Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tiny Book Assessments: Part Deux

at 6:03 PM

My reading queue these past months has been quite a bizarre mix of "classics" I, for some reason, decided needed revisiting. It's safe to say I've reached a point in my life distant enough from high school English class where a novel's position either within or outside the literature bubble does little to the odds I pick it up, save for my merely knowing it exists. I, as discussed somewhat meandering-ly in this post (link post [Editor's note: u dont tell me wat 2 do (author's note: i'm not spending the time it takes to find an old post. can you even sort by author on blogger??!?)), am a firm opponent of any high/low culture divide; that being said, the sheer tonnage of crap that exists out there disguised behind three-thumbs up San Antonio Report reviews means that going to the classics is a better bet than reading well-reviewed more recent novels. It makes a certain amount of sense: being considered a classic is not a guarantee that I will find the book well-written, filled with interesting ideas, or artistically fulfilling, but the fact that it has survived a noticeably longer span of time without becoming culturally irrelevant probably means there's a better chance it is some of those things. Man, it feels pretentious as hell to review these first two everything intelligent to say about them hasn't already been said. Oh well this blog has to be filled with something, right?

I picked John Dies at the End from the reviewable heap probably more as an oddly appealing juxtaposition to the other two earlier works: each of the earlier having well-known themes of war and disillusionment, while JDatE navigates questions of grotesque monstrosities and zombie dogs.

Here's a link to JDatE online:

And awayyyy weeee gooooooooo

Slaughterhouse 5

"Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

Mr. Kurt "Cobain" Vonnegut has apparently written a number of novels about the Dresden firebombing, but Slaughterhouse 5 is the most famous and probably the only one I'll ever read. I wanted very much to love this book, but ended up only liking it. So much of it is brilliant satire, but a good bit of it falls say all of the parts where Billy Pilgrim interacts with aliens. The central time travel conceit works well: the details of Pilgrim's life are fleshed-out non-linearly as the central and horrifying story of his march towards Dresden plays out. But Vonnegut really beats you over the head with his ideas about fatalism and freewill, or lack thereof, whenever Pilgrim is hanging with the aliens. It's pretty rough going for anyone that has ever spent more than 10 seconds contemplating these VERY basic philosophical concepts.

Where Vonnegut clearly shines is his portrayal of war and the comical personalities therein. A history professor who dismisses Billy's account of the firebombing for something more heroic. A 16 year old German boy put in charge of guarding the US POWs because all the grown men are dead, and who is a distant cousin of Billy's. An officer who considers himself the leader of the beaten prisoners, refers to himself as "wild Bob," and who doesn't seem to realize what war he is in, only that his soldiers know they can always call on him if they happen across his Wyoming home.

When Slaughterhouse shines, it shines as a biting anti-war satire. 

The Sun Also Rises

"You'll lose it, if you talk about it.”

Hemingway's best novel and his most endlessly readable, The Sun Also Rises struck me viscerally as it followed the author's literary manifestation of himself from life in Paris as an ex-pat, to the Spanish countryside to Madrid for the running of the bulls. The novel does a great job of capturing the American zeitgeist of the time despite being set abroad: the contrast between the few American characters and their various European settings highlights Hemingway's love for his home despite his fleeing it following the First World War.

Midway writing the previous paragraph, thinking about why the book was so appealing to me and others I've talked to around my age that have read it, a thought hit me: maybe the book's contemplation of the so-called Lost Generation is striking because that generation and my own, generation Y, share a number of similarities that would make themes like traditional masculinity, inherited versus earned wealth, addiction, and changing moral paradigms resonate with both groups. A quick google search reveals that this is not as novel a thought as I would hope. But I arrived at it independently! Hoorah!

And I think the fact that the story of a group of younger people traveling and drinking and at the same time trying to cope with or run away from severely emotionally crippling problems makes sense to me is not surprising. But Hemingway's combination of clarity and subtlety, and his appeal, in the end, to values I agree with make the novel one of my absolute favorites.

John Dies at the End

“Something coming back from the dead was almost always bad news. Movies taught me that. For every one Jesus you get a million zombies.”

This one is from a Cracked guy, right? I'm pretty sure that's the case. I am neither a particularly avid horror fan nor a Cracked fan (5 Crazy Ways that Rotten Hot Dogs have Influenced Science Throughout History!!!!?!?) but if I recall correctly this was recommended to me on Google Play and I needed something to read. I admire David Wong's fearless descent into nonsensical gore and violence while retaining enough emotional realism so that the reader is creeped out along with the characters. The novel is broken into 3 interwoven but distinct stories, with a fairly throwaway frame narrative in between, which do a nice job of pacing a story that, if told in one chunk, would blow its proverbial insanity wad much too early to last more than one hundred pages. The world is populated by flesh-eating spiders, shadow men, and villains like "shitload," a body swapping insect-swarm monster that delivers only nut-shots, and Korrok, a divine world-destroyer whose physical manifestation in an alternate reality the hero describes as "the mass of grease and hair washed by years of filthy dishwater." Wong does a nice job of keeping the showdowns varied and the plot moving at a blistering pace in order to avoid the reader thinking about how idiotic some of the jokes are.

I haven't seen this.
So there we have it! Keep reading, or don't!

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