Monday, April 04, 2005

Stuff I've Been Reading

In an attempt to be more like British author Nick Hornby (who is 3 for 5 in the books-turned-into-movies ratio), I will now publish a monthly column of Stuff I've Been Reading.

Books I've Read:
How to Be Good--Nick Hornby
Kennedy's Children--Robert Patrick
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates--Tom Robbins
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For --Frank Miller

Books I've Bought:
The Bell Jar--Sylvia Plath
Ariel--Sylvia Plath
Wintering, a Novel of Sylvia Plath--Kate Moses
Sideways--Rex Pickett
Will in the Word--Stephen Greenblatt
House of Leaves--Mark Z. Danielewsky
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay--Michael Chabon
Ash Wednesday--Ethan Hawke
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For--Frank Miller

It's amazing that I've finally read all of Kennedy's Children now, after knowing every bit of Carla's part for a good four years. It's a great character play, composed entirely of monologues. A challenge for actors in terms of making each of these characters (especially Sparger) real and a challenge for directors in terms of staging. No character interacts with another (modernist isolation?), so the challenge to a director is to keep this play from being boring to watch. Essentially, the success of the show is determined by just how enthralling your actors can be. I still think Carla and Rona are the best characters in the play, and I still want to play Carla. Again. I also think that, given the uncertainty of our political situation, Kennedy's Children is an excellent way to remind people of the past. There is no Camelot, there are no stars, and the new kids are no use.
Frank Miller is fabulous. All the beauty of a graphic novel with the grit of detective fiction and the themes of noir.
As much as I want to be like Nick Hornby and am half-assedly emulating his monthly rag on books from The Believer magazine, I really don't want to be like Nick Honrby. I've got to say straight off that How to Be Good is certainly not his best. It, like the other book I managed to finish in March, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, attempts to answer grand questions about goodness and spirituality, but the inherent problem in trying to write books about these grand questions of spirituality and goodness is that they are unanswerable questions. Thus leaving me with two books with wholly unsatisfying endings. The Hornby novel takes a very domestic approach to the Grand Questions. It explores the practical means of goodness and spirituality through the eyes of a scientist in a marriage that is rapidly falling apart--until her husband meets a street kid spiritual guru with turtle eyebrow peircings. Hornby's argument in all of this is rather basic: we shouldn't be too hardhearted, nor should we be too softhearted; goodness is measured on an individual level and we can only give what we ourselves don't need. The book had far too simple of scope and far too simple a thesis to receive the kind of praise it was given on the jacket cover. Tom Robbins' novel, on the other hand, we definitely much more interesting than Hornby's in the way it chose to deal with the Grand Questions, but nonetheless disappointing in the end. The ultimate question posed in Fiece Invalids through an intense discussion of the Fatima prophecies (and Robbins' speculation at what the 3rd unknown prophecy might be for the purpose of this book) is the following: which religion will bring the most spiritual satisfaction to the greatest number of people? Along the way, former CIA agent Switters visits several countries, lusts after his 16-year-old step-sister, meets the model for Matisse's Blue Nude, eats his grandmother's beloved parrot, makes love to two defrocked nuns, and receives a shaman's curse that renders him unable to set his feet on the floor. Women love these fierce invalids home from hot climates. By exploring the recent interest in a Marian view of Catholicism, Robbins sets a much more convincing background to attempt to answer the question, and comes up with many great witticisms along the way. However, the question is never really answered. At all. I was really disappointed in the ending, not because the Grand Question went unanswered (because that was arguably on purpose: no greater force can bring us joy/wahoo, we must find that in ourselves). I was more disappointed that the Switters story had come to an end when there was so much more about him that I wanted to know. Maybe just five or six pages more. Some resolution is all I'm asking out of this book. I suppose I just have to make my own wahoo out of the ending.

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