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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I like Stephen King very much. Sometimes, mostly lately, I've had to try hard to keep liking him, but overall I think he's usually worthwhile reading. When I found out that Joe Hill, the author of 20th Century Ghosts, was his son, I was angry that Mr. Hill would even try to write a book. Surely, he couldn't live up to the legacy that his father left. The only reason I picked up the book was because he didn't capitalize on his last name, but instead chose to shorten up his middle name- Hillstrom-and use Hill as his pen name to hide his King heritage. I figured that it might be readable, but if not then I could just set it on the shelf to gather dust. He wasn't good. He was VERY good. I would even say, better than his father...maybe not yet, but I think he will be.
I'm not usually a fan of short stories. I like long novels where I can get to know the characters intimately. Short stories leave me feeling unfulfilled sometimes, like I was cheated out of something better and richer. This isn't always the case. I love O. Henry and John Updike, just to name a few. Short stories are something that are becoming lost in our culture, and I think it's a tragedy. Joe Hill has managed to jump the hurdles of the present and execute little gems that are a true pleasure to read.
While, technically, the stories are supposed to be horror, they go far beyond that genre. They are bizarre and touching at the same. The tales are often gruesome, but not overtly so. Pop Art, probably my favorite, is about an inflatable boy with a tragic wish and is truly a beautiful story about friendship. Some of then endings of the stories aren't what you would expect, but to me that's what makes good short stories so wonderful, you should be surprised and maybe a little angry. There is a definite old school vibe to the stories and they all make for a good read. A lot of short story anthologies have a lot of hit or miss stories that I often end up paging through, but not Joe Hill. He's all hit.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
This book by Nevil Shute was written at the height of the cold war and it's still meaningful today. In fact, it's so relevant that it should be required reading for anyone in power, actually it should probably be required reading for everyone on the planet. period.
On the Beach is set in Australia, and it becomes clear quite quickly that something horrible has happened. And that horrible thing is a full out nuclear war in the northern hemisphere of the Earth. Those left in the southern hemisphere are either dead or waiting to meet their end from the slow drift of radiation heading their way. The story follows several characters through to their respective ends: Dwight, a submariner from the US, Moira, a young woman who is bitter about her life being cut short, a young couple with a baby and a scientist who chooses to spend his last few months racing a car he probably shouldn't be driving. The way that the characters choose to live their lives, even after being handed a death sentence, provides you with a little faith in the general goodness of human nature. The dignity with which they carry themselves is a nice respite on the generally inevitable bad behavior that usually takes place in post apocalyptic novels They don't start rioting and destroying things around them, they just...go on. You get to know the characters and that's what makes the ending heartbreaking, their realness really drives home that this kind of thing could happen to normal people if we aren't careful. If this book doesn't affect you, well, there's something wrong with you.
Shute's style in this book is a little wonky and some of the prose seems a little stilted. Since he wrote it in the 50's there are some words that don't ring true today, but that doesn't detract from the book at all. I watched the movie right after I read the book because I was so enamored with it, but I ended up being disappointed with it because it didn't carry the same impact. Read the book, it makes you want to be a little bit kinder to everyone in the world.
Monday, August 3, 2009
I spend a lot of time browsing in the book section. I pick up books and then put them back down. I picked up Twilight and set it back down, a bunch of times. One day I didn't. I had heard a lot about the Twilight series and every time I read the back of the book I just couldn't see the point in reading it. It just sounded silly. It sounded like something totally aimed at a teenage girl (which there is nothing wrong with), but then I heard about all these women my age who read the books and were totally absorbed by them. I figured I was missing something, I put off reading Harry Potter for a long time because I thought it would be silly and I was wrong then, so maybe I was wrong this time. I wasn't. If there was ever a book that I wished could be banished from the earth, this is one of them.
I read the first, and forced my way through the rest because I felt like if didn't read the entire series then I really couldn't develop an informed opinion about the series. As I paged through the books, the feeling of disbelief grew and grew and grew. By the end, I wanted to throw the book across the room.
Bella, a teenage girl, moves to Forks, Washington and then falls in love with a vampire. Throughout the book, Bella talks about how she doesn't understand why Edward, the vampire, loves her, despite the fact that every. single. boy in school wants to go out with her. Her self-loathing is frequently evident in the book and although she appears to be perfectly normal and is supposedly very smart, she labels herself irredeemably flawed because she appears to be clumsy. Bella and Edward progress through the book trying to decide if they like each other and then decide that they are incredibly in love, but Edward must stay away from her to keep her safe. End of Book 1. The entire book is plagued with trite dialogue and horrible description. In fact, if I never read the world alabaster skin again, it would be too soon. The vampires are not scary. In fact they seem like pleasant people who simply like to eat freshly killed animals and happen to sparkle in the sunlight. They also skip school a lot when it's sunny, because I guess sparkling too often would become passe and might let people onto the fact that they're vampires.
Some spoilers, if you really care....
The rest of the books: Once again we are plagued with horrible dialogue, I don't think any of the character "said" anything, I think that "breathe" or "murmur" or "whisper" everything. Edward left and only shows up when Bella seems like she might kill herself due to her clumsiness. She spends the entire book curled up in despair because Edward has left. She can't imagine life going on without him. Her reason for living is gone, and I think this is what bothers me most about the entire series. I am tired of reading about girls who can't go on when a man leaves them. Come on, Bella. An equally cute werewolf named Jacob wants to take you out and doesn't talk down to you, but you are stuck on a guy who left you for your own good. It's a supernatural take on "it's not you, it's me." When Edward comes back, because Bella just can't live without him, Bella decides to not go to college and get married as soon as she graduated from high school. She quickly gets pregnant (I don't know how that happens, because Edward is dead..you know...no blood flow and all that) and has a baby (with a horrible, horrible name-Renesmee) who almost kills her (which allows Edward to finally make Bella a vampire) and then is totally perfect and matures super fast so we can hear all her thoughts on life. And it's kind of gross that Jacob, the werewolf, falls in love with a baby.
I get forbidden love, I really do. I read Romeo and Juliet. I get the bad boy thing, I read Wuthering Heights. I don't get Twilight, and I don't see how grown women are fawning over Edward who displays stalker like and control freak personality traits through the entire series. Don't bother, unless who want to torture yourself.
I'm a sucker for books about prostitutes. Most of the ones I've read, I've enjoyed. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber is no exception. I hated the first 20 pages or so, where the reader is encouraged to "follow" the characters to introduce them. Once I got past the awkwardness of that section, it improved tremendously.
Sugar is a prostitute in a brothel in the 19th century. She hates men and spends her time when she's not "working" writing a horrendous novel about a prostitute who also hates men and kills them. She quickly meets her benefactor, a rich man who fancies himself more interesting than he really is, William Rackham. Rackham becomes obsessed with Sugar and her sexual abilities and swoops in to rescue her from her current life, mostly because he feels that his life is so unpleasant. He has a sick wife, a daughter who he wishes was a son, a troubled brother and horrid friends. He places Sugar in an apartment and keeps her there like his pet. Eventually, Sugar moves in with him and becomes a nanny to his daughter. Over the course of the novel, Sugar becomes increasingly needy and spends her days waiting for Rackham to knock on her door and pay attention to her for a moment. It is impossible to not pity her as she struggles to align herself in this new world, and watch her struggle to place her past behind her.
There isn't much plot in the book, it's definitely character driven. It's more like a look into the lives of many people's lives that are intertwined. None of the characters are cookie cutters, as each continues to surprise as the book progresses. I swung between extreme like and dislike for each of them. It's a long book, 800 and some odd pages, but I wanted it to go indefinitely. Faber is a skilled author, who can be incredibly graphic with some of his descriptions, especially the sex scenes, but he colorfully portrays life in the 19th century.
I am generally leery of any book written by an actor or singer. Actually, I am leery of any medium made by an artist that usually does something else. I admit that I saw the movie first. I didn't think that I would like it, but the synopsis seemed interesting and I had recently realized that I liked Steve Martin and I love most of what Claire Danes does. I loved the movie, and I was blown away that Steve Martin could write such a gem.
I didn't rush out and by the book despite my appreciation for the movie . Whenever I was at a bookstore, I would pick it up and look at. I would flip through it and then put it down. Books seem to get more expensive, so I tend to be more selective of what I buy, and I didn't think that Shopgirl would be a wise investment. It's a short book, only 144 pages or so. I can rip through that many pages in a couple of hours. Eventually, I gave into the urge and picked it up and took it home. I didn't regret the purchase, like countless others that I have made in the heat of the moment.
Steve Martin can write. I grew to love all the characters in a matter of a few pages. Mirabelle is lonely and depressed and spends her days at Neiman Marcus selling gloves. She does little more than lean against the glass counter all day. She understands that she should be doing more in life, but she seems to have accepted a life where she is merely a bystander. She spends her nights drawing dead things and talking to her cats as she waits for her life to start. She dates Jeremy, who at first glance is the epitome of a loser, and then Ray Porter, a successful man who wants to possess her with no strings attached. Each interaction between the characters adds layers of dimension to all of them and at the end of the book, you are left with three very real people. Steve Martin truly has a talent with characterization, and his word choice and phrasing is wonderful. With such insight, it makes you want to crawl into Steve Martin's head and live in there for a while. The end of the book comes much too soon, but the ending leaves you "mostly" content with the future that seems to be laid out for the characters. It is a beautiful and well written little book. It's like a small bite of something delicious. It's worth it.