Thursday, October 24, 2013

No Country for Old Men: In which I am that one slow rhino in Jumanji

I’ve done it. I’ve uncovered a hidden gem of literary genius heretofore BURIED in obscurity . . . and its name is No Country for Old Men.

I thought the invitation said 8 sharp?

OK, so yeah. Maybe I'm a little late to this party, but I was never drawn to Cormac McCarthy's whole vibe, and the movie adaptation came out the same year as There Will Be Blood, which interested me not in the slightest. And I kept getting them confused. Fast-forward . . . oh, I don’t know, 6 years? to me puttering around the paperback shelves at the library. And, lo! Here’s the book version of that one movie people speak of so highly and that also stars Tommy Lee Jones, whom you would have to be a monster not to adore in every way.

Also, I had somehow made it up to that point in history without learning anything about the story, and you just don’t continue to tempt fate like that.

Well, this book is THE BEST.

It’s a modern Western set in a sleepy Texas town, right near the Mexican border. And there’s a dear, sweet old sheriff who isn’t much used to trouble in his part of the world. And he gets these short first-person monologues between every chapter to tell us all about himself and make us worry for his safety as the action escalates. And also to be adorably in love with his wife.
Me I was always lucky. My whole life. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Scrapes I been in. But the day I seen her come out of Kerr’s Mercantile and cross the street and she passed me and I tipped my hat to her and got just almost a smile back, that was the luckiest. (p. 91)
Just stay there 'cause I'm gonna hug you.

As for the action, a young man named Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the bloody aftermath of a desert drug exchange gone awry, and he makes off with a case full of money that he finds in the possession of a dead man. This is a very stupid thing to do, and he knows it. He sends his 19-year-old wife out of town and, he hopes, out of harm’s way and sets off on the run, trying to shake the criminal parties who would now very much like to make him dead and relieve him of that money. One of those parties is Anton Chigurh, a sociopathic hit man who cannot be reasoned, bargained, or pleaded with.

The character development is impeccable. There are a handful of main personalities, of course, but the ancillary characters are no less fleshed out or believable. What struck me most was that in this sparely written, macho-manly-masculine modern Western, there is not one but TWO strong female characters.

Sheriff Bell’s wife, Loretta, doesn’t get much time on the page in real time, but her husband makes sure that we know who she is and how much credit he gives her for . . . well, everything.
I don’t believe you could do this job without a wife. A pretty unusual wife at that. Cook and jailer and I don’t know what all. Them boys don’t know how good they’ve got it. Well, maybe they do. I never worried about her bein safe. (p. 159)
And Moss’s wife, Carla Jean, although young, doesn’t fall to pieces when the Sheriff sits her down at a coffee shop to explain just how MUCH danger her husband is in.
I’ll tell you something, Sheriff. Nineteen is old enough to know that if you have got somethin that means the world to you it’s all that more likely it’ll get took away. (p. 134)
I know a lot of people complain about the ending to the movie, which I can tell you, without spoiling anything, is extremely faithful to the book. When I got to the end of the book, I flipped back and forth through the last five pages trying to make sure I didn’t miss something. And I wrote, “That ending. I don’t get it.”

But now that I’ve also seen the movie and had some time to let it simmer, I’m in love with the ending. It’s the only ending it ever could have had. And I got into an honest-to-goodness argument with my husband on this subject last night, culminating in me yelling, “I GUESS YOU JUST DON’T APPRECIATE NUANCE.”

Even if you’ve seen the movie, in which the Coen brothers proved to be responsible stewards of the source material, you should still read the book. Because a couple of awesome things were left out. Like the depth of the female characters . . . and this bit of dialogue:
This whole thing is just hell in spectacles, aint it Sheriff. (p. 79)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fangirl: How do you feel about being compared to Joss Whedon?

These posts about various Rainbow Rowell books are gonna start getting RULL obligatory pretty soon, because she’s gonna keep on writing fantastic books and I’m gonna keep on loving them. And there are only so many ways to say that you love a thing. Eventually, I’ll just be posting a picture of the book cover followed by several exclamation points and a hearts-for-eyes emoticon.

I will say, one thing that made Fangirl particularly special for me was my ongoing Twitter discussion with Rainbow regarding her theories about the subtextual romance between a certain boy wizard and his pale-haired, pointy-faced adversary.

One of the tamer depictions...because it's Wednesday afternoon.

So when we meet Cath and she’s writing a popular fanfiction series featuring two characters in the magical Simon Snow universe who happen to be sworn enemies and also both of the male persuasion, it’s even more of an “I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE” if you happen to know that tidbit about the real-life author.

About Cath. She’s a freshman, an extreme introvert, and the identical twin of an uber-extrovert. The only reason she even left her hometown to go to college was to stay near her sister, Wren. But Wren wants to break out of the twin box and meet new people . . . and she wants a roommate who isn’t Cath, for the first time in their lives. And thank goodness for that, because then we get Reagan—Cath’s sarcastic, cynical, slightly older, much more worldly roommate (who, coincidentally, reminds me of a grown-up version of Eleanor from Eleanor & Park). And with Reagan comes Levi, an always-smiling, tousle-haired country boy whose been Reagan's friend since childhood and who ends up in Cath and Reagan’s room an AWFUL lot. And we, the readers, don’t complain even a little (please refer again to description of Levi if confused about this).

All the elements I’ve come to associate with a Rowell novel are here: A wide variety of fleshed-out and relatable characters, tingly-in-your-belly boy-meets-girl scenarios, a particular boy character who makes you just REALLY upset that you can’t reach in and grab people off the pages of books (GET ON THAT, SCIENCE), a little bit of serious to balance out the sweet, and snappy exchanges of dialogue.

Rainbow’s talent with clever dialogue that doesn’t feel forced is one of my favorite things about her writing. I’ve come to think of her as the Joss Whedon of novels, and for anyone who’s seen Firefly and all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which is all of you . . . *narrows eyes*) that should be fairly self-explanatory. But FINE, I’ll give you examples.
“What about him?” she’d say, finding an attractive guy to point out while they were standing in the lunch line. “Do you want to kiss him?”
“I don’t want to kiss a stranger,” Cath would answer. “I’m not interested in lips out of context.” (p. 85)
Reagan was sitting on Cath’s desk when Cath woke up.
“Are you awake?”
“Have you been watching me sleep?”
“Yes, Bella. Are you awake?” (p. 286)
 “Look at you. All sweatered up. What are those, leg sweaters?”
“They’re leg warmers.”
“You’re wearing at least four different kinds of sweater.”
“This is a scarf.”
“You look tarred and sweatered.” (p. 91)

 Cue the message from our sponsors (we have no sponsors): Look for Rainbow Rowell’s next book, Landline, due out . . . sometime next spring/summer.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Readathon: The Afterglow

I updated only once on Readathon Day, because I couldn't be bothered to leave the house again in search of Internet. Ice cream, yes. Internet, no.

But it's very important for me to know that YOU know that I continued reading for the rest of Saturday and deep into the night, and aaaaalmost made it for 24 hours. My undoing was the moment when I thought it would be OK to go from the couch to the bed, where I read about 10 pages and promptly fell asleep with a book on my face. But even though I had to reread those 10 pages the next day because I didn't remember their content even a little, I'm still counting them. And you can't stop me.

Here's the thing: I feel like I read a lot . . . but I finished only two books. And I had already started both of those books at an earlier date. Which leads me to wonder—WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING ALL DAY?

It started out so well. I woke up at 5 a.m. full of ambition.

So many plans.
And I finished a book by noon and exercised . . . blah blah I told you all this already.

Things went downhill after I took a shower. SOME people find a nice shower invigorating and rejuvenating, but they tend to make me want to sleeeeeeeeep. So I read a bit of The Graveyard Book, made an emergency cup of coffee when I felt myself starting to fade, drank about two sips of that coffee . . . and passed out in the middle of the floor for almost 2 hours.

And then there was a lot of scrolling through the #readathon tag on Instagram and Twitter. A lot of that. And also rolling around on the floor with two doggies who had squeaky toys they were very proud to show off. And snacking. Sometimes that requires both hands.

So all told, I read 520 pages in three books, two of which I finished. My greatest accomplishment of the day was finishing House of Leaves, which my brother gave me for Christmas and which I began reading in JANUARY. That book. That book has been my arch nemesis this year. But I stabbed it right in its papery heart and vanquished it once and for all.

And Sunday?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Readathon Support Group Session #1: I HAVE NOT YET NAPPED

Time: 12 p.m.
Hours awake: 7
Status: Still kickin'

Nooooo...fight the Dream Sloth.

Here I am! I've been here all along, really . . . but I've just recently ventured outside the apartment in search of an Internet connection. (For those of you who don't know me, hi! I'm Megs. I'm a book blogger who doesn't have Internet at home. *churns butter* *dips candles*)

I live in Los Angeles, so my readathon started before the sun came up. I'm accustomed to crawling out of bed no sooner than 10 a.m. It's noon now, and I'm so far still functioning in my brain regions. Take that, Dream Sloth.

Well, this is the plan.

I started out with No Country for Old Men, which I was about 100 pages into before today and which you will notice was NOT part of my planned readathon lineup in the photo above. It took a minute to grab me, but by the time I got up this morning, I had no desire to read anything else. So I had my first cup of coffee with a side of Mexican drug cartel, well-meaning country sheriff, and psychopathic killer. And, you guys . . . it's SO good. I hadn't read any Cormac McCarthy before this, and why didn't anyone tell me how brilliant he is? Oh . . . you say he won a Pulitzer Prize and I probably just haven't been paying attention? Well then.

I've had a little exercise intermission to stew over the ending of No Country, and now I need some (somewhat) lighter fare. On to The Graveyard Book. GO GO READ.

Stats: 1 cup of coffee sipped, 1 everything bagel with cream cheese eaten, 185 pages read, 1 book finished, 2 miles jogged, 20 crunches crunched, a whooooole lot of time wasted scrolling through my Twitter feed.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Finnegans Wake: Well . . . I tried

I’ve had a lot of stupid ideas, friends. But reading Finnegans Wake? That was my stupidest idea of 2013. And it wasn’t even an ORIGINAL one.

It all started with this podcast called Literary Disco, hosted by Julia Pistell, Rider Strong, and Tod Goldberg. I like those guys. But this is all their fault. One ill-fated day, they ended up talking about how impossible this book is to read. And then they joked about reading it 5 pages at a time every morning, possibly with the assistance of drugs (to be lovingly dubbed “Finnegans Wake and Bake”). After all, you can get through ANY book 5 pages at a time, right? I used to think so, faithful readers. I used to think so.

Anyway, I took my can-do attitude down to the library, where I acquired a copy. And every morning, I made my coffee and struggled through 5 pages of the most baffling prose I ever hope to encounter. I made it to page 63.

This was my first introduction to James Joyce. I know him by reputation, obviously. Ulysses is a famously difficult book. But at least it has a plot and stuff.

From the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition:
There is no agreement as to what Finnegans Wake is about, whether or not it is "about" anything, or even whether it is, in any ordinary sense of the word, "readable." . . .
. . . Students of literature in particular, accustomed as they are to understanding most words in every sentence of every prose work they read, are apt to experience frustration in reading a text constructed along these lines, where it can sometimes seem that one is doing extremely well if one makes sense of only a sentence or two on a single page.
Downright spoiled, is what we are, expecting to understand most words in every sentence.

But I wanted to give it a shot. Finnegan was Joyce’s baby. He spent 17 years writing it. He composed it entirely of puns and riddles (I remember reading somewhere that he was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”). He mixed in words from 70 languages. He loosely modeled the characters (such as they are) on his own family. Basically, he poured every piece of himself into it . . . and then jumbled them all around to create the world’s most impossible jigsaw puzzle.

There IS an artistry here that I admire, and I feel drawn to Joyce as a person. I think I could have had a whiskey or five with him and joined him in laughing about the long-term joke he's playing on the entire literary world. But all the whiskey in Ireland couldn’t get me through this book. I had to get modestly drunk just to write this post.

A note to myself after reaching page 12: “Reading this book is like listening to Mickey the Pikey tell a story. Every now and then, something registers . . . but there’s no context for it because what came before and what follows is nonsensical.”

Any dog’s life you list you may still hear them at it, like sixes and seventies as eversure as Halley’s comet, ulemamen, sobranjewomen, storthingboys and dumagirls, as they pass its bleak and bronze portal of your Casaconcordia: Huru more Nee, minny frickans?
Fifthly, how parasoliloquisingly truetoned on his first time of hearing the wretch’s statement that, muttering Irish, he had had had o’gloriously a’lot too much hanguest or hoshoe fine to drink in the House of Blazes, the Parrot in Hell, the Orange Tree, the Glibt, the Sun, the Holy Lamb and, lapse not leashed, in Ramitdown’s ship hotel since the morning moment he could dixtinguish a white thread from a black till the engine of the laws declosed unto Murray and was only falling fillthefluthered up against the gatestone pier which, with the cow’s bonnet a’top o’it, he falsetook for a cattlepillar with purest peaceablest intentions.
If only the book ALSO had exceptional abdominal muscles.

A Joyce scholar said, in talking about Finnegans Wake, that he believed if you told James Joyce that you were slogging through his book, he would advise you to stop reading it immediately. He wanted people to have as much fun reading his work as he had writing it.

Well, Jimmy . . . I’m not having fun. But this next whiskey is for you.