I finished two books within three weeks of each other this month (or rather, last July). This was an awesome surprise to me. I've been lamenting for a couple of years now about my MTV-fied attention span. I used to love reading books regularly, I'd say. Why can't I do it anymore? What happened to my culture steel-trap mind?
I still get giddy at the sight of a bookstore. Almost any bookstore. Like many of my friends in the D&M Gang (that's "Dinner & Movie." Hey gang, I gave us a name!), we suffer from "book debt"—titles you've purchased with that awful promise to yourself that "you'll read it later."
Try years of that and it becomes a semi-dirty secret! I know this book is good, you tell yourself. I was so excited to actually spot it and purchase the thing. But here you are, with a pile of several books unread, or worse, you gave up on. Not because it was bad, but because you succumbed to the distractions that came your way. Reading takes reading, of course.
But then, sometimes, the magic returns. The book clicks into gear, YOU click into gear, then you've finished the whole thing in a flash it seems. (This must be what's happening with the Harry Potter-ese. Of which I'm not a part of. I gave up on the first book—oh, the dirty shame!)
Years ago, I bought Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses because I loved the book cover. Little did I know that McCarthy has been acclaimed a master of modern fiction! The blurb promised an interesting story of young men traveling to Mexico but ending up in horrible trouble, but I gave up on the book. McCarthy's storytelling was great but the prose was too dense, and I struggled to read it. Add another one to Book Debt Pile.
His 2006 book, The Road was named by Entertainment Weekly as the #1 book of 2006. After a few months, it won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Intriguing as dystopian stories might be (a staple of genre fiction), I was really sold more on the relationship of a father and his young son—"each the other's world entire"—surviving in a post-apocalyptic society.
The father and son's tender love for each other sustains and keeps them moving forward on that fabled road. But their unbearable surroundings has no hope of getting better, and the desperation gets uglier each single day. (Or what you can tell as a "day"—the world is a perpetual gray.) What should a father teach his son about right and wrong? Is there a line between helping your fellow human and doing what you can to keep yourself alive? Who would the boy end up with if he (the dad) doesn't make it? Would it be better for the father to spare him from unceasing brutality and end it all?
This time, McCarthy's language was vivid and direct, yet deeply resonant as ever. I was savoring the story in high gear, and by the end of it, I never bawled so much over a book in my life. The book's power is mighty. If I pick it up, I will be plunged directly into this nameless father and son's universe again, hoping for them that they make it through another night, dry and warm. Goodness will find the boy. It always has. It will again.
Buoyed by my McCarthy accomplishment, I decided to revisit the books I gave up on. Memoirs Of A Geisha was purchased in 2003, and came highly recommended by both friends and strong reviews. I read the first 100 or so pages in a flash, but then my reading wheels fell of for some reason. When the movie version came out, I refused to see it (among other reasons) because I didn't want to spoil the ending.
True enough, I also breezed through the rest of the novel. The world of the geisha is undoubtedly exotic and mysterious, and Memoirs opened it up in glorious detail. Almost every character in the book was vigorously drawn, and the story suspenseful.
Then the last 25 pages happened.
The fairy-tale ending of the lead character, the geisha Sayuri, negated the lyrical elegance of the book. It felt… middle brow? Was the book meant to be a mere fairy tale? She didn't earn her ending! The fate of other characters in the story lent even more thud to the thud-dish ending. (What about Nobu?!?)
And let's not talk about the movie. AT ALL.
I thought these adventures in reading would be a good entry (at last!) for the details_later blog. A nice break from movies and pirates and singing contests on TV. As I prepared what to say and figure out the pictures, it dawned on me that I HAVE been reading (and finishing!) a nice amount of books in the last year, from the end of 2005 to mid-2007. This is such good news.
I loved this book. Talk about flash—I read Craig Ferguson's Between The Bridge And The River in one day. That day happened to be Milenyo typhoon day, so that might have helped Ferguson's cause. It's a multi-plot story of best friends from Scotland scattered between France and the US, two Jewish brothers fathered by Sinatra and Lawford (you can choose to believe that), lessons from Carl Jung and Socrates and the bizarre adventures in between. It's hard to summarize, but it is hysterically funny and and incredibly sweet. Craig Ferguson has a day job as the host of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and was the British boss of Drew Carey in The Drew Carey Show. And then he wrote this brilliant book. I declare him the second coming of Stephen Fry.
Keith Olbermann is another guy in the details_later pantheon of idols. This guy's intelligence is sick. Enter his name on YouTube and listen in on one of his "Special Comments" for his program Countdown With Keith Olbermann. The Worst Person In The World…And 202 Strong Contenders is a book spin-off of a section in his show, where he names, indeed, the Worst Person for the week. Normally, it's Bill O'Reilly. And even if he is former ESPN sportscaster, Keith is a formidable political analyst. (Ano?!) Dick Cheney probably has Keith on some sort of list. Yes, that kind of list.
The Iraq invasion is going to define our times. What a mess, but you don't need me to tell you that. The GINORMOUS CONTRIVANCE that was laid out to justify the invasion is definitely more horrifying than the post-apocalyptic world of The Road. Frank Rich, the former theater critic of The New York Times and now an Times Op/Ed columnist, lays down the appropriate drama and all the verified details of indeed, The Greatest Story Ever Sold.
Erik Larson's The Devil In The White City is contagious. I lent it to two people, and the two people bought their own copies of it afterwards. (A keeper!) The making of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and detecting the trail the world's first known serial killer (yup, the one in this story probably inspired Jack The Ripper!) is improbably addicting and fun to read. On occasion, reading the minutiae of architectural plans and construction problems of the Fair is even more suspenseful than the parallel serial killer story. Daniel Burnham (he of the Manila city planning and the Baguio park) and Dr. HH Holmes (who might have murdered over 200 people!) are fascinating men come to spellbinding life. And the little things you take for granted today? A/C current, the Ferris Wheel, refrigeration, even theme parks—all take their origins here. Amazing.
Now… to finish East Of Eden by John Steinbeck. Been stuck on page 288 since I started in (gulp) April 2004. 313 pages to go…
PS. Why is Oprah stealing my thunder? Soon after I decided on reading The Road, she made it a selection of her Oprah Book Club. She even nabbed an interview with Cormac McCarthy to boot! The man's given one interview in 20 years. East Of Eden is an Oprah selection too. Hrumph.