Tag: books

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

Sing Unburied Sing

A year and a half ago I read Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and found within it one of my favorite passages of all time:

Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts still recovering, even forty-three years afterward, from the fever which had cured the disease, waking from the fever without even knowing that it had been the fever itself which they had fought against and not the sickness, looking with stubborn recalcitrance backward beyond the fever and into the disease with actual regret, weak from the fever yet free of the disease and not even aware that the freedom was that of impotence.

The passage is about a young man growing up in the Reconstruction South where everybody was still obsessed with their “lost cause” and the lengths they went to in an effort to retain their right to own other people. The “back-looking ghosts” are an amazing image for that desire to return over and over again to a battle that was already fought and rightfully lost, and that Quentin is literally constructed as a place to hold these ghosts in the logic of the sentence is something that has stuck with me and will continue to do so. It changed the way I think about ghost stories, the Civil War, the American South, the passage of time, and race. I guess I have been looking for a story that would strike me as much as this one part of a paragraph did.

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Shakesp-Year: The Beginning

Clever? No? Okay. Well, I like it. I like a few other things, too, including the works of everybody’s favorite playwright, William “Billy” Shakespeare. A few years ago I received a degree in English Literature from the University of Connecticut and while I was there I took a course on Shakespeare, which was a wonderful learning experience. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten a bit away from the Bard after graduating. It’s hard to read Shakespeare, literally. Heh. Anyways, basically, I feel like I have to force myself to read some of his works and interact with them in all their various ways. And thus, Shakesp-Year.

Shakesp-Year will be 52 weeks long and will feature at least one post per week on some form of Shakespeare work. I hope to read some plays, maybe some alternate adaptations (Romeo and Juliet and Vampires, perhaps?), movies (both standard and more imaginatively adapted versions), filmed plays, audio versions, comic books (do those even exist?), whatever I can get my hands on. And I haven’t ever seen an actual stage version of any of his plays, so I hope to get to one of those as well. We’ll see what pops up in my area. Basically, if it’s got Shakespeare in it, on it, or around it, I’m there.

Partially, I’m going to need to rely upon you, my adoring audience, for some direction on where to go. What do you like? Who does the best Hamlet? The worst? I’m interested in everything, so lay it on me. Leave suggestions in the comments of this post (or any other upcoming Shakesp-Year posts). You’re an integral part of this process!

Penultimately, a few things I’m interested in watching/reading/listening to:

All’s Well That Ends Well

  • BBC Television Shakespeare version (1981)

As You Like It

  • BBC Television Shakespeare version (1978)
  • UK TV version (1963)

The Comedy of Errors

  • BBC Television Shakespeare version (1983)

Cymbeline

  • BBC Television Shakespeare version (1982)

Love’s Labour’s Lost

  • Musical version (2000)

Measure for Measure

  • Performance version (1995)

The Merchant of Venice

  • Play of the Month version (1972)
  • US version (1973)
  • US version (2004)

The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • Chimes at Midnight

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • US version (1935)
  • Royal Shakespeare Company version (1968)
  • The Animated Shakespeare version (1992)
  • US version (1999)

Much Ado About Nothing

  • UK version (1993)
  • ShakespeaRe-Told version (2005)
  • US version (2012/2013?)

The Taming of the Shrew

  • US version (1929)
  • US version (1967)
  • BBC Television Shakespeare version (1980)
  • Quantum Leap episode
  • Moonlighting episode
  • 10 Things I Hate about You (1999)
  • ShakespeaRe-Told version (2005)

The Tempest

  • US version (2010)
  • Forbidden Planet
  • Twelfth Night
  • UK version (1996)
  • UK TV version (2003)

Antony and Cleopatra

  • 1972 version

Coriolanus

  • BBC Television Shakespeare version (1984)

Hamlet

  • UK version (1941)
  • UK version (1996)
  • US version (2000)
  • The Bad Sleep Well
  • Strange Brew
  • The Lion King (rewatch)

Julius Caesar

  • US version (1953)
  • US version (1970)

King Lear

  • US TV version (1953)
  • New York Shakespeare Festival version (1974)
  • UK TV version (1983)
  • Royal National Theatre version (1997)
  • Ran
  • King Lear (1987)

Macbeth

  • US version (1948)
  • Roman Polanski version (rewatch)
  • Royal Shakepeare Company version (1978)
  • Scotland, PA (2001)
  • ShakespeaRe-Told  (2005)

Othello

  • US version (1952)
  • Royal National Theatre version (1965)
  • Royal Shakespeare Company version (1990)
  • US version (1995)
  • O (rewatch)

Romeo and Juliet

  • US version (1936)
  • Italy version (1968)
  • Romeo+Juliet (rewatch)

Titus Andronicus

  • Titus (1999)

Henry IV Part 1

  • An Age of Kings (1960)
  • The Hollow Crown Henry IV, Part 1 (2012)

Henry IV Part 2

  • An Age of Kings (1960)
  • The Hollow Crown Henry IV, Part 2 (2012)

Henry V

  • UK version (1944)
  • An Age of Kings (1960)
  • UK version (1989)
  • The Hollow Crown Henry V (2012)

Henry VI Part 1

  • An Age of Kings (1960)

Henry VI Part 2

  • An Age of Kings (1960)

Henry VI Part 3

  • An Age of Kings (1960)

Richard II

  • UK (1997)
  • The Hollow Crown Richard II (2012)

Richard III

  • UK version (1955)
  • An Age of Kings (1960)
  • UK version (1995) (rewatch)
  • Looking for Richard (1996)

Other things

  • Shakespeare in Love
  • Doctor Who episode: The Shakespeare Code
  • Playing Shakespeare UK TV series
  • The Black Adder series 1

So, let me know what I missed in there. Those are strictly filmed versions. If you know of a written adaptation in any medium that’s good to read, let me know that, too.

Finally, I have two reviews of Shakespeare based movies on this site so far, so to quench your thirst until Shakesp-Year begins  (I’m thinking the start of December), check out my reviews of Coriolanus and Throne of Blood.

Top 50 Books List (2012 edition): 50-31

According to Goodreads I’ve read exactly 300 books. There must be more than that, but that’s a pretty ok number to work from. The following list of 50 books represents 1/6th of all the books I’ve read/ranked on that site, which happen to be all the books I can remember. I really like all the books on this list, and only the top 15 or so should be considered to be in any kind of order. If it’s on this list, you can take it as a hearty recommendation. Any time the title of the book is a link, click it to bring up my full review. Here’s the first part of the list.

50. The Thurber Carnival – James Thurber

“Let me be the first to admit that the naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dali as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts. Senor Dali has the jump on me from the beginning. He remembers and describes in detail what it was like in the womb. My own earliest memory is of accompanying my father to a polling booth in Columbus, Ohio, where he voted for William McKinley.”

This is a fun collection of essays and short stories from throughout Thurber’s career. Thurber lived in my homestate and there are some fun thins to spot. Some of the short stories are really great, as are the stories of Thurber’s time as an intrepid reporter.

49. The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

“Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

Ah, another note. Any book series will count as just one spot on the list. Here we have the mega-hit series which is quite amazing in how it grew up along with its readers. It’ll be interesting to see how the series ages, now that they are finished and the movies are done (for the moment). It’s a great story and well told, one that touches upon many themes and ideas among a world filled with fantastic characters.

48. Orland0 – Virginia Woolf

“To put it in a nutshell, he was afflicted with a love of literature. It was the fatal nature of this disease to substitute a phantom for reality.”

Here’s a daring piece of work. Orlando goes through a bit of a change from the beginning to the end of this book, as most protagonists do. In this case, however, the change is physical as well as mental. Orlando seemingly doesn’t age, and he becomes a she. Interested? You should be, it’s a great book.

47. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods – A.S. Byatt

“He was beautiful, that was always affirmed, but his beauty was hard to fix or to see, for he was always glimmering, flickering, melting, mixing, he was the shape of a shapeless flame, he was the eddying thread of needle-shapes in the shapeless mass of the waterfall. He was the invisible wind that hurried the clouds in billows and ribbons. You could see a bare tree on the skyline bent by the wind, holding up twisted branches and bent twigs, and suddenly its formless form would resolve itself into that of the trickster.”

This is a small book with a big idea. Take the Norse mythology of old and retell it in the very nature-tuned way that Byatt has and then wrap it with an autobiographical framing story about WWII and the potential horrors and depression it caused. You can read it in an afternoon, and you should.

46. IT – Stephen King

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

Stephen King formed a large part of my middle childhood, that transition between kid lit and serious books, both of which you’ll find on this list, so why not some King as well. I don’t think he gets enough credit as a good author, which he is on occasion. IT might be his scariest book, as well as one of his most ambitious, though there are some coming up that are even more so.

45. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

“Then you compared a woman’s love to Hell,
To barren land where water will not dwell,
And you compared it to a quenchless fire,
The more it burns the more is its desire
To burn up everything that burnt can be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree
A wife destroys her husband and contrives,
As husbands know, the ruin of their lives. ”

And herein lies the English degree. I took a whole class on this book and it was really interesting to delve into each tale both separately and as a part of a whole. And it’s further proof that remakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing (take that, Boccaccio!).

44. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue – Maurice Sendak

“”Is that all

you have to say?”

I don’t care!

“Then I’ll eat you,

if I may.”

I don’t care!“”

This is a full on nostalgia pick. I had it in a little 6-book hardcover box set, each of which with a different color on the dust jacket. It was my first introduction to serialized books, something you’ll see all over my list.

43. Y: The Last Man series – Brian K. Vaughan

“No. No, first comes boyhood. You get to play with soldiers and spacemen, cowboys and ninjas, pirates and robots. But before you know it, all that comes to an end. And then, Remo Williams, is when the adventure begins.”

An epic sci-fi road post-apocalyptic comedy/drama thing. Maybe the most outstanding element in this world with only one man is the community theater. There exists an all-female version of Glengarry Glen Ross .

42. The Odyssey – Homer

“Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.”

Another full semester spent on this classic. It’s such a classic story and it informs practically everything that came after it. For some reason, I think of nearly all George Clooney characters as some version of Odysseus.

41. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”

The above can be seen as a kind of thesis for the book. When immigrants came to the US they brought their gods with them, but now those gods are being replaced by technology made corporeal. This is a book that works really great up to a point and then gets considerably worse. But those first 3/4ths are really great.

40. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go- We’ll eat you up- we love you so!”

How great is this book? So great. Under 50 sentences, but true and real and sad and imaginative. And the movie adaptation is great, too.

39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”

Joyce is such a hard guy to crack. This book and another that will appear later are normal in length and, mostly, technique. But then Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake have such a big shadow that I’m terrified of approaching them. I’ll wallow in my relative ignorance until I have the time an inclination to take on such titanic works.

38. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

“I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me. I want to steal something.”

Atwood’s dystopia is about controlling women and taking reproduction out of their hands. It’s interesting how that one change could ripple throughout society. What makes a woman a woman and how can that be used against them? And what role does religion play in oppression and repression? Very interesting.

37. The Stand – Stephen King

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

King does his best work when he goes very big or very small. His epics and his short stories are where he can expand to talk about everything or focus like a laser on one thing. This is the former. After a disease wipes out most of humanity, the rest pick sides (or are picked) between good and evil, and then there’s a battle. But before that there’s rebuilding society and the horror of decay. It’s terrifying and deeply human.

36. Kraken – China Mieville

“I know, I know,” Moore said. “Mad beliefs like that, eh? Must be some metaphor, right? Must mean something else?” Shook his head. “What an awfully arrogant thing. What if faiths are exactly what they are? And mean exactly what they say?”
“Stop trying to make sense of it and just listen,” Dane said.
“And what,” Moore said, “if a large part of the reason they’re so tenacious is that they’re perfectly accurate?”

Mieville is my favorite working genre author. He does mostly urban sci-fi and his Bas-Lag books are wonderful, but this one takes the cake for me. It takes place in our London, but underneath hides a thousand little religions dedicated to countless objects and ideas. Star Trek style transportation is real and horrifying in its implications. And a giant squid’s corpse is stolen in order to bring about the apocalypse. The mix of fantasy and sci-fi and mystery along with a rocketship pace makes this a super fun read.

35. The Magician series – Lev Grossman

“That’s what death did, it treated you like a child, like everything you had ever thought and done and cared about was just a child’s game, to be crumpled up and thrown away when it was over. It didn’t matter. Death didn’t respect you. Death thought you were bullshit, and it wanted to make sure you knew it.”

This series isn’t even over yet. There are two entries so far and the second improved upon the first, a tough feat for any writer. What starts off as “Harry Potter for adults” became something grander. It’s like Narnia meets The Dark Tower, with connections to all sorts of literature and stories. The second book is an Odyssey-type story of a quest to return home and is really great.

34. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

“This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

A classic for obvious reasons. These books are so full of ideas and cleverness and characters and worlds that I’m more and more amazed every time I read them.

33. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change.”

The first book I was forced to read for school and actually liked. I don’t know how anybody couldn’t like it. The quintessential coming of age tale.

32. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

“I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers. Though he has often been resistant – children so seldom know what is good for them – I have taught him to appreciate all the groundbreaking musicmakers of our time – Big Country, Haircut 100, Loverboy – and he is lucky for it. His brain is my laboratory, my depository. Into it I can stuff the books I choose, the television shows, the movies, my opinion about elected officials, historical events, neighbors, passersby. He is my twenty-four-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, lucky boy! And no one can stop me.”

It is what it says it is. The title is, of course, silly. But it is also true. It’s a memoir of the years shortly after Eggers’ parents died when he was in college and he changes his entire life to care for his brother. Along the way he tries out for The Real World and starts a magazine. It truly is heartbreaking and staggering and, perhaps, at times, genius.

31. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art – Scott McCloud

“Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction.”

Scott McCloud found a way to teach his readers how comics work by writing a comic and breaking it down and giving examples of different techniques and ideas and explaining how it works. It’s fascinating and funny and a must read for anybody even remotely interested in the artform.

5 Jawesome Things for the week of March 9, 2012

These are the five best things that I came across in the past week. This is now a Friday column, which probably makes a lot more sense than a Thursday column.

1. Reading. It’s Fun-damental!

I finished two books this week: Everything is Illuminated and Wonderstruck. You can read my reviews of them by clicking that link back there. They were very good. And now I’m 100 pages into A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Every once in a while I get caught up in some other thing, some not-reading thing. And I slow or stop reading altogether for a few weeks. I start to get kinda out of whack. Messed up feeling. All over the place. The past few weeks I was in a funk of that sort, so when I started to read the energetic and wonderful Everything is Illuminated I was so happy to rediscover reading. Maybe I’ll learn from this experience. Maybe I’ll keep reading for forever now. Probably not, though. Without those absences how would I remember just how great the process of reading truly is?

2. Warmth

Remember how last week I was so happy that it was snowing? This week I was driving around town with the windows rolled down because it was unseasonably warm and that was pretty great, too. Crank up the tunes, get some fresh air flowing, go somewhere, do something. That’s the ticket. Here’s my current happy-time-driving song of choice:

3. Movies that get better as they go along

I watched two movies in the past week that started off ok and improved greatly with each passing minute. The first was Miranda July’s The Future. It starts off as a pretty straightforward indie-comedy thing with a cute young-ish couple deciding that their lives are going to be over by the time they reach the age of 40 (because then it’s only ten years until you get to fifty and by then you can’t start anything new and you might as well be dead). So they live the next month without any obligations other than to themselves and what they really want to do with their lives. It’s a pretty silly premise that would be cloying over the course of a whole film, but luckily July sidesteps it (or leaps over it) by going all out. Things change in these two people’s lives and the changes are dramatic. It becomes quite sad in a very real way. Time stops. Things happen.

The other film was Roman Polanski’s Carnage. It’s kind of a strange title at the beginning of the film. It’s just two middle-aged couples settling a dispute between their two respective kids. It’s too polite. Things are hinted at and said behind each other’s backs. It isn’t until the second half of the film where the insults start flying and I started laughing. It’s the strangest thing. I didn’t laugh at all in the first 45 minutes or so but in the next 40 I was laughing pretty consistently. It has a dark edge to it that is fun and ugly at the same time. Of course, having John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz doing the arguing will help it being awesome. It isn’t a great movie, but it is pretty darn good by the end, if you can stand people being horrible.

4. Game of Thrones on Blu-ray

It looks so good! It has awesome extras! It is one of the best TV shows ever! Exclaim! For your entertainment, the three younger Stark kids singing the opening theme on the second episode commentary track.

5. Awake

This is based strictly on the pilot episode of the NBC series starring Jason Isaacs (hello!) who plays a man that got in a car crash which killed either his wife or his son, leaving the other behind. A silly sentence, you say? Yes, I respond. It is a silly sentence. Doesn’t make any sense, but it works. When Isaacs goes to sleep in one world (for example, the one where his son survived the crash) he wakes up in the other (where his wife survived). He, being a police officer as roughly one half of all TV characters are, has to solve cases in each version of his life, but they overlap, leading to strange coincidences and his partners questioning how he knows certain details. The challenge of this show will be in continuing the incredibly compelling storytelling that they achieved in the pilot episode. I know the crime element will get more air time as the series goes on and they have to do less exposition, though that exposition was handled remarkably well with the aide of two psychiatrists, one in each version of his life. The visual storytelling is really great, too. The mother’s side is warm and nicer to be in, while the son’s side is green and gray, a cooler color palate. This almost makes up for Fox cancelling the show creator’s previous show, Lone Star, last year. Let’s hope he can keep it up and keep it good. Here’s the whole darn thing!

Those were the 5 Jawesome Things for the week of 3/9/2012. What were your Jawesome Things? Leave a comment!

The Handmaid’s Tale; The Old Man and the Sea; Cat’s Cradle

Faith is only a word, embroidered.

Do not think about sin, he thought. There are enough problems now without sin. Also I have no understanding of it.

“No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s . . .”
“And?”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”

                    

I recently went on vacation to Portland, Maine. I took a few books with me to read, waiting to decide which one would get the call up from the general population to a seat of high honor until I arrived at our destination and got a feel for the place. You can’t just charge into these things willy-nilly. The lucky book was a used copy of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t know why. Anyways, I read it, and I got some new used books. I finished it on our second night there. The next night I had to decide what book would succeed it. I took our location into account and decided that Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea should enjoy its reign. It was short, a one night stand. And then, finally, I chose to re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a book I hadn’t read since high school and had only vague memories drifting around in my head. These three books in the span of a week. So there won’t be any single review, instead let us look at each book as it relates to the other. Because what good are coincidences if they are not explored?

The Handmaid’s Tale and The Old Man and the Sea

Here are two books that seem to be complete opposites. Atwood’s prose is, quite literally, flowery. We are introduced piece by piece into a world where the religious zealots have taken over and made everything more sacred. Some women are lucky, married to officers in the new government, and enjoy some degree of freedom. Others are less lucky and are forced to have sex with the officers in the stead of the wives because such an act cannot be left to chance anymore, and these women are the best bets for conception, that most holy of acts. The remaining women are forced into labor camps where they spend the short remainder of their lives working in radioactive wastelands. It’s not a fun time. In fact, the strongest element of Atwood’s novel is the illustration of how little good has actually come of these changes. The wives despise their replacements and the replacements despise everything. The sense of despair permeates the descriptions provided by the narrator, Offred, one of the replacements. Her language is detailed and florid, emphasizing the physical and mental limits she has taken on. It’s a tough read at times, but so goes the dystopian novel.

The Old Man and the Sea is opposite in almost every way. Where Atwood describes everything in long, detailed thoughts, Hemingway is the master of the short, concise sentence. It is a simple story of an old man who goes fishing as he does every day and lands an almost mythic marlin. Half the book describes his attempts to tire the fish out enough to kill it and the rest details his journey back to his hometown on the island of Cuba while he fends off sharks from eating his prized fish. The book is short, very short, and not much really “happens”. Hemingway takes time to describe the physical torture of a multi-day battle with such a gargantuan force and then the sinking spirits of a man that has his great accomplishment taken away from him, piece by piece. We get a few insights into the old man’s thought process, too, but little more than a few thoughts on God/The Great DiMaggio and a young boy who had been his apprentice until a recent unlucky spell forced the boy to abandon him for a different fishing crew.

The Old Man and the Sea
A Picture I took while in Portland

Perhaps you’ve noticed that my descriptions do overlap a bit. Both books are focused on the physical torture forces outside of the characters impose upon them, and they both examine the role of God and religion in the lives of their protagonists. Where The Handmaid’s Tale takes the time to chronicle minute details of Offred’s situation, The Old Man and the Sea takes an almost workman-like look at a very physical job. It’s taken as a given that the man would suffer great pain in order to finally catch the fish, and then it happens. When the old man arrives back at his port with only a skeleton, head, and tail lashed to the side of his boat we see how much the long journey has taken from him. He’s malnourished and has almost nothing to show for it. Similarly, Offred undergoes much pain, though we see a lot more of the emotional side for her, with nothing to show for it. Were she to get pregnant she would never know the joy of raising her child, nor would the wife have any emotional attachment to the kid. It’s the worst of all possible worlds. The religion that forced everybody to change for the benefit of a few in The Handmaid’s Tale is taken a little less seriously in The Old Man and the Sea. He thinks about God and whether he should be killing such a marvelous animal and the harm he is doing to himself while he does so, but equal merit is given to the great baseball stars of the time, including Joe DiMaggio. Maybe the worst part of his week-long expedition is the fact that he’s missed reading about the baseball games that have happened while he was doing battle.

Cat’s Cradle

Like I said above, this one was a re-read. I remembered only a scene on a plane and the effects of Ice-Nine vividly, the rest was a swirl of ideas and characters that meant little to me. Upon this reading I think I understood more of what Vonnegut was going for, having settled more into what I do and do not believe in. Religion is a big part of the book, the made-up religion of Bokononism permeates almost every chapter and page. It’s probably the best kind of religion you can have. One of the central tenants is the implicit silliness of any belief system, and it exploits the way our lives overlap and interact with other lives. Perhaps the most cogent element put forth is the idea of a karass and a granfalloon. The first is the group of people that make up the important players in your life, the second is a group of people that think their connection is important when it is actually meaningless. It’s a great way of thinking about the ways we try to organize ourselves. There are the people that we think matter and those that actually do. The book is full of these fantastic ideas and it’s presentation is at once hilarious and sad. I knew the ending this time around, and the point of view presented by our main character acknowledges the kind of cosmic comedy of such a disastrous scenario.

Game Trail
Bokononism?

If The Handmaid’s Tale is the ultimate serious examination of the potential problems of a religious regime, and The Old Man and the Sea gently points out some of the ways pop culture has begun to replace religion, then Cat’s Cradle presents both the benefits and detriments of religious belief. There’s something to be said for the idea that, in our own wandering from point to point we are really fulfilling some kind of cosmic destiny. I don’t necessarily believe that’s the case, but I do think that by doing what we do, we form our own kind of meaning. If this is all there is it’s our duty to do the best we can. Bokononism places the highest value on love and the intermingling of selves through the touching of foot to foot, sole to soul. This ritual serves as a metaphor for all of our interactions. There’s always a mixing of ideas, personalities, feelings when a person interacts with another. And that’s the most important thing we can do.

Ok, that’s enough of that. I’ve been away for a while, so I hope you excuse this longer post. Turns out I had a bit to say. If you want to talk about any specific element of any of these books or any idea’s I brought up in this piece, please do so in the comments. They’re all great books with a lot to say, no matter the subject or style. And follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading and my ratings for what I’ve read in the past.