Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wyrd Sisters

A friend of mine recommended Terry Pratchett to me - I've never read his books, but I'd recently seen Hogfather with a certain husband. The movie was half-really-good and half-really-terrible, made slightly more interesting because Lady Mary from Downton Abbey played the granddaughter of Death.  Anyway, Pratchett wrote the novel (or novels? I'm not sure) upon which it is based.

Wyrd Sisters (1988) takes place in Discworld, the universe Pratchett has created.  Discworld is like Earth with a sharp tilt - magic and sorcery and fairy tales are part of the reality.  It's sort of like a grown up Harry Potter (I suppose Discworld fans would want my head for that because it looks like he's been writing this series since the early 1980s...)  The best part about the book is that it takes it's cues from MacBeth - it's about a king who is killed by a Duke (a strategic move masterminded by his power-hungry wife), and nearby, three witches become involved in the political strategies in order to help protect the village and the local environment.  It also involves a little Hamlet as well, but that's more subtle.  It was all very amusing for a former Shakespeare scholar like me.  Why, I, myself (have I ever mentioned?) played one of the three witches in college in my Shakespearean drama course, part of my, career-wise, completely useless undergraduate degree in Theatre, but, I think, quite useful for like, life in general.  

All that sounds mildly stodgy and boring, but, let me assure you, it's very, very funny.  I think it's so hard to write truly humorous literature, but, I have to hand it to this guy, he's laugh-out-loud funny.  Incredible wit, and at the same time, a smart critique of story-telling and history.  Guided by his Fool, who is actually something of a genius, the Duke decides to literally re-write history by having a play written about what happened to the previous king.  Enter a band of actors (who are also building a theatre called The Dysc:  "It's got to be a name that means everything," he said. "Because there's everything inside it.  The whole world on the stage, don't you see?"*

I have to admit, some parts I did find slightly annoying - there were a few characters I didn't like, so I found myself skipping pages occasionally, but I absolutely loved the Shakespearian comparisons.  A running theme, for example, is that the Duke/King is forever trying to clean his hands of the blood from the murder.   "He'd scrubbed and scrubbed, but it seemed to have no effect. Eventually he'd gone down to the dungeons and borrowed one of the torturer's wire brushes, and scrubbed and scrubbed with that, too. That had no effect, either. It made it worse. The harder he scrubbed, the more blood there was. He was afraid he might go mad..."  Remember Lady MacBeth's famous "Out, damned spot!" scene?

If I had discovered this series when I was 15 or 16, I probably would have gone completely bananas.
All the Disc is but an Theater, he wrote, Ane alle men and wymmen are but Players.  He made the mistake of pausing, and another inspiration sleeted down, sending his train of thought off along an entirely new track.
   He looked at what he had written and added: Except Those who selle popcorn.
   After a While he crossed this out, and tried: Like unto thee Staje of a Theater ys this World, whereon alle Persons strut as Players.  This seemed a bit better.
  He thought for a bit, and continued conscientiously: Sometimes they walke on. Sometimes they walke off.  

* If you're not a theatre nerd, this is a delightful reference to The Globe theatre.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tournament of Books!

Update on the Tournament of Books... I saw my dad creating one of these... bracket things (?) for what I believe was recent basketball activity.  I have only read two of the books in the tournament, but there are quite a few others I'm interested in (The Art of Fielding, The Sense of An Ending, and Swamplandia).  The two books I have read happened to be against each other - The Marriage Plot vs. Green Girl - surely quite randomly as they have little to do with each other in basically any way.  I thought Edith Zimmerman's judging was hilarious and the "Match Commentary" rather astute.   Obviously The Marriage Plot comes out on top, but I do think it's a very odd pairing.  Maybe that's how these bracket things (???) work for all I know.


Then I noticed Zimmerman interviewed Zambreno on The Hairpin.  It was only partially awkward because Zimmerman like, straight-up said she didn't like the book, but then they managed to have a nice conversation.

Bracket thing

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Orange Prize Longlist

The Orange Prize Longlist has been announced and there are some great looking books on it.  I find it to be a consistant indicator of excellent women writers.

I've only read one book from the list - The Forgotten Waltz, by the inimitable Anne Enright.  I've been hearing good things about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and I've been meaning to read some Emma Donoghue.  Looks like this list might be a good resource if you're looking for something to read!


Monday, March 12, 2012

"Unspeakably irritating"

Apparently Jonathan Franzen critized Twitter by saying it was the "the ultimate irresponsible medium."

The full quote is:

“It’s a free country. People can do whatever they want within the law, and even some things not within the law…I personally was on Facebook for two weeks as part of a piece of journalism I was writing — it seemed sort of dumb to me. Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium.
In response, some folks on Twitter have been posting to #jonathanfranzenhates, mostly proving his point but there are some funny lines, like:

 the moon.Its light is unspeakably dishonest + no more than a reflection

 Wordprocessors. *Real* writers etch their words onto the parchment through quills filled with their own blood & saliva

 Emoticons, because it takes 600 pages to accurately convey emotion.

  Jennifer Weiner. Or is it the other way around?

Monday, March 05, 2012

No Kids

I remember when Corinne Maier's book, No Kid: Quarante Raisons de ne pas Avoir d'Enfant, was published in France a few years ago, there was something of an outcry in the states, even though it was in French and wasn't even available here.  I also remember thinking: I wish my French was a LOT better.  

As someone who does not intend to have children, I found (the English translation of) No Kids: 40 Good Reasons not to have Children absolutely delightful.  Maier is an instigator, and a lot of the time she's just digging for a fight, but, it's true that this world  is made for rewarding people with kids, while families without kids are viewed as bizarre anomalies, something to be either pitied or looked at askance.  If you don't believe me, I would be happy to regale you with hilarious stories of moronic things people have said to me over the years, viv as vis my childlessness.  (I prefer childfree, and was mildly disappointed to see the same term in Maier's book - I thought I had invented the term!  But, see, that's just how rare we, the childfree, are.)

Each short chapter expands on her good reasons not to have kids, like "You keep your friends" and  "Kids are the death knell of the couple" and "Don't revert to childhood" and "Motherhood is a trap for Women."  What's kind of interesting is that Maier actually HAS kids, so she offers a unique perspective on the topic - that rare person that's actually willing to admit that having kids is not as much fun as it's cracked up to be, and that she often actually regrets having kids (I've NEVER heard an American say that!)  Shocking as it may be to hear someone disparage their own children in print, I think it's worth keeping a level head and remembering that while her thesis is meaningful, some of her methods are clearly satirical.

I love cultural tidbits, so one of my favorite parts was about the term "Merdeuf", a mash up of mère de famille, which means mother of the family.  Of course, merdeuf sounds like "shit" and "egg" (merde and oeuf), so its slangily loose translation is "egg shitter"... a bit more bite than Soccer Mom, n'est-ce pas?

It's not entirely clear who Maier is writing this book for.  Partly it seems to stick it to parents ("Having a child is the best possible way to avoid asking what the meaning of life is, as everything revolves around that child, who is a marvelous substitute for the existential quest.")  Partly it's for people like me ("The famous glass ceiling stops women from getting the top jobs, and those jobs do have one great advantage: the higher you rise, the fewer idiots there are above you.  It is not astonishing that biographies of successful women never fail to note the number of children they've had: those are the obstacles they've had to overcome in order to make something interesting out of their lives.") But, for the most part, I think she's really an anti-capitalist.  What she returns to again and again is how children are a strain on resources, and are seemingly preconditioned to desire things.  She writes about how much pressure there is on parents to buy endless cycles of plastic shit for their kids. Like me, she fears a world with increasing population, fewer and fewer natural resources, a fairly horrifying unemployment rate, and an increasingly grim outlook for the next generation.

I wouldn't really recommend this book to any one who already has kids, in my experience most people find it necessary to defend their choice to have children when others merely state their choice not to.  They'd spend the whole book saying, "That's not true, I had fun just the other day!"  If you don't intend to have kids, or are thinking about the subject, like me, you might be gratified to see some of your feelings expressed in print for once, and at the very least have a really good laugh.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Ideal Bookshelf

A cool art project by Jane Mount, who paints people's "ideal bookshelves" (gouache & ink).  Speaking of drawings and books, I've been thinking of revitalizing my erstwhile idea to draw pictures from scenes in books I read.  Despite the fact that I am, in fact, a pretty terrible artist.  Last night I did a drawing/watercolor from Crossed, but it's so ugly I now consider it a "draft" and will try another version.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Matched & Crossed

I listened to Matched "on tape" and recently read the second book in the trilogy, Crossed, on M's Kindle.  I merely mention it because those are slightly non-conventional reading methods and did have an influence on how I perceived the books.
They're YA books by Allie Condy, about a young girl (15? 16?) in the not-so-distant future who lives in a very controlled world where The Society keeps a close eye on everyone, regulates what they eat, drink, even regulates  dreams and decides when people die (on their 80th birthdays).  They choose marriage partners, and Cassia gets "matched" with her friend, Xander.  But then, like, somehow she's really matched with this other guy, Ky (to tell the truth I forget how that all worked... it's been a while) and, anyway, she sort of starts falling for Ky.

In the second book, Crossed, (Spoilers re: Matched here), Ky's been outcast to this other place so Cassia sort of outcasts herself to go find him.  A lot of the book takes place in the wilderness, which is a major change for these folks who've been basically eating nothing but TV dinners their whole lives.  The wilderness bits had an inevitable Hunger Games feel to them (which I rather liked) and I've been semi-developing a theory about young characters and the rejection of the structured environment.  But more on that some other day.

As everyone knows, when one is reading a book like this, one is constantly comparing it to that Standard Bearer of all Dystopian Novels - you know what I'm talking about - The Handmaid's Tale, by the great Margaret Atwood.  So, how does Condy compare to Atwood?  Not too bad...  She creates a really rich and engaging landscape for the characters.  I also really like how she uses poetry as subversion - Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night and a few things by Emily Dickinson that I'm too lazy to look up.  The citizens of this place carry around pills that the society tells them to take at various points - that's very effective because they're a bit of a mystery, and the more Cassia questions the society, the more the reader questions those sneaky pills!

As far as YA books go, what I really loved about Crossed was how brave Cassia is.  She's a great role model for young women: question authority, use your head, trust your instincts.  Another nice aspect is that she's not getting saved by the male hero; she's a clear heroine in this story, not a helpless princess.  Here's Ky thinking about Xander:  "This isn't a game. He's not my opponent and Cassia's not a prize."  Hell yeah she isn't!  Eat it, Stephanie Meyer!  

Sometimes Condy's prose goes a bit blue, but I have a very high tolerance for that sort of thing - this is the only bit of alliteration abundance (see what I did there?) that made me roll my eyes: "Seeing the wind wave the water and brush the branches reminds me that, before I returned to the Society, I crossed over rivers and canyons."

The third book comes out this fall, and I'm looking forward to finding out how it ends!