Reading List 9/28-10/5

Hey folks,
I know: more of the same. However, future necessity is gonna require some changes coming up. Or some other lit may suddenly catch my attention. I must admit the wonderful transition from summer to fall as well as other insistent plans are making it rough. Focus is hard to maintain. I guess I should keep my eyes on those pesky goals I set for this year. Time for the final push eh?

Here's the plan this week:
Reading List 9/28-10/5
Accidental Billionaires
The Town (formerly known as Prince of Thieves)
(Hey, these books are long. I'm working at it.)
Hellboy: The Great Hunt

Four Four Two October 2010

Some Amazing Spider-Man on tap along with some more comic goodness.

Alright look for some censorship commentary this week. More to come. Book Slave.


Let There Be Free Expression.

Hey folks,
If you've been cruising the blogs this week, or perhaps your local book supplier, it'd be hard not to be knocked over by the commentary on Banned Books Week. Of course it's important to shine a spotlight on this horrible practice and discuss why it should not happen. In the past I have ranted and discussed this topic as is my desire. However this year I feel as if oftentimes we free speech and expression proponents are preaching to the chorus.

For all our liberal anger this ignoble practice still exists all over the country (if not the world). Book challenges and attempts at censorship are made by individuals from all walks of life, even librarians themselves. I read these stories and marvel at the stupidity of it all. These days I find that yelling and getting angry, like certain conservatives, just ends up creating a lot of noise. Logic and the law needs to be employed in the defense of free expression. Does your library have a transparent process to deal with book challenges? Highlight that. Show your patrons that this is not an issue of us vs. them. Book Banners/Challengers are not necessarily monsters. They are simply ignorant, scared, attention seekers. They see themselves as saviors of the community. They have the ability to file a claim, go thru a process, and have their opinion heard. Just like everyone else. Otherwise it's everyone's free choice to decide what to read, think, and express to others here in the United States. While any book banner has the right to disagree with my opinion, they don't have the right to say it is illegal for me to express it.

However while I am preaching tolerance today, I also feel that we should battle for Free Expression. Free Expression and Free Speech lies at the foundation of this countries ideals. Let us not forget. I have been reading the transcripts of the Howl obscenity trial this past week. For those who need some background: In 1957 Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl was published along with some of his other works such as America. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's new domestic publisher. Feel free to read more about it here. I ran up against this wonderful passage from the closing argument of defending attorney Jake Ehrlich:
"Let there be light. Let there be honesty. Let there be no running from non-existent destroyers of morals. Let there be honest understanding. In the end four-letter words will not appear draped in glaring headlights, but will be submerged in the decentralization of small thinking in small minds."

Amen, I say amen. Book Slave.


Emotional Honesty: Ginsberg & Kerouac

Hey folks,
So I've been interested in finding some books about "the beats" since I saw the trailer for the upcoming film Howl. It centers around the Howl Obscenity trial back in 1957. If you have not seen it, well I can provide:

Anyway so in my wanderings I found some pretty comprehensive books that were highly enjoyable if not a bit self-reverential. It is true that the "beat" generation have been romanticized to such a degree that it's difficult to sort the mythology from the truth. A de-mythologizer would look at this motley group and say that all they see is a bunch of drunken-partiers who didn't want to get a job. They lucked onto a post-World War 2 disillusionment and rode it. They also didn't seem to like women very much. All these statements are most likely true. However these writers were necessary at a time when the country could of gone in many different directions. Civil Rights and economic depression fueled a group of young people who didn't know where they fit in. This bohemian crowd wasn't interested in the 50s ideal and saw the cracks inherent in that mythology.

However, everybody's gotta eat. Every writer wants to be heard by someone. I don't believe that the writers themselves are to blame for the commercial machinations of their exploiters. Getting published isn't easy. Ginsberg and Kerouac hustled and pushed themselves. As many drunken nights as they spent these guys were compelled to pour out their heart and souls on the page. The outpouring of emotion is felt on every page of Howl and The Subteraneans. Even with a certain amount of success these writers could go one of two ways: Embrace it or Resent it.

Kerouac and Ginsberg are illustrations of this dichotomy. Kerouac lived with a conflicted resentment that ended up killing him. Kerouac's novel Big Sur illustrates this in painful detail. He didn't want to be associated with the hippie movement. Yet he couldn't turn away their money. Unfortunately it was alcohol that ended up winning in the end. He chose to be numb, a cowardly way out especially for a man who felt compelled to share so much of himself in his writing. Without emotion he couldn't write, and without writing he didn't have an outlet. Alcohol became his undoing and a premature death.

Ginsberg on the other hand ended up embracing Buddhism and finding true love. While his 1950s work such as Howl and Kaddish are full of anger and frustration, his later work does show a hint of reconciliation. Ginsberg found peace in the spiritual, rather than the sensual. His life-mate Peter Orlovsky was not interested in any piece of his success. He wanted the man, rather than any association with the "beat" generation. They were together for more than 30 years. Ginsberg rushed headlong into being a part of the hippie movement which matched up with his philosophical sensibilities. Although one gets a sense that as the whole "beat" generation notoriety faded, he was still able to express his soul. The Fall of America, published in 1974, is just as honest as his earlier work. Rather than fade he embraced the "peace" movement and lived a much happier, emotionally honest life centered around a positive force: love.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wish that more focus was thrown Ginsberg's way, rather than the "cool but doomed" Kerouac. Hopefully this year Ginsberg will make a comeback into the public consciousness. Of course I would love to see poetry reach that level of societal importance again. The "beat" generation were important and necessary in difficult times. Where is our modern literary movement? I crave some emotional honesty. Perhaps now is the time for it again.


The Beats: Subterraneans and Kerouac.

Hey Those Out There In the Great Beyond,
How are you? If you're tired of me talking about Graphic Novels and Funny Books well here's a break. A few years ago while still harboring delusions about the stability of an English degree I took a class on Beat Literature. It was taught by Don Revell who is that kind of English teacher you dream of but never really get a chance to take a class from. He's crazy, irreverent, magical and deeply feels the poetry he's teaching. If you get a chance I highly reccommend checking out his poetry or attending a reading/class.

Anyway, I came to Beat Lit relatively late in regards to my poetry/modern lit experience. As a teen I was not really the rebellious type, my upbringing was full of pragmatism. Workaholics don't have time for drunken rambles and road trips. So while I found Beat Lit intriguing, I looked more toward structural formalist poetry. Modern poetry just didn't make any sense to me as a teenager, and I didn't feel it was relevant. Perhaps Beat Lit isn't really meant to be appreciated by those who haven't experienced a measured amount of turbulent existence. Maybe I just wasn't ready for it.

So I didn't end up picking up 20th century poetry until I was in my early 20s. Now my 20s ended up being the cliched self-discovery odyssey that should be expected. That could be the reason that I responded so strongly to On the Road upon first reading it. (I've talked about it before so I won't go in depth.) Kerouac's Sal Paradise is a reflective surface. The only identity he has is the women, friends, and alcohol that he surrounds himself with. It is not until the end that he discovers that only he can express his own emotional turmoil. He cannot rely on his friends, only himself. In our mid-20s this is an essential lesson. One must develop their own self-identity in order to move on to the next stage. How can you care about someone else if you don't know who you are yourself?

The main characters of Kerouac's novella The Subterraneans, exemplify this dilemma. Leo and Mardou are lost within their surroundings. Their lives are a desperate mixture of extreme emotions and actions. These two are able to equally mete out love and pain within their short coupling. The highs are high and the lows are low. Neither seems to be able to tell the other what they need or expect from each other. Clearly they do not know, because they don't know themselves as individuals. To cope with this Leo drinks too much. Mardou goes to see an analyst. Neither seems to do any good. The ending of their relationship is inevitable.

Knowing that the main character Leo is meant to be Kerouac, The Subterraneans is a form of confessional prose. Writing is Kerouac's safest method of coping with his extreme emotions. Otherwise he ends up drinking too much and getting into bar fights. His prose style tumbles out to the reader as he tries to convey his emotional turmoil. Kerouac needs to share his thoughts and emotions with the reader. He is begging for someone to explain to him what went wrong with Mardou. This emotional style requires the reader to bend a sympathetic ear. It's easy to toss him off as unbearably solipsistic, however Kerouac has no other healthy way to share his turmoil.

For me beat literature contains a wonderful emotional honesty that can be refreshing. Too often, as adults we are urged to loose our humanity in order succeed. "Grow Up" we are told. Kerouac explores the consequences of not being able to integrate his own extreme emotional state and a healthy self identity. Kerouac never manages to do so, and ends up alone.

I'll be writing more about Beat Literature this month so stay tuned. Book Slave.


Reading List 9/21-9/28

Hey guys,
Has it really been two weeks? Woah. Sometimes it gets away from you.

Here's the plan:
Reading List 9/21-9/28
Accidental Billionaires
The Town (formerly known as Prince of Thieves)

Rollingstone -Do you see that Mad Men cover? Gorgeous.

Some Amazing Spider-Man on tap along with some more comic goodness.

Look for some upcoming posts to fulfill your literary commentary needs for the rest of the month. Enjoy, Book Slave.


Reading List 9/7/2010-9/14/2010

Hello All,
Oh it’s fall and I feel the strange need to clean and improve. I finally put up new curtains (only took 3 years!), not to mention throwing out that office chair that became dangerous to sit in. I also feel the need to clear out some of these books I’ve got lying around. We’ll see what hell that well-intentioned thought brings.

Reading List 9/7/2010-9/14/2010
The Last Olympian
-AKA the last Percy Jackson book!
The Subteraneans-Feel like some beat literature in prep for Howl
Accidental Billionaires-In prep for The Social Network

Four Four Two

All caught up! Time for some back issues.

That’s all folks! Have a great week! Book Slave.


How did I get here?: Rasl & Revolver

Hey Guys & Gals,
So last week I happened to pick up two graphic novels which were bizarrely similar. This was completely by chance. Or was it?

Wherever you go, there you are: Rasl vol. 2 & Revolver
Despite the fact that I am scientifically handicapped in many ways, I enjoy thinking about theoretical physics. Someday I want to read books about string theory and Schrodinger’s cat. I did read Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Nash’s paper on game theory. Didn’t understand much of it, but I do want to. This same fascination exists with parallel universes. Does every decision you make create a split where the different options play out? Is there different versions of you playing out these scenarios on an infinite number of Earths? It was just my luck that two new graphic novel’s I read this week scratched this itch.

Jeff Smith’s new series Rasl finally came out with his Vol. 2. It’s horribly frustrating that this series is being released in single copies quarterly. Due to the infrequency I just gave up and moved to trades. So it seems like forever since I read Vol. 1, but I vaguely remember the plot enough that I can continue to enjoy this series. Rasl centers on a former scientist turned art thief who jumps around parallel universes. He’s also being chased by a lizard and screwing around with various women.

Unfortunately I am completely turned off by the amoral behavior of the main character. Issue 6 works very hard to make the case that Rasl is a hero. But it’s really too late. It’s very hard to root for a guy who screws everything on two legs and gambling away his art theft money. Meanwhile his girlfriend is waiting for him in a parallel universe under threat. Rasl doesn’t seem to care though.

Vol. 1 dealt with setting up this crazy premise so now in Vol. 2 Smith gets his geek on. Having made it to 6 issues Smith feels confident enough to experiment with non-linear storytelling. The best issue of the series is a mix of science history and flashback as the story of Nikola Tesla is put together with a flashback into Rasl’s past. Rasl, is becoming as lost as Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. He’s a man lost in time and space. Using non-linear storytelling, Smith puts the reader into the same confused state as the main character. This is complex work and wonderfully compelling in it’s execution. I just wish I could get more invested in the motivations of the main character.

I’ve already spoken here about my love of Matt Kindt. Oh yeah, also here. His latest OGN Revolver is another wonderful work to add to his canon. Revolver centers around a main character who finds himself bouncing between his normal banal existence and an apocalyptic parallel universe where he’s forced to kill and survive. He carries his memories and experiences into each world. This starts to wear on him as he realizes how materialistic and meaningless his normal world is compared to a world gone to hell. He struggles to find a purpose. This a natural reaction for someone in their mid-20s, whether their dealing with a world gone crazy or just “the mall.”

Kindt shows amazing skill regarding sequential art. He uses all the facets of the artistic medium to show the emotional journey of the main characters. His art style is rough on purpose, however his composition within the panel can be breathtaking. I was particularly impressed with a full page image where bodies are falling from skyscrapers above. This is clearly meant to bring back images from 9/11 which is echoed when we discover that this is an act of terrorism that pulls the world apart.

In an interesting twist the terrorist is not a religious fundamentalist, he’s a condescending moralist. This is a masterstroke. How often in our mid-20s do we question those who are supposedly moral superior? How often do they end up being wrong? In Revolver Kindt uses a unique premise to tell a story of self-discovery. It’s amazing that he still manages such an upbeat ending that is not sappy in the slightest. Don’t Miss This Book.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


The Last Book Club Meeting?!! Perhaps.

Hey All,
So longtime readers (I delude myself that their are a few of them) will recall that I attend The Hard Boiled Book Club at my local bookstore the last tuesday of the month. It's moderated by my old co-worker and fellow writer Zach Sampinos. The focus is on new alternative fiction which means the choices can often be odd but are never boring. Unfortunately my attendance has been a bit sporadic as of late because of life stuff getting in the way. Well tragically it turns out that my work wants me to work Tuesday nights from here on in. This bums me out because it's nice to have an excuse to read something new and meet with cool people every month. But such is life so other than the occasional schedule wrangling I'll have to let it go. Well maybe things will change in the future...we'll wait and see.

So this last Tuesday we sat and discussed Sean Ferrell's novel Numb. In this first novel the main character is a man who suffers from amnesia and a condition where he feels no pain. (This is actually real, read about it here.) Due to both these strange circumstances the main character lives an existence that is completely in the present. As I began this novel I was sure that this novel was going to take a typical path. However Ferrell has another intention entirely. Numb it turns out is a commentary on our insta-celebrity culture. Through very little machinations of his own the main character ends up being a freak oddity on Youtube. In this novel Ferrell uses clear cut satire to comment on what he feels is the difference between art and superficiality. Fame vs. real substance. These are the issues he wants to explore.

As important as these subjects are I was dissapointed when the ending came because I felt that we were finally learning something about the main character. He is a horribly passive character. This is pointed out to him by several characters. He is pushed and pulled by everyone else. It isn't until the very end that he takes initiative. It is a fist-pumping moment. I dearly wish that it had come sooner in the narrative. Otherwise the narrative is full of characters that I highly disliked (Emilia, Mal) or didn't know enough about to become invested in (Hiko).

In the end Numb has great moments in it, but lacks character development. Ferrell needs to decide whether he wants his stories to be commentary on subjects or characters. Some writers do both equally well. I'm willing to give him a chance on his next book to see what happens.

Enjoy! Book Slave.


Hey they're making a movie of that.

Hey folks,
Looking at my calendar I noticed that it's September. September! Yeah!

Don't get me wrong. Summer can be awesome. In my neck of the woods it means insanely high temperatures, the ritualistic burning of my fair skin, and a dryness that will suck every drop of moisture from your body. Oh but I digress.

For me the fall season means that my two passions collide: movies and books. Traditionally high class movie adaptations appear in the fall so that they can be released as award-bait. Hollywood's cynical calculation is my gain as I get excited seeing what's coming up. I will always support movie-adaptations of books because it does drive people to check out the original source material. Whether the movie is good or bad, readers will be naturally drawn to the original which is a great thing. Anything that leads to more reading by our civilization is a beneficial act.

Case in point: Recently I was motivated to finally read Never Let Me Go because I saw the trailer for the upcoming film. I ended up loving this book and now I'm even more psyched for the movie. (read my review here) Now it's completely plausible that this book may have sat on my TBR pile for another 5 years if this movie adaptation didn't happen. Sometimes it takes the simplest of reasons for one book to push to the top.

As I've written before I'm not a purist. I don't expect movies and books to be the same. I'll save that for BBC. I actually expect a screenwriter and director to bring their own style/interpretation to the material. We've all seen Pride and Prejudice a billion times. Same goes for Jane Eyre. I don't want to see what I've seen already. In some strange cases the movie is better than the book. It does happen every once and awhile. I've felt that the Swedish movie adaptations of Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy have been phenomenal. However I also feel that the streamlining of the plot elevates the material. Larsson's books sometimes suffer due to too much detail and not enough editing. The movies increase the action and tension but cuts down on some of the tedious details that I don't care about. If you get the chance to check out the Swedish movie versions I highly reccommend them based on Noomi Rapace's performance alone.

Anyway here's three book to movie adaptations coming out this year (along with the aforementioned Never Let Me Go) that I am now compelled to read the book based on the trailers that I have seen:

*Accidental Billionaires
by Ben Mezrich. This is the original source material for the film The Social Network.

*The Adjustment Bureau
by Philip K. Dick.

*Prince of Thieves
by Chuck Hogan. This is the original source material for the film The Town.

Look for these reviews in the future. (Well Maybe...) Have a great mid-week! Book Slave.