Friday, January 1, 2010

Reading is sexy XXIX

(Image: Man Reading in a Park by August Macke (1887-1914) via Guarda chi legge) 37. No One Writes to the Colonel - and other stories by Gabriel García Márquez. This book is really a novella, from whence comes the title, and several short stories (grouped together as Big Mama's Funeral) which appear to be set in the same Columbian port town. We know this town from In Evil Hour - in fact one of my favorite scenes, in which the half-shaved mayor visits the dentist (from opposing political faction) and demands at gunpoint to have his tooth extracted, reappears here as a story on its own. The Colonel is a vetran awaiting his pension, for thirty years, somehow living with his wife on nothing, but holding on to the fighting rooster, as all that remains of their son. With the exception of the final story, Big Mama's Funeral which in other parts of the world would be recognized as pure blarney, the stories are written in a simple, realistic manner, perhaps lyrical, or unexpected, but not magical realism. This is a realism we recognize, and I for one, am always happy to inhabit.

38. Gun, with occasional music by Jonathem Lethem. I guess this man has a thing about kangaroos. Several (apparently distinct) reviews on the jacket mention the same influences, as one-phrase summaries: Raymond Chandler meets Philip K. Dick. Now, I haven't actually read any Philip K. Dick, so I wouldn't know, but a hardboiled dectective story set in near-future, frankly dystopian, Oakland sounds like my sort of thing. This isn't like A Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World. Murakami's futuristic Wonderland remains my favorite heavily Chandler-influenced hardboiled detective novel. I do love that I can now name two novels in this chategory. Wonderland is more existential, remaining a Japanese I-novel, with the fantasy more in the mind, and about the individual, whereas this is more about society. It is also more true to Chandler - there was a time where I read a lot of mysteries, and this book isn't channelling the hardboiled in a generic sense - I know Philip Marlowe when I see him. I prefer Dashiell Hammett's more nuanced world with tighter plot lines, but appreciate that Lethem has imported Chandler's warts*, bizarre metaphors, and all into his brave new world. His protagonist, Conrad Metcalf (played in my mind by Bogart, of course) lives in a world where society's tendencies to treat problems (perceived or actual) with drugs, or to blindly trust authority and not think too hard about civil liberties has moved to the logical extreme. Almost everyone is snorting make, which they buy at the makery (or course) with their personal favorite blends of mind-numbing Forgettol, Acceptol or even Believol. Metcalf is hired by Dr. Stanhunt to trail his cheating wife Celeste. Maynard Stanhunt is so addicted to Forgettol, when Metcalf arrives unannounced Stanhunt doesn't know who he is. Then Stanhunt turns up dead and Metcalf finds himself in the thick of things. No only are people choosing to self-medicate through life, questions are taboo and require a license and the news is now largely musical if broadcast, or images only in print. The message is always the same: everything is okay and the Office are in control. The Office police society by monitoring karma levels. Step out of line, and they might deduct karma points until you are defunct and find yourself in the freezer. Metcalf's new client, accused of murdering Stanhunt, is due to be put in suspended animation at any moment. Meanwhile, a trigger-happy evolved kangaroo with a chip on his shoulder is determined to keep Metcalf out of his boss's business. What exactly is going on in the house with Celeste, Pansy Greenleaf**, the evolved kitten and the babyhead toddler with the artificially accelerated intellectual maturity? If maturity is a word you can use for a three-foot tall thug. This was a very enjoyable read - hardboiled detective fun with the grit and societal critique one would expect from a future dystopian novel.

39. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith This is a book of essays, covering Reading (Zora Neale Hursten, E. M. Forster, George Elliot, Barthes, Nabokov, Kafka, Joseph O'Neill, Tom McCarthy), Being (a writer, a visitor to Liberia, a person whose accent changed from North London to Cambridge and other in-between cultural experiences), Seeing (movies, especially classics), Feeling (her life) and Remembering ('Brief Interviews with Hideous Men'). You should all read Zadie Smith. She is whip-smart, and hysterically funny, and the sort of person you want to hang out with. She is as capable of combining Barthes and Nabokov, or Spinoza and Elliot, Pygmalion and Obama's memoir. Before I can think, 'But, I haven't even read Middlemarch, am I unlettered?' she explains how she went to see Date Movie because of Alysson Hannigan's role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the only TV show she has truly loved. You (and, you know who you are) should forgive her her sheepishness for adoring V for Vendetta and feeling the need to say that after Date Movie it appears a masterpiece, because her review of V for Vendetta includes how it felt to read the graphic novel in Thatcher's Britain. I want more voices of my generation like this. I bet you do too.

*I took a Detective Fiction course as an undergrad. Our prof assigned Chandler's The Big Sleep. She was concerned that we wouldn't be able to cope with the racist language in Farewell, My Lovely (if I recall correctly). It is mercifully now shocking to read certain words, but I think we knew that US society in the 30s wasn't somewhere one might choose to grow up black. You know, if given a choice. Instead we got a book I found misogynistic and homophobic, with a pitiful plot line, but some excellent dialogue (which, amazingly, makes for an excellent movie, or three). I'm not sure why (or if) it was preferable for us to read misogynistic and homophobic over racist, but I wish that it was as shocking to us. Lethem has translated Marlowe's biases into Metcalf's lack of enthusiasm for evolved animal rights, which is very clever indeed.

**Who thinks this is a Patricia Highsmith allusion?

So I'm probably deranged, but I feel like I'm falling behind to have only read 39 books in 2009. I read 47 books in 2008. So I need to remind myself that I also finally finished co-editing a book this year, spent close to two months bookless, in the field, and some of the books I read (Gravity's Rainbow, Anna Karenina) would count as I don't know, four books and a platypus, if written by normal human beings.

Also, on the other extra-curricular front, I am glad to say my 2009 etsy goals are pretty well in-hand. I wanted to have 100 sales and 500 hearts. I have 98 sales (not including craft-shows and swaps, which really should count) and 585 hearts. Yay! and thank you!


{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, href="">III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII}

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