Raw Liver & Melted Vanilla Ice Cream

The decision to delve once again into the American Gods was only a matter of proper incentive. The premiere of the TV show seemed like a good one, and, boy, were my reading buddy and me right about rereading this one.

I’m not sure who’d read American Gods in 2013, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I have been taken aback by every major turn of events. The review itself is, however, in line with what I feel about the book, although I think it was too vague, so let’s list the three things I loved the most about American Gods.

1. Coercive Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief and the type of willing suspension the author requests from me is the most important part of the book. It’s the deal breaker. Halfway through American Gods, I’ve realised that, for me, Gaiman’s quality as a writer comes firstly from the fact that I haven’t even realised that I was suspending disbelief. You simply have no choice in the matter. It comes as easy as breathing and it’s not willing – it’s compulsory. I think this is achieved by presenting the impossible as mundane, and mundane as extraordinary; snow is something to write home about – talking to your dead spouse is an afterthought.

2. Intelligent Design

Nothing in this book is accidental. Every adjective and every metaphor is carefully placed. It’s all so deliberate; far from being effortlessly beautiful. Even though I’m a big fan of effortless beauty, it is impossible not to appreciate the way Gaiman structured and planned everything to make you believe.

3. Raw Liver and Melted Vanilla Ice Cream

When Neil puts in an effort to put that beauty onto the page, he does so magnificently. The thing I really liked is the way he treats the colours. I might forget some of the characters (I already did),  but I will not forget Mr Wednesday’s suit which was the colour of melted vanilla ice cream, nor will I forget the room which has walls the colour of raw liver. I’ll take the colours with me.

“He perceived the pain in colours: the red of a neon bar-sign, the green of a traffic light on a wet night, the blue of an empty video screen.”

Five to Four

However, there is something of a downside to rereading. First time around, I gave American Gods a five. This time around – it’s a four. The ending was anticlimactic this time and the Laura-Shadow relationship was not something I felt was as game-changing as it was meant to be. I needed a bit more convincing.

P.S. Still haven’t delved into the TV show. But I love the idea of Ian McShane as Wednesday. But then again, I love the idea of Ian McShane as pretty much anyone anywhere.

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Homo Mensura

The Flanders Panel
Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Part of the infamous and no-longer-neglected Mini Book Club (featuring moi and Lukre)

Throughout most of the effort of completing the Flanders Panel, I genuinely hated the thing. I despised its inability to give depth to its characters, its inaction and unnecessarily long-winded philosophical musings. Reading it was a horrible experience. Truly, an excruciating feat. There’s nothing happening in this book. There are characters which talk a lot about what’s happening (which is nothing). It’s a jumbled mess of art, chess and dime-store philosophy which only dabbles in mystery.

But (I’m still having difficulty accepting there’s a but!), having completed it, it seems that the objective suckiness of the book has been misplaced by what I have decided it was lacking,

My participation in the recreation of the story has rendered it not-so-horrible. My irritation with the lack of proper emotional response of the characters to the atrocities in the book has, inadvertently, infused them in my mind with exactly that. Even though the flat protagonist Julia has failed to be appalled and heart-broken, by noticing her failure and purely by thinking about how she should have felt, I have somehow redeemed this bad piece of writing. This does not happen often, and I don’t know why it happens with some books, while not with others, but I ended up not giving a one-star review.

I’m a bit distraught by this, but at the same time I love it because it reflects that which I love about books – the words they contain and the stories they tell are subject to endless interpretation of the reader and how much that reader dedicates himself or herself to the process. The whole process is so delectably unstable and open – beautiful.

As I usually do, I rummaged through Goodreads in search of positive reviews which only confirmed that we only think we are reading the same book because it has the same content.

The Flanders Panel still sucks, tho. It’s one of those books that should have been good, because it has all the ingredients. However, as we all now, it’s crucial to know just what to do with those ingredients.

One damp afternoon, Arturo Perez Reverte sat down at his usual table in the quasi-artistic cafe El Museo, somewhere on the way from La Navata to Madrid. Quasi-artistic because its clientele comprised of art enthusiast and connoisseurs. Salvador Dali, who would meet his demise in January next year, never sipped absinth in the dim, smoke-infused interior while pondering the finer nuances of artistic expression.

Arturo was looking through the newspaper he found lying languidly on the table. He looked up briefly when the waiter inquired of his beverage of choice.

“Gin”, he replied, smoothing out his moustache, “with a twist of lemon, if you please.”

He went back to the newspaper, stopping at the art section. Apparently, there was a possibility of Spain housing the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

August Thyssen, the founder of the Thyssen family’s financial empire and a passionate art collector would not be found in El Museo, Arturo thought, without malice or envy. He liked El Museo. He liked the reproductions which hung on the wall and the quiet discussions about art and an occasional game of chess which included more pensive stares than actual moves on the board.

The lanky waiter set the lemony gin on the table with a polite word or two, prompting Arturo to look up and smile. His smile froze beneath his moustache when his eyes caught a game of chess being played under the reproduction of the Arnolfini Portrait.

Being one of those art enthusiasts, he had a vague idea about the Flemish school and Van Eyck, but his knowledge of the 15th century was far from vague. All those bits and pieces of information, some larger, some smaller, coagulated in his brain to form an idea that will take the form of The Flanders Panel.

Carry On, nothing to see here

Rainbow Rowell – Carry On (2016)

You can tell Rainbow adores Simon, Baz, Penelope, Agatha… she truly loves them all. Makes you love them. The kink is, she doesn’t really love the plot. Rainbow just wanted to have some reason to put her beloved characters together, and she was forced to come up with a plot.

The plot is introduced somewhere mid-book. Occasionally she completely forgets the plot-thingy, goes on a binge with character development, subtle comments about life and reality, with her subtle style which has underlying respect for readers’ capability to get a hint.

Oh. SHIT. She forgot the plot.

And then the plot comes back again, and it is supposed to explode. It is supposed to go overboard and overwhelm. But it doesn’t. It somehow flickers pathetically, and you can feel that Rainbow just couldn’t let it die, so she poked it every now and then with a stick.

Maybe the biggest fault of Carry On is the fact that it’s supposed to be fantasy. There be dragons, but dragons don’t make a fantasy book. They make a book with dragons in it. Not many authors are capable of migrating through genres seamlessly, and a fanfiction-ish, fantasy-ish book doesn’t really seem to be Rainbow’s cup of tea (yet?). I respect her for doing it, but for me this is what she does best (excuse my being a bit self-referential):

Well, Rainbow Rowell summarily executes willing suspension of disbelief by making you the protagonist of her books. She makes you feel like a hero, makes your life seem worthy of a book of its own. Because, most of us can find some portion of our lives, as small as it may be, that a little imagination and some wordplay can make into a good, maybe even a great book. And that’s what Rainbow tells you, what she reminds you of – your life is interesting, you have great friends, there is excitement behind that very corner, you just need to see it.

 

 

Disturbed

I’ve read plenty of books that left an impression on me. 1984 and In Cold Blood come to mind. I’ve been seriously affected by these books. You can imagine how surprised I was to learn that Grey will be another book which I will include on this list. I did not expect to include it on any list, except on the Reasons-to-dislike-E.L.-James list.

Having mustered through cca 150 pages, I was simply unable to finish this book. Not because it is badly written (though it is), not because there is no chemistry between the main characters (though there is none), and not because the characterization is not worthy of Teletubbies (though it is, barely, but it is). I can read bad books. If you stumbled upon this blog before, I’m sure you are aware of this. Grey takes “bad” and it fucking owns it.

It is a deeply disconcerting book. It disturbed me in a way I have not been disturbed for a long time. In Grey we get to meet the adored Christian Grey. But this is not your attractive, rich, renaissance man we came to know  in FSoG, oh no. This is a rich, controlling psychopath who is only inches away from becoming a rapist and a serial killer. In Grey we come to learn that Christian Grey is not a Dominant. He’s not a guy with troubled childhood and run-of-the-mill psychological issues. He is just a sick, disturbed man who needs to be institutionalized to ensure the safety of those around him. He’s got power. He employs thousands. He owns many cars and a helicopter, and he can find you and be there real fast. You should be afraid, very afraid.

“It places the lotion in the basket.”

giphy (1)

At the same time we get to meet a new Anastasia Steele. An inexperienced, bookish girl who stumbles into the orbit of a man who will have her under the scrutiny of a private investigator, who will punish her for writing “It was nice meeting you”, a man who does not want to dominate her – he wants to hurt her. He wants to earn her trust, and this he wants after making her sign an NDA.

The repetitive nature of Grey’s internal monologue only adds to the feeling that he’s not all there. He keeps thinking and saying things like “Oh, that smart mouth” and “Fair point, Miss Steele“. He feels inexplicably threatened by unimpressive kids and, even though he notices that Ana likes him at the very beginning of the book, he keeps noticing it as something new, always revelling in this “discovery” in the same way. The fact that there is no chemistry between them only enhances the level of disturbance because his insistence on making her his is simply unfathomable.

Christian is horribly fragmented. His thoughts are all over the place, mixing dialogue with internal monologue. He takes a moment to talk to himself and then he talks to people –  but not out loud. Remembering it makes me shudder. It is creepy beyond reason.

Essentially, Grey takes “badly written” to a level I did not believe possible. It transcends genre and reads like a psychological thriller. I kept expecting Christian to kidnap and murder Ana or Kate (or both). Then we would get introduced to some very cool FBI agents who delve into the mysterious ritualistic murder of a young woman (or women) following a trail of evidence back to a rich CEO. There might even be some introverted profiler who’d try to get into the murderer’s mind…. and find Christian Grey while he’s finishing his fava beans and drinking a nice chianti.

Saying that a book is “the worst book ever written” is ungrateful because it would imply I have read every book which was ever written and it might imply that I’ve actually read Grey. So I’ll just phrase it this way: “Grey is the worst book I have ever tried to read“. The statement lacks decisiveness and it’s tepid (much like Grey) but it’s the truth. I mean, come on. She tried to write a sexy adult novel (one she has already written) and all I could think about while I was reading it was the following five things:

  1. That poor, poor girl, I hope she manages to get away from him.
  2. My God, this man is really disturbed, this is just so creepy.
  3. Dear Lord, this man is really disturbed, this is just so sick.
  4. I should really read Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs again.
  5. Will Graham is one of the hottest characters ever.

I hope I’ve managed to show you just how many shades of fucked up Grey really is (hint: it is not 50).

To hell with niceties. This IS the worst book ever written.

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Remember the Rain

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a sweet, unpretentious take on life and on what it means to be human. It made me wonder about the inner life of boys, something I’ve always believed was non-existent. I know it sounds a bit nasty to say that, but, growing up, I always thought boys had it easy. It lingered, I guess, as a force of habit, something I’ve never felt necessary to reassess.

While reading Aristotle and Dante, I was forced to re-examine those notions and I loved the journey. I loved the first few steps, when I was still thinking that Benjamin Alire Sáenz was putting depth and complexity where they had no place. I enjoyed carefully treading into the territory where I will be struck by sudden realization that I’ve had my narrow-sighted glasses on for too long.

Finding myself in a place where all bets were off – change of viewpoint pending – I realized I was in love.  I fell in love with the simplicity and ease with which my preconceived ideas were shattered into billion pieces, shimmering under the new-found light.

I was reminded that discovering the secrets of the universe means unlearning innocence and playfulness which made me feel morose. What I admire the most about this book is the fact that there wasn’t a single sentence in it which made me think that someone older than 17 was writing it. I think amazing talent and excruciating effort are behind that, behind keeping your years and experience at bay.

I have to admit when I started reading Ari and Dante I was pissed that I had in my hands yet another book with first person narrator. Don’t get me wrong, I think 1st person narration is awesome but it takes skills to pull it off. Thank God Benjamin got skillz. The result is Aristotle, one of those characters that you inescapably fall in love with. He’s a guy who sticks around on the edges of emotion and memory and comes back every once in a while to remind you of sweet melancholy.

At one point, Ari writes:

High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you, but when you graduated you got to write yourself.

That’ll keep me awake at night, because I still feel someone else is writing my novel, I still feel I need to take that pen and start writing my own story.

Read Ari and Dante. It’s profoundly beautiful. And don’t forget to remember the rain.

A/N: This book is the latest addition to the MiniBookClub. You can read my book buddy’s take on the book over at Anatomy of Reading and Other Demented Things.

aristotle

Two ‘Easy’ Pieces

If you’re looking for something light and sugary to read this summer (or any other season for that matter) you should pick up either Attachments (1999) or Fangirl (2013) (preferably both). They’re just so damn sweet. To be clear, these books, as sweet as they are, have a certain gravity to them, making them a perfect blend of bitter and sweet.

These are romances. However, there are no blushing, innocent virgins and no tall, dark, mysterious, 29-year-old billionaire-multinational-CEOs here. These are regular people with regular stories. You and me, and that guy we had a serious crush on back in school. You know, the guy that was brainy and clumsy, and seemed like he liked you but had even less balls than you to do something about it?

These are situations we’ve been in. The dialogue is witty and hilarious, and you’ve surely had that discussions with your friend. This is us, trying to pry out of a rut we’ve been stuck in for years, but a rut we’ve grown so used to we think we like it. This is you, a student, convincing yourself you actually prefer books to people, and that it has nothing to do with the fact that you’re petrified to get out there and stop being socially awkward. It’s you and me, it’s Everyman and Everywoman.

So why should you read either of these books? After all, how can it be exciting reading about something you’ve experienced?

Well, Rainbow Rowell summarily executes willing suspension of disbelief by making you the protagonist of her books. She makes you feel like a hero, makes your life seem worthy of a book of its own. Because, most of us can find some portion of our lives, as small as it may be, that a little imagination and some wordplay can make into a good, maybe even a great book. And that’s what Rainbow tells you, what she reminds you of – your life is interesting, you have great friends, there is excitement behind that very corner, you just need to see it.

The overwhelming familiarity of it all gives you strength and fortifies your belief that anything is possible. Anything.  You need a right set of circumstances, some guts to step out of your routine, and just wait for things to change, develop, and possibly turn absolutely beautiful.

fangirl-ftr

Despite their similarities, Attachments and Fangirl are fairly different. Both deal with relatively new (at the time they were written) social changes which stem out of technological development. Fangirl is categorized as a YA novel, which I do not like, because YA makes me think of Twilight and Hunger Games, and Fangirl is nothing like those…things. It’s a story about a girl in college, in reluctant search for her place in the social order. Attachments deals with old people (30) who are stuck and are only realizing they haven’t really found themselves.

Obscure movie references are another thing these two books have in common, and you cannot help but feel like you have some kind of inside information, because there must be a whole bunch of people who didn’t get that “single-white-female” reference.

Even though Attachments should be more up my alley, and even though it’s a solid 4* book, I still preferred Fangirl (5*). Attachments is a fun read but at times it felt more like an exercise in writing than a complete work of fiction. It doesn’t lack closure, but it lacks a clear sense of direction, something Fangirl has in abundance.

I don’t usually  copy quotes from books because for me that’s the equivalent of dismembering a body, but sometimes it’s hard to resist, so here’s a one from Fangirl:

He made everything look so easy… Even standing. You didn’t realize how much work everyone else put into holding themselves upright until you saw Levi leaning against a wall. He looked like he was leaning on something even when he wasn’t. He made standing look like vertical lying down.

And another from Attachments:

Have you ever seen The Goodbye Girl? Don’t watch it if you still want to enjoy romantic comedies. It makes every movie made starring Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock lash itself in shame. Also, don’t watch The Goodbye Girl if it would trouble you to find Richard Dreyfuss wildly attractive for the rest of your life, even when you see him in What About Bob? or Mr. Holland’s Opus.

“Fuck you”, said the raven.

0204_AmericanGodsPost

I could try and tell you what American Gods is about. But I would be lying if I told you I know. I could google it, try to find out if Gaiman’s book is about erosion of belief and its ephemeral quality. I could try and find someone smarter than me who wrote an essay about how Gaiman examines the nature of American belief system, but I won’t. Maybe this was Gaiman’s attempt to build an American pantheon. I don’t know. I believe there are books for which plot and „what’s it about“ are irrelevant. For me, American Gods is all about how it made me feel. And it made me feel good.

American Gods is at home, wherever it goes. Whether it is a mortuary, a freezing hotel room, hell or purgatory – it’s home. It feels somehow good and somehow right, being in this world or the other – in American Gods it all makes sense. Dead people walking the Earth is nothing to get worked up about. It’s there. It happens, and if it happens there’s a reason. American Gods is free of any form of judgement and in it there’s a prevailing sense of peace, purposefulness and understanding – whether it’s a warm spring afternoon or a bloodbath brought about by selfishness.

This book is different from pretty much anything I read, and that fact alone pleases me beyond words. To realize there’s something original, something different which has been written in the 21st century, by a living, breathing author makes me happy as hell. Sure, maybe the originality I got from American Gods is a result from my lack of reading similar literature, but for me, it is different and original. It’s dark in a sweet way, it’s amusing and funny in a sinister way and it shows a deep love and understanding towards the human race (and beyond) which I have rarely encountered (Le Guin shows a similar, dark and foreboding love for the race).

I admit, I am at a loss as to what Gaiman wanted to achieve with this book. I have no idea what was the point and which message he tried to convey. Maybe that makes me a stupid, lousy reader. Maybe the fact that I find Gaiman’s intentions completely irrelevant makes me an idiot. Maybe, just maybe, I am an asshole because the feel of American Gods is enough for me.

Also, it seems there is a TV series in the making – don’t know how I feel about that, I will know once I give it a whirl.

The Unbearable Lightness of Writing

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.

Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Ursula Le Guin seems not to suffer from the confines of language. The most peculiar scenes and sensations are transformed into words with such lightness that I come to doubt the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis in which I firmly and adamantly believe. Her style, infused with love of humanity, serves as a deterrent of her message. It takes a while to see past her writing and notice the warning which her words tenaciously weave. Perfect fluency, the logic behind chaos serve to catch you unaware. Some pages into the book you are suddenly struck, amid the beauty of her writing, with a sense of dread, of slow, yet inevitable, civilizational decay.

The contradiction which is present in her books is not awkward – it makes perfect sense. It makes me believe that she has answers which a lot of us are looking for because her books manage to reconcile the beauty and grandeur of the human race with our delectable penchant for wanton self-destruction. At the same time I am proud to be human and appalled by the historical failure of the race. She captures the dichotomy of our fates as individuals and as parts of the whole, which seems to lack cohesion and collective intelligence.

The combination of subtle alliteration bordering on verse, small quips and lapses of humour only enhance the sense of pending doom. Constructed worlds, distant but probable, serve as an eerie setting to showcase the failure of an entire race. A beautiful, complex failure. An amalgamation of magnificent and singular minds destined for self-destruction.

Three books later, Le Guin still makes me feel both happy and sad about being a human. And I am at peace with that fact. Even after I saw the dark future that awaits the human race, I do not feel bad because I also saw the beauty of the individual.

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

lathe_uk1984Ursula K. Le Guin_1974_The Dispossessed lhod3

I have read three books by Ursula Le Guin. All three will forever be a part of who I am, of what I feel it means to be human. I feel honoured to have had the privilege of reading these books and allowing them to influence me, both intellectually and emotionally. I’ve read The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven. You can read my review of the Dispossessed and my take on the characterization in The Lathe of Heaven on Goodreads.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin is a part of the mighty MiniBookClub:

English Language Died in the City of Bones

Courtesy of futuregravestone.com
Courtesy of futuregravestone.com

 

  • Clotted-blood-colored robes” adorn the characters, and some of them have a “half-breed-tolerating ways” about them. Those bastards! They made me feel “as if [my] heart were going to slam its way out of [my] rib cage“. My slamming heart were really perturbed by Valentine’s “interior face“, it “tantalized [my] sight“.

I was lying on the beach, basking in the late-august sun, attempting to explain to my boyfriend what was wrong with City of Bones. “She wrote that the weapons room looked like something called the weapons room would look like”, I said to him, indignantly.

He squinted against the sun and said that it sounded cool, like something Bujold would write. I realized he was right. I went over my notes and read to him: “The weapons room looked exactly the way something called the weapons room sounded like it would look.

His blank stare and my smirk were enough to dismiss any relation to Ms. Bujold’s writing.

The conversation continued due to my general confusion about how raw meat feels. I was trying to imagine how a peace of veal feels when its uncooked state. Apparently, Cassandra Clare has amazing emphatic abilities which extend to a piece of raw meat.

Her face felt like one big bruise, her arms, aching and stinging, like raw meat.

How does “The demon, turning, caught her a backhanded blow that sent her spinning to the ground” work for you?  Because it sure as hell had me thinking something along the lines: What the fuck just happened? How exactly do you catch someone a backhanded blow? Would Pete Sampras know the answer?

People in this book are “grinning grins” werewolves are “howling howls“. Some of the characters are “savoring the rich savory-salt taste”. There is some surprise at people retaining their eye-colour during a 15-year period: “He bore little resemblance to the handsome boy in the photograph, though his eyes were still black.” Masterful use of all the 50 shades of the English language.

Note this “I determined to look for her“. It felt wrong, it felt unnatural and forced. I admit, I had to look up why it felt so wrong, and according to thefreedictionary.com determine is both a transitive and intransitive verb. When it is used as a synonym of “decide” it is intransitive.

I could keep on writing about other stuff, like the fact that Cassandra Clare has an attention span of a gnat and keeps forgetting about stuff she wrote only several pages ago, but I won’t. Because I wrote about it here and because then I would have to put a subtitle to this post, something like Literature Died in City of Bones, and that would be superfluous because I think Literature generally shares the burial ground of Language.

For a more detailed review check out the one my friend wrote (we read this crap together, as a part of our MiniBookClub).

I do not consider myself a measure of all things, and even though I cannot understand it, there must be a reason why people like this book. So, here’s a review written by  Pau C. who thinks City of Bones is “a must-read to anyone interested in modern fantasy and romance“.

EDIT: I beg of you to read this review on Goodreads. It’s so very wonderful and the author has a blog here http://chocopal.wordpress.com/

City of Bones is rubbing me the wrong way

My book buddy wrote about how City of Bones is rubbing her the wrong way. I also feel very wrongly rubbed by this appalling book.

My review will come. And it’s not going in the Nutshells category. Oh no.