Revenge of the Lawn

revenge-of-the-lawnRevenge of the Lawn, Richard Brautigan

I adore Richard Brautigan.  There’s something about his writing that I just want to sink into and reread again and again.  Somehow, his books can create a picture with just a few short words.  With stories that are surreal and playful and don’t always make sense in a logical way, they nonetheless feel real.  His descriptions are short and unique, I doubt anyone else would write the way he does.  Yet they are so evocative of time and place- late 60s/early 70s and the Pacific northwest-that I can smell pine trees and ocean spray and feel moss and loam under my feet when I read his books.

I suppose the proper description of Revenge of the Lawn is a collection of short stories, although that’s not quite right, primarily about his life in San Francisco.  It’s so odd that his work is divided up into his poetry and his novels and short story collections.  Because his prose is still poetry–his sentences are meaningless, all that is important is the rhythm and sound of the words and how they roll around on your tongue or in your mind.  And even if we are to classify the writing as prose, “stories” is a strong word.  Snippets is more like it. Most of the stories are no more than 2 pages.  Some are much shorter. Here is the entirety of one of them, “The Scarlatti Tilt”:

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.”  That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

This portrait is perfect in its way.  After all, what more needs to be said?  Other snippets involve a woman who buys liver and lives with bees, drinking coffee, Ernest Hemingway’s typist, and the problem’s that occur when you replace all of your pipes with poetry.  Unsurprisingly, it poses a lot of problems.

I encourage everyone to read at least one Brautigan book in their life.  It’s important because you’re not going to read anyone else like Brautigan, there’s just him.  Words work differently for him.  The order that the words go together and the picture they paint don’t seem that they would make sense, and they wouldn’t if you or I wrote them, but for Brautigan they do.  I don’t know why a story of people forever trying to bury their lion (who accepts in stoically) is a good story to read, but it is.  His descriptions are brilliant, such as describing a woman “adorned in yellow and jewelry and a language I don’t understand,” and he pulls you into the countercultural life of California at the time while blending the real and unreal.

Brautigan is delightful and original and he taps into something true somehow in everything he writes.  And unlike some surreal writers, there’s no struggle to understand.  The words are just there for you to pick up or not, as you will.  And if you do pick them up, I promise, they’re quite a treat.

 

 

Selected Poetry and Prose

Selected Poetrypoetry and prose and Prose, William Blake

I haven’t written any reviews in a while because I’ve been putting of this one in particular.  I wrote it already, you see, long hand in a notebook intending to type it out into WordPress at a later time.  And then I lost the notebook! Argh!  At first I was just stubbornly insisting to myself that I would certainly find it, and so I put off the search, and then I was angry at losing it and just thought it was terribly unfair that I would have to write the review again.  But such is life, I suppose.  In the grand scheme of things, it is, I suppose, a minor injustice.

Well.  Onto the review.

When I was young-I’m not sure exactly how old, I think 4th or 5th grade-my mom gave me a book of William Blake poetry for Christmas.  The book was one of those Dover classics that I don’t see around much anymore, but made up a large portion of my childhood bookshelf.  They usually cost about $1 each.  And were as close to the original publication as possible.  The book of Blake poetry contained “The Tyger”, and the illustrations that had gone along with the original poems.  I’m not sure how much I understood, but I loved the way the poems sounded and felt and read the book several times.

Since then, I haven’t read much Blake poetry, but I’ve read about him several times.  I read a lot about Catholicism, modernism, and Christianity in general in Europe and the United States, and so Blake seems to be hovering around the edges of many other books I’ve read.  It seemed like a good idea to read some actual Blake poetry again, and so I picked this book up at-you guessed it-the library book sale, my own personal Disney Land.

This particular edition was not the best idea for me to grab.  It’s clearly meant for academic use.  This isn’t a problem in and of itself, except that this compendium is probably best if you’re familiar with Blake already and just want a good selection hand for reference.  Of if you need a wide variety for a literature class and you don’t much care if the students grow to love Blake.

The reason I say that is that this had many excerpts, not just full poems or prose. The way they were put together didn’t seem to flow to me from a literary point of view, and they were occasionally grouped by topic, not by time or which book they were placed in, despite the fact that Blake likely published poems together that were intended to be read together.  My biggest problem with the book, though, is that it had no pictures!

A lack of pictures may seem like an odd complaint for an adult book.  However, the illustrations are a key part of Blake’s poetry.  In the introduction to this compendium, it even discusses in great detail how Blake had thought that he had hit upon a new art-form of illustrated poetry.  He worked as an engraver for books, and dreamt of books where the illustrations and poems were both created together and intended to support one another.  After exploring in depth Blake’s dedication to this art, and in trying to persuade others of its import, it is extremely strange to read a collection of Blake’s work that includes poetry, prose, but no visual art.  And it seems a disservice to anyone really trying to understand and appreciate Blake’s work not to provide that key part of it.

So, in conclusion.  If you’re a Blake scholar and need a handy reference for when you’re writing papers and don’t know how to pull up things on the internet, this is probably a useful book.  If you’re looking for a good introduction, you probably want something else.

Library Book Sale!

library-book-sale

Last weekend was the fall Library Book Sale.  It’s tied with the Spring Library Book Sale and Christmas as the best event of the year.  Below is my haul.  I bought all of these for $20.50, and I can’t wait to dig in.  If I ever get my to-be-read book list down to less than three shelves again I can justify going to the book sale on half price day for twice the books.  This is my reading goal before the Spring sale.  🙂
The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olson.  I hadn’t heard of this book before, but from a brief perusal it seems it right up my alley.  Absurdist, humorous crime drama?  Yes, please.

Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver.  Let’s be honest, with a few rare exceptions, Kingsolver writes a variation on the same book over and over.  Smart woman feels like an outsider, is doubted by others, eventually finds belonging in a rural area where she least expected it.  I don’t care, I love her writing and will read that book over and over.  This is a sequel to her novel The Bean Trees, which was beautiful, so I look forward to continuing it.  And it was $.50, so it’s not like I had a choice.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre.  I’ve read other Le Carre books, but never this classic.  I feel like I’ve come across it when reading about tons of other books and in other reviews, though, where books are often compared to The Spy Who Came In… as a classic.  So it’s probably about time I read it, and as I’m generally a fan I think it was a good choice.

This Is a Book, Demetri Martin.  I expect this was a fun choice, and it’s probably good for me to pick up something light hearted every now and again.  Martin is one of my favorite comics (comics named Martin seem to be very talented) and not least because all of his comedy is just a bit unusual.  I am not expecting to be surprised by this book, but I think it’ll generally be a fun read for someone who likes Martin anyway.

Guadalajara, Quim Monzo.  Most of this year’s book purchases were books that I’ve heard of or by authors I’m familiar with.  There weren’t nearly as many leap-of-faith purchases as I sometimes have.  This was one of the few.  It’s a short story collection by a Catalan author, Quim Monzo, who I hadn’t heard of before.  The short stories are reimaginings of other classics, such as The Iliad and Metamorphosis, and I was intrigued.  Plus, I just read two other excellent short story collections, so I suppose I’m hoping this is as good as those.

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon.  One description I read of this book called it “exciting and accessible”, the latter not usually the word I land on when describing Pynchon.  But why not?  After all, Crying of Lot 49 is fun if you don’t always demand your books make sense.

My Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs.  I was actually in the religion section looking for Year of Biblical Womanhood, which I’ve been wanting to read forever.  But I remembered that this was a book that had struck my fancy years ago as well.  As a regular church goer, and also fascinated by religion in general, I had wanted to check this book out.  I’m a little nervous it’s going to be too superficial for my tastes, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

Genome, Matt Ridley.  My budget for the book sale is a fairly strick $20 (except for that the Kingsolver book was $.50 so I grabbed it) and so I put back a Mary Roach book to grab this one.  I hope I made the right choice.  But, genomics is incredibly interesting, and I feel like I need a better base of knowledge to figure out what’s real and what isn’t when I read the latest breaking news about CRISPR or other genetic breakthroughs.  Here’s hoping this book was what I’m looking for.

Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks.  What is there to say?  This is an Oliver Sacks book, and I haven’t read it yet.  What choice did I have?  I love Oliver Sacks–and if you haven’t read him yet, you absolutely should.  Even if the book doesn’t initially look like it’s up your alley, I guarantee you’ll love it.  He’s an amazing writer, and all of his stories are fascinating.  I feel pretty good about this one.

Planets, Dava Sobel.  Sobel is another really wonderful science writer.  I’ve read Galileo’s Daughter, which was a very insightful and informative background into the truth of Galileo’s dispute with the Church, and Longitude, which was a fantastic book about the search for a way to measure longitude and how it ties into understandings of time.  I hadn’t heard of this one, but when I saw her name on the shelf I snatched it up.

The Creation, E.O. Wilson.  One of my favorite environmental books is The Future of Life on Earth by Wilson, a truly gifted writer and brilliant biologist.  The Creation, addressed to Christians and other people of faith, as an appeal to religion to save creation, is a book I’d heard of but had forgotten about it.  It’s a slim volume, but I look forward to beautiful language and hopefully some new insights.

And that’s it for this haul.  Now I need to dig in to these books.  Happy Reading!

9 Times the Republican Platform Forgot Donald Trump Is Their Nominee

  1. This platform is optimistic because the American people are optimistic.” (Preamble)
  2. People living paycheck to paycheck are struggling, sacrificing and suffering.” (Preamble)
  3. “Our most urgent task as a Party is to restore the American people’s faith in their government by electing a president who will enforce duly enacted laws, honor constitutional limits on executive authority, and return credibility to the Oval Office.” (Pg. 10)
  4. We pledge to protect the voting rights of every citizen.” (Pg. 16)
  5. [T]he next president must not sow the seeds of division and distrust…” (Pg. 39)
  6. The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet.” (Pg. 41)
  7. As a nation, we honor the sacrifice of our fallen service members….As a party, we seek to honor their sacrifice and comfort their families.” (Pg. 45)
  8. We affirm our party’s tradition of world leadership established by President Eisenhower….It embraces American exceptionalism and rejects the false prophets of decline and diminution.” (Pg. 46)
  9. A Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility.” (Pg. 46)

Americanah

AmericanahAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This critically acclaimed novel, the third by Nigerian born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, covers the life of two Nigerians and their very different immigration stories.  The main protagonist, Ifemelu, is accepted to an American university and after school stays in the country for work.  Her boyfriend from secondary school, Obinze, who had also wanted to seek a new life outside of Nigeria, is denied a visa and illegally enters the United Kingdom.  He is eventually deported and becomes a successful and wealthy real estate developer in Nigeria, while Ifemelu finds success as a writer and speaker on racial issues before returning to Nigeria as well.  Throughout this story the book examines what black even means, what it means for a person to be black, the differences between being an African American and an African in America, and the story of immigrants seeking more choices and a chance for more out of life.

Despite this book’s amazing reception and numerous awards, I was underwhelmed.  I didn’t love this novel as a novel.  That’s not to say it’s all bad.  First, let me say what does work.  Adachie is a trenchant observer of cultures, and in my opinion the best parts of the book were the excerpts from the fictional blog, “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.”  The blog points out the strangeness of coming from a culture where everyone is different shades of black, and therefore “blackness” doesn’t exist, to the United States.  It talks about the politics of hair.  It examines the way African cultures look at immigrants to the United States.  I could have happily read just that part of the book.

I also found the book interesting in the way I always find it interesting to read about different cultures and prose from different perspectives.  Fiction can highlight lived experiences in a culture in a way that a thousand news reports and scholarly papers never can.  At the time I read this book I was part of a campaign working on expanding electricity access in African nations. I’d read so very, very many reports on energy access.  But it’s importance was brought home to me when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and one of the measures of someone’s success and wealth is the size of their generator.  The early part of the novel also takes part during the tail end of Nigeria’s time as a dictatorship.  I’ve previously mentioned my interest in reading about how normal life goes on under extreme and adverse circumstances, so this part of the book was right up my alley.

Now for what didn’t work.  The story was fine, but I never quite connected with any of the characters, and many of the side characters felt flat.  In particular Ifemelu’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book, Blaine, seemed two dimensional.  There was never anything in the book to show why the two of them were together, or to even make it seem that Ifemelu liked him at all.  Even Obinze, the main love interest in the book, didn’t seem to have any real reason to be a love interest.  It’s odd to say that characters in a book lacked chemistry, but they lacked chemistry.  I believed that they were together, but there was nothing in the story to demonstrate that they really loved each other or why.  We’re also told that Blaine’s sister is an imposing figure who is hostile to Ifemelu and vice versa, but again, if we weren’t told this was the case I don’t think I would surmise it from the text.

All in all, there’s a lot to this book, and a lot I should have loved.  But instead it started to be a drag to read towards the end since no one had pulled me in.  I’d be interested in reading a short story by Adachie, since those often don’t depend as much on characters, or nonfiction, but I was underwhelmed by the novel parts of this novel.

What If

what ifWhat If?, Randall Munroe

If you’re on the internet at all, I assume you’re familiar with national treasure Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd.  It is one of the most consistently excellent sites on all of the global internets.  Before creating a job for himself being professionally funny online, Munroe worked as a robotocist for NASA, so he’s also pretty smart and seems to know some things about science and math.  That’s where this book comes in.

This is one of the most useful reference books a person can own.  There are numerous books, encyclopedias, websites and people that can give you the facts you might need about the Revolutionary War, conversion from ounces to litres, information about Newton’s Laws, or any other number of things.  But I’m fairly certain this is the only book that will tell you how quickly you could drain all of the earth’s oceans if there was a drain placed at the deepest spot, and also what Mars would look like if the glass_peopledrain was a portal that placed all of the water over the Curiosity rover.  Or what would happen if a glass of water became literally half empty.  Or, my favorite, what would happen if you built a wall out of the periodic table of the elements.

(Short answer:

  • You could stack the first two rows without much trouble.
  • The third row would burn you with fire.
  • The fourth row would kill you with toxic smoke.
  • The fifth row would do all that stuff PLUS give you a mild dose of radiation.
  • The sixth row would explode violently, destroying the building in a cloud of radioactive, poisonous fire and dust.
  • Do not build the seventh row.)

This book is also probably the best argument for why it is important to learn advanced math.  No one believes their teachers when they say they’ll use this in the future, but calculus, trigonometry, and differential equations do have real world applications.  And if you don’t learn them you have to write in to an internet cartoonist to find out if it’s possible to build a jetpack using machine guns, instead of being able to run the numbers yourself.

So, if you don’t have the knowledge yourself to find out whether you could drop a steak from high enough that would be cooked enough from heat during re-entry to eat, or the time to figure it out, I suggest you get this book.  I don’t know where else you can find that absolutely necessary information.

 

 

 

Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One, Ernest Cline

This book is a love letter to all the nerdiest parts of the 80s, and I loved it so much.  It’s set in 2044, a time when inequality has exploded, corporations control the country, resources have been severely depleted, and “real life” for most people has become a hellacious drudgery.  For our hero, a teenager named Wade Watts, the only real escape from this is the virtual reality world the Oasis which has grown to basically be the entire internet and has been kept free to access.

One of the co-founders of the Oasis, James Halliday, has left behind a quest: whoever can solve his challenges in the world of Oasis will inherit his fortune and controlling stake in the virtual universe.  The challenge requires an in depth knowledge of Halliday’s childhood in the 80s, including knowing all of movies like War Games and being able to beat all the old Atari video games.  Watts is one of many trying to solve this challenge, up against other individuals and Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the largest corporation-who wants to end free access to Oasis.  Apparently, the fight over net neutrality is still going on.

Okay, so you all know what’s going to happen just from that description.  It’s a bit of an 80s plot, too.  Not too much that’s unexpected.  But you know what?  I don’t care.  The book is a ton of fun.  Especially if you’re nerdy.  It’s well crafted, and the story hooks you in and moves quickly.  There weren’t any twists or turns that seemed majorly out of place, whereas a lot of books or movies like this have a few moments where they sacrifice plot or character or making sense for the sake of the story.  There was one point that seemed a bit silly and unnecessary to me, but it didn’t have much of a bearing on the plot and was really very minor.

This is the perfect fun book to read.  The only issue is that it’s hard to put down so pick it up when you’ve got a few hours free.  It pulls you in quickly and you’ll want to race to the end.  And while I’m usually fairly obnoxious about movies never being as good as books, I’m excited that this one will be a movie in a few years.  Steven Spielberg will be heading it up.  Who better to film a love letter to 80s pop culture?