Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Also, Marketing Unto Oblivion (or perhaps, observation)

I have been on a reading kick this year.  We're just about three weeks into the year and I've already finished two books, am halfway thru a third, and about 40 pages into a fourth.  The two completed have long been on the reading list (and the bookshelf) and I'm just now getting around to them. 

The first was "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishugiro.  I had read and enjoyed "When We Were Orphans" and "The Remains of the Day" so I was eager for another offering by Ishugiro.  It did not disappoint.  One of the things I love most about his writing is the depth of description he gives to the characters' thoughts and emotions.  It makes them so relatable, and exerts a strong pull on me as a reader to empathize (and even compare to my own life experiences or past emotions).   This book took that constant quality one step further.  Written as a narrative of memory, Ishugiro's protagonist remembers in the way many of us do: she'll be telling one story and suddenly, realize that in order to properly tell it she has to tell us something else first, and on and on till each story is a beautiful, fractal tree of memories branching off in all directions but inherently related and connected.  Some are just wisps, some are branches as thick as trunks themselves.  I felt like I was listening to an old friend talk rather than turning the pages of a book.  To boot, the story itself is quite moving and maintains a sense melancholy without feeling heavy.  I really liked this book.

Next, I read "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe.  Both my sister and my sister-in-law are English teachers, and so I had often heard about this book but never read it.  I picked it up for two bucks at a used book store and finished it in about 4 days of evening reading.  Full of lush description, it was a venture into a world sadly completely alien to me.  I'm still thinking about it and haven't quite figured out what I want to say about it.  I liked this book quite a lot too, but not as much as "Never Let Me Go."

The book I'm halfway through is "The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell.  I pick that one up, read 15 pages and put it down again.  The subject matter, though written with humor, is a little heavy to be a page-turner.  Since it's non-fiction I feel I can read it alongside whatever fiction I'm working on and it's not a distraction.  The current fiction tome I am wending my way through (and the impetus for this post) is "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick.  I've read other Dick but hadn't yet cracked this particular volume, given to me for Hanukkah a few years back by my brother.

I was about 48 pages into this book when something infuriating happened.  I had just started to get a feel for the characters.  I was making conjectures about what their stories might be.  Where was it all leading, I wondered, noticing clues hidden throughout the text like little nuggets of gold gleaming in a dark coal mine.  I put the book down for a minute to chat with my mother (who was visiting for the weekend).  When I picked it back up, I took notice (really for the first time) of the cover.  Though the book was originally published in 1977, this particular edition had been published in 2006, shortly after the release of the movie version starring Keanu Reeves.  The 'Waking Life' style animation of the movie was the theme of the cover, showing rough watercolor sketches of Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, and Winona Ryder with geometric shapes of varying sizes serving as a kaleidoscopic backdrop.  In the top right hand corner, a bright lime-colored circle featured bold black words reading "NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE".  "Man, they are trying hard to sell this book," I thought to myself.  Then, I flipped the book over.  Now, I don't know what possessed me to start reading the back cover (maybe I was hypnotized by all the cracked out colors) but I did it all the same.  And do you know what it said?  IT COMPLETELY SPOILED THE BOOK!  I won't go into detail here because in case you haven't read it I don't want you to be similarly spoiled, but suffice it to say it contained a "Keyser Sosa size" spoiler - a spoiler of 'epic' proportions, if you will.  Now, I'm sure the reveal it gave is not the most important thing in the book.  More than that has to happen or there's not much of a story there.  But an important cornerstone has been revealed!  My sleuthing for clues was one of the most enjoyable parts of reading this story, as was the general feeling of anticipation often felt when reading books of the 'thriller' ilk.   I haven't been able to pick the book back up for four days.  I have developed a sad, apathetic attitude of "What's the point?"  And I am PISSED at these publishers.  Just as so much writing has become 'all flash no substance' so it seems has the marketing of said writing.  "We can't get someone to pick a book of the shelf and buy it unless we garish up the cover or reveal the plot on the back!  Better yet, let's do both!"

Anyway, I just felt the need to rant about this a little bit.  It's very frustrating as a reader to see such blatant disregard of the author's need to spin a yarn.  And it wasn't always like that.  Most of the really old books I have (as my brother astutely pointed out) have little more than a title on the cover, and sometimes not even that!  ((Sigh)).

Anyway, getting sleepy again.  Worked from 8am to 10pm today!!!  But tomorrow?  Rangers/Hurricanes game - hurrah!!!! :)


Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow

Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold

Such is the passage of time
Too fast to fold
And suddenly swallowed by signs
Low and behold

Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically
Gonna rise up
Throw down my ace in the hole

Monday, January 17, 2011

Patience is a Virtue (I Lack)

Ever get that feeling, in your gut, where you think you've found the perfect moment for something?  A kind of euphoria takes over, and as Warren Ellis said, "You could shag a million nuns and destroy their faith in Christ, from your chair."  But then - tragedy - for whatever reason, you suddenly have an inability to execute.  You listened to someone who told you to wait, or circumstances changed suddenly, or it snowed.  Whatever.  Then, you start to think the perfect moment has passed you by.  And you start frantically analyzing all other moments, wondering if you've completely missed your shot or if another moment as perfect will come along, and then the worrying and the obsessing all coalesce into omfgmusttakeactionnowbecauseimissedit.  And then, you realize that instead of being patient and waiting for the right moment, actually you've acted in what could quite possibly be the worst moment.  That's me.  Most of the time.  ((Sigh.))

As much as life has been a joy lately, it has also been a challenge.  I forget sometimes, because I was lucky enough to come to NC with a ready made social circle, that I am still building a life here.  And that if I intend to stay, the blocks I lay need to be solid (and made of a substance fine enough not to embarrass me in front of the neighbors).  Every behavior counts.  Every day I should ask myself - "Who do you want to be today?" - and the answer should always be "The best possible person I can be."  Aspiration is all well and good but without execution is worthless.

Tiredness has captured me and into her prison of sleep I shall go.