Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reading List and Others

I’m out on the porch this morning after spending a few hours listening to Handel’s Water Music and reading Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Not exactly a cheery tale…one where the seemingly perfect American family is shattered by identity-issues and domestic terrorism. Roth’s prose never sinks me into despair like other writers who expose dark truths about human nature. I think because he graciously provides protagonists who I can sympathize with and even like. Sure there are gray areas, and often hopelessness, but there is also an underlying wit which implies ample affection and forgiveness for the messy lives of people.

Things have been chugging along on the home front. I’m missing somebody, but this hasn’t caused me to curl up in a fetal position and stay in bed for three days. The bounding around is helping, staying busy is helping, and looking forward to the future is helping. I’m TAing a World Cinema class this summer…for real money—wow! We watched Miyazaki’s fantastical masterpiece Spirited Away last week. The Japanese fantasy/realism (is that the correct term) film After Life is next. I previewed Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle the other night—it’s an amazing film which incorporates elements of Singing in the Rain with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. How’s that for a combination of influences?

Okay I’m definitely rambling this morning. I bought a new coffee maker and coffee-binged a little; the caffeine hasn’t quite worn off yet.

So I’m a couple of weeks late to the party here, but I lifted this from Emily, a meme/list of classic works of literature I’ve read (or haven’t read.) This exercise should do one of two things, prove that I am more well read than I thought or inform me that I haven’t even scratched the surface of all I plan to read in my lifetime. Even though I’ve been blogging for a few years now, I still don’t know how to cross things out, so I guess I’ll put a :( next to the titles I hated.

bold = what you’ve read,
italics = books you started but couldn’t finish
:( = books you hated
* = you’ve read more than once

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell- This is not a good sign, right off the bat it’s one I’ve never heard of.

2. Anna Karenina – Phew, okay I’ve read this one. I got all caught up in Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in my twenties.

3. Crime and Punishment – When I finally finished this book I felt I had accomplished a major life achievement. I’ve tried to reread it, but I always get bogged down.

4. Catch-22 – Just couldn’t make it past the infamous first 80 pages. I love the movie.

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude – After a few tries, this novel finally captured my imagination when I was living in the rainforest of Costa Rica. It was the perfect setting (except for the wretched insects) for reading this, one of my top five.

6. Wuthering Heights – Are you kidding?

7. The Silmarillion – I’m finally getting over the Tolkien mania from the past five or six years, and would like to try a Peter Jackson-free reading of Tolkien sometime.

8. Life of Pi – Another top five, was reading this when I received a little black puppy I named Booker. I just listened to it on audio-books.

9.The Name of the Rose – I love Brother William. I’ve read this 1½ times.

10. Don Quixote – I did a tongue-in-cheek review of this on Youtube where I claimed Don Quixote was Italian and butchered the pronunciations, all in the accent of Piedmont North Carolina (think Andy Griffith). People took it seriously and I started getting comments correcting the information—they didn’t get it, I guess I was a little too convincing. I posted comments stating that it was a joke, and then I got this really nasty comment from someone who was convinced I was that dumb saying my disclaimers were just excuses. I ended up pulling the video off. I learned something about humorlessness through this.

12. Ulysses – If I had time, money and resources I might try climbing Everest. It’s kind of the same thing with this work.

13. Madam Bovary – I’d give it a try, but don’t know that much about it.

14. The Odyssey – Sad to admit it, but I’ve not read this.

15. Pride and Prejudice – In high school, at age 17, not really my favorite work.

16. Jane Eyre – Nope.

17. A Tale of Two Cities – I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a great deal. It’s the only Dickens I’ve finished.

18. The Brothers Karamazov – During my Russian novel phase, I remember reading this at the beginning of an ill-fated relationship.

19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: Who would have thought the germination of wheat could be so darn fascinating. My mind wandered a bit, I’ll have to admit.

20. War and Peace – The granddaddy of all literature, and I read the whole thing cover to cover—in about three months. I have the new translation and want to take a vacation where there are no re-runs of The Office and Hell’s Kitchen so I can one day say I’ve read it twice.

21. Vanity Fair – There seems to be a whole genre of fiction that I either avoid or ignore, probably to my peril. Vanity Fair is one of those works that I know very little about.

22. The Time Traveler’s Wife – hmmm, sounds interesting.

23. The Iliad – Shame on me, no Greek epics...not one.

24. Emma – The only Jane Austen I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice.

Note: I’ve just read ahead in the list and there are several titles that I’ve not read, these are: The Blind Assassin, The Kite Runner, Mrs. Dalloway, Great Expectations, American Gods, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

31. Atlas Shrugged – The main character was about as dynamic as a steel girder.

32. Reading Lolita in Tehran – I haven’t even read Lolita.

33. Memoirs of a Geisha – Never had much interest in this one.

34. Middlesex – I should know about this one, but, well, next please.

35. Quicksilver – Okay, I’m definitely seeing that I’m woefully under-read.

36. Wicked – Emily said this one disappointed her so I’m glad I haven’t read it.

37. *The Canterbury Tales – finally. Three classes which looked at this work extensively. Good, I feel a little more adequate now.

38. The Historian – Is this the one about vampires? Can’t it just be about awesome history-geeks?

39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Read this in high school too. Found out later it was one big allegory about masturbation. Anyhoo... moving on now…

40. Love in the Time of Cholera – I can’t believe I haven’t read this. I should add it to my short list. Wait, hold on, I think I did read it in Portland.

41. Brave New World – Another one I’ve always meant to read.

42. The Fountainhead – I remember when I was reading this I moped around sullenly all the time. It required Ken Kesey’s Demon Box to snap me out of it.

43. Foucault’s Pendulum – Eco requires commitment, but I might be ready now.

44. Middlemarch – Okay this is the sequel to Middlesex right? I’m kidding…please no corrections.

45. Frankenstein – I’ve not read many romantic monster novels.

46. The Count of Monte Cristo – It seems like parts of this were read to us as kids, but I’ve never actually read the novel.

47. Dracula – Emily’s read this more than once, but me? Haven’t even cracked the binding. Dark, gothic, creepy things make me claustrophobic, but I should never say never.

48. A Clockwork Orange – I carried this around in my back pocket when I was in tenth-grade. I assume this means I read it.

49. Anansi Boys – I haven’t heard of this.

50. The Once and Future King – I loved this one. I read it Scotland.

51. The Grapes of Wrath – This one affected me when I was twenty. I read East of Eden the same year.

52. The Poisonwood Bible – Frustrating and disturbing, it’s stayed with me. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux involves similar themes.

53. 1984 –read it in 1984.

54. Angels and Demons – I like the title.

55. The Inferno – can you believe I’ve never read it all? I named my band after Dante.

56. The Satanic Verses – The only thing I remember about it is two characters falling forever and ever and discussing something. Oh, and all the stuff about Rushdie going into hiding.

57. Sense and Sensibility – Okay, I’m going to get in trouble for this, but isn’t this list just a little female-centric? There are six Austens on the list (unless I missed one). :)

58. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Hate to admit it, but I know little about this work as well.

59. Mansfield Park – this is the Austen that I’m really anxious to read. It apparently explores themes relating to my focus in history

60. *One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Required reading for Deadheads. I wish Sometimes a Great Notion had made the list.

61. To the Lighthouse – Haven’t heard of it.

62. Tess of D’Urbervilles :( - an excruciating way to experience springtime in a beginning lit. class.

63. Oliver Twist – A must read for me.

64. *Gulliver’s Travels – this was tough but I’ve read it a couple of times now. Like the satire, but it does go on and on in places.

65. Les Miserables – Started it numerous times but couldn’t make it to the end.

66. The Corrections – I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this novel since reading it some years ago. Stunning narrative about a family of selfish assholes, which would be fine if Franzen didn’t seem to champion them so.

67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – almost got to the end of this one. Why do Pulitzer Prize winners often seem to fall short for me? I’m starting to realize that the fore-mentioned genre that I’ve chosen to ignore might offer me something that many modern novels are lacking, brilliant character development.

68. The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time – I love the title, I’ve seen it in the library, must investigate.

69. Dune – Not interested in the least.

70. The Prince – Why oh why have I not read this? I always get it mixed up with the Little Prince.

71. The Sound and the Fury – I remember coming to the end of this novel after placing blind trust in Faulkner for several mind-boggling hours and thinking “Oh, my God! I actually understand what happened…it’s a miracle.” Never has a book so challenged and rewarded me. A top five.

72. Angela’s Ashes – Not really sure this one would be for me.

73. The God of Small Things – This is another one I know very little about.

74. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present Day – No to this one.

75. Neverwhere – Never-read.

76. A Confederacy of Dunces – Just thinking of this one makes me smile. Another one high up on my list.

77. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Sounds exhausting.

78. Dubliners – I’d like to give this one a try.

79. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – I must be the only person who was college-aged during the eighties who didn’t read this. To busy with Karamazov.

80. Beloved – I just felt Morrison borrowed too heavily from Faulkner on this one (with some Styron thrown in.) It’s a shame because I know what a great work it is. I liked Song of Solomon better.

81. Slaughterhouse-Five – That reminds me, I should reread this one.

82. The Scarlet Letter – “You haven’t read The Scarlet Letter??!! You can’t be serious.” Yep, I’m serious.

83. Eats, Shoots and Leaves – This is on my nightstand. I’ll check it out. It comes highly recommended by an editor-type.

84. The Mists of Avalon – Another one I want to read. My list keeps getting longer and longer and longer….

85. Oryx and Crake – No idea.

86. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Is this another Jared Diamond? I’m still trying to understand how the germination of wheat led to the extinction of the Plains Indians.

87. Cloud Atlas – I avoid titles with the word Atlas in them. It’s Ayn Rand’s fault.

88. The Confusion – I get confused often enough when reading, so a book called The Confusion might induce complete melt-down.

89. Lolita – Should a middle-aged man really read this?

90. Persuasion – More Austen, I’m going to lock myself in a room with my mother’s special Austen bookcase and get it over with. Freudians, stay away from that last statement.

91. Northanger Abbey – Two in a row? This is brutal.

92. The Catcher in the Rye :( – Holden Caulfield is the most annoying of all American fictional characters (except maybe those sickos in The Lord of the Flies). I knew a guy at school who wanted to emulate him, can you imagine?

93. On the Road – I read this under the delusion that it was a novel about freedom and self-discovery. I found it heartbreaking and fatalistic. Kerouac is a master at provoking gloom. Liked Big Sur better

94. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – “The Bells, the Bells…” This was probably never a quote in the book, but I like saying it.

95. Freakonomics – Sounds like the parking lot at a Dead show.

96. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – This was the one book you were supposed to
read as a young adult. I don’t know why, every time I started it I dozed off. Maybe it was a ploy to make the youth more complacent. Give me Kerouac’s depressed-state any day.

97. The Aeneid – I keep a copy in my living room. Does this mean I’ve read it? It does not.

98. Watership Down – Talking Rabbits? Bugs Bunny please. I like the Wind in the Willows. The Rabbits are kind of the chumps in that one.

99. Gravity’s Rainbow – No, but I slogged through Vineland. Pynchon’s writing ability is so far ahead of my reading ability.

100. The Hobbit – I actually enjoyed this one many years before Peter Jackson’s assault.

101. In Cold Blood – I tried it years ago. This one might be ruined by the handful of good movies dealing both with the events of the murder and Capote’s involvement in writing the book. But then again it Capote writing in the true-crime genre makes it a must read.

102. White Teeth – A sequel to Jack London. Just kidding… don’t believe I’ve heard of this.

103. Treasure Island – No, ‘fraid not.

104. David Copperfield – Must read more Dickens…must read more Dickens…

105. The Three Musketeers – Not really interested, but if there was nothing else.

I’ve only read a measly 31 of these. Sigh…must get busy. 'Til next time, happy reading.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Excuses Excuses

I've been terribly negligent of my blog. The blog that helped me write my way to peace-of-mind after a difficult break-up, the blog that provided me with an outlet for griping and ruminating, stroked my ego through comments from readers (a very important group, as people I've mostly never met go), and has actually allowed me to improve my writing and sense of humor.

So what do I do? I go and run off with another, Facebook. It's an addiction I tell you. Getting out of bed at three in the morning to see if anyone has written on your wall or commented on the Pretenders video you posted is not healthy behavior. It feeds too heavily into the desire to be accepted, and that desperate guy who strove to fit in at high school (actually blowing the majority of his Christmas money on clothes from Chess King--anyone remember that store? Think 80's neo-gangster), is reborn as he strives to collect "friends" from a pool of people who he more-than-likely just sat next to in one class.

Yes, I'm ranting. I knew I was too old for this stuff, but I tried it anyway, and now I've become cyber-space's version of that old creepy guy that sits at the end of the bar at the club and tries to act hip. A cyber lounge-lizard. Lindsay--the song was prophetic I tell you.

Another reason Facebook creates anxiety is that unless you only allow your aunt Gladys to view it, many people can get an idea of the "real" you by checking out your profile. That means if you write something like "I'd rather be listening to Bob Marley and smoking ganja right now" your minister and probation-officer might read it at the same time. Sure it's the same with blogs, but with blogs you might have to wade through paragraphs about how your porch swing is listing to the left before you ever get to the good stuff. Also, people in this day-and-age are more than ready to jump to any conclusion that agrees with their Access Hollywood frame-of-mind, so a brief salutation on Facebook might be regarded as a sign of a torrid affair that's left eight or nine love-children stashed around the country.

Facebook has this feature where you can state what you are doing at that very moment. When you do, all of your friends can get a glimpse at what a cool, smart, interesting life you lead. You rarely read things like "Ian is having a prostate exam," or "Ian just found himself in a compromising position with a Brazilian transvestite"(although admittedly,that would be interesting). Since college students and grads are the primary users, these statements usually read something like this: "Edgar is having dinner at The Trellis and then going to the Bergman film festival," or "Nasuru just based-jumped and is enjoying hummus."

Not to knock it you understand, but I just don't want to get totally immersed because I've never been one for moderation. Many people use Facebook like they drink. Some folks (I stand accused) don't know when to leave the party until they start talking about old times in Modern Art Class with a guy they only actually said two sentences to. Others are very conservative, they ask how the newborn is and give gardening tips. Others bound about checking on everyone's status like a host refilling glasses and picking up used napkins. And all the while you are trying to add more friends to your profile, pump your numbers, be the guy with the most little pictures of people on your laptop. It's like Fantasy Football. It's Fantasy Friendship.

The wall is where I get into the most trouble. The wall is this message board that everyone gets where you can leave messages like "yo, what up dude," (I know that's outdated language but I'm dealing with a generation-gap here). This is where the cyber-lizard kicks in full force. I'll leave messages like, "What up buddy, when we gonna get tgthr and prtay yo." Michael Scott's got nothing on me. I don't know why I try this stuff, it's kind of like gambling, you think you'll win the pot somehow but you end up going back to Iowa having lost the farm.

Yes I know, it's a great networking tool, this is true. Whenever I need the guy who showed up drunk to Political Science class to write a reference letter for me I'll be in luck. I feel like I've been behaving like a freshman since I've signed on. Committing faux-pas, or should they be face-pas, and learning as I go. I'm thinking of trying to go the wine-and-cheese route from now on, networking with connoisseurs, or at least people who know how to spell connoisseur (I don't, spell-check saves the day again). The shout-out isn't me, it wasn't me when I was twenty, so why should it be now?

So back to my blog. The Facebook hangover is almost over. I hope I can make up for lost time. Maybe I should change the blog's name to "Tales from the Doghouse."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

He kept getting lost on the way to the airport. She didn’t notice until he turned around, and then he had to admit it.

“I went the wrong way” he said.
“Haven’t you been to this airport before?” she asked.
“Yes, but they’ve changed the roads so much since the last time,” he bluffed. “They’re always fucking around with the entrance. It seems like it changes every time I come.” He regretted swearing, especially that word. She had put up with so much free cursing from spoiled American co-eds, he didn’t want her to associate him with them. She once told him to stop saying shit.

Soon he became sure he had missed the turn into short-term parking and swerved into a Marriot driveway in order to circle around again. When he discovered the road was one-way, straight to the departure terminal, he continued forward. She made no comment about his ineptitude. Instead she gazed at him with the look of a small child hypnotized by something on TV, just standing there in front of it while the rest of the viewers crane their necks around and call for her to move. The stare was so committed and immobile that it unnerved him a little, but he never wished for it to stop. Always self-conscious, he glanced at her and said, “You’re looking at me.” She answered with a quick nod, a single up and down motion of acknowledgement, turned away for a second, and jerked her head back to continue the stare.

A haggard, falsely-jolly ticket agent greeted them at the counter. There was a verbal exchange about how the automated ticket system was going to put the agent out of a job, followed by a transfer to another airline due to the cancellation of her flight. It worried him that she was getting into New York after midnight, having to find her way to Brooklyn at such a late hour, but he scolded himself for being protective. She was an adult, she had flown all the way from Tokyo, and she could handle it. Still…worry.

Filled with the needs of an entire year abroad, her suitcases teetered on tiny wheels, straining his shoulders and accenting his awkward lope. He wrestled them down to the far-end of the terminal where he was able to hand them over to equally harangued baggage-claim-attendants who spouted out travel information with detached impatience. He wouldn’t let his embarrassment for his country-men shine through at this moment, and he was thankful for her limited understanding of nuanced American griping because at least he was able to spare her that side of him.

They sat on a bench in the corner and watched as security personnel prompted passengers to remove their shoes and lap-tops for inspection. Soon her stare was back, and he tried to hold it for a moment this time, but the intensity made him look away and mumble something about calling him when she arrived in New York. She turned her face away from his, and he felt helpless to do or say anything that would relieve the gravity of that moment. He felt he knew what was coming, and he dreaded it. He wished he could reverse time and freeze it there, Tivo it: to the baseball game where she patiently sat with him swallowed up in his coat, the walk around the campus where he would attend graduate school, the library where he often hoped to see her standing there in front of his desk; there to relieve his boredom and insecurity.

She turned to him with an expression of someone who, in the split second between calamity and physical pain, is about to burst out in tears or screams. But she did neither, instead holding her expression as the corners of her eyes became wet. A tear rolled down her cheek. His existence ended then. He couldn’t bear it, and all he could supply to relieve her sadness was a cliché, “C’mon, don’t cry.”

He asked her to get out her camera. They’d taken plenty of photographs together, digital photography supplying what the old photo-booths used to for couples and friends, an immediate viewing of the shot. His bulbous blotchy head, a product of too many bad habits, always seemed a bizarre contrast to her smooth complexion and camera-friendly smile. The camera appeared to mock his poor-self image, accentuating his features and making him look older than his years. He didn’t look this way in the mirror, but something about a camera caused him to stiffen and distort, as he became phobic of the most innocent of snap-shots.

She took a few shots of him, declining when he asked her to delete them. She was smiling now though, and he took the initiative to make himself as ridiculous as possible to elevate her mood, to send her away from that place which plunged them into the act of prematurely missing each other. They took a shot together where he raised his eyebrows and puckered his lips as she stuck out her tongue. It worked beautifully, she was laughing now.

In the next shot he blew out his cheeks and crossed his eyes as she maintained her friendly smile. He couldn’t remember what this reminded him of, this clown juxtaposed next to this beauty. Was it Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft? Did Mel Brooks ever look this ridiculous? Whichever, she was doubled-over now and laughing harder than he’d ever seen her. There were still tears, but now they were from joyous hysteria. “This is better,” he thought.

They set up a shot where they both gave the most serious look they could manage. These too brought peals of laughter, but this time he was joining in, crouched over with her in blissful, ridiculous giggling. Security officers glanced their way, curious at this young woman and her red-faced…father is it? Adopted? Surely they can’t be together.

In the final shot she smiled warmly. He, meanwhile, made the most expressive face he could muster. He threw his head back, closed his eyes, and made a face that reminded him of the photographs of volunteers on their last night before going off to the trenches of WWI, shit-faced on champagne and singing a loud patriotic hymn to blast out the thoughts of the horrors they would soon be facing. She was in uncontrollable hysterics by this time and he began to worry if he hadn’t caused another problem. Which would be worse, a young woman crying tears into the shoulder of his shirt, or a young woman pissing herself before departing on a domestic flight to New York?

He then realized he needed to put change in the parking-meter. On his way back he stopped into the gift store to see if he could find anything worthy as a parting gift for a friend like this. He searched in vain, nothing was suited, so he began walking to the other end of the terminal. She was running toward him.

She told him they were boarding her flight early and she had to go. They hurried back to the security gate and hugged deeply. As they parted he noticed that the tears were back, and her frown cut through the features of her face, returning the dark spot to his heart and forming a twitch in his neck that he was only just able to conceal. He stood with his hand on the hollow aluminum rail, trying to look upright and supportive as she followed the maze to the metal-detectors and X-rays. She was in group of fellow passengers now, all being thoroughly checked for contraband and explosive devices, and as she followed the curt directions of the security officers she looked back at him continually, each time welling-up again. He stood as straight as he could and watched her, and each time she looked back at him he blinked several times.

It took a number of minutes for her to pass through security. She then entered a corridor which would lead her to her gate. She stopped before turning the corner to go and just stood there, looking down, her black hair hanging about her head like a shroud. She looked up at him, crying gently, and he didn’t know how to walk away. He passed a large barrier and saw her a final time, standing at the corner watching him. He let his eyes fall to the floor and started walking.