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What I (Tried To) Read This Year

Time for my end of the year reading list wrap-up. A couple warnings:

One, I have toddlers, a full-time day job, and I’m trying to writing on the side. This list is short in a both a literally and literarily unimpressive way.

Two, this list is full of more spoilers than a Colorado fruit and vegetable stand, so if you haven’t read one of these books, you might want to skip over my comments on it.

Thus warned, we dive into my darkly revealing reading habits.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get very far into this book. Highly recommended by a friend who told me all about it, this book is supposed to have it all: a girl who can talk to God, evil aliens who abduct and impregnate her, a long and bloody battle to escape said aliens, and a climactic conflict where the gravid pre-teen must explain to her parents how she got with child. Sounds like a winner, yes?

No. This book is ponderously slow. The aliens don’t show up in the first thirty pages (as far as I got), and oh my God, lady bits and processes are discussed! DO NOT WANT!

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

OK, I like chocolate just as much as the next person, and hey, who doesn’t need water? But this book is false advertising. First off, there isn’t nearly enough chocolate to sate my hunger for the confection, and second, is that really where our drinking water comes from? That scene was just as traumatic as the time a couple of weeks ago when my parents sat me down to talk about where babies come from! (Not to mention confused about the origin of my toddlers.)

Oh yeah, and this book is in Spanish. It took forever to read, typing each sentence into an online Spanish-to-English translator. Dammit, don’t foreign authors realize that Americans like their books in American???

This book should have been called Like Water For Carob. No thanks!

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A kid who is racist ends up on a raft with a person who is a race. Arguments ensue, but not nearly as many as you’d expect, and most of them with tertiary characters instead of between the protagonists.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. All the teachers in my life say it’s a classic. And this guy foaming at the mouth on a street corner had a sandwich board declaring it racist. How could I resist after that? But the characters all talk funny, so it’s hard to understand them. There’s no battle royal between escaped slave and former master at the end, so no satisfying, feel-good payback. And the whole reaching New York Harbor, seeing the Statue of Liberty, and realizing they were on Earth the whole time? Felt derivative.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was more fun, and has a scene with cake in a cave. Cake in a cave! Read that instead.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This was another book I didn’t finish. It sounded awesome – a giant white kraken threatening the Eastern Seaboard, with only a crazed captain standing between it and the civilized world.

Nope. I never got to the whale. I got a quarter of the way in, about eight hundred pages, and all that happened was a town was described in excruciating detail, a man with tattoos was described in excruciating detail, the whaling industry was described in excruciating detail, the ocean was described in excruciating detail, a ship was described in excruciating detail, a scene describing something in excruciating detail was described in excruciating detail (but hey, very meta). Plus a lot of other details were described in minute, also excruciating, detail.

Also, set in like the 1800s or something. So no battle ships, no fighter jets, no crazed terrorists with tactical nukes, no Green Peace trying to save the kraken. Epic all right – EPIC FAIL!

My fifth grade history text-book had more exciting storylines.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’d heard about this Sherlock Holmes character. He’s supposed to be the world’s smartest detective. And the book was short, more of a novella, so I actually managed to finish it.

But the main character appears to be this Dr. Watson fellow, since he’s in most of it, and Sherlock is hardly around at all. Talk about a total douche! Sherlock’s off in London, dealing with some pithy blackmail matter while poor Watson gets shunted off into boonies, traipsing around in the mud. I wanted to wash my boots after reading it.

My biggest objection, though? The whole thing is about a dog that kills people. I mean, come on, Stephen King totally already did that with Cujo.

Derivative.

A History of Violence by John Wagner

I love sci-fi. Can’t get enough of it. But for some reason, I got this for Xmas instead. Why do I even bother giving the wife a list of items to get me for Christmas? I slave over the list for hours, and I get nothing I asked for. Grr!

With regards to the book, I was shocked, shocked! at the amount of violence in this novel. Nothing on the cover prepared me for it.

Oh sure, you’re saying, “What about the title?” The title says History of violence, not Contemporary, about to happen in a major way violence. I’m a deep person! I thought it was a metaphor! Who wouldn’t be confused?

And man, all these characters need to be on Valium. And Xanax. And Prozac. And, while you’re at it, Abilify.

Side note: Abilify is the stupidest drug name ever.

On the plus side, lots of pictures, which I wasn’t expecting in a book.

I mean, a lot of pictures. Weird.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I’m gonna go out on a limb here, tuck my guy card under the floral-patterned duvet, and say what needs to be said:

WTF?? Who the hell thought adding zombies to Pride and Prejudice was a good idea? It seriously undermines the conflict and the drama. I mean, it’s hard to worry about whether or not Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy will ever get engaged, as they clearly are destined to be, when these flesh-eating zombies keep inserting themselves into the plot and eating people. Major distraction.

But, clever way to get people to pay for a book otherwise out of copyright and available for free on Project Gutenberg.

That’s my pathetic reading list for 2011. And now, a word from our sponsor: me!

Marlowe and the SpacewomanClick here to check out my forthcoming book, Marlowe and the Spacewoman, coming out January 9th, 2012 (Balloon Ascension Day)!

 
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Posted by on 31 December 2011 in Marlowe and the Spacewoman, Other Blogs

 

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Beethoven’s influence on contemporary literature

It is a well known fact that Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf by the time he died, most likely due to the high lead content in his ear trumpets (ah, it was a vicious circle, that).  What is less well known is that Beethoven was completely illiterate except when it came to writing music.

Beethoven hated literate people.  There are numerous documented reports of him walking through a Vienna park, walking stick in hand, and when he came upon some Bohemian-type (the beatniks of his era) stumbling along the path, nose in a book, he would thrust his walking stick between the fellow’s legs and trip him.  One police report shows Beethoven arrested for actually clubbing one of these Bohemian readers with his walking stick after the man had the gall to complain about being tripped.  If doctors had stitches in those days, it is estimated that Beethoven’s victim would have received at least twenty.

These facts make the strong influence Beethoven has had on contemporary literature all the more surprising.

Jane Austen, widely rumored to be one of Beethoven’s lovers, wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra on 9 March 1814 that the character of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice owed more than a few of his attributes to the strong but distant manner of “that dear friend of mine, LVB.”  Most scholars agree that LVB referred to Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Who can read Arthur Conan Doyle’s haughty portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and not think of the great composer?  Acerbic, craving intellectual challenge, and completely indifferent to the needs of the criminal class. Am I talking about Beethoven or Holmes?  Who can tell!

While Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is widely (but erroneously) believed to be autobiographical, the theory has been put forward that in actuality, Miller’s approach to creating his protagonist was to imagine Beethoven had lived in 1930s Paris, and was an author instead of a composer.  Certainly the protagonist’s legendary sexual prowess is in line with what we know of Beethoven’s romantic dalliances.

Samuel Beckett commented privately to several close friends that in the first draft of Waiting for Godot, Godot actually arrives at the very end, and is, in reality, Ludwig Van Beethoven.  Beckett claims that his inability to articulate the reason for making Godot Beethoven is the reason he eventually bowed to pressure from his publisher to change the ending.

J.D. Salinger confided to a close friend that Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye, was his imagining of what Beethoven would have done had he been a teenager forced to attend prep schools in the 1940s and 50s.  Such was his fear that people would realize this connection, that after the book’s publication, Salinger avoided the public eye on the off chance someone might confront him about it.

It is even rumored that J.K. Rowling’s character of Snape in the Harry Potter series is an idealized version of the great composer (which makes sense given that Voldemort is clearly based on that vilest of composers, and a man Beethoven would have hated had they lived at the same time, Gustav Mahler).  This Snape / Beethoven connection is less clear cut, however, and is included in this list only for completeness’ sake.

When all is said and done, it is quite amazing that a man so renowned for his hatred of letters and written words should have such a profound impact on Western literature.  His royal status in the music world is unquestioned and uncontested (and rightly so), but few are cognizant of the lasting influence his life and the way he led it has had on the books that make up the very fabric of our society.  One cannot help but wonder what future literary masterpieces will be created in the shadow of this great, great man.  It makes you want to go out and buy all of his CDs again, and spend a month floating in an isolation tank, alternately listening to his music and listening to audio book versions of the aforementioned titles (except for Waiting for Godot – it’s an absolutely awful play that even the presence of Beethoven could not have saved).

What books have you seen the influence of the Great Master in?

 
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Posted by on 19 April 2011 in Music, Other Blogs

 

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