The End of Paperbacks

Electronic readers are everywhere. This will be the future, it is inevitable. As iPods overtook CDs, which overtook cassettes, so the electronic readers will replace the delightfully cumbersome paperback novels that line our shelves. It was only a matter of time for the comfort of a well-worn novel to fall by the wayside for the ability to carry hundreds of books at once.

This is not to say that Kindles, Readers and other brands of this device are not without advantages. On average $200 to $400, they are certainly not a bad investment in comparison to a library full of hardbacks. There are hundreds of thousands of ebooks available to purchase with some available for free. They have bookmark functions and sophisticated screens meant to mimic the real thing. Electronic readers hold up to hundreds of books, allowing for mood rather than availability to decide your reading material.

Eventually libraries will be obsolete and books will be museum pieces, and the sensation of reading will be forever different. But for me, the tactile experience of a book, an actual book, is part of the magic. The smell of old pages, the smoothness of a worn cover, the satisfaction of picking up a book and remembering the last time you held it, these things are part of the experience. And something I will not give up.

The Well Written Rape

Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones probably sat on everyone's shelves untouched as other more interesting looking books passed the readers eyes first. I can tell you that was the case with me. I always saw something that I thought looked better, more interesting, more what I was in the mood know. I had no idea what I was missing.

Sebold’s writing is a masterful handling of this delicate art. The rape and murder of a young girl is something that must be done so carefully. The reader must witness her pain; the writer must flesh out the sensations but not so much as to be smothering. You must have enough pain, embarrassment, helplessness, powerlessness and fear to make it real, yet refrain from taking to the complete truth, which is a violence we can’t handle.

Sebold crafts this key scene with a care and precision that makes you know you can trust her; that she will be taking you somewhere real. Very often authors create something and hope that readers will embrace it, allow this story in. But Sebold created a world that allows the reader in. This gift is so rare and the distinction between the two so hard to make, that very few are recognized for being able to do this.

Her prose is beautiful, the story compelling, but the thing that rises strongest from this work is Sebold's talent. Quiet and unassuming, it envelops and draws you in. And when you reach the end, the hold that was placed upon you, completely unawares, is broken. As it slowly dissipates, a quiet satisfaction settles in.

-noun: a Loose Dress or A loose Woman

Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin explores both meanings of the word in her work inspired by an 18th century newspaper story. Mary Saunders is a woman whose life is defined, imprisoned and sentenced by her addiction to fine fabrics. She traded her innocence for a shiny red ribbon, her body repeatedly for silk, satin and lace, and her happiness for fine embroidery.

After trading away her virginity, Mary decides men invading her body might as well pay the rent. She finds, after a time, that there’s an illicit liberty found in her lifestyle. There’s a freedom to live her life through her decisions, something that was denied her in socially accepted “honest living.” Ashamed of enjoying her disreputable lifestyle, her companion Miss Doll, points out that everyone sells themselves somehow. Wet nurses, respected in their trade, use their bodies for income as well. As Doll observes, “Cunny or tits, what’s the difference?”

Every decision Mary made continued her life’s downward spiral. Even after leaving London’s red light district and moving to a small village in Wales, her desire for finery still smolders. She embraces a new life as a servant for a dressmaker, where she lives surrounded yet distanced from the opulent fabrics she’s always craved. Her gift for self-destructive choices continues as she picks up her old habits and tears the home of her employer apart.

In the end it’s not destiny, fate or even choice that seals Mary’s fate. It’s an eruption of pressure, a movement without thought and a moment of weakness; in short, human nature. She saw her deepest desire being torn from her and simply reacted. Mary’s decisions wove her daily life, but it was her human nature that took it from her.

In Honor of All Hallow’s Eve: Pride and Prejudice and Unmentionables

In celebration of my most favorite of holidays, let’s take a classic and infest it. Or rather read as Seth Grahame-Smith does in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This book is brilliant; the idea of intertwining a classic romantic novel with blood thirsty brain eating monsters is refreshing.

Smith leaves the subtlety of the original intact and deftly sneaks the undead in. This is definitely a novel for fans of the Jane Austen classic, not for gore horror junkies just looking for blood and brains. At times the novel is word for word from the original, preserving the atmosphere of high class 19th century England. He first refers to zombies as “unmentionables,” an inspired term that keeps the world intact. He abandons it later in the novel, and the jarring switch dilutes the air of refinement, but at that point you’re so attached to the world that it’s forgivable.

His sense of humor is delightful and he adds it with a light touch. Charlotte Lucas debating the pros and cons of men is genius; their station in life is key, yet one must consider that a larger head provides more brains to feast upon. The scene of Darcy’s first profession of love and Lizzy’s unyielding reply is elevated from a verbal sparring match to a physical one; one of the most enjoyable moments in the whole novel.

All in all, this was a fun read; delightful and satisfying. “I have not yet forgiven (Mr. Darcy) for insulting my honor and may yet have his head upon my mantle,” says Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Indeed she might, if unmentionables don’t get it first.

The Romance between Cocks and Pussies

Palahniuk is a hopeless romantic. His characters are fucked up beyond belief to normal people. The people he create inject themselves with venom to get hard, slip estrogen pills to the man they can’t get to make him unattainable, resort to cannibalism, believe their mother was impregnated with Christ’s mummified penis and commit themselves to death by porn to provide for their children. And these examples are just off the top of my head. His book contain so many shocking and unbelievable moments that it’s easy to overlook the tender moments and romance between the characters; usually there’s something blocking the view, like anal beads, for instance.

But just because it’s hard to see, doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, it is a thread that is run throughout most of his novels. His characters are ruined, shattered, beaten down, fucked up and unlovable, yet somehow they find someone as broken and hopeless as they are. They find their perfect match and can be, if not happy, then at least less miserable because of this person. For those who are squeamish and easily offended, steer clear; you’re not tough enough for Palahniuk. But for the brave, it’s rather satisfying to see the romance between the cocks and pussies.

The Willy Nilly Silly Old Bear Returns

After a more than an 80 year slumber, the Hundred Acre Wood is humming and bouncing back to life again. The first authorized sequel is being released, with ten new adventures for Christopher Robin and the gang.

My 1941 The House at Pooh Corner is one of my most prized books. As cherished as it was when I was a child, it becomes golden as I become an adult. The Hundred Acre Wood is peaceful and alluring. Everything makes sense in a Kind of Silly Way. There are Songs and Poems and Stick Races and sometimes it doesn’t matter if you can’t spell TUESDAY.

In all of the little ways, Milne works magic in his pure child-like logic and phrases. There is simplicity in Milne’s world, a perfection that comes not from happiness but from being content. Children and adults the world over keep visiting Pooh because it offers something that most literature doesn’t: a quiet feeling of contentment. So many others search for astonishing highs or frightening lows; all Milne wishes to give us is child-like play. Upon rereading most books you read when you were a kid, you simply remember your childhood. As a child I felt at home in the Hundred Acre Wood; as an adult I feel like a child again. Rereading Milne is like picking it up again; you’ve really truly never left.

I’m pleased that someone would pick up the pen to guide us through the Hundred Acre Wood again; all I ask is that they tread softly in this hallowed ground. After all, as Milne says, “the Forest will always be there…and anyone who is Friendly with Bears can find it.”

Delightfully Dark Dexter Makes Dreary Reading

Very rarely do I say to skip to book and go straight to the viewed version, but in this case, by all means. Dexter, the Showtime series, builds connections between the characters, fleshes them out with intricacies. Jeff Lindsay created a thrilling character. But that is all.

I fell in love with Dexter first as a series, I’ll admit that straight out. But since I’m usually inclined to feel that the book is better simply because it’s the original, I feel that balances the bias out. With that said, don’t even bother with the books. Lindsay created a brilliant idea and then floundered with it. And then after he floundered, he got lost and bored us. Finally he threw in biblical demons and children as killers. No, sorry, this isn’t going to work for me. Not having a viable, interesting plot for half the book does not good reading make.

Showtime built a character with…..well, character. He’s funny and bright and dark and messy and lovable and terrifying. The story line not only exists, which is already a win over the book, it holds you to the edge of your seat as you hold your breath. The depth given to the series makes it the phenomenon it has become.

But I suppose we should at least give Lindsay a nod. After all, he got the ball rolling, even if he didn’t go anywhere with it.

Farenheit 451 Reborn Into a Graphic Novel

One of the most inventive science fiction classics is set to be reborn as a graphic novel on the 56th birthday of its creation. Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 is taking up new space on shelves. Don’t get me wrong, I love the graphic novel. It’s a delicate mix of story line and artistry; a unique and powerful art form. Even Bradbury is excited about the new interpretation of his work, gracing it with an introduction and his blessing. But for me, this announcement was tinged with sorrow and melancholy.

Bradbury is required reading across the board in high schools nationwide and soon, the graphic novel will be pulled out as an equivalent to Cliff’s Notes, leaving scores of bored or lazy students with an easy way to never crack the cover of the classic. I’m sure diehards and overachievers will still read the actual book; some will enjoy it, some will close it and never think of it again, but some will be deeply touched by it and carry the experience with them. It’s a beautiful, one-of-a-kind experience; touching, creative, foreboding and brilliant. While I love the interpretation of a classic into another art form, I’m saddened by the knowledge that fewer people will inclined to read the book and will miss that experience. But maybe I’m wrong; I hope I’m wrong. I want to be as optimistic as Bradbury himself: “That’s what good graphic novels can do. They can make you read more.” Fingers crossed that’s true.

The Passing of Literary Greats: Vonnegut, Crichton

There are very few literary giants striding among us anymore. True, there are many novelists, but so many are actors/ politicians/ millionaires/ rock stars/ playboy floozies/ singers that they don’t really count as writers, just bored multi-taskers trying and failing to conquer another dimension of life. No, true literary greats are few and far between. Our generation has been blessed with its share and sadly, they are leaving our world, bowing out in shrugs and silence. The quiet nature of literary creativity pales in comparison to the drug riddled and innuendo laden glitz of rock stars and stars of the silver screen, so we rarely give these artists the attention and send off they deserve. Well, it’s not the one they deserve, but at least it’s heartfelt.

Kurt Vonnegut was the first author who truly captured my attention. Books, of course, had owned my imagination since I was of a capricious age. But Vonnegut was the man who made me curious about the people behind the words. Slaughterhouse 5 was like a dream the first time I read it; floating through space and war and mundane life simultaneously left me enraptured. A voice emerged from the pages and lulled me. I searched for his name of bookstore shelves and was never left thirsting after closing the pages of his creations. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died April 11, 2007 after 84 years on our tired, confused and wilting planet. So it goes.

Michael Crichton is the author who I can pick up even when I don’t want to read. His books are a guaranteed good read and can alight the desire even when it feels completely extinguished. He’s accessible to all levels of readers, even though he could easily write in lofty prose and condescending scientific jargon. His intelligence is clear and his imagination is always backed by strong scientific data. All of the sudden, you’re in a impossible place with sound reasons for being there, with characters you empathize with and grow quickly attached to, and soon find yourself fighting to put the book down. He was brilliant and left a legacy of literature that hopefully many after me will be enthralled by. Michael Crichton died on Nov 4, 2008 in Los Angeles at the age of 66, after a private battle with cancer. He will be greatly missed.

There it is: my word of thanks to two men who strongly shaped my life. They will be missed, even if society withheld the send-off they deserved.

Empress tainted with self-love

Every now and again, perusing the discount stand in the local BnN, you’ll find something that piques your interest. Empress by Shan Sa is my latest. Shan Sa is the pen name for Yan Ni Ni, a vivacious and accomplished young woman. Published at nine, apprenticed to a world famous painter, a poet in English and French, her biography reads like a surrealist painting. As much praise as we can give her, however, must pale in comparison to the praise she gives herself. But I’ll come back to that.

The book itself is good; a tale that starts of vibrantly and vividly, a rich portrait of a headstrong young woman trapped in a beautiful ancient world that aims to imprison her simply because of her gender and station. Shan Sa captures and illuminates a strong young soul who is determined to be reborn again and again in her conquests over strife and the crushing nature of life. Her words are those of a poet; rich with texture and color and bringing the scene alive. But after this woman finds her place as Empress and finally Emperor, Shan Sa loses her touch and dawdles. Her pen writes and rewrites, but nothing of interest emerges. Matters of state and late-in-life lust appear, but there is no substance and the woman we cared about is replaced by a two-dimensional sketch of a person; very disheartening. I spent the last 100 pages wanting and waiting to be finished.

I feel like this disappointing downward spiral and ending came from our authoress’ profound love of herself and overestimation of her abilities. For example: most novels start with a poem or clip from another work that inspired the author. Her novel begins with one, one that she herself penned. Even if it is meant as a dedication, it is intended only to draw attention to her words and the beauty that she has created in them. Her opinion of herself oozes from between the pages of Empress and ultimately tainted the experience. Sad, because it could have been so much better.

Our library shelves are untouched. Except by screenwriters.

We're losing our love affair with books. Sadly they're becoming delicate memories of the past, soon to share the fate of mimeographs and film projectors, Walkmans and Polaroids. They seem to only be a source that screenwriters mine for the next summer blockbuster: Fight Club, A Clockwork Orange, I Robot, Minority Report, 1408, Atonement, There Will Be Blood, Bladerunner, Timeline, even the soon-to-be-released The Time Traveler's Wife enjoyed life on the shelves before the glitz and glamour of Hollywood premiers. Yet I will not let them go without a fight and will offer up homage as they fade. You might find there's a spark of curiosity inside you after the credits roll, when you overhear talk of the latest big read, when you want to read but find little that tickles your attention. I will be here to satiate and exhilarate, to revitalize and galvanize, to titillate and narrate in hopes to inspire further curiosity.
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