Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book 2/50: Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings (initial thoughts)

Moving along to something completely different from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, meet Christopher Moore, am American humanist author whose first novel, Practical Demonkeeping, was published in 1992. Fluke is the first of two Moore novels on my list, so here's hoping I like Moore.

The recommender of this book told me that Moore possesses one of the most original imaginations she's ever seen. The inside flap of the book supports the idea that this will, at the very least, but an odd and unusual story: "Marine behavioral biologist Nate Quinn is in love--with the salt air and sun-drenched waters off Maui--and especially with the majestic ocean-dwelling behemoths that have been bleeping and hooting their haunting music for more than twenty million years. But just why do the humpback whales sing? That's the question that has Nate and his crew poking, charting, recording, and photographing any large mammal that crosses their path. Until the extraordinary day when a whale lifts its tail into the air to display a cryptic message spelled out in foot-high letters: Bite me."

The story appears to get stranger as it goes, as there are conspiracies, rival researchers, phone calls from marine mammals, and sandwiches thrown into the mix. Just the sort of thing, I suppose, that would follow a whale telling you to "Bite me."

Looking forward to this novel; hope to make a pretty sizable dent in it while I'm in Lubbock for the weekend, especially since I've got a whopper of a book on hold for me at the library.

Oh, and while it's not exactly the Oprah Book Club, it's worth noting that it did make NBC's Today Show book club in 2004.

Stats: 321 pages
Published: 2003, William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins publishers)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Closing Thoughts: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Well, there we go. One book out of fifty (sixty?) down.

I'm going to go ahead and post my thoughts on these books as I finish them and, while I do my best not to spoil anything wherever possible, please realize that there will be spoilerish elements (at least) and possible full-out ending-ruinings (at worst). It's just unavoidable.

Also, I'm not publishing a review of the book necessarily. Again, this blog is mostly for my benefit, so it's good for me to have my initial thoughts cataloged somewhere handy where I can refresh my memory on what I've read (since I'm going to be reading a LOT of things I've never heard of before)

Bottom line: if you think you are planning to read the books discussed, you probably ought to stop after the synopsis. If you don't plan to read them, or you've already read them, then go for it. Grab a cup of coffee and we'll chat.

So, with that said, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. This book was recommended by a good friend of mine who is one of the few true good ole Southern boys I've ever met. Having grown up in the Midwest, I really don't have a great frame of reference for life in the Deep South (Houston does not count, despite the fact that it is deeper and souther than most of the Deep South), so this was an interesting perspective to read from.

Page count: 359
Total pages read so far: 359
Total books read so far: 1

My synopsis:
John Singer is a deaf-mute who lives in a small Georgia town in the late 1930s. There is only one other deaf-mute in town, a Greek named Spiros Antonapoulos, who is not only Singer's best friend but also the only person in town with whom Singer feels he truly belongs. After Anonapoulos' cousin has him committed to an asylum, Singer finds himself alone in the world for the first time in years. He moves into a new boarding house and has his breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the same restaurant every day. Eventually, the deaf-mute catches the attention of several of the town's citizens, including the restaurant owner, the teenage daughter of his landlord, the town's black Marxist doctor, and the hot-headed drunken radical reformer carnival worker. The four often visit Singer's room for lengthy conversations, though Singer rarely speaks. He simply listens, and each come to view Singer as his or her confidante, the only person in town who truly understands him/her. Singer, however, still longs for the company of his friend Antonapoulos, and he views these visitors as welcome distractions from the isolation he feels everywhere he goes in the small town. Each character has their hope, their dream, their ideal for which they've forsaken everything else in their lives: Blount has his lower-class revolution, Dr. Copeland his cause of justice for Negros, Mick has a dream to become a great musician and travel the world--and somehow Singer becomes the post which sustains their faith in these ideals.

I liked this book; it was a good read and a pretty accessible one despite the fact that there were several lengthy discourses on philosophical topics (especially Marxism and Fascism) and the fact that your protagonist is a deaf-mute. It's a sad story, as just about everybody you meet is a fairly sad character, but it's not depressing. I used to think (when I was quite a bit younger) that a story with a sad ending made for a depressing read, but that's really not the case. Rather, Hunter is one of those books that allows you to see how these characters' choices eventually led to the loneliness and isolation that they felt, whether it was in their community, in their family, or in the human race as a whole.

This was also one of those books where I think different readers could easily draw different conclusions as to the "bottom line." The throughline that I saw weaving its way through all five characters' stories was the idea that everybody needs to have someone who they feel understands them, and without that person we are lost. When it came down to it, that seemed to be what gave each of these folks the illusion of happiness in their lives.

There are also interesting discussion points about committing your all to one specific dream, ideal, or relationship, and thus shutting yourself out of the lives of those around you. Again, that works great while your Ace is working for you, but once things sour, your life is left surprisingly empty.

Everyone in this story is selfish in their own way. You see it early on in the character of Jake, who is really never likable, but as I look back I see it played out in each of their stories. Jake, Biff, Dr. Copeland, and Mick all came regularly to visit Singer, but none of them really came to "visit," save perhaps for Mick. They came to speak to the mute Singer because he would listen, and because, for some reason, each felt that he truly understood them. For his part, Singer didn't seem to mind their company, but he was using them, too, as distraction from his longing for his own friend (who seemed to me to be a terrible friend upon whom Singer hung the moon). Nobody really reached out to anybody else, and that's why everybody finished the thing so dang miserable.

Arthur Miller once said that a tragedy has to contain the potential for victory in order to be effective. I think that principle was illustrated pretty fantastically in this book. Let's face it, nobody was damned into what they ended up with. You could trace the choices they made, whether in the narrative or earlier in their lives, which led them to their various unhappy endings.

Have you read this? What did you think? Was there one character more than the others you found yourself frustrated with? What did you make of Biff? (I admit I wasn't entirely sure what to do with him by the end of the narrative)

Tomorrow I'll start one what I assume is going to be a happier book ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book 1/50: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (initial thoughts)

The first book on the list is Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. This is one of my good friend Hatcher's very favorite books, and apparently it has been so since high school.

I always like to know a little about the story before I dive into a book, so naturally I check out the back cover and inside flaps. This particular back cover is all about what an incredible writer Carson McCullers is. Even Tennessee Williams thinks so, calling her "the greatest prose writer that the South produced." Other than that, all it tells me about the story is that this is "an unforgettable tale of moral isolation in a small southern mill town in the 1930s."

The inside cover gives me a little more than that; "At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes" something. The entire rest of the summary is cut off by the card-and-sleeve that this book had to have stamped until September of 2004, when Houston Public Library switched to the same bar code system that my middle school was using in the late nineties. The in-book synopsis ends with the word "lives," so there's another clue.

Other facts: Aside from Williams' praise, this book was also an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2004. (Sixty-four years after it was first published. You can't say Oprah's not on top of things!) It is also one of TIME magazine's 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005. It was made into a movie in 1968 and a play in 2005 (debuted by the Alliance Theater in Atlanta).


Originally published: 1940
Republished: 1961, 2000 (this edition)
Published by Houghton Mifflin (1940 and 1961) and Mariner Books (2000)
Number of pages: 359
Date started: Sunday, July 19th, 2009

The List

So here's my basic concept: I ask a bunch of friends to recommend three books to me, and then I read them. This is because I like to read, but I almost never pick a book for myself, while I generally read things people thrust into my hands.

To partake in this monumental (for me, anyway) task, I decided to bite the bullet and finally commit to the Houston Public Library. I got my very own Power Card! (Power Card = Library Card with a name more appealing to young people) The power is mine indeed.

So here is The List, as compiled by me through suggestions from numerous friends. I cut out a few books because I'd already read them, and I cut out a few others because I wanted to keep the list at fifty, but otherwise this is just about everything. I'm not generally a fast reader, either, so this may take a couple of years. Nevertheless, here it is:

#1: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
#2: Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore
#3: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#4: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
#5: Through Painted Deserts by Don Miller
#6: Illium by Dan Simmons
#7: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
#8: Walking on Water by Madeline L'Engle
#9: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
#10: Boy by Roald Dahl
#11: The Cestus Deception by Steven Barnes
#12: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Jacob Ellis
#13: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
#14: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
#15: Prophet by Frank Peretti
#16: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
#17: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
#18: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
#19: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
#20: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
#21: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
#22: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie
#23: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
#24: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Sallinger
#25: Powers by Brian Michael Bendis
#26: Woyzeck by Georg Buchner
#27: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
#28: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Davild Oliver Relin
#29: Lamb by Christopher Moore
#30: The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God by John Eldridge and Brent Curtis
#31: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
#32: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
#33: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
#34: A Midsummer Night's Dream by Neil Gaiman
#35: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
#36: I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
#37: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
#38: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
#39: The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore
#40: Red by Ted Dekker
#41: The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
#42: Persuasion by Jane Austen
#43: Eragon by Christopher Paolini
#44: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
#45: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
#46: The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
#47: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Brooks
#48: Captain Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by JV Hart
#49: The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer
#50: All Over But the Shoutin by Rick Bragg

I have about eight others that didn't make the cut. In case I get through this and decide I want to do it again, they'll go immediately to the top of the next list.

So there it is. Fifty books. Approximate number of pages: Eight-hundred million billion. Nevertheless, I'm really excited about this. I tried to pick books friends suggested that I would never have picked up on my own (here's looking at you, Beth Cooper). I will also try to go as close to this order as I can, mostly because I think ending with "All Over but the Shoutin" is pretty funny.

So, I guess there's not really any more to be said. I'll post on here as I start and finish a book to give my opening and closing thoughts and keep track of my overall progress. It probably won't be that interesting for anybody else to read, but I love to keep records and I love statistics and such, so I'ma do it anyway. This can be a blog for me.

And if you've just sorta stumbled across this while searching for something entirely different on Google or something...hey, why don't you read along!

I'm just kidding. But if you are looking for a good book to read, I have it on pretty good authority that this here list is a great place to start.