Posts tagged ‘books’

June 10, 2012

R.I.P. Rocket Man, Ray Bradbury

While the news isn’t new, I couldn’t not post something about the passing of visionary, Ray Bradbury. When I read the news that he had died on Tuesday, I was in Dallas on a layover. Although I always suspected his time wasn’t far off as he was getting up there in years, the news made me swell up with grief .

I discovered Bradbury when my 9th grade English teacher handed out copies of Fahrenheit 451. From then on, I was hooked. I tried  out some other science fiction after discovering Bradbury but nothing could match his dark, lyrical genius. He surpassed any genre. His stories were more about human beings than outer space or robots.

Three random things of note (to me, anyway):

1) I remember almost meeting him once about 12 years ago. There was a writing conference here in Tucson that he was supposed to attend. I raced over to discover he had to stay home due to a small stroke.

2) I bought The Bradbury Chronicles about three weeks ago and it’s on my bedside table.

3) How apropos that he left this world on the day of the the Venusian eclipse.

In honor of Mr. Bradbury’s passing, here is a scene that has stuck with me for years. It’s a short story called “Kaleidoscope” from The Illustrated Man. This is the very end of the story when Hollis, an astronaut whose rocket has blown up, is racing toward earth and toward his death:

He fell swiftly, like a bullet, like a pebble, like an iron weight, objective all of the time now, not sad or happy or anything, but only wishing he could do a good thing now that everything was gone, a good thing for just himself to know about. When I hit the atmosphere, I’ll burn like a meteor. “I wonder” he said, “if anyone’ll see me?”

The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed. “Look, Mom, look! A falling star!”  The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois. “Make a wish,” said his mother. “Make a wish.”

May 22, 2012

Magic 8 Ball of Literary Wisdom

Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by Confusion? (thanks, E. Jean). If so, Short List has a great post titled 50 peices of Wisdom from Novelswhich may offer insight into the big questions. You can mine the list for some real gems like this line from The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler:

“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”

And this one from Invisible Monsters by Chuck Pahlaniuk:

“The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.”

This one from Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin is a great tip:

“The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.”

And probably my favorite is from To Kill a Mockingbird:

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

The post like a magic 8 ball that you can click on instead of shake.  Check it out here.
May 15, 2012

Henry Shukman’s Lost City

I recently finished The Lost City by Henry Shukman. Shukman is a British literary gem who writes poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. His writing is on par with big names in the living literati like Eugenides, Murakami, and Franzen and I’m surprised I don’t see his name more. Before reading The Lost City, I read a book he wrote called Savage Pilgrams: On the Road to Santa Fe, a non-fiction account of his love affair with New Mexico where he now lives.  (I lost the book when I was almost to the end and thus couldn’t finish. I’m determined to find it or at least buy it again one of these days!)

The Lost City is a novel about a young British expat named Jackson Small who suffers PTSD and has recently been discharged from the British military. More importantly, he is haunted by a “lost city” in Peru called “La Joya” that his deceased best friend Connelly was obsessed with. Small sets out to Peru in search of the city to honor the memory of Connelly. During his quest, Small meets numerous obstacles and characters integral to his transformation.

The story is a little bit adventure, a little bit travelogue, and flavored with a dose of romance. Unfortunately his love interest, an American named Sarah, is not a fully realized character in my mind. I never connected with her because I never felt like I knew who she really was. Apart from Sarah, the other characters in the book are fully realized. They include a ruthless drug lord, a priest who runs an orphanage, a hippy with two wives, a burned out British consulate, and a tenacious orphan named Ignacio who accompanies Small on most of his adventure.

Most of all, Shukman nails the sense of place in this book like he does in Savage Pilgrims. I’ve been to Peru several times and when I read the book, I marveled at how well Shukman brings the place alive on the page. You can see, hear, smell, and feel the dirty, complicated, and beautiful heart of Peru. He’s obviously traveled there quite a bit. There’s a part in The Lost City that involves Small lost in a place called “The Cloud Forest” that will live with me for the rest of my life. Shukman does natures like few others I’ve read.

This book begs to be made into a film. Frankly, I’m surprised no Hollywood big wigs have picked it up yet I’m glad they haven’t. I don’t think anyone could bring “The Cloud Forest” to life the way Shukman does.

May 5, 2012

‘Lord of the Flies’ Still Reigns

My latest column on PopMatters is now up. It’s a look at Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, the original story about kids surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.

Iggy and Ralph

April 17, 2012

No Fiction Pulitzer for You!

For the first time in 35 years, there was no Pulitzer Price awarded in the fiction category. The Pulitzer fiction board, made up of jurors Susan Larson (former editor of The Times-Picayune), Maureen Corrigan (book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air), and novelist Michael Cunningham who won the 1999 Pulitzer for The Hours couldn’t reach the necessary consensus  to award a winner to one of the three fiction finalists.

The three finalists were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, and Swamplandia! by Karen Russel.

In an email that she wrote the Associate Press (AP), 1992 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, Jane Smiley, wrote:

“I can’t believe there wasn’t a worthy one. It’s a shame. But sometimes a selection committee really cannot agree, and giving no award is the outcome. Too bad.”

While I don’t know the logistics behind choosing a book for the prize, I can imagine it must feel like a slap in the face to the finalists (except Foster Wallace who is deceased) or to anyone who wrote a noteworthy novel in 2011. What gives?

April 11, 2012

Who Said It? James Joyce or Kool Keith?

My husband sent me this quiz. You must guess if the quote was by James Joyce or rapper and former Bellevue mental patient, Kool Keith.

I only got 6 out of 10 right!

April 7, 2012

What Does Your Bedside Table REALLY Look Like?

Berlin-based illustrator Christoph Niemann, who has cartooned for The New Yorker and Wired (among others)  has recently had his work anthologized in a book titled Abstract City. To celebrate the launch of the book, he drew a very funny cartoon for The Huffington Post of what he’d like his bedside table to look like and what it really looks like.

When I saw it, I laughed.

Hard.

Let’s just say I can relate.

March 31, 2012

Mario Vargas Llosa Will Donate His Library to Peru

In a gesture of love for his Peruvian homeland, Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said last Wednesday during a press conference on his 76th birthday, that he will donate his personal library to his hometown of Arequipa Peru. The author of novels including Conversation in the Cathedral and The Time of the Hero stated that his collection of 30,000 books (trying to imagine his library right now) will be a variety of books spanning from his collection of history, literature, and politics. Vargas Llosa says he will gradually begin donating the books beginning with his birthday next year.

March 26, 2012

Dystopia-Palooza

The Hunger Games hit theaters Friday and rabid fans lined up for hours to get in. The film is based on the wildly popular book by Suzanne Collins. The post-apocalyptic novel’s popularity  has the dystopian novel on the rise again and Good Reads has charted it out in a clever way.

It also asks the question, Could The Hunger Games become more widely read than Orwell’s 1984? And, while we’re at it, where’s a mention of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin? His book was the  grandaddy of dystopian literature!

March 20, 2012

My Reading Hang-Ups

I’ve often said that life it too short to drudge through books that don’t grab you. I already I have a pile waiting to be read and can’t be bothered forcing myself through a book if it’s not making me feel something. Then there are those books that make me feel too much, in a bad way. Over at The Guardian UK book blog, Imogen Russell Williams writes about the books she’s ashamed to admit she just couldn’t finish because the subject matter was too painful. These literary hang ups include the rape of Tess in Hardy’s classic and the injustice delivered in To Kill a Mockingbird.

While I don’t have exactly the same reading hang-ups (To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my all-time favorite novels), I do have my own. Anything that targets animals or children turns me away. Before I became a mother, I was able to read a lot of books that included child abuse like Maxim Gorky’s My Childhood (I loved it) and the horrific, twisted, and incredible The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks that involved burning dogs and tortured children.

There was one book, however, that I could never get through, before I was even a parent. That would be The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kozinski. It’s hard to believe the man who wrote the wry, witty, and often hilarious Being There wrote this book, filled with such brutality aimed at a little orphan boy that it still makes me shudder. And I get it – the book is a metaphor for humanity’s cruelty, war, etc. but I just couldn’t finish it. I tried though, because Kosinski is a fantastic writer. I even got about fifty pages in, but then had to put it down. I think it was when the ravens started pecking at the boy’s head when I decided enough was enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dark, but there’s a line for me and Kosinski crossed it. Now as a parent, I’m a lot weaker. I have a harder time than I did before with innocents being harmed, namely children and animals. Of course, it’s all in the way the writer tells the story, crafting it so it’s palatable (hence Gorky). However, it’s a matter of taste and there are always those weak spots that some of us possess.

The can be said for films. I still marvel that my husband loved Wolf Creek and Battle Royale. I’d rather sweep the kitchen with a toothbrush than go near either one of those.

%d bloggers like this: