3.30.2006

Yowza!

I read this on the Guardian's web site earlier this afternoon and I felt I just had to share it.

A copy of the First Folio is going on auction at Sotheby's. Their estimated price tag is 3.5 million pounds (around 6.1 million dollars).

I can feel myself starting to drool at the mere thought.

Distraction, Part II

Don't you just hate it when either 1) the plot of the book you are currently reading goes completely off the rails and says, "Screw you!" to conventional narrative structure, possibly with a rude ethnic gesture, or 2) the characters decide to start acting like they're Ph.D.'s and everything they say evolves into a great debate about the sociopolitical factors of yadda yadda yadda and they all suddenly lack the capacity to speak in anything but pages-long speeches?

Me, too.

I just had both happen to me about half way through Distraction. I stuck with it, just out of curiousity to see where Sterling would go with it. Plus, I was still picking up interesting tidbits of future history. But hell, all that sociology talk wears you down after a while. And Sterling finished the book with a completely different plot that he started with. One the one hand, the guy needs to learn to pack more explication into less dialogue. But on the other hand, he's great because he managed to get me completely in the dark about what was going to happen next. (This is turning into a Tevye-like monologue. Tcha.)

In the end...I enjoyed it, but it's not a great book. I can see where Sterling could have run with his ideas a bit more. Plus, a lot of the dialogue in the second have really needed to be distilled down. If you're going to write a political treatise, fine, but it really bogs down the storyline when you use the characters as your mouthpieces.

3.25.2006

Distraction, by Bruce Sterling, Part I

As I continue not reading House of Leaves (sorry, Kris), I have been reading, appropriately enough, Distraction, by Bruce Sterling. It's another book that's set in the not too distant future in an America that has grown to resemble the last days of Rome, but without the bedsheets. It's decadent, it's not functioning, and the empire is about to topple.

Fun. :)

What Sterling has done in this book is to extrapolate the current trends in society and just follow them into a logical conclusion. While I think this scenario is entirely possible, I think that Sterling didn't give enough time for things to get as bad as they are in Distraction. A shortened timeline seems to be common in these books. Maybe it's because the author needs to get the plot moving or something, but I don't think that they give enough time for scenarios like the one you find in this book to realistically develop.

But one thing I really like about this book is that it's kind of a fictional equivalent to The Prince-- a practical guide to manipulating the political landscape. The main character, Oscar Valparaiso, is the spin doctor of all spin doctors and his mind is as slick as an eel. It's a treat to watch him work.

I'm about a third of the way through the book, but the plot still feels like it's in its introductory phases, like everything is still getting into place and nothing much has happened yet. Hopefully, things will start to pick up soon. So far, the most interesting thing going on in this book is reading the little snippets of future history (the stuff that happened between our present and the characters' present).

3.22.2006

100 Greatest Characters of the 20th Century?

I came across this list as I was scoping out academic library sites for work. As I scanned the list, eyebrows raised to my hairline, I thought, "If I made a list like this, it would be totally different." Granted, this site only covers the last 106 years of fiction, but still I wouldn't have put that punk Holden Caulfield at number 2, Yuri Zhivago wouldn't have been that far down, and there would have been a lot more science fiction on my list...like Ford Prefect.

3.17.2006

Lost Cosmonaut, by Daniel Kalder

I think I read reviews for more books that I could ever possibly read in my life time. :)

Here's a fun one I read about on the Guardian's web site a couple of days ago, Lost Cosmonaut, by Daniel Kalder. The review says that Kalder's book discusses places in Russia that Russians haven't even heard about, let alone Americans. (Hurry and read this review before it falls off whatever archived page it's on.) Basically, Kalder is an anti-Tourist, who goes places to right-minded vacationer would ever dream of going. My image of it is like Bill Bryson but in more exotic locales.

Enjoy.

3.07.2006

Louisa May Alcott is dead.

I don't post my library experiences because most of them aren't interesting enough (unless you're a fellow librarian and have that kind of sense of humor) or funny enough to merit the attention, but this one had me and my co-workers chortling all the way to closing tonight.

This is an actual call I got, my hand to heaven, but roughly transcribed.

Me: * Library.

Her: Hi! I was wondering about the Little Women's Tea Party? It it full?

At this point, I jerked the phone away from my ear about a foot and asked her to turn her phone down. Then I get up and start looking to see if the sign-up sheet is full.

Her: Is the author going to be there? I heard the author was going to be there.

Me: Louisa May Alcott?

Her: Yeah, my mother-in-law said she thought the author was dead, but I wasn't sure.

Me: Louisa May Alcott is dead. I'm pretty sure she died at least 100 years ago.

Her: Oh.

Me: There's going to be an actor there, dressed up in period costume, doing the reading and stuff.

Her: Oh, okay. Thanks!

Then, just because I was curious, I went and looked up LMA on Wikipedia. She died in 1888.

One of my co-workers asked if I was kidding after I hung up and when I explained what happened, she started laughing. Then, of course, I had to share with everyone. I started joking about a library seance, saying "Everyone bring candles. Don't screw up or we'll get Harriet Beecher Stowe!"

Good times.

A Writer at War, Part III, Addenda

I forgot to post this bit.

In one of the footnotes in the last or second to last chapter (I returned the book to the library yesterday, and it's been checked out again by someone else, so I can't find this bit), the editors incorrectly identified the Holocaust musem in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. It's not Vad Yashem.

If you guys are reading this, you'll want to correct that for the reprints and later editions.

3.06.2006

A Writer at War, Part III

I made it to Berlin last night, just like I thought I would. And I've seen again how Grossman's journals would have put him in a gulag if anyone had read them at the time.

According to Grossman, as soon as the Red Army crossed into non-Soviet territory, it seems like they started doing the same things to the population there that the Nazis had done when invaded the Soviet Union three years before. The Red Army raped and looted their way from Poland to Berlin. For all their ideas about fighting a moral war against the evil empire as they saw it, the Red Army indulged in a lot of revenge.

In a way, it makes me think about all the things that are going on today--the abridgement of civil liberties, all the secrets about what's going on with the terror suspects that have been captured. To me, it looks like another country has forgotten its high ideals and sunk to the level that the other guys were playing at, the guys we went to war against. I'm going to stop there, because this is not a political blog and I feel a rant coming on.

So, let's rewind a bit. I really enjoyed A Writer at War, and I'm glad I had my local public library buy it and add this book to the library collection. It's exceedingly well written, thought-provoking, inspiring, and enlightening. If you know anyone who likes war memoirs or good history nonfiction, you might want to recommend this book to them.

3.05.2006

A Writer at War, Part II

I steamed through about two years of war and more than 100 pages last night. Normally, I don't read nonfiction because it bores the life out of me, but I have been completely drawn into Grossman's war notebooks. They're so full of sketches of Red soldiers and vignettes of battle, it's like I'm one of those Russian citizens who fervently read Krasnaya Zvezda for news of what was going on at the front. Grossman has been dead for more than forty years, and the war has been over for more than 60 years, but his words are so evocative that it's like he's still a war correspondent.

Grossman also covered the discovery and liberation of Majdanek and Treblinka. As I was reading his description of what he found there, I wondered--as I always do when I read about concentration camps and the Holocaust--why I couldn't stop myself from reading about the horrors of the camp. As I was thinking about this, I came across this passage:
"Someone might ask: 'Why write about this, why remember all that?' It is the writer's duty to tell terrible truth, and it is the civilian duty of the reader to learn it. Everyone who would turn away, who would shut his eyes and walk past would insult the memory of the dead. Everyone who does not know the truth about this would never be able to understand with what sort of enemy, with what sort of monster, our Red Army started on its own mortal combat." (301)
One thing that really got to me during these chapters was the fact that the Soviet authorities didn't want people to know what the Nazis were doing to the Jewish populations of the occupied territories. The editors of the text wrote that the Soviets didn't want the Jews to be singled out as "special victims." And they also didn't want people to know how much collaboration went on between the Nazis and the Ukrainians in their territory.

So only a few of Grossman's pieces on Majdanek and Treblinka got published in his paper. But Grossman found other avenues. His piece, "The Hell Called Treblinka," was actually quoted during the Nuremburg Trials.

*****

There are less that 50 pages left of A Writer at War. So, I'll probably be in Berlin with the Red Army by the end of the day.

Fun with Zombies

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Darkling prince, evil thane, he riseth up to eat your brain."
The above was taken from today's blog post by Christopher Moore, all about movies, plays, and musicals that would be improved by the addition of zombies. When I read that rewritten line of Macbeth I nearly giggled myself off my chair.

Enjoy.