Friday, September 21, 2012

Ray Zen

finished a while back: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

He titled the book tongue-in-cheekily, you know. Which in itself says a lot about Ray Bradbury. I learned so much about him by reading this book: about his writing style, his process, his inspirations, his outlook on life. He's good. A true genius, so recently departed from among us.

I was one of those people who had read Fahrenheit 451 and nothing else by him, before I read this book. I am also one of those people (admittedly, there are fewer in this category) who have a Science Fiction Wall (i.e., I tend to avoid it. And call it "sigh-fi.") Mr. Bradbury specifically addresses this second type (me) in one of his pieces in here, lambasting the parents/teachers/critics/literati who mock children's interest in sci-fi. He kind of goes all Margaret Atwood on it, making it seem like real literature again. (Ray and Margaret: were they friends? Talk to me, book nerds. I want to know.)

Let's just say I am definitely inspired to pick up more of his writings, including The Martian Chronicles. But even better, this book did its job by reinvigorating me about my own writing. I am keeping it nearby to reread. Each little vignette offered me insight and I recognized dashes of myself in the need to create, to get those words on the page, to tell all the stories, the need that he so wonderfully evokes.

I can see myself recommending this to several of the smart, thoughtful, creative, interesting, and ever-so-slightly wacky people that I know. You know, the awesome people.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I can read weird things in Spanish now, too

finished September 8th: Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Weird book. Short, meant to be a little spooky and mysterious and sensual and surreal-ish and all that, variously described as "dreamlike" and "complex."  I don't know if I'd really call it complex, although there is definitely a lot going on under the surface. But it definitely does weird narrative things and blurs the lines between reality/fantasy, dreaming/waking, knowing/desiring, etc.

I have been a little familiar with Carlos Fuentes ever since I blew off one of his books that I was assigned to read during college. (Uh...sorry!)  I've never read his biggies, The Death of Artemio Cruz, but my kind Spanish-speaking-and-teaching comparative lit professor from USC who recommended me a few "greatest hits" of literatura en español for me to read during my stay in Mexico, suggested Aura for my Fuentes sample instead, and I picked it up for a mere 80 pesos in a bookstore a couple weeks ago.

Since it's short, I read it quickly, and it was definitely not difficult, though I had to look up maybe a handful of words. It just reminded me of a surrealist painting, really. That is the best way that I can describe it. A little bit of that dark, gothic feel, an interesting narrative structure (second person! that almost never happens), and yet also packing an educational punch by filling us in on a bit of Mexico military history, too. All in all, if you're an intermediate Spanish student looking to practice reading, you can't go wrong with this book! I have no idea if the mysterious feel of the book will get lost in translation -- probably not with a good translator, which I'm assuming there is for the works of Fuentes, so go ahead and read it in English, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Awesome Quotes From Shalimar the Clown

finished a while ago, and loved: Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

I didn't even mean to read Shalimar the Clown, as I have mentioned, but it turned out to be wonderful and magical and awesome. My boy Salman Rushdie is such a writer, and he weaves and spins the language and characters into far-flung locales that feel close to home, serious whimsy, and really personal tales that resonate globally. This book, even more than The Satanic Verses, made me just LOVE how Rushdie's brain works. I will offer up a few sample quotes from the book, to try to convince you of its perfect truth:

"Religion was folly and yet its stories moved her and this was confusing." ( p. 22) 

"Again with the religious imagery. New images urgently needed to be made. Images for a godless world." (p.23)

"He tried to believe that the global structures he had helped to build, the pathways of influence, money and power, the multinational associations, the treaty organizations, the frameworks of cooperation and law whose purpose had been to deal with a hot war turned cold, would still function in the future that lay beyond what he could foresee. She saw in him a desperate need to believe that the ending of his age would be happy, and that the new world which would come after would be better than the one that would die with him." (p.24)

"They don't make no glass slippers no more. They already closed the factory." (p. 46)
(and everything else that comes out of the mouth of the Russian landlady who says this)

"The Ass, by contrast, is a coward and runs from danger; however you must remember in mitigation that he is an Ass, just as a jackal is a jackal and a leopard is a leopard and a boar has no option but  to be boarish one hundred percent of the time. They neither know nor shape their own nature;  rather, their nature knows and shapes them. There are no surprises in the animal kingdom. Only Man's character is suspect and shifting. Only Man, knowing good, can do evil. Only Man wears masks. Only Man is a disappointment to himself." (p.113-114)

An entire passage making fun of military-government "reasoning" about dissenting citizens: the integer/fraction/integrity/India/Kashmir bit on p. 119.

"'You can know a man for fifty years,' he said, 'and still not know what he's capable of.' Harbans shrugged in self-deprecation. 'You never know the answer to the questions of life until you're asked,' he said." (p.354)

"General Kachhwaha despised the fundamentalists, the jihadis, the Hizb, but he despised the secular nationalists more. What sort of God was secular nationalism? People would not die for that for very long." (p.373)

"He named the Los Angeles River after the angels of Assisi and their holy mistress and twelve years later, when a new settlement was established here, it took its title from the river's full name, becoming El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula, the Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Very Small Plot of Land. But the City of Angels now stood on a Very Large Plot of Land Indeed, thought India Ophuls, and those who dwelt there needed mightier protectors than they had been given, A-list, A-team angels, angels familiar with the violence and disorder of giant cities, butt-kicking Angeleno angels, not the small-time, underpowered, effeminate, hello-birds-hello-sky, love-and-peace, sissy-Assisi kind." (p.416)  
Note: This last one may be my favorite L.A. quote of all time. Definitely up there, anyway.

This is a sample of what you have in store when you read Shalimar the Clown.  So much wonderful!

quotes taken from mass market edition ISBN: 0-8129-7698-3

Monday, September 17, 2012

Highly recommended alert: Shalimar!

now finished: Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

I hadn't really planned to read Shalimar the Clown. Careful readers of this blog(and even some of the half-assed ones) will recall that Salman Rushdie was my 'R' author in my A-to-Z Literary Blog project, wherein I read a book from each of 26 new-to-me-but-famous-and-I-always-meant-to-read-them authors, one for each letter of the alphabet. (Mostly. Sorry, Gao.) For my first Rushdie, a few years back during the project, I read The Satanic Verses. (Um, it was weird. Good, but weird. And anyone who wants to kill an author for writing a book is a stupid worthless stupid dumb jerkity jerk, end of story, but no, I did not see anything in that book worth getting outraged about.)  Now, I am deep into my A-to-Z Top Half project, wherein I chose my 13 favorite authors of the 26 and am reading a second book by each of them. I have only a few left! So, here I am in Mexico, with less access to the books in English than I normally would have, so I asked some of my fellow expat reading peeps around these parts if they had any Salman Rushdie, because that's a pretty likely thing among travelers/English teachers, unlike some of my other A-to-Z top half authors (I'm looking at you, Warren-Styron.) I pretty much just assumed someone would have Midnight's Children, but instead, I was loaned Shalimar the Clown.

Well, guess what? It's awesome. I mean, seriously awesome. Its awesomenes sneaks up on you, too, so you're going along about page 350, 360 or so, and you've been caught up in these characters for a while, and you've learned a lot, and you REALLY want to go visit Kashmir because it just sounds heavenly, and you really like what he did with his descriptions of L.A. in the first chapter, and you totally dig lots of the characters who live in these two villages, and you are starting to think about big global issues because you see how its all coming together, and - wow! It hits you. This is going to a really awesome place, isn't it?

Of course, it's horrible, what happens. Because revenge is horrible, but specifically, death as revenge is horrible. And no, I am not spoiler-ing, because said murder happens in the first chapter, but then you learn more about it for the rest of the book. And you learn about a million other things besides. Among them: on what grounds would you, yourself, kill. To save your own life? Your family's? Your country's?  What about to save those entities' honor? Ahhhh, the lines we draw.

Salman Rushdie is, of course, awesomely equipped to write about this subject, being the object of the horrible stupid horrible nonsensical violent murderous horrible fatwa and all. But he doesn't hit you over the head; like I said, the awesomeness of the big questions sneaks up on you.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, this book should be required reading for everyone in the post-9/11 world, but unfortunately, so many people just would not get it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Don Jerky Juan

finished: Don Juan Tenorio by

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Old/Drunk West

(catch-up bloggage--I actually finished listening to this book August 21st)
finished listening: The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral--and How It Changed the American West by Jeff Guinn

I highly recommend this book, but I cannot highly recommend the title, or, I should say, the subtitle. Careful readers of this blog will recall that long non-fiction subtitles annoy me. I would be much more impressed by someone's titling skills if they came up with an actual title that conveyed something instead of calling it basically My Book and then adding :And Now I Will Give Some Indication of What It Is About.

I mean, why not just call your book The Last Gunfight if that's what you want to call it? Sheesh! Meanwhile, it's funny that the subtitle is all "I'm the real story" because the shootout at the O.K. corral, as you will learn when you read the book, did not actually happen at the O.K. corral, but our boy Jeff Guinn is obviously going for name recognition here, much as people did with Wyatt Earp's name after his death, finally giving him the fame he had so craved in life.

Anyway, being from Arizona I am of course equal parts proud and dismayed about my state (the usual, you might say) when it comes to Tombstone and the Earps, because the whole thing is so totally famous and exciting, but it's really quite the violent thug debacle that 1. never should have happened and 2. has historically glorified people who ought to be a little demonized instead.  (I'm looking at you, Wyatt. And Doc.)

Our "we're-so-meta" proof that we were there
 It just so happens that I have actually been to Tombstone, there in my fair state. Tombstone rules! As the author of this book points out, Tombstone was a booming place with actual high society at the 1870s/1880s cusp, but then it fell apart and the railroad didn't go through there (until eventually, decades later) and people pulled up stakes and it was basically going to die and be like that mysterious ghost town the Brady Bunch station wagon passed through on the way to the Grand Canyon but then the movies got a hold of Wyatt's story, and a few books as well, and then the fifties and Gunsmoke  happened, and everyone liked the Wild West mythology, and Tombstone was reborn as a tourist destination. And that is what it is today, and what it was for my drunken poet friends and me during one college weekend trip that will be forever remembered for endless saloon shenanigans and one particularly shattering incident involving a stolen margarita glass. (Not. My. Fault.) 

I look Tomb-stoned
I lost my wallet on that Tombstone trip...well, not lost, exactly, but more like did-drunken-cartwheels-on-the-street-and-my-wallet-fell-out, but some nice Tombstonian picked it up and told the clerk in the Circle K in front of which she had found it (it's Arizona, so there's always a Circle K) and I was able to retrieve it the next morning. So, despite extreme levels of drunkenness, chaos, and a bit of senseless wailing, Tombstone will always be a fond memory for me, which is how I suspect maybe some of the Earp brothers felt about the place, too. Unlike the Clanton/McLaurys who got totally unjustly killed there that fateful day.

Fun fact: A Tombstone city ordinance actually prohibited carrying guns on the streets of town, but if you were a sheriff or marshal or deputy then you could carry one, so that's part of what caused all these problems. That and the fact that you could reclaim your checked guns on your way out of town, and then take a veeerrrrrrry long way "out of town" and maybe carry a gun around for hours, and people certainly took advantage of that as well.

Here's my astonishing fact, though: I have never actually watched the movie Tombstone.  You know, the one from 1993 that everyone, especially everyone I know in Arizona, just loves, and that people argue was Val Kilmer's finest hour, and from which we get this "Huckleberry" business that people are always quoting? Yeah, I've never seen it. I don't know why! It's because I lived in a complete and total movie bubble in 1993!  (That bubble is called "Provo, Utah.") And then I just never got around to it, and...yeah. I really need to Netflix it, though, because I loved reading this book and learning all about the (real) history, and now I am going to forever be watching Old West Tombstone things and pointing out their inaccuracies, except when they watch My Darling Clementine in M*A*S*H, because that is a classic moment in itself ("Horses, cowboys, and horses!") so it doesn't matter that the movie changed, like, lots of things about what went down.

I listened to The Last Gunfight audio book on my MP3 player while I was walking or riding the bus to work, or sometimes when I went running, and I happened to be going for a run when I listened to the actual gunfight part, and it was very dramatic and kind of got my adrenaline going! Poor Frank and Tom McLaury.

Ahhh, Tombstone. This blog entry was less about giving you the facts of the book and the last gunfight, and more about my general experience of the town, as I related my story in a kind of self-centered, bemused, and melodramatic way. Wyatt would have appreciated this approach.