Tuesday, June 29, 2010

His Dark Materials trilogy started

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
I've started The Golden Compass, first in the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.

I've never seen the movie version of this book, and I don't know much about it. When the movie came out there was a minor media fury over whether the story contains "hidden" messages against the Catholic church. I've never really believed in hidden messages corrupting people - if you have a message to get across, you'll most likely just say it, not hide it. Also, Pullman's feelings about organized religion aren't exactly a secret.

At any rate, I'm not the kind of person who thinks that criticizing religion is a bad thing, nor do I think it's inappropriate for kids. I'm a little interested to see if these religious themes stand out to me.

I'm also seeing some reflections of Narnia in the story so far. Not just the talking animals - that sort of thing shows up in a lot of stories, and is certainly not particular to C.S. Lewis. I was just discussing The Chronicles of Narnia with a friend of mine, and how Susan was not allowed to go back to Narnia because she discovered makeup and boys. Basically, puberty, womanhood, and an interest in sex exclude her from the kingdom of heaven. This has been criticized quite a lot, by such notables as J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman (no link for Neil because I couldn't find this online: if you want to know more just read his story The Problem of Susan, which you can find in Fragile Things).

The hero Lyra in The Golden Compass is a tough, somewhat tomboyish girl, but is beginning to show an interest in makeup and clothes at the part that I'm reading right now. It kind of reminds me of Narnia by contrast - in the book that happens last chronologically, Susan has basically become too interested in womanly things - this is presented as something that happened because she's no longer a child. Lyra is still very young and it's very early in the story, but she's showing an interest in womanly things. This is certainly the way I remember things happening when I was young. Girls like to look womanly. It's pretty normal for girls to want to wear makeup and have nice clothes, even at an early age.

I'm not sure I want to make an anti-Narnia argument for The Golden Compass just yet. Instead, I'll just say it's been pretty good so far, and I think that in this children's story it might actually be ok for a girl to wear makeup. The storytelling is engaging and I've been reading through pretty fast. More news when I'm done!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fight Club finished: spoilers in abundance

Spoiler alert! If you have never seen the film Fight Club, this review will completely ruin it for you. This review is for the book, not the movie, and is operating under the assumption that you have probably seen the movie. It gives away - very early on - information that would spoil either the movie or book for you, assuming you've experienced neither, which must mean that you were born yesterday. You've been warned; proceed with caution.

Additionally, extensive credit must be given to Neil Gaiman. I wouldn't know about all these gods if it weren't for his very engaging use of them. Thank you also, people of the Internet, for researching the gods that Mr. Gaiman writes about and compiling it all onto one web page. I have to do almost no research, thanks to all of you.

I have read Fight Club faster than any book in this list. For one thing, it is among the shortest and quickest reads in the list so far - if not the shortest. I think it gives the individual Narnia books a run for their money in brevity.

Also, I couldn't put it down.

For the purposes of this review, I'll be calling the main character of the book the Narrator - coincidentally, this is also how he is credited in the film. Some people like to call him Jack. In the book, it's Joe. Joe's raging bile duct. Joe's complete lack of surprise.

It doesn't make a difference to me whether it's Joe or Jack - neither of these are his name, which is made quite clear in both the book and movie. But still, you just know that some movie executives sat around in a room and decided that Jack was a better name than Joe. Jack would market better.

Reading Fight Club the novel brings my already developed interpretation of Fight Club the film into a much sharper focus. My interpretation is that Tyler Durden is a trickster god, and as tricksters love to do, he seduces the Narrator. It's not hard to do; just show a person a way of living he's never thought of before. Here's a bit of information that I picked up from somewhere that I can no longer remember, delivered in a style so reminiscent of a Tyler Durden philosophy that it's actually pretty cheesy: one of the dangers of being an American who is taken hostage is that we never expose ourselves to the other side's point of view. Why is our side right and the other side wrong? We don't know. We're just utterly convinced that our democracy is the best way that things can be. The other side is so wrong - whatever that other side is at any given moment - that we never expose ourselves to their ideas. They are wrong. Why waste time figuring out what they think when it's so wrong? So Americans who are taken hostage are subjected to lengthy challenges to their system of government. They are told it is wrong, and why. They are told the other side is right, and why. They have never been subjected to these types of arguments before.

And sometimes they become convinced, just because they can't argue back.

This happens to the Narrator. Does he have a reason for not getting into a fight? For not giving up everything he owns? For not living in filth? No, and so this means it's a good idea. If you can't disprove it, it must be right.

As a trickster god, Tyler Durden is especially good at convincing the Narrator. Tyler is never openly acknowledged as a god, but look at the man. He's the most fascinating thing in any room he occupies. And he creates chaos. Not because it's good for society, not because it breaks people free from their possessions (in the book, possessions are not made into a villain of society nearly as much as in the film). These are excuses he makes up as part of the seduction. He creates chaos for the sheer enjoyment of creating chaos, because it is food and drink to him. In the book, Tyler tells the Narrator about the brown recluse spider, and how its poison dissolves human skin. I'm reminded of Anansi Boys, a book by Neil Gaiman about the West African/Caribbean trickster god Anansi the Spider. That book makes notes of the many bizarre and torturous things that spider venom can do. It says that spider venom does this because spiders think it is funny.

Tyler thinks destruction is hilarious.

Tyler wants to destroy everything. Soon, so does the Narrator. Tyler wins him over with class struggle anger, and so the Narrator wants to destroy art museums. He wants to destroy fancy things that he will never be able to afford to enjoy. He wants to destroy every resource that isn't necessary for his personal survival. The Narrator is not anti-consumerist - he's anti-human.

It would be nice if noticing his selfishness made the Narrator realize something was wrong. It would be nice if Project Mayhem - which strips its members of their individuality, made him realize that things had gone too far. What really catches his attention is when Tyler leaves him, and breaks his heart - leading to the big reveal that Tyler is in the Narrator's body, and that to everyone else in the story, the Narrator is Tyler Durden. Only when he knows that Tyler is riding his back like the voodoo god Elegba, possessing his body for longer and longer amounts of time - only when he realizes that he may disappear and become Tyler - does the Narrator see the other side of the argument. Only when he realizes that he is losing his own body does he want his personality and his individuality back.

The book doesn't end like the movie. I won't fully give this part away, but it's not as dramatic and beautiful - no buildings falling, no fairy tale kiss. The ending in the novel also makes more sense. I always felt like the movie abandoned the plot in exchange for a dramatic ending - how are the Narrator and Marla going to survive past the ending in the film? The book ending isn't fully believable, nor is it as fun, but it does provide more closure.

Overall, the story is an epic myth condensed for the modern attention span. Gods do what they always do, because our mortality makes us curious and vaguely interesting to them. Once in a while they mess with us out of boredom. They abandon us when they become bored with that. Occasionally, if we are lucky or clever, one of us can defeat them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fight Club started

Fight Club: A NovelWhat a misleading post title. No, I have not started a fight club, but I did pick the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk up from the library today.

I've seen the movie, of course, and I'm very opinionated about it. I actually like the movie, which makes this one of the few things I like and am also opinionated about. I just don't think a person should develop a philosophy about anti-consumerism based on a film in which consumerism is fought with death and destruction. Especially when it's a studio-backed Hollywood film. Especially when there are official licensed t-shirts for the film. Especially when you can get a two-disc collector's edition DVD of the film.

Hey, don't get me wrong. I love two disc collector's editions. I'm a geek; I am the collector of which they speak. I just think there's a lot of irony in the people who are against excess loving a movie that has produced quite a lot of excess. What would Tyler Durden have to say about all this?

Also, it's a satire. A dark comedy. Not to be taken seriously. All of the blowing things up was the clue there, in case you were wondering. Blowing things up was purely for comic effect. This model was not intended for actual use.

So I'm eager to see how I feel about this book, because I have not even begun to get opinionated about the film, but I want to save it all up for the final review. A friend of mine opined that you should see the movie first when you can because if you read the book first, you won't enjoy the movie as much. Probably a good point. It worked for her and Watchmen, anyway (speaking of excessive multi-disc special editions which I am opinionated about).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mort finished; comic book break; StarShipSofa

I finished reading Terry Pratchett's Mort. Basically, Death take on an awkward boy named Mort as an apprentice, the boy develops a crush on someone he is meant to reap, and shenanigans ensue.

It was hilarious. I've begun to recognize spoofs on the Lord of the Rings trilogy in his writing. Not that knowing this is necessary to appreciate it - Terry Pratchett's stories are funny regardless of your level of experience with fantasy.

So as usual, Discworld remains a source of good comic relief when things get a bit too serious on the other end of the reading list. When I took on this list to begin with I was a little worried at the large number of novels required to complete the still-growing Discworld series. Now I'm pleased to know that there are enough of them to provide much needed breaks throughout the project.
I'm taking a brief hiatus from the list to read some books in the Fables comic book series, by Bill Willingham. I got gift cards for my birthday, so I got volumes 9 and 10. I highly recommend this series if you have never read it. It's about fairy tale characters living in our world because they were driven out of their own by an unknown adversary. Here, they struggle with governing an extremely diverse populace, planning ways to defend their current land and possibly return to The Homelands, and simply managing the problem of keeping the humans from figuring out who they are. It's very well written, and the art is very good. The cover art by James Jean is spectacular. The cover art is eventually taken over by João Ruas - I haven't gotten that far in the series yet. It looks pretty amazing as well. Check it out!
I also recently discovered a podcast called StarShipSofa. Isn't that the most fantastic name? The podcast defines itself as an audio sci fi magazine. The episodes that I've listened to so far include readings of sci fi short stories from noteworthy writers (although not always read by those writers). That alone would be enough reason to keep me coming back, but there is also literary review, news, and an enthusiastic Scottish host. I listen to lots of podcasts, but this one is now topping my list of listening priorities. Click the link above to check it out.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wear your burning books with pride

Think Geek is now carrying this fantastic Fahrenheit 451 cover art shirt. Check it out!

Apparently this shirt bears the image of the first British paperback edition of the novel. That doesn't matter that much to me - what I like is how 1950s-style fantastic it is. Check out the sensational "READ & DESTROY!" stamped across the image. Serves as a nice reminder that sci-fi was considered low brow back then. Take pride in your guilty pleasures!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mort started; new library

After feeling joyless all last week, I decided a comedy was a good idea, so I'm continuing Terry Pratchett's Discworld series with Mort. So far, so funny.

After getting rejected from the library one county over, I visited my local Shelby county library and got a card for this system - free, of course, because I actually live in this county.

On the positive side, it's much closer to my home than the Jefferson county branch I was visiting.

On the negative, it is smaller than my high school's library. Seriously. And my high school kind of sucked.

I've also checked the collection in Shelby county against my reading list, and side by side with the Jefferson county catalog. Results: I'll be getting a paid membership to the Jefferson county library. Seriously, it will be worth it to avoid buying all these books (which isn't just me being cheap, by the way; I'm running out of book storage space), and I'll have to buy fewer of them if I can use Jefferson.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rejected at the library

On Tuesday I went to the library to return House of Seven Gables, and learned that I can't renew my library card unless I pay a $50 fee. This is because the Jefferson County Commission cut the library budget in half, and now people who don't live in Jefferson county have to pay a fee. News on the situation here.

I lived in Jefferson county my whole life until 3 years ago, and by that time I was kind of hooked on their library system. It's really good. I live in Shelby county now. The library system here is not so good. After my initial devastation at the fee and leaving dejectedly from the library, I went home and did a Pepsi challenge on the Shelby county system, side by side with the Jefferson county system. I had a list of 10 or 12 books I was going to look for at the library, and I searched them all on both systems. Jefferson county had all of them in circulation. Shelby had about half. Among the books that Shelby county didn't have was The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. Philip K. Dick, people!

As a result, I have nothing to read right now. I'll be getting a library card at Shelby county this week, and they do have at least half of the books I'm interested in. But eventually, I know I'm just going to break down and pay the fee.

And look, I love you guys. But I know one of you is going to say "why would you do that?" while gesturing in righteously angry ways. Look, it's not like I'm not angry. But when it comes down to it, it's much cheaper than buying books, which is kind of my only other option here. It's also much less money than I spend on subscription services like Netflix. And let's face it, it only makes me angry because I'm used to checking out books for free.

Which is the thing that makes me angriest of all. You get something for free, and you just think it's always going to be there. Communities need things, and that's why you have to pay your taxes, kiddies. Libraries. Public schools. The police force. Parks. Sidewalks. Paved roads. I don't care how "taxed enough, already" you feel, at some point there's something that your taxes pay for that you wouldn't want to do without. The minute that it's not free, we all get angry and wonder where it went.

I can walk into Jefferson county from where I live. It's not close enough, so I'll pay the damn fee for the superior catalog.