Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review and Preview

This year has been an interesting one. It started out full of promise, of hope, and slowly peppered off until few lights shined and I was screaming for 2009 to come. And in the coming year I hope just the opposite is true: that it takes the tread a bit to catch on, but when it does, I hope we really move.

Last year I read some really great books, including No Country For Old Men, Short History of Nearly Everything, The Invention of Morel, Ham on Rye, The Wild Trees, Iron John, The Assault on Reason, Watchmen, The Turn of the Screw, and of course, my year's favorite, Maps and Legends.

It was also a very introspective year for me, I think. I read several books on meditation and eastern religions. Alchemy, which has always intrigued me, found it's way onto my nightstand again. And Iron John gave me pause and insight into the plight and plunder of man proper. I'm glad last year took this tone and intend to continue that into the future. My search is far from over, and it's too fun and interesting to stop.

After the holidays, my reading shelf fills up faster than my waistline, and my dresser is practically throwing up books at the moment. I didn't get to nearly as many books as I wanted to last year, but I don't think I ever will. I still think I'll feel slave to a list if I come up with one, so I can't do that, because I always need room for innovation and books that may crop up, whether they be new or old. Still, there are a few that I do want to read this year, so I may as well list those out, as broad goals.

They are:
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • Watership Down
  • The Book of Lost Things
This is in no way a conclusive list. I'd like to read "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged", but that may be one too many thick books this year. And I'm also hoping to get to some David Foster Wallace, who I sadly overlooked until his death, but have since become very intrigued by. I picked up his book of essays, "Consider the Lobster", last night and hope to read that sometime this year too.

Here's to hoping 2009 is a much more prosperous, less shaky, and surprising year. I wish everyone out there in the internets a Happy New Year and hope for true happiness for you and yours, no matter where or what you are.

Read on!

"World War Z"
by Max Brooks

I don't have a lot to say about this book and I don't intend to spend a lot of time giving my thoughts on it.

I don't think I'm totally into the alternate reality of zombies. I can't buy into it.

Brooks novel is a mish-mash of "collected stories" from around the globe recounting the World War against the outbreak of the living plague, or zombies. It's filled with interesting, gross stories, but is so disjointed and the characters so underdeveloped that it never gained hold in my hands. I never became more than just superficially involved.

I want to read something good!

by Philip K. Dick

Reading Valis is like taking an extended vacation to the recesses of the mind. It truly makes one feel as though one is on some sort of trip, psychedelically speaking, which could be good or bad, depending on your intentions. For me, the trip got to be a bit long.

This is my second Dick reading experience, and I'm not sure if I'll pick him up again. Not because he's not a great writer. He is, he's very readable and his ideas are intriguing, but because I just don't find myself getting into him, not the way most Dick fans seem to.

Of course, I say that knowing I probably will pick him up again. His contribution to science fiction is too important to overlook. His novels too interesting to look past. So when I say I won't read another Dick novel, I say that with the best of intentions.

Valis is about God. More specifically, it's directly based on Dick's self-described experience with a "transcendentally rational mind." The story follows the experience of Horselover Fat, a schizophrenic compartment of Dick's actual self, as he follows a quest to find the messiah after a pink light that he thinks is God tells him how to save his son's life.

The novel rambles and raves about the nature of religion, makes compelling arguments about sanity, insanity, rational and irrational, and would probably be considered a legitimate study of theology if it didn't feel so drug-induced. I enjoyed the book, very much so, and it did make me think. Dick's quest is one to be admired and sought after, but I don't think I can read another. I don't have enough brain cells left.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

by Kurt Vonnegut

I miss Kurt Vonnegut. A lot. His books are witty and clever and they never fail to turn the world on its head, challenge our views, or reinvigorate life as we may never know it.

Bluebeard is probably not one of his better-known books, but as I was explaining to people while I was reading it, "It's Vonnegut". And even mediocre Vonnegut is better than most stuff floating around out there. That really is saying a lot.

I didn't immensely enjoy Bluebeard, but there were a few nuggets of wisdom in it, a few insights I agreed with. And, of course, I laughed a bit, I felt sad a bit, and I thought of my favorite Vonnegut-ism a bit: and so it goes. So, I guess, I missed him a bit too.

The novel is an autobiography about an Armenian artist who hung out with the crowd of Abstract Expressionistic painters, including Jackson Pollock. But it's more about the nature of art, the obscene price of art, and the beauty of art all at the same time. The great thing about Vonnegut is that when he says something that strikes a chord, it really strikes a chord. I especially liked his view on artists and communities. Now that we are worldwide, only a few artists are needed to satisfy the masses, but that leaves several other less talented people who would have sufficed in a village. Sad but true, even more so today, with the internet.

I don't know if I'd recommend this book to a lot of people. Artists, writers, and creative types will all get something out of it. If you can hold out, the ending is wonderful and beautiful and actually well-worth it, one of Vonnegut's best...