Saturday, 24 November 2007

I think I might go mad

Why, oh why, aren't the paragraph breaks working again??

55. Whit

It is ridiculously cold in Toronto, and besides looking for a job via searching the internets, the only sane things to do must occur inside, such as cooking and reading. I haven't been cooking as much as I'd like because there have been welcome back dinners to attend, and podcasts to record, and even some Festivus shopping to be done. But luckily, I consider being on public transit being inside, and so I've been reading this Iain Banks novel rather frantically, and I just finished it this evening. I think I was trying to erase from my mind the shite that was #54 on this list and which shall not be named again.

Whit, then, by Iain Banks is book 55 of the year of counting how much I read. I was introduced to Banks a few years ago at Book City when I was in need of a new author because I was tiring of my usual suspects. Banks' The Crow Road was the one most recommended (Banks has written at least 9 novels in the adult contemporary genre, and I don't know how many science fiction novels under the very mysterious and subtle alternate name of Iain M. Banks). I really enjoyed The Crow Road, as did Brook, and I decided Banks must become a staple in my reading life. (Dead Air was excellent but Walking on Glass was pretty notably not good; Walking on Glass was one of his earliest novels though, and I wonder if he hadn't yet figured out how to completely separate Iain from Iain M. - what a mess.)

Whit was written in true Iain Banks style as the main characters all engaged in a profound amount of drinking and drug-using which still somehow seemed only incidental to what else was happening. It's also, like both Dead Air and The Crow Road, a mystery of sorts, but in this case the mystery is about the sordid truth underlying the history of a weirdo cult of pseudo-hippies in Scotland. The main character, Isis Whit (aka, the Elect of God), is sent on a mission to rescue an apostate cousin but it turns out this was just a ruse to get her out of Dodge while her jealous brother took over control of the cult.

The thing about this cult is that they eschew all modern conveniences so when Isis gets to the big city of London, many hi jinx ensue, including her filling water guns with Tabasco sauce and shooting some white supremacists in the eyes with it.

The hi jinx are all fun, but Isis as narrator wasn't always as compelling as Banks' narrators usually are. She was irritatingly self-righteous at points; simply dull in others. I understand those around her were supposed to see her this way but I figure a good author can convey that without necessarily similarly irritating the readers. I almost feel that Banks' almost vicious anti-religious message (to oversimplify the book, admittedly) took too much precedence over plot and characterization at points. Generally, however, it was a good if uneven read. It certainly hasn't turned me off reading Banks other novels in the future.

So, I may not be back for awhile - at Brook's suggestion I just picked up and will next read an exceeding fat novel, classic of the fantasy genre, by Terry Brooks. I'll let you know how that one goes when I finish it...or give up.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

54. Timoleon Vieta Come Home

I fucking HATED this book. I am angry about how poor the writing is. I'm angry about how lame the story is. I'm angry that a book whose main character is written in such horribly homophobic terms can actually be published. I'm angry that the guy who recommended it to me thought it was funny (the owner of the until now adored Almost Corner Bookshop in Rome), and that all of the wanky reviewers quoted on the cover thought it was funny - there isn't one funny sentence in this piece of shit. I'm angry that I wasted 3 hours of my precious life reading the whole thing when I should have followed my inclination halfway through to shred it and toss it onto the subway tracks at Donlands Station.

Timoleon Vieta Come Home is a cynical riff on both the Lassie story and the proliferation of books about how cool it is to escape the US or England to go live in a delightful cottage in rural Italy (presumably like Under the Tuscan Sun, which I will not be reading).

In terms of the former, you will only find this book funny if you find the prospect of abandoning dogs on the side of the road to starve to death (a big problem in Italy, especially around Rome) incredibly hilarious. To make this even more belly-laugh inducing, Rhodes makes sure that after wandering for months, the dog has his throat slashed and eyes gouged out right before he makes it home.

As for the latter, having never read those stupid books about the Italian countryside, I either missed or wasn't amused by Rhodes' jokes about them. I suspect most people will miss them because if you haven't read crap like Under the Tuscan Sun you won't get the jokes and if you have read and enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun you will be offended by how Rhodes is mocking you.

I haven't read many books in my life that have been so atrocious as to actually make me angry, so when it does happen I feel like I might go crazy. It's times like this that I understand how people can not be interested in reading books at all - because if this had been the first book I read in the formative years of my becoming a lifelong reader, I would have given up too!

Watching the Jerry Springer Show would be better than reading this book, for at least there would be some creative use of language there! Instead of going crazy or giving up on books, however, I bought myself a book by an actually funny author on the way home - Mulliner Nights by P. G. Wodehouse.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

53. The Crimson Labyrinth

Based on how extraordinarily ambitious it was of me to start reading Livy (I haven't picked it up since before I left Italy), I've decided that from now on, I will only post here about books after I've finished reading them.

I received The Crimson Labyrinth as part of my windfall of birthday books in August - this one from my mother. I picked it up the day before yesterday as a sort of antidote to the hyper-seriousness of Pamuk's My Name is Red, which while generally very good, was unrelentingly earnest. I don't think I'm up for unrelentingly earnest right now, so I plan to follow up Kishi's novel with something either sillier or more fantastical, though I'm not yet sure what.

I really enjoyed The Crimson Labyrinth and hope that more of Kishi's novels are soon translated into English. It was fast, well-plotted, never bogged down by unnecessary verbiage or information, and would have scared me if I hadn't already read Battle Royale. It didn't frighten me, but it did hold my attention unwaveringly.

As it is, I am intellectually, if not viscerally, intrigued by the way horror in fiction in Japan seems to be manifesting itself in part in a very specific kind of way (this doesn't apply, for example, to Koji Suzuki's Ring series).

Based on what I know (which is admittedly very little), Japan (like Korea) is very much a game culture and both these fantastically popular novels make gaming into something turned against the player and imposed upon them against their will.

I'll be interested to see whether or not I come across more Japanese pulp playing out and upon the same fears as The Crimson Labyrinth and Battle Royale do. If I do, I'll try to formulate a theory about this trend, which will undoubtedly turn out to be off base (but hopefully not as off base and boring as all of Peter Carey's shiteous Wrong About Japan).

For those of you (Roger) curious to know how I heard about this author, I found The Crimson Labyrinth one night while browsing in Book City on the Danforth. I've had a lot of luck just browsing there, especially in the K-M sections for some reason.

Monday, 5 November 2007

52. My Name is Red

In the interests of not having to update this blog literally every day, I've chosen something both longish and sustainable as my current read. (Books by Muriel Spark rarely exceed 24 hours in the reading, while things like Livy's The Early History of Rome can't be read in one sitting as it were.)

Thus, thanks to the wonderfully stocked Almost Corner Bookstore (I shall miss you!), I'm now well into (but not close to being finished) Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. I've tried and tried to read Pamuk's The New Life (which has been hanging about the house since Brook took an MA course (called, portentously, The Book and the Reader) in which it was featured) but find the first 30 or so pages absolutely unbearable in their pretension. Last winter (I think) I read Pamuk's Snow, gifted to me by the lovely Melinda, and which I very much enjoyed. It was very gratifyingly atmospheric in its evocation of wintertime.

I look forward to getting somewhere warm this evening where I can cozy up with this book some more. I was reading it in the Piazza Navona but my fingers were turning blue and so I had to move on.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

51. A Far Cry From Kensington

Vee got me onto Muriel Spark last year when she forced me to read Loitering With Intent, a truly hilarious book. I recently-ish read The Finishing School, one of Spark's final novels and it wasn't as good. A Far Cry From Kensington, however, is not disappointing me.

This one, like the others I've read, is hard to describe; I'd call Spark a master of character interaction more than of plot. It's not that things don't happen in her books, for they certainly do. Rather, it's that the interactions almost always trump the actions they cause, arise out of, etc.

I've put Livy away for a little while; I need some prolonged story action.

I'm sick of Rome and will head to Florence on Tuesday. I hope it's more of what I'm aiming for on this trip; otherwise, I'll be very seriously tempted to just pack it all in and go home early.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

50. The Adventures of Pinocchio

I picked up a lovely bilingual edition of the 19th-century original Adventures of Pinocchio (before horribly bastardized by Disney) at The Almost Corner Bookstore yesterday and I'm about halfway done - nominally written for children as it is, it's a very fast read. I stayed up late last night reading it but am carrying the Livy around with me during the day.

Livy is still going well - I just read his version of the events of Coriolanus's life, which are considerably tamer than what Shakespeare imagined when he wrote his play!

I am totally exhausted and feel best when sitting in a piazza somewhere perusing a book - guess what I'm going to be doing for my 11 days in Florence (where I'm heading on Tuesday)! I'm going back out into the beautiful sunshine now.

Friday, 2 November 2007

48. At Swim-Two-Birds and 49. The Early History of Rome

The other day, I found a lovely little bookstore in Trastevere (my favourite part of Rome, hands down) called The Almost Corner Bookstore and, helpless in the face of its great collection, bought myself Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds.

I arrived in Italy armed with four unread books plus the Wilkie Collins tome I began on my way to Europe; I was hoping not to buy too many books over here. Such measures rarely prove useful to me though and I didn't even try to resist the O'Brien purchase. Anyway, I read At Swim-Two-Birds over about a day and a half and it was immensely enjoyable; I spent a great deal of time laughing aloud and so cannot regret it.

Previous to finding The Almost Corner shop, I ambitiously purchased Livy's The Early History of Rome (which comprises Books 1-5 of his History of Rome from its Foundations) in the Forum gift shop - I say "ambitiously" for this is the kind of book I tend to buy and then let sit unread for years.

Well, I picked it up this morning to give it a shot - my fear of carrying it around for the next 5 weeks for nothing weighing heavily on my mind - and found myself immediately enthralled. I actually haven't really been able to put it down and so I've spent the day wandering slowly from place to place in Trastevere with my nose in Livy while the rest of me enjoyed soaking up the gorgeous fall sun.

I'm actually starting to feel kind of relaxed!