Thursday, May 31, 2007

A good first line grabs you by the neck.

So Jhumpa Lahiri tells us. [Freshly mentioned in my fiction class...]

Well, so there's this site now that posts up random first lines of books, twice daily. You can sit around and hem and haw, testing your literary prowess (or, if you're a writer like me, contemplate the marvel or lack thereof of a first line). Click on the link and you'll be taken to the Amazon page that tells you exactly what book it came from. And who knows? Maybe it'll be such a great first line that you'll just HAVE to buy the book.

Ooh, and you can get it sent to your email or texted too. Not that I need more junkmail.

Reading Alert: Joyce Carol Oates and Paulo Coelho

2 readings tonight, thanks to Barnes (I'm not going to either):

Joyce Carol Oates (who I haven't ready any of yet, but have one of her books on my list), reading from her new book, The Gravedigger's Daughter
Barnes at 66th and Broadway
7:00 PM
Admission is free

Paulo Coelho (of Alchemist fame), reading from his newest work, The Witch of Portobello
Barnes at 17th and Broadway
7:00 PM
Admission is free

[I thought the Alchemist was a let down, and Veronika Decides to Die better but still obvious in its ultimate revelation]

Literary idol!

So I subscribe to the actual paper copy of New York Magazine in addition to its blogs. This week there are several really interesting articles on books, including some picks of current books that will become future canons, an interesting article written by a writing professor who did everything BUT the MFA/NY publishing craziness, best underappreciated books, and then this funny little conceit: LITERARY IDOL!

The idea? Read about some authors chosen by NYMag and a short little excerpt of their book. And then log onto and choose your favorite. Votes will be tallied. Yes, absurd and dorky, but I kinda like it because I'm cheesy like that. I haven't read them yet, but I will, and when I do, I'll tell you who I voted for and why. Give it a go.

The other articles aren't bad either.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reading Alert: Michael Ondaatje

I have a few posts coming (including my promised final review of David Mitchell's book). The other two will have to be done later tonight, but in the meanwhile....

I get updates from the Asian American Writers' Workshop. I haven't attended any of their workshops or classes, but they have some really interesting events here and there. The Anchee Min reading I attended was held by them. She isn't that famous, although her books have done well. However, this next reading event I've gotten word of may be a different story for some people.

Michael Ondaatje (how do you pronounce that??) of The English Patient fame will be doing a reading in the fall. Yes, it's awhiles off, but worth keeping on the radar, right? I haven't read the book yet, but I hear it's fantastic (though I fell asleep trying to watch the movie on the plane). So this gives me a few months to plod through it before attending this reading. He's also come out with a new book recently called Divisadero, fyi.

Anyway details are as follows (though I'll certainly repost closer to the date) :

October 27, 2007
6:30 - 8 pm : VIP reception ($100 advanced tickets)
8 pm : Reading/Booksigning ($15 advanced tickets only)

Who wants to come with me? Advanced tickets? Yes?

By the way, AAWW was recently robbed. If you donate $100 or more, you get priority ticketing option (whatever that means) and your name listed in a program book for the reading. If that is the sort of thing that makes you excited, go for it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cormac and Oprah as seen by NY Mag (or, A thinly veiled post really about my weekend).

I am back. I have survived. But just in case you were dying to know, I should have knocked on wood a little harder when I said, "nothing fiction-worthy". Saturday, 13 miles from our whitewater rafting reservation, we got ourselves into a car accident. We were fine (our SUV was defnitely not in driving condition though - although luckily we drove two) - but the moment before was completely surreal. I was reminded of "Car Crash" from Jesus' Son, of all things. Those moments right before. I knew before it happened that it was happening, but I still didn't think it would happen. Then I heard "Oh SHIT!" and then I knew it was no good. Minor, but what ensued was a little bit of chaos (that in retrospect is kind of funny, and involves illegal immigrants, gnats, lying, hitchhiking, Canadians and being stranded in the middle of nowhere).

And it POURED on my birthday. We sat in a tent listening to thunder and lightening and torrential rainfall, playing boardgames and eating chips/salsa and cookies for dinner. Mmmm.

ANYWAY, that is not what I wanted to share today. What I wanted to share was this funny little piece from NYMag on Oprah's scheduled interview with recluse writer, Cormac McCarthy. As we all know, The Road was a strange choice for Oprah's Book Club, and yet, there it is. And since it is my number one favorite book, I take note of these things. But this cracked me up.


p.s. Ghostwritten review to go up tomorrow...

Friday, May 25, 2007

My sin, my soul.

Final post before I disappear into the wilderness for 4 days. [Okay, it's "luxury" camping supposedly, but the melodrama is more fun, no?] I finished Ghostwritten last night at 4 am, but I'll have to re-read parts of it and mull to piece the puzzle together better, so I'll wait until I come back to review.

In the meanwhile, my new book for this trip. Lolita. [Yes, I'm behind in my classics.] Which has singularly the most beautiful and compellingly written first paragraph of any novel I've ever opened:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

-- [pg 1, Lolita]

Certainly famous, but it captivates me every single time. Long before I even owned the book, this paragraph caught me when I opened up its cover in Barnes, dozens of times. Call me crazy, I relish saying this paragraph outloud to myself (and you can believe that I've got it pretty much memorized), letting the words roll of my tongue slowly, hearing how they punch the air. A beautiful little example of a perfect first paragraph, incredibly lyrical, poetic, rhythmic, onomatopoeic (is that a word?) and some awesome alliteration (which some people hate, but I'm a sucker for). How I aspire towards something this wonderful.

So I hope the rest of it does this first paragraph justice. I'm behind in my reading, apparently. But I can't wait. Not your typically "camping" novel, but what the heck.

Happy Memorial Day weekend, all.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shameless plug for presents.

Angelle turns 25 in 3 days. She is going to be trekking through the forest for her birthday. Or rather, sitting in a tent, with a book (most likely, Lolita).

If you would like to send her presents, feel free. She likes books, if you can't tell.

Let's hope that something fiction-worthy occurs during camping, if anything. Wait, maybe I shouldn't wish that.... I take it back. Please let nothing fiction-worthy happen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book to movie updates.

In book-to-movie news:

1. Evening by Susan Minot. I wasn't aware that it was being turned into a movie, but yesterday at Borders, I saw the new front cover with Claire Danes (who was recently asking me what had become of her?) so I guess it is. I read this book on Shirley's recommendation. It was very stream-of-conscious, had that weird blending to it, well-fit for a story about a woman on her deathbed. I didn't love it, but it was nice enough of a read. Sad though. But it's one of those books I can imagine will actually make a really nice movie with all the memory flipping back and forth. The movie seems to have an outstanding cast: in addition to Claire Danes, there's Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close and a few others.

2. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials I) by Philip Pullman. The first of a great YA fantasy trilogy, the trailer for this finally came out. I had no idea that Nicole Kidman was playing Mrs. Coulter, but I'm kinda excited. Hopefully this will be better than the disappointing Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that came out a few years ago. I liked this trilogy a lot when I read it (though I do have to confess that I can't remember a lot of the details anymore). I laughed aloud though, at NYMag's snarkiness on the comparison to Lord of the Rings in the trailer. Seriously, what were the marketing people thinking? Anyway, I thought the great thing about this series was that it was the "anti-Narnia". I remember thinking that even though it was so much compared (and has a similar "feel") to the beloved series, the topics it dealt with and the ideology behind it was completely dissimilar if you really thought about it. Well, the graphics on the trailer look pretty awesome and I love these epic fantasy movies... I might have to re-read the book and just remind myself of all the finer plot details, but I'm pretty excited about this movie.

By the way, you can get your own daemon on the website (that means nothing to you people who haven't read the book, but it's basically your animal counterpart for life) - so I'm Klitus, a butterfly. "Softly-spoken, solitary, clever, relaxed, a leader." Really? If they had simply said "social butterfly" then maybe. Okay, I just needed an animal with multiple personalities, really. (P.S. I am, however, slightly disturbed by the NAME of my daemon. Um. Can you imagine? Hi, this is my daemon Klitus... okay, do I just have a dirty mind?)

3. Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña. Aka my former writing teacher. As he's told me a couple of times now, the movie version of his book starts shooting on May 29th. If you've ever wondered what a process of getting a book turned into an indie film entails, the blog is really interesting, just to see it from both a writer and a director's point of view, comments on the process and whatnot. I'm sure it's some sort of dream come true to have your words transposed to the big screen - but then there's the commercial struggle of it all. Especially when your book isn't some Dan Brown thriller, and Hollywood only operates on big bucks and your typical cheesy feel-good stories, a process like this must be incredibly daunting. But as Matt's latest blog implies, there must be an amazing feeling to know that, your dream, your little story, your own little vision that existed in your own little bubble is now breaking out and becoming something else, somebody else's, giving paychecks to other people. That all these people are now part of the world that originally was singularly your own. I think that's so exciting, especially given that it's been done so organically, because it's proving to the businessmen of the world that despite the need to be practical and commercial and whatnot, the heart of it can remain true, and art can still exist. Anyway good luck to Matt and his gang on production!

And that's all for book-to-movie news for now.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Khaled Hosseini and his writer's process.

The room was packed. I mean seriously packed. At 6:20, I slid into one of the last empty seats available. At 6:30, they announced that they were roping off the section with chairs, and everyone else had to stand in the back. Those unfortunates were also told they could start lining up in the corner by "Art & Architecture" to get their books signed since they would be allowed to only after the seated people went. Felt like some sort of breadline where the elite had first dibs... "I feel so lucky," the pretty girl next to me said. "I know," I told her, both of our eyes roaming around the ones shut out behind the rope.

At 7, Khaled Hosseini came up stage, talked a little about his book, and then read two sections from it. Simple language (I took notice now, of how simple his tags were. "He said." "She said." It was just there.), but beautiful irregardless. One line that caught me, caught everyone, about a boy showing a girl the new gun he has bought. She asks him if he would kill with it, and then the line goes, something like "Then he said something both terrible and beautiful. 'For you I would.'" Well, I'm rattling that off by memory, and I don't know where it is in the book, but when I find it, I'll put it down again.

Khaled Hosseini's voice is smooth though slightly accented. He reads well. Pauses in the right places. I guess he should - he wrote it.

Then it was time for q&a. The guy talked about his writing process, about how he likes the "surprise" of it. He mentioned that for Kite Runner, that in the entire first draft, he didn't have the boys be related, and then later one day it came to him. He says he likes to get to know his characters and see where they take him. He said he doesn't do outlines, that knowing how it's going to end makes it stilted, that he enjoys the process. I felt so relieved, to know that that's how I do things too. He also mentioned about how difficult a process it was to write this second book of his, how he had to will it into being, and how it was touch-and-go for a bit. But that it's made the fact that it came together all the more sweet for him. I thought that was great, to know that he labored over this, second-guessed himself. He said that it took him about a year when he was unconvinced he could do it, but then he started seeing his characters as humans, started living and breathing them, and then suddenly it became something he could do easily. Amazing. I understand that. I want that! But I guess this also goes to show - when you've become a RAVE success, all of a sudden you have a fan base that expects you to outdo yourself, watching your every move. How incredibly stressful that must be...

He spoke a bit about going back to Afghanistan, about the politics surrounding it. He spoke of how his own memories related, and even of the themes of love. At all times he was so kind it seemed, almost subdued, and yet still so passionate about everything he was talking about. It was really interesting to listen to him. Did I mention that he's a pretty good looking guy (even though he is kind of older)? The pretty girl next to me leaned over at one point and whispered, "He's soo good looking!!!!"

The aside to this is that I've become friends with the pretty girl next to me in that time span of waiting and waiting. She's an opera singer with a Chilean background. Very sweet and fun. We exchanged info and promised to hang out again soon. Don't know if it will happen, but funny how you can meet people in all sorts of places. She was really interesting, and I love making new friends. See? Girls exchange numbers with other girls too!

Anyway, I hadn't anticipated buying the book, so left my discount coupon at home, but I found out they wouldn't let you get Kite Runner signed without also a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns, (money-grubbing Nazis) so I grabbed a copy. One more for the bookstand. Okay, so call me crazy, but I want my extra discount. So I think I'll buy another copy with the coupon and then return it with the reciept I have today. Good idea???

Btw, marketing or whomever - the cover of A Thousand Splendid Suns looks EXACTLY like the cover for Kite Runner. I get the psychology and marketing behind that, but somehow I find that disappointing. If I ever wrote more than two books (and I realize I am getting ahead of myself here) and actually had a say (sales aside), I'd want unique covers. I mean, the font is even the same! I know it appeals to the mass, the same way Jodi Picoult's novels all look exactly the same now too, but I almost feel like a real piece of literary work of art should have an artful, unique cover design too - all part of the art. But anyway, fine, anyone who sees the cover will immediately know how to identify it.

Hmm, see? This is why I don't know if I could go into publishing. Literature to me is art. I'd hate to get mixed up in all the commercialness of it. Yes, I know I'm being an idealist here, but somethings in life should remain just a *little* bit pure.

Reading Alert: Khaled Hosseini

Everyone has read Kite Runner, right?

I read that book and cried cried cried. It has been the only book I've ever been so heartbroken by that I had to stop in the middle, push it away, and collect myself because it hurt too much. What a beautiful book.

Well, this morning, I got this email from BN, because I'm a faithful (well, not-so-faithful these days because I keep shopping at Strand) member, letting me know that his new book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is 46% off! I got excited, although to tell you the truth, I don't know if I want to buy the hardcover. They're kind of a pain to carry around, but I also don't know if I want to wait for the softcover (not that I don't have enough books to occupy me with in the meanwhile).

Then NYMag's Agenda sent me their picks of the day shortly thereafter. And what do you know? Khaled Hosseini doing a reading at BN tonight. So where do you think I'll be tonight?

For those of you also interested:

Where: Barnes & Noble, 17th and Broadway (the Union Square one)
When: 7 PM

He'll be reading from his new book, which may make me decide if I want to buy it RIGHT NOW or not.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Creative book publicity and an aside on possible future career.

If you can't tell by now, I don't read news (except for work-related healthcare industry stuff) - I read NYMag.

And the thing I love most about NYMag is how it keeps me abreast of fun book stories. I've established with Moonrat today that I'm a book nerd (um, as evidence by this site), and I actually enjoy reading about book news.

[Aside: This then launched into the question of, since I am considering a career change in about, well, 6 months, should I go into something publishing related? I always wondered if being in the industry would jeopardize my attempts to you know, be the industry. If it would somehow screw up my vision to be an author. Make me jaded somehow. Or else just suck all my desire for the industry at all. Would working in publishing - even in something more corporate or - gasp - PR (my current line of work) - ruin it for me? Do I need to separate work from passion? A job that pays the bills vs my not-so-hobby? Reality vs. art? I am worried about tainting my love for writing, taiting my writing because I will start to be wholly conscious of what sells as a product, instead of what the art is. Inevitable perhaps, but I'd like to create art and then have to maybe make concessions to make something marketable instead of right off the bat trying to create something marketable, you know what I mean? But maybe working in an industry where I'm surrounded by book, which I love, would be good for me....]

Anyway, this I found intriguing. A lot of different products have attempted to use the ARG tactic, including the TV show "Lost", Xbox, A.I. Some of them are more successful than others - and unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure a book and ARG players have the same target audience (unless you are a total nerd like me). In order for it to be work, it has to be complete and intricate. I just keep wondering how this book has big enough budget to do that and pull it off. Viral marketing of any type is tricky tricky - if you're lucky it's a rave success, if you're not, advertisers and consumers look at you in disdain. Believe me, I know. A client of mine tried to pull of a smaller scale viral marketing plan before and... it didn't go down so well. In any case, I'm intrigued by the idea that they are doing this for book publicity. I wonder how that came about and how it ties into their brand image for this book. (Hmm, there's the professional business oriented side of me coming out!) Being the nerd that I am, I may have to check it out.

Book publicity intrigues me. It seems completely unlike the PR I deal with day in and day out. I actually don't know if I could do it, however much I love books. At least healthcare has meaning...

Speaking of Harry Potter...

What did I do with my life before NYMag blogs in my Google Reader?

I find the British cover art horrendous, but okay fine, it offers more clues.

That doesn't look like Dobby, that looks like pure evil. "My precioussss" or something like it.

What? It's FICTION? Give me a refund NOW!

Um. Really?

Courtesy of NYMag:
Random to Pay Frey Readers $2.35 Million: Settlement approved by federal judge in class-action suit will force Random House to pay $2.35 million to readers upset by James Frey's falsehoods in A Million Little Pieces. Rebate applicants must tear out page 163 in their copy of the book and send it in; we'll be at the Strand, tearing page 163 out of every used copy we can find. [PW]

I don't know how I feel about this. So a guy writes a "memoir" that fits better into "fiction", and readers who feel "defrauded" can get a rebate? I mean. REALLY? I'm sorry, but if you are that offended and feel that duped by a silly book, you need a life. Perhaps some people just have their emotions and well-being tied up in the books they've read. Personally, I was upset when I found out that Dumbledore died at the end of HP (um, sorry if you haven't read that yet), maybe I should give J.K. Rowling a ring and demand her to pay for the therapist I've hired to help me get over this mess. No, I'm serious, I don't think I've recovered from the shock of it all. And James Frey, how dare you make all of those readers feel stupid for having believed you! Shame on you! You hyperbolic liar! I haven't read your book yet, but I'm sure if I did, I would feel downright outraged by the end when I realize you've lied to me! And when that happens, you can be sure I'm tearing out page 163 in self-righteous rage and mailing it in for my bloody rebate! Because I expected a MEMOIR and I hate fiction, I do! Ugh, it changes everything.

No seriously. What is this world coming to.

I should definitely be reading this more carefully.

Today I bought 3 books from The Strand for a little over $17. I am pleased with myself.

Anyway, I started Ghostwritten a couple of days ago. Cloud Atlas is the award-winning one, but I've been meaning to pick this one up for awhile, so I decided to go with this one first. So far I'm finding it enjoyable enough. I like multiple narratives, and it's kind of fun to try to fit the narratives together, see how they're linked, considering they are all very separate stories. I just got through the "Holy Mountain" narrative, and so far, that one and the Tokyo narrative are my favorites.

But okay, let's go through narrative by narrative, for the sake of me remembering my own thoughts.

Okinawa. Creepy. Creepy creepy creepy is all I can say. I wasn't so into this, and even though the mind of the cult dude is somewhat compelling, I think it could have been done a little less robotically. It blends too much with the other narratives, despite his distinct use of creepy ideas and words and thoughts. I do like the moment where he contemplates this baby and mother that he sees on the train before he lets out the gas though. This glimpse of remorse. Like maybe he hopes the baby made it. But if I were someone who didn't force myself through books, I might have stopped early because of this narrative. I don't know. I just didn't like it all that much. Maybe it was a little too weird to just start off on.

Tokyo. Loved this. Loved the way music (and, because I'm muscially stunted in my growth, I didn't know a lot of the artists) is woven into the narrative to demonstrate his state of mind. I'm sure it would mean more to me if I knew all of the artists, but anyway. The books. His little world of records. The other characters, and their stories. The people in his life, the surrogate family.

And I love his relationship with this girl. Love the passage when he sees the girl, the way he mentally hopes she'll turn around and look at him. How he thinks she pulses, "invisibly, like a quasar." The details of the short time he spends with this girl that lives in his memory, the way he remembers them so vividly. The way he won't have sex with her just yet, because "we could have done it", because "sex would have closed an entrance behind us and opened an exit ahead of us." How wonderful and innocent and fragile, this love. "If not love, then what?" he asks.

And I really like this passage about cherry blossoms:
"The last of the cherry blossom. On the tree, it turns ever more perfect. And when it's perfect, it falls. And then of course once it hits the ground it gets all mushed up. So it's only absolutely perfect when it's falling through the air, this way and that, for the briefest time..."
--[pg. 59, Ghostwritten]

Something very honest and true about this, about how perfection is so shortlived, but the beauty is in that single moment.

In any case, I loved this narrative.

Hong Kong. Strange British dude with a lot of problems, including a ghost problem and a disturbing affair with a maid. For the most part, I wasn't too fond of this section, only because I thought the guy was crazy and I wasn't having the best time following all his craziness. I did, however, like this one little bit here:

"The garbage man growled, and repeated the same words, slowly, and louder, at me.
"What's he saying?"
"He's begging."
How much does he want?" A stupid question.
"He's not begging for money."
"What's he begging for?"
"He's begging for time."
"Why does he do that?"
"He thinks you're wasting yours, so you must have plenty to spare."
--[pg. 95, Ghostwritten]

What a wonderful little piece of dialogue. I can just see this rich HK banker, being told by a bum that he's wasting what's given to him.

Holy Mountain. This I loved. Because instead of a little snippet, it followed this woman through her whole life, almost dreamily, through all the tragedy of the turmoil China was going through at the time, and how it affected her even though she was in this remote area so far away from everything that was going on. And yet it kept coming to her doorstep, bringing her tragedy again and again and again. The poetry of it is really beautiful, the way she keeps rebuilding everything, how she stays strong throughout. The dreamy bookending of her as a girl, seeing an old woman through the mist, and her as an old woman, seeing a young girl through the mist. The way events are explained so matter-of-factly, and yet with so much beauty and lyricism and magic. I don't remember a particular passage that I wanted to highlight in particular, but a lot of it is really nicely written. It also makes me hate that era of China so much, the things that happened then. But really, a very nicely done narrative here.

So I like what I'm reading so far - I think there's multiple layers in his writing, things that you could pick at if you took the time to read everything carefully. I feel like it warrants a much more careful reading than I am giving it, and I'm probably skipping or missing a lot of things, but even on the surface, it smacks of something intricate and intelligent. A complaint I have is that while the passages are distinct, they're not as completely distinct as I would like. Maybe that's the David Mitchell underlying voice he can't get away from, but the whole time I am very aware of his style that doesn't change that much despite the shift in voice. I would have liked it to be much more distinct. However, I do feel that this book has just a lot to it, little pieces of puzzle, little lines to ponder over. If only I were being more careful in my reading. I really do want to see how everything fits together eventually though. It's been pretty fun in just finding the one little link that matches all of them, but I'd like to see how it all ties together in the end.

Okay, enough book talk for one night. Time to sleep!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ishiguro is the king of delusional narrators.

I inhaled this novel.

I liked it a lot, but to be honest, I'm not sure I liked it as much as Remains of the Day, strangely enough. Well, no, I liked the plot better, but I actually felt that Remains of the Day was a better executed book.

Here are some thoughts of mine.

1. Journaling gimmick this time around didn't work as well. The journaling setup of this book seemed more contrived to me than it did in Remains of the Day, only because in that, he was chronicling his everyday journey, and it was clear that he was doing this, whereas this, spread through years, didn't seem as convincing why it was done in this format.

2. Banks was so incredibly stupid. There were many times where I just wanted to smack the guy, he was so incredibly dumb. How he constantly lost his temper at people, said things to them insulting them, and then later felt sorry about it. How he insisted on going to find that house even though there was a WAR going on about him. How he left Sarah without a word to do this. Um, and after decades, did he really think his parents would still be held captive in that house? Really? I mean, I don't understand the basic logic behind his thinking. He's delusional. I love though, how he yells at his kid driver, telling him:
"Look here, you're a fool, you know that? A fool!... You're what I call a proper fool. Do you know why? I'll tell you. You pretend to know far more than you do. You're too proud to admit to your shortcomings. That's my definition of a fool exactly. A right fool! Do you hear me? A right and proper fool!"
--[pg. 242, When We Were Orphans]

I think that's hilarious, because I mean, who the hell is the fool? Ah Ishiguro, yes, you are smart. You get your characters to be so blind to their own shortcomings, so self-centered and delusional.

3. Ishiguro is good at heartbreaking endings. Someone said this to me once, and this is very true. While, I must say that the Butler in Remains of the Day finally confessing one little line of feeling was incredibly effective, the ending in this is quite heartbreaking too. Uncle Philip, the revelation, the deaths and/or loss of almost everyone he loves. The fact that everything he has built in his life becomes unraveled at the seams. Crazy and amazing.

4. It's always strange to read about China and the Opium Wars from this perspective. No matter what, it's so strange to me to read these things, and read about the Chinese being depicted as these heaps of beggars, diseased, sickly, needing to be saved. Foreign. Especially reading about it, knowing that this is taking place in China. It drives the point home to me, at least, that the Chinese were foreigners in their own land, especially in a place like Shanghai. I think about how Chinese are percieved and portrayed in this book and I contrast this with the Chinese movies I've seen the humanize the plight, and remember how incredibly advanced of a civilization China once was, and it is so bizzare to me. But it fits in with the thoughts of the time. It drives home to me also the awfulness of the Opium Wars, but also just how incredibly sad that point in history was for China.

Obviously there's a lot more to talk about in regards to this book, but these are my biggest impressions for now I guess. I really do love Ishiguro even though his style is so distinctly different than most of the things I like to read. But I think his books are so intelligently realized, so psychologically rich, and so multi-layered.

Really good.

Friday, May 18, 2007

But what about Jack Bauer??

I am subscribed to a number of blogs, one of which is NY Mag's Vulture, which brings me little tibits of culture and entertainment with snarky commentary.

This particularly cracked me up for some reason.

People who write these little blurbs must have a hell of a time. [Actually, after reading the Pub Rants blog, I guess they sort of do]

And Chuck Norris!!! If there can be a book about Chuck Norris...

...okay fine, completely different kind of book.

But still.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ishiguro comforts me.

I just started reading When We Were Orphans last night. Opening the book made me so excited - I don't know why, but I love starting a new book, feeling its new pages. Again, this is why I don't like library books. I like the newness of a book, the freshness of it. Something about it is wonderful to me.

I don't know what it is about Ishiguro, but his writing, even though so British and formal, it really comforts me. There's something comforting about sinking into an Ishiguro novel, something plush and rich about it. Reading his words, I'm seriously elsewhere, and it's so completely him.

Interesting though - after reading Remains of the Day, I'm completely distrustful of the narrator's perception of events. It's part of Ishiguro's draw though, he's keeping me hopping and constantly aware of the psychology of the narrator, constantly aware of every word that comes out of his mouth onto the page. I take nothing for granted in his writing. Smart. That's amazing that he is able to make me do that. [How do I become a writer as smart as him? Someone tell me please!]

The other thing I want to see unfold is how he deals with the Sino-Japanese War and the British relations to China. I'll go to war on this if he paints Britain or Japan as too sympathetic here. After reading Last Empress, I am not happy about the invasion of China (not like I ever was before). It should be interesting considering he is a British-Japanese. I'm crossing my fingers it's dealt with delicately, because I'd hate to stop loving him as much for such a personal reason, but it could happen.

Anyway, only 50 pages in, so we'll see where it goes from here!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I feel for you, Swede.

Finally finished American Pastoral, took me longer than I would have liked due to my family being in town, my brother's graduation and you know, various occurences.

So. I liked it. I didn't love it. I can see why it's an important book, and I appreciate how sprawling it is, how complete of a world it paints in terms of capturing the times and life of a blue collar family from Newark. It raises a lot of interesting thoughts and issues on what it is to make it in America and not make it, to be part of history. But beyond that, there's the questions of what it is to be a father, a family, a daughter, the kind of responsibility one should or shouldn't take, and how much control is it that we have over things? It's some heavy thoughts and stuff, set in a time of turmoil. It is clearly an intelligent book. But I guess it failed to move me to the depths that I would like to be moved. Some sentiments resonated with me, but the entire time I just kept thinking, Skip Zuckerman imagined all of this, so how am I supposed to even take any of this as fact?

Okay, now, aside from that, I did quite feel for the Swede, who did everything he could in the right way and yet everything still fell to shit. I also really identified with him at times, because I feel like I can be the same way - trying to make everyone happy, trying to tell people what they want to hear, straddling that middle, being who I can be that makes it work. And this part, I can relate so much:

She was nothing like the one he had imagined. And that was not because she had been passing herself off with him as something else or somebody else but because he had understood her no better than he was able to understand anyone. How to penetrate to the interior of people was some skill or capacity he did not possess. He just did not have the combination to that lock. Everybody who flashed the signs of goodness he took to be good. Everybody who flashed the signs of loyalty he took to be loyal. Everybody who flashed the signs of intelligence he took to be intelligent. And so he had failed to see into his daughter, failed to see into his wife, failed to see into his one and only mistress - probably had never even begun to see into himself.
--[pgs 409-410]

I so often feel like I'm horrible at looking into people... maybe because I want to believe in the best in people. Seemingly how Swede is. Does that make us both stupid? Too idealistic? To believe that this American dream is ours to hold if we just act the way we're supposed to? Is that the point here? Well, I'd venture that there are many points made here (some lost on me, I'm sure), but here now is the one that me at quarter-life (and of a different background) could most easily grasp. But now I digress.

Craft-wise, it was interesting to see how incredibly inconsistent it was, and yet it worked. The point of view shifts were what got me most notably, after the long diatribes and introspections, sometimes the point of view would shift for a moment, and that I found jarring at times. Yet it worked somehow. It's actually interesting. Starting from page 90ish, you could all but not realize that this story is actually a first person narrative, because, except for a few moments here and there, it pretty faithfully follows a close-ish 3rd. But when you remember it's actually a fictional imagining of Skip's in the 1st... I don't know, it changes things. It makes you wonder this whole setup, the whole point. Somehow he gets away with it.

So I had so much more to say about this book while I was reading it, because it was so dense, but because I loathe to markup my books, and I didn't have enough bookmarks to go around (I really want to write some company and tell them to please make bookmarks with little tab dispensers so I can mark pages), I forgot which passages they were and therefore, have also lost the little thoughts and issues I wanted to discuss.

I am definitely interested in reading another Roth, just to get a better sense of what the rest of books are like, how they differ in setup. I may do Plot Against America next, only because that concept has intrigued me.

Anyway, all in all, I thought this was an impressive work in its density, but on a subjective personal level, while it was thought-provoking, I didn't get as much personal satisfaction out of it as I have with other books. But definitely worth the read. I did like it.

On to the next. I know I should be forcing myself to read someone new or classic (I am on a classic turn now technically), but I've been itching to read the Ishiguro book I bought almost two months ago for awhile now. So I'm going to cave and do some pleasure reading. I love Ishiguro.

My obsession with infidelity.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I have an obsession with the topic of infidelity. Unintentionally, most of my stories end up involving an incident of infidelity, and they're usually not passing, oh-well-slept-with-someone-else sorts. But infidelity that has reprecussion or meaning. I think because personally I think there's so much that goes into infidelity - the psychology of why people would be unfaithful in the first place, and the psychology of the reprecussions. The way it effects households, children, daughters. The way it tears families apart. I'm obsessed because I find it to be one of the most reprehensible things a person can do in a loving relationship, the most damaging. And yet people do it all the time.

A new book examines infidelity across cultures, and it seems like America is a lot more conservative about this than the rest, and yet we still cheat with frequency. Others accept it as a fact of life, but we find it morally wrong. So does that make us a more immoral society, that we do something just as often despite the fact that we think it is worse than other people do?

The book is called Lust in Translation, and I may have to flip through it, because I am curious, but take a look at the publisher's notes:

A strange and surprising journey around the world to examine how and why people cheat on their spouses. This global look at infidelity truly reveals a puritanical America

From Memphis to Moscow, when it comes to infidelity the statistics tell the story. People cheat on their spouses-in fact, they cheat with astonishing frequency. But even illicit love has rules, and these rules change radically from country to country. Acclaimed journalist Pamela Druckerman decided to investigate extramarital affairs all around the world to discover how different cultures deal with adultery-and her research leads her to believe that both the concept and the consequences of infidelity are far less rigid outside the United States. Americans, she decides, are the least adept at having affairs, have the most trouble enjoying them, and, in the end, suffer the most as a result of them.

The rules of fidelity aren't as strict in many other parts of the world because some cultures have found ways to acknowledge that adultery is an expected, if not acceptable, part of the marriage contract. The French, contrary to popular belief, have affairs at about the same rate as Americans do, and they're just as titillated by sex scandals. Although the subject of infidelity is still very taboo there, unlike Americans, they refuse to moralize about it. In Russia, staying faithful to one's spouse is merely optional; one poll stated 50 percent of men and 25 percent of women have cheated on their current spouse, to say nothing of previous marriages. In Japan, Druckerman discovers that two-person futons and mattresses aren't even for sale in most stores, and the saying among businessmen is "If you pay, it's not cheating." Some Japanese marriage counselors hire prostitutes to teach women how to lure their husbands home.

Pamela Druckerman, formerly a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, has done her homework. She's interviewed people from all over the world, from retirees in south Florida to polygamist Muslims in Indonesia, from ultra-orthodox Jews in Brooklyn to residents of a concubine village outside Hong Kong. She takes us on a journey all around the world, talking with sexologists, psychologists, marriage counselors, and most of all, cheaters and the people they've cheated on, only to discover that America is still a place with surprisingly outdated ideals. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, many cultures are more accepting of the fact that a monogamous marriage is an incredibly difficult contract to keep.

I won't change my mind about how much I think infidelity is a wrong wrong thing. But the fact that it is so wrong and yet almost inescapable fuels my obsession for the topic. Why do people do this if we believe it to be so wrong? And is it the wrongness of it that makes us so unhappy when it inevitably happens? If we accept it as a fact of life, then are we happier, but does that make us less moral? Where do you draw the line for happiness and morality?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Granta's Young American Writers reading.

[I apologize in advance if this makes no sense whatsoever. I'm writing this on very little sleep and alcohol in my system for the first time in 3 months.]

I ended up making the Granta reading last night. Some good stuff. Nicole Krauss read from a piece that is coming out in a future edition of Harper's, and JSF some little thing he wrote about a grandmother that was funny and fun and used some Yiddish racial slur. The other readers were pretty good too, got to talk to a couple of them, even though I didn't know any of them. One guy (I forget his name right now) read a little bit from an upcoming novel dealing with a schizophrenic boy whose mission is, apparently, to get laid. Hahah. I totally want to read that. JSF is a tiny tiny guy, btw, I was surprised. Super small and skinny. Nicole Krauss is really pretty and incredibly sweet.

I totally got starstruck going up to Nicole afterwards to get my edition of History of Love signed. I rambled, as I'm prone to do when nervous, about everything and nothing and how inspiring she was to me, to a point where she held out her hand and grabbed my arm, and was like, "It's okay..." because I was getting sooo jittery. I get like this around the weirdest people - not big star celebrities but writers I admire and celebrity chefs (eg: Eric Ripert). With Nicole it was no different. I really wanted to say something intelligent and well-thought-out to her to tell her exactly how much I loved her book and how much it meant to me, but there's a reason I'm a writer and not someone who's great with oral communication. It gets all jumbled when I have to think about things on the spot. But anyway, I left the reading SUPER HAPPY and skipping on the streets of Cobble Hill.

JSF seemed incredibly aloof, by the way. I wonder what their marriage is like. But I really enjoyed his piece that he read, and of course, I'm in love with both of his books. He's such an unconventional writer, and I really appreciate that about him.

Man, I'm such a groupie.

I feel like I should have something more intelligent to say, but I really don't (most likely due to my cracked out state of mind right now). I guess the only thing is that meeting writers like them make me want to try harder.

But I was super super super happy. :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Philip Roth has me thinking about my own family.

The things I keep thinking about reading this book-

1. Being a parent is HARD. The Swede reminds me of me in a way. The way he is overly diplomatic. I'm kind of like that sometimes, and I know how it can be bad. I'm too willing to see both side of things or be "liberal", "openminded". This is no good when dealing with children I guess. I can see myself dealing with Merry in the same way he did, and I can see why sometimes you just need to take a firm stance. It worries me - I wonder what kind of mother I'd be.

2. Merry reminds me of my brother a little. I worry for him (not as much now) sometimes, and his extremist tendencies. As a parent, where do you stop thinking something is a "phase" and something is something more? Also, the Swede's thoughts of how Merry could possibly hate this country resonated so strongly with me because I feel that way sometimes about how my brother says he "hates" this country that has given his parents, grandparents the opportunity to succeed so that he can have the life he has had now. I'm a patriot in ways - I disagree with the government at times, but I love America. America has given me the life I have.

More thoughts swirling, but can't vocalize them now. I had passages I wanted to highlight but now I can't remember which anymore. More later.

p.s. I am still heartbroken over missing JSF/Nicole Krauss tomorrow. I am envious of their life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

When good kids do terrible things.

I'm reading American Pastoral currently by Philip Roth. I'm liking it a lot better now that I've gotten past the first part. I must say, I'm not too big a fan of the narrator portion of this thing yet, and now that I'm in the second portion of the book, I'm unclear as to how this even all relates (and is the guy just imagining up history?) but I'm sure this book is acclaimed enough that all will come together in due time...

One thing though that I did keep thinking of while reading this book is how this makes me think of something I've been turning around in my head recently. I'm interested in writing something loosely based around ideas I've come up with around the VTech shootings. Obviously not those in particular because I think I'd be lynched, but more dealing with thoughts I've recently been having about the questions of - whose fault is it? where did it go wrong? what does the family have to do now? I am particularly interested in the VTech shootings because I think coming from an Asian family, it gives it a completely different twist when the family is Asian. The family life is completely different. I'd be so interested in telling a story like this from an Asian point of view.

I think that's what strikes me about American Pastoral - this idea of making it in America, the American dream. Thinking you've got it all going. You're here, everything's working out well. And then - boom - it's all gone, and not because someone took it from you, but because someone you love did something to obliterate it. And then you're left wondering, where did it go wrong? What did we do wrong? There's so much of that in this book right now, the Swede turning over and over in his head where the moment was, the instant where he failed.

Being a parent is one of the biggest responsibilities anyone can ever have. The convos Swede has with Merry about her trips to New York are so realistic - I can see myself as a teenager having similar rebellious convos - and I realize how difficult it is. To achieve that balance of giving your child freedom but drawing the line, giving them independence and their own will and trusting them to make the right decisions but also reining them under your will when circumstances necessitate. And then if things go wrong - you can't help but blame yourself. And even as your children hate you, you can't help but love them.

I know that people are obviously (and rightfully so) angry at the VTech shooter, and possibly blame his family or not. And he was wrong, horribly horribly wrong. And yet part of me wonders about the child within him, wonders about at what point he lost himself. Why he was so lonely and so misguided that he ended up where he was. And. I feel a little sad for him. That things were so bad that he didn't get the help he needed but instead did what he did. And I feel sad for his family, who, probably don't know what they did wrong. As a traditional Asian family, they probably didn't have it in their culture to "talk" about what was going on with the kid and give him support, not the way Americans do, and on top of that, as dry cleaners, probably didn't even have the time. Where does the responsibility lie in situations like these? And as always, I believe there is a difference between judging a person and judging their actions. What he did was awful, evil, inexcusable. But I can't help but wonder if he wasn't a bad kid, just a lost soul. And I feel sad about that. And I feel sad about his parents who will blame themselves, and will keep asking themselves where their lovable boy went. How it could be that someone that they know to be good inside, could have done such an awful thing.

This is a bit of an aside, I guess, nothing really to do with the book, except that it made me think about all these thoughts I've been thinking about around the recent shootings. I wanted to write a book about it, but I guess I can't really, since Philip Roth sort of wrote it already - though I'd have the Asian point of view. I guess I could do it again, in a different way (except, I think Jodi Picoult's new novel is about school shootings now that I think about it, so maybe not). But I guess I wanted to record what this book is making me think about and the issues it's brought up in my mind.

But so far so good.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Talking to my sister, prime target of the YA author.

At brunch today with my little sister (who's 13) and mom, my sister and I had a conversation on books. She said to me how she hates when books she likes are turned into movies. I asked her why, and she said it's because when she's reading, she's imagining the characters and what they're doing and how they look like, and she hates when she sees it on screen because it ruins that image in her mind.

That's as good of a reason as any, I suppose.

Later, me and my mom and sis went for a random drive on this beautiful day down to Princeton. There was a "Teen Book Bash" going on right outside the Princeton Public Library. Tables of YA books (mostly girl books, not surprisingly) and their authors, sitting around, ready to sign their books and talk to anyone who was curious. Seemed strange to me, because my sister seemed to be the only person in their target audience range around, but, hey, I don't know what they read down in Princeton.... Anyway, we went to a reading for a short bit, listened to this woman, Patricia McCormick, read from her new novel, Sold, a story about child prostitution trafficking in India and Nepal. Diminutive woman who seemed incredibly affected by the topic at hand, and almost brittle when answering questions on her experience writing the book. However, it was clear her passion for the issue, and for that, I was incredibly intrigued.

My sister then wanted to leave, even though there were more authors coming up to read afterwards - she decided she didn't like readings because they ruined the book for you. And the subject matter by Patricia McCormick was too heavy for her. Despite that it's about a 13 year old girl like herself, I don't think my sister has the maturity to deal with such a gut-wrenching , difficult topic. In so many ways, still an innocent young girl sheltered from the world... So we got up and left even as a new guy was getting up and explaining that he had written a book called Girls about, appropriately, a girl....

On the other hand, I was incredibly interested by all of these authors sitting around me, paging through each of their books. So many teenage chicklit books with their bubblegum covers, maybe 3 books written for boys - 2 of which were about basketball, with a third I can't really remember. Goes to show you they know who's reading at that age, although I sorta feel like maybe more people should try to write books that will make boys want to pick up a book more. But it made me wonder how these people came up with the stories they came up with, and who this fair was for. And why did they decide to pursue writing for this market? What made them come back down and empathize with the shy adolescent girls like my little sister and want to write books for them?

My sister has been clamoring me for some time now to write a book "for her". She wants a book dedicated to her and one she can read. The girl tends to be more picky than me in her taste in books though, despite that she liked the few I've recommended to her (recently, Elsewhere) and has hated books I loved as a child (Homecoming). I joke with her that if I wrote her a book, she'd probably hate it, but the truth is I wouldn't know what to write. It's true that at one point in time, I really wanted to write children's/YA books, but I don't know if I remember enough about what it was like to be that age to be able to write something appropriate, or rather, I wouldn't trust myself to be age appropriate with both style and subject matter. So it intrigues me that these authors here today, a whole bunch of people who continuously churn out stories written for people decades younger than them. I wonder what drives them, and how they decided upon this niche - such a tenuous, impressionable, important age. In a way, I feel like writing for the YA market is a huge responsibility, bigger than adults or young children. So I wonder how all of these authors decided that this was where they wanted to hit. What their vision as authors were.

Interesting how even when I'm taking a break, this thing about books and writing follows me everywhere.

Friday, May 4, 2007

He died. Oh well.

I "finished" Women in Love (ie: I skimmed through the last 80 pages).

This is what happens:

Birkin and Ursula are finally normal.
Gerald has crazy thoughts about killing Gudrun, but then ends up dying himself.

The end.

Oh well.

On to the next.

(Yeah I lost patience by the end. And I was doing so well up until the last 80 pages, but they were just so friggin annoying.)

Okay, Lawrence, I wasn't too impressed with you. Or maybe it's just a matter of personal preference. I just don't like your style. But I did it! And I can say I did it.

Now something less... blah.

Suspended in darkness.

Tonight I wanted to talk about one of the stories from Jesus' Son that Matt gave us to read in class that I've now re-read a few more times.

I think it's really difficult, sometimes, to come up with something right on the spot, without mulling over and re-reading it. Especially when you're listening to someone read outloud. I often find that when I'm reading along with someone reading outloud, I'm more focused on listening to each word as it's coming up as opposed to processing what's being read. So in class, while I had vague ideas of the stories, I don't think I really formulated my thoughts until now. But having read them through again, I can say that the two stories he chose are some of my favorites from the collection as well. Such good choices.

I was going to say some words on "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" but I decided against it. I'd rather focus my attention on "Dirty Wedding", which I had a hard time formulating thoughts about during class - thanks to the fact that I was high on painkillers - but now I've read three more times and LOVE.

I'm going to be completely aimless in my discussion of this, but I just wanted to get some thoughts down.

Wow, what an unconventional story about abortion. Completely heartbreaking in its strangeness. The aimless lost feeling the narrator gives, the confusion of how we're supposed to feel. So on spot.

He has no clue how to deal with this. No clue. He obviously has an overwhelming amount of thoughts and feelings that he just does not even know how to begin to process. He's scared for Michelle, for the baby. He's scared of what they're doing, and he deals with it in such a callous way because he just has no other idea of how to deal with it. And then he walks out and says "I felt the cancelled life dreaming after me." How incredibly sad and spooky. I love how later something so unrelated, he's talking about dumpsters but then says:

Think of being curled up and floating in a darkness. Even if you could think, even if you had an imagination, would you ever imagine its opposite, this miraculous world the Asian Taoists call the "Ten Thousand Things"? And if the darkness just got darker? And then you were dead? What would you care? How would you even know the difference?

Interestingly enough, it's like he's completely empathizing with the baby in a way. Curled up and floating in a darkness. Like a baby. Or like a lost person living in the real world. When you're lost, when you don't know the world, when you've never seen it or can't touch it or can't feel it, then if you die, is there a difference? It seems to me he's trying to make sense of this. For the justification or lack thereof of the baby's life, and his own aimlessness.

The other thing I really love about the story is his relationship with Michelle. How early on he says he made up all these screwed up lies but nothing would make her repent or love him the way she did before she knew him. And then later he says, "...she wanted to hurt me as only a child can be hurt by its mother." Those are some strong words. The implications behind this kind of love. It's a push and pull of love, a reminder of how twisted and fickle love is sometimes. How strong it is, how much we desire from each other. The dysfunction. And yet he's the only one who would love her.

And it's like all of this. The twisted love he has for this girl that ends up dead -- and the fact that they go through this abortion together, but not. He is living his own separateness, following strange men on trains, trying to make sense of all of this but really aimlessly going, feeling like there's something lingering of the life that was just ended. Ghostly. And he's wondering about life. Whether we're not just people floating in the darkness too, without knowledge of where fate lies for us. Just going about it. Would we know the difference? Are we babies suspended in nothingness?

Hmm. This made a lot more sense in my head while I was reading it than when I tried to write about it. So ignore me.

All I wanted to say is I love this story. It makes sense to me in a way I can't really articulate whatsoever.

Because I promised a wrap-up of this collection (and so I can move on), I guess my thoughts on it are this:

Not all the stories make sense to me, nor do I always know what I'm supposed to get out of all of them. Sometimes phrases sound pretty but I don't know what they mean, it's so abstract to me. But as a collection, I love it. I love how we watch the narrator progress and evolve, this flawed being with all his troubles making his way through life, trying to get better but not really, and all his little episodes. His fight with life, but not really a fight, but I guess his dance through life, and eventually where he ends up at the end, better off than where he was before. I love the rawness it depicts, the voice, of simultaneously a young lost soul and that of the slightly older man looking back and trying to make sense of things. The apparent aimlessness of even the thoughts sometimes and how they interconnect. And with a touch of dreaminess yet a strange detachment. Little experiences, and trying to make meaning of it, and somehow it all amounts to a life slowly changed.

I really liked it. It grew on me. Even if I didn't always understand.

Lastly, random funny anecdote about this. I was reading it in Starbucks one day, and this guy with a Hispanic accent, middle-aged, asked me if this was a story about God or some other religious work. I said, um, no, not exactly... He then went on to tell me he had gone to seminary, and he had read many religious texts, so he was curious when he saw it because that was something he definitely had never heard of before. I laughed.

I have some thoughts about the title, but they're not formulated at all. So. They'll have to stay inside for now.

Staying too fathful (and a brief digression of insomnia).

Interesting little update on Peter Jackson's adapted screenplay of The Lovely Bones.

Seems like he's doing exactly what Moonrat dislikes - staying too faithful to the film - and seems like the movie might suffer for it.

I, for one, don't remember the details of the book that well - I read it all through the night my junior year in college, all lights off except for my desklamp, until the early dawn broke through my lilac curtains by my bedside. It was eerie to read this book of death and loss in the dead of the night, to finish when the sun rose. Fitting almost, though I don't read books in metaphorical settings on purpose. That was simply just back in the days of college when you got away with staying up all night doing whatever the hell you wanted with no thought to consequence. Besides, back then, I was an insomniac who had trouble falling asleep despite how exhausted I was [flashback to brief substance dependency on nyquil capsules].

Anyway, the point was, it was so long ago and read in such a hover of time, that I don't remember much. So I guess I won't have too many expectations of the movie staying too faithful. But it does already seem concerning that he's cramming in every last detail of the book into the movie. It's about the heart of the matter, Jackson, the heart. Remember that.......

By the way, I love the early peek at the screenplay. Love behind the scenes. It fascinates me.

Soap opera stars shouldn't talk all flowery.

120 pages left of Women in Love to go.

I'm so sick of it.

To be fair, it's gotten better over the last hundred pages or so. People have become a little less annoying, although I do kind of feel like I'm reading a soap opera with big words and flowery language.

There are ideas raised here and there that for a moment pique my interest, but then two pages later I'll forget about it. And I'll confess that I've skimmed through pages of text and allowed myself to be the ultimate lazy reader I can sometimes be when I don't keep myself in check.

Idle thoughts though, that I thought I should record -

1. Gerald vs. his father as a mine owner or whatever. His father is far too sympathetic, trying to balance "God"/charity/sympathy vs. economy/business. Gerald does the much more business-man thing. Reading that on the bus into work, it struck me why I'll never get past a certain level even if I stayed in business. I don't have the brutality and cutthroatness it takes. I'm way too "understanding".

2. Birkin's whole struggle - trying to retain his individuality, and the fact that he doesn't want love but something other than. Two whole beings. He doesn't want to fall into the idea of family because he thinks it's outdated. Interesting. I can somewhat sympathize. At the same time I can see Ursula's reason for being upset - she feels that his concept of what he wants her to be is so selfish because in some ways he doesn't want to commit to her but in other ways he wants her to be wholly his of sorts. Also interesting, at some point Ursula says something about how if he was wholly HERS, she'd lay it all down for him. That resonated with me because I'm totally that way.

3. Gudrun and Gerald are weird. And I was disturbed by the chapter where they smacked the poor rabbit into submission.

4. Sex is too abstract and flowery.

I think what bothers me about this book is, aside from the fact that the characters bother me, the language is so freaking flowery and yet it's like super flowery just to tell a story about these two couples who are essentially having a soap opera drama. It elevates it to some level it's not. Also, I feel like this story takes place in a lot more modern of a time than the language suggests. I mean, come on, sneaking into a girl's house and sleeping with her? Definitely not happening in the Victorian era books.

Anyway. Bear with me. 120+ pages and I can move on to better things. Hopefully something with easier language.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Being flawed.

I finished Jesus' Son just now. Tried to lose myself in his stories to distract myself from the heartache of disappointment and self-doubt I was feeling inside. So this little bit of review will come streaming without too much thought. I want to re-read the other stories later before presenting a final review of the collection. But for now, I just want to record my reactions.

His last two stories spoke to me beautifully, especially "Beverly Home". I love how flawed he is, and how, in turn, he is drawn to women flawed like him - short women, crippled women. And conversely his obsession for the religious women in the apartment. In a way the opposite from him and all these women. Virginal. Good. Clean. I love the little religious allusion when her husband washes her feet. Love how he is in the window, watching this. How in the end, he doesn't really catch them making love, even though he is obsessed with it. Almost as if he wants to see that evidence that she, too, is not perfect.

And I love this:

How could I do it, how could a person go that low? And I understand your question, to which I reply, Are you kidding? That's nothing. I'd been much lower than that. And I expected to see myself do worse.
--[pg. 147, Jesus' Son]

I really like this because it just shows you so much about the guy. How far he's come. How much further he's got to go. It's a little winning battle for him that he's just a voyeur for now, harmless compared to the shit we've seen him involved with in the past. Oh, he's nowhere near cleansed of his flaws, but he's made inroads. And he's aware of that. I don't know. Something about that touched me, him and his little flaws, and he's making his way. Got a job and everything. Trying to be part of normalcy. Irony is - he finds normalcy among freaks. Suddenly, he's not so bad, not compared to these guys. And the beautiful thing I find is how he's entreated with the job of "touching" them. Holding their hands, playing with their hair, squeezing their shoulders. These crazies he identifies himself with more readily at the end than with the "normal" people in the world. He's helping them get better. Or at least bringing something to them. And conversely, he's getting better by being with them:

All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.
--[pg. 160, Jesus' Son]

I love the ending. Love him finding his place like that, not just to wrap up the story, but the whole collection too. A little cycle it seems. Symbiosis or something or other.

The story was beautiful. Really touched me. Maybe because it drives it home to me - people are so flawed. We are all just people struggling to be touched by someone who will understand us and let us be the flawed people we are.

I also really liked "Steady Hands at Seattle General" - because it was just simple dialogue while he's shaving the guy. He's so probing. So interested in this guy. He wants to be a writer he says. Is going to put it all down verbatim (and he does!). It's so simple. Him just asking questions. Figuring the guy out. Wanting to know what the guy thinks of himself. And it's like they're just a couple of regular dudes.

Okay, I want to talk about the other stories later, and maybe do a wrap-up when I re-read these again. Lots to think about now that I've read the whole thing. This collection grew on me, for sure, and I think with a couple more reads, I'll find it even more so.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Kite Runner as a movie is a pretty good bet though.

More book movie news:

This was an interesting little article about a guy who actually made all the kites for the upcoming movie version of Kite Runner. It struck me, by the way, how they only paid him $30 a day for his kites. I'm sure that's more money than most people there make in a day, but still. Big budget film that is sure to make it big in box office sales? I think they could afford to pay him a little more for his crazy kites, no? Ah, but then this is where it becomes clear to me I'm not a business person (aside: I thought about this today while reading the "Industrial Magnate" chapter from Women in Love, which I will discuss again sometime today).

Anyway, I was having this convo with Albert a few days ago, about why so many books are being turned into movies these days. Every bestselling novel seems to have movie rights already, and they not only do well for ticket sales, they reinvigorate book sales too - fancy versions of books with new movie poster covers (I hate when they do that, by the way, I like the original cover art in books). It makes sense, I guess, especially these days when all you hear about is how no one goes to the movies anymore (um at $11 a ticket, they wonder why?) and how nothing is considered "blockbuster" anymore. The thing about bestselling books is that it requires SO LITTLE publicity to get it hyped up. All you have to do is put it out there that the movie EXISTS and all the faithful readers will go flocking to it, dragging their non-literary friends with them (and maybe they in turn will go back and buy the book). I mean, Kite Runner the movie may suck shit, but it won't matter to me, because you know I'll still see if opening weekend, just because I loved the book. In fact, I'll probably eagerly anticipate its opening night, the date highlighted in my outlook calendar with a big magenta reminder. (Um, no, that's not what I did for Memoirs of a Geisha, not at all...). And there will be millions of people out there like me. Who will see the movie regardless of whether the movie itself is good or not. The movie will succeed based purely off of the book's existing fan base. Smart move, Hollywood.

That being said, I am looking forward to Kite Runner, though I hope they cut some crap from the middle out, and stick to the good stuff. I'd hate to be taken along for an entire ride a la The Namesake (which, while good, was a little too faithful in my opinion). I think the book has all the elements of a potentially great movie - exotic place, exotic people, exotic practice (did anyone know that people flew kites like that before this book??), and a story of class tensions, friendship betrayed, family secrets and heart break? Not to mention, I imagine a sweeping landscape. Now this is something I think is perfectly suited to cinema.

I agree with Moonrat that as part of the process, a film should take the material from the book and own it. Reinvent it creatively, so to speak. Although, I must say, I'm one of those people who watches a movie and gets pissed when they change things completely. But I guess as an aspiring writer (and a reader), I'd hope the film would retain the spirit of the book, the major themes of the book. I think this is something that can be easily done with Kite Runner but I feel like would require more skill and delicacy with a book as stylistic and simple as The Road. As a faithful traditionalist and die-hard fan of the printed text, I get very defensive of my books. I'd also hate for some crappy film to be made that will make the mass general public think the book is exactly the same, when it's not.

Okay, so challenge here for Mr. Director of Kite Runner - make sure I love the movie nearly as much as I love the book and don't butcher it please. Also, can you please pay your kite man a little more than minimum wage for his designer kites?!!?!

P.S. I think I can only think of one book turned movie that transformed an eh book into a cinematic masterpiece, and that would have to be The Godfather. While the book is fun, and a great summer beach read, that movie is incredible. Kudos to anyone who can take raw material and transform it like that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Turning books into movies.

According to this article, they're making The Road into a movie. Um, no. There are some books that should never be made into a movie, and this is one of them. I don't find this beautiful little tale to be something that should be remotely cinematic. I prefer for it to live in my mind instead of it being turned into some little post-apocalyptic blockbuster a la 28 Days Later. And I just think it would be really difficult to capture the simple beauty of the book - it would have to be done really well and handled delicately, which I'm unsure of this director's capability to do (not that I would know anything about directors; maybe I should ask Albert). So reading this article kind of made me cringe......

In related news, apparently Peter Jackson is making The Lovely Bones into a film too. Wonder how that one will turn out, since I rather liked the book. I guess Hollywood is getting too lazy to write their own stories. What's with all of this adapted screenplay shit? Well, that's all good for authors, right? Maybe one day I'll write a book that someone wants to make into a movie too....

While we're on the topic, I suppose it's a good time to make mention of the fact that Matt's book, Ball Don't Lie, is being made into a movie, a process I find incredibly intriguing. I catch up on the little blog of theirs sometimes, and it's so interesting to see the thoughts of the director as the process develops. A hefty undertaking it seems, but rooted in a vision, which is what I admire most about it. I guess nothing in art is ever easy - the constant balance between the commercial and the creative. Admirable, really. Exciting too.

Speaking of his book though, I've been meaning to do a backlog review of the other books I've had on my "recently read" list that I haven't said anything about yet, namely Inheritance of Loss and Love in the Time of Cholera in addition to Ball Don't Lie, but haven't had the chance to. Ah, well. Maybe later. There's only so much I have time for.