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.