Tonight when I got off work I heard on the radio that Yann Martel was in town, speaking about his new book at our Writer's Festival. My first thought was "Whaaaaaaaaat? I love Yann Martel's books, and met him once back in 2003 when Life of Pi was all the rage. He signed my book back then, and even chatted with me. And so tonight I was so upset, because if I had known about it I would have made plans to be there. As it is, they announced the thing was sold out. But still, I would have gotten tickets in advance had I known of it. So, somewhat chagrined, I went to a Starbucks and drank about three gallons of coffee. Then I thought, "Well, at least I am going to go now and buy his new book. Like right now." The Chapters store was just closing when I got there. I grabbed a copy of Yann's new book and went to the cashier. She took it from me and said, "Wait. Do you want a different book than this one?" I thought she was maybe insane. A "different" book? Why would I have handed her this one? And she literally walked away and came back with another copy she had retrieved from somewhere over yonder, behind the counter. She said, "Yann Martel walked through here today and signed a bunch of his books, would you like this one instead?" I was like… "Do tigers live on boats? OF COURSE I want that one! Yes. Yes. Yes!" So the night sort of redeemed itself after all. I'm still sad that I missed Mr. Martel in person, but ended up with the next best thing.
Let me begin by saying -- Happy [Belated] New Year to one and all. I have not written a blog for a real long time -- but this does not mean I have given up on books. In the year of 2015 I managed to read 58 books. For most of you, this is a small number, but for me it's pretty damn good. Because truly, I am a rather slow and methodical reader. If I was a dinosaur, I would probably be given the Latin nomenclature of Slowus Turnpageius. But a couple of books really got me flipping the page last year. I've got to admit, it was really difficult to pick a top five, but here they are:
1. Purity, by Jonathan Franzen. 2. Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. 3. Riven Rock, by T.C. Boyle. 4. The Book of Daniel, by E.L. Doctorow. 5. A Tale For The Time Being, by Ruth Ozecki.
All of these books just had me riveted to the page. Please forgive me for not offering an extensive review of each one, but I am currently knee-deep in another real gem, and I want to get back to it here before Monday arrives and my alarm clock [which is so obviously set by Satan himself every Sunday night] jolts me into my back-breaking reality of… reality before dawn. Now that I think of it I have to include one more book -- Native Son, by Richard Wright. I'm really surprised at the plethora of negative reviews with the new Franzen book. I read it with my girlfriend on the beach this summer [pictured above] and we both thought the book was flawlessly good. Why are so many reviewers panning the thing into the sand? Where is all the Franzen-hate coming from? I think he is, to borrow a phrase of another of my fave-authors, Martin Amis -- "simply brill". I also read a lot of great non-fiction as well. Dead Wake, by Erik Larson. Voices In The Ocean, by Susan Casey. Zealot, by Reza Aslan. How Jesus Became Christian, by Barrie Wilson. And perhaps the best, and most important of all -- Heretic: Why Islam Needs A Reformation Now, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Happy reading in 2016, to everyone!
"If reasoning were like hauling, I should agree that several reasoners would be worth more than one, just as several horses can haul more sacks of grain than one can. But reasoning is like racing and not like hauling, and a single Arabian steed can outrun a hundred plowhorses." -- Galileo -- In my reading tonight, I ran across the above quote from Galileo. I think his last name was Lavitski. Not too sure about that part. You know you're famous when you only have to go by your first name. Like Madonna. Or Beyonce. But you know who I mean, right? The 17th Century scientist who was a scientist before the word scientist was invented? Immediately, what he said resonated with me, because I think there is a deep truth to it. Humanity [human beings] are very intelligent -- of that there is no doubt. But when it comes to scientific breakthroughs, or any other manner of intellectual innovations that lead to progress and/or advancement in technology or understanding, it's interesting to note that this never comes from the masses. It comes from the rogue mind -- the individuals that are bent towards thinking beyond the accepted norms and willing to question the validity of prevailing ideas. Humanity in general is quite smart, but true genius will always be an anomaly. Let's face it, most of us are plowhorses, when it comes down to it. Nothing wrong with that, after all. Somehow the field has to get plowed. Might as well be me under the yoke. Some of us still even go to church. In fact, the masses do! But then there are the Galileos. They are still among us. Revealing what always was. Praise be! *****
First of all, my apologies to everyone who may be even slightly concerned, but I have not written a blog-posting in about three years. I blame Laziness. With a capital "L". Laziness as an entity. I've read such great books in the past while, some of the best ever. So, I am still reading like crazy, but just not writing. I have a second factor to blame. Work. As in, too much of it. With a capital "W". As an entity. Just wait until the day I am retired or win the Lottery [whichever comes first] and no normal human will be able to even read all the blogs I will write! But tonight I just wanted to drop by and say hello while I sit out here on my balcony with my best friend in the universe beside me -- we are watching the craziest lightning storm I have ever seen -- no rain -- just the electrical portions of some kind of freak-storm. And it's apropos. Because TOMORROW night, I will finally see [and hear] AC/DC in concert. So this is the night before the brain damage. No wonder the skies are on fire. I've wanted to see AC/DC since pretty much being alive, so I'm really looking forward to tomorrow night. Finally getting to sing along with Shoot To Thrill, and whatever else they play. Whatever it is, I will know the words. So funny, when I was just a kid and my rock band [Hellion] shook the plates off the cupboards upstairs while we would practice our songs, my mom, after she re-arranged things, [and now in the opposite place] would ask me... "But why do you boys sing that you actually want to be on the Highway to Hell?" I still do not have a very coherent answer. *****
Imagine my joy to be walking through a bookstore in Oshawa one day while on vacation and discovering a stack of Jose Saramago books on a table. I was convinced I had read everything that the man ever wrote. But it seems that after his death on June 18th, 2010 [a day I will never forget] -- his publishers had been holding back on a few things, and he is now being posthumously published again! The book I found that day was called Raised From The Ground, first published in Portuguese in 1980, now freshly translated into English. I had no idea the thing existed. I promptly bought two copies. I read it, and it was fantastic. A bit later on, after doing a bit of research I found one called The Lives of Things, a collection of six short stories. Again I got two copies, sending one to my best friend. But there was yet one more discovery to be made, a novel called Skylight, which was Saramago's first novel, written when he was a mere 31 years old. It was rejected at the time. Being ignored by that publisher plunged the writer into a painful, indelible silence that lasted decades. Even after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, Saramago continued to keep this book Skylight a secret, refusing to have it published during his earthly existence. But we have it now. I encourage you to read it. In fact, if you have never read Jose Saramago, Skylight may be a good place to start, because it is written in a straightforward, grammatically correct way. Later on he adopted a style so unique that some readers may find those books hard to follow -- although I myself found them irresistible. I love what his wife, Pilar del Rio, said in the Introduction to Skylight: Skylight is the gift that Saramago readers deserved to receive. It is not the closing of a door; on the contrary, it flings the door wide open so that we can go back inside and read or reread his other novels in the light of what he was writing as a young man. Skylight is the gateway into Saramago's work and will be a real discovery for its readers. As if a perfect circle had closed. As if death did not exist. As if death did not exist. Jose Saramago died 1,850 days ago. 5 years and 24 days ago. 264 weeks and 2 days ago. 44,400 hours ago. 2,664,000 minutes ago. 159,840,000 seconds. I'm so glad he left us this last gift to open, on our way to re-reading everything else.
What could be conceivably better than eating a massive hamburger and drinking a Guinness whille you are simultaneously scrounging a free Blue Jays game because your hotel is attached to the Skydome in Toronto? A game they won against the Baltimore Orioles. Answer = Nothing. *****
Lovely, the way the sky works. The constellations and planets and moons. Enough recurrence to assure us of the probable continuation of the universe, but not so repetitive as to become boring during the limited span we have to watch it all spin around. -- Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons --
I'm sure that some of you who may have been following my blog in the past have concluded that I have died. But I am very much alive! It's really strange, but somehow I have just not been blogging much this year. I'm not even sure why. For a spell there I was saying to myself that I am just working too much. That I am too tired at the end of the day. And it's true, the past few months have been real busy at my work -- but it has subsided lately, and still -- I just do not seem to be blogging about the things I am reading, or even about my daily thoughts as I once did. It's probably just a bit of phase I am going through, almost like writer's block. But I have been reading some really terrific books, that's for sure. In fact, the first three months of this year I have read 15 books, which is a real lot for me statistically speaking, and given the fact that I am slow reader. Here is a list of what I have read thus far in 2015:
The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought by Susan Jacoby Gold by Chris Cleave Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber Under The Wide And Starry Sky by Nancy Horan The Names by Don DeLillo All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle Native Son by Richard Wright A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozecki
Just this morning I started my 16th book, Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier and I am immediately immersed in it. Such terrific writing. And in two more weeks I am on vacation! So… more reading. Uninhibited. And hopefully some blogging, too. *****
I just finished such a great book, The Road To Wellville, by T.C. Boyle. And I loved it so much I had to immediately pick up another one by him and dig right into it. It's called Talk Talk, and deals with the phenomenon of identity theft. And the same thing is happening -- I CANNOT put the thing down! I've read several others by this guy and seriously, he is just dynamite. The Road To Wellville was about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of corn flakes. Often Boyle will take a real historical person and create a barnburner of a novel about their life. God he is good. He is everything I love about good writing. Clarity, substance, humor, suspense, pitch-perfect characters that you can believe in. Great dialogue. Witty, inventive. I can't wait to get my hands on his newest novel, as yet unreleased. It's titled The Harder They Come. From what I understand, it deals with the current fad of amateur sniperism. Whatever topic Boyle handles, he always just nails it. I mean… even with corn flakes. How can anyone make that interesting? Boyle knows how. Check out his awesome website -- HERE. *****
I do feel that literature should be demystified. What I object to is what is happening in our era: literature is only something you get at school as an assignment. No one reads for fun, or to be subversive or to get turned on to something. It's just like doing math at school. I mean, how often do we sit down and do trigonometry for fun, to relax. I've thought about this, the domination of the literary arts by theory over the past 25 years -- which I detest -- and it's as if you have to be a critic to mediate between the author and the reader and that's utter crap. Literature can be great in all ways, but it's just entertainment like rock'n'roll or a film. It is entertainment. If it doesn't capture you on that level, as entertainment, movement of plot, then it doesn't work. Nothing else will come out of it. The beauty of the language, the characterization, the structure, all that's irrelevant if you're not getting the reader on that level -- moving a story. If that's friendly to readers, I cop to it. -- T.C. Boyle --
I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived. -- Chris Cleave, Little Bee -- Have a great Tuesday! *****
I really liked the last book I read and wanted to recommend it to my readers, even though I may be one of the last people on earth to have discovered Chris Cleave's work. Which is to say, you've maybe already read Gold. Or Little Bee. Or Incendiary. His books sell like hotcakes, and he is the kind of author who enjoys a word-of-mouth cult following. There's a light, humorous way he gets his serious message across that tends to lend itself to the idea that all your friends should read the book, too. That is at least how I felt, and feel, about Gold. It's about Olympic-level cycling. No it isn't. He just uses the phenomenon of Olympic competition to tell the deeper story of how love is really the prize in life everyone strives hardest to achieve and maintain. It just runs deeper, love does. It's a brilliant book that makes one realize that a medal, even a gold one, is in the end, well… metal. The true desire to care for other human beings is the lifeblood that makes us who we are. Rather than go on about it, I will include here a clip of the author himself, explaining the gist of his book. If you haven't read it yet keep your eye open for it in your travels. The book accelerates, the last half better than the first -- like a good race. And the final 75 pages will have your heart pumping as if you yourself were pushing past the wall of physical and emotional endurance in the bright lights of the velodrome.
I say that humans are the only ones in this world that need everything within it...But there is nothing in the world that needs us for its survival. We aren't the masters of the earth. We're the servants. -- Joseh Boyden, The Orenda --
Other writers are like a garden diligently planted and watered, but Shakespeare a forest where the oaks and elms toss their branches to the storm, where the pine towers, where the vine bursts into blossoms at its foot. Whenever I read Shakespeare -- if it ever happens that I fail to find some new beauty, some new presentation of some wonderful truth, or another word that bursts into blossom, I shall make up my mind that my mental faculties are failing, that it is not the fault of the book. -- Robert G. Ingersoll --