Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday update: 5/23/10

So, I think instead of just posting whenever I start or finish a book, I'm going to try weekly updates instead, either every Sunday or Monday. We'll see how that goes.

Finished One Hundred Years of Solitude, at long last! I couldn't devote the time necessary to this story when I was directing two shows at once, so I had to turn it back in when I was a mere 262 pages into the saga of the family Buendia. This time, it only took a few days to play through the rest of it (about another 200 pages). See what a difference free time can make?

I didn't love this book as much as several of my friends did, though I did love, admire, respect, and live in awe of the writing, if that makes any sense. The whole thing is wonderfully put together, and I can see why it has been hailed as such a revolutionary work of fiction, not only for Spanish-language literature, but internationally as well. There were just several stretches of narrative where I would find myself bored with the story. The book follows a family through seven generations of bizarre happenings in a small town founded by one particular family. The narrative weaves together realism with history with mysticism with religion with downright weirdness in a way that makes it all seem perfectly natural. (According to the "About the Author" at the back--which, interestingly enough, was my favorite part of the book--this was a storytelling technique he picked up from his grandmother, who would tell cold hard factual events and fairy tale/myths with the exact same deadpan sense of gravity--"brick face," Marquez called it) From start to finish, it really is a marvel or language and storytelling.

Throughout the century of this fantastically miserable family, the town of Macando sees gypsy carnivals, plagues of insomnia, four-year rainstorms, avian mass-suicides, beauties of epic proportions, ghosts, ascensions to heaven, and conspiratorial cover-ups of mass killings. Among other things. In addition to these events, the Buendias family sees a retired war general obsessed with making golden fishes, a girl who eats wall plaster, a man who goes mad and suddenly speaks only in Latin (which he hadn't previously known), a woman who shrinks to the size of an infant before dying, and a deranged mother who believes her son is destined to become the new pope. Among other oddities.

Really, this book never stops serving up the strange without letting it all seem strange. Which, I think, was one of my disappointments. Nothing seemed related to anything else, and you could literally skip pages at a time and really not be any more lost when you rejoined the narrative ten pages later. (I tried this once as an experiment; don't worry, I went back to pick up what I missed) Again, this sensible madness is part of what makes the book great, as is the maddening fact that almost every male name in the book is some variation of Arcadio, Aureliano, or Jose. It's supposed to drive you crazy. I get that.

Still, at times, it just sorta drove me crazy ;-)

Anyway. I would agree that all serious writers and all serious readers ought to read this book. It really is a masterpiece, and a lot of parts of it are just really, really fun. Just be prepared for things to be weird, cyclical, and unsatisfying, and for them to stay that way for 450 pages, and you'll be fine.

Books read: 28
Pages: 458
Total pages: 9,146
Pages/book: 326.64

Blast. Only boosted my average by 5 pages.

Next up: In honor of the Stanley Cup Final, I'm reading some hockey books. The first is a book I've read before. Easy, easy reading. I will probably finish it tomorrow if I don't tonight. It's called Blood Feud and it's by the Denver Post's NHL beat writer, Adrian Dater. Blood Feud is a chronicle of the nasty years of the Colorado Avalanche/Detroit Red Wings rivalry of the mid-1990's through the early 2000's. It is well written, well-balanced, well-researched, and well worth your time for any marginal-to-maniacal hockey fan.

The next book is more of a classic, Hall-of-Fame goalie Ken Dryden's The Game. This is one of those books every serious hockey fan was supposed to read, so I got it on InterLibrary Loan. I need to pick it up after my early morning booking tomorrow. And those two ought to wrap up my next ten. Then, I'm back on to my original list for a little while. Good things are definitely coming!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closing Thoughts: Love is a Mix Tape

Took me a full week to read this book. The first 2/3 of the book really clips along. The last 1/3 is tough to read. Sheffield has such a great, down-to-earth sort of writing that makes me identify so easily with everything he says, even if I rarely had any idea what pop culture reference the man was making. As a guy married almost five years, a LOT of what he said rang really true to my experience, as well. Which is why it was so tough to get through the portion of the book where he was dealing with his own wife's random, instantaneous death. Generally, I wouldn't read more than one chapter of it at a time,and that set my pace back a bit.

On the whole, though, I really dug this book. It made me want to make mix CD's, quit my job, and play in a rock and roll band the rest of my life. I didn't do any of these things because A) I don't generally have a CD player, B) I thought it would be awfully poser-ish of me to suddenly make all these mix CD's just because I read a book about mix tapes, and C) it would be irresponsible of me to quit my job when I don't even have a band to play with.


But I should.

Pages: 224
Total pages: 8,688
Books: 27
Pages/book: 321.78

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book 28 of 68: Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Here's another one I probably wouldn't have picked up on my own. It's a book that was literally thrust into my hands recently. I'm hoping my lack of pop culture savvy won't ruin this one for me. (My friend recommended I youtube some of the songs reference online if I feel I'm getting lost; that's not a terrible idea)

The premise, according to the inside flap of the cover, is pretty simple: a contributing editor from Rolling Stone magazine tells the story of his too-short relationship with a girl/girlfriend/wife named Renee through a series of mix-tapes they made for one another.

So there you have it. A love story told through the music of the 1990's. Or, as the book's tag line puts it: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

ClosingThoughts: Casino Royale

Well lookit that, I read a book in a day!

Not a WHOLE lot to be proud of; it was a short book and an easy read and I had plenty of spare time in which to do it. (Well, the hours I couldn't fall asleep, anyway)

While I was reading this book, I was wondering how exactly it created a major franchise of books, films, video games, etc. It wasn't bad, but it didn't seem like something you'd pick up and say, "I need MORE of this type of story!!!" The first half of the book was about playing cards. After that, protagonist underwent torture that was really quite horrible to read about. (I remember wincing at the scene in the movie; reading it was easily three times worse, because the character didn't manage to hold himself together nearly as well) I actually found it pretty disturbing, though well done. Still, I wasn't sure how 007 became a staple of British pup culture until the end, where he basically declares war on communist Russia. I can see Brits in the '50s getting pretty excited about that.

Anyway, some good stuff in the book. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did Moonraker, and it was certainly more graphic than the other one (both in love and in violence), but it made for a good, quick read. Not a lot of real "spy" stuff going on; it's pretty much cards, car-chasing, torture, recovery, and then the twist ending. It's a lot like the movie, only set in the 1950's instead of today and with a lot less action. It is, however, an origin story, and you certainly walk away from the book with the feeling that there'll be more, and it's not going to be pretty for the Ruskies. (Side note: I've read Moonraker, which I believe was the third book, and it didn't deal with Russians at all. Go figure)

Pages: 187
Total: 8,464
Books: 26 (I just re-counted)
Pages/book: 325.54

Monday, May 10, 2010

James Bond on Texans:

"It turned out that Leiter was from Texas. While he talked on about his job with the Joint Intelligence Staff of N.A.T.O. and the difficulty of maintaining security in an organization where so many nationalities were represented, Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas."

Books 26, 27 of 67

Am I even on-list anymore? (Answer: not really, but I fully intend to get back to it)

I'm reading just about everything somebody recommends to me these days. Thus I picked up the 26th book on my ever-expanding reading list, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Historical fiction, WWII era, examination of the early years of the superhero comic book genre, and a whole slew of honors:

Pulitzer prize (2001)
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Critics Circle Award nomination (2000)
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction nomination (2000)

Plus, it helped out with my total page count.

Pages: 639
Total pages: 8,277
Books: 24
Pages/book: 344.875

Muy better.

This is really a unique and fantastically-written story. I can't imagine the amount of research that had to go into writing it: research into the history of comic books, Jewish myths and mysticism, Harry Houdini and magic/escape artist illusion, even obscure Antarctic World War II outposts played prominently into the life story of cousins Sammy Clay and Josef Kavalier. And while it sounds like that would make for a really random, convoluted story (a la Christopher Moore's Fluke from far earlier in this experiment), it really doesn't. Everything flows surprisingly well.

Now, there are a few quibbles I have with the book, naturally, and if you're sensitive to language or fairly vivid descriptions of nude women, this book might put you off, but even then it's not really gratuitous. Everything seems to fit in the story. There are portions where I felt the book was too well-written for its own good, which is really an odd comment, and if that's the worst thing I can say about a book you know you're dealing with some choice fiction.

Of course, you really don't need my opinions to validate Kavalier and Clay. There are dozens of far more qualified voices who have already gone on and on about Mr. Chabon's "magnum opus." (Or so says the 2007 New York Review of Books)


Moving on:

I think I mentioned earlier that I was reading James Bond novels as a sort of research for a story I want to write. I finally picked up Casino Royale via Interlibrary Loan, so I'm getting started there. It's only 198 pages, and I got through Moonraker pretty quickly, so I should be through it fairly quickly. All I know for sure about Casino Royale is that the movie was pretty good. And if that doesn't make the book a sure thing, then I don't know what does! ;-)

Soon, moving back to finish up 100 Years of Solitude.