Month: October 2014

2014 Book #53: White Noise

whitenoisecomicI didn’t read White Noise because I wanted to. Not this time, anyway. I read it again because I wanted to give Don DeLillo a chance to redeem himself before I stashed him firmly in the Junk Pile. Okay, there’s nothing about DeLillo’s books that deserves to be there except that they’re all kind of the same book, written over and over.

The thesis ruined me.

I wrote a post a few years ago (which I haven’t reread…yet) about how White Noise changed my life when I was 14. I really liked it the first time around – as I did the second, when I read it for a class in grad school. I took a Modernism/Postmodernism class just because that book was on the syllabus.

And White Noise is a spectacular book. A Great Book, in fact. Almost everyone agrees that it’s DeLillo’s best novel (though there are some dissenters who claim that Underworld is. I can’t get through it.). White Noise is one of the few that doesn’t follow his usual plot-line involving running away from the media.

Except here, not just one character, but everyone is running away from death. This novel is about the fear of death and what people do either to overcome it or to distract themselves from it.

Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler Studies in a small college in a small town. He lives with his fifth(?) wife and a mixture of children, both his and hers. Everyone talks about death. It fits snugly into every single conversation. But I’ll get to that in a minute. When I first read this novel, I thought it was about the Airborne Toxic Event that happens around the 1/3 mark. I thought the bulk of the novel was about that. I even forgot that anything happened after they stayed in the Red Cross shelter. That’s not even halfway into the book. There’s more talk about death and some death-fear-avoidance activities, carried about by various characters in different and increasingly extreme ways. Because DeLillo likes the extreme, and any worthwhile action must be an extreme action. I won’t spoil the fun except to say that it’s probably not what you’d expect, even from DeLillo. (I shouldn’t say that. There’s the Superdrug business in Great Jones Street, to name only one random plot point.)

really didn’t want to take notes while I was reading this novel. It’s just that it reeks of DeLillo (“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it’s impossible to see the barn.”), and there’s the thesis in its final stages, and I somehow can’t disconnect the fiction I don’t have to write about from that which I do. Which is why I’m not refreshing my Goodreads rating: I can’t be objective, so I’ll let the five-star review stand because White Noise is a great novel. I’m just kind of done with DeLillo.

One thing that I don’t like about it is that it’s so minutely planned. There’s a conversation about death around the three-quarters mark that is just too long. It’s like DeLillo had a lot to say and couldn’t stop without saying every single little bit of it even though the novel would be better if half of it had been cut. Every bit of his plan had to be implemented.

That said, doesn’t it have something to do with Great Novels? The best novel I read last year was Stoner. This year, I read Butcher’s Crossing, which is quite possibly the best (though not my favorite). Both are by John Williams, though I somehow didn’t make that connection at the time. Both are intricately planned and structured. Every little bit of the novel fits in perfectly. That’s why they’re so good. Part of Greatness has to be planning and execution of said plans, and that’s a huge point in White Noise‘s favor – if this review was objective. But it’s not because I can’t separate myself from my earlier reactions to this novel and my more recent reactions to other DeLillo novels based on that stupid thesis. There’s too much of a history.

So here is one huge stylistic issue I noticed for the first time: All of the characters sound the same – even the children. Here are two examples from close to the end of the novel (as I didn’t break down and let myself take notes any earlier).

A conversation between Jack and his current wife:

“I don’t mind running clothes as such,” I said. “A sweatsuit is a practical thing to wear at times. But I wish you wouldn’t wear it when you read bedtime stories to Wilder or braid Steffie’s hair. There’s something touching about such moments that is jeopardized by running clothes.”

“Maybe I’m wearing running clothes for a reason.” “Like what?”

“I’m going running,” she said. “Is that a good idea? At night?”
“What is night? It happens seven times a week. Where is the uniqueness in this?” “It’s dark, it’s wet.”

“Do we live in a blinding desert glare? What is wet? We live with wet.”

“Babette doesn’t speak like this.”

“Does life have to stop because our half of the earth is dark? Is there something about the night that physically resists a runner? I need to pant and gasp. What is dark? It’s just another name for light.”

“No one will convince me that the person I know as Babette actually wants to run up the stadium steps at ten o’clock at night.”

“It’s not what I want, it’s what I need. My life is no longer in the realm of want. I do what I have to do. I pant, I gasp. Every runner understands the need for this.

And a conversation between Jack and Willie Mink:

“By coming in here, you agree to a certain behavior,” Mink said.

“What behavior?”

“Room behavior. The point of rooms is that they’re inside. No one should go into a room unless he understands this. People behave one way in rooms, another way in streets, parks and airports. To enter a room is to agree to a certain kind of behavior. It follows that this would be the kind of behavior that takes place in rooms. This is the standard, as opposed to parking lots and beaches. It is the point of rooms. No one should enter a room not knowing the point. There is an unwritten agreement between the person who enters a room and the person whose room had been entered, as opposed to open-air theaters, outdoor pools. The purpose of a room derives from the special nature of a room. A room is inside. This is what people in rooms have to agree on, as differentiated from lawns, meadows, fields, orchards.”

Maybe these aren’t the absolute best examples, but do you see what I mean? It’s the terse sentences, the cadences. They all sound the same. It’s especially noticeable in that too-long conversation I complained about earlier.

All of that said, no matter what unnecessary text made it into the middle, the beginning and ending of White Noise are excellent, and those parts, alone, make this novel worth reading. You reach the climax and the conversation with the nun, and you’ll see what I mean. White Noise is always worth reading, over and over again. This time, as reluctant as I was to stop my pleasure-reading cruise, I’m glad I picked it up again, and I’m sure that, five or ten years down the line, I’ll say the same thing. White Noise really is a Great Novel, and it makes me feel just a little bit better about slogging my way through DeLillo’s lesser works.

2014 Book #52: The Bone Clocks

boneclocksI’ve been putting off writing this review since I finishedThe Bone Clocks because I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around it. Now, of course, I’m behind again, so here it goes anyway. I’ll do my best to make sense of it.

The Bone Clocks is structured somewhat similarly to Cloud Atlas, in that the book is structured in parts with multiple narrators. Here, though, the whole story revolves around Holly Sykes, who begins as a runaway teenager who unwittingly gets involved in a supernatural war. We meet Holly at the beginning and return to her in the end, but most of the rest of the novel is told by other characters – including a college student with few morals; her husband (were they married?), who needed to be in dangerous parts of the world, reporting on various wars; and a writer who won a huge award but for whom things have gone downhill since. It’s a complicated story in which all the characters have a part to play in the Script of the supernatural war going on around them. Yeah. That’s why I’ve been putting off writing this review.

Not far into this book, I decided that it’s Exactly My Kind of Book. It’s like Murakami-goes-scifi. I can definitely see Murakami’s influence on Mitchell. That said, it could have been better, though I’m not sure how. A lesser writer would have made it into a series, but it works best as one Very Big Novel, though maybe its epic-ness can be a bit overwhelming.

I know. This review isn’t very helpful at all. So I’ll just make a recommendation: Read it. It’s worth your time. It’s funny that after all of that long novel, I don’t have much to say about it. I will say, though, that it’s not as good as Cloud Atlas, but it’s not too far behind.

In Puppy News (I know it’s what you’re really here for), Zelda has lost some of her lady parts and recovered from her surgery. Her stitches were removed last Saturday, and she has returned to her usual level of ridiculousness.

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She was no fan of the Cone of Shame.

Poor Zelda in her Cone of Shame

Palmer doesn’t like the Cone of Shame, either.

Palmer wears the Cone of Shame in solidarity with Zelda!

But that’s all in the past, now. Back to our regular programming.

Until next weekend, anyway, when I attempt to take Zelda to Houston. That should be interesting.

Featured image credit: Andrew Mcpherson

Food: Not pretty enough for Pinterest, but tasty as all hellz (a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie)

I’ve been planning on (re)introducing food posts to this blog for a while, now, so here goes. (It’s a particularly good time because I need to review The Bone Clocks but am having a hard time settling it in my mind.)

I have a ginormous stack of cookbooks at home, but I tend to get most of my recipes from Pinterest, which is a pity because so many excellent recipes are just plain ugly. Like this one! (I’ll put a lovely photo of a sunset down at the bottom so your eyes aren’t assaulted by Facebook’s choices of images.)

This is my dad’s recipe for what seems to be a non-traditional Shepherd’s Pie, which is funny because I don’t think I’ve ever had traditional Shepherd’s Pie – you know, the kind onto which you pipe out mashed potatoes and stick in the oven for however long. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie, though, is much more photogenic. This recipe involves no baking and only takes a few minutes to make, so it’s good for weeknights. It involves one specialized ingredient, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Here’s how to make it, in brief: Brown your ground beef, kind-of drain it, add vegetables, add spices, pour it over mashed potatoes. The End.

Easy, right?

Well, here’s the (very minor) catch: it involves Kitchen Bouquet. I’ve never used it for anything other than this specific dish, and every time I have to buy it, finding it is a nightmare. Sometimes it’s near the spices, and sometimes it’s near the barbecue sauce. Most grocery stores have it. Here’s a photo of it next to the organic, non-chemically cream of mushroom soup I insist on using even though I’m adding All the Chemicals with Kitchen Bouquet:

I promise it’s worth it. Here’s a lovely before-and-after shot:

Kitchen Bouquet makes a huge difference in color and taste and is one of the very few situations when I will willingly deposit chemicals into my food. Just do it.

And don’t neglect the mashed potatoes! I make these ugly, too!

I leave the skin on because Fiber Is Good for You. 2 or 3 good-size potatoes should suffice. I just boil them until they’re soft, then dump them in a bowl with a dash of salt and however much butter and milk I feel like adding. I like them plain and lumpy.

And there you have it! An excellent, but very ugly, recipe for Shepherd’s Pie that won’t set you back any oven-time. Of course I choose what is quite possibly the ugliest recipe I have for a first recipe post. Anyway, let me know if you try it.

Shepherd’s Pie
Author: Lindsay’s dad (or grandmother?)
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp Kitchen Bouquet
  • Mashed potatoes (3-ish)
Instructions
  1. Brown the beef, half-ass drain. Add veggies, cook until soft. Add salt and pepper. Add cream of mushroom soup. Add Kitchen Bouquet, add more if not brown enough. Put on top of mashed potatoes.
Notes
.05 carb factor for the meatz. In case you’re counting.

Aaaand here is our beautiful sunset that will end up on Facebook. Dog-walking is an excellent activity.

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2014 Book #51: Authority

authorityAuthority is the second book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, to which I am hopelessly addicted. This one begins to fill in the mysteries surrounding Area X and the biologist’s experiences there that we read about in Annihilation. Which means that if you haven’t read Annihilation, you probably shouldn’t be reading this review.

So. Authority picks up where Annihilation left off. The biologist, the anthropologist, and the surveyor all somehow survived Area X, even though they appeared to be dead (and thought they were?) at the end of the first novel. The anthropologist and the surveyor have returned blank like their predecessors from the eleventh expedition, and the biologist seems to be in a similar state, but that’s not necessarily the case. We hear this story from Control, the new director of the Southern Reach, which oversees expeditions into Area X. Control’s real name is John, but, like the characters in the first novel, he dispenses with his name. We find out early that the psychologist in the twelfth expedition had been the director, but something happened, and no one knows where she is or even if she’s alive. Control begins the long process of unraveling the various mysteries surrounding Area X and the government’s involvement with it.

I didn’t like Authority as much as I liked Annihilation, but I’m not sure why that is. In the first novel, the lush, bizarre landscape added to the mystery and the general creepiness. For the most part, Authority is set in a governmental research building with political intrigue and such. It’s just not as appealing to the senses. Also, I listened to an audiobook version of this one, read by Bronson Pinchot. Pauses at strange places in the reading disconcerted me several times, though that could have had something to do with my listening at 1.5x speed.

That said, I have the final audiobook, Acceptance, queued up in my phone, ready to play once the puppy has recovered from her spay – which means I’ll start listening to it in a week. I’d probably enjoy the book more, except that I’ve told myself that as soon as I finish The Bone Clocks, I have to begin my Forced DeLillo Binge in preparation for my thesis defense so I have some idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not looking forward to that at all.

Speaking of Zelda, she has become quite the traveler:

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She has a car harness that attaches her to the seatbelt. On Saturday, we took her on a Field Trip to get her nails trimmed and to run various puppy-errands. Her first grooming experience was not a success.

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The groomer got one back paw’s nails trimmed, then gave up because she would be still, so when I dropped her off at the vet on Monday to be spayed, I asked them to trim them when she’s out. I assume that went more smoothly.

Without a puppy in the house, Palmer and I have had more time to adventure in Minecraft. We finally made it to the jungle!

We *finally* made it to the jungle!

It’s super-far away from the spawn point, so it took us a couple play sessions to get there. Palmer built an awesome treehouse, and I’m going exploring today after the puppy gets home and settled. Then, maybe we can find a cat!

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