengo, both of whom are around 30 and live in Tokyo. The novel begins with Aomame riding in a cab, in a hurry to make an appointment. There's a huge traffic jam, though, and she gets out of the cab in the middle of the expressway and exits down a hidden flight of stairs used for earthquakes and the like. Then things get weird. Tengo, meanwhile, gets drafted to rewrite a seventeen-year-old's novella called Air Chrysalis, the release of which angers a religious movement and some only partially explained magical beings called the Little People.

The name, of course, is a reference to 1984, and that's the year in which the novel is set. Once Aomame discovers she's in some sort of alternate reality, she names it 1Q84, where the Q stands for Question since she doesn't yet know what's going on.

This novel is really complicated, as I guess any thousand-page novel should be. It took me almost exactly a month to read, which, considering how busy I've been lately, isn't too shabby. In fact, if you count Lord of the Rings as three books (which I don't), I'm pretty sure it's the longest novel I've ever read. And I didn't get bored: something interesting is always happening. As with most other Murakami novels (I've read all of them), I wish some of the supernatural elements came with more thorough explanations. The translation is good - both of the usual translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, worked on this one, so I didn't have a problem with the style. I don't think it needed to be quite as long as it is, though I really enjoyed every minute of reading it.

As I was reading 1Q84, I was sure it would become my favorite Murakami novel yet, but, a few days out, I'm not sure that's the case: I think The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore might still be at the top of my list.

 

2011 Book #46: Midnight's Children

I'm not quite sure what to say about Midnight's Children except that it's fantastic. Really. If you haven't read it, head over to your local library and pick it up right now. Disregard your Christmas planning, ignore the hurt faces of your family, and hole yourself up for a week, book in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. You won't regret it. Children are resilient: a few years of therapy, and they'll learn that some things are more important than having parents at Christmas.

I'm kidding, of course. Kind of.

At this point, I'm trying to figure out why I haven't read this before. I've ranted several times about colleges not assigning long books anymore, so I won't rehash that here. But everyone should read this novel. It's about everything: history, family, love, good, evil, etc, etc. Just like One Hundred Years of Solitude, which, I'm sure, is why I liked it so very, very much.

That's not to say it's easy reading: Rushdie isn't easy. I had a helluva time with Satanic Verses, but that one was worth it, too. Midnight's Children, though, is my favorite of Rushdie's so far. I picked up a couple of his other novels when I was in Houston, and I'll read them soon. After the Christmas Crunch is over. But I'll talk about that later.

Midnight's Children is about the children born at midnight on India's first day of independence from the British and how they, specifically Saleem Sinai, fit into and affect that history. It's an autobiography from Saleem's point of view, beginning before he was born with an account of his grandfather's life, and then his parents', and then his own.

I had a hard time reading it at the beginning: as I've said, Rushdie isn't easy, and his syntax takes a bit of getting used to. But you read and you read, and then you can't stop reading. A year or two ago, a friend of mine was reading it, and he excitedly told me that it's a challenge until you hit a certain page (which I will not divulge as he refused to remind me), and then BAM. You're in it for the ride, and you can't give up on it because you know it'll be worth it in the end.

The closest analog that I've read is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which gives you a sense of a sweeping history, like all things are encapsulated somewhere in the novel. There's also the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. Rushdie creates a whole world around you, and you can't help but be a part of it, swept up in the chaos of Indian independence and what follows. And the end! The end! But I won't go there.

Seriously. If you've never tried Rushdie and you hadn't planned to because of what you'd heard about his books (So many rumors! He's not at all what I expected!) or the man himself. I remember hearing about what happened after he published The Satanic Verses when I was too little to understand what was going on, and now I can see how both of these novels are incredibly controversial - but that's all the more reason to read them. He knew there'd be a scandal (seems like a petty word to use in that case), and he did it anyway. The result is incredibly moving - and, quite often, funny. I had no idea until I puffed up my chest and said, "Hey. Today, I'm gonna tackle Rushdie." I haven't looked back.
 

2011 Book #47: Slaughterhouse-Five

 I first read Slaughterhouse-Five many years ago. So long ago, in fact, that I have no idea when it was. I might have been in high school, or I might have been in college. I only remembered a vague outline involving Dresden and time travel - and that I really didn't like it. Not one bit. The funny thing is that I'm a huge fan of Vonnegut. I've read most of his novels, and this is the only one I didn't like. Something must be wrong.

So, several years later, I decided to give it a second chance. That chance happened a couple of days ago because it's almost the end of the year, and I'd only read 46 books. This is the Christmas Crunch, and I need short books. Slaughterhouse-Five definitely fits into that category.

It's about a young (then old, then young again, etc, etc) man who has just joined the army and ends up a POW in Dresden just before the fire bombing decimates the city. Except (the first words of the novel-within-the-novel) "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time." He travels back and forth to different points in his life - and death. Including an alien abduction that makes him understand life, death, and time differently.

I liked it better this time, though I'm still a bit ambivalent. It's okay. It's certainly not my favorite Vonnegut novel. I think I've fallen into a long novel morass, coming off of Midnight's Children, 1Q84, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Long novels give authors opportunities to fill in gaps left in stories. Vonnegut wasn't one to write a long novel, of course, and he wasn't one to write particularly intense ones, either. My favorites are The Sirens of Titan and Cat's Cradle, both of which are pretty funny. Slaughterhouse-Five is funny in its own way, too, and poignant. I guess I just didn't spend enough time reading it to internalize it. Maybe that's what happened when I read it before.

So it goes.
 

2011 Book #48: The Sense of an Ending

The Christmas Crunch continues, in which I readandreadandread to reach my fifty-book goal before the year is out. Which means I'm limited to short novels for the moment. At a lean 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending definitely qualifies. It's actually been on my to-read pile since it came out earlier this year. I ended up with a copy because it was on the library's newly catalogued list, and I clicked the hold link before anyone else.

 It's about Tony, a sixtyish-year-old man looking back over his life, especially focusing on the     relationship he had with his friends in his school days and early adulthood. He starts when they were in high school, discussing philosophy and literature. A kid their age named Robson gets his girlfriend pregnant and then kills himself, and the topic of his suicide floats throughout the novel. The friends finish school and slowly go their separate ways. A couple years later, Tony is in the US when his parents call him back home to England because his friend Adrian committed suicide. He and Adrian hadn't seen each other for quite a while after Adrian dated Veronica shortly after she broke up with Tony. Forty years later, Veronica's mother dies and, in her will, leaves Adrian's diary to Tony, but Veronica has it and doesn't want to give it up. Then things get complicated, etc, etc.

I'm kind of ambivalent about this one. I generally liked it, and I think it's very well-written, but it's also sappy and preachy like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I really didn't like. That said, I definitely think it's worth a read. Just be patient toward the middle as it gets a bit boring and repetitive. Later, though, it gets good again. The Sense of an Ending isn't exactly a relaxing read for a lazy Sunday morning, so read it (preferably in one sitting) when you have some time to decompress afterward.
 

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.
 

2012 Book #3: The Hobbit


I’m generally not one to reread books unless I have to. They’re mostly school-related, and they include White Noise (the only DeLillo novel I still really like), The Sun Also RisesThe Great Gatsby (I reread that one on my own), and my thesis novels. Those are the only ones I can think of, but I’m sure there are a few more. And there was Lisa, Bright and Dark when I was 12 or 13, but we won’t talk about that.
And, now, there’s The Hobbit. I discovered Tolkien late: I readThe Hobbit sometime around 2003 or 2004. I think I’d passed them up when I was younger because I thought they were so long. Except they’re not. When I was ten or twelve, I bought a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, but I didn’t get very far into it. I’m not sure why I bought it – I guess one of my friends read it – but I remember being at the Waldenbooks in Pierre Bossier Mall and pulling it off the shelf, marveling at how long and adultish it looked.
I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until a few years after I’d completed The Hobbit, and the first movie, or so, was out. It took me about three months to get through them, though I really loved them. I got a nice hardbound set from the Thrifty Peanut the other day, only to discover that they’re moldy. Good thing I work in a library and know how to deal with moldy books. Denatured alcohol and sunlight, in case you’re wondering.
Anyway, I’m not going to rehash the plot of The Hobbit because you’ve probably already read it. If you haven’t, and you’re thinking, tl;dr, check out the Rankin/Bass animated version (they also did The Last Unicorn, which I love and which made me unable to watch a movie with Mia Farrow in it without thinking the unicorn was talking). Turns out you can watch the whole thing on Youtube. Here’s the first part:
At some point in the near future, I’m probably read The Lord of the Rings again. It’s one of my favorite books. Here, of course, I’d count it as three because it’s really long, and I have 50 books to read. If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have kids around 10 or 12 (or older!), you should introduce them, too. I wish I had caught on earlier.
 

2012 Fail Pile #1: The Marriage Plot


I was supposed to love The Marriage Plot. It’s about a girl who just graduated college and who is trying to figure out what to do next. She’s an English major at Brown, taking a class on semiotics, which involves a lot of what I’m writing about in my Thesis Monster. There are also constant literary references to books and such that I understand because, well, I was an English major. She’s a lot like me when I was in college.
So why can’t I get through this book?
I really have no idea, but I’m almost two weeks in (and behind schedule for my 50), I’m only 40% through, and now I’ve lost interest. I even thought about scanning through the rest of the novel just to see what happens, but I don’t even care enough to do that. I guess my biggest problem with it is the part I should enjoy: all of the literary references. And they were great for a while, but at the point where I stopped, that’s all there is. Nothing’s happening but a list of authors and books and ideas. It’s like the Ready Player One of literary references, and I’m bored.
I’ve also been very busy. I got married on Tuesday, and Palmer and I are looking into buying a house soon. Books aren’t exactly at the top of my list right now. And the tight 50-book schedule is kind of wearing on me. I got through more than half of them last year before I had a job and before I got engaged, moved in with Palmer, and got married. Trying to read through books so quickly has made me choose books that are shorter than I want, and I have to read them so quickly that I don’t really enjoy them. Which makes me think it might be a good time to say, well, if I don’t read 50 books this year, that’s okay. I’d rather enjoy what I do read.
So I’ve put down The Marriage Plot, for now, anyway, and picking up Ethan Frome. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Wharton, and I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay not to read it really quickly and that I don’t need to catch up to my schedule. We’ll see what happens.
 


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