November 9th, 2012


Some book updates (you'll notice a theme)

27. The First Confessor (The Legend of Magda Searus) by Terry Goodkind
28. The Walking Dead: Book 4
29. The Walking Dead: Book 5
30. The Walking Dead: Book 6
31. The Walking Dead: Book 7

I'm super close to finishing Book 8, and it's so interesting to see how the comic books differ from the TV show. Although some characters and storylines are the same, the differences are far more vast. I told a friend reading the comic is almost like watching the show but in an alternate universe. If you are a fan of the show, I recommend the comics. They are amazing - artwork is incredible, storylines are intense and they're just a great read. Get them! Read them!

Reading The First Confessor was an absolute joy - seriously! I feel like Goodkind got back to what made The Sword of Truth universe so compelling when it originally started so many years ago. Gone was the sweeping Ayn Rand commentary. In its place was a fantastic story that gave great insight and background into how the Confessors were established. Plus, this book really fleshed out the wizard war which is a central part of the later books. If Goodkind will keep writing like this, I'll read any SoT book he chooses to publish. I loved it!

Books 51 - 60.

51. Heinrich (comp.) - Mornings With Fulton Sheen
Good read, but better borrowed than owned, so gave it away. :)

52. DaBergamo - Humility Of Heart
My copy had a part of its pages replaces with previous pages, so part of the book wasn't there; still, it was a very good, interesting read.

53. Chomsky - 9-11 (Finnish translation)
Slim and easy to read, it was interesting to read this so far from the time.

54. Weil - Gravity & Grace
A bit unconventional yet conventional too, it actually gave me new viewpoint(s) to ponder on. She definitely has her own views that I don't always agree with, but it doesn't stop me enjoying the book.

55. Paul - Close Enough To Hear God Breathe:The Great Story Of Divine Intimacy
Nothing really new, but definitely a feelgood book that is useful *nods*

56. Barry - The Great Influenza:The Story Of The Deadliest Pandemia In History
One unhurried, thorough book on a subject that interested me, liked it :)

57. Bornstein - Hello Cruel World:101 Alternatives To Suicide For Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws
Cheery, gentle, unconventional and entertaining book, useful in a lot of ways. Definitely recommended <3

58. Koontz - Odd Thomas
A fast read, and even though I have no intent in reading more Odd Thomas books, this was worth reading :)

59. Maples - Dead Men Do Tell Tales:The Strange & Fascinating Cases Of A Forensic Anthropologist
Interesting cases as well as information on how the work is done, worth owning.

60. Itoh - The Just Bento Cookbook:Everyday Lunches To Go
The lunches are good looking and not complicated, a good book to start with (or the 'just one book' on this subject *lol*)
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#3 Misery by Stephen King

Title: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Suspense, 1987
Summary: Best-selling historical romance novelist Paul Sheldon is rescued from a debilitating car crash by his #1 fan, the deranged former nurse Annie Wilkes. Annie imprisons Paul and forces him to resurrect his dead Victorian foundling heroine, Misery Chastain.

I've read a fair number of Stephen King books (The Stand/ It / Wizard in Glass / Christine / Salem's Lot / The Shining), but haven't enjoyed any of them. Not that I don't think he's talented, I don't think even Harold Bloom can dispute that, its rather I find King's works to be short on plot. Bad things happen, even worse bad things happen, but it all seems spackled on, people moving from A to B to ... Z propelled by randomness and sometimes dramatic tone and storyline shifts that leave my head spinning (cough, Salem's Lot) . I know my impression isn't faulty because King himself argues the unimportance of plot in his writing guide, On Writing (which I did love btw, for its autobiographical details):

You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer - my answer, anyway, is nowhere. I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you all in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible... Plot is, I think, the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice. 

When I read this, why mouth dropped. Are you kidding me? Of course, real life doesn't have a narrative or plot! That's why humanity started telling stories in the first place, to impose plot, impose meaning, impose morals on the mysteries and coincidences of the incoherence of everyday life. His baffling disregard for plot is the reason why I've been hesitant to read any more Stephen King books. But Misery seemed a different animal than his usual stuff since there are no supernatural elements and I did enjoy the movie and am fully spoiled on the plot, so I decided to give Stephen King another try.

I'm glad I did! This is a fantastic reading experience, a modern twist of an old form, the Gothic novel. My issues with King's plotting don't intrude as there's isn't much room for elaborate plotting in this two-person drama. Annie tortures Paul, Paul tries to escape using all the wits at his disposal.

If you enjoyed the movie, I urge you to read the book. Movies will generally fillet a book, extracting out the plot and throwing away the setting, atmosphere, philosophy of the novel (Exhibit A: LOTR; Exhibit B: Name of the Rose.) There's a lot of richness in Misery the novel that the limitations of the movie medium doesn't capture. The novel is more than a battle of wills, its also a profound, thoughtful mediation on writing. Paul Sheldon compares himself to Scheherazade, composing a story so that he may live another day longer. The situation compels him to spend a lot of time thinking about writing, its purpose, its effects on both him and his audience. The only thing I've ever written is fanfiction, but even though King pisses on me from Felix Baumgartner-like heights, I can still feel a measure of "aha, yes, that's what its like." Here's some of my favorite passages about writing:

(1) On addictive nature of narrative drive:
  The gotta.
  It was something he had been irritated to find he could generate in the Misery books almost at will but in his mainstream fiction erratically or not at all. You didn't know exactly where to find the gotta, but you always knew when you did. It made the needle of some internal Geiger counter swing all the way over to the end of the dial...
  The gotta, as in: "I think I'll stay up another fifteen-twenty minutes, honey. I gotta see how this chapter comes out."
  The gotta, as in "I know I should be starting supper now - he'll be mad if its TV dinners again - but I gotta see how this ends."
  I gotta know will she live.
  I gotta know will he catch the shitheel who killed his father.
  I gotta know if she finds out her best friend's screwing her husband.
  The gotta. Nasty as a hand-job in  a sleazy bar, fine as a fuck from the world's most talented call-girl. Oh boy was it bad and oh boy was it good and oh boy in the end it didn't matter how rude it was or how crude it was because in the end it was just like the Jacksons said on that record - don't stop til you get enough.

(2) The deflation one feels after a story has been completed
  When it was done, he put the pen aside. He regarded his work for a moment. He felt as he always did when he finished a book-queerly empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity.
  It was always the same, always the same-like toiling uphill through jungle and breaking out to a clearing at the top after months of hell only to discover nothing more rewarding than a view of the freeway-with a few gas stations and the bowling alleys thrown in for good behavior, or something.

In addition to the philosophical aspects of this novel, the characterizations are much deeper, though we never get any real answers as to why Annie is insane (Kathy Bates said she wrote an actor's diary for Annie where Annie was molested by her father, a trauma neither the novel or the movie ever allude to. It makes some sense, Annie's favorite pejorative is 'dirty birdie' and one of her earliest murders was her father). Paul compares Annie to a "Goddess:" amoral, implacable, a frightening matriarchal force that cows him. I kept imagining the Venus of Willendorf. Annie's much more malevolent in the novel and the gruesome tortures she subjects him to far outstrip the hobbling scene in the movie. But Annie still retains a mustard seed of pitiable humanity (I kept imagine Kathy Bathes rather girly, fleshy face) and the feminist in me does wince at Paul's focus on the grotesqueness of Annie's overweight body (though I understand its source, King as a toddler was tortured by an overweight babysitter). These parts of the book are some of the most evocatively detailed:

Then there was a mouth clamped over his, a mouth which was unmistakeably a woman's mouth in spite of its hard spitless lips, and the wind from the woman's mouth blew into his own mouth and down his throat, puffing his lungs, and when the lips were pulled back he smelled warder for the first time, smelled her on the outrush of the breath she had forced into him the way a man might force a part of himself into an unwilling woman, a dreadful mixed stench of vanilla cookies and chocolate ice cream and chicken gravy and peanut-butter fudge.

He had never been as close to her as he was then, as she carried him piggy-back down the steep stairs. He would only be as close once again. It was not a pleasant experience. He could smell the sweat of her recent exertions, and while he actually liked the smell of fresh perspiration-he associated it with work, hard effort, things he respected-this smell was secretive and nasty, like old sheets thick with dried come.

The biggest failure for me is the incorporation of the Misery Chastain historical romance novel within the text. Paul recognizes that his Misery Chastain novels are melodramatic pap with a dash of sex for the female fans. But he also says that the work that he produces under Annie's imprisonment, a novel called Misery's Return, is the best book he's ever written, better than his attempt at literary fiction. The only thing is, based on the excerpts (which read like the script of some embarrassingly racist 1920's King Kong movie) this pride is totally incomprehensible. I didn't skip the Misery Chastain parts, but I did side-eyed them something fierce. King's a talented writer, with a wealth of narrative ideas that aren't tied to any given genre. With Misery, he's demonstrated he can write in a genre that's mostly written by and written for women - the Gothic novel. But he is decidedly is one of the worst historical romance novelists, I've run across. Still, a minor quibble, in what remains a very satisfying story. A recommendation.

Here's the cover of Paul Sheldon's masterpiece, Misery's Return. I loved how Geoffrey, the male protagonist of this novel within a novel, is so obviously based on Stephen King.

#4 Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr

Title: Sinners Welcome
Author: Mary Karr
Genre: Poetry, 2012
Summary: A collection of poems from Mary Karr (The Liar's Club / Cherry / Lit). Largely centered around her conversion to Catholicism in 1996, in her words"
 lit up by baby Jesus."

Mary Karr is famous as a memoirest, penning the critically acclaimed The Liar's Club, a memoir about her childhood in an East Texas oil refinery town, the daughter of oilman who loved alcohol and tall tales and an artistic, but emotionally unstable mother. I've haven't read the Liar's Club  as it includes the painful subject matter of her molestation and rape, a subject matter I can't really handle well. But I have enjoyed  pretty much every interview I've read with her. One interview called her  a "scrappy little beast" and I think these three words really captures her personality succinctly. She's very charismatic, its not hard to see why David Foster Wallace fell so insanely in love with her that he bought a gun to kill Karr's husband. She really does pack a wallop. It was this scrappy charisma that first led me to seek out her non-autobiographical work. People who aren't too familiar with her might be surprised to learn that Mary Karr considers herself a poet first and foremost. My first introduction to Karr was a blistering essay called "Against Decoration" which is a well-composed rant against the hollowness of modern poetry that daringly name names. My second introduction is this book of poetry, her fourth, called Sinners Welcome.

Aside: I'm non-religious, I wouldn't even go so far as to say I'm spiritual. That being said, my favorite book is CS Lewis' Till We Have Faces and I find the subject matter of spiritual transcendence intriguing. The majority of the poems in Sinners Welcome are about Karr's late life conversion to Catholicism, a process which she addresses in an essay at the end of the book called Facing Alters: Poetry and Prayer. Her conversion had nothing to do with shame or sin, rather it was the desire for a better philosophy for living, especially as her life has been scarred by childhood trauma and adult alcoholism. She cites reciting a rote prayer (the very beautiful Prayer_of_Saint_Francis ) with her 5 year old son, and finding the language of that prayer boring into her brain, quieting the noise there. How its message that she should become an instrument for love and pardon rather than wallowing in self-pity worked to improve her life exponentially. In her words:

There was an entire aspect to my life that I had been blind to-the small,good things that came in abundance. A friend had once told me regarding his own faith, "I've memorized the bad news." So it seemed to me that my uber-realistic worldview (we die, worms eat us, there is no God), to which I'd clung so desperately for its rationality, was never chosen for its basis in truth, nor for its efficacy in running my life. It was just a focal point around which my own tortured inwardness could twist.

The majority of the poems in this book are about her conversion from that tortured inwardness to spiritual joy. I found them to be deeply moving for the most part. My favorite is Disgraceland:

Before my first communion, I clung to doubt
         as Satan spider-like stalked
                the orb of dark surrounding Eden
for a wormhole into paradise.
       God had formed me from gel in my mother’s womb,
                injected by my dad’s smart shoot.
They swapped sighs until
         I came, smaller than a bite of burger.
                Quietly, I grew till my lungs were done
then the Lord sailed a soul
         like a lit arrow to inhabit me.
                Maybe that piercing
made me howl at birth,
         or the masked creatures whose scalpel
                cut a lightning bolt to free me.
I was hoisted by the heels and swatted, fed
         and hauled around. Time-lapse photos show
                my fingers grow past crayon outlines,
my feet come to fill spike heels.
         Eventually, I lurched out
                to kiss the wrong mouths, get stewed,
and sulk around. Christ always stood
         to one side with a glass of water.
                I swatted the sap away.
When my thirst got great enough to ask,
         a clear stream welled up inside,
                some jade wave buoyed me forward,
and I found myself upright
         in the instant, with a garden
                inside my own ribs aflourish.
There, the arbor leafs.
         The vines push out plump grapes.
                You are loved, someone said. Take that
                and eat it.

I don't think all the poems are successful. The ones about her dead mother seem rather tired to me, as if its a subject matter she's been worrying like a sore tooth for 20 years. Or perhaps that's due to my own fatigue over this theme, every female poet writes about the black shadow cast by their dead mothers.

I am also annoyed by the book blurb which reads: 

Mary Karr describes herself as a black-belt sinner, and this -- her fourth collection of poems --traces her improbable journey from the inferno of a tormented childhood into a resolutely irreverent Catholicism. Not since Saint Augustine wrote "Give me chastity, Lord -- but not yet!" has anyone brought such smart-assed hilarity to a conversion story.

As you can see from Disgraceland, these poems are not funny! Why does faith have to be swallowed with a chaser of humor? Its insulting that earnestness is so uncool that we need to mask it with something "smart-ass." Does the music of Bach need some giggles too? Blah!

Well, Karr had nothing to do with the blurb, so I only hold her publishers up for scorn. This book is a lovely collection of poems, not all brilliant, but certainly well crafted and very accessible to any reader. This passage from Karr's essay perfectly describes the satisfaction I received from reading this book: When I read a poem, it was as if the poet's burning taper touched some charred filament in my chest to light me up. The transformation could extend from me outward. Lifting my face from the page, I often faced my fellow creatures with less dread. Maybe buried in one of them was an ache or tenderness similar to the one I'd just been warmed by.