Month: August 2013

2013 Book #38: Coin Locker Babies

coinlockerbabiesWell. Coin Locker Babies is certainly a book. Not exactly my kind of book, but a book. And not a bad one, either. It’s just a little too extreme for me. I’ve been going back and forth about quoting the first paragraph so you’d see exactly what I mean, but I’m a little scared that I’d be flagged by Google or something. This is a family-friendly blog. Usually.

This isn’t my first Ryu Murakami – I read and blogged about Popular Hits of the Showa Era, and I read In the Miso Soup a few years ago. I liked the latter better than the former, but they’re both okay. Don’t confuse this Murakami with Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite authors. Their only similarity, really, is that they’re Japanese, and some of the themes seem to go together culturally. But they’re two entirely different authors, and Haruki is much more my style.

Anyway. Coin Locker Babies is about two boys, Kiku and Hashi, who were born in coin lockers, and what that experience does to them. It’s violent and terrible and grim. They’re put in an orphanage, and when they begin to act out, they’re taken to a psychologist and hypnotized to a soundtrack of a beating heart. Hashi becomes obsessed with figuring out what sound it was and begins a singing career (after being a gay prostitute in a section of Tokyo called Toxitown), and Kiku has plans to blow up all of Tokyo, but first he ends up in prison for shooting his mother in the face. Yeah. Violent. And don’t forget the sexual violence between Hashi and his patron, Mr. D, and Kiku and his girlfriend Anemone, who owns a pet crocodile. It’s an interesting story, anyway.

I generally don’t like sex scenes in books. I’m kind of squeamish, I guess. But it happens (I think I mentioned the gross stump scene in that Hemingway novel), and that’s okay. Except I read chunks of Coin Locker Babies through squinted eyes. Urrgh.

And it wasn’t just the violence, sexual and not, that got to me: this book invaded my dreams. That doesn’t happen too often (The Monk is one example off the top of my head), but when it does, I hate it. I’ve stopped reading books because of it. It’s not even necessarily nightmares – this time, I was reading in my sleep, like my dream was a book I was reading aloud. Not exactly a restful night’s sleep. So I made myself finish it quickly yesterday afternoon (between quests in my guilty-pleasure game, Maple Story. Don’t judge!) and moved on. I slept much better last night after beginning The Book Thief, which I’m trying hard not to like – but that’s another post.

So. Coin Locker Babies isn’t a bad book. It’s just a little – okay, way – too violent and sexually charged for my taste. Not a book for kids or squeamish adults, which includes me. It’s certainly interesting, though, and well-written, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a try.

2013 Book #37: The Autumn of the Patriarch

autumnofthepatriarchThere is no way I can do this book justice, but I guess that goes for everything I’ve read by Gabriel Garcia MarquezThe Autumn of the Patriarch has been on my Fail Pile for several years now. I tried reading it a few years ago, but I just couldn’t get through it. It just ran in my head in a monotone, and I couldn’t grasp even what was going on.

But that was before I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, my Very Favorite Book, and other Garcia Marquez I’ve been rationing after that one. The Autumn of the Patriarch inhabits the same kind of world as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold in that it’s all-encompassing. Autumn of the Patriarch covers at least a hundred years, the lifespan of a dictator in South America. He is cruel and powerful and growing toward senility. There’s an excellent essay in the back of the paperback edition I read that summarizes the plot well and argues that Garcia Marquez sums it up a bit too briefly by blaming the dictator’s actions on an inability to love. I agree, though I disagree when the critic goes on to say that the reader hates the dictator. The situation is so complex that I can’t, though I flinched when he did horrible things like rig the lottery, then killed off the 2000 kids who made it seem legit to the public.

I’m not sure why I reacted so strongly to this novel, this time. When I tried to read it before, I slaved over it for at least a couple of weeks, but I don’t think I got through even half of it. This time, it took me two days, and it wasn’t difficult. Before, I was entirely distracted by the punctuation and lack of line breaks: there’s no paragraph separation, no quotation marks around dialog, and point of view shifts in the middle of sentences that are mostly run-ons and go on for pages and pages. I’m not surprised that I was distracted by that, but I don’t understand what’s so different now. I think the structure makes the story, which lasts only a moment and is basically a series of flashbacks, feel like that one moment. After the General (he is never named) is dead, some people break into his mansion, see how he left it, and tell the story of how it got that way and what happened over the course of his life. That’s basically the story.

But it’s also so much more! And it’s so complex! Now that I’ve gotten through it, I wouldn’t call it particularly difficult as long as a lack of linear story and punctuation aren’t deal-breakers for you. You’ll probably like it if you’re a fan of One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera.

2013 Book #36: The Angel Esmeralda

angelesmeraldaAnd DeLillo reappears. The Angel Esmeralda, DeLillo’s first collection of short stories that I know of, has been sitting on my Kindle for a long time. Languishing. By now, you probably know my thoughts on DeLillo, so I’ll keep the explanation short: he writes the same novel over and over again. Meh. That said, these are short stories, and what’s awesome about them is that he doesn’t really have time to send all of his protagonists on similar quests, running away from some sort of media. That, of course, happens, though not in every story.

This collection is so-so. Some stories are great, some are passable. I’d read some of them before, in The New Yorker, I think, so I was a little annoyed to see them here, in a collection I paid for. They’re arranged by date and theme. The best one, I think, is the last and most recent, “The Starveling”, which, ironically, is the most DeLillo-ish and the longest. Running away from things, yes, but toward a medium – in this case, movies. That one’s really good. So is “Creation,” about a strange, Kafka-esque situation in which a man and a woman can’t seem to get off of an island. But can they? I really liked that one. “The Ivory Acrobat” is great, about a woman’s reaction to an earthquake. “Human Moments in World War III” is interesting, too, about two men floating in space, trained to decimate whole cities with a laser, and their ruminations. And “The Runner,” about a, well, runner, who sees a kidnapping and interprets the events so another onlooker would feel more comfortable. I think I liked “Midnight in Dostoyevsky” when I first read it in The New Yorker, but this time, I skimmed through parts of it because it seemed too long. That one’s about imposing identity on a man a couple of college students see walking through town. Not familiar at all. Meh. Merely passable are “Hammer and Sickle,” about roommates in prison and “The Angel Esmeralda,” about a nun affected by an apparition on a billboard. “Baader-Meinhof” is okay, I guess. It’s about meeting a stranger in an art museum and a near-almost-kinda-but-not-really rape scene. A very DeLillo-ish rape-ish scene in which no rape actually happens. I think I’ve covered all of them.

The Angel Esmeralda drifted back into my consciousness because I’ve started writing a bit, and, especially after the richness of O’Connor, I wanted to see how DeLillo does it in short form. I liked several of them because they weren’t the same ol’ DeLillo fare, and it amuses me that my favorite is. That said, I’ve never claimed that DeLillo isn’t an amazing writer, one of the best still alive. It’s just that once I figured out his formula (doesn’t everyone have one?) I found myself bored to tears. I guess that’s what happens when you study someone over a long period of time. It’s why I’d never study Haruki Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez – in a lot of ways, DeLillo is ruined for me. I still haven’t read all of his novels, though, so there’s still time for redemption. And there’s the apocryphal Cleo Birdwell novel, which I’m sure will prove, at the very least, interesting.

So. This collection is hit-and-miss, though I’d say it’s more hit than miss, especially if you haven’t studied DeLillo so much that your eyes have threatened to bleed. Still, I would stalk him if he’d do signings. He seems to rival Salinger in his reclusion.

Stephen King and the American Way?

stephenkingI’m not a huge fan of Stephen King, but he fascinates me. Not in the same way that Hemingway does, a way that makes me want to devour anything he ever produced, but in a sort of admiration from afar. Lydia Kiesling, in an essay on The Millions called “Everything I Know about America I Learned from Stephen King,” points out in King’s novels a deep examination of American culture, viewed through its small towns: “I think Stephen King books manage to appeal both to people who have experienced the tyranny and joy of the small town, as well as people who have known rootlessness in its many forms (not, of course, that the two are mutually exclusive).” Through the horror, Stephen King’s novels still embrace the American Dream and all of the other American Ideals we find in less popular but more respected authors. “Literary” authors.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t put King in the literary pile; in my head, he’s firmly stationed in the horror or terror pile (check out this sort-of-related video about creepieness), the Genre Pile From Which Few Good Books Come. Okay, that’s not true. I can name lots of legitimately good fantasy novels, but I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of horror.

So I guess the point here is that maybe there’s more value to Stephen King than meets the eye – or that has met my eye, so far. I’ve read a few of his novels, and the best, by far, was The Shining. Then there are a few of the Dark Tower novels, which I’ll probably revisit, and the absolutely terrible The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I’ve talked recently about hating Salem’s Lot. But, since I consider King a genre author, I’ve always thought of every book except The Shining, which I read when I was a teenager, as pure entertainment value, and I didn’t find much of it particularly entertaining. I didn’t bother looking beneath the surface, as it seems I’ve been trained to do in a snobbish way.

What’s funny is that saying all of this doesn’t make me want to pick up another King novel, except that now I’m curious to see what Kiesling means about this grand vision of The American Way. Something just seems wrong with reading Stephen King crictically (with the exception of “The Man in the Black Suit,” is it? The short story that’s strikingly parallel to “Young Goodman Brown?”). I can see bits of it in the townspeople in Salem’s Lot, but I’m not sure about the more fantastic novels like The Dark Tower series – of which I’ve read three*-and-a-half* novels and just now might have to finish the fourth, though for this purpose I think I’d get more out of reading The Stand or It.

2013 Book #35: A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

goodmanI have an embarrassing confession to make: Until I picked up this collection, I hadn’t read the oft-assigned “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” What, you ask? How did you get an English degree without having read this most ubiquitous of short stories? A simple, two parted answer: I pretended to have read it, and I’d confused it with “Good Country People,” which also appears in this collection. For clarification: the former is about “The Misfit,” who shoots up a family with a know-it-all grandmother, and the latter is about a Bible salesman who steals the artificial leg of the (grand?)daughter of another know-it-all woman. I figured the Misfit of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” was the Bible salesman in “Good Country People.” The stories do have a lot in common. I feel a little less bad about not having read it since the two stories are, at least, somewhat similar.

Anyway. Flannery O’Connor likes proving uppity old women wrong. They’re everywhere, at least in this collection. I’ve also read Everything that Rises Must Converge (which is fantastic) and a novel, Wise Blood (which is also fantastic). I’ve written entries about both for this blog, and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t talk about any of the stories in that first collection. Not one.

So there are “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People.” I was assigned both in college, and they’re both good. “The River” is also fantastic, about a traveling preacher’s effect on a young boy. And “The Displaced Person,” about a community’s treatment of a Polish immigrant and his family. “A Circle in the Fire” is another favorite, about a troop of boys who show up on a farm and cause trouble. They’re all good. I blazed through this collection, not wanting to put it down. Oh so good.

I’d compare it to Everything that Rises Must Converge, but it’s been a while, and I didn’t say hardly anything about it in my “review.” Meh.

I arrived late to the O’Connor game, but she’s quickly become one of my favorite authors. Until fairly recently, I generally shied away from southern lit, but I’ve changed my mind about it for the most part, mostly due to O’Connor and Faulkner. So. Great collection. Amazing collection. Totally worth reading.

2013 Book #34: A Storm of Swords

storm-of-swordsI can’t stop! I’m entirely hooked on A Game of Thrones, now. I’m sad that I’m not currently reading one, and that’s right after I finished A Storm of Swords, a true behemoth. I’m also ahead of HBO! Having never actually seen the show, I figured the third season covered the third book (like the first season the first book, and so on), but I was wrong! HBO’s third season only covered half of the third book! Which means that now, I’m a season ahead. Which also means that this post will be irretrievably *full of spoilers*.

Because, with the exception of the Red Wedding, most of the interesting stuff happens in the second half of the book.

Like I said when I reviewed A Clash of Kings, I’m not giving a proper summary because there’s no point. You’re either caught up, or you’re not. Or you’re halfway caught up because you’ve been watching the show.

I gave up and started reading this one because HBO’s third season just wouldn’t go away. I knew about the Red Wedding and figured that terrible things happened at Joffrey’s wedding. I also saw something about “Arya’s Revenge” and assumed that it had something to do with her family. I was right on both counts, but not like I thought I was. Because the Red Wedding wasn’t Joffrey’s. It was the other one, in which Catelyn’s brother, Edmure, has to wed a Frey, and the Freys are pissed off because Robb broke a promise to marry another Frey. So everyone shows up at the wedding, thinking that everything will be okay until just after the ceremony, when the Freys slaughter Robb, Catelyn, and Robb’s direwolf. Whaaaat? At that point, I figured that Joffrey’s wedding couldn’t be all that interesting, especially since he wasn’t marrying Sansa, but I was wrong there, too, because Joffrey gets poisoned and dies miserably. I was hoping that he’d be flayed, that it would take a little longer, but I was glad to see him dead because, well, ugh. I’ll at least have to watch that episode when it makes its way to TV.

I guess those were the major highlights. Other surprising things certainly happened. I felt really badly, though, not knowing that HBO only covered the first half, when I told Palmer that I knew why he likes Margaery’s grandmother so much: because she killed Joffrey! Palmer said, “Joffrey is dead?” And then I spoiled the rest of it because I couldn’t help myself. Payback, maybe, for “Spoiler alert! It’s about vampires!” No. I honestly thought he was up-to-date.

So, as I’ve said, I’m hopelessly addicted. I’ll be on to the fourth one soon, then the fifth. It appears that there might only be seven, and when I get to the end, I won’t know what to do with myself. I assume it’ll be along the lines of “Everybody dies!” which seems to be George R.R. Martin‘s goal. I said after the Red Wedding that Martin has killed off so many characters I liked that I don’t really care anymore, and I stand by that statement. That said, I’ll be keeping up from now on because, well, I can’t help myself.

2013 Book #33: Anansi Boys

anansiRoughly halfway through every year, I get tired of reviewing every single book I read. That feeling is compounded by the fact that I’ve been reading so much lately. Which explains why I’ve waited so long to review a book I finished two weeks ago.

Anyway. Anansi Boys. Have I mentioned that I love Neil Gaiman? I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane as soon as I could get my hands on it, and I was enraptured. Such a story! I couldn’t wait long to read more, and Anansi Boys didn’t disappoint. It’s been so long since I’ve read most of the Gaiman books I have that I’m not quite sure how to place it. Definitely on top of Good Omens and (I think) American Gods, but below The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’m not clear on where Stardust and Neverwhere fit in anymore. (I’ve been thinking about rereading Neverwhere because Palmer is currently listening to the audiobook, and things he says about it make me remember how much I liked it.)

Anansi boys is about the trickster god Anansi and his two sons, Fat Charlie and Spider. They’ve led entirely different lives, and meet for the first time since childhood when they’re in their late 20s and their father dies. Terrific mischief ensues, involving various murderous subplots and all the other old gods.

It’s funny and hard to put down. I read it continuously while I traveled to Michigan for a library conference. I was glued to it for the entire flight between Dallas and Detroit, only looking up long enough to take pictures like this:


And once I got to my hotel, I curled up with a glass of wine and my book, and finished it quickly.

It was also the end of my reading tear – I’d brought along Ken Kesey‘s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, which I had a feeling would be too long and ambitious for my attention span at the moment (which is funny since I’m reading A Storm of Swords right now), so my reading has slowed way down. Anansi Boys, though, I couldn’t stop reading. It reminded me how much I like Neil Gaiman and made me want to revisit his books that I’ve already read. Maybe I’ll even give Good Omens another chance.

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