Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Moviegoer (by Walker Percy)

Here's something I just read about the novel: "The Moviegoer, published in 1961, introduces Percy's concept of the 'malaise', the angst of the lucid man in a world without gods. Through every line of Percy's works live the alienated seeking certitude... Both Binx and his distant cousin Kate (the beauty he's more involved than he'd like to be with) are self-aware characters in a world of actors, the only ones to realize the inherent falseness, the clichés, in all things."

I'm not ashamed to say I didn't quite get this book, at the end. I read that it's based on the existentialist philosophy of Kierkegaard, so maybe I need to go read some Kierkegaard to really understand it. It's on both the Time 100 list and the Modern Library's list. The basic story is one of alienation and despair, and it's not difficult to grasp, really, and I love his musings at the beginning, I was really into the book as a whole--but then at the end, when the movies are suddenly unimportant and the chronology gets confusing and the way Kate's plot is resolved... I don't know, I wasn't sure what to make of it. The more I read about it, the more I appreciate it, though. I may need to seek out some criticism and then read it again.

“What is the nature of the search? You ask. Really, it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick.

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place – but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.”
(page 17-18)


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fool Moon (by Jim Butcher)*

My dear Elizabeth sent me the next two Dresden books on CD, and it was great fun to get back to Harry, especially as performed by James Marsters. As I said before, he does a terrific job, and it's fun to hear him bitch about mopey vampires, talk about a character named Spike, or point out that a platform is "five by five" feet. It's the little things in life. He does sometimes misread sentences a bit, but you can mostly figure out what's intended, so I'm cool with it. the character of Harry is just so great, and his cynical, yet warm sarcasm is perfect.

In this one, Harry fights a bunch of different types of wolves, and there's pretty much constant tension. I think my favorite elements of the Dresden books are the potions and Bob the talking skull, so it was great to have them back. On the other hand, I hated having Dresden on the outs with Murphy for so much of the book, as I do love their relationship. The payoff was great, though. (And on the romance tip, I like Susan and all, but I have to believe Dresden/Murphy is the end game here, right?)

I've already started listening to the next one, Grave Peril, and I think it's about ghosts this time! Which is awesome, because werewolves aren't that exciting to me, but ghosts! That's gonna be fun. Anyway, if you like mysteries, the supernatural, or supernatural mysteries with a little bit of sarcasm and a little bit of gore and a great lead character, try the Dresden Files on for size. It's like the Anita Blake books only minus the porn and plus some wit. And a much much better protagonist.

(P.S. His name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield, and though I figured out Blackston and Copperfield, I totally didn't get the Harry Houdini reference until he explains it in this book. I just made an immediate Harry Potter association because, "yer a wizard, Harry!" Duh.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Christmas Cookie Club (by Ann Pearlman)*

This book is just embarrassing. I found it while I was going through my stuff, and since I was out of audiobooks, I figured I'd listen to it. It seemed like a fluffy read: twelve women have a cookie exchange club and talk about their lives. And it definitely is brisk and fluffy. However...

First of all, in every chapter the narrative often stops dead so that the narrator can give cookie recipes (which are at least relevant, I'll give them that) or a brief history of cookie ingredients like ginger or salt. A history of cookie ingredients when you have 12 characters to juggle?

That's the main problem, the characters. 12 characters is too much; I would often forget who somebody was or what their story was. To be fair, there are a few characters that remain clear (such as Charlene). But many of them blend together. And no wonder: I counted at least six of the 12 main women who are blonde. 11 of the 12 are white (as far as I could tell) and all of them are heterosexual. And almost every single character has a problem with her love or sex life, and/or child-rearing. Just a complete lack of diversity and a really narrow view of "women's problems." With 12 women, can't one of them have a career or artistic crisis or something? Anything?

And amid the sameness there is one black character, but this brings us to another problem. The dialogue. Listening to the book on audio makes you realize how awkward the dialogue is in general. For instance, nobody would actually say a sentence like: "But you know my father. Always the salesman. Always wooing his force into a mentorship of adoration." There are tons of sentences like this. I mean "mentorship of adoration"? But of course the one African-American character, Sissy, doesn't talk like that. She says things like: "You think that be enough. But that little man get something in his mind he don't let go." That's right, she talks in an awkward "black" dialect. And she's got dreadlocks. And her son is a rapper who was in prison. No wonder Pearlman doesn't write diverse characters when this one is so embarrassing.

I do admit it was fun after a while. She would introduce another character and I'd be all, let me guess! Blonde, white, hetero, with man problems! And I was mostly right.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Berlin Stories (by Christopher Isherwood)

I'm finally back to reading books from the Time 100 list, although I'm way off pace for the year. (I'm halfway finished with The Moviegoer though, so that's something. It's the ongoing War and Peace project that's really slowing me down.) Anyway, this one is fabulous. Who knew that Cabaret was based on a story by Christopher Isherwood? Not me!

This whole book is a semi-autobiographical collection of stories about a gay man living in Berlin in the 30s just before Hiter's rise to power. I enjoyed not only the story titled Sally Bowles, but many of the other stories. One strange thing is that the stories weren't really in chronological order--characters and events recur, but sometimes out of order. Still, I really enjoyed being immersed in the world of 1930s Berlin, and the characters are memorable, and the writing's terrific. Really enjoyed it. This is from the intro (which he wrote about returning to Berlin after the war):

"The street where I used to live is behind the Nollendorfplatz... Even before the war, this was a decayed and forbidding district; but when I saw it again I was really awestruck. The fronts of the buildings were pitted with shrapnel and eaten by rot and weather, so that they had that curiously blurred, sightless look you see on the face of the Sphinx.

Only a very young and frivolous foreigner, I thought, could have lived in such a place and found it amusing. Hadn't there been something youthfully heartless in my enjoyment of the spectacle of Berlin in the early thirties, with its poverty, its political hatred and its despair?"


Frekonomics (by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)

I read this on an airplane, and it actually wasn't a great airplane read in that it went really, really, really fast. (Luckily I had another book or two waiting in the wings.) It was entertaining, though! I'd heard about the whole abortion and crime rate connection back when the book first came out, but I enjoyed reading the whole thing. I kind of wanted a little more detail and depth, but for what it was, it was entertaining. Shrug.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Letter of Mary (by Laurie R. King)*

I decided to give the third book in the Mary Russell series a chance, and actually at some point in the middle of the book I really understood the complaints that Mary Russell is kind of a Mary Sue. It was when she suddenly was an expert horseback rider. It was a very Nancy Drew/Kay Scarpetta moment.

I wish the plot hung together better; there are all these red herrings and entire plotlines (such as the letter of the title) that never go anywhere. I did enjoy Mary's undercover disguise, but the way that resolves in the end is ridiculous. Plus, not enough Holmes! What's the point of the whole Mary Sue enterprise if we don't get more sexy Holmes? I might need to take a break from this series for a while.

I'm also itching to get back to my booklist; I'm reading The Moviegoer, Berlin Stories, and War and Peace right now. I just need a good audiobook to add to the mix.