Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Life As A Fake - Peter Carey

I'm reading Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake. For anyone who does not know, Peter Carey is the famous Australian writer who wrote Booker Prize winners , Oscar and Lucinda, and True History of the Kelly Gang. He along with J. M. Coetze are the only two authors to have won the Booker on two seperate occasions.

My Life as a Fake is a fictional account of an actual literary hoax that took place in 1944 in Australia. Wikipedia.org gives an excellent account of the Malley hoax. I have only briefly dipped into the book, so will report back with impressions in the upcoming days.

50 Book Challenge

Apparently on Livejournal and various other sites, there's this 50book Challenge thing going on where the basic premise is to read 50 books and blog about them.

Well since I have been reading an awful lot lately I thought that I could play this game and document everything I read. I've tried to only count books that I've finished since May. So here's what I can remember, in no particular order.

Later on I'll probably list them 5 or 10 at a time, with some quick summarizations of what I thought. Sry this is pretty boring, its really for me to keep track.

*I gave asterisks to those books that I would highly recommend

1. Magic Toyshop - Angela Carter
2. On Beauty - Zadie Smith*
3. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
4. Viriconium - M. John Harrison*
5. Complicity - Iain Banks
6. Looking to Windward - Iain M. Banks
7. Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks*
8. The Baby Merchant - Kit Reed
9. Etched City - K.J. Bishop*
10. The Chess Garden - Brooks Hansen*
11. Shriek - Jeff Vandermeer*
12. Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol. 1 - Diana Wynne Jones
13. Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
14. Fuzzy Dice - Paul Di Filippo
15. Tumbling After - Paul Witcover
16. Gun, With Occasional Music - Jonanthan Lethem
17. Hidden Camera - Zoran Zivkovic
18. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
19. Anne of Green Gables - Lucy Maud Montgomery
20. Anne of Avonlea - Lucy Maud Montgomery
21. Turn of the Screw - Henry James
22. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman*
23. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro*
24. Light - M. John Harrison*
25. The Stormwatcher - Graham Joyce
26. Vile Bodies - Evelyn Waugh
27. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Wolfe
28. The Summer Isles - Ian R. MacLeod
29. The Drawing of The Three - Stephen King
30. Flora Segunda - Ysabeau S. Wilce*
31. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick

1. Things That Never Happen* (my favorite short story collection) - M. John Harrison
2. Course of the Heart - M. John Harrison
3. Alabaster* (short story collection) - Caitlin Kiernan
4. Empire of Ice Cream* (short story collection) - Jeff Ford
5. Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories (short story collection) - Greg Frost
6. The Bloody Chamber (short story collection) - Angela Carter
7. The Last Witchfinder - James Morrow
8. The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson
9. Looking For Jake* (short story collection) - China Mieville
10. Magic For Beginners* - Kelly Link
11. Un Lun Dun - China Mieville

Discarded for Now (things that I just couldn't finish)

1. Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - David Eggers

I explained in a previous post why I just couldn't read this, one of those things that I may never pick up unless there's nothing left in the house to read.

2. We Were The Mulvaneys - Joyce Carol Oates
Classic Oates, which is why I don't really care to finish it after 60 or so pages in. Don't get me wrong I appreciate her stuff...maybe it's because I've read too many novels about the breakdown of the family?

3. Threshold - Caitilin Kiernan
Picked this up because I was loving Alabaster, and wanted to read more about the fascinating character that is Dancy Flammarion. However, I think the author has come a long way from the writing of this novel. After several tries, I still found it incredibly hard to concentrate everytime I picked up this novel.

Monday, October 30, 2006

End of The Year Movies

The end of this year looks surprisingly promising when it come to movies that I would actually shell out 11 bucks to see. The Fountain, Stranger Than Fiction, and now Children of Men.
Two of these are science fiction/fantasy, and the other is a pic about metafiction. It's good to note that Hollywood has caught on to the fact that controlled experimentation is not a bad thing.

Hopefully at least one of these will be as satisfying to watch as The Prestige.

Btw if A History of Violence did not exist as a film, the world would be a finer place. David and I finally sat down to watch this crap of a movie. What a waste of time and money. The wretched self-indulgent direction, meandering and unbelievable plot, and laughable acting by some of the supporting actors make this the most overrated movie I've seen this year.

And as annoying as Dakota Fanning is to my general sensibilities, I have to now conceed that I would still rather have her as the child in every goddamn movie, then to see another little girl botch it up so badly that for the rest of the movie, I have a hard time pretending that they aren't actors on a set.

And the sex scenes...don't even get me started on how hard we laughed when the director explained how necessary the gangster sex scene was to the plot.

Oh and was anyone slightly skeptical of the b-budget scenes of Viggo in the Philly mansion? Bigshot mobster tries to kill unarmed brother but fails because conveniently for Viggo he's only asked 3 or 4 other goons to be on his estate. The fact that this film was nominated for ANYTHING is a sign that our awards system is decided by a bunch of pretentious, self-congratulating dolts who stand around nibbling things that our Neanderthal ancestors wouldn't touch with an end of stick and debating whether the cup of shit that they have been invited to look at is “art” or just aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Book Group Review - Complicity by Iain Banks

Complicity is a novel that can be read on two different levels; as a mystery, and as political and social commentary on the Thatcher years. I was somewhat disappointment by the book, because I felt the structure, plot, and narrative of the book was a poor vehicle for the central idea. The novel’s lack of subtlety and control makes one feel bludgeoned over the head with the idealogy behind it.

However to be fair, Complicity still reads as a competent mystery novel, and proves to be stylistically interesting. The choice of using a second person narrative proved to work effectively since it makes the reader complicit in the act of the killing. I felt slightly uncomfortable during those scenes which surprised me because I have read enough thrillers to usually feel desensitized to the violence.

Additionally, I found the last scenes of the book to be memorable as Banks gives us his bleak, nihilistic view of our world. The first to second person switch also makes us aware that while Cameron feels disgusted with his friend’s actions, he nonetheless agrees with the motives and point behind them. Unfortunately I do not have enough expertise on the political environment of the UK during the 80s and early 90s to grasp the finer points of his views, but am highly interested in everyone’s opinions on the political commentary found in Complicity.

To me, the most disappointing thing is that comparatively I know Banks as a far superior author than what he shows in Complicity. Gerald Houghton summarized it best when he reviews the book by stating:

Too often of late Banks seems unable to do justice to his ideas, the intelligence and sophisticated plotting of books like Walking On Glass or the aforementioned The Wasp Factory giving way to a breakneck jokiness that although entertaining enough in itself comes off as lightweight and lazy from the man capable of writing books as driven and purposeful as The Bridge or The Player Of Games.

Iain Banks, is a far better novelist than Complicity would suggest. I highly recommend some of the reading mentioned above especially The Bridge, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons before you write him off.

Musings on The Prestige

You can also find this article here.
WARNING: I would advise anyone who has not watched the movie to do so before reading this review. While I do not give away any major spoilers, there is enough to spoil it for those who have not seen the movie.

I read The Prestige by Christopher Priest when I was a freshman in college. I remember how much I was in love with the book for the first hundred or so pages. How beautifully Priest paved the plot with layers of historical facts, magic, and mystery. It was a brilliant premise, and promised an equally brilliant resolution. It was one of those books that you hope and pray will live up to its own expectations.

Sadly, in this case, it was not to be. Halfway through, I had begun to feel that Priest was writing himself into a box. The Prestige, I felt, was a story that could never have lived up to the promise of its set-up because no one could write a conclusion to match the initial brilliance of the tale.
I stand corrected five years later. Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan the director, has managed to turn the weakest element of the novel - its meandering, anti-climactic plot - into The Prestige’s crowning achievement.

It was fascinating for me, someone who had read The Prestige so long ago, to watch the film for the first time. I went to the theatre with a certain lack of enthusiasm, remembering only vaguely the details of the plot but clearly the strong feeling of disappointment in the conclusion of the book. I also doubted my ability to be truly enthralled by the movie since like other movies such as The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense, it seemed The Prestige would depend on what the promos had touted to be its twist ending, which had already been revealed to me by the book.

The reason that propelled me to the movie theatre was a sense of curiosity; I wanted to see what Jonathan and Christopher Nolan could do in their adaptation. After all, the premise was wonderful, the cast was designed to bring in the big bucks — it was only left to be seen whether the plot would take the disappointing turn for the worst as the book had done. Let’s just say that it’s nice to be surprised by a movie. Jonathan Nolan has managed to create a work that can only be described as a loose translation of Priest’s original. The plot has been fine-tuned to play with a level of perfection that was unknown to the novel.

It also didn’t matter that I knew the twists of the movie. In fact, to the observant viewer, Angier’s (Hugh Jackman) secret is revealed early on as he stands in the field of top hats. It dawned on me as I walked out of the theatre elated that the secret to The Prestige, as it was with Memento, (the Nolan brothers' masterpiece to date) is that the while the twist ending is fantastic or exceedingly weird (depending on your tastes), it does not make or break the movie. To use a cliché, the ending is the icing on an exquisitely crafted cake, something that will be apparent on repeated viewings as the viewer’s attention is less focused on what is to come and more on how the magicians got there. Here lies the genius of the Nolan brothers; their path to the ending is littered with subtle hints about both men’s secrets and the sacrifices that are inherent with keeping those secrets.

Therein also lies the emotional impact of the story, something that I am disappointed but not surprised that many critics did not pick up on. You have to be aware of the ending to truly appreciate Borden’s (Christian Bale) apology to Fallon - “Sorry about Sara” - as he is dragged away to be hanged. You have to be aware of the ending to understand the deranged, sacrificial nature of Angier’s triumphant last act in the machine that Tesla makes for him. To sum it up, you have to watch the movie twice to truly see the brilliance of what Jonathan and Christopher Nolan have created.

On a side and purely personal note, if Jonathan Nolan does not win the Oscar for this brilliantly scripted adaptation of the novel, I swear I will never watch the Oscars again.

There remains only one argument to make: The Prestige, both the book and the movie, at the very crux is about obsession. I’m slightly puzzled by those reviewers who have complained that the characters are cold, one-dimensional, and are solely defined by their obsessions. I mean after all, isn’t that the whole point of the movie? It seems to be wish-fulfillment rather than critical evaluation to want warmer, multidimensional characters. It is also an evaluation from those who have only seen the movie once, because I believe the dimensions of Jackman's and Bale’s characters are more apparent in subsequent viewings.

But even if this were not the case, would The Prestige have been a better movie if either man showed other interests or had more love to give to the women in their lives? Yes, if film was a love story or a simple period piece. No, if it is to remain a story of obsession. After all, Angier and Borden are defined by their obsession — they are essentially not the characters that they are without their obsessions. For them to be multi-dimensional (as the reviewers want them) would be superfluous to the movie.Certainly, the characters would have been more likeable if we saw a warmer side, or if they didn’t treat the women they loved badly, or if they sought redemption at the end. But the end goal was not to make the viewer like the characters. It was Nolan’s intention to show you a movie about the destruction of two men by the shared obsession that defines them.

They have to be one-dimensional — obsessed, if you will. Because the question that should be asked is would either one have gone so far if they weren’t exactly like how they were portrayed? Would we have reached the horrific realizations that we do at the end, if the characters were not hell-bent single-mindedly obsessed with destroying each other? The characters as they are shown define the plot. Without these cold, obsessed men, there would be no Prestige. And I think that the Nolans did a damn good job showing the viewer just that.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The short story that Memento was based on.

For anyone who is interested, check out Momento Mori by Jonathan Nolan. This was the short story that Memento was based on.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Prestige - Go See it

I highly recommend The Prestige as the movie to see this year. As someone who was highly disappointed by the book her freshman year of college, I simply cannot believe how beautifully Jonathan and Christopher Nolan pieced together the plot from the book to make this exquisitely detailed movie.

Be on the lookout for my piece about why this movie was the best this year. I submitted it to Blogcritics, so it should be posted by Thursday or Friday morning. In the meantime, go see the movie!!!

What I've Been Reading

I have been reading a couple of books for a month now, and after a feel false starts and some books that just put me to sleep, I’m finally back into the grove of things. Let me start with the disappointments. I wasn’t impressed with either Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, or The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime.

I disliked the two for very different reason. I was aware before beginning Heartbreaking, that many had found the playful introduction too self-referential and sardonic. I happen to enjoy books that can be treated as artifacts, and like authors that have a sense of play. But for the subject matter at hand, Egger’s fictional account of his f*cked up family, the self-referential beginning, and the sarcasm came up as bitter, and uninspired. After 40 pages, I could picture the author one of those self-pitying asshole types, who excuses his whole life because of his dysfunctional family. I know, it’s a snap judgment before I even got to the meat of the book, but I’ve read enough to know that the dysfunctional family thing can be done with grace and subtlety. Like its title, Heartbreaking was just a little too self-aware, a little too much telling and not enough showing. I won’t be trying to finish this anytime soon.

Next comes The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime, a story narrated from the standpoint of an autistic 15-year-old. I was unimpressed. I admit that the story does take you into the perspective of someone who is autistic, but honestly it all felt too simple, not enough shades of what it means to be seen and treated differently because your brain does not work in the same way as the majority of the population.

Contrary to claims from reviews, I did not feel emotionally connected to Christopher, our autistic protagonist. This may be a matter a personal taste, it may also be a matter of expecting more from what I read if the narrative or the plot isn’t enjoyable. I suspect that many people claim to love this book because it’s an extremely simple read, and it’s about an autistic kid. Having said all this, I have to admit, if you like the concept of a simple story from the eyes of someone autisitc, Haddon does it well… For an interesting piece that asks whether autism is truly a disorder or a different kind of human being, go here. Check back later for more mini summations of what I’m reading.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Wohoo! Recently I started posting on blogcritics.org, and my first article is now an editor's pick! Go here to see. Also take a gander at my picture; because of my lack of any html ability, I look a little like a slitty-eyed version of the human blob.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Internal Conversations

My solution to not being able to finish 5 books that I’m in the various stages of reading is apparently to go on Amazon and order more books. It’s positively maddening how my mind works. It goes something like this:

“Hmm there is nothing to read.”

“That’s really not true, you have five books that you’ve started but failed to finish, plus the 30 or 40 books that you’ve managed to accquire in the past 3 month."

“But I really don’t want to read any of those. None of them seem that interesting in my current mindset.”

“That’s not what you said when you bought them.”

“But what I really want is Laird Hunt’s The Exquisite, now there's book that I could really sink my teeth into. That may even pull me out of this funk and make me want to read everything else.”

“That’s what you said about those 30 other books that you’ve failed to read.”

“But really I think it would help. Of course it would mean that I should probably buy some other books, you know, to get the free shipping…”

“You’re going to get some more Henry James aren’t you? Even if it makes you want to hemorrhage in the head every time.”

“But his plots sound sooo interesting, and he’s a master, I mean I know I couldn’t read The Wings of The Dove or The Golden Bowl, but I really feel that The Ambassadors will be different, that’s what’s really going to get me started.”

“You disgust me.”

"I think I can live with that."

And now I have just narrated the voices in my head on my blog which just adds another whole level of crazy.

Friday, October 13, 2006

An Argument Against Religion

Whether you are religious or not, I highly recommend you read the entire interview.

Returning from an Hiatus

It’s been slow on my side for posting partly because work has been busy for the last couple of weeks, but mostly because I have been taking an hiatus from reading to spend hours and hours in front of the TV.

This probably has a little to do with the fact that I have been trying to cram a lot of reading into my schedule. And it was beginning to get to me. Everything I was reading had begun to sound the same, and have the same depressing message. The charms of adult literature (vs. children’s literature) is that it makes a more determined attempt at observing or capturing “truth” as defined by literary types. The downside is that after thousands of years of this, almost every person who has spent any serious amount of time thinking about the issue happens upon the same conclusion: the world sucks, we suck, everything sucks. (New book for the people who wrote everybody poops perhaps?)

Of course there are moments of the non-sucky type, but those don’t usually get you past the general suckiness that makes up most of the world we live in; the world we have created for ourselves.

Hence my escape from books to the fantasy of tv. Where the first criteria is that everyone is either pretty or ugly/fat-but-funny. Where good triumphs over evil, where, in fact there is a strong blackline that most of the time distinguishes good from evil.

Sure sometimes writers in this day and age murky up the waters, but never enough so you stop rooting for the right side or turn away in disgust (The Wire may be the only exception). So its nice to be there in tvland, to believe that people will stand together for truth, justice, equality for all, because it sure the hell isn’t what’s happening in real life.

Anyways I digress. I love TV right now. Still, I’m crossing my fingers that the industry gets smarter and end the shows where they are suppose to end. And in the meantime, I think I’m ready for my next round of reading and hopefully posting.