Life, Story

January 29, 2009

I just finished a book that was gifted to me: Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  What a great experience; but, like I was warned, it will be hard to review without giving anything away, so I apologize if this makes very little sense.

The back of the book calls it “a narrative particle accelerator in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect.”  Anything with Bob Dylan and librarians (the book is about “the information society”, in a broad way)  is good enough for me, so I got into it right away.

It’s an odd mix of magic realism, detective story, science-fiction, and a post-modern dual narrative. The nature of the connection between the two narratives comes clear before 70 pages are over, but the fascinating part is the journey through the narratives and the final resolution.

I say that as though things are resolved, which isn’t entirely the case…the book leaves untidy things untidy, like the main character’s relationships and the nature of his initial make-up.  And it’s not just an adventure story; it meditates on important ideas: perfection and completion, belief and uncertainty, purity and peace.

For me, though, one of the most interesting elements of the novel is its concern with the interplay between story and trauma – the way we create the narratives of our lives.  [here be spoilers…highlight to show]The main character (the split-brained data processor) creates the End and its rules, so what happens there is what he has wanted, in some way. Finally, though, we see that it’s unneccessary to choose between life and story…each one grows through its connection to the other.

Books Bought / Read

January 18, 2009

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but a conversation this morning (that will hopefully continue over a hot drink this evening!) brought the idea to the fore.  I also realized I should do it here, instead of shamefully and privately.

This will be a list, in no particular order (mostly how my shelves are organized) of books that I have acquired and not yet read (or, perhaps, started but not finished).

  • I’m trying to learn French, so I’ve got French text / workbooks.
  • Still in the middle of Kay Ryan’s poetry collection The Niagara River. They really are little gems of poems. Smart.
  • David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I’m on p. 85 of 1035. One of the best things I’ve read in a long time.
  • Still partway through The 9/11 Commission Report. It’s very good, but other things keep catching my attention instead. Bright shiny things.

Now things that I make no pretense of “working” on, still in places on shelves…I got some of my library from my mother, so that explains some of the classics, because I honestly did read everything I was supposed to during undergrad except maybe one or two things. And I’m not mentioning big anthologies or reference books, because no one actually “reads” those.

  • The Gift of Death and The Work of Mourning by Derrida
  • James’ Portrait of a Lady
  • Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast
  • A Mordechai Richler collection
  • Dumas’ The Three Musketeers
  • Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Boswell’s Life of Johnson
  • A collection of poems by Elizabeth Daryush
  • The J. D. Salinger canon. I had some people working on this with me, *hint hint*.
  • I got 3/4 through Ulysses. (I really wish I hadn’t stopped. Now my momentum is gone, and I’d really like to have it back).
  • I have a Stoppard collection I’d like to read more from.
  • I have 4 LIS books – Reader’s Advisory for Public Libraries, Reading Matters, The Library as Place, and Canadian Copyright – that I need to get to.
  • Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • Kunitz’ Collected Poems
  • Arendt’s Responsibility and Judgment
  • Conrad’s Lord Jim
  • A bunch of Carlyle
  • A bunch of Arnold
  • Said, On Late Style
  • Eco, On Literature
  • Calvino, The Uses of Literature
  • Hardwick, American Fictions
  • Bloom, Shakespeare: Invention of the Human and How to Read and Why
  • Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London
  • Autobiographies by the two Stratfordians, Christopher Plummer and Richard Monette
  • Heller, Closing Time
  • Clapton, Clapton
  • Gladwell, Blink
  • Power, A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide
  • Philip Gourevitch’s book on Rwanda
  • Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
  • Newman, Here Be Dragons
  • Carr, Klee Wyck and The Book of Small
  • Heaney, Beowulf
  • Dorfman, Konfidenz
  • McCourt, Teacher Man
  • Naipaul, Letters Between Father and Son
  • McClung, The Second Chance
  • Hardy, Jude the Obscure
  • Plato, The Republic
  • D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and The Rainbow (which I also have started and loved and for some reason left)
  • Tolstoy, War and Peace
  • Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • Grimms’ Fairy Tales
  • Davies, A Voice From the Attic
  • Woolf, To The Lighthouse and an anthology of essays.

Long list…and that’s not including the hundreds and hundreds of things on my Chapters wish list, or a new influx of books that might be coming from someone else’s library soon…

I thought I was going to start catching up, sometime, but I don’t think so. And that’s kind of nice.

A curious case

January 14, 2009

It certainly is curious when both of my parents and both of us and his mom all want to go see and then enjoy a movie.  But The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was just that…well, nice.

A story of a man born with an old man’s body (he grows mentally older and physically younger) couldn’t help but be bittersweet; but there were lots of small moments of joy, as well. And I don’t just mean the ones the movie asks us to watch for (hummingbirds, etc), but joy in everything, in the acting, the characters, the writing. K and I were smiling all the way through the old-body/young-mind Benjamin’s childhood and coming-of-age, it’s captured both the motions of infirmity (I know that doesn’t sound funny, but in some way it was) and the thoughts of a boy so well.

Cate Blanchett, as always, can be described using words like “radiant”. And it was the sort of role Brad Pitt always does well in…a little out of place, a little confused, but with great spirit. And David Fincher knows how to get the best from him.

I just want to find the Fitzgerald short story, and see what to make of that.

Oh, and I still want to know about the other two times that man was hit by lightning.

Update: Fitzgerald would have been pissed to see the movie. And so would lots of moviegoers, if it had been like the story.


January 11, 2009

I was introduced (by some morning program, I think) to Jamie Cullum and his music 3 or 4 years ago. He’s a British jazz vocalist and pianist; his first album in wide international release was “Twentysomething” and more recently he’s made “Catching Tales”.

Anyway, I caught some of his appearance in Bravo’s “Live at the Rehearsal Hall” last night, and it reminded me of all the reasons why I immediately liked his music and personality.

First: his voice. I’m so sick of contemporary jazz vocalists who sound exactly like the old ones, or exactly the same all the time, so polished. Cullum’s voice is scratchy, energetic, and, thank god, just different. He sounds like a rock singer who’s decided to sing jazz, and it’s exciting.

Second: choice of material. Yeah, there’re the classics…but then he also covers Pharrell, Jimi Hendrix, and lots of others. And even to the classics he brings something new: “I Could Have Danced All Night” gets a latin beat. And his original songs are impressive lyrically and musically: “I’m an expert on Shakespeare, and that’s a hell of a lot / But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought” made me fall in love with him.

Finally, like the other things didn’t indicate this…his energy and inventiveness. And they were emphasized in the live performance. One moment, for example, was a transition between songs…He started strumming the strings on the piano and freestyling, vocally, and took off his shoes. What is this? Then the freestyle turned into his cover of “I Get A Kick Out of You”, and whenever the song paused before “kick”, he stomped the piano keyboard.

A lot of fun, and smart. That’s good music!


January 2, 2009

My mothers and I went to see this yesterday afternoon, and I am here to tell you that all the good things you’ve been hearing about it are 100% true, and more.

For those who don’t know, here’s the Miramax summary of the movie:

“It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the schools’ strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the community, and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her guilt-inducing suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn which threatens to tear apart the community with irrevocable consequence.”

John Patrick Shanley is the playwright, and also wrote and directed for the screen. It’s a well-made movie; he uses a technique of skewing the shots during confusing, troubling conversations that I feel really captures the off-kilter feeling those discussions can have. And the movie effectively depicts the 1960s, Irish and Italian Catholic, Bronx (at least, as I think it must have been). But the most staggering thing is the writing. My mom and I just sat for a while afterwards talking about the story – how much more we wanted to know, how powerful the evidence is on both sides, how accurately the movie depicted the confusion that can tear communities and families apart.

And the performances are as incredible as you would think, from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman and also all the supporting characters. The movie is about gender, authority, leadership, compassion…and much, much more. And even more complex, by the end, than I had thought it was going to be. Certainly not one of the “neat” endings I complain of.  I highly, highly recommend it.