Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Can you read too much?

I've been complaining a lot this year about how little I'm getting read.  There are a host of reasons for it but; whatever.  I'm sure to fall well short of my usual fifty to sixty books read in a year, but as of yesterday that fact no longer bothers me.

When I hear about other people reading, a hundred, two-hundred, or even three-hundred books a year, my mind has difficulty processing the information.  I don't get; I don't see how it's possible since it is so far removed from my reality.  I'm also completely okay, with not being in that crowd.

I have a cousin who reads around a hundred-fifty books a year or so.  She called me the other and among other things asked what I was currently reading.  I told her, The Shadow of the Wind.  She repeated the title and had to think.  "Who wrote that?"  Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I said.  "That sounds familiar."  I gave her the general premise and it all came back to her.  She informed me that it was really really good.  She had read it earlier this year.  

I have a problem with all that...

While I'm not done just yet, at three hundred pages in I think The Shadow of Window is phenomenal and truly a rarity in fiction.  There isn't a lot of stuff out there this good, I don't see how it could fail to make a mark.  But in my cousin's case, it was just one of a hundred and fifty something books she'll read this year.  I'm thinking that by way of these readers going through so much at a pace which, to me, seems so fast, that it's possible that somethings don't resonate with them the same way they might with slow poke readers as myself.  My cousin doesn't read superficially nor does she glean the pages; she reads.  But I wonder what it takes to make something really stick out for her.  Her focus is so much on moving onto the next book in the queue that she can't really sit and think on what she's just read.  I don't think there is a right and wrong way to read, nor do I feel I'm getting something out of the novel she didn't.  Nonetheless, that phone call made me feel much more comfortable concerning how little I read than I was before.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It happened again...

Yet another Did Not Finish.  I checked last year, and it seems I'm good for two DNF's a year and they always come back to back, so the good thing about this is that I'm telling myself I'm done for the year. 

Should I have any regular readers, you know that I don't feel obligated once started to finish a book, but it always kinda hurts--or perhaps, catches me off guard--is a better phrase, when it happens.  This years double hitter of, "I can't get through this hot mess," comes as a major surprise, even to me.  I've mentioned about the shock of Perez-Reverte's The Nautical Chart, but not getting more than a hundred pages through André Aciman's Eight White Nights, was a surprise that really took my breath away.  Granted, he had no where to go but down.
I went into this book with Call Me by Your Name on my mind which is easily one of my favorite books ever, that said I read Eight White Nights--or at least one-hundred pages of it--and judged it on it's own merits.  Is it possible that one of your all-time favorite writers can also turn your stomach? 

Love stories that happen in New York City make me sick.  Anyone who doesn't live there and has ever read a love story set there may not agree, but probably knows where I'm coming from.  They are elitist, and esoteric and at times it feels like they are purposefully so; to be read and enjoyed only by New Yorkers.  That aside, some very wealthy members of the Jewish community are throwing a Christmas party in the Upper West Side.  (Even more elitism, yeah!).  At this party we meet the most absurd and unbelievable character since ever: Clara.  Authors spend a lot of time on dialogue; making it sound authentic and feel right in our ears, even writing out all the mistakes and bad grammar that we use when we speak in an effort to come across as real to the reader.  Aciman probably worked harder than anyone else to ensure that trying to figure out what the hell these people are talking about was a convoluted exercise in painful futility, self-serving philosophy, and altogether overwrought-no-yield prose.  They speak stiffly.  It's jarring, but you get into it rather quickly, but no one would ever seek these people out for conversation, and the poor guy who some how falls for Clara (can't remember his name) takes us on the journey of just how difficult it is to talk to this woman.  It's not endearing.

Should you ever meet anyone who spoke like these people in real life, you would distance yourself, speak aloud 'Why are trying so hard, speak normally' or punch them in the face and walk off in confusion as to why they made you do such a thing.  I have friends and family in New York City, dare I say I even know Jews in the Upper West Side, but I don't know anyone who would tolerate talking to anyone at this party.  Can't you tell I really wanted to finish this book?  Stuff like this makes up my best commentaries. 

The DNF's suck but they do help in clearing out space on my bookshelves and earn me points at the book store.  I'm currently finishing the Warriors anthology I've been working on; it hit a really good stride with four or five nice pieces in a row.  After that I'll take Maria's suggestion and pick up Shadow of the Wind, which is probably what I should have done instead of Eight White Nights. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

I Couldn't do it...

Here's a thing I never thought I'd say: I couldn't finish a book by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.  The Nautical Chart should have been cool.  The premise is great; the characters are strong and, in my case, I'm heavily endeared to the author.  (Pretty sure I've covered him way more than anyone else on my blog.)  It was the pace that was it's undoing.

I give every book I read fifty pages.  I gave this three times that amount, because of my past good experience with Pérez-Reverte.  I can say definitively I like his historical fiction more than his contemporary crime thrillers though I enjoyed The Flanders Panel a lot.

The Great 2012 Reading Rut continues...  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

"It is commonplace to refer to the narrowness and intolerance of small-town life, but it seems to me just the opposite is true, at least of Bentrock, Montana, in 1948.  The citizens of that community tolerated all kinds of behavior, from the eccentric to the unusual to the aberrant.  From Miss Schott and her palominos to Mrs. Russell, who was a kleptomaniac (…) to Arne Olsen, a farmer, who never (never) bathed and was proud of the fact, to Mr. Prentice, the band director at the high school who liked his boy students better than he liked his girl students, to old Henry Sandstrom, who shot mourning doves in his backyard, cooked them, and ate them.  To my uncle Frank who molested his patients.  How many other secrets had our town agreed to keep?"  Page 121
Finding a story that deals with the bad side of tolerance is a bit odd.  Generally we encourage people to not be afraid of someone else just because they are different.  David, the narrator of Montana 1948, struggles to come to terms with a kept quiet family secret.  He learns of people's acceptance and tolerance of what he only vaguely understands but deems terrible. His struggle, and more explicitly his father's, is in doing the right thing under the eyes of those who would rather look away.  
There are two communities in this novel.  The first is the one that David is aware of: the town of Bentrock where his wealthy and powerfully connected Grandfather Julian has all-consuming influence.  David's father, Wes, is the sheriff as was his father before him.  David's Uncle Frank--the local high school all-star in everything, and decorated war hero--is not only the most well liked guy around for miles but one of two doctors in the county.  David is twelve when the story begins and by way of being an only child and the indulgences granted by his family name, he is a bit spoiled in his own way.  The other community we never see directly and the bits we do see are slightly colored through David's eye, as the Sioux Indians which touches all parts of the town and proves to be the crux of the book's tension.
Wes' casual racism toward Indian's is inherited from his father, but he can't ignore Sioux house keeper and David's daytime care taker's  illness and certainly not her death with suspected foul-play.  As Marie's health declines she makes it clear she does not want to be treated by Dr. Frank Hayden and it comes out that many women on the reservation have been abused by him in the past, but the word of a Sioux against a Hayden is as good as nothing.  David, in his own way, was in love with Marie and while he doesn't seek to play 'boy detective' he does seek explanations as to her passing and accusations against his uncle.  
The more we think facts, or perhaps even evidence is coming to light the more we see that the horrors he learns of that shook his world are merely common knowledge to so many in Bentrock.  His only solace comes as he see his father chose to do the right thing: arrest his brother, and deal with the nightmare that is Julian.  
The resolution of events is not what readers would expect, and not merely in how the plot unfolds but also in the larger themes of tolerance and injustice and what people choose to turn a blind eye on and never again give it thought too, no matter how disturbing.       
The events of David's childhood managed to distort his perception of reality all around him and certainly had to affect him as he grew into an adult.  
"For myself, I eventually became a history teacher in a Rochester, Minnesota, high school.  I did not--do not--believe in the purity and certainty of the study of history over law.  Not at all.  Quite the opposite.  I find history endlessly amusing, knowing, as I do , that the record of any human community might omit stories of sexual abuse, murder, suicide….  Who knows--perhaps any regions' most dramatic, most sensational stories were not played out in the public view but were confined to small, private places.  A doctor's office, say.  A white frame house on a quiet street.  So no matter what the historical documents might say, I feel free to augment them with whatever lurid or comical fantasy my imagination might concoct.  And know that the truth might not be far off.  These musings, of course, are for my private enjoyment.  For my students I keep a straight face and pretend that the text tells the truth, whole and unembellished."  Page 164
Much of what was presented felt familiar (swap rural south and blacks for 'no-where' Montana and Sioux) but simplicity of the themes and their universal resonance makes this story hard to ignore and powerfully compelling.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

It's the collective voice that defines The Buddha in the Attic.  The book is not the story of a Japanese picture bride, rather all of the women who came to the US under the terms of an arranged wedding, and the voices of their children and husbands too.  Everything is 'we' 'us' 'they' and 'our,' and what we lose in intimacy (which is shockingly very little to nothing) we gain in perspective and scope.  While encompassing so much at what seems like only a glance readers get as close to the story as they would want.  
While there isn't a typical narrator or main character to follow there is a traditional story arc.  We see the women on the boat from Japan to California.  We see them settle down in their new lives with their new husbands and come to terms with all the lies they have been told concerning their husbands looks (the women had only seen twenty-year old pictures) status, and most cases near poverty.  We see how they raise a family, spend their money, and how they deal with white people.  Eventually we read about their utter disappearance at the time of world war two.  
There is a duality to near every experience they have.  The jealousy, envy, hatred for the whites they work and deal with mixed with adoration and desire.  They take pride in the quality of their labor--no matter how menial--even if they detest the job being done.  There husbands are perhaps the strongest point of contention.  On the way over the women are expecting up-and-coming businessmen, wealthy land owners, or even those in the medical or legal profession, but what they get are farm hands, restaurant workers, and gardeners for the rich.  While they despise their husbands there is also a loyalty to them and a general unwillingness to entertain leaving.  
It's a short book that, for many, will introduce a minority and hardship into the landscape of American culture that they were previously unaware of.  It's duration is a blessing as I'm not sure how such a distinct narrative voice would hold up over hundreds of pages.  Each paragraph stands alone, being self contained and powerful enough to merit thought all by itself.  By the book's end you'll be thanking Otsuka for the oddity of her third person, collective voice because if we got any closer to the story of the Japanese picture brides she presented we may not have experienced the shared joys and small triumphs of all, nor would we have been spared many aspects of the harsh brutality and ugly reality that is a part of our history.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Month in Review and of Things to Come

The End of Times are upon us and it has nothing to do with my recent reading of Doomsday Book.  Today marks the fifth straight day, as in five in a row, of 100 degree and higher heat.  I've know for awhile now that I'm going to hell, I just thought I had more time.  Long as I can take my books with me I think I and suffer eternal damnation; and really, it can't get any hotter...

I bought a few books this month.  All under two-hundred pages in an effort to make some progress in getting my number of books read this year up.  Of course of the other end of that equation is having to read a few books, which I'm still struggling to do.  At the year's halfway point I have no delusions of meeting my repeat goal of last year with fifty books read.  I read Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I may have been to harsh in my words with the former as I enjoyed it only wanted much more of the good stuff.  I was heartened that hear from someone else that Fahrenheit 451 is high school reading material regardless of the author's intended audience.  Which in turn got me think about young adult fiction and how much I like it for it's general simplicity as opposed to plot convolution of adult fiction; particularly fantasy.  More than anything else about Bradbury I was blown away by how contemporary the book was sixty years later.

My other purchases for the month included Buddha in the Attic by Julia Otsuka and Montana 1948 by Larry Watson.  I'm currently reading Otsuka and while I knew this book was going to be good, I had no clue it was going to be as good as it is.  I'll be finished shortly and posting my thoughts.  I've knocked a few more pages out of the short story collection I'm working on, but nothing remarkable to talk about.  The near six-hundred page Pathfinder RPG rulebook has also occupied a bit of my reading this this month, but needless to say, I'm enjoying all of that.

Looks like I'm becoming a nerd again...

Apropos of nothing, there are a lot of concerts coming up that I need to go to and limited funds to draw on to see them: Stevie Vai, Ted Nugent, The Shins (a maybe), Derek Trucks, some version of The Allman Brothers Band and one rumored show this fall that I'm not at liberty to speak of just yet.  I'm too old for amphitheaters and arena shows so that cuts down some of the acts, but still.  
I foresee a lot of free time in July so if I'm not on the lake with my friends as much as possible I'll try to accomplish two things: read more, and not melt.