Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday













To me the point of a novel is to take you to a still place. You can multitask with a lot of things but you can't really multitask reading  a book. You're either reading a book or you're not.  And to me the world of books is the quiet alternative  An ever more desperately needed alternative.
-- Jonathan Franzen --


Have a great Tuesday!
*****

Monday, January 28, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

There's a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else's work in the morning; it's as if stillness experiences pain in being broken. The first minute of the workday reminds you of all the other minutes a day consists of, and it's never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals. Only after other minutes have joined the naked, lonely first minute does the day become more safely integrated in its dayness.
-- Jonathan Franzen, Freedom --





Have a great Monday!
*****

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Franzen Can Do No Wrong

I just spent the weekend with this guy's brain.
I'm sorry -- this will be a brief, admittedly beer-induced blog, [Stella Artois, no less] but honestly, I think I must say I have never read a contemporary author who speaks so truly to the human condition than this guy here. Jonathan Franzen.
I'm reading his 2010 novel, Freedom, and it had me awake till 4 a.m. last night. Rarely have I read a stronger story, with better developed characters and flawless dialogue -- more real than any conversation you've ever had.
My third Franzen novel -- and loving it even better than the others. This guy is on the upswing.  It's like Franzen has been reading my diary, and I don't even write one!  

If you have not yet experienced Freedom, just trust me this time around. 
Just get a hold of the damn thing, and it will get a hold of you.


 See, this woman gets it!
*****

Friday, January 25, 2013

Splash du Jour: Friday



Letterman's Top 10...

Signs You Have An Imaginary Girlfriend


 




10. You describe her to friends as "a nondescript female with eyes and hair."
9. "Photo" of girlfriend looks suspiciously like SunMaid raisin lady.
8. You keep referring to her in the first person.
7. Have a patent pending for a machine that gives you a hickey.
6. Someone says, "Tell me about your girlfriend," you say, "Hmm… let me think of something."
5. Your imaginary friend is dating her sister.
4. Everyone can tell you're arguing on the phone with Siri.
3. She's never upset when you forget her imaginary birthday.
2. Always pressuring you to pretend to buy engagement ring.
1. Said she's too shy to meet your friends, your family, and you.

 

Have a great Friday!
*****

Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Reading Tim O'Brien

I did not read Tim O'Brien in chronological order, by any means, but I can now say I have read all his published novels. With this last one, The Nuclear Age, I can only say -- I wish he'd yet write another.
Apparently, O'Brien has given himself over to teaching writing, more than writing itself, or at least giving us new books to buy.
But I have thoroughly enjoyed all eight of his combined novels and memoirs.
People are most familiar [I think] with his 1990 bestseller The Things They Carried, which is a searing glimpse into the horrors of the Vietnam War. The book is required reading in some [good] high schools, I believe. And where it isn't, it should be.  It holds, in my own experience of reading it, the distinction of being one of those Rare Books That Made Me Cry.

 In pretty much all of O'Brien's novels, you will find elements of what Vietnam meant to those that were a part of that regrettable epoch. The author was a soldier in that conflict -- and there is no real understanding of what O'Brien seeks to do with his novels, without knowing this.
 

The Nuclear Age is the story of William Cowling, a young boy obsessed with the impending doom of what it means to live in the nuclear age. Written in the late 1970's, the novel spans the late '50's and 1960's -- but projects itself on up to 1995.
William devotes himself, during his college years, to protesting all things war-like. He stands outside the cafeteria with his hand-made poster which reads, "The Bombs Are Real" and soon aligns himself with four like-minded dissenters. Together they launch a covert [and sometimes not so covert] campaign to bring awareness to the dangers of nuclear armament. Their lives will be forever entwined, not only because of these common interests, but because of genuine love for each other.
The novel examines the psychological trauma that results [primarily in William and his "nuclear" family] from devotion to trying to eradicate what is ultimately an inexorable fact -- the existence, in our world, of nuclear weaponry.
This was a real page-turner of a book and I highly recommend it.
I agree heartily with the comment from the Los Angeles Times on the back of my Penguin edition -- "O'Brien has… flashes of Joseph Heller's irony, Don DeLillo's dark humor, and Aldous Huxley's witty pessimism."

Give us another one, Tim. Please?
*****

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Avoid stock expressions (like the plague, as William Safire used to say) and repetitions. Don't say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro. If something is worth hearing or listening to, it's very probably worth reading. So, this above all: Find your own voice.
-- Christopher Hitchens, Mortality --


Have a great Thursday!
*****

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday


If people would just think a little longer, about nearly anything, we would have more poetry.
-- Cipriano --


Have a great Tuesday!
*****

Monday, January 21, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

For a long time, nearly a minute, she gazed at me in that scary way mothers have of psyching you out, getting you to spill out your deepest emotions just by staring you down. It made me squirm. It was as if she were digging around inside my head, actually touching things, tapping the walls for trapdoors and secret passageways.
"I'm okay," I said, and smiled. "Perfect."

-- Tim O'Brien, The Nuclear Age --


Have a great Monday!
*****

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mortality / Christopher Hitchens

At the beginning of June, 2010, Christopher Hitchens gave a speech at the New York Public Library, and in it he said "One should try and write as if posthumously." Three days later he received his diagnosis of esophageal cancer. Eighteen months after that he left us behind to cope with the intellectual void his death opened up for the still living. When I myself heard of his illness I was greatly saddened, and found myself ever more intrigued with how he would publicly address his own views about life and death, and the afterlife or lack thereof. I scoured YouTube and other sources, and have probably watched and listened to very nearly everything available from Hitchens in those interim months. He continued to bravely debate, lecture, and write -- and I recall him becoming weaker with every appearance, requiring more and more drinks of water between his inimitable sentences. He still had audiences hanging on his every word, myself included, and I have rarely wished more strongly for someone to get better. He ever retained his caustic wit and razor-sharp intellect, even while struggling with the torment of his disease. I found this to be not only admirable, but strikingly brave.
I admired him. I loved him.
And I recall telling my friends that if Christopher Hitchens did in fact die, we would yet see a posthumously published book describing his ordeal. I spent a large part of yesterday reading that very book, Mortality. At a little over 100 pages it can be read in one sitting, even by me [the slowest reader this side of the Rio Grande!]
It is a very moving book. As one might expect, Hitchens does not in any way soften the horrors of what he was going though. This thing is straight up, all the way. Never for a moment does Hitchens suggest there might be something good about dying, and I appreciate that. It was just so searing for me to read of him feeling "swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water."
It is painful to read this book, yet so relevant, I think. So important, to do so.
The Afterword, written by his wife, reveals facets of Hitchens that few people ever got to see.  A man who loved deeply, and was deeply loved. And is greatly missed.

Like so many of life's varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don't so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it's time to be on my way. No, it's the snickering that gets me down.
-- Christopher Hitchens, in Mortality -- 


*****

Friday, January 18, 2013

Splash du Jour: Friday

If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint', then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.
-- Vincent Van Gogh --

Have a great Friday!
*****

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Ian McEwan, speaking of the loss of his friend, Christopher Hitchens:
 "It's very… desolate. It really does feel empty. He was the one of us who seemed to embrace all of literature; as time goes by, I don't think people will associate him with his taking an unusual line on Iraq. They will connect him with his brilliant essays on writers: Chesterton, Kipling, Wodehouse. The appetite. The conversations. I really do miss them. Martin [Amis] and I regularly check in with each other in the post-Hitch desert."


Have a great Wednesday!
*****

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday


"Don't you find it odd," she continued, "that when you're a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you're older, somehow they act offended if you even try."
-- Ethan Hawke, The Hottest State --


Have a great Tuesday!
*****

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bookmark Fetishes

In light of my McEwan-borrowed Splash du Jour this morning, and the neat-o comments I found there [thank you Merisi, Isabella, and Melwyk] I thought I'd mention a few things about my own bookmark preferences. This Christmas I got a lovely set of Cat Lovers 2013 bookmarks… one amazingly cute cat for every month of the year which you detach from the booklet and use, presumably for that month.  
Thank you _____, for this gift.
I definitely will be using it throughout the year.
However, most of the time I like to use a bookmark of no value so that I can write little notes on it as I read. I cannot abide writing IN my books, even seeing the slightest asterisk in a book bothers me, so I use something I can write on from time to time.
Here's the weird part: My favourite bookmarks tend to be magazine inserts.
Those things that encourage you to subscribe, and fall out when you fan through a new mag. Usually, it will be a Harpers insert. [A subscription I enjoy also as a gift from the aforementioned bookmark giver, go figure!]
Now, you may ask… "If the purpose is to write things as you read, why not use a blank piece of paper?" 

Good question!
I DON'T KNOW!
I actually prefer these magazine inserts, I'm not kidding. It could be some manner of birth defect.
This weird penchant does bring to mind a professor/minister I know. He is an internationally known speaker, and author of many books. But he told me once that all of his sermon and lecture notes are written on [are you ready for this?]… blank envelopes!
Why in the biblical hell would a person prefer envelopes to plain sheets of paper?
You'd have to ask him, I guess. It's just what makes him comfortable. Or a habit -- a system that works for him. Admittedly, he told me this decades ago -- perhaps now, in the age of the iPad and Powerpoint, he is even using a laser pointer… I don't know.
Anyhoo -- I like magazine inserts.
How about you? What's your own bookmark fetish?
A couple of people have already responded in my former posting below -- let the rest of us in on what you prefer to keep your place as you indulge in the greatest habit known to mankind -- reading!

*****

Splash du Jour: Monday


Writers are said to have superstitions and little rituals. Readers have them too. Mine was to hold my bookmark curled between my fingers and stroke it with my thumb as I read. Late at night, when the time came to put my book away, my ritual was to touch the bookmark to my lips, and set it between the pages before closing the book and putting it on the floor by my chair, where I could reach for it easily next time.
-- Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth --

 


Any interesting bookmark rituals out there?
Have a great Monday!
*****

Friday, January 11, 2013

Splash du Jour: Friday

For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
-- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning --

Have a great Friday!
*****

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Splash du Jour: Thursday














I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart - so hard, it hurt me. A hundred times I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But every time, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn't lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn't have felt her breath upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn't have kissed her, without wanting to save her.
-- Sarah Waters, Fingersmith --


Have a great Thursday!
*****

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite.
-- Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz --


Have a great Wednesday!
*****

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday


Wow, if this doesn't put a snap in your shorts this morning, I don't know what will.
I just love how this girl starts randomly dancing in an airport.


Have a great Tuesday!
*****

Monday, January 07, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

Writing in the grip of emotion, attempting to assign words to onrushing feeling, remains the central experience for me.  In the initial stages, I seldom reflect at great length on the meanings of the action I envision.  I strive to create a coherent, imagined world.  If that emerges, there will be a wholeness in the novel in which significance is implicit. Generally speaking, I think fiction seeks to reflect the ambiguity and contradictions in experience, not some slogan or message.  If there were a shorter way to fully express what the story does, there would be no point in telling it.
-- Scott Turow, Ultimate Punishment --



Have a great Monday!
*****

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Best Books of 2012

I'm a bit late with this, but I thought I'd drop on by to briefly mention a few of my favourite books of the past 12 months. It was not a prolific reading year for me, having read only a total of 38 books. Usually I hover in or around the 50 mark. But I did read some terrific stuff, for sure.
Among my favourites -- and really, it's so hard to choose, my four favourite novels were:

The Secret History -- Donna Tartt
Middlesex -- Jeffrey Eugenides
The Elegance of the Hedgehog -- Muriel Barbery
The Woman in White -- Wilkie Collins

Most of these are not current releases [especially the last one] -- but the criteria of "current release" very rarely factors in to my reading choices. To me, it matters not if a book is ten years old already, I wander my To Be Read piles, and just select one and BOOM, I am off.

Donna Tarrt is an author I would read without reservation, meaning, I am already interested in whatever her next project is! The Secret History was just so superb -- such memorable characters, and a story that effortlessly swept me along.
Funny, one evening in July I was reading it in a Starbucks, and an old man looked over at me and said, "That is a good book!" I looked up and sort of instantly knew that there is no way he had read the book. But he persisted…. "There are things going on that we do not know about…" giving me a sort of conspiratorial wink.
I said to him, "This is a novel -- a fiction." He was not getting it. He thought I was reading about the Illuminati or something. Non-fictional secret societies. I smiled and returned to the book, but he took out a slip of paper and asked me for the ISBN number. So I recited it to him. Poor guy. Afterwards, I imagined him making a trip to the library, checking it out, and then sitting down with it and thinking "What the frigging hell is this?"
Middlesex was my introduction to Jeffrey Eugenides, and made an instant fan out of me.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog was a wonderful philosophical journey. Not only a great novel, but relevant. Meaningful. Worthwhile. Elegant.
And The Woman in White was everything a great old Victorian novel ought to be. Old Wilkie Whiskerface… you gotta hand it to the guy. He may have been high on laudanum at the time, but he sure could write!
There are so many other books I loved -- it seems like a betrayal to not mention them here.

In the non-fiction department, two books stand out to me as just -- remarkable.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is the story of the WWII American soldier, Louis Zamperini. To read what this [still living] man went through as a P.O.W. in Japanese camps is just amazing. I could not put the thing down, from page one onwards. Hillenbrand could not have given us anything better. Her extensive research and writing style have joined in a book that reads like the most engaging novel, ever.
Then there is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot -- again, one of the most unputdownable TRUE stories I have ever read. I cannot recommend it too highly.

There are so many other books, non-fiction ones that reached into the very fiber of my mind and heart.
Isn't it difficult to just select a few to highlight, when all of us are reading so many great books each year? For me, it is difficult.

Happy Reading to y'all, in 2013!

*****

Friday, January 04, 2013

Splash du Jour: Friday


To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.
-- Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living --



Have a great Friday!
*****

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Slowest Read Ever

This book, Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters may yet go down in history as one of my slowest reads ever. 
But not because it is "slow" -- or not a good novel. It's really captivating and terrific. It's ME that is slow! 
I just haven't been reading as much as usual. 
As 2013 kicks in, I hope my current reading lapse is not a sign of things to come. Last year was overall a slow one for me, [not an encouraging signal?] having read a total of only 38 books. 
I know for some of you out there, you read that many in a couple of months. But I'm slow lately.
So don't get me wrong. 
It's not Sarah Waters's fault… not at all. I hope she does not see this blog and stop at the title portion of it!  No, no, I think she is fabulous. I love every book of hers I have read, Affinity being one of my favorite books ever. But a combination of early-onset senility and general distraction has me a bit book-stymied lately.
****

Splash du Jour: Thursday


You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
-- Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird -


Have a great Thursday!
*****