Friday, January 21, 2011

Internet Lovelies

It's Fuck Books Friday.

Any thinking person should oppose the smug ignorance of fundamental ontological questions that characterizes today’s atheism at least as strongly as she opposes the historical tragedy of religious literalism.
Michael Robbins, Link

Instead of packing a lecture hall to cheer for the single most popular person in a group, what if we all just did E and rolled on the floor in each other’s arms, suffused with a mutual joy at the nobleness of our shared struggle to create beauty and truth?
Gabby, Link

(The Different Types of People There Are on the Internet)
People Who Are Dads

Dads use Internet Explorer and have not installed flash. Dads think Firefox and Mozilla are rock bands or street gangs. Dads never empty their Recycle Bin so that a .jpeg entitled IMG_0549 of Dad from circa 2001 holding a 7.25 lbs. trout forever resides in both one’s mind and said bin. Dads use Bing because it’s the default search engine on their PC, which they got at CostCo. Dads actually say “www” before the name of the website. Dads got their cookies all over comparing lawnmower prices. Dads got their cookies all the fuck over shopping for fleece and slippers. Dads got their cookies all over barely DSL-streaming hentai porn asking “what the hell is this?” inside their “computer room” at night while Moms are applying moisturizer to their brittle faces. Dads’ mousepads are Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore motif(s), purchased in the gift shop, along with beef jerky and Snapple for the long ride back. Dads go to “www” YouTube “dot com” to find out what the big fuss is, and while confronted by a Lady Gaga or Bj√∂rk video, say “this woman clearly has a problem.” Dads got McAfee Security Scan popping up from the porn, which uses big time CPU and slows everything down, so Dads get upset asking “what the hell is wrong with this thing?” So then Dads go to CostCo the next week, or month, for a new computer saying to the youngster working minimum wage that he knows times are a changin’ and where are the Dell computers, you know, the ones that came out last year, and are on sale.
Jimmy Chen, Link

(Things You'll Miss About College)
You’ll miss being told what books to read and discovering your favorite writer in the process. You’ll miss hearing that one lecture that changed your life forever. You’ll miss idealism peppered with apathy.
Ryan O'Connell, Link

Nobody who reads the book is going to turn overnight into a French cook who does no other kind of cooking...We are all going to do a lot of American cooking all our lives. But when we cook French, we want a clear uncluttered classic line and no compromises. Here it is, girls, take it or leave it ... I know ... this kind of cooking, this kind of eating, this kind of life is on its way out. But let's preserve what we can of it, for as long as we can, before we are all reduced to proteins grown in shallow sea-water.
Avis DeVoto in a letter to Julia Child, Link

The ability to construct a computer from various circuit boards is an intellectual challenge. The reward for knowing how to hook a modem up to a DOS prompt was to be granted access to a world where people recognized my Star Trek references.
Llewellyn Hinkes, Link

And apparently I find Sam Biddle absolutely hilarious:

Colleges have become far too business-minded, to an extent that really disgusts and worries me...Rather than cultivating intellect—which can be applied flexibly, far outside of academia—I’m afraid colleges are going to start to turn into a place to pick up a white-collar trade.
Sam Biddle, Link

Sometimes my employed friends remark, charitably, how nice it must be to be without a job and free during the day, and walk wherever and whenever I want. To be free! A comment analogous to saying how nice it must be to have no hands, what with saving so much on the cost of mittens and all.
Sam Biddle, Link

In the months before I graduated, I would often wake up before dawn under a swell of anxious terror as I considered the community I was about to be released from. Demographically, college is for the most part a den of America's worst-east coast ids in sweatpants and uggs. But miserable peers are still peers, and to be a man without context, a feckless monad without room numbers to memorize and quads to cut-this to me was exile.
Sam Biddle, Link

I thought about the week before, to a night when K___ was promoting (a word, like networking, that means absolutely nothing and yet so many bad things) a party at a club by the High Line. Inside was another multitude, this one having spent its day working at a coveted internship, or for their mom's friend-exhausted, depleted, eager to preen and regenerate. Tall, proud, dumb looking boys leaned against their tables, faces puffing with drinks and the hope of licking someone.

Were you to transcribe the conversations taking place, they would all be typed out in Comic Sans. Nobody in New York ever wants to be where they are at any given moment, and so bars and clubs serve mostly as a loud, dark place to text other people and ask what they're up to. All mouths were constantly agape-I was greeted with a hoarse chorus of HeyyEyeyyHeyyyHeyyyyyyyyyy! Were I a CIA operative, this would be when I started desperately chomping at the emergency cyanide tablet wedged in my molars. This pack had networked well, and would now claim their prize. The song changed, and hundreds of thousands of girls threw their hands in the air. The jangling of bracelets quaked the room.
Sam Biddle, Link

HAPPY WEEKEND. Whatever that is.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, 4/100

I'm a squirrel reader.

In that I'll be in the middle of a perfectly satisfactory book, but upon catching a glance of another interesting book from the corner of my eye SQUIRREL!

But even having dropped the other three books I'm reading so I could devour this one, I can't really qualify it as a squirrel book -- since I've been waiting for its release for several months.

Patton Oswalt is one of my favorite comics. And a fellow Virginia native. If you're unfamiliar with him, then...well, use the internet. You're already on it. Or check out the film The Comedians of Comedy, which highlights Patton and three more of my favorite comedians.

Patton's book is a collection of essays, which are a mixture of memoir and random creative bits. How ironic that I would mention in the previous post my "refreshing" break from cynicism and dick jokes, just to dive right back into such. This book really wasn't what I was expecting, though. I was anticipating something more along the lines of his recent essay in Wired magazine, on the explosion of geek culture. Instead, it is much more memoir-ish and story based. Which is fine. Although it seemed like a book unable to make up its mind as to what it is. Funny, yes. But I feel sorry for the cataloguers responsible for classifying it. On one page it's a touching tale about his lonely, mentally unstable uncle, and on the next it's a satirical critique of a hobo poem.

But overall of course I loved it, because he's a nerd and I'm a nerd. And nerds love finding consolation in other nerds' tales of obsession and self-loathing.

Taken out of context these quotes probably don't work so great. But I will try to explain them the best I can beforehand.

On being entranced by film as a teenager:
I saw how that flat square of sepia light replaced the hard dimensions around us. I wanted to get on the other side of it.

People will find transformation and transcendence in a McDonald's hashbrown if it's all they've got.

From notes Patton has written to an imaginary screenwriter concerning his imaginary screenplay:
I don't want to be insulting, but the character of Sebastian Plush is written as if the writer has never met or seen a gay person. Do we get any laughs from his being a flamingo tamer beyond the first joke, where the flamingo jabs its beak into the minister's crotch?

Also, I don't know why the font for all of Sebastian's lines is suddenly Lucinda Calligraphy, where the rest of the script is just plain old Courier. And all these music cues--is a different Abba song going to play every time Sebastian appears?

Descriptions of imaginary wines:
"Freshman Thanksgiving" Pinot Noir

A Nietzschean blend of arrogant pinot grapes, half-informed with an amusing smugness. Fermented in stainless steel vats, formed from iron ore mined by exploited workers in Guatemala, whom our government uses as drug mules to fund a shadow war that's gone unreported for more than fifty years. Great when paired with Gang of Four or Fugazi CDs, southern Hunan cuisine (not the northern provinces, which are so fucking mainstream I want to puke), and ironic T-shirts.

It reminded me of how literati avoid genre fiction or film snobs sniff at big-budget Hollywood movies or exploitation trash. It was how a lot of musicians treated rap and hip-hop when they first appeared.

But avoiding the trash makes you miss truly astonishing moments of truth, genius, and invention. If you shut your mind to science fiction, you're never going to read The Martian Chronicles or The Left Hand of Darkness.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Dealing with Dragons, 3/100

Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable.

First line from Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, which got me hooked standing in the lobby of my apartment building at 10:45 this morning. Because, you see, I had just received it in the mail via Bookmooch. So forgoing the other novels in progress from my list, I devoured this one today.

And I've decided the other 30 or so books needed to fill my 100 book reading list don't necessarily have to be from the Guardian list. Because, sheesh. Am I cheating for including a children's book in the count? Well, pish posh.

Such a cute book. I've got the rest of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles wishlisted now. Yet again, a book I would've loved as a kid. Maybe I should change this challenge into a "Shit I wish I Would've Read 15 years Ago" adventure.

Basic rundown: The story revolves around Cimorene, the reluctant princess, who lives in a world of fairy tale stereotypes and tropes. Where everyone is pressured to fill their role in the "proper" way. Not just princesses. But princes, knights, dragons...even giants kill just to avoid being laughed at by their peers (giant peers). So she runs away, voluntarily becomes the captive of a dragon, and hilarity ensues.

Because it's funny. It's really funny. In that non-cynical, non-dick joke kind of way. Which believe me, after last year's reading, was a refreshing change.

"What is it?" whispered Therandil.

"Trouble," said Cimorene.

"Thou speakest truly, O Daughter of Wisdom," said the giant in a booming voice that filled the cave. "For I am a jinn, who was imprisoned in that jar, and I am the instrument of thy death and that of thy paramour."

"My what" Cimorene said, outraged.

"Thy lover," the jinn said uncomfortably. "The man who stands beside thee."

"I know what you meant," Cimorene said. "but he isn't my lover, or my fiance, or my boyfriend of anything, and I refuse to be killed with him."

Ever get a song stuck in your head when reading? I do. A lot. When reading this one "Execution of All Things" by Rilo Kiley kept replaying in my head.

I also got the Falcor music from The Neverending Story stuck in my head, but that's another story. A...a NEVERENDING ONE.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Journey to the Interior of the Earth, 2/100

Well, that was fun.

My first experience with Jules Verne. He's exactly the kind of writer I would have loved as a teenager. What am I saying...he's exactly my kind of writer now, too.

I mean, friggin' dinosaurs, man! Of course I'm all in.

And for the record I read the English translation by Frederick Malleson. So maybe you're used to 'A Journey to the Center of the Earth', or 'Centre of the Earth', or maybe 'Voyage' instead of 'Journey', or maybe you saw something with Brendan Fraser in it. Either way, same damn story. A couple of dudes make a long trip through Middle Earth and end up in a volcano. ... WAIT, NO.

Thus were formed those immense coalfields, which nevertheless, are not inexhaustible, and which three centuries at the present accelerated rate of consumption will exhaust unless the industrial world will devise a remedy.

That was written in 1864. So next time someone tells you that the idea of fossil fuels being a non-renewable resource was just an idea concocted by environmentalists and big oil to drive up costs and make money, keep in mind that it's been recognized as fact for at least 100 years. Rockefeller hadn't even gone into oil yet.

And here's a rather large chunk that I nontheless loved:

All this fossil world rises to life again in my vivid imagination. I return to the scriptural periods or ages of the world, conventionallycalled 'days,' long before the appearance of man, when the unfinished world was as yet unfitted for his support. Then mydream backed even farther still into the ages before the creation of living beings. The
mammals disappear, then the birds vanish, then the reptiles of the
secondary period, and finally the fish, the crustaceans, molluscs,
and articulated beings. Then the zoophytes of the transition period
also return to nothing. I am the only living thing in the world: all
life is concentrated in my beating heart alone. There are no more
seasons; climates are no more; the heat of the globe continually
increases and neutralises that of the sun. Vegetation becomes
accelerated. I glide like a shade amongst arborescent ferns, treading
with unsteady feet the coloured marls and the particoloured clays; I
lean for support against the trunks of immense conifers; I lie in the
shade of sphenophylla (wedge-leaved), asterophylla (star-leaved), and
lycopods, a hundred feet high.

Ages seem no more than days! I am passed, against my will, in
retrograde order, through the long series of terrestrial changes.
Plants disappear; granite rocks soften; intense heat converts solid
bodies into thick fluids; the waters again cover the face of the
earth; they boil, they rise in whirling eddies of steam; white and
ghastly mists wrap round the shifting forms of the earth, which by
imperceptible degrees dissolves into a gaseous mass, glowing fiery
red and white, as large and as shining as the sun.

And I myself am floating with wild caprice in the midst of this
nebulous mass of fourteen hundred thousand times the volume of the
earth into which it will one day be condensed, and carried forward
amongst the planetary bodies. My body is no longer firm and
terrestrial; it is resolved into its constituent atoms, subtilised,
volatilised. Sublimed into imponderable vapour, I mingle and am lost
in the endless foods of those vast globular volumes of vaporous
mists, which roll upon their flaming orbits through infinite space.

Next up...Around the World in Eighty Days? Stick with Verne? Or stick with dinos and read Jurassic Park?...hmmm

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Awakening, 1/100

What a great start to the challenge!

Nevermind that I said I would read A Canticle for Leibowitz first. I AM reading it. But I'll be reading 2-3 books simultaneously this year (like I usually am, actually), and Kate Chopin's The Awakening just happened to be shorter.

How did I go 25 years without reading this? Really, teachers? Professors? You never thought it appropriate to assign this book to me? Did you really need to make us read Oedipus Rex 1.5 billion times, instead of making room for this novel? And do you really need elbow patches on your tweed jackets? REALLY.

Friggin' loved this book.

And apologies if I come off like a teenager who's just discovered the Beatles. Maybe you're all out there wearing sunglasses and smoking cigarettes saying "oh yeah, we knew about this for AGES, darling. You're so 1898..." But that's the point of this thing. To read what apparently everyone else has read, and thinks is worthwhile.

So here's why I liked it:

...Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight...

But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!

"...when I left her today, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. 'The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.'"
"Whither would you soar?"
"I'm not thinking of any extraordinary flights. I only half comprehend her."
"I've heard she's partially demented," said Arobin.
"She seems to me wonderfully sane," Edna replied.
"I'm told she's extremely disagreeable and unpleasant. Why have you introduced her at a moment when I desired to talk of you?"
"Oh! talk of me if you like," cried Edna, clasping her hands beneath her head; "but let me think of something else while you do."

"I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself."

The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her, gave her no regret, no longing. It as not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for Madame Ratignolle,--a pity for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life's delirium. Edna vaguely wondered what she meant by "life's delirium." It had crossed her thought like some unsought, extraneous impression.

And I'm going to try, for each book, to pick out one phrase, sentence, or section, that I feel encompasses the entire feel of the novel. Basically, an "if I could sum up this novel in one word it would be..." kind of thing. It was easy for this one.

He looked at Edna's book, which he had read; and he told her the end, to save her the trouble of wading through it, he said.

That single sentence speaks volumes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

100 Books, 365 Days

A while back I came across this: it's the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. I liked the list because it's not just a boring old "Greatest Novels" list, but it's divided into genres, and everyone gets a chance. From Dickens to Crichton. Pride and Prejudice to Bridget Jones.

I've read 53 on the list. That leaves a lot to cover.

So I thought, hey! The New Year is coming up. Maybe I should make a resolution. A resolution to read 100 books off the list in a year.

Then I thought about tacos. But my mind eventually came back to the idea.

So that's what this post is about. This is my declaration of intent. My manifesto of insanity. I'm going to attempt to read 100 novels in 1 year. Nevermind that I only read 24 novels last year. And 24 the previous year. Can I quadruple my output? I don't know. In all likelihood I will delete this entry within a week. And you can call me a quitter. And I can call you a doody head.

Here's the books I've picked from the list to read in 2011:

1. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
2. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
3. Cakes and Ale, Somerset Maugham
4. Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
5. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
6. Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
7. Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh
8. Tono Bungay, HG Wells
9. Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
10. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
11. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
12. No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
13. Perfume, Patrick Suskind
14. The Outsider, Albert Camus
15. The Awakening, Kate Chopin
16. Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse
17. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
18. The Moviegoer, Walkeer Percy
19. The History of Mr. Polly, HG Wells
20. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
21. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
22. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
23. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
24. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
25. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flubert
26. A Room With a View, EM Forster
27. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
28. Lady Chatterley's Lover, DH Lawrence
29. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
30. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
31. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
32. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
33. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
34. Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
35. Vathek, William Beckford
36. Wieland, Charles Brockden Brown
37. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
38. A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
39. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
40. Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
41. Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
42. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Phillip K Dick
43. Neuromancer, William Gibson
44. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
45. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
46. Dune, Frank Herbert
47. The Children of Men, PD James
48. Flowers of Algernon, Daniel Keyes
49, 50, & 51. The Earthsea Series, Ursula LeGuin
52. Melmoth the Wanderer, Charles Maturin
53. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller Jr.
54. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
55. His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman
56. The Mysteries of Udolpho
57. The Female Man, Joanna Russ
58, 59, & 60. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
61. Shirley, Charlotte Bronte
62. Underworld, Don Delillo
63. Middlemarch, George Eliot
64. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
65. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
66. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
67. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
68. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
69. Maus, Art Spiegelman
70. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
71. A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jules Verne
72. Slaughter-House Five, Kurt Vonnegut
73. The Island of Dr. Moreau, HG Wells

"But Jessica, that isn't 100 books!"

I know. I haven't decided on the others yet. I'm actually looking for some input. Are there any from the Guardian's list that you've read, think is awesome, and I haven't put on the list yet? (granted I may have already read it).

So input is appreciated. But please don't mock me for not having read Lord of the Flies or Great Gatsby. I know. I know.

First up! #53: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller Jr.