Monday, May 21, 2007

Earth Kids Are Easy

So they got John Cusack, that underdog heartthrob, to play the dad in the movie adaptation of The Martian Child, by David Gerrold. I'm currently listening to the audiobook, and I'm actively restraining myself from going into a rant about terrible audiobook readers and how they ruin what should be a good experience. Okay, I'll grant myself a tiny, short little rant: you don't need to pause for two seconds after every single sentence! And not every single word is so incredibly important that it needs to be carefully emphasized. Okay, seriously, rant over.

But only to make room for a new rant: a book about adopting a kid with severe behavior issues is a) very surprising and b) possibly kind of irresponsible if it implies, as this one seems to, that true and deep love is all it takes to reach the little tykes and turn their lives around. First, it's disrespectful to all the other people who spent hours of months of their lives with him before this guy came along.

Second, it's irresponsible to all the other potential adopters out there. Seriously, it's NOT easy to take care of these kids. The closest he comes to acknowledging that the kid has problems so far is one sentence saying, in effect, "Sure it wasn't all a bed of roses--he lied and stole money from me and kept a knife in his room and got in fights with other kids. Still, we were blissfully happy and it was an unadulterated dream." If you didn't know how disruptive a behavior disordered kid can be, you could easily believe, from this account, that the instant you bring him home and give him his own room, he's going to be just dandy and fun to hang with.

So yeah, I'm having trouble picking apart the things I don't like about the narrator and the things I don't like about the reader and the things I don't like about the author. Look at that sentence; it's hard to even describe who all these people conspiring to trouble me are. I guess it's not awful; I'll finish it. But I have to admit, I'm not getting much out of it. Luckily, I'm reading two other books. I'm still getting my fix.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

And I Feel Fine

I have a thing about end of the world books. I have a thing about the end of the world in general, actually, particularly when it comes about via environment-altering events (nuclear war, for example) that make even the basics of survival virtually impossible to manage, never mind surviving the collapse of civilization. Or zombies. Zombies I think are a close second in fear to environmental disasters, and they only really make it into second because I'm pretty sure they're fictional. I think zombies are scarier, but they're less likely than, say, nuclear war, or global warming, or the moon being knocked out of its orbit.

Speaking of which, I just finished an excellent book called Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It's YA, and not nearly as depressing as it could have been. William Goldman once said in one of his screenwriting books that audiences love a good how-to, and I find that's definitely true. Really well-written stories about the mundane details of something like this are just wonderfully engaging. It's about storing food and running out of it, chopping firewood, boarding up windows, swimming, running water, Christmas presents, snow, distant volcanoes, etc.

Really, I think the book's main flaw was what also made it tolerable--it was upbeat. Well, not downbeat, anyway. It's not the heartwarming family togetherness that bothered me--that actually made it quite palatable. It's the lack of violence or human danger. It's not about society collapsing so much as disappearing, as though the system that keeps our world running the way it does--which is really so artificial and tenuous--didn't just collapse into a shambles, but slowed down a great deal, almost to a stop. Civilization was still there, it was just operating at a very low efficiency level.

This isn't much of a review; I'm just processing this and thinking out loud. It stuck with me, though, and I really enjoyed this book. I just checked out another one, an end-of-the-world book called Z for Zachariah, I can't remember the author's name. I don't think this one will go over as well for me. It seems darker, just based on the blurb. Although I will say, as long as the environment is intact enough that, say, food will grow, I'm willing to fight off the zombie hoards from inside my walled fortress. That's just the kind of girl I am.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Punctuation Quiz!

Okay, it's you and W. Somerset Maugham in a head-to-head punctuation extravaganza! Let's see how you do!

What's missing from or wrong with each of the following sentences?

1) She admired the way in which amid the banter which was the staple of their conversation he insinuated every now and then a pretty, flattering speech.

2) She put away her fears, but for an instant unreasonably she regretted that her plans for the future were shattered.

3) Vaguely, as when you are studying a foreign language and read a page which at first you can make nothing of, till a word or a sentence gives you a clue; and on a sudden suspicion, as it were, of the sense flashes across your troubled wits, vaguely she gained an inkling into the workings of Walter's mind.

Bonus points if your answer to #3 is anything more than, "huh?"

I know it's unfair to give a quiz when each item is worth 33.3 points, but the problem is that I'm enjoying the book too much to keep stopping to mark the many, many pages on which I wish he'd added more commas. I mean, there are commas, but there are a lot of mid-sentence clauses that don't have them that end up bewildering me for a minute.

But the book is so enjoyable, so quickly paced and the characters so flawed but interesting, that I can't pause in the reading long enough to register complaints. Sorry folks! Excellent book.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Hike in the Mountains

Bill Bryson is an interesting guy. I think I went on in a blissful and rhapsodic way about his A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I loved dearly. And now I'm listening to A Walk in the Woods, read by the author. It's abridged, and I don't know how much (not too much, I think, based on the length of the audiobook and the length of the print book). It's a fun, interesting read, full of historical facts and funny observations. I'm not a hiker, and he confirms that I never will be, but I'm glad to have this vicarious experience.

But when he starts in on his discussions of the National Park Service or the American attitude toward the wilderness, I'm bemused. Right now, for example, he's discussing how he doesn't understand why Americans are so interested in keeping wilderness wild, and how he'd much rather that there were some farms or hamlets along the trail. He's poo-pooing (if I may use the term) the much vaunted "protected corridor" through which a certain part of the trail runs, and comparing it to hiking in Luxembourg, where you pass through hamlets and past farms.

It seems so British to me. It reminds me of the scene in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, in which one of the characters is talking about the landscaping on a big English estate and how they tore up the pastures to create a faux wilderness, but how the pastures were artificial, too, because that was just another generation of landscape architects trying to recreate the Italian countryside of the classic authors.

What kind of hamlet is he talking about? Every town he's walked through he's described as ugly, boring, nondescript. He wants cute, scenic little places, but authentic! Untouched by the modern era! And they shouldn't get any bigger, that would ruin the beauty of nature. No, we want charming signs of civilization of juuuuust the right size.

It also reminds me of my father's customers, who want him to stay the quaint, authentic, crusty figure that he is, in spite of the fact that this involves him never making any more money.

I don't mean to whine. I'm really enjoying it. But he's kind of demanding--I'd think of it as "full of dreams," except he's kind of insistent, even when he's not being very practical.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I Never Read Angela's Ashes

I have a suspicion that Frank McCourt has been selling his blurbs. I could be wrong--it could be that he and I just have similar taste in nonfiction. I wouldn't have suspected that, since I couldn't get past page 10 of Angela's Ashes, but then, I have noticed the fact that I often share a taste in literature with authors whose work I don't necessarily care for. So it's not impossible that he just likes these two rather obscure books that I plucked off the internet and checked out of the library.

One of these books is not even available through the BPL system--I had to go to Minuteman. (Minuteman officially has way more books, probably by virtue of having a lot of member libraries, each one building an independent collection. Unfortunately, their online catalog is very, very clunky.) One book I heard about on a This American Life story from about three years ago that I was listening recently. It's a memoir called The Man Who Outgrew his Prison Cell, by Joe Loya, a former bank robber who has, apparently, gone straight. Frank McCourt ("Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes") believes I will "be taken with the energy and urgency of Loya's writing," among other things.

Frank McCourt also expresses his gratitude for the existence of Susan Jane Gilman, author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress. "Thank you, O Lord," he prays, "for sending us Susan Gilman's tales." He feels pretty passionate about this, clearly. I'd never heard of the book till someone on the internets pointed me at it. They read a lot of good books out there in cyberspace. Anyway, I don't know pretty much anything about this book at this point, except that Frank McCourt just loved it.

I'd say I should re-try Angela's Ashes, and I suspect that a large number of folks in the world would agree with that idea. But, I have to say, I don't suspect I will. Sorry.