christinawilder

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Hangsaman
Shirley Jackson, Francine Prose
No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs
Naomi Klein
Progress: 158/528 pages
"I want to perform an unnatural act."

- Lenny Bruce



"I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative. I don't like anything in the mainstream and they don't like me."

- Bill Hicks



"I don’t like ass kissers, flag wavers or team players. I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn people: “Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, ‘There is no “I” in team.’ What you should tell them is, ‘Maybe not. But there is an “I” in independence, individuality and integrity.’” Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, “We’re the So-and-Sos,” take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it’s unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don’t participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you’re not a team player, congratulate them on being observant."

-George Carlin



"The more I see, the less I know for sure."

- John Lennon

Confused.

The BL counter says that I reached my goal of 300 books, but I've read 297. Weird.

"She thought, if she tried, she could become someone else entirely."

Sleep in Me - Jon Pineda

A coma, one of her doctors explained. It was the first time I had heard the word coma. It seemed like a strange word, too, just a letter away from comma. Comma seemed more fitting, a visual pause in the sentence of her life. The room blinked from the bouquet of red and violet lights, the mechanisms at work to cycle air in and out of my sister's ruptured lungs. Looking at this body I had to believe it still held Rica somewhere in the realm of its dreaming.

 

Jon Pineda's account of his sister's transformation from a popular, energetic cheerleader to a mute, wheelchair-bound enigma after a horrible car crash surpasses expectations. One can expect the heartbreak, the frustration and the detachment that comes from adolescence and family turmoil, but Pineda has such a gift for haunting and lyrical prose that the reader actually experiences these emotions with him. Empathy gives way to something more tangible; you're there with him as he tries to piece himself and his family together after this tragedy, you feel his pain and rage.

 

Memoirs often give way from a topic to focus on a coming-of-age story, and at times the tone is lost. Not so with Sleep In Me; Pineda recounts a near drowning and is reminded of his sister, who at the time was still in a hospital bed lost in a coma. Suddenly he is rescued and the acceptance of death is torn from him, giving way to a brisk reminder of life:

 

No sooner had I thought I was dead, than I realized I was going to live. Then there was the sky.

It seemed so small. What I could make of it. The waves occasionally slapped me in the face like a frustrated parent, or more like one who had been so scared, her reaction was to slap out of fear. I could understand that kind of fear forcing you to do things you wouldn't normally do.

 

Pineda's assertion that the Rica he knew died in the accident and someone else emerged is understood. His frustration, shared with Rica herself, at the doting pity heaped on her by strangers in public, is palpable. Truth is concealed in the guise of politeness, the strain of things unsaid. 

 

His escape into music is nothing short of therapeutic, though it's not a panacea. He forms a band with some friends and finds himself to become "part of the scene", knowing that "all [he] had to do was pretend not to care". 

 

The entire novel is tension, drawn tight and thick. You want Rica to wake up. You want her to speak. You want Pineda to tell you he was just kidding, it was all a dream. But this happened, on June 14th, 1983. I was just turning three when Pineda's life changed, and his family's life changed, forever. 

 

Sleep In Me is in no way a light read, but it is a beautiful one, and something I can recommend to all readers without hesitation.

"There is nothing more independent, more wicked."

Twilight of the Idols: How to Philosophize with a Hammer (World's Classics) - Friedrich Nietzsche, Duncan Large

I will try to reduce the amount of personal interjection in this review, but I don't know how well I can do that, as my discovery of Nietzsche in college affected me in a way that few things had before. The utter rejection of religion and the celebration of freedom is something that will divide readers, and this is not necessarily a negative effect. Brash statements tend to do that, and Nietzsche is certainly not for everyone.

 

The introduction to this slim novel is blunt in the purpose of the work. Nietzsche himself describes it as "cheerful and fateful in tone, a demon that laughs...there is nothing richer in substance, more independent, more subversive - more wicked." The title is explained by the author philosopher stating that "the old truth is coming to an end". It is unlike most books in that the structure changes, and the tone remains nihilist (of course) but is often full of puns and can be darkly humorous. 

 

As stated in the introduction states, "my ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book - what everyone else does not say in a book."

 

Twilight of the Idols begins with "Maxims and Barbs", a collection of thoughts and witticisms that sum up Nietzsche's thinking:

 

'All truth is simple.' - Is that not a compound lie?

 

You recover best in your wild nature from your unnaturalness, your intellectuality...

 

...Is man just one of God's mistakes? Or is God just one of man's?

 

I mistrust all systematists and avoid them. The will to system is a lack of integrity.

 

Nietzsche goes on to dissect Christianity, Germany, morality, and philosophy himself with a precise bluntness that continues to unnerve those who study him. He remains, and will remain, the dark rebel of philosophy, and Twilight of the Idols is an excellent summary of his manner of thinking. It's the epitome of Nietzsche, a glimpse into a groundbreaking mind before, as translator Duncan Large states, the philosopher "collapsed into the perpetual twilight of insanity".

I love you all so much and i'[m drunk

For real you all inspire me and we go on forever keep it real you guys

Almost, but not quite there.

The Orange Houses - Paul Griffin

This is an example of a great premise and promising story, but I didn't find myself as deeply invested with the characters as I would like to be. Maybe it's because this book was so short, and backstories were summed up rather than retold, but ultimately I didn't feel a deep connection. (There are those out there who will say this is my fault, and maybe they're even correct, but that's a rant for another day).

 

One part, though, did speak to me, and it was through a deaf girl who didn't like the idea of getting newer hearing aids that wouldn't allow her to cancel out most of the outside noise that constantly surrounded her: 

 

 

The reason I felt a sort of kinship with this section was that it reminded me of my mental "inner noise" - if I try to concentrate on more than one outside noise while dealing with everything inside my head, it's overwhelming. If there's a song with clear lyrics and my husband is talking to me, I tend to lower the music or mute it. Ditto with the tv. Most people do this, of course, but for me it's sort of...painful. Not physically, but emotionally. It's too much.

 

Anyway, I digress. The stories of two hopeful but somewhat damaged girls battling against prejudices juxtaposed with the story of a man seeking redemption just didn't do it for me. There were bits here and there that came through, but ultimately, I didn't worry about the characters, and for that I can't recommend this one with gusto.

Anything...ANYTHING...for fame.

Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction - Jake Halpern

It's not exactly surprising that our culture of 24 hour news and celebrity worship has led to a societal obsession with fame and glamour. Still, to see this obsession researched and dissected is a fascinating - and disturbing - journey.

 

Halpern interviewed modelling coaches, talent agents, celebrity assistants, child actors and their parents, wildly obsessed fans, and even a couple of actual celebrities for Fame Junkies, as well as psychologists and scientists. The array of voices and backgrounds provides a discerning light onto the worship of those famous as well as fame itself.

 

The fact that most people, especially young ones, see fame as a panacea for all their problems is truly unsettling, as is the desire for people to attach themselves to those who are in the limelight. One child actor tells Halpern that upon hearing that the child was going to New York to attend a talent convention, the child was asked by his peers for autographs. Another child rattles off a list of incredibly expensive items that family and friends have asked for "once she becomes famous". Surely some of it is in jest, but some of these items (a Corvette, a '68 Camaro) are too specific to just be outlandish ideas (interestingly enough, the ones who asked her for these car models were her parents).

 

Halpern even takes a look at cults, and the similarities between cult members serving cult leaders and rabid fans devoting their time and energy to their favorite celebrities. Another fascinating fact is the "para-social" relationship people can develop with tv show characters. Because people see these characters continuously and know their intimate details, viewers feel like they're actually friends with these characters. Sometimes that bleeds into the celebrity portraying the character, since magazines and tv shows that focus solely on star gossip (US Weekly, Entertainment Tonight just to name a couple) are legion. 

 

Fame, ultimately, is a drug for many people, and Halpern wonders what it's going to be like when this younger generation of people who basically expect to become rich and famous are hit with a large dose of reality. It's not going to be pretty, but sadly, this is an addiction that looks like it's never going away.

 

*Small pet peeve - Halpern misspelled Ric Flair's name. Still, a great book on fame, and I'd recommend it.

 

"And here I am poised above with my arms spread flying and there are halos of light spinning out of us and yes this is me becoming holy human and my own self."
Roses and Bones: Myths, Tales, and Secrets (Bind Up) - Francesca Lia Block

- Francesca Lia Block, Roses & Bones, "Echo"

Bones, ice, spells, charms, blood, and beasts.

Roses and Bones: Myths, Tales, and Secrets (Bind Up) - Francesca Lia Block

The word I'd used to describe Francesca Lia Block's prose is lush. For this reason, her stories are ripe with setting; every sense is attended to with intricate detail. This is not to say that Block dwells in mundane descriptions; her intention seems to be to draw the reader into her character's surroundings. 

 

For the most part, it works beautifully, even though Block tends to do what I do and drags out a single sentence with a plethora of commas and adjectives:

 

She lost one of the glass slippers - shine, fire, bright of her making like a dropped word lost, like a word, the missing word to make the story right again, to make it complete.

 

There are times, however, when Block does tumble into purple prose territory:

 

Fires like dragon's breath consumed the poppies and lupine, the jacaranda trees that once flowered purple in sudden overnight bursts of exuberance as if startled at their own capacity for gorgeousness.

 

Still, purple prose and abundance of adjectives aside, Block has the ability to create dreamy, haunting, almost feverish stories, and for that, I recommend this book to just about anyone.

"I see you, in darkness, walking."

The Door - 'Margaret Atwood',  'Phoebe Larmore'

It is inevitable that a book of poetry contains hits and misses for every reader. I personally enjoyed the poems in The Door that were more visceral and explicit. A prime example would be her poem "Secrecy":

 


Secrecy flows through you,
a different kind of blood.
It's as if you've eaten it
like a bad candy,
taken it into your mouth,
let it melt sweetly on your tongue,
then allowed it to slide down your throat
like the reverse of uttering,
a word dissolved
into its glottals and sibilants,
a slow intake of breath --

And now it's in you, secrecy.
Ancient and vicious, luscious
as dark velvet.
It blooms in you,
a poppy made of ink.

You can think of nothing else.
Once you have it, you want more.
What power it gives you!
Power of knowing without being known,
power of the stone door,
power of the iron veil,
power of the crushed fingers,
power of the drowned bones
crying out from the bottom of the well.

 

 

Her descriptions and settings are lyrical without being arcane, which can be a rare thing among gifted poets. She describes being captivated by the colors (and the smell) of gasoline in a puddle of water as a child, feeling thunderstruck by a stranger's poetry reading, and mourning a dead cat with empathy.

 

"Dutiful" struck a chord with me as I used to be "the good child" in the family, always sacrificing myself and my time for others until I learned to stand up for myself. The poem that hit me the hardest, though, would have to be "Another Visit to the Oracle". Atwood sums up my artistic intentions with a few choice verses:

 

What would you prefer?

You'd like me to amuse you?

Do some jigs, or pranks?

...

That's not what I do.

 

What I do: I see

in darkness. I see 

darkness. I see you.

...

That's what I do:

I tell dark stories

before and after they come true.

 

 

 

Atwood has the ability to connect with all kinds of readers; this is her gift, and we're lucky to have her.

"It’s too late now, the earth splits open,
the dead rise, purblind and stumbling
in the clashing of last-day daily
sunlight, furred angels crawl
all over you like swarming bees, the maple
trees above you shed their deafening keys
to heaven, your exploding
syllables litter the lawn."
The Door - 'Margaret Atwood',  'Phoebe Larmore'

- Margaret Atwood, The Door, "Sor Juana Works in the Garden"

"We used to watch the birds;
now we watch the weather/
White clouds, downy as pillows,
grey ones like giant thumbs,
dark ones, fat with doom."
The Door - 'Margaret Atwood',  'Phoebe Larmore'

- Margaret Atwood, The Door, "Weather"

Page 129 - Norman Bates's mother...

Psycho - Robert Bloch

The reader just finds out an interesting fact about Norman Bates's mother...

 

mrs. bates

"They are gone now. Fled, banished in death or exile, lost, undone. Over the land sun and wind still move to burn and sway the trees, the grasses. No avatar, no scion, no vestige of that people remains. On the lips of the strange race that now dwells there their names are myth, legend, dust."
The Orchard Keeper - Cormac McCarthy

- Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper

"The son's book contained all things."

There Is No Year - Blake Butler

There are few books that actually defy description, and this is one of them. There isn't a plot, not really, and the characters are hardly characters at all. This book is like a poem, filled with symbols and allegories, some seeming to be completely derived of any meaning.

 

It won't be easy to read this. Most will hate it or give up, and some will love it and cherish it for its lack of ease and coherence. 

 

As for me, I enjoyed it, because this book was like a collection of poems and ideas in the guise of a novel. Some of my favorite bits:

 

The mother grew, filled up with nothing - cells in cells on cells, a house.

 

an era without era; blank and silent light and sound

a tone that shifts the lid of sky

 

In the bathroom the father saw his many selves reach up to turn the lights off, and the father saw the dark.

 

 

Some books connect, some do not. This one connected with me, a few times. I hope it does for you too. If not, there are so many other books out there, but none like this.

"A man goes out on the beach and sees that it's covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back in the water.
'What are you doing, son?' the man asks. 'You see how many starfish there are? You'll never make a difference.'
And the boy pauses thoughtfully, picks up another starfish, and throws it back into the ocean. 'It sure made a difference to that one,' he said."
Now I'll Tell You Everything (Alice, #25) - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

(mentioned in Now I'll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, story adapted from the essay "The Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley)

Astonishing stories...

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories - Roddy Doyle, Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol Oates, Mike Mignola, David Mitchell, Charles D'Ambrosio, Steve Erickson, Jonathan Lethem, Peter Straub, McSweeney's Publishing, Poppy Z. Brite, China Miéville, Ayelet Waldman, Jason Roberts, Heidi Julavits, Daniel Handler, Stephen

While I'm not sure "astonishing" is the word I'd use to describe these stories (I'm reminded of Louis C.K.'s excellent bit about how hyperbole has become regular speech), I'd definitely say they are excellent. Each story is good, and I'm happy to say that the established writers deliver while the unknowns (or those who are less-known) often outshine their more famous colleagues. Those who don't normally enjoy science fiction and/or horror might still enjoy these well-crafted tales.