Mar 31, 2009

so much gained

You know, I've read some terrible books over the past year and some odd. I've had some funny interactions. I've bored my friends to the point that they flat out refuse to talk literature with me anymore. But, really, I think this whole dystopian reading quest has been the most interesting thing to happen to my book habits since high school.

For all that the books I've read are tied together by one loose adjective, there's a whole world of difference between the future-noir of Gun With Occasional Music, the classic, draining horror of Brave New World, or the scattershot what-the-fuckery of Naked Lunch. And, you know, I can't swear I would ever have taken enough time from the sf/fantasy row I mostly hoed for so many years too read these books. Either the ones I missed that everyone else caught onto in high school or the newer ones I would never have heard of.

Anyway, I'm still plugging along and enjoying the hell out of it (even if The Fifth Sacred Thing is so hippyish it should drip patchouli). What are you reading these days? Is it rocking your world?

Mar 19, 2009

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories

I picked this up for the actual story "The Lottery," of course. Count this as another classic that I just never got under my belt in school. I knew the twist, of course, so I didn't feel any urgent need to run out and pick it up. But I saw a decent copy of the collection for just a couple bucks, used (and let me just say again, thank god for used paperbacks), so I grabbed it.

What a revelation! "The Lottery" is the last story in the collection, and I took my sweet time getting there. I kept this in the car as my lunchtime/between times book, and I wallowed in it every chance I got. No one told me that Jackson wrote so damn well! Little slices of people's lives, most of them passing slowly over some common misery or guilty failure, examining it clearly and with beautiful skill. "The Daemon Lover", with the slow crawl of the day when a wedding never happens (obvious to the reader, torture for the protagonist), especially exemplifies this.

You know, the story "Flower Garden" is sort of the real life companion to "The Lottery" itself. In both, neighborhood prejudices and mean little traditions have crippling consequences for everyone involved. Jackson was saying an awful lot of smart shit about race relations (and doing it in the 1940s! - there are people today who think they're putting out intelligent comments on race relations who use a lot more space to say a lot less than this story or "After You, My Dear Alphonse").

As for the story itself, "The Lottery" still slides under your skin even if you know where the sting comes in. Know what's even scarier, though? This is what Jackson later said about the massive amounts of hate mail she received when the story was first published:

The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.

final thoughts: This could just be a personal blind spot, but I think that too much is made of one story, detracting from the skill and, yes, possibly genius shown in her other work.

Mar 11, 2009

a Lethem short story for your enjoyment

Lostronaut by Jonathan Lethem

A friend forwarded me this story after reading my review of Gun With Occasional Music on the goodreads website. It won't take you long to read, and I suspect it will take you much longer to stop rolling it around in your mind.

Mar 4, 2009

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America

Again, what is it with publishers putting big swastikas on covers? Hardbound books are already a pain to tote around, and that doesn't make it any easier to quietly read while I'm eating dinner out or something. Oh, well. Anyone who would judge me by the symbols on a book jacket is a fool anyway.

In a weird way, this book reminded me of Middlesex. An interesting story about what it is to be American but still be an outsider due to religion or background, wrapped in a less well fleshed out gimmick. The nazification of America just seemed tacked on, somehow, around the day to day life and trials of a Jewish family in the middle of the last century. I'd rather have more about the kid downstairs and how his life intersects with the narrator's and his brother's. Or about his mother and father, living in their Jewish neighborhood and in the larger world of the city. Or about Alvin slipping into position in the Jewish mafia.

Two major questions sort of popped out at me. For one, has there ever been a time in the USA that a political leader or party would be successful at drumming up the level of overnight, violent, murderous antisemitism Roth portrays? And for another, what about other minorities? Would a leader intent on following Hitler's example not have also turned on the black folks? Asians? (I mean, hell, we put Japanese folks into camps during WW II and we were the "good"" guys - what would we have done as nazis?) Basically, I either wanted this book to be larger in scale or be much smaller.

And then, at the very end, here comes the deus ex machina. Everything's wrapped up in a chapter, no problems, life back to usual, and ain't it grand? Good thing the whole affair was just a German plot, not actual, homegrown evil.

final thought: If you're really into conspiracy theories or alternate histories, sure, give it a read. I'll even loan you my copy. Otherwise, well, there was a good story in there somewhere.