May 12, 2010

Hunger - it's what's for dinner!

I was unable to write. Everything around bothered me and distracted me; everything I saw obsessed me. If only one good thought would rush in, then words would come!

The setting sun bounced off the deep blue horizon, like a medicine ball dropped on a Doberman Pinscher from a great height, then rolling into a fireplace and immolating itself like a Phoenix turned to ash. (Paul) I went to a friend's house. His name was Stan. He gave me food, for my writing. (John) Stan is a very controlling host. I wonder what his next book will be. Seems like he enjoys the senses (Blindness, Hunger), so what's next? (unsigned) Yes, Stan is testing us. But we cannot be fooled! We want our food!!! (Tom J.) F&*# this! (Andrew)

They try to divert me, with stories of voyeuristic children's toys and tales of home construction, men riding high on giant wooden beams suspended from cranes, like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. Young people are triumphing in lacrosse and water polo, going to new high schools and new colleges. They have hopes and futures to look forward to. I have a blog entry.

"One roast beef!" I said. I started eating; gradually I became more and more ravenous and swallowed whole pieces without chewing them. I tore at the meat like a cannibal. Chips, guacamole, salsa, salad, potatoes. How can such foods fuel my masterpiece? Bread, yes bread is my friend, but so much good wine and beer makes my writing insane, or annoying (but not funny).

Thoughts of last night's adventure flooded over me, made me almost delirious. I remember that they talked of the book. (That twit translator George Egerton! That thoughtless writer-of-other-people's-forewords Paul Auster! I will not waste my spit on them.) It was like a vein opening, one word followed the other, arranged themselves in right order, created situations; scene piled on scene, actions and conversations welled up. Every word I set down came from somewhere else:

  • "It gave me a better perspective on homeless people and the psychosis of hunger." (Dean)

  • "It reminds us that homeless people have a lot going on inside." (George)

  • "It was a stream of consciousness, but of a bipolar schizo. His writing was more intelligent than his actions. I like to see characters change and grow, to be affected by something." (Larry)

  • "It was a boring, irritating, honest character study of someone going crazy. Did he imagine the woman? Who would be attracted to him?" (Paul)

  • "My ADD and his psychosis didn't match. I kept falling asleep after reading only 2 pages; it was brutal. All acute angles, with no rhyme or reason." (John)

  • "The book is amazing in a historical context, portraying the amorphous life of the subconscious. But no one progressed - was there a method to his madness or was he just a whack job? It reminded me of the fish in the Citi Card commercial." (Doug)
    (at 0:20 mark in )

  • "I struggled to like it at first, but it grew on me. Why was he honest with the girl? He had a compulsion to be outdoors and on the outskirts." (Andrew)

  • "I tried to hate it, but I ended up loving it. It's funnier than crap, because the guy is such a moron." (Dan)

  • "I skipped ahead 50 pages, and the same things were still happening." (Dean)

  • "This book is an important byway of literature, but really hard to read, like Crime and Punishment, but without all the happy, fun parts. What would great fictional characters be like if they were medicated?" (Tom A.)

  • "It was almost comical, but reading it was such torture that reaching the ending came as a relief. The author keeps putting him in "no, don't do that" situations, but he's completely self-destructive, and he keeps trying to drag in God. You can see how this book is related to Kafka, Camus and Nietzsche." (Stan)

  • "It was OK." (Tom J.)

  • They say the protagonist denied himself opportunities, but maybe deprivation is exactly what he needed to bring out the worst in his writing. It has worked for me.

    It was the best piece I had ever read in my life. I became giddy with contentment, gladness swelled up in me, I felt myself to be magnificent. Then I stopped, my head was empty, I couldn't do any more. It was time to end the whole business now! I began staring with eyes wide open at these final words, at this unfinished page. At the end, I couldn't understand what was going on, I had no thoughts at all.

    May 11, 2010

    Paul's Book Suggestions for June

    I’m departing a bit from the usual “here is the long review of each book from some famous source” and distilling this (or dropping this down to) a level that makes it easier to decide. I’ve included what I think are the two key decision points for this group – identifying each books’ level of misogynism, and outlining the likely dinner for the evening. After all, if you’d known you’d be eating gonads, would you have voted for Power of the Dog?

    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, 541 pages

    Review quotes: “Brilliant and hugely ambitious…it’s the kind of book that can be life changing” (New York Times) “Thought provoking, life-affirming, triumphant, and tragic” (The Guardian)

    My take: While we’re just coming out of a reading of another one of Stan’s depression and claustrophobia inducing books, Zusak’s view of Nazi Germany in the early years of the war through both the eyes of Death and a young girl is intriguing and thought provoking. It also addresses the Jewish persecution in a slightly different way. OK, it’s a bit north of 500 pages, but many of those pages are short ones with “Death” commentary, and it’s a decidedly different view of the war. The pages turn quickly.

    Level of Misogynism: Moderate.

    Dinner: I ain’t cooking German because it’s not my thing, but I’ll take some liberties with this and say I can choose any country they conquered during the first couple years of the war. I’m thinking a big Greek party meal on the patio with a view of the bay.

    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 480 pages

    Review quotes: “Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show” (NY Times) “Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic, and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up Shadow of the Wind” (Washington Post)

    My take: Totally biased, given what I did last summer (that would be my vacation to Spain, not those other things you’re not supposed to mention). This book is set in Barcelona over the years following WWII, as a young boy is growing up and dealing with love, evil characters, mystery, and especially, books. He works in his father’s antiquarian bookstore, makes friends with odd and fascinating people, faces danger and women (sometimes both at once) and tries to reconcile the present with the past. The story is good. The writing is great. I found myself frequently stopping and reading quotes to anyone around me; I found it that well written.

    Level of Misogynism: Moderate.

    Dinner: Think Spain. Sangria, homemade gazpacho, tapas, various meats, a wonderful spread of tastes and good Rioja.

    The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, 321 pages

    Review quotes: “Joyful in its language, creative in its narration, and affecting in its story, this is a terrific book” (Seattle Times) “…had me riveted to its pages until the book was finished…just read it” (Peter Egan, Road & Track)

    My take: This isn’t a book with massive gravitas, but if you want an enjoyable, fast-paced summer read, this is the book of the bunch to plump for. The story is told through the eyes of Enzo, a dog, who is probably smarter than humans but of course can’t actually talk. His “owner” is an amateur race car driver. We see a life story (of the human) as seen from Enzo’s perspective. Sort of a more adult Marley and Me, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not a book that will score at the top of our ratings because it’s not some serious, dark novel. But who cares? You don’t have to like racing to like this book, but if you do, bonus. And, if you don’t like racing, you’re not a real man (remember, Hemingway said “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”)

    Level of Misogynism:  N/A

    Dinner: A bit of a wild card. Then again, as Enzo and his human love watching Formula One Grands Prix, I can probably pick any track’s country for the dinner. Let’s see…there is a Spanish Grand Prix…

    Women by Charles Bukowski, 290 pages

    Review quotes: Doesn’t matter. It’s Bukowski.

    My take: OK, let’s get past the fact that I can love this book simply for the fact that its title seems anathema to our club, yet it’s written by one of the crustiest misogynists who ever lived. What fun. It is raw, direct, and foul. The level of sex and drinking in this makes Tropic of Cancer look minor league by comparison. What’s not to like about a book that starts out “I was 50 years old and hadn’t been to bed with a woman for four years”, then has our (protagonist? AntiChrist? whatever) go berserk with women. He becomes a famous poet, “reveling in his sudden rock star life, running three hundred hangovers a year, and maintaining a sex life that would cripple Casanova”. You won’t vote for this as best book of the year, but it doesn’t matter. Just don’t let your kids pick it up.

    Level of Misogynism: High.

    Dinner: Whisky. Beer. Wine. Hard liquor drinks. More whisky. And something to eat to keep it all down.