Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In This Post, I Talk Aimlessly About Books

I started a draft about my D.C./Texas trip back in the first week of November. I had images of tour groups on segways alongside all the marbled monuments and wrote briefly about how I thought segways were lazy and that no tour guide in New York would be caught dead in it (Seriously. The pedestrians would trample 'em – we stroll faster than segways on full speed.) I put quite a bit of effort into it and considered publishing the part I wrote but decided against it.

Truthfully, I've been very deflated lately. Cannonball Read 2 is over – it ended on November 1 – and I no longer have to read and write reviews on a deadline, so my blog now seems to lack purpose. The Pajiba staff highlighted the end of CBR2 and I was happy for everyone who made it to their 52nd book, and even to those who got close. Hell, I'm happy for anyone who tried (writing reviews is fucking hard.) But it made me sad that I couldn't bring myself to really care considering how excited I was about it in the beginning.

I have continued reading though. At first, I thought I would continue the Read until I reach the 52nd. But I prefer reading without pressure and reading without keeping track of what number that book is, so I threw that idea out.

Though I've mentioned that writing reviews are tough, I do enjoy them because sometimes I might not discover I have a certain thought about a book until after I've teased it out Blogger's blank space. So as much as I can (as much as I am motivated to), I think I should try and review the books I want to review, and even those that I don't necessarily want to review, but that I think might be interesting to others.

You know what I hate about writing blogs? How many times I say the word "I." It's incredibly self-indulgent and I often find myself trying to think up of synonyms for "I" without the sentence sounding awkward.

This digression aside, here are the books that have been keeping me preoccupied the past month:

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I don't remember Cat's Cradle; the only thing that saved Woodward's book from his bone-dry writing is the interesting insight we get to the White House on Afghanistan; and The Hunger Games was good and fun, but no Golden Compass. I will, however, still give the other two books in the trilogy a chance – I love Young Adult books (thanks for recommending them, Blakspring and Jen. K!)

Currently, I am reading War by Sebastian Junger. I am enjoying it immensely and I can't wait to write a review of it (this is where the reader says, "Hah, if that happens.") Junger was one of the directors of Restrepo, a documentary he directed with Tim Hetherington about a platoon of American soldiers on an outpost in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. I have yet to see the documentary, and the book is giving me serious regret for missing it when it came out during the summer.

There's not much else I can or will say about my life. I don't write about it here a lot - really, there's not much to write about. You know why I enjoy reading? Because, in most books, there is often a sense of purpose with each character, be they fictional or non-. That's why there are whole chapters written about them, about their adventures and failures. The characters may have failed, but they failed so spectacularly because they cared so much. If they win, or if there is a favorable conclusion, then more power to them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hopefully, Sanity Prevails

This past Saturday, me and 200,000 other people assembled at the National Mall for the Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear. This is how nuts it was:


BOOM! Saturday

Now, lots of people have asked me how the rally was for me. Truthfully, it was very cramped and uncomfortable because I was constantly surrounded by people taller than me and I really couldn't see a thing. I also got pretty cranky because I didn't eat before going, and I was jealous of the people who were standing near trees.

They were multiplying like bunnies! That's the same tree!

Despite being vertically-challenged, I am so happy to have gone, and was so proud of having been there to actually experience and support it. More than that, I was amazed at the turnout. It wasn't just young college-aged kids! There were a ton of older people, a ton of Southern accents and I was just so happy to have my preconceived notions about these two groups be wrong.

Since then, I haven't really paid attention to Internet chatter about the rally. Hell, I was there – why should I read some other person's analysis of it? However, someone mentioned to me that he was disappointed that it was mostly performances and not much political commentary. Frankly, I think having that expectation of the rally really misses the point of it.

When I heard about this back in September, it wasn't the prospect of the evisceration of conservatives (or Glenn Beck) that compelled me to rearrange my weekend plans (I had to be at a wedding in Texas on the 31st.) For me, it was an opportunity to show that I am one of the people in America who is disturbed by all the mindless shouting that we've been exposed to for the past two years. Seriously, I wouldn't have cared if all Stewart & Co. did was stand on stage and read the phone book. I was just so happy to be surrounded by people who felt that all the shouting and stupid punditry of the past two years has been harmful to our country. I mean, I sincerely hope that news organizations will get the message: We actually care about the news and we want you to rise above the fray. Stop grabbing at the lowest-hanging fruit.

The other message: Not all Americans are angry. Many of us also stand for progressive values and are willing to have a discussion about it. This might not have been talked about during the rally, but that wasn't the point. The point was that 200,000+ people showed up to stand elbow-to-elbow in an open field, to hold up silly signs and get jostled by the crowd for three hours. Why? Because we, the "normal" people, matter too.

Jon Stewart:
Do you want to know why I'm here and what I want from you? I can only assure you this – you've already given it to me: Your presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. And to see you here today, and the kind of people that you are, has restored mine.

PS. I still have a post coming on my D.C. trip/Texas wedding. I managed to squeeze some sightseeing in between my sanity-restoring.

PPS. Yes, I am aware that I am writing this on a late Tuesday night, which means that I already know the election results. Yes, I still have faith – but believe me, watching the live coverage of the blood bath was not fun.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cannonball Read #36: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

There's been so much written about "Freedom" that I feel like quite an amateur putting my two cents into the cacophony of opinions (" ... a work of total genius," "A book people are eager to love or hate for reasons mostly unrelated to the words on the pages," "This is his glory and his curse.") I had read "The Corrections" about three years ago and found myself blown away by how amazing it was ... and then I promptly forgot about it. No, seriously, ask me about the plot and characters and I draw a blank except for the general gist: Dad has Alzheimer's; Mom's kind of a bitch and is possibly on speed; sister is a lesbian/home-wrecker; brother is over-educated, flaky and he travels to some country for money. (A giant "Maybe?" to what I just typed because I am not going to look it up.)

That's not to say that I think Franzen isn't an effective writer. I remember getting really invested in his book while reading it - I just read it so quickly that I failed, over time, to really retain any of it. And I think the same thing happened with "Freedom." As usual, I decided that typing the review a month after I've read the book is the smartest thing to do, especially when the book clocks in at 500+ pages (No, it's not the smartest thing to do.) However, my spotty memory after this short delay best illustrates why I consider Franzen to be both a great and a pulp-y writer. The man writes literal page-turners and I devour his words so quickly and urgently - not unlike the way I read Dan Brown (don't judge). I don't read Franzen the way I read Steinbeck or Vonnegut, where I chew over the words and meaning and nuance, which isn't to say that there aren't any. I just can't seem to stop myself from flying over his words.

He also excels at characters. They are neurotic and compelling, simultaneously appealing and appalling because I can see so much of myself (and people I know) in them. Moreover, plot is so minute that I am constantly amazed that he had managed to interest me in a run-of-a-mill wife-cheats-on-husband story. Really, the general plot is not that intricate, but the characters' roles in their very painfully ordinary lives suffuse the clich├ęs with newness.

Unless you've been steadfastly ignoring every magazine/website for the past three months, chances are you already know the plot. But if not, you're going to be surprised by how boring it sounds. Walter and Patty Berglund are a long-suffering married couple with two children. Walter is the rock of family, trying to keep the neuroses and unhappiness of his stay-at-home wife in check while working a full-time job to keep his family happy. But the family isn't happy – not really. The son, Joey, is a cocky know-it-all who wants to have-it-all, cake-candles-icing-whole-nine-yards; the daughter, Jessica, is the only sane person in the household, but the inattention the family gives her makes me think there can be a sequel coming from Franzen focused on her titled "The Therapy Sessions." Patty has been harboring a crush on Walter's best friend, Richard, for years, and finally consummates her desires when Walter leaves the two of them in his cabin home.

As I said, it is not the most earth-shattering concept ever, but it really is very, very good. Sometimes, people like to gush about the It Books because it's trendy to do so – and I think they like feeling smart too. "Freedom" may be an It Book but I do think Franzen's talents are worthy of all the praise because it can definitely stand up to – and even exceed – expectations.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cannonball Read #35: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

(I've decided to create a "Neil Gaiman" tag for my posts since I've read so much of his work.)

I read "Good Omens" close to about a month ago, and the details are a little hazy in my brain. I am, however, really glad that I actually bought the book, because I can go back and reread it. This book was so much fun to read, and parts of it had me guffawing on my morning subway ride to work. "Good Omens" is definitely my favorite Gaiman so far, and the fact that it is a collaboration with Terry Pratchett is not lost on me.

The story is about an on-coming apocalypse brought upon by the Anti-Christ, who was raised as a human boy on Earth by human parents, and an angel and demon's race to stop it. No, not really - it's more than that.

It's also about the prophecies of a crazy-accurate witch, Agnes, from the 1655 and her descendant, Anathema, trying to interpret the crazy babble about the circumstances of the apocalypse. She meets the descendant to the witch-hunter who killed Agnes, and (as it is already written in Agnes' prophecies) starts developing fuzzy feelings for him. But it's not just that.

It's about the friendship between an angel and a demon who actually both quite like the world they live in, and do not wish for it to be destroyed. So they start giving the young Anti-Christ a balanced education of both good and evil, so that he will be persuaded to not destroy the Earth. Too bad they got the wrong boy - he's as normal as can be, except for the fact that he can probably now recite some really strange nursery rhymes. Aziraphale and Crowley's friendship was some of my favorite parts of the book. They were sarcastic and acerbic and wonderfully real to each other.

It's about a young boy named Adam who loves the town he has grown up in and loves his friends, family and life - that when given the chance to taste enormous power, he decides to do the very grown-up thing of just sitting back and letting his parents ground him.

Finally, it's about never being able to plan something as specific as life and death, especially if it's for the decimation of an entire world. Something/demon/angel/child is always going to come along and fuck up the plans for boom-boom wars.

As you can see, it is very difficult for me to write a coherent synopsis of this book (and not just because I waited a month to write it). It's mostly hilarious and partly sad, and there are also some very interesting ideas about fate here that would probably only give me a headache if I think too hard about it. This is definitely one to reread, if only just to see if I caught all the jokes and details.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guess where I'm going?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

I'm going to Texas on Halloween for a friend's wedding!

Oh, and also that Rally To Restore Sanity thing in D.C. the day before.

Fuck yea! It took some finangling (a lot of back and forth was had between me and me and friend-wth-car and bride-to-be this weekend about this) but I'm able to do both and I am so excited!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Doomed Lovers At The Train Station

Last Saturday, a friend gave me tickets to see the Broadway play, Brief Encounter. I knew nothing about it and went into the Studio 54 theater completely blind. My initial judgment of it was that it was very British and far too quirkiwhimsilicious (that's on the bad side of quirky where the whimsy feels forced).

By the end of the hour and a half, I was completely sold. Most plays try to transport you to a different time and place with the costumes and appropriate props, and director Emma Rice certainly had the stage decked out with pre-World War II nostagia. But it was really the intensity of the emotions portrayed by the actors and the literal interpretation of two lovers getting caught up in a torrent of emotions that left my insides feeling strangely raw.

For those who do not know, Brief Encounter is based on a Noel Coward and David Lean film from 1945 of the same name. Laura, a housewife, meets Alec, a young doctor who is married as well, by chance and they fall in love. The story is incredibly simply, but this does not diminish its tragic end. It's strange that in today's films we have to have something huge and substantial happen to the characters - someone's dying of cancer or there's a huge betrayal or there is a great sacrifice - for us to feel like it was something worth crying over.

With Laura and Alec, it was simply that they fell in love but could not be together because both had their own families. In the end, they had to "be sensible" – keeping their feelings buttoned up in their stiff period costumes, yet knowing that their hearts were irrevocably broken. I left the darkened theater feeling both alive and numbed by the sheer onslaught of emotions, and was astonished that I could feel these things after having initially felt disdain for the two lovers.

It was such a pleasant coincidence then that this week's New York Magazine did an article on the design of the play. The piece included this sketch below, which was created by Neil Murray, the scene-and costume designer. I think it perfectly encapsulates the tragic romance.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Food They Carry

This post is dedicated to Jen K. Stay safe in Iraq.

Ashley Gilbertson – a war photographer who I recognized as Dexter Filkin's colleague in his book, The Forever War (BEST BOOK EVER) – recently wrote an interesting article in The New York Times about the types of food that the troops in Iraq carry. Each country's combat ration hold practical items, but there are also foods that serve to remind a soldier of his home. The American Meals Ready to Eat (M.R.E.) include peanut butter and tortillas; the Swedes and Norwegians have cod stew with sour cream and potato; the Germans have goulash.

Gilbertson also put together a neat interactive where he photographed each country's combat ration and their foods against a lighted-up surface.* I included some of my favorites below. If you have some time, you should take a look at the article and click through the interactive.

United States - I love that they get skittles.

South Korea - Of course there's kimchi.

Ukraine - I really liked how bland and drab this country's food looked compared to all the other countries.

Ashley Gilbertson wrote:
In combat, eating is often the only good thing about a day. When a soldier or marine sits down to warm up his M.R.E., he’s not being shot at, he’s not losing friends. It’s almost a ritual, and the very act of opening one of these packages suggests safety, however brief it may be.

*It's sort of reminiscent of what David Littschwager did with his One Cubic Foot project in National Geographic - where he went to different locations and stuck an alloted space of about cubic foot, then took living organism out to photograph them and made it into a photo collage.

All photos by Ashley Gilbertson/VII Network, For The New York Times.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cannonball Read #34: Up In The Air by Walter Kirn

I finished Walter Kirn's Up In The Air in a day and a half. Just zoomed right through, and I felt like I was speed-reading at times. Kirn's writing style made me want to gobble up each following sentence, because all the observations of his protagonist, Ryan Bingham, were sharp and hilarious. I felt like I was getting a peek at 50 different stereotypes in a single paragraph, and I really enjoyed it.

If you've seen the movie, toss it out. The movie is great in its own right (I love the movie even though it depresses me), but the book that it was adapted from is very different. Ryan Bingham is a constantly air-bound corporate flack who is in "Career Transitions" (a euphemism for "He fires people for companies") obsessed with reaching the millionth-mile mark on his frequent flyer miles - that much is the same. However, he has already decided in the beginning that he wants to quit his job and is just using his company to get his last remaining miles in to hit his goal.

Much of the novel deals with his perfect schedule getting messed up or the general feeling that he is being messed with. You don't really sympathize with his frustrations so much as you laugh at them, and then cheer as he adapts to them (either with a swig of liquor or by popping pills). He spouts generalisms and platitudes throughout the book, but does not see that he himself is a stereotype. His fear of commitment and the way he keeps track of his miles only serve to remind us that he is running away from something. Ryan reveals a lot of information about himself, but only a few of them are valuable. It is our job to guess whether if he is sharing or if he is about to throw us a curve ball.

I'm not sure how Kirn managed to get me to root for such a jerk, but he did it. The only person Ryan was nice to (without an ulterior motive) was his screw-up kid sister who was about to get married for the third time. With everyone else, he calculates his advantage, their disadvantage, the possible outcomes - much like he does with his miles and his credit card rewards. Though he is completely screwed up, he knows it. It only took a million miles to figure it out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cannonball Read #33: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Like Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Isihiguro infuses When We Were Orphans with a sense of measured nonchalance. While reading, I could imagine Christopher Banks sitting across from me and just talking his thoughts out, just him and I having an easy conversation. But his words, the events that he speaks of, are a slow, gradual build up - like he is carefully trying to tiptoe around the real point of his story.

In the beginning, Christopher leads us through his high-society life in London and early success as a detective. He befriends a young lady, Sarah, who is also an orphan. He never talks about the cases that he is solving - there is almost a sense of, "But you already know, so why should I boast about my achievements?" - but fills us in on his childhood in Shanghai. He had moved to England after his father and mother disappeared, and in the second half of the book, he travels back to his old home country, now changed irrevocably by the Sino-Japanese War, to try and find out how he became an orphan.

It certainly says something about Ishiguro's craft that I can simultaneously be bored by his words and intrigued by the meaning behind his writing. I was curious about Christopher throughout the book. He may present himself as a very adaptable and intelligent person, but there are hints offered that this is not a universal perception. Early in the book, an old classmate referred to him as an "odd bird," while another later said that he was a "miserable loner." Christopher took offense to these characterizations because he felt that he had always been able to mimic his classmates in their normalcy.

There was also the impression that if he solved the case of his missing parents, the Sino-Japanese War would stop raging. At certain points, I wondered if we were in some alternate universe and that Christopher was being an unreliable narrator by neglecting to tell his that he was the Prince of England or something. Other times, I thought the other British expatriates were making fun of him and his self-importance by fawning over him and the extremely unlikely return of his parents.

In the end, I'm not sure these things matter. At first, I saw the story as a mystery with the discovery of Christopher's parents to be the end point. Throughout the book, I was disturbed by how his perception of himself and the perception that people had of him seemed incongruent. How could we trust his memories of his childhood and of his parents' disappearance? What is ironic is that his profession brings to mind an image of objectivity; the man has solved many difficult cases and been lauded as one of the brightest minds in London society. Yet his existence - the way he sees himself and sees the world around him - is such a fragment to me. Though I trust that he thinks his version is the truth, I do not believe it is the truth.

Does that even make sense? All I know is that after I finished the book, I was left feeling sad for Christopher. Not because of his parents or his missed chances with Sarah, but because he still managed to hold us at arm's length even after revealing the saddest events in his life. Is this the result of having lost his parents and never quite being able to come to terms with their disappearance? There are no answers about that, and Christopher is more than happy to ignore his unhappiness. However, for me, there remains a sense of a wasted life.

Cannonball Read #32: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Everyone's been raving about this book and I've been seeing it all over the subway, so when my friend lent it to me, I figured, why not?

Well, let me count the reasons why (not):

1) It is slow. I was promised a thrilling ride of mystery and intrigue. What I got was 200-plus pages of exposition before it actually got good.

2) I know that this book was translated from Swedish, but they really should have gotten a second English-speaking editor to look over the translated text. Because it just read so awkwardly - like it's been translated. (An example: "...kicked his backside" instead of "kick his ass/butt." Anything would have been better than "backside.")

3) I was at my local bar chatting with random people and mentioned that I was reading the book. They asked me which part I was at, I told 'em, and they said that I haven't gotten into the weird sexual parts yet and that it gets really good. I got to the weird sexual parts and I thought, "It took him 200-plus pages to get to this?" To say I was disappointed is a big understatement.

4) I wanted to know more about Lisbeth, and less about Mikael. Mikael annoyed me, and Lisbeth intrigued me. However, by the end, they had both aggravated me so thoroughly that I can safely say that I do not care about the rest of the trilogy.

For those who don't know the plot: This rich old man wants Mikael Blomkvist to study his huge household and find out what happened to his niece, who disappeared years and years ago. Mikael takes way too long to learn all the relatives' names and a couple months into his "investigation" (I call what he did in the first part of his year "crammed reading." I did it in college... during a weekend before finals) he makes some breakthrough and decides to hire Lisbeth Salander, a skilled researcher, to help him solve the mystery of the Missing Niece. Because obviously he realizes he did not have the skills to move ahead since it took him so effing long to get to a plot development.

Lisbeth is some enigma because she has lots of tattoos and doesn't like smiling or talking (Swedish people should come to New York. We are full of "enigmas" here). She has a checkered past and there are things referred to as The Bad Time. I assume this will be explored in the next two books but I honestly do not care. (Swedish readers, did Larsson really call it "The Bad Time" in Swedish? Seriously?) Lisbeth also freelances for some company that basically does background checks on people and her boss thinks of her as a friend/daughter/lusty object - but that's only because of her lack of talking/smiling and lots of tattoos.

During the course of this book, Mikael gets laid by three different women. I simply do not get it - he was a bore.

Look, I know this isn't supposed to be a great, important novel. But the plot dragged, and by the time I was ready to give up on it, it got exciting, so of course - since I had invested all that time on it - I had to finish it. And when I finished it, I was just annoyed. Because the payoff was really not worth it. Everyone disses Dan Brown books because they are stupidly written (they are) and there are some plot holes (oh God, so many) but at least his books are fast-paced and it gets into the action immediately.

Anyway, I just do not get the craze over this. However, I can see how it would make a great movie because they would (hopefully) gloss over all that BLAH BLAH BLAH SHOOT ME THIS IS SO BORING and get straight into the action.

Note: I am so annoyed at this book that I will not give it a header picture.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cannonball Read #31: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

When I was in college, I took an international reporting class taught by this unforgettable woman. She began her reporting career by covering the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, and has since traveled all over Europe and the Middle East as a freelance journalist. I remember her recounting a story about getting caught in crossfire and catching a bullet on her leg while trying to interview a dictator. They kept telling her that she had to leave, get out of there, take care of her leg – but she insisted on completing the interview because she was worried she wouldn't get the chance anytime soon. The only reason why the dictator even answered her questions was because he was so impressed by her, she said.

Though I admire the career that my professor has and thought she was a fantastic teacher, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that she was nuts. And that was what I kept thinking while reading The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. The man is an amazing reporter and writer, and I am crushing on him so hard right now. But he has to be so incredibly fucked up to be able to do what he has done for so long.

Picture a soldier who comes home from war and who has lost soem of his friends in battle. He probably has some form of PTSD and is, understandably, withdrawn from his former life. What Filkins experiences seems so much more insane and unfathomable. Not only is he caught in its crossfire, he has to put himself at an emotional distance from the deaths and mayhem so that he can write about it for the paper. Filkins may not be shooting anyone, but he's certainly seen many people go down, and he has even had a soldier die because of him. He has come so close and escaped death so many times that he sometimes has a dangerous sense of recklessness. During his moments of arrogance, he believes that he is invincible – he will never be shot down/snipered dead/kidnapped for a ransom.

The craziest thing? Filkins is able to gather all these memories and pull them together into a beautifully moving account of one of deadliest wars in our recent history. If you have read any of his pieces for The New York Times, they are often very straight-forward, journalese articles of who, what, when, why. This certainly exists in his book, but the gravity of the war is enhanced by how very human all the players are. The marines that he and his photographer, Ashley, followed in Falluja; the insurgents who never quite know how to handle an American who is not in the military; the people who plead to him to tell their stories; the suicide bombers who might not have known what they had signed up for; Filkins' Iraqi translators and drivers, caught between their world and their work, who have saved his life more times than he can count – I read it all with a knot in my throat.

This has been the most affecting book so far during the Cannonball Read. Each time I got to my stop while reading it on the train, I always felt like I was being slapped, jolted into full-consciousness. How is it that the world I live in is real, and thousands of miles away there can be people fighting and dying and hurting and pleading – and that's real too? The disconnect is just too great.

(PS. The New York Times Magazine published an article that was adapted from book, if you're are interested in taking a look at it.)

Photo Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cannonball Read #30: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I went through The Book Thief so quickly, just zoomed right through it and it completely broke my heart in the end.

Narrated by Death, the story traces the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Nazi Germany. Death has met Liesel three times in her life, starting with the death of her little brother as they were being trucked to their foster parents in another town. Stopping at a nearby town to bury her little brother, Liesel managed to snatch up a book from the young undertaker filling up the small grave. The book is The Grave Digger's Handbook. Her foster father teaches her how to read the book during the night whenever she wakes up from her nightmares of her little brother dying. During the day, Liesel plays with her friends, especially with Rudy, who is in love with her. Her foster family are also hiding a Jewish man in their basement who eventually becomes Liesel's friend.

I'm really not sure what else I can say about this. Nazi Germany is seen in the point of view of a young girl. This means that we are able to feel her joy when she gets to joke with her friends or when she reads a book; it also means we feel her pain when she loses those friends and her family. Liesel is easy to identify with, but there were points when I wished I could be more removed from her emotions.

Death also has no qualms about telling you how the story ends. He makes it clear in the beginning that it's not about the ending, but about how Liesel, and us readers, arrives there. This sounds cliche, but though I knew what was going to happen, I was still deeply affected when I got to the event. Zusak had me wishing that Death would be lying about certain things, even though I knew that there was no "trick ending."

*****The Book Thief – Last Line*****
I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.

Cannonball Read #29: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This review is so over due and it’s for a book that is really difficult to describe, so it’s not going to be very good/clear. I read this for the June book club but didn’t finish it until much later. I had previously read it in high school and though I found the use of language to be formidable, it started feeling like a slough toward the end. Reading it this second time around, I had the same problem. However, I think I was able to get more from it this time than before.

Most people have read this so I’ll go over the synopsis very briefly. Our narrator starts out by telling us about where he is and telling us that he is invisible. The entire book a recount of his journey from the South, where he is from, to his underground home in New York. In the beginning, our narrator is willing to just follow authority blindly despite how degrading and menial some of his tasks are. He inadvertently gets into trouble in his college and moves up to New York to find work. In New York, he becomes a part of the Brotherhood, an organization that, on the surface, seems to be fighting for equality for black people.

Reading back on what I’ve written, I realize that reading Invisible Man gives me more of an emotional journey than something that is tightly based on plot development. That is not to say that the plot isn’t interesting – it is. But I cannot really recall specific events happening. When I think about the emotions and realizations that the narrator experienced, I am able to tie that to an event. I remember the disgust I felt at the narrator in the beginning when he was unable to see how he was being demeaned by being asked to participate in a boxing match in front of screaming, rabid white people. I remember the frustration I had because he wanted so badly to please Mr. Norton, who did not even consider black people to be their own individual selves, but were instead “his destiny.” I also remember the slow creeping shock I felt when Jack tells the narrator that the goal was to keep the people of Harlem under the Brotherhood’s control, and all their work was performed under the guise of empowering the black men.

Though I wanted to give up on it many times (since the book club discussion was over), I’m glad I made it through. There are some things that Ellison make very self-evident – like all the overt motifs of darkness and blindness – but other themes and characters are not so easy to understand (Bledsoe, and what he represents, simultaneously outraged and intrigued me.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am thankful that Pajiba – or more specifically, Snuggiepants – made reread this even though I started out not wanting to.

Image taken From The Vault.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Hero

City Room: Jetblue Flight Attendant Uses Emergency Slide to Escape Dispute

I wish that my restaurant/office building has an evacuation slide attached to it. "You want me to 'keep your mimosas coming' even though you just made me run to bring you three in 10 minutes? EVAC BITCHES!!!"

Friday, July 30, 2010

My week thus far in pictures...

On Tuesday, I went to Bryant Park after work to unwind with my crossword. I had this mental image of myself lying sprawled on the lawn with all the reflective buildings gazing down on me as I raced through the empty boxes with my pen, finishing the crossword before dusk. In my Bryant Park fantasy, I was intellectual and content.

The reality: The lawn was closed so I sat on a hard, butt-numbing wooden bench with no back. I was almost stung by a bee. A couple sitting in front of me seemed to think that they were in a cheap motel room. I gave up on my crossword early – I'm not even smart enough to get through Monday's very-easy edition – and almost fell asleep doing it because 3:30 a.m. was the time I went to bed the night before. At least I got the "reflective buildings" part right.

On Wednesday, I decided to go to Central Park to try and catch the Black Keys on SummerStage. I didn't have tickets to the concert (that would have required spending money) nor did I really have a plan. I tried to get someone to go with me but no one really wanted to stand outside a concert venue looking in, trying to get a glimpse of a band they don't really care about. So I went by myself. I found a giant rock outside the concert area that had a ton of people on it and there was a spot on it with a clear ("clear" is a relative term) view of the stage, so I was just perched there. This would be the second day in a row that my butt lost feeling.

I don't have a photo of this, so this will have to suffice:

Yes, I'm cool - why do you ask?

I actually didn't think it was that weird for me to be there by myself, but other people did because they asked me why I was there by myself. I had zero expectations for this, did minimal planning, and in the end felt blessed that I was able to hear everything, much less see 'em.

Here's my view:

They sang a lot of stuff from their new album, which I don't really know but it was still really good. Toward the end, they played "Your Touch," and it was great. I don't usually go to concerts because I just don't really know music, but when I do know and like a song at the rare concert that I attend (peer in from outside of), I feel like the band is playing that song just. For. Me. It feels fucking awesome.

All in all, The Black Keys rocked, even from a distance, and I think next time I'll actually shell out money to see them.

Finally, I saw this today:

Media rivalries always strike me as petty, but they are also hilarious. Probably because they are so petty. Although, this message probably would haven been more effective if it wasn't parked right outside the Times building. "Ooh, yea, you really told 'em, NYT."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cannonball Read #28: The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

This book is a bit of a cheat for me because I've actually read it several years ago. I think I bought it at an airport because of Hugh Laurie, read it during my flight, and then promptly misplaced it. When I saw it at the library, I decided to revisit it since I really don't remember much about it.

So I'm happy to say that it's just as satisfying a read the second time around. Laurie's voice is very humorous and dry throughout the novel so even at the high-intensity parts, I was still smiling to myself. His hero and narrator, Thomas Lang, seems like a pretty ordinary guy except for the fact that he's a total bad ass; Laurie writes him as so nonchalant a character that every time Lang manages to squeak past trouble, even he seems surprised at his own skill and luck.

Though there seems to be a twist in every chapter, I think this book is definitely more character-driven. We rely a lot on the narration of Lang to keep us focused on the details of his situations, and it's such a good thing that Laurie, and therefore Lang, is hilarious. If not, I think the plot might have been a little convoluted.

It begins with Lang being offered a job to assassinate a rich American industrialist. Being a good man, he refuses, and then decides to take the further step of warning the American industrialist of the assassination. From there, he falls into a giant international conspiracy that involves the CIA, MI6, and an evil billionaire whose name sounds like "murder." Lang is pulled into this because he seems to be a hopeless and hapless romantic, in love with the beautiful daughter of the American industrialist. Yet he also seems unable or unwilling to stop the proverbial wheels from turning, and is just swept along for a long, fast-paced ride where he's beaten up on, shot at, forced to take on and shed identities, improvise on a high-speed swerving motorcycle chase, and maybe partake in the occasional sexy time with a femme fatale. It is to Laurie's comedic credit that Lang is able to eke out the sarcasm and wit during this insane plot and still be believable as a character.

I wish I could end with some quippy quote from the book, but I feel like I would be short-changing the humor so inherent throughout the entire novel. If it is possible, Laurie's comedy on the page is just as successful as his performances. It also helps that I kept picturing House (Yes, Gregory House, not Laurie), except less of a curmudgeon, as Lang – which made for a very pleasant read indeed.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quick Ones

As I said in the previous post, my best was in New York for two weeks. A more detailed post of her visit will come soon.

I caught Inception opening night and it was amazing. Despite my high expectations, I was still impressed. I cannot wait to rewatch it when it comes out on DVD. I am also nursing a serious crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt - it hasn't been this bad since Brick.

I also watched Top Gun for the first time - it was projected onto bedsheets tacked up in the yard of a friend's place in Bushwick. It was fantastic and I'm so glad I live in New York in the summer.

Things I am not glad about: this insane heat wave.

Last bit: One of journalism's greats just passed away. I wish I knew more about Daniel Schorr and his work when he was alive. Thankfully, my ignorance can countered by all the great stories being told about him all over the Internet.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guess who's coming to New York...

That last picture was taken at prom. The reason why it is so small is because we were actually on an upper level of the ship (Yes, our prom took place on a boat! It was really cool! And then I discovered that I get sea sick) and our friends were on the bottom deck. This was at the end of the night as we were inching toward the exit, and our friends snapped a photo of us from afar. Good thing we were camera-ready! The photo was cropped, and I don't even have the original anymore.

Two more days!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cannonball Read #27: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I chose to pick up Never Let Me Go because Pajiba recently featured the trailer of the movie that is based on the Kazuo Ishiguro book, and all the comments were about how the book was completely heart-breaking at the end. Well, that intrigued me, and I guess I was in the mood to get my heart broken in a literary way.

Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy H., a young woman who begins by looking back at her childhood in Hailsham, a boarding school in England. The first part of the book talks about her relationships with her schoolmates, particularly between her mercurial (I really actually thought she was just manipulative) best friend, Ruth, and Tommy. There are many indications early on that Kathy's world might not be the same world that we live in because she tells us, in oblique ways, how the students in Hailsham are unique and special, and how their lives are basically mapped out from them since the beginning.

The Hailsham's students' purpose in life is not exactly a big mystery, though I hesitate to reveal it here because it might take the fun out of figuring it out. What was most interesting, to me, was how Kathy's narration made everything seem so matter-of-fact – so nonchalant – that the reality they live in really do not seem all that unlikely.

My favorite parts of the book were concerning the little fights that Kathy and Ruth had. It reminded me so much of my time in an all-girl school - times that I thought I had successfully blocked out but all came back to me while reading. It was just really interesting to see these childish, petty feelings be put into words (and even in rational terms!) when I felt like back then, for me, it was just all emotional "Me Me Me" feelings.

The later parts of the book deal with the reunion between the three friends many years after they have moved on from Hailsham, and how the mysteries from their childhoods were answered. Kathy H. maintains her tone of nonchalance throughout the book, which was quite disorienting to me, but I did appreciate it. I believe the ending did not affect me as badly as I anticipated because of the following reasons:

1) Kathy did not seem to be too torn up about it (she just accepted it!), and I was identifying with her for most of the book.
2) I had really high expectations for this "heart-breaking" ending, and because I saw it coming, it did not devastate me as much I thought.

All in all, it was actually a really good book. Though the writing was done in the voice of a young girl (Kathy narrated in a very natural way) I kept on reading because I just wanted to know what happened to the characters in the end. I think I will go back to it in a couple months just to see if my perception of it has changed because it seems like the type of book in which what you get from it can be different each time you reread it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I'm sneaking to the Goals blog at during work.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cannonball Read #26: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

I know that Anansi Boys is somewhat connected to American Gods in terms of mythology, but I think that's about where the similarities end. Though there are some familiar faces, I was still able to come to this with a clean slate of mind.

Fat Charlie Nancy has spent most of his adult life avoiding his father because he is constantly embarrassed by him. But when his father passes away abruptly, Fat Charlie has to return home for the funeral. There, he finds out from an old family friend that his father was Anansi, the spider-god or a god of mischief, and that he has a brother, Spider. Spider is charismatic and lucky and handsome; but he is also trouble. Fat Charlie invites Spider into his life, but then promptly wishes him out. However, Spider cannot seem to take no for an answer – he has probably never had anyone refuse him anything. So Fat Charlie decides to appeal to the other gods, gods who hated his father for his history of trickery, to help make his brother go away. Personally, I did not think Fat Charlie seem particularly smart.

That's basically the first third of the book. One of my favorite things about reading Gaiman is that I never know the twists he's going to take, and then he surprises me even more when he makes it all fit organically into a she-bang ending. All the threads of an event go off in multiple directions, yet they somehow end up in a climatic finale that does not feel forced. Anansi Boys – and now that I think about it, American Gods did this too – really makes me wonder how large a role Gaiman wants fate to play in his stories. In American Gods, it was implied at the end that the Gods had planned for the whole entire thing to go down (I'm being vague on purpose here). But in Anansi Boys, it's not quite so clear whether if Anansi had any idea about the shenanigans his sons would get into after his death. I liked that the gods were not quite so all-powerful this time around, and that there were other minor players that actually propelled the story forward.

Anyway, I really shouldn't compare this to American Gods since it's so different. One thing that I've really started to appreciate about Gaiman is that he really lets his readers draw their own inferences. He doesn't try to emotionally manipulate us - which is nice. However, the downside of it is that Gaiman's writing can seem a little bit cold at times. I sincerely think he's good, and I have a great time reading his books (I've read more Gaiman during the Cannonball Read than any other authors.) But I can't seem to muster up as much passion for it as when I think about any of Steinbeck's books – who incidentally, does occasionally try to manipulate his readers, so I guess that tells you how much I know what I want or like to read.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cannonball Read #25: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

The cover of this book really put me off. I know we are not supposed to judge by the cover, but it was equally creepy and hilarious. Plus, I don't like scary-looking children (I actually keep the book face-down so that I didn't have to look at that white-eyed kid.)

I guess it's in that way that cover is a brilliant indicator of this book. I've never read anything by David Foster Wallace, so I didn't know what to expect (scary children who get angry?) - but the collection of "essays and arguments" really went the range of laugh-out-loud-in-the-subway funny to downright depressing. And they were all creepy because Wallace put to words my thoughts about people that I would never have realized could be voiced if it weren't for him.

My two favorite essays were "getting away from already pretty much being away from it all" and the title essay. In GAFAPMBAFIA, Wallace is writing an account of the Illinois State Fair for Harper's magazine in New York. He regularly veers from shock/awe at the lifestyles that rural Illinoisans lead (Wallace decides during the farm stock judging - where cows, horses, pigs are showed off and prodded - that one can probably get a PhD in just cows based on how much was discussed during the proceedings) to just unadulterated appreciation (he was a very big fan of the Prairie State Cloggers Competition. A quote: "This is far and away the funnest, most emotionally intense thing at the Fair. Run, don't walk, to your nearest clogging venue.") Wallace grew up in Illinois but I guess he repressed a lot of the Midwestern likes/dislikes/general daily habits, because being at the State Fair had him analyzing them like a sociologist who was just let out of solitary confinement. Wallace was also accompanied by a childhood friend he named Native Companion who seemed to scoff at all his high-falutin' East Coast theories.

One of my favorite scenes comes after Native Companion was tossed and spun in a crazy ride called The Zipper, and the carnies kept staring as her dress went up over her head and making lewd comments. Native Companion came off the ride completely exhilarated ("That was fucking great. Joo see that? Son bitch spun that car sixteen times, joo see it?") and Wallace kept asking her if she minded that the carnies hung her upside down just to see up her dress, or that they were basically oogling her the entire time. He wonders if it's regional difference whereby Midwesterns appreciate fun but on the East Coast, the "politico-sexual indignation is the fun." He continues to expound on it despite her request for him to "buy me some porkskins, you dipshit."

Honestly, there's just so much going on in that entire essay. I used to live in Illinois for two years when I was a kid, but it was not rural or hicksville, so I definitely escaped some of that agro-raising/Nascar-worshipping (Wallace remarked that everyone except him in the spectator stands of Nascar event carried their own ear muffs) culture. Also, my sense of irony was really not honed at 12 years old so who knows. But I definitely recognized some of aspects that he brought up, like how everyone seems to wear shirts with slogans as if it were a badge of honor, even if the slogan was absolute crap ("WARNING: I GO FROM 0 TO HORNEY IN 2.5 BEERS" - Wallace tells the shirt vendor that HORNEY is spelled wrong.) I also absolutely remember that sense in which certain environments/activities are, as Wallace described, not racist but "aggressively white."

Anyway, GAFAPMBAFIA really had me giggling but what really impressed me was the title essay. It takes up about a third of the entire book, and Wallace is on yet another fish-out-of-water trip. This time, he's getting paid to write about his time spent in a luxury cruise liner that goes from Florida to the Caribbean. Wallace is definitely the odd one out at the ship (his East Coast sensitivities and all) and most of the essay is focused on how he is troubled and constantly bombarded by the fact that the cruise's staff were willing to fulfill his every whim. Another thing that disturbed him was how all of the cruise's brochures, announcements and constant organized fun on the ship was like parent telling a child, "You will have fun whether you like it or not."

What interested me the most were his ruminations on how the staff must really feel about constantly having the Professional Smile and trying to give the guests over-the-top-notch service. Wallace states it pretty early on when he tried to take his own duffel bag from a pile of luggage to bring to his room, and was stopped by a porter requesting to carry it for him. He said that it was not necessary, and dismisses the porter's zealousness, "high-pitched protests and his agonized expression as mere servile courtesy." However, Wallace later finds out that the porter was chewed out because a guest was seen carrying his own duffel bag, and it was such an assault to the cruise's "Guests must be pampered!!!" theme that an officer later came to his room to assure him that "ragged-necked Lebanese heads were even at that moment rolling down various corridors in piacular recompense for my having had to carry my own bag." Wallace ended it saying it was his fault and asking the officer to promise not to fire anyone. Wallace wrote, "...the whole incident was incredibly frazzling and angst-fraught and filled almost a whole Mead notebook and is here recounted in only its barest psychoskeletal outline."

I mentioned earlier that there were very depressing parts to this book, and so far I've only recounted the funny ones. I'm not sure if there is anything specific that I can remember, but it's definitely Wallace's voice that depresses me (which I guess makes no sense since I said he is funny.) He's extremely neurotic and sensitive, which is what puts him in these funny situations (There's a really funny story about how he was convinced that the cruise has people following him because every time he leaves his room and comes back, it's been cleaned by the maid, but he never catches the maid) But there were times when he was describing the cruise and its guests, and I was nodding along thinking, "Exactly!" and then feeling bad because I thought, "If I was on the cruise ship, would I really wanna be caught up with how ironic/hypocritical/funny everything is, or would I wanna enjoy myself?" I don't think it helps that I know he killed himself and it depressed me that I agreed – nay, identified with him.

Anyway, if you're going to read one story out of the collection, read "Supposedly Fun Thing." I myself skipped the giant thesis on television and on Michael Joyce's tennistry. I got 20 pages into the TV essay, realized that there were 20 pages more, and just flipped to the next story. I did enjoy the first story about Wallace being a tennis idiot-savant as a teen. All in all, I was really impressed by him and his writing style; I even appreciated all the footnotes he had. He made me want to explore more great, stylized writing just to see if I can develop a style of my own.

Cannonball Read #24: The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr

I picked up The Angel of Darkness after several people said that it was a worthy follow-up to my earlier Caleb Carr book, The Alienist. And I have to agree - in some ways, it certainly is. The Bad Guy (or should I say, Bad Person?) is definitely more interesting than the serial killer in The Alienist, and because she is a woman, there is a lot of talk about the feminine mind/psyche.

This time, the investigation is over the missing young daughter of a Spanish diplomat (Historically, Carr puts this right before the the Spanish-American War), Ana Linares. The husband does not want the wife the pursue the case because he is worried it might inflame the already-tense relations between the Spaniards and the Americans. So the wife goes to Sarah Howard, who has opened her own private detective firm for women, and asks her for her help.

Naturally, she recruits all her old pals for help. There's Dr. Kreizler (The Alienist!), John Moore (the journalist who's kind of a petulant child in this book), Marcus and Lucius (the Jewish detective-brothers who are a great help in the forensics department), Stevie Taggert (the young boy that Dr. Kreizler rescued from a life in jail, and Cyrus Montrose (servant of Dr. Kreizler, friend to all, good pianist player.)

What sets this second book apart from the first is that we know pretty early on who kidnapped Ana Linares. Libby Hatch, a woman who is described by John Moore as him not knowing whether if she wanted to "kill me or fuck me," appears to be a caring hospital nurse and kind mother, but the group suspects her of kidnapping and murdering young children. She is confronted near the beginning, yet the group cannot figure out where she has hidden the child. Once they figured out that this was probably not her first foray into infanticide, they decided to look into her past to see whether if she has had missteps before, and then bring her to justice for her past crimes. The last half of the book takes place in upstate New York, which is where Hatch was from before New York.

If this sounds like a very roundabout way to get to baby Ana Linares, then you would have an inkling as to how I felt reading this 600-plus page book. Yes, the villain this time is much more interesting, but there were parts that I felt Carr was trying to drag out. The book seemed to follow the same format (in terms of the detectives investigating the case) as The Alienist, and because I could sense the similarities, it frustrated me.

I should also add that though the first book was narrated by John Moore (petulant boy-man-journalist), this one was seen in the point of view of Stevie Taggert, which I felt was much more interesting. He is very close with Dr. Kreizler and is able to offer some insights on Kreizler, who is a bit of an enigma. Stevie is also able to talk frankly with Sarah, and observe the childish, easy rapport between everyone in the group.

As I said earlier, since the villain is a woman, there is a lot of discussion about females roles in American society. It's interesting to see how all the main characters react to some of the psychological theories (and this is where Carr just seems to reuse his script, in my opinion.) Dr. Kreizler would "humph," and say something about how none of his colleagues have anything extensive written about it; Sarah would say something insightful and then brandish her derringer just to show how she's such an avant-garde female; John Moore rolls his eyes and says things like "But a woman would never do that!!"; and Marcus and Lucius are always at the side arguing over some forensic detail.

Meanwhile, I read this all and think, "This 1800s female stereotype doesn't really apply anymore, and for that I am so glad for myself." I'm still not sure whether if the stereotypes are a fault of Carr's or just him trying to show that era's myopia about women. Obviously, the latter since Libby Hatch is the villain, thus proving the stereotypes wrong - but all of that (over-)explanation can really be taxing to this modern female.

PS. Why does Carr allow his publishers to choose such dreadful, unappealing book covers? I can go with the black-and-white and the non-sequitur Man Standing Ominously By The Carriage image - but does it have to be so fuzzy and grainy?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Things to Make Fun Of: Getting a job that you like

I haven't been near this thing in a long time, at least not to talk about my life (Look! Still reviewing books!... sorta). A part of me have been avoiding the blog because there was just too much to talk about – and as much as I don't talk about specifics in my life, those events took up too much space in my head that it was difficult for me to ignore it while they happened. So here they are:

1) I got offered a full-time job. Taking it made me feel like I sold out. I took it. I don't want to talk about it.
2) The boyfriend and I broke up. I'm good now. I don't want to talk about it.

That's it. Only two things, though still big life changes for me. Otherwise, I've just been seeing my friends a lot, working a lot and trying to sneak in a book during my free time.

Anyway, here's the real reason I came back to this thing: an article in this past weekend's New York Times Magazine about the millenials. For those not in the know, millenials are the generation born between 1982 and 2002 – my generation. I know I usually reserve writing about articles for my news blog (PLUG PLUG) but since I only have non-journalistic things to say about it, I figured I would keep it here.

So the Times opens the article with this giant picture:

Which made me smile since those paste-on tattoos look very familiar to me.

The article, by Judith Warner, sums up the mentality of today's latest and not-so-greatest graduates: "[Today's] graduates are turning down job offers in high numbers – essentially opting to move back home with their parents if the work offered doesn't match their self-assessed market value."

It goes on to quote a bunch of (old) professors and sociologists to show how narcissistic and overconfident we are because we think that we deserve a job that provides us with an easy-to-manage 40-hour work week and self-fulfillment. And then Warner rounds out the article by saying that our egos and optimism actually seem to buffer us from falling hard – that it is actually a blessing to have such a over-adjusted sense of self-worth because we are able to adapt to adversity (she threw out Columbine and 9/11 as place markers.)

As I said before, I just sold out to a full-time job (comes with health benefits, yo!) that sucks my soul – so naturally, I raised my eyebrows at this. It's tempting to say I work more than 40 hours a week or I don't think I'm entitled to my dream job, but I'll work for it, and I definitely wanted to mentally shout Stop talking about me like I don't read your magazine, Old People!

But what really struck me as weird was the tone that Warner had, or that she employed using her quotes from professionals, throughout the article. There was a sense of indignation at us millenials (sarcastic/unhappy font should be employed with this word) for daring to dream about the future we have, and actually wanting to work towards that dream future. Here's a quote from Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a Clark University pyschology professor: "Almost universally they want to find a job that's not just a job but an expression of their identity, a form of self-fulfillment."

Huh, no kidding. Wouldn't you, Mr. Baby Bloomer? Say you yearn to become an actor, and the two jobs offered to you are the full-time cubicle job and a flexible job as a server. Wouldn't it make sense, in terms of your ("how dare you") dream, to turn down the more-than-40-hour job that will not allow you time off for auditions?

I understand that there is a difference in our mentalities: the Boomers might have felt obligated to sign away the next 40 years of their lives chained to the first job they are offered, and we don't. But if they could have, if it was feasible, I know they would have rather – wait for it – follow their dreams. Who wouldn't? Reality may get in the way of it, but I wish they wouldn't judge us just because we choose to delay reality with a more extensive job search.

Of course, it's another thing entirely if graduates march into the workplace and expect the job that they would have in 30 years immediately – instead of starting as an editorial assistant, they want the managing editor's job. We call those kids over-privileged rich assholes* (they're usually rich, hence their inflated sense of self-worth.) The biggest problem with this article is that Warner seems to be lumping the Dreamers, who are definitely willing to slog it as long as it's in the right field, with these Rich Assholes. And to come to the same conclusion about two very different people (more adapted to adversity, yada yada yada) gets me defensive about my fellow millenials.

The truth is that most of the dreamers are not willing to sell out so soon after college. They want to fail spectacularly before succumbing to the nine-to-five succubus. Once they've realized that the dream is not going to happen, they will haul ass to the nearest boring employer, or go to grad school in an unrelated field. Maybe in thirty years, they snort at the concept of having a fulfilling job like Prof. Arnett did, but really be left with a dull ache in their hearts. As for the Rich Assholes, what the hell have they got to lose?

Absolutely nothing.

And believe me, today's employers are not losing anything either if there is a lack of petulant teenagers seated in the nearest cubicle.

*Sorry, Rich Non-Asshole People, for lumping you together in the Asshole category. I will gladly accept any donations as a symbol of my humble apology.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cannonball Read #23: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This was Jen K's selection for the Pajiba Book Club, and my second Margaret Atwood novel. I finished it last night and have had a little bit of time to think about it. Though I don't think I really liked it while I was reading it, I've decided that it's really very well-done and I like it better now that I've reflected on it a little bit.

Atwood has basically three stories layering upon each other. The first is a memoir of sorts by Iris Chase, now an old woman looking back at her life. The second story comes from excerpts out of a book, "The Blind Assassin," which was written by Iris' younger sister, Laura, who died 50 years earlier. And the third story comes out through following the inner monologue of Iris as she mulls about her current, old-age life. Inserted randomly throughout are clippings from newspapers and society tabloids which show what happened, at least according to the public's perspective.

Though Atwood's writing is beautiful, and she has some really interesting and masterful turns of phrases, it was really difficult for me to get into the beginning of the book. Iris Chase writes about her family history, and the upbringing of her and her younger sister, Laura. They are from a wealthy privileged family in a small Canadian town, growing up pretty much ignored by their parents since their mother died when they were younger and their father is too busy/stressed out/oblivious because of his work. I actually got kind of bored reading about Iris' childhood because – even though there are some telling things about the two girls' personalities that would later resonate in their adult lives – they really didn't do that much besides study with their tutors (one of whom liked Laura in a Humbert Humbert way) and get boss around by Reenie.

In contrast, there is "The Blind Assassin," written by Laura and published after her death, which was what I really enjoyed in the beginning. Two lovers meet in secret, and after the sex, the man tells the woman a made-up story of a beautiful city called Sakiel-Norn where the wealth comes from beautifully weaved carpets, all of which are made by child slaves. Their small hands can better manipulate the loom, and these children are worked so hard that they are usually blinded by this trade at a young age; after which they are sold off as sex slaves to brothels, where their "suave and deft" touches are of high demand. They are also good at picking locks, and those who manage to escape become hired assassins, slitting throats in the dark.

The stories the children whispered to one another – while they sat weaving their endless carpets, while they could still see – was about this possible future life. It was a saying among them that only the blind are free.

Come on, isn't that awesome? If it was reality, not so awesome; but as a story, or a story within a story, this premise is just so attention-grabbing and interesting. Very, very unlike the childhoods of Iris and Laura. Luckily for me, Iris' and Laura's story gets better (or worse) as they grow older, but I'm not going to give away any spoilers.

Instead, I will talk about some of the issues I had while reading it. One of the harder things for me to do was to listen to Iris' drone on and on about the daily on-goings of her life (but you already know that) and at the end of it, she would write something like, "But there is something I left out here. I know I am not telling you everything." (I'm paraphrasing, not quoting her.) And it's clear, when you get to the end, that she's left out plenty.

On the one hand, I like getting the surprise at the end (though I figured it out halfway through what happened and felt pretty good about myself when I confirmed it by searching for spoilers online.) However, I'm also the type of person who likes to know what's going on, and without the palpable tension or the promise of impending "drama" (for the lack of a better word), I was seriously ready at certain parts to just take Winifred's opinion that Iris was kinda a dumb, young girl who married rich. Though Winifred, who was Iris' husband's harpy sister, was just a dreadful person, and I say this even though I know we only see it from Iris' perspective.

Another thing I disliked were both Iris and Laura. As young girls (as described by Iris) they barely seem like real people, only caricatures of rich white girls. Iris does as she's told and doesn't really say or do anything; Laura is sanctimonious, has her head in the clouds, and is trying to prep herself for a life of martyrdom, which might have also been why things ended up the way they did.

I think - no, I'm sure Atwood did this on purpose. At least for Iris, Atwood made it seem like she had no personality on purpose, just to show how little people cared back then about a woman's real personhood. (Laura was just fucking annoying.) There was one point where Old-Age Iris said that though she is the same person, body-wise, there is no way she could recognize the young Iris as the same self as present Iris. I'm nowhere close to being described as old, but I can certainly understand that sentiment when I look back at my self from ten years ago.

I also hated that these two sisters refuse to stand up for each other. There seemed to me to be a lack of love between them. They tolerated each other, and they loved each other out of obligation, not out of love or need. In the end, to me, this entire novel wasn't about two sisters and their family drama and how this dramatic familial love (I say this while rolling my eyes) resulted in this epic dysfunction. It was really about how Iris quietly coped with her inner struggle during her youth, and how her repression of her self led to her downfall. This is similar to Laura too, who in the beginning seemed like she would bravely do whatever she want and defy societal standards, but in the end was just like every repressed female during that time: sewing her mouth shut while allowing/watching injustices being inflicted upon herself and her sex.

Man, this book depressed me. I'd like to also clarify that while Iris left out loads of helpful narrative bits (palpable tension, as I said above) in her "memoir," she certainly portrayed her bleak future very, very well. I never once thought she was going to end up in a happy place.

Yay, feminism!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cannonball Read #21 and #22: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Oh Pajiba, how I love thee. Just for you, I bought a hard-cover book so that I could read it for the Book Club discussion. It usually takes me ages to actually put down cold, hard cash for a book, especially for one whose spine is stiffer than my own.

Lucky for me, The Graveyard Book was an awesome read. I literally devoured the pages (and yes, I used "literally" correctly because I was coughing up paper for days after) (ha ha, lame joke, just kidding - just wanted to annoy you grammar freaks) and finished it in a night, and after I was done, I was so sad. I wanted to know more about Bod's guardian, Silas, and I wanted to know how Bod got on in the normal world.

Nobody Owens, Bod for short, was raised in a graveyard by its ghostly residents. When he was a baby, he crawled into the graveyard in the night, pursued by a man who had just murdered the baby's family. The Owens, who have been dead for a long time, took him in as their own, and appointed Silas as his guardian. Silas is someone who belongs neither to the human world and the ghost world and is seen as very knowledgeable.

The entire book is basically about Bod's very special childhood, what he learns, and what he can do. I really liked the progression of how he went from being a child who asked a lot of questions to a teenager who was willing to stand up for himself and accept his differences as a part of himself.

Anyway, since this book is modeled after The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, I picked it up next. I don't remember the Disney cartoon, so this was pretty much a fresh impression for me. I think I made the mistake of trying to see the similarities because even though the general structure is the same, the story is quite different.

Mowgli is adopted by a pack of wolves in the jungle. His family of wolves refuse to give him up to the lame tiger who hunts him. The tiger had to give up Mowgli when the wolves took him in because he knew that he would not be able to defend himself against a united pack.

I thought it was interesting that Kipling gave the jungle a set of rules that all the respectable animals felt they had to follow. For example, most of the animals don't believe in eating humans because they are the weakest creatures and cannot defend themselves. The wolves also scorn the lame tiger because he attacks cattle and they are slow and not much of a challenge. Monkeys are often ignored because they do not have a code to follow and therefore are not considered worthy of attention.

Mowgli's story was only for half the book. There was also stories of other animals, like a snow white seal that roamed the oceans for a perfect spot to raise a family, a shore that no humans have ever touched. I also enjoyed the story of the mongoose that defends a human family from the cobras living in their backyard.

I do sincerely wish that I had read The Jungle Book when I was younger though. It's a very straightforward book, in terms of the character development and plot. There are also rhyme verses at the end of every chapter, so I can see myself enjoying that immensely as a kid – whereas now, I would want to rush through those. I'm glad I have read it, though (and I know it's almost criminal to say this) I think I enjoyed The Graveyard Book more. I liked how dark it was, and also how Gaiman once again touched upon his oft-used theme of personal growth and acceptance in the character of Bod.