Sunday, October 31, 2010

Under The Skin

Tonight, appropriately enough, I finished my 2010 Halloween Selection.
<-- Under The Skin.
By Michel Faber. [Published in 2000 by Harcourt].
I always try and read an eerie or creepy book to coincide with the night of chills and spookiness, and this one was NOT disappointing at all. It was a terrific book, and probably one of the strangest novels I have read in a long while.
I got my copy from the Library. Can you see the little sticker at the bottom of the spine? It is a face in aghast pose, hair standing on end, and the genre designation is "Horror".
Typically, this is not my type of book, but I had read Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White and so I knew that the man can write. Hearing that this one was "creepy as the first third of Psycho" [Booklist] I thought I'd give it a shot.
It was a real page-turner.
Michel Faber lets the reader into the story on a very gradual basis… we are continually learning more and more about what is really going on, right up until the very end. I was telling my co-workers about the book as I went along on the first day, just a couple of chapters in. I described the scenario, but I myself was unsure as to what exactly was going on.
The protagonist, a "woman" named Isserley [read the book to find out why I have the word woman within quotation marks] picks up hunky male hitch-hikers ["hitchers"] along a stretch of Scottish highway, anesthetizes them while still driving along, and then -- umm -- takes them [unconscious] to the secluded Ablach Farm, where she lives.
See, I was describing this to my co-workers [first day] and they had many questions that I myself could not answer. Questions like, "What happens to these guys?"
On the second day [I am a painfully slow reader] I knew more information but it was still quite sketchy, and the thing is, my co-workers wanted answers. I knew a bit more, but still, it was like shining a flashlight on a cave wall -- you can only see so much at any given moment, the big picture is darkness.
Now, on the weekend, I have devoured the rest of the book and I want to recommend the thing to all who will read my blog… if you like a suspenseful, thought-provoking -- and yes, creepily disturbing read -- Under The Skin is a book I think you should get your hands on.
It blends elements of science fiction / horror / thriller -- and presents a riveting story in a package that is true literature, in the sense of relevant, important, timeless.
I can't wait until tomorrow when I can finally answer all of the questions I was asked about the mysterious elements of the story.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Splash du Jour: Friday

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings.
-- Richard Dawkins --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Splash du Jour: Thursday

I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system -- with all these exalted powers -- Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.
-- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man --

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ape House

I am a bit astounded at some of the negative comments I have read, here and there, about Sara Gruen's latest novel, Ape House.
I think she is getting an unjustified bad rap!
[Wrap?] <-- Whatever the correct term is, reviewers are being mean is what I mean!
Most of the criticisms seem to be involving the idea that the book is not really about monkeys, in other words, the main characters end up being people [God forbid].
See, for this I was thankful. I don't really like monkeys all that much. Even though I myself tend to drag my knuckles now and then, overall -- I still find people a lot more interesting.
OK, so the book is hilarious and serious all at once. Always a great mix for me.
And the hilarious stuff isn't too goofy, and I appreciate that. I hate goofy. Hilarity in fiction, for me, has to be restrained and appropriate.
Gruen stays within these Bookpuddle-induced limits.
There is stuff simultaneously funny and not-at-all-funny about the entire premise of the book.
An apiary is bombed by activists. No. Wait. An apiary is where bees are kept.
Ummm... an ape……. thing…. no [better yet] an ape house is blown to smithereens by militant whackjobs who think the bonobos [<-- a species of Congolese ape] would be better off unconfined. Funny, yet not at all.
Isabel Duncan, the fully-dedicated Jane Goodall-like proprietress is horribly injured. She's taken to the hospi
tal for reconstructive surgery, and during this time the apes roost in the surrounding trees, as the media trucks are put into high gear to catch every moment of the impending drama.
I don't want to spoil the book for readers who have not been there yet, so I don't want to say much about the pornographer guy that buys the escaped apes and creates his own subscriber-funded reality show, exploiting them with the help of cameras that capture their every now-domestic activity -- or the Joe Six-Pack type of honest reporter from the New York Times [or is it the Weekly Times? A tabloid? Only we, the reader need to know…] who takes a special interest in the case and writes the ground-breaking story that will finally emancipate our distant ancestors.
Or not.
By way of many revolving subplots, Sara Gruen shows us [and I think she does it in a very entertaining and convincing way] that our own alleged evolutionary superiority can be validly questioned as we observe how we may yet be susceptible to the exploitation of innocence when it comes to our fascination with the [as yet] animal kingdom. There are times when all of these apes are, without exception, more evolved than we are. [<-- Funny] And times when true reality kicks in, and we realize where we are on the favorable evolutionary side of things. And this fact should never give us license toward exploitation. It should always point to greater responsibility, and respect for others.
No matter who those others should be.
[<-- Not so funny]
I think it is a remarkable book.
A final word, and then I am going to go and eat a bunch a bananas, regurgitate them, and then eat them again --> I liked this book more than I liked Water For Elephants.
And go figure -- I like elephants better than monkeys.
One week from tonight Sara Gruen shall be a mere few blocks from where I am writing this -- at my favorite bookstore, and I shall be there.
I hope that in the crush of other people lined up like so many shrapnel-stricken bonobos, I have the presence of mind to say "I loved your book" as she signs my own copy.
To get yours -- click
--> HERE.

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

A little coffee place I saw this weekend, on Bank Street.
Hmmm… is Yann Martel receiving any royalties on this?

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Splash du Jour: Monday

If the entire course of evolution were compressed into a single year, the earliest bacteria would appear at the end of March, but we wouldn't see the first human ancestors until 6 a.m. on December 31. The golden age of Greece, about 500 BC, would occur just thirty seconds before midnight.
-- Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution is True --

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Three Questions

My friend sent me a link to an incredibly interesting Reading List.
Almost every book on there is one I want to eventually read. If Sam Harris thinks I should read it, that's good enough for me.
So, tonight I was [big surprise] at the Bookstore and I had a look at one of the books, it's called On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not.
Written by Robert A. Burton.
I leafed through it and even at a peripheral level, found it intriguing. One day I'll buy it and read it in detail. It's full of experimental exercises meant to illustrate how we "know" what we think we know.
At one point, the author asks us to recall where we were at three significant moments in history. Where were you, and what were you doing:
1) When President Kennedy was assassinated.
2) When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.
3) When the events of 9/11 transpired.

I am explaining it badly here, but, basically, Burton goes on to point out how the account[s] of what ought to be very definite and unchanging stories can tend to change with the passing of time. A morphing takes place… sometimes to the point that a person will be essentially saying that the events of September 11th [for instance] took place at night, because their [years hence] explanation of what they themselves were doing at the time the event actually took place is completely out of sync with the events themselves.
I am explaining it poorly.

The exercise made me think of where I was when the events mentioned, happened.
For #1, I was peaceful floating in a sea of amniotic fluid. Twelve days later I was born.
The other two events were fraught with misinformation.
For #2, on Jan.28th, 1986 I was sleeping. My mother ran into the room and was shouting me into a state of startled panic! "One of those missiles exploded" she hollered. I ran to the TV in the living room, thinking that the end of the world was nigh. A MISSILE? I thought that a worldwide atomic war had been initiated. It was terrifying. I then watched and re-watched the tragic reality of the events on TV for the rest of the afternoon.
For #3, I was at work in a warehouse, all alone. I had not heard the radio, or any outside information all morning. At about noon, one of our delivery drivers came to my building to pick up the morning's orders which I had prepared. As the roll-up door was raised, he said, "Did you hear what happened? Two planes have flown into the World Exchange Plaza."
See -- in the city I live in, there is a big building downtown called The World Exchange Plaza, and so I looked out the door in that direction, looking for smoke! My apartment is downtown -- I was horrified! I could see no smoke at all in the distance, so I asked this guy what the hell he was talking about…. and he said it again, but the right way this time -- Ohhhhhhh! Big difference. The World TRADE CENTER in New York! Now I get it.
Anyway, the book at the store made me rethink these moments in my life -- and I assure you, my own stories are the unvarnished, unembellished truth.
Especially for #1. I was like TOTALLY in the womb! Absolutely certain of it!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Splash du Jour: Thursday

“But we have received a sign, Edith - a mysterious sign. A miracle has happened on this farm… in the middle of the web there were the words ‘Some Pig’… we have no ordinary pig.”
“Well”, said Mrs. Zuckerman, “it seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.

“Oh, no,” said Zuckerman. “It’s the pig that’s unusual. It says so, right there in the middle of the web.”
-- Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White --

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Timeless Tales

Just today I saw a poster [<-- not the one to the left] for a production of Romeo and Juliet, playing at a theatre near me.
And instantly I felt like it was something I would like to go and see.
But I know the story. I know the story so well. And so do you.
But you probably wouldn't mind going either! If I sent you free tickets, for instance?
Of course you would.
Even though you know what is going to happen.
Even though you can recite many of the lines.
Even though you have read the play, gone to the movie, rented a DVD or two, and seen it performed live.
Yet you want to go. And so do I.
Because it's a timeless tale.
There will be crowds filing into theatres to see Romeo and Juliet, decades after I am no longer able to do so.


Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Cletus is passing by Billy Bob's hay barn one day when through a gap in the door he sees Billy Bob doing a slow and sensual striptease in front of an old green John Deere. Buttocks clenched he performs a slow pirouette and gently slides off first the right strap of his overalls, followed by the left. He then hunches his shoulders forward in a classic striptease move and lets his overalls fall down to his hips revealing a torn and frayed plaid shirt. Grabbing both sides of his shirt he rips it apart to reveal his stained T-shirt underneath. With a final flourish he tears the shirt from his body and hurls his baseball cap onto a pile of hay.
Having seen enough Cletus rushes in and says "what the heck are you doing Billy Bob."
"Jeez, Cletus, ya scared the bejeezers out of me," says an obviously embarrassed Billy Bob, "but me and the Ole lady been having trouble lately in the bedroom department, and the Therapist suggested I do something sexy to a tractor."

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Very Comfortable. Very Numb.

The concert last night was just amazing. I loved it.
I guess I would have to say that it was a mind-blowing flawless display of the cutting edge in the outer reaches of human audio-visual experience.

Roger Waters.
How long can this lad keep doing this? Year after year he keeps producing these high-caliber shows. And think about it -- the man is 67 years old.
His energy is incredible.
And to think that he can still sell out stadiums exclusively playing music that was released in 1979. For instance, just last month he sold out four straight shows at the United Center in Chicago. That's staying power.

The Wall.
I predict that decades hence, after we have thoroughly destroyed ourselves on this planet, aliens will excavate and discover the two discs from The Wall. Playing them will then cause a revolution in their own Alien Music Culture, and they will take this stuff back to their own galaxy. They will hire the best Alien Techno-Wizards to produce a concert [of course]. But it will be not as good as what we saw last night.
What I'm trying to say is that the whole thing was out of this world. And yet in it.
I am including here below my favorite clip of many that we took last night.
My favorite Pink Floyd song of all time, in its entirety [it's worth watching to the end].
Comfortably Numb.
Which I assure you, I comfortably was, and still am!



Splash du Jour: Monday

We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, teachers -- you can blame anyone, but never blame yourself. It's never your fault. But it's always your fault, because if you want to change, you're the one who has got to change.
It's as simple as that, isn't it?

-- Katherine Hepburn --

Have a great Monday!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tonight's The Night...

I have been waiting a good long while for this night.
The Roger Waters concert!
In three hours I shall be there! It seems like I have been waiting forever for this!
For those of you who may not know, I am a huge fan of Pink Floyd. And so right now I am waiting for my friend to arrive, and together we'll be going to The Wall!
In anticipation, I'm drinking beer and listening to Young Lust.

My idols are Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Each have their own respective gifts, when it comes to songwriting and musical prowess. For either of them, I would climb three mountains if a concert were on the other side.
Tonight I don't even have to climb anything!
I've seen him before --> a couple of years ago.
This promises to be even better.
An amazing show -- I will be sure to tell you all about it.
Click on the image of Roger below, to see a slideshow of the kind of assembly process that is going on right now, as I lazily drink yet another Alexander Keith's!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Live an Exciting Life

I practically LIVE at Chapters.
I am here every evening after work [I'm here right now] and for a large portion of weekends also.
[I know, I have a very exciting life!]
Chapters is a bookstore that just happens to have a Starbucks in it. Were it not for this feature I would not be sitting here for hours at a time every day. But I also like the books [of course].
Whoever invented this amalgamation of addictions knew that the appeal would be irresistible to me. Coffee and books.
I guess if there was a hamburger stand here I would NEVER leave.
So, last night I was here and I lost my coffee.
I had taken my laptop along with me for a stroll -- I do this all the time. However, when I got back to my table I realized I had set my coffee down somewhere -- and I was miffed because I had wanted a free refill! Damn!
I looked around for a while and then gave up the search.

Fast forward to this evening….
After work I arrived here [like clockwork]… ordered my usual grande bold coffee, mixed some honey and cream into it at the fixin's place, set it on a table in Starbucks -- wrapped my jacket around the chair and went for a stroll. I get very distracted when I start to look at books, and soon I ended up at one of my favorite sections, the Bargain books!
I resumed a perusal of one book I had noticed last night -- and reached over to my coffee that I had placed there -- LAST NIGHT!
That's right, as I brought this cup to my lips I noted how cold it was -- and only half full. I took the lid off.
Yep -- that is the exact trademark golden hue of my own mixture. That was the cup of coffee I had lost the previous evening.
I set it back down and returned to my table where my current cup of coffee was waiting for me, nice and hot.
This does not say much for the clean-up crew at Chapters! That old coffee cup [shown in above photo] was sitting there for 24 hours!
So -- I set it right back down where I found it. I want to see if it's still there tomorrow night.
[You live an exciting life, Cipriano!]


Splash du Jour: Thursday

Choice of attention -- to pay attention to this and ignore that -- is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.
-- W.H. Auden --

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

How The Nanny Got The Job

Clemson's cigar between my teeth and I hate cigars I grinned
east and west choking literally gagging eyes cinched shut as
slapping down my King of spades to an uproar of boos cheers
and suds flying he asked it again How did ye land such a girl?

Every crude thing within wanted to burst out but her brown eyes
from where they now watched a night's crib stopped me cold and
rising from that table with her on my mind I said Likes laughter
the girl closed her ad with likes laughter and by God she does!

c. Ciprianowords, Inc., 2010

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

None of the major faiths is bloodless; history reeks with the gore of their wars and persecutions, all the more disgusting a spectacle for being, in essence, as simple as this: A kills B because B does not agree with A that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden.
-- A.C. Grayling, Life, Sex and Ideas --

Have a great Tuesday!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Splash du Jour: Monday

I don't think I have ever divided my identity as a writer from my conscience as a citizen. I believe that where one goes, the other should go, too. I don't recall ever having written a single word that contradicted the political convictions I uphold, but that does not mean that I have ever placed literature at the service of my ideology. What it does mean, however, is that in every word I write I seek to express the totality of the man I am.
-- Jose Saramago, The Notebook --

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I Curse The River of Time

For most of us life doesn’t happen in an orderly fashion.
Nor does it always make logical sense.
This seems to be something that Per Petterson – Norway’s best-selling author of Out Stealing Horses - recognizes.
Beginning his deeply lyrical
I Curse the River of Time with “All of this happened a long time ago,” Petterson plays with the role of memory in the life of protagonist Arvid Jansen.
The story looks in on many angles of Arvid’s life, mainly focusing on the distant, yet overly dependent relationship that he has with his mother, a woman who is fighting her own personal battle with serious illness. While there is something to be said for keeping a childlike perspective on life, Arvid’s particular needs border on dementia. He is 37 years old, yet at one point his mother declares that she does not at all consider him a “grownup.” He is an incomplete person trying to navigate a world that, for all of its faults, seems to always be a step or two more complete than he himself can be. He is lost and alone, often unsure of who he is or what he wants.
The reason for his detachment is left largely for the reader to decipher, though Petterson outlines a series of Arvid’s disappointments, including the collapse of the political party in which he tried to find identity, his impending divorce, and his incessant desire to feel acceptance from a self-actualized mother that frequently seems distant and dreamy herself.

The novel’s structure, weaving through present and past, reinforces Arvid’s alienation, leaving the reader a little disoriented, but never really confused….because like Arvid, we have felt that disorientation ourselves….trying to get our own boat back to an even keel.

Though there are moments of contentment in his life, Arvid never quite accomplishes that balance. Nor does Petterson seem particularly anxious or apologetic about leaving him in this state of arrested development, mired in Self-Awareness Limbo. There’s no definitive moral to tell here, just a look at lives unraveling, fraying toward and away from their vague desires. In fact, it is these missing links, this relative incompleteness of a human, that is a central focus.

There are several remarkable things about the book, not the least being the challenge Petterson gives the reader to care about his protagonist. Utterly dependent to the point of being irritating, Arvid still manages to be a likable soul. What saves this needy introvert from being utterly pathetic is the precision and sensitivity of his observation. Arvid notices and thinks at length about everything, often aligning his inner reality with literature that he and his mother, both avid readers, have read.
Relentless in the stark Norwegian landscape, the book follows Arvid down empty streets, sparsely furnished rooms, dusk-filled nights. Generally, it is the beauty in these descriptions that saves the book from being utterly desolate.
For example, in an act as simple as lighting a cigarette, Arvid says …and I think it was the way she held the cigarette between her fingers which touched me the most, how her palm unfolded in front of her chest with a slight bend of the wrist and the glowing tip pointing to the floor, and that night was the first night she did not go home.

Many times in reading Arvid’s descriptions I thought of Hemingway’s lean prose, spoken and experienced by a Salinger character. A simplicity of style and an apparent desire to confront things as they are not as they are supposed to be.
One never feels that a description is false, and the straightforward reportage of detail yields a surprising emotional response in a distinctly memorable way. For instance, the following meditation on mortality:
…when it came to dying, I was scared. Not of being dead, that I could not comprehend, to be nothing was impossible to grasp and therefore really nothing to be scared of, but the dying itself I could comprehend, the very instant when you know that now comes what you have always feared, and you suddenly realize that every chance of being the person you really wanted to be, is gone for ever, and the one you were, is the one those around you will remember.

The title, a snippet taken from an obscure Chairman Mao poem, is reflective of one of the broader themes of the book, that of the swift passage of time. It is not a new theme, but one that, in the hands of this careful craftsman, becomes a uniquely striking one.
Read more about the book
--> HERE.
Purchase I Curse The River of Time --> HERE.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Splash du Jour: Friday

Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed - Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, "It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver."
-- Deep Thought, Jack Handy --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

For the first time ever, overweight people outnumber average people in America. Doesn't that make overweight the average then? Last month you were fat, now you're average - hey, let's get a pizza!
-- Jay Leno --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Making sentences is what I do. I mean the story will come as I write. When you are a sentence-based writer they have to be good, they have to be really on the spot. Because when you don't have a plot, what will you rely on? Just language.

-- Per Petterson --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Splash du Jour: Monday

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one."
-- C.S. Lewis --

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Love and Summer

I am predisposed to liking the writing of William Trevor.
Love and Summer has solidified that.
Reading Trevor is a relaxing enterprise.
It's like hot chocolate, and a warm fire in the grate. Such an unpretentious calmness to his stuff. You wouldn't be surprised if Ratty or Mole were to step into the room at any moment and offer to top up your glass of sloe gin.
And yet the subject matter could hardly be more serious.
In 1950's Ireland the matriarch of the town of Rathmoye has passed away. The descendants, a son and daughter, basically own half the town and are privy to the comings and goings of all the inhabitants. They notice that a stranger had been photographing the funeral, and are hence, wary of his presence.
Florian Kilderry, a fledgling artist, had intended a sort of photo-essay involving the burnt-out cinema in town -- but in the midst of the funeral -- was sidetracked, his eyes falling upon the lovely Ellie Dillahan, childless wife of a hill farmer.
Ellie, the epitome of innocence, meets Florian on one of his subsequent visits to Rathmoye, and is subtly drawn in to ever more frequent encounters with this would-be Romeo.
Ellie's marriage is by no means exactly romantic. It was a marriage of….. convenience, shall we say. It served to rescue her from life as a convent foundling, and provided the widower with an all-purpose charwoman / bedmate.
Win win? Granted, it is mutually beneficial, but in several ways, unsatisfying.
Dillahan is a man haunted by guilt regarding the accidental death of his wife and baby. As for Ellie, scrubbing floors in the convent or here on the ranch, is there really any difference? But what about love? Ahh… there's the question that beats in her breast.
The clandestine meetings between her and Florian provide the lass with a hope of something beyond her former acceptance of fate.
But Florian does not intend to stay in rural Ireland. In fact, he wants to spend his recent inheritance on a flight to Scandinavia, where he can properly live out his bohemian dreams.
Will he convince Ellie to go with him?
Does he even want to convince her to go with him?
Ellie seems more interested in the adventure than even her tempter does.
The novel turns upon what Ellie ultimately decides to do.
And when I say TURNS… I mean --> TURNS!
It is just such a wonderfully deep novel, and written in such a spare, unassuming, and not to mention economical [200 pages] way.
A very rewarding, rich, highly-recommended read. Again, various talking rodents will actually offer you booze as you read it... and that's gotta count for something!
Read more about
Love and Summer --> HERE.
Purchase the book --> HERE.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Time Passes

We say "Time flies."
It doesn't.
It does a lot of things, time does.
But only birds fly.
[And some squirrels, and even fish. Kites.]
It's interesting that we say "Time flies" as a sort of catch-all phrase meant to describe some inexplicable phenomenon -- and yet we also say, "Time stands still." Completely opposite expressions.
Denoting what?
Denoting the fact that time is perhaps the greatest mystery of civilized mankind.
I say "civilized" mankind, because I think the concept of time is the very thing that civilizes [civilized?] mankind.
The contemplation of the brevity of what is.

There was a time when I thought of the New Century with a sort of awe.
Back in the 1980's - '90's -- I felt that the year 2000 was some sort of Ushering In Of The Future. All of a sudden everyone would look like aliens or something.
But look. The whole thing is close to a decade old!
We've made great advances in technology. And terrorism. And terabytes.
But [breathe in -- breathe out] -- nothing has flown.
Nor has anything stood still.
If anything, stuff has moved.
Time passes.


Splash du Jour: Friday

Have a great Friday!