Thursday, December 18, 2008

Genre fiction, no less!

Hey, I read an actual book! Two, in fact! (Actual book = not a law school text.) I read two of Alafair Burke's mysteries, Judgment Calls and Dead Connection. Why, you ask? Why mystery/thriller novels in lieu of, say, the next project book? Because Ms Alafair Burke is also my Criminal Procedure professor this semester, or, I should say, was because the semester is finally OVER! I took her final the day before yesterday in fact. I justified reading her novels this month because they totally were review. She peppers them with criminal procedure issues! Take that, stuffy overworked classmates who never crack a literary spine!

Tomorrow morn I'm off to Curacao, and I'm bringing with me 'Q' - Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

the end of The Road

now finished: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Well, would you look at that? I almost went the entire month of November without a post to this here literary supplement! But never fear: in the nick of time, and thanks to the holiday weekend during which I did not feel guilty about picking up the novel from the bedside table instead of lugging a few law textbooks into my lap, I have just finished reading The Road.

Short answer? I love it.

Of course I have more to say than just that. But it's one of those about which it is hard to speak eloquently. The book itself is simply and elegantly written, despite being about harsh things. Or maybe because it's about harsh things. You'll surely hear a lot of people going on and on about how it's depressing, dismal, bleak, and so forth because it is about a man and a boy journeying together along the road through a post-apocalyptic, basically destroyed country. There's a lot of death. And desperation. And ashes.

But the book is so life-affirming, as these so-called "depressing" works often are. I'm not going to give away the ending, because I highly recommend it and want you to read it. I am just saying this: how can a book that contemplates death, destruction, and the real possibility of entirely destroying civilization not make a reader contemplate life and come away with a renewed sense of all that is good about your life, relationships, and communities?

I am all kinds of excited for the movie, which, unfortunately, has been delayed until next year. (It was supposed to be out this month, but needs more time in post-production.) It's such a powerful story. It's kind of weird that just last year we had Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, which was the first book of his I'd read, and which I basically read because the movie was coming out. Actually, I read half of it because the movie was coming out, and then I went back and read the second half of it to try to figure out how it ended, since the movie certainly doesn't tell you. I must say I am glad I delved deeper into McCarthy's oeuvre because I was much more impressed by The Road, but I was expecting to be thoroughly impressed because as you may know The Road won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. See, everyone loves the road - me, Oprah, the Pulitzer committee. What more do you need?

The book starts a little slowly as it draws you into this world, but you become a part of it and it's really hard to put down. I'm sure if I hadn't been obliterated by law school fatigue on any given night I would have read it in one or two sittings; it moves quickly. But there are moments when the boy or the man expresses some thought summing up all the despair and hope into one tight, worried, heartbreaking sentence and at those moments you pause, you must pause, before going on to the next page.

While it is about what would happen to the survivors as they approach the end of the world, it's much more about the relationship between the man and the boy, and what that says about all of us and how we treat each other even before we get to the end of the world.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hitting The Road

now reading: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

As promised, after my man-it's-been-too-long feelings on Thursday, I picked up a novel Friday and read thirty pages or so while subwaying to and from my internship.

God, I love reading novels.

Of course, this is my second year in a row to read one of his books in preparation for a late-in-the-year release of a film I expect to be quite good. Last time around, No Country for Old Men didn't really do it for me. But The Road won the Pulitzer; you know how I feel about that. ( = I love reading Pulitzer Prize-winning books, for the new folks)

Its paragraphs are even shorter than the paragraphs in NCfOM. But so far I can see where a person could get intrigued early on by the compelling premise of this man and boy -- who appear to be father and son, though it's not explicitly stated yet -- wandering through a wasteland, even if one had not read a lot about it and heard the buzz and watched it sell like mad after being distinguished by the Pulitzer committee AND Oprah. I even watched that Oprah interview with McCarthy last summer because a)I like authors b)I think it's awesome that Oprah gets someone who never does interviews to do an interview. Maybe she should be vice-president. Or maybe that says something about ol' Cormac appreciating what she does for reading -- or book sales.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Time to get back in the game

A month without a post? A month without picking up a novel? Can we say "Third Year of Law School" ... sigh!

I am reading, reading, reading, but none of it is fiction. Legal fictions, maybe, which are a whole other ball of wax. (Hmm, interesting, do lay people know what a "legal fiction" is? I can't say I ever gave it much thought before I came to law school.)

Two weeks ago, upon the sudden, unexpected (by me anyway) death of David Foster Wallace I started thinking a lot about when I will get to read another book of his, now that a few months have gone by since finishing Infinite Jest. I even touched The Broom of the System in the undergrad library and read a few pages before deciding not to check it out because it's 485 pages more than I can afford to deviate from my seven-class, 17-credit law regimen.

But 'Q' awaits -- Ishmael. Furthermore, I really want (need?) to read The Road before the movie. Time is running out, apocalyptically or no.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I Survived

now finished: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
now reading: um...nothing. lots. law textbooks.

It was okay. It's good that I have now read Palahniuk, master weirdo. This wasn't the weirdest book I have ever read. I mean, it's no Infinite Jest. It's not even Naked Lunch. It had a coherent story, at least. But the ending was -- well, it was silly.

So, the book was all right, I suppose. I guess I just expected Palahniuk to be more literary. I am not even sure exactly what I mean by that. I also found his device of numbering backwards to be silly. The book starts with chapter 47 and ends with chapter 1, and likewise it starts on page 289. Right: an-NOY-ing. It seemed to have no point. I mean, it's not as if he tells the story backwards. He goes back to the beginning and then tells it in order. Whatever, Chuck.

Meanwhile, all those adjectives you've heard about Palahniuk, like volatile or bizarre or creepy or whatever? Yeah, not really. Just a little kooky. But the Super Bowl bit was fun.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


now reading: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Don't you maybe think "Chuck" is one of those names where you sort of become a certain type of personality just by having the name? Kind of like "Tiffany" or "Butch." Well, I guess with "Butch" you have to have a certain type of personality to get the name, but with Chuck it's as if only certain Charleses can be Chucks. This despite Peppermint Patty's harassment.

I will leave aside for now the utter frustration I feel with nicknames that have lots of letters that aren't in the original name. Chuck. Jack. Peggy. Ugh. Even Jim and Bill annoy me for that reason. As opposed to, say, Kim, Jenny, Rob, and so forth. Or like if I were Elizabeth but called Beth even though at least it's contained in the full word that would freak me out, because then you have different initials sometimes. How can you live life having two different sets of initials? That's just wrong.

OK, I guess I didn't really leave that subject aside. I ranted. Coincidentally, Rant is another of Chuck's books. So, back to the subject at hand, which is Chuck.

Hmmm, I say, in response to this man. I mean, Survivor is enjoyable enough, but it is not leading me to think any great literary thoughts. Chuck Palahniuk, so far, strikes me as the guy who you're always glad comes to writing group and to whom you enjoy listening but about whose work you never have really much to say after except maybe "That was good."

And since his reputation of weirdness precedes him, I don't have much to say about the weirdness either, really.

Anyway - I'm almost done! So there's that. A few people at law school rave about Mr. Palahniuk. But they're the intellectually curious misfits, just like the people at the bookstore that raved about Palahniuk. I wonder what authors the boring law review people like?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Surviving law school

now reading: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
now also reading: Comparative Legal Traditions: Text and Materials by Glendon et. al.

That's right, the school year has begun. I did not quite finish Palahniuk before the dawn of Fall Semester 2008, but maybe that's because "Fall" began in the middle of freakin' summer. Worse yet, in the middle of the summer Olympics! But I have managed to still watch lots of The Games, and get organized, and even though now it's time for the reading of text after text, case after case, scholarly journal after scholarly journal, I think I will be able to finish P, Q, and R by the end of September. I already know what 'Q' and 'R' will be, too.

As for Survivor, I can maybe make the case for it being relevant to one of my classes. In Legal Decision Making for Children and Incompetent Adults (longest class title ever) we are starting off discussing autonomy in the courts and other legal and medical decisions for children and adolescents, as well as for adults' right to end their lives at the time and in the manner of their choosing. So Survivor, being partly about the Creedish religious cult who all want to kill themselves and almost all succeed, with our narrator being the last surviving member now regaling us with his tale, is maybe somewhat related. Or at least related enough for me to not feel guilty reading it while school is in session!

I say it's "partly" about that because it's equally about obsession with celebrity and how hilarious said obsession is. Palahniuk, as I knew he would, amuses me and is crazy, and this isn't even one of his darkest works. I'm two-thirds of the way through and enjoying it. I'll say more about it when I'm not watching the closing ceremonies...if law school doesn't swallow me whole...did I mention it's my final year?!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It is O-ver

now finished: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick
now reading: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

I can't remember the last time I was so glad to finish a book! The Puttermesser Papers was a giant letdown. It was also the closest I have come in this literary blog project to stopping a book in the middle and choosing a different author for that letter. I even stood there in the bookstore fondling Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara. But I ended up sticking with it, partly because I was trying to get through a few more letters before school starts up again (waaaay too soon!) All I can do now is apologize to Kenzaburo Oe. (I'm sure he cares a lot.)

I can honestly say that if I were forced to reread (who would do that?) either this travesty or Burroughs' Naked Lunch I would opt for Naked Lunch. At least it's silly and ridiculous and thinks it's deep and would give me something to puzzle over as I throw it across the room. Puttermesser is just stupid. I can't even understand who likes those stories as individual stories nor who likes them gathered together masquerading as a novel.

The last bit was the worst of the entire travesty. Was that supposed to be shocking and daring, that she got raped and murdered? Ewww. It was as lame as the rest of the book.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

So, I don't really like this book, see...

now reading: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick

First of all, I'm skeptical of the use of the word "novel" to describe it, and that annoys me, because if I had wanted to read a collection of linked short stories, I would have. This even has that whole "A Novel" thing going on on the cover (which I find annoying, generally, but vindicating here) and I selected this book in lieu of some of her other books on the Borders Penn Plaza shelves because I had heard of her and wanted a NOVEL for this literary blog project. But as I mentioned last time, it appears these vignettes of Puttermesser's life were previously published separately. In three separate magazines. Some at least as early as 1982, and this book copyright 1997. I protest!

But anyway, I'm in now. Only, some of the vignettes (not, you see, chapters) are terrible. Others are just boring. The weird thing is, she can write. It's not a terrible writing style or anything (I'm looking at you, Burroughs) so I just kind of move along reading it, but it's kind of like reading a textbook: often, I come to the end of a page and haven't a clue what I just read. So, ugh, because that's thirty seconds more I have to spend re-reading and I may have wasted seven or eight minutes of my life over the course of the book.

So, what's good about it? (Thanks, Thumper.) Well, Puttermesser is a lawyer who loves literature, so she's a likable character for me. Sometimes. And Ozick is snarky about lawyers and city politics from time to time, so that's fun. I've also learned a whole lot about George Eliot, in a bizarre chapter short story in which Puttermesser marries a "younger man" age 40 who duplicates master painters' works of art while refusing to call himself a copyist (he "reenacts") and they sort of reenact George Eliot's life, because she also married a younger man after her longtime companion died. But it's weird. Not as weird as the golem bit, but weird.

In short, I just can't wait to be done and move on to another novel. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Oh, Thumper, I also liked the part where Puttermesser's ex-lover told her she has no feelings: "he meant that she had the habit of flushing with ideas as if they were passions" (p.44). I could see myself being accused of that. I also liked when she went to a neighbor's party three floors above her and wryly observed the cliched "New York" patter of the guy programmed to flirt sarcastically versus the other version of the patter, all about volunteer programs and poetry. "The wisecrack version and the earnest version, and all of it ego and self-regard." (p.117) Guilty as charged, I suppose.

Well that was 70 pages ago and I'm still waiting for the next interesting thing to note. SO want to be done with this book!

Monday, August 04, 2008

'O' dear

now finished: Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein
now reading: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick

My 'O' author is weird. Apparently, Puttermesser is a character about whom Ozick wrote several sketches and stories, some of which were previously published in The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly before she gathered them into this novel. Well, ugh, but I got past that as I was enjoying the first bit about this lawyer in her thirties who is smart and likes to be intellectual even if her strange-thinking, book-and-philosophy-loving side rubs some of the lawyer and city politics schmoozing people the wrong way.

But then around 40 pages in suddenly it got into some weird stuff. And by weird, I mean Jewish magical realism. When Joe and Jodi and I used to joke about our literary "walls" (I famously have one with sigh-fi) beyond which it is hard for us to get -- to keep reading -- to not get annoyed at the thought of a certain thing interrupting our novels. Joe kind of has a wall with South American things and I think the magical realism is part of it. A lot of people have that wall; I think that's a pretty reasonable wall. I don't totally have it because I do like me some Garcia Marquez and Allende, but, for example, Like Water for Chocolate? NO thanks.

However, I also have a kind of Jewishness literary wall. I'm almost terrified to write this because it will sound so -- well, anti-Semitic I guess. But it's really not. Anyone who understands the wall knows it's not anti- at all. Because it has nothing to do with actual Judaism or Jews. It's like a literary thing. A thing about fictional happenings. Joe, where are you?! Help me out here! It would never happen reading history. It's a literary wall. An example of my "Jewishness wall" would be when I'm reading Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and going along nicely relating to her and all of a sudden she brings up out of nowhere some weird reference and I have to puzzle through a paragraph or two and then I finally realize I'm not totally getting it because she's alluding to something insidery and then I get annoyed. I am totally not explaining this well, so if anyone wants to accuse me of racism just sit down and talk to me about books first so I can suss out your literary wall and then we will understand each other.

My point (and oh, do I have one) is that the Jewish magical realism was a bit too much for me. A wall stacked upon a wall-let, if you will. All of a sudden Puttermesser has created a golem. And I do mean all of a sudden; the story was going along quite nicely realistically, with civil servant bureaucracy and whatnot. And then it got all Jewish mystical rabbi what-are-you-talking-about creating a golem who is breathed to life with the intoning of aleph, bet, some other Hebrew letters... I don't know, it was weird. Is weird.

But, it's my 'O,' so I keep reading.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Down in the valley, the valley so low

now finished: McTeague by Frank Norris
now reading: Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein

Well, I really liked the ending of McTeague. Which means this blog post will probably be pretty spoileriffic. You have been warned.

First of all, we know I'm a fan of the desert, the stark heat, the intensity of the land, the vast spaces, and so on. So for the book to culminate in a Death Valley death scene totally works for me. But there you are with McTeague and Marcus, the former friends, killing themselves in the process of trying to beat each other, and with Marcus' last breath he clicks the handcuffs onto McTeague's wrist so that McTeague is now chained to his fate and doomed to die there as well. All the while the canary in its cage twitters feebly. What a scene! What a great ending in the annals of literature! We are chained to our fate and the doom we create. Our violence and greed for the money end up making us prisoners. Nature will kick our ass when we get so caught up in material society. But only after our fear and guilt and past misdeeds that haunt us drive us away from the real treasures -- both gold and wife -- that we've found. And so on.

A lot of book endings suck. I don't mean to criticize; as a writer I, too, find endings difficult. But it's so wonderful when you get to a glorious ending, a fully realized vision, such as that of McTeague. And just like the scenes in San Francisco, the ending chapters' trek down through California, prospecting for gold in them thar hills, and finally death in the alkali sands are all so vividly written.

Frank Norris is so interesting to me now. He had his whole literary career in a life of thirty-two years. !!! He traveled, dabbled in art, sucked at math (perhaps to spite his businessman father), played hard, made himself a legacy in his Berkeley fraternity...he's really interesting. I've been reading the intro to the book (which I can never read until after in novels, for fear of plot spoilers) and seeing all the real life influences that led him to create McTeague. So there is that "thinly veiled memoir" element, but in more of a "write what you know" way, and his writing is honest and literary. He's clever. I may seek out The Octopus, too, which is the book I'd always heard of by him.

Speaking of my desert love, I was intrigued as he tries to make his escape to Mexico when some people he meets think he's trying to escape a crime he committed and thus "trying to get down to Arizona." It's so interesting to think of what people thought of Arizona in 1899, when it was still a territory and not very populated. I like finding references to it and finding its place in people's minds back in the day. (The movie In Old Arizona was great for that, too.)

And who wouldn't love this quote, from page 280 of my edition? (ISBN: 014-0187694)

"'No, no,' Trina had exclaimed, when the dentist had repeated this advice to her. 'No, no, don't go near the law courts. I know them. The lawyers take all your money, and you lose your case. We're bad off as it is, without lawing about it.'"


Oh, Trina. Seriously -- the book is pretty horrifying. I read that Norris had read about a real life instance of an estranged, drunk husband murdering his wife. It's so frightening to imagine. But the horrifying reality happens in this world -- often. I mean, we never think about it, keeping it out of sight and out of mind, because it's impossible to really deal with thinking about it. Imagining being killed is hard enough. Imagine being killed by someone you know. Then by someone who supposedly loved you. I mean, what must it be like in those final moments? How must it be to be killed and to see and feel this person killing you? My brain hurts. My whole body hurts and shudders, actually, to think about it. It's SO creepy to try to really conceive of being killed and the life slipping out of you as you are violently pummeled. And it's SO creepy to think about how horribly some humans behave to their intimate partners.

I'm going to stop writing about it now for the same reasons we all want to stop thinking about it.

For those who are curious, no, obviously, the Thomas Jefferson is not part of my A to Z literary blog project, but part of a non-fiction project I started a couple years ago, abandoned, and to which I have now returned, in which I read a biography of each U.S. president in order to see where we went wrong. I read Joseph Ellis' His Excellency and David McCullough's John Adams. Now on to number three. I'll probably try to do a presidential bio a month among my other readings, until law school gets too intense again. I hemmed and hawed forever about which Jefferson because there's the Pulitzer-winning Dumas Malone multi-volume work about him that I will probably read someday, but maybe not as part of this all-the-presidents project which is meant to go quickly.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dying in a pool of blood and stuff

now reading: McTeague by Frank Norris

So here's the thing. All of a sudden McTeague gets totally violent and creeptacular! It starts when Trina, his wife, becomes a liar and he becomes a violent abuser. Now, neither of those behaviors is acceptable and both are terrible in their own ways. But herein, his violence is almost like some kind of vindictive thing against her keeping the money, whereas I just want to scream at him, "It's not that she kept the money! She lied to you about it!" Then her: ugh. She's paranoid. But she's also desperate, and that is sad. And his violence is never acceptable.

But with all that, who knew how ugly and violent it could be in the end!

I was supposed to say something more profound about this but I don't remember what it was. Maybe tomorrow.

But, p.s., goooooo concertina!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If you're going to the dentist in San Francisco

now reading: McTeague by Frank Norris

Before Brian, my main concept of Frank N. was The Octopus, this perhaps because I started working in a bookstore when I lived in California and it just kind of happened that way. But then I started this little literary blog project and Brian suggested Norris for 'N' because he (Brian) loves McTeague.

So now I'm more than halfway through the tale of this big ol' bumbling dentist and his friends and neighbors and antics on San Francisco's Polk Street (not to mention at the theatre and on their picnics in Schuetzen Park). The story is written in a simple, charming fashion that I find delightful. I read that it is a Zola-esque "literary naturalism." But you know what else it reminds me of? Candide. (my favorite!) It's like the anti-Proust. But not with the dry choppiness of, say, a Hemingway. It's that easy, straightforward storytelling that can come across as "old-fashioned" but not in the stiff old flowery old-fashioned way.

He also does this thing of showing you how lover/fiancee/wife Trina's family speaks in their German accents which is funny and which for some reason I'm not finding nearly as annoying as other times when authors write a character's speech in the vernacular. D.H. Lawrence did a bit of that with Lady Chatterley's gamekeeper/lover to show how he switched back and forth between proper talk and that of his native village, not to mention everyone from Mark Twain to Toni Morrison having used it for African-American English, particularly in the South. I generally find it tiresome to read.

Am I the only one who gets annoyed by that stylistic device? It's OK in McTeague so far. Maybe because even out of the dialogue he'll write the son named August as "Owgooste" because that's how they say it and how McTeague hears it, so the book is reflective of McTeague's experience.

At any rate, the best thing about this book is the little flat with its various rooms and how all the neighbors who have apartments there come to life and have their quirks and interact.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A through M

Halfway through: that's me! I have closed the book on 'M' and begun 'N' (and even for good measure bought 'O,' but let's not get ahead of ourselves). At this time it is only fitting that I pause, reflect, look back, and rank those first thirteen books in order from favorite to hated. I have supplemented my rankings with the rating I give to each book, so where two or three books share a number-of-stars rating, the order of the list reflects which of those I have judged to be better.

This was hard to do!

(For those who don't remember the scale...
***** - Mexican food
****1/2 - Tibetan food
**** - Indian food
*** - Italian food
** - Thai food
* - Korean food)

With no further ado, then:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote ****1/2
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster **** 1/2
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco ****
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence ****
The Information by Martin Amis ****
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick ***
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett ***
None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer ***
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler ***
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer **
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong **
Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer *
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs *

OK, second half of the alphabet! Bring it on!

Monday, July 14, 2008

War is over (whether or not you want it)

now finished: The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

Well, I'm done! I know, that was fast, right? It was a long 'un (721 pages) but it moved quickly and it wasn't tiny, crammed type or anything. It just kind of moved along, like a mass market book would. (Notice how the blogger has learned to be careful about slighting genre fiction...)

So in the end it wasn't just about war. It was also about the soldiers fighting the war. And that really was all it was about, but he did pull it off, I think. You get to know the men in the platoon, and as you go along they each get a flashback dropped somewhere in the hundreds of pages, in which you learn about their pre-war lives, which illuminates their war selves, and it's pretty interesting. I will say that I did totally care about what was going to happen at the end, so that's a good book, I guess.

As I read it I could see how ol' Norman "burst onto the scene" with this, in 1948, half a century before Saving Private Ryan and still a few decades from Apocalypse Now. But i was starting to seriously question how Mailer came to be known as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, if not the greatest. Maybe when I read The Executioner's Song I'll feel differently. (And I will read that; it won a Pulitzer, after all.)

In the end he concocts this powerfully symbolic trek -- two actually, both the mountain climb and the carrying of jackass Wilson on a stretcher -- and he really brings it all together nicely.

But I just didn't have too much to say about it. It was, well, you know: about war.

Maybe tomorrow I'll share some thoughts on the pages I folded down that contained political ideas.

Meanwhile, 'N' has long been settled when Brian (who is sometimes a participant in this project) put in an early plug for Frank Norris' McTeague. Sorry, V.S. and Anais. But the question is, should 'O' be Kenzaburo Oe or John O'Hara? And if Oe, which Oe?

Next up, a ranking of the books read so far...

Monday, July 07, 2008

War vs. Buddha

now taking a break from: The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
now reading: Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

Don't worry, I'm totally going to finish the 700-pager about war. I think. I'm just pausing because we were sitting around Brian's parents' living room and they had Stealing Buddha's Dinner on the shelf there and it had already intrigued me when I touched it at Borders a while back and then I picked it up and it's about a girl who immigrated from Vietnam as a baby and she grew up in Grand Rapids and she's my age so reading her memoir is like reading my own childhood as far as what happened in 1984 and how I felt about it and it's the perfect book to read on one's last day in Grand Rapids since it all takes place here and so that's why.

Of note: Mr. Mailer himself notes in the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition that The Naked and the Dead now strikes him as amateurish when he looks back. (Or, I should say, when he wrote that intro -- who knows how things strike him now, wherever he is, hanging out with George Carlin or whatever.)

As for my little Buddha book, it's not about Buddha at all except for the awesome bits where this 7-year-old Vietnamese-American girl blithely and matter-of-factly shuts down her uber-Christian friends playing in the backyards of Grand Rapids as they ramble on about being saved and she's like, "Whatever, Christianity!"

You know I'm not the biggest memoir fan, but I'm glad I dipped into this one. It's something about the my-age thing, too, of course.

I'm sure I'll return to The Naked and the Dead soon enough. Did I mention it's about war?

Friday, July 04, 2008

What I think so far

NOW READING: The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

It's about war.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Twaddling bossy impudence

now finished: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Like most things besought by scandal, the so-called scandalous bits of this book are SO not the point. I am really glad that the edition I bought (ISBN: 0-8021-33347) includes not only a critical analysis "introduction" (which I read after, of course, so as to not have the plot ruined for me) and some historical information about when it was published, but also includes an excerpt from the court decision that allowed it to be published unexpurgated (what was that I said about wanting to read novels instead of case law this summer?!) and even a letter from Archibald MacLeish saying that it should be published.

Archibald, in fact, points out that when you take out any page with a four-letter word or description of the sex act and then print that expurgated material in its own separate little bundle alongside the larger text, then of COURSE it seems "offensive" and of course its point in the novel as a whole is lost.

So, we've established that the novel is really good, and not in an "I-read-Playboy-for-the-articles" way, but why? Well, let's take the very first line:

"Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically."

That rings true today as well, of course. We are lost, lost, lost, but too lost to even know it.

D.H. Lawrence says humankind pretty much destroyed itself, by refusing to appreciate their human bodies. Not just for sex, although that is relevant, and symbolic, but because people are so caught up in the intellectual life and things they tell themselves are important that they neglect what is actually important.

So here's the gamekeeper, who had his stint out in the world among the cool kids, as an officer and a gentleman, if you will, and he has rejected that and returned to the shire of his youth. But, he has not gone back to the crappy coal-town village of his upbringing or back to his even more crappy wife; he is living in isolation in the wood on the Wragby estate owned by Chatterley. It's fully bacchanalian of him, especially when Lady Chatterley goes out to dance naked in the rainstorm and he grudgingly follows her. Naked, natural, earthy bliss.

But in the end when they want to be together, their bliss is thwarted by the entanglements of the world, as they both need to get divorced and their respective disgruntled spouses fight this tooth and nail. Their hope, though, lies in the child they conceived, which they call the future and which they both somehow tenderly believe is real and true. Mellors, the gamekeeper, takes a bit longer to believe in this child, because he is so altogether frustrated at the world. It's not people per se, as he explains; it's not that he couldn't have "got on" in the army. He liked the men there, and they worked well with him too.

"No, it was stupid, dead-handed higher authority that made the army dead: absolutely fool-dead. I like men and men like me. But I can't stand the twaddling bossy impudence of the people who run this world. That's why I can't get on." --pp. 344-345

I. Love. It.

I have found more and more in this novel that speaks to my law school experience, and to many of my experiences in this world. Good ol' D.H. was disgusted by an England that had died of industrialisation, but he was equally disgusted by the people who sat around living the "intellectual life" while entirely out of touch with their bodies, their selves. I think our world a hundred years later is even more hyper-technology-industrialized, and we are even more out of touch with our physical selves, whether from obesity/preservatives, or the sheer laziness that is life in front of a television, or the fact that we can't walk five steps down the street and have to jump in our car and go from fake environment to fake environment all the time. I'm thinking of the very term "air-conditioning." What artifice do we construct in which to dwell?

But so while Mellors has no hope for the future or the generation that has learned only how to spend money but now has none to spend (hello!), and Connie has her issues with everyone's constraints, there are actually some very good points made by others: doesn't Connie's sister Hilda help her out, despite major reservations about class-mixing? Doesn't their father know best, having lived quite a life but found a way to not be just trapped in a marriage? And even poor paralyzed husband Clifford, who really says some terrible things (he's sort of that obnoxious, Fox-news-watching Republican uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner) really mean well--plus he's only so awful because he's LITERALLY had his life and freedom of movement and sex taken away from him, by being paralyzed in the war?

Man, there is so much going on in this book! And it's soooo good!

Read it, I say! Or read at least something by D.H. Lawrence, at any rate.

Coming soon, my updated ranking of my literary blog project books, so far.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You can't go home again

NOW READING: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

The gamekeeper, aka Lady Chatterley's lover himself, is often not even named. Pages and pages will go by where he is just "the keeper" or "him." Lady Chatterley, on the other hand, has two names; she is usually narrated as "Connie" while other characters refer to her as the Lady or her Ladyship or whatever. This says a lot about identity, class, who we are, and "being someone" in the world.

Well, our little friend the keeper is not just your average coal town dude. He was in the army for many years and he was the assistant to some top dog or something, so basically he has hob-nobbed with the elite before, and this is why I think Lady Chatterley is attracted to him. (As opposed to if he were a total plebe.) But now he's back and can't escape his place anymore. He even switches back and forth between proper gentleman talk and the poor folk vernacular. He's lost. He doesn't belong in either place.

"He did not know what to do with himself. Since he had been an officer for some years, and had mixed among the other officers and civil servants, with their wives and families, he had lost all ambition to 'get on.' There was a toughness...and unlivingness about the middle and upper classes, as he had known them, which just left him feeling cold and different from them.

So, he had come back to his own class. To find there, what he had forgotten during his absence of years, a pettiness and a vulgarity of manner extremely distasteful. He admitted now at last, how important manner was. He admitted, also, how important it was even to pretend not to care about the halfpence and the small things of life. But among the common people there was no pretense. A penny more or less on the bacon was worse than a change in the Gospel. He could not stand it." - p. 193

I have felt that way a million times. Sometimes when I go back to Phoenix I look around and think -- really? Would it kill you to be a bit more hip? But then in New York and L.A. I make fun of people for being slaves to trends, appearances, and fashion. I do recall moments where I have been almost embarrassed by how provincial the folk back home seem. I just want them to play it cool, to not act so dramatic when I talk about rents of $2000 (that are more than their mortgages). But when I start thinking they're ignorant, I think, "I suck!" Because when I go back to Boston or New York and meet people who've never been west of the Mississippi (or the Hudson) I think, "Who are you people?"

Come to think of it, who am I? Maybe Neil Diamond, too, has had his "gamekeeper" moment:

...nowadays I'm lost between two shores
L.A.'s fine but it ain't home,
New York's home, but it ain't mine no more
"I am," I said
to no one there
and no one heard at all...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Only boys who save their pennies make her rainy day...

NOW READING: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Part of Lady Chatterley’s problem – a large part – is that society places all these weird constraints on her/everyone. I think a lot of us in the so-called modern world of melting pots, student loans, civil rights and such believe that people can grow up to be anything they want to be. We tell ourselves that things like her Ladyship on the manor, or people refusing to cross class boundaries, are things of the past, and yet…are they really?

I mean, how often do you really hang out with someone from a wildly different background than yours? I think the only thing we really ever cross is geographic lines. Seriously, think about it. I remember a guy I worked with at public radio’s The Savvy Traveler said some major sociology survey had shown that we all actually tend to live in “small worlds” of 10,000 or so people, that we tend to associate throughout our lives with the same people, who share our education level, economic status, and professions.

So really, we can easily sympathize with Lady C. when she laments that ol’ saying:

“The world is supposed to be full of possibilities, but they narrow down to pretty few in most personal experience. There’s lots of good fish in the sea . . . maybe . . . but the vast masses seem to be mackerel or herring, and if you’re not mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea.” - p. 67

Living in L.A., hanging out with so many creative types, I started meeting more and more people who hadn’t gone to college but who were intelligent and vibrant and successful and creative. But being an artist or actor without a college degree is somehow OK in the eyes of those same people who look down on the Borders manager who DOES have a college degree but has a job that doesn’t require it. In fact I’d say working for Borders opened my eyes to the intense and very widespread prejudice against retail workers in this society, which was so silly to me: I met all kinds of smart, funny, degree-holding people at Borders. But everyone looks down on retail workers. What gives? Why do people feel justified criticizing someone who would dare to be happy in a job that doesn't pay well.

I am often highly amused in law school – highly! – particularly when I see the limited experience of people from Long Island (and Jersey) who have wound up at Hofstra and have seen precious little outside their own little small world (which may not even reach 10,000 as far as I can see). We have chapters in books called Essential Lawyering about how to interact with people from “all different backgrounds,” instructing law students to resist making assumptions, to think about what different things can mean to different people. Translation: "News flash! Not everyone is as privileged as you." Isn’t it funny that lawyers seem to interact most with the extremes of society – big corporate movers and shakers or those totally down and out, and often indigent? But your average random middle-class person: how often do I ever have need for a lawyer? Never.

I was thinking about this a lot when I was in Honduras, contemplating poverty, and again when I was forced to buy new clothes to wear to the wedding last weekend after Greyhound lost my bag. I have less money in my bank account right now than a whole lot of “poorer” people. I mean, my source of income is student loans. But I’m not considered to be in “poverty.” And how do I not slip down a class? Is it because of my parents, whom I haven’t lived with in a dozen years? Because of the apartment I rent? I don’t have any assets. I couldn’t get a loan if my life depended on it (other than a student loan). It’s so interesting to contemplate.

It’s as if there are certain assumptions and expectations that go along with defining us, which are not based on facts or reality, and as long as we can keep up those appearances that’s somehow who we “are.”

So when you think we're better somehow than the society that kept Lady Chatterley from loving a Tevershall groundskeeper, think about how shocked you'd be if for example some six-figure businessperson you knew started dating their "illegal immigrant" day laborer. Or just think about how we feel when we watch Cops. We think we are better than other people.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not going to take this lying down

NOW READING: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

This novel is not just smut, you know. It has a lot to say about issues of class. In fact, I would say the questions and issues of class are easily the prevailing theme, whereas Lady Chatterley's stumbling upon ecstasy is more of a random plot point.

Should a "lady" have a dalliance with a "common man" ... the feelings of the nurse toward the "masters" and the ruling class that killed her husband, a mine worker ... the intellectual life versus the physical life, the ivory tower versus stopping to smell the flowers... these are the things the reader is asked to ponder.

In fact, the novel is not particularly salacious at all. When there are exciting or revealing scenes (OK, sex scenes), they're really straightforward and brief. They also are part of the plot. The scenes are not gratuitous, so I find it amusing that the book caused such a scandal upon its publication and took thirty years to get to the U.S. I guess it's not that surprising though. But it's funny to think that I know many people who were alive and kicking when this book was not allowed to be published here.

"And we're still building churches, burning books
Killing the babies to feed the crooks,
Who said the world would turn out fair?"

--the wonder stuff

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There are ladies present

NOW READING: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Scandalous! Ha ha. It was almost a no-brainer, choosing Lawrence for my 'L' author. Jack London gave a little competition: how is it that I have never read White Fang or The Call of the Wild? But I think I read them in some, like, junior high reading book or something, abridged. So technically Jack was disqualified.

So far, D.H. Lawrence is really more philosophical about sex than anything else. But he has named body parts and used certain words that you can't say on television. And I'm only, like, 60 pages in. Also, on the first page Mr. Lady Chatterley gets paralyzed in the war, setting up the premise, see -- he comes home unable to do anything from the waist down. So that makes this much more of a moral conundrum than the shocking tale of a scandalous woman. But over the years I never really heard about the moral conundrumness of it.

Who reads D.H. Lawrence these days, anyway? Anyone?

Friday, June 13, 2008

When I get that oceanic feeling...

NOW FINISHED: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Did I mention I like being able to read books? And by that I mean complete books. In their entirety. Not hundreds of assigned pages from a casebook that totals more than a thousand pages. That just leaves me feeling incomplete and empty inside. I think I am going to finish ten books this summer -- maybe more.

In the end, Darkness at Noon is really good and I even recommend it. It's a great examination of why the revolution failed. It doesn't really matter which revolution -- although in this case it's basically about Russia without flat-out admitting it's about Russia -- because Koestler adequately points out how every revolution pretty much fails.

It's all about the relative maturity of the masses. As Rubashov nears his sentence and thus the end of his life, he reveals and wishes he had more time here on earth to contemplate this theory. Basically, people aren't ready for revolution - or any system - when it comes. So, for example, the steam engine came along and totally changed society, and this is a relatively new thing, so as Rubashov puts it (this being the first half of the twentieth century), "The people of Europe are still far from having mentally digested the consequences of the steam engine" (p. 172). Whereas in a politically mature time, when generations have become comfortable with a socio-political-economic system, the masses can better understand it.

This is all very interesting political theory, but I rather like thinking of it in terms of a certain political candidate and a certain way of mass communication/fundraising/social networking etc we have seen take off recently in our (global) society:

"In periods of maturity it is the duty and the function of the opposition to appeal to the masses. In periods of mental immaturity, only demagogues invoke the 'higher judgment of the people.'" (p. 173)

But enough about Obama. Onto Lost:

At the very end, while in his cell awaiting death, Rubashov talks about the "oceanic sense," a feeling of connectedness and oneness, a transcendental kind of state, of contemplation or ecstasy or both, in which "one's personality dissolved as a grain of salt in the sea; but at the same time the infinite sea seemed to be contained in the grain of salt" (p.260).

This immediately got me thinking about Lost and the "Oceanic Six." Koestler cites Freud, though not by name ("the greatest and soberest of modern psychologists," Rubashov muses) as the source of this term "oceanic sense." A quick check of Lostpedia shows they've picked up the Freud reference, from Civilization and its Discontents, but I think Darkness at Noon and Koestler's take on it deserve some attention from the Losties, too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oh yeah...

I think I forgot to ever tell you that my edition of Darkness at Noon is ISBN: 1-4165-4026-1. But it's not like I've been quoting much from its pages anyway. I hope to get back on the stick with 'L' -- which, by the way, is going to be D.H. Lawrence. Get stoked! But not until we're through with these revolutionaries gone awry!

The audacity of honor

NOW READING: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Man it's nice to not be in the thick of a terrible semester, and thus have lots of time to zip through my novels. I am already nearly finished with my 'K' author and just this evening picked up my 'L' author book because I'll probably start tomorrow. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!

So, Darkness. I've hardly told you anything about it. Well, I'd always heard of it and never really knew what it was about. It's basically about what Koestler had to say about Russia and the Communist revolution gone wrong, and he throws in a few novel-like elements (a character or two, a setting, some names) to make it a story instead of just his random spewing of thoughts. He is yet another author who would have benefited by being able to blog, I think. But it would have left us with less, because people spew a lot into the blogosphere and we all take it for granted and then maybe some great books don't get written because the writers are all cybered out. (I'm looking at you, Self.)

Koestler is REALLY good at that ol' trick of following a theory/political idea through to its logical conclusion and showing how poorly that turns out. In fact, his main character, Rubashov, is kind of being forced to falsely confess for that very reason. He's basically admitting to crimes that his interrogators can logically deduce would happen based on what he believed.

This is all very interesting, and it's a pretty good read, especially the latter half. One interesting idea I've been pondering is the notion of why one prisoner might never be willing to confess to something he didn't do, will never feed the interrogators what they want, insists on dying with honor and integrity. Rubashov asks, what is honor, really? And isn't it the most vain thing of all to be so caught up in not smudging yourself, when the people and the revolution may require this sacrifice of you? It's really interesting.

It's also full of irony.

I think readers of The Prince would enjoy this book, as well as readers of 1984 and Brave New World. I think Machiavelli's work has some major overlooked sarcasm. This book puts it out there like that, too. Frankly, this whole country of Bushwashed and Obamified people could use a dose of this kind of political pondering as well, but they're probably too busy attending to all the important issues of the day to read a novel...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wave bye-bye to the autocrat

NOW READING: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

It has come to my attention that I have not really shared any of my positive thoughts about Infinite Jest. There were positive thoughts, of course. I really wish I had been blogging more as I went along. (Silly law school! Who said you could take over my brain?)

What DFW does is create this bizarre and bizarrely compelling world. Several worlds, actually, wrapped into one larger world, and while it is socio-political, it is also character driven, this world(s). The kids at the tennis academy are ten kinds of funny, although I just see Hal as an exaggerated version of DFW himself. Hal's family is really hard to explain. His father makes avant garde films, and one of these is largely the point of the book, but his filmography is the most hilarious skewing of post-modern art that takes itself too seriously in a world that doesn't take itself seriously enough that you are ever likely to see.

I often preferred the world of the halfway house down the street from the tennis academy. The conversations between Gately, who was still working on his recovery from drug addiction and trying every day to keep the strength to not go back Out There, and whatever random halfway house resident came to him that day, were absolutely hilarious. The most pitch-perfect skewering of AA while still knowing quite enough about it to show that DFW obviously had at least SOME use for 12-step recovery...

Did I mention the halfway house was called "Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House"? And how about the fans blowing U.S. waste into the Great Concavity, what used to be much of the Northeast, now ceded to Canada? Let alone the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed (U.H.I.D.), whose members don veils to hide and be united ... and Joelle, whom we know to be the Prettiest Girl of All Time (P.G.O.A.T.), wearing a veil for reasons we can only speculate...and Hal's brother, whom she used to date, who so loathes the cockroaches that invade his Tucson residence that he puts glasses over them, trapping them, where they suffocate until the glasses are fogged with their carbon dioxide output. A great creepy image, until you start questioning, do insects even breathe that way? That much? But of course, like everyone else this guy has his pathetic motives and a million weaknesses and quirks.

And that's how it all is. The whole book. Yes. The jest, it is infinite.

By comparison, Darkness at Noon now seems kind of frothy, actually, despite being about political prisoners facing the threat of torture and execution.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's impossible for me to ruin the ending of Infinite Jest for you

NOW FINISHED: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
NOW READING: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Apologies for the hiatus! I was in Honduras. Which is not to say that I couldn't blog from Honduras, but I was kind of preoccupied with other things, like, you know, building a house and stuff. Recall, I finished Infinite Jest in a frenzy before leaving for Honduras and I've got to tell you, that was as much so I wouldn't have to lug the heavy thing on the plane with less than 100 pages left as it was any desire to oh-boy-I-want-to-finish-it and "see how it ends."

Because, by the way -- it doesn't end. I will go so far as to say it flat out doesn't have an ending. When you "finish" it you are sort of compelled to go back and start reading the first chapter again to figure out what happened. (Warning: even that doesn't really ever bring satisfaction or closure or anything.) And as I said that night I finished it, at midnight, packed and ready to take off for Honduras, I just didn't care. I went back and flipped through the first chapter, but I was mostly thinking, "Ugh."

Now, I'm sure there are those who will say "David Foster Wallace is brilliant! No one can write like him! He has mastered irony! The loop of Infinite Jest that makes people die because they succumb to the pleasurable entertainment is allegorical to us!" and so on. Well, that's mostly true. But it doesn't make Infinite Jest a Great Novel.

Is it a great book? I think it's a great something. A great work, a great endeavor. DFW is definitely a great writer. He's sick. Talented as the day is long, and mad skills of digression, humor, wordplay, all while being probably one of the smartest people alive. And self-aware. But is it a great book? I keep coming back to that question. Even if you take the novel question out of it (though I don't want to take the novel question out of it, because he chose to write a novel) you are still left looking for something. An ending? A point? A summing up? Would I have been equally disappointed with any summing up he could have done? Probably.

This NY Times review made several points I agreed with, including that the book really just seems like an excuse for DFW to show off his incredible writing skills. And, if you think about it, that's not really a criticism, or even a salient point. I mean, isn't that what books do - show off the writer's skills? And painting shows off the painter's skills, and gymnastics meets show off the gymnast's skills, and so on. So why does it strike us as a salient point when we read that line of the review?

Is it because of the smug factor?Because I do think DFW comes off as smug. In the book, the fact that he comes across at all could be considered smug. (Since it is, after all, "fiction.") And the single thing that pissed me off the most when I read it was the scene that made me put the book aside for almost two months, and that I still think at root was part of his twisted imagination and went with the flow of the book but was amplified or lengthened soley for shock value. It was when I saw him as writing for shock value that my respect for all his brilliance plummeted. Can it be that we don't want books we read to be "just an excuse" for the writer to show off her/his skills? That we want them to be something more?

I'm speaking of course as a blogger. It could be argued that I spew words out into the blogosphere that don't "need" to be there. Sure. But I can say sincerely that "showing off my skills" is, like, not on my mind when I blog. I become inspired to write things. I feel compelled. Why do I have this blog? I don't know. I like to write it. I like that some people read it. I like thinking about things. I like leaving a record. I would still blog if I had no readers. I used to write in a journal, after all.

I'm also speaking as a reader of War and Peace (the book that gave birth to this blog, remember). I keep somehow coming back to compare Jest to Tolstoy's tome. I don't know how Leo did it, but he wrote a garganutan, wonderful novel. I realize that DFW didn't have to do that, and might not have set out to do that, or actively didn't want to do that, or whatever. I realize also that Leo gave us far less psychosis, drug use, irony, post-modernism, and so on. But I just keep thinking somehow, if I were to read one of these "big books" again, which of those two would it be? And guess what - sorry DFW - I think it might be the big W & P.

Meanwhile, I am STILL looking for people (besides me and Brian) who have actually read Infinte Jest in its entirety and have a lot to say about it. I wonder what it's like to recall it years later. I wonder what it's like to read other works of DFW's after reading Jest. I find myself kind of wanting to read his first novel, The Broom of the System.

Timely political note: an essay from Wallace's Consider the Lobster about his time on the Straight Talk Express bus with John McCain in 2000 has been re-packaged as a stand-alone work (it is, after all, a 124-page essay) and has just been released as McCain's Promise, now that we've got 2008 going on. Crass commercialism or cunning political tool? As Infinite Jest reveals, you'll probably never really be able to tell the difference.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Infinity is in the eye of the beholder

NOW FINISHED: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Hmmm. I cannot for the life of me figure out what to say about this book. (Yet.) Except that I am surprised to maybe discover that DFW wanted his parting shot to be some sort of declaration of his love for A Clockwork Orange. Which, I might add, is a very, very short book. He could learn a thing or two from that, I'd say.

Was there an ending somewhere in there, among the 1000 pages, and I just missed it?

Actually, I can see where there are several things I am supposed to puzzle out, which may be a cheap shot from an author who babbled at us for nearly 1100 pages...

Maybe I can ponder this while I'm in Honduras. Yes, that's right, I'm leaving on a jet plane in the morn. So I had to finish the Jest tonight so as to be able to bring the next book I'm going to read and not also lug the heavy thing on the plane for the only 30 pages I had left. And so I finished it.

I'm feeling terribly unresolved.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wing, Goodlove, Gately, and Incandenza, LLP

NOW FINISHED: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
NOW ALSO FINISHED: the second year of law school!!!
NOW READING: believe it or not, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Hello everyone. What a luxurious thing it is to close the law books and pick up a NOVEL! Even when it isn't strictly a novel. Which, let's be honest, Fear of Flying isn't. You know that whole "All first novels are thinly veiled memoirs" thing Jonathan Safran Foer said to my delight (and which I often quote)? Yeah - I'm looking at you, Erica Jong.

Which is interesting, because it has made me consider some of the other novels ("novels") I've read in this here little literary blog project in that light. I would say Pico Iyer's Cuba and the Night was also a thinly veiled memoir -- and as someone writing my own thinly veiled memoir about time in Cuba, I should know. Also interestingly, that wasn't Iyer's first book, although it was his first novel. Martin Amis' The Information and Nadine Gordimer's None to Accompany Me are later novels by those authors, and they seem much less memoir-ish, despite obvious autobiographical elements.

For all my qualms with genre fiction, the genres give me the least to qualm about in this aspect. You don't really spend your reading of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said or The Maltese Falcon thinking that this is exactly what happened to PKD or Dashiell. Nor Umberto as you read The Name of the Rose...and I must say that book is probably my favorite novel on some level of the ones I've read so far for this project. And it definitely shows a great, literary imagination. A Passage to India is also fantastic -- but also with that true-life touch. In Cold Blood, of course, is a different thing altogether. (And I must admit that in hindsight I don't really think it should have qualified for this project, but oh well.)

So, Erica. Now that I don't believe for a second that "Isadora Wing" is an invented character, what do I think of the book? Even the imagined story isn't really novel-like, because it's filled with all her flashbacks that are more of recounting essays, than recollections of past events. But the things Erica Jong says are interesting, so it makes a good read. And you can see how it "changed women's literature" and all that jazz, too. I hail her as a trailblazer; I just think she had as many issues settling on a genre as I do. So, screw genres! Yeah!

Except I really want to read novels right now. I'm craving them, in fact. Law school will do that to you.

As for the other member of this household (and sometimes member of the literary blog project), Brian has done something awesome this week: he completed Infinite Jest. There we sat in the airport last weekend, me returning to my girl Erica and him Jesting it up. Then Monday I left for a full day's work in the clinic, and when I came home he had finished. (He also got terribly sick that night -- hmmm, coincidence?)

Well, you know what his completion of it has done? Made me recommit to finishing it, too. Yes - I am that competitive. And I'm OK with that. Even if that makes me a literary snob, or at least a literary keep-up-with-the-Joneses. Which is the definition of a literary snob to at least one person I know.

So now that my semester, exams, and work in the clinic are all completed (HURRAH!!!!!!) I, too, have returned to David Foster Wallace's tome. It pissed me off around March (was it March? I think so) and I cast it aside because there was a repulsive, cruel, totally despicable scene I was convinced he put in just for shock value, and it made me lose interest. Lately, however, I must say that reading Fear of Flying has made me think about Jest again because I'm convinced Erica and DFW would be great pot-smoking buddies and have lots to talk about.

That and my incredibly competitive desire to catch up with Brian. Here I go!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Literary Snobs

Long, long ago (before the 2nd year of law school started) in a galaxy far, far away (Medford) I asked most of the people I know who like to read and think what is their definition of a "literary snob." I did that because it was implied that I, alone among earthlings not being in the throes of Deathly Hallows, possibly was one. A literary snob, not a deathly hallow.

So, I asked all the peoples just what exactly they think a literary snob is. Then I began compiling the answers. Unfortunately I never got around to revealing all the answers and the consensus. But this weekend I've been cleaning out my email inbox (duh, I have finals approaching, it's the perfect procrastination) and I came across those old e-mails. So I decided in my effort to attain the "nirvana of the clean inbox" (I first heard that phrase from Brian) I'd better post about this whole literary snob thing.

Turns out I think I am one. At least if you abide by my friends' definitions. Some of them actually hastened to point out that I am totally not a literary snob, but others threw my own words and actions back at me.

For example, Mordena from my Cambridge writing group, said, "Someone who refuses to read genre fiction on principle." Gulp. Yes, I remember saying that one day at the Hi-Rise cafe. But I meant it sardonically, if not sarcastically. Of course I read some genre fiction. One of my favorite authors is Nelson DeMille. (Hofstra alum, p.s.!) Although I am aware how much that sounds like, "Some of my best friends are genre authors..." Oh dear.

And my high school best friend Marcia said, "Someone who refuses to read Harry Potter!" which was pretty much a direct hit. I liked Mo's (also an Arizona friend) one-liner, "Someone who outright refuses to buy their books from Rite-Aid." I noticed that a lot of friends compared literary snobs to film snobs and music snobs in their efforts to define.

But here's the main thing I noticed: it's not as if anyone disagreed on what people would be literary snobs about. (preposition used at sentence end for dramatic impact) In fact, around ten people named names or cited examples, and most of those named Harry Potter as one of the names. Like Kim D., an L.A. Borders musician friend, who said that like music snobs, lit snobs are educated and active in their field and then upon finding that their preparation is of no monetary value take out their bitterness by being critical of those who make money in the field, such as "Kenny G is no Steve Coleman" and "J.K. Rowling is no C.S. Lewis." (Although they do both have pretty famous initials; what is it with those Brits?)

So at the risk of further cementing myself in literary snobdom, I must say it's interesting that everyone recognized the dichotomy. They'd say that the snob reads Tolstoy but not Harlequin, or Tom Wolfe but not Danielle Steel, or Moby Dick but not the "little black dress" novels, or literary magazine poetry but not mass markets. My point is, maybe we all recognize, without wanting to admit it, that some books are better than others. That maybe we can't define literature, but we know it when we see it.

So basically, I don't really care if you relegate me to literary snob status. I like reading, and I think some books are crap. (Note I didn't say they shouldn't exist; I just said they're crap.) I totally read and enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, but I AM proud that I was the first on my block to read it (Borders got advanced reader copies, so I was alerted early to the next big thing, and even got to meet Dan Brown three days after it came out). I joke about my "bestseller backlash," but anyone who has worked at a behemoth bookstore and seen the blatant shove-it-in-your-face (often-with-Oprah's-help) factor of the bestseller lists knows what I mean.

And speaking of Oprah, I think she has chosen some great books, at least when she was still reading fiction. Admitted fiction, that is. I was the biggest champion of Elizabeth Berg ever - but yes, I am proud that I knew her before Oprah did. As for Harry P - I DID read the first half of the first book -- twice -- and I am just not interested. It's not because it's popular, it's because I'm not interested. So does it convert me into a snob when I also make fun of how popular it is? I mean, I saw Titanic in the theater and enjoyed it, but I can still make fun of the Celine Dion song or the "I'm the king of the world!" nonsense at the Oscars. Harry Potter's an easy target, as are some of his fans. What can I say? I might add that I think J.K. might just be full of crap in this lawsuit she's brought against one of 'em.

I make fun of snobs, too, though. I particularly enjoyed making fun of the Harvard guy when I showed Brian around Harvard Square and we sat next to a self-important grad-student type who was reading at the bar in Grendel's. (Are we snobs for enjoying the name of the bar? Or not any longer now that Angelina Jolie has had her way with Beowulf?) Brian and I still fondly recall that guy, who gave off a "Does it get any better than me?" vibe.

But the thing is, I can also make fun of myself. I love the cheese-tacular things I love but I self-deprecate with the best of them. And yeah, I generally don't go looking for new books in genre fiction, because they're not my personal preference. Neither is "Business Life" nor "Gardening Essays." But I adored The Orchid Thief, and I confidently make fun of Who Moved My Cheese?

Thus concludes the examination of my literary snobbery and/or lack thereof. (Unless you want to comment.) I will end with the words of wise John Frank, whom I worked with in L.A. when he was cafe manager at Borders:

"A literary snob, to me, is someone who won't read Stephen King, Anne Rice, Sidney Sheldon, Dean Koontz, Neil Simon, or any other big name writer who sells plenty of books the common folks like to read. However what they don't remember is that 500 years from now Neil Simon will be remembered as the Shakespeare of our time, Stephen King will be remembered as a master of his genre, etc. etc. etc..."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Zipless Jest

NOW FINISHED: El bosque de los pigmeos de Isabel Allende
NOW READING: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
NOW NOT READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I suppose I should also point out that my first final is in two weeks and two days and I am plunging headlong into all things review and studying. So it's not as if I'm reading much of Erica. Although I was pleased to see this in last week's New Yorker. Girl is still relevant. Woo hoo! I am rather enjoying the book. As with most things created before I was born, it doesn't strike me as partiuclarly scandalous; shock and awe just don't endure, I guess.

What I like about Fear of Flying isn't that Isadora/Erica is willing to "get real" about men, sex, marriage, affairs, orgasms, and the like -- or at least that's what she tells herself/us as she narrates this little European escapade and its frenzy of flashbacks -- but that it is so literary! There must be hundreds of literary allusions. In fact, I think there might be thousands and I am only getting hundreds. A girl can only be so well-read, you know. Especially if one's literary blog projects are so totally always on hold because of silly ol' LAW SCHOOL. That, or a thousand page Infinite Joke...or Jest...or something. Ha.

Thought: Erica Jong and David Foster Wallace having a few beers together (and/or sitting around taking hits from the bong), discussing literature and life. Hmmm...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Or did I actually mean to say "Finite"...

now reading: El bosque de los pigmeos de Isabel Allende
now not reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I have missed Nadia and Alexander! aka Aguila y Jaguar. El Bosque de los Pigmeos is the third in Allende's young adult series in which these two have adventures all around the world. I've read the series en espanol but I urge you to read them even if you do all your reading in English. They are clever and creative and fun and heartwarming and have good messages about environmentalism, respect for other people and lands, judgment, spirituality, and so on. GOOD stuff. Plus some of the characters are super sardonic. I've had this one sitting around for a while and was really excited to start reading it the other day. In the first book they were deep in the Amazon, in the second an isolated kingdom in the Himalaya, and now Africa. ("Bosque" means forest, "pigmeos" is pygmies.) I adore these books.

What about Infinite Jest? Well, it's not over but let's just say we're taking a break. Yes, I do mean that the way it sounds (as in, relationship code for "it really might be over.") There may still be a chance, but David Foster Wallace has disappointed me greatly and it might be better if we just go our separate ways. I have some friends who are encouraging me not to give up, but I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do.

Don't forget all the Con Law reading I have to do, though, too! What a thrill that is.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


now reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I have just made a shocking discovery. Or at least what passes for one on MySpace. I have been using the illustrious social networking site to randomly peruse the profiles of people who list Infinite Jest in their "Books" category. Why? Just for fun and procrastination, mostly, and also to see what they have to say about it, if anything. OK, so when I did a search for "Infinite Jest" in books, I got 182 pages of results. Wow, right? Except it's pretty easy to skim through them, looking for people I might actually care to hear from, and ignoring the bands, the people who put fake ages (like 0, or 102), the people with pornographic profile pictures, the people who haven't logged in since 2004, etc. Still, 182 pages? Impressive.

Then I went and did some other things and then went back to peruse a bit more. Only this time I got only four pages of results. I looked to see if I had made sure to type "Infinite Jest" in the Books category search and not General Interest or something. I had - but then I saw that I'd typed it so quickly that I had left out the final 'i' and typed "Infinte Jest" and THAT had returned four pages of results. Can you imagine? I mean, I'm actually not all that surprised that a significant chunk of people leave/never notice typos in their profiles. But don't you think it's funny that there are that many people who made the same typo? FOUR PAGES of people who typed "Infinte." (By the way, I totally hear that in my head as a three-syllable word, like"infanty.") I think that's hilarious. And kind of less for what it says about careless profile-building then about the sheer number of people who like this book. Maybe I'll try leaving out other random letters, too, and see what happens. (No, I won't. But it was fun to ponder for a moment.)

Conquering Infinite-y

now reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I am halfway through!

This news is definitely worthy of shouting that originates on a rooftop. It is a long book. And, I am a law student. This day might never have come...

Actually, on a total digression, sometimes I don't even feel like a law student. I feel like I am just doing my own thing and then sometimes I get really stressed out because I have to do a lot of the same things the law students have to do. Then, I think, 'Well, OK, maybe this is what a law student looks like!' Gloria Steinem would be proud.

Back to Jest. Recently I became annoyed with the fact that I had soooo much left to read in it. That to-read pile is growing larger. And I can't read for pleasure all the time these days anyway. And all that. It just seemed so cumbersome to have hundreds of pages left. Brian swore he was still relishing it. I missed the relish. But bringing it with me to read on my commute on Monday really made a difference, because I read sixty pages in one day. Usually I spend my commute to school reading for a class and my commute from school reading The New Yorker, but I really want to finish IJ* by March 10. WISH ME LUCK. (Alternatively, by March 17 is also allowed. I just want it to be by the 10th. But I am bound and determined to finish by the 17th. You hear me?)

*Did you know "IJ" also means "Immigration Judge" and I talk about those a lot this semester.

However, after tearing through 80 pages in the past 36 hours, I have now come to another annoying part, a random digression in first person about a recollection of a childhood mattress-moving incident and some psychotic parents.* It's Jim Incandenza, I surmise. As I plodded through it, wondering if its point/tangential relevance/amusement factor will soon be revealed, I got to a great part in which he recalls that as a boy he was terrified of the sound of vacuum cleaners. I love it! Me too! I still don't like them, but now that I am a rational adult I can deal with their sound, obviously. But I so too recall "hurrying to get some distance between myself and the vacuum cleaner, because the sound of vacuuming has always frightened me in the same irrational way..." (p. 501) (That's right, FIVE hundred. And halfway through. Yeah.)

*Then again, what parents in this book aren't pretty much psycho?

Don't get me wrong. This book isn't filled with annoying digressions. Most of it is wholly bad-ass. I was particularly delighted a few pages back to re-encounter Madame Psychosis. Only, she's gone. Basically, we re-encountered her absence. How sad for me.

Do any of you even, like, know anyone who has read it?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Avoiding Reality

NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Have I mentioned that a lot of the plot of Infinite Jest takes place in the footnotes? It's not nearly as annoying as it sounds. Ordinarily, I do find it completely tiresome when reading something to be constantly referred to footnotes. Especially if it's because the author has incomplete thoughts and jumbled organization, or when they are an academic and so they like to write one narrative in the paper and another in the footnotes. UGH. What DFW does in Jest, however, is write the plot in both the main text and the footnotes. I kinda dig it.

Also, the footnotes are pretty good and even f-in' hilarious from time to time. Sometimes they go on for pages. Sometimes there are footnotes to the footnotes. I reiterate that none of this is as annoying as it sounds. Also, how can you get mad when one sequence of footnotes reads like this:

a. Don't ask.

b. Ibid.

That is pure genius!

Recently in a footnote he referred to the prorectors at the tennis academy having "that grad-schoolish sense of arrested adolescence and reality-avoidance about them." (p. 1003) That is a great way to put it. It also makes me think I was, like, destined to go to grad school. As much as I hemmed and hawed and put it off, I can avoid reality and/or dwell in adolescence with the best of them. But I'm intelligent and like to read. So it had to happen eventually, right?

Reality is overrated. I prefer the Oscars.

Oooh! I almost forgot the most important part. I totally want to read Infinite Jest all the time when I have so much to do for law school, so I'm totally conflicted and I never get to make any progress in the novel and then I get all mad and on my days off I just read it and don't read things for school. THAT'S what's* so great about it!

*I have a new fondness for/obsession with noticing when I happen to write two words in a row that might mystify a novice pronouncer of English because they look the same but sound different. Example: "That's what's..." Also earlier today I noticed it when elsewhere I wrote "come home."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tennis, anyone?

NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Those of you who have not read it may not know that Infinite Jest is largely about tennis. Much of the action ("action") takes place at a tennis academy boarding high school in the Boston area. So in reading the book, you actually get to read a lot about tennis as well. But it's not, like, breathtaking accounts of tennis matches. (Are those even possible? I may be cynical, but tennis is seriously up there on my list of sports that are FAR more fun to play than to watch. Maybe just behind golf and bowling.) Instead this book is a lot of description of what daily life would be like for these hard-core tennis teenagers among themselves.

This life generally involves the usual mixed emotions that come with being really successful at something, the struggles and pressure that come with being really successful at something, and the things all teens do to thwart authority figures whom they also follow in many ways. The book also contemplates the deeper meanings of competition, success, and what one does with one's life. Much of this is seen through the prism of the game of tennis, and a lot of it (at least in these first three hundred pages) subtly contrasts these tennis phenoms with the drug addicts, corrupt political types, pretentious arty/film types, and random weirdos that fill out the lesser ranks of life. So far, no pronouncements on who, if anyone, actually will be deemed in the end to have their shit together.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I don't even mind the footnotes. So far.

NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Those of you who have not Infinitely Jested may wonder what this tome is all about. Three hundred pages in, many things remain mysterious, but I can at least tell you some of what I like about it:

  • Much like Margaret Atwood and South Park, our boy David Foster Wallace skewers all manner of viewpoints by following them to their logical extended result. This, of course, has the effect of being both amusing and chilling.
  • I love the way he writes long convoluted sentences that hold my interest, but also occasionally writes using a very casual form and the word "like" to great effect. In other words, proving that people can use that word as a random interjection and not sound insipid. Yeah!
  • Making fun, but with just a hint of admiration, of the 12-step recovery scene, most prominently with the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol (sic) Recovery House. I love it. It's great, from the guy running around creating major social theory about everyone's tattoos to the bit I read today in which he demonstrates how a conversation goes between a platitude-spouting counselor and an educated person who joins the Program, who is not unwilling to engage in recovery but is questioning everything intellectually and trying to reason through the cliches about denial and the like. It was awesome. Kind of reminded me of some experiences I had back in the day, especially in L.A. where everyone had a therapist. (Myself included.)
  • I love anyone who can discourse handily about the danger of black widows dropping onto your picnic blanket from their homes in the Arizona palm trees.
I'm trying to think if any of my friends have read this book. Have you? I think I mostly know OF people who've read it. And I definitely know people like myself who have felt for ten years that we SHOULD read it. Well, anyone? Who loves this book? And why? No spoilers, please. One avid reader friend said she hasn't read it, and her idea is that mostly guys like it. True? A cursory MySpace search for people who'd listed it among their favorites turned up some scary results, indeed...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Here's the story...

NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
NOW DABBLING: Collected Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson
NOW VOTING FOR: Hillary Rodham Clinton
(oh, just got carried away with the three-named folks there. but i am voting for her, of course, not sure why you wouldn't.)

I continue to like our friend David Foster Wallace here, and to relive my life as I read. (Have I mentioned the book takes place in Boston and Arizona? Well, when it can be located in anything so traditional as a geographical place, that is.) Today, it was The Brady Bunch. In one of his dropping-in-and-out-of-random-conversation scenes, he gives it a full paragraph amidst many mere one-line conversation fragments. But he doesn't even mention The Brady Bunch, just "Eve Plumb," "Henderson." "Alice" and so on. As it turns out, if you don't know about The Brady Bunch you wouldn't even know he was talking about The Brady Bunch. I have verified this with someone who doesn't know about The Brady Bunch. (Yes, I pity this person.)

It does beg the question how many things he's alluding to about which I have no earthy clue...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Howling, even. Huck would be impressed.

NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

So here's a thing I really, really like about Infinite Jest, a thing which I bet approximately two other people on the planet would even notice, much less care about. But here it is. So there's this word, see, that leapt out of the pages of Huckleberry Finn at my my friend Marcia and me back when we read it in high school. (Huck Finn, you say? I thought we were infinitely jesting...well, stick with me here.) We loved it. Early in Huck's journey, while he and Jim stay on that little island in the river, there is a dead body and Huck, creeped the hell out, says, "It most give me the fantods."

Fantods. How could you not love it? I mean, who even (besides Mark Twain, apparently) ever even knew there was a synonym for heebie-jeebies? But they're not just heebie-jeebies. They are darker and more demonic. The word is just so perfect! Marcia and I used "fantods" as frequently as we could from that point forward. It may have been the best thing we took away from that book. (Discussing all the issues swirling around when/how our AP English class came to read Huckleberry Finn under the tutelage of Patti Patti is defnitely another story for another day...)

I can recall a moment in college, lying around with a dozen or so girls from the dorms after staying up way too late being silly, when I told some story and noted that whatever freak thing I described "totally gave me the fantods." I remember Heather -- smart, ever proper Heather -- asking, "Just what is a fantod?" And some of my other crazy best friends sort of rolling their eyes and saying, "Oh, Linda and her fantods..."

You can imagine my delight, then, when I first came across the word in Infinite Jest. It was all I could do not to shriek on the bus where I was reading it and cry aloud, "Fantods! He knows about fantods!"

But now, now, now here gloriously on page 189, it gets even better. First of all, I love Madame Psychosis and her radio show, and I love M.I.T. and its weirdness, and I love the random engineer because he is just like so many engineers I knew back in my radio day. But here is Mario, listening to the show and sitting up close to the speaker, because he has to have the sound low, "because Avril has some auditory thing about broadcast sound and gets the howling fantods from any voice that does not exit a living corporeal head..."

I. Love. It. I'd be happy enough just to see anyone using that word anywhere, period, but then he goes and does it repeatedly. And when you get right down to it, it IS a little creepy, isn't it, to think of voices emanating from something other than talking heads?

Just keep on sprinkling them through this story. Fantods. Wonderful, howling fantods.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

That good ol' resilience of the human spirit and stuff

Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

OK, so I'm done randomly picking up books upon which this awards season's films are based. I think. As previously mentioned both Lust, Caution and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are tiny books, so reading them in, like, an hour each was no feat. And I do so like to read books before I see the movie! So now I have to go see those two movies.

We DID see yesterday -- at long last -- The Kite Runner. I found myself more and more looking forward to it as the day went on. It's one of those books that I still don't think is perfect or anything but taught me so much about Afghanistan (and, well, kites!) and really held my attention; as it settles in my memory I've grown more and more fond of the story. I thought the movie did a superb job of staying true to the book while leaving things out. I get angry at movies that do NOT stay true to the book when they leave things out. I'm not saying you can ever exactly reproduce a book on the screen but my point is exactly that: of course you cannot. The onus is on you to be faithful to it knowing it won't be the same. Some people seem to miss that point.

Anyhoo, I liked The Kite Runner film as well. The kids really were quite good. And by the way, I totally commend Paramount and all the effort that went into moving the four child actors from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates to keep them safe. I think Paramount did all they could/should do. I think it's pretty pathetic that the boys or their families would have to fear any sort of reprisal for making the film. In Afghanistan, the U.S., or anywhere, I wish religious and conservative people could just chill out and let others live their own lives. Who made you the judge, the punisher? Who said vengeance is OK? Then again, this very question is confronted in the book/film, in what I thought was hands down the most powerful scene while I was reading. I even had to stop and take a breather on the plane after I read it. I refer to the stadium scene of course. Anyway, kudos to Paramount and everyone who helped with that. (Here's an article about moving the boys, very interesting...)

So NOW, back to Infinite Jest! Have I mentioned that I really like it? I am on page 130. In a normal book, this would be a significant chunk, but Infinite Jest being so...infinite, it is a drop in the bucket. I have already spent time with loads of quirky characters in their bizarre situations. He does this amazing thing where he plunges you in and out of these various people's lives, and each time a new bit starts you don't know if you're going to revisit some athlete/druggie/spy you've already met or discover someone new, but you never feel lost. You do, however, feel very very amused.