I saw Beck with my friend Matt. As in, a Beck concert. Beck seemed somewhat unenthusiastic, but I've gathered that he's a moody fellow. It was a good show, but not conducive to partying. That's where that's at.
In the previous post, I mentioned having read twelve novels in the space of a year. They are listed below, for my records. I can recommend most of them.
Fiction read, September 2007 - September 2008
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima. Recommended by friend Sara, this is a brief and stark novel about the destruction of ideals. The central character is a young adolescent boy who engages in the excruciating and brutal annihilation of a figure he once lionized. With plenty of the delicate masculine posturing and sexual confusion you might expect from Mishima, it is a sinister little novel, and one to check out.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This was my first foray into anything remotely "true crime"-esque, though this non-fiction novel is universally understood as being elevated beyond any genre. It is a labor of art. The story of the Clutter family murders is an incredible thing to read, and it lingers. Capote claimed to have a 95% memory retention and the level of detail in In Cold Blood is as remarkable and engaging as the careful explorations of tragedy, death, grief, justice, and humanity the tome serves up. Oh yes, you should read it.
The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq. The French author's Elementary Particles made an impression on me when I read it a few years ago, and I thought I'd return to the bitter stream for more. This is a melancholy book of ideas. Houellebecq seems transfixed by transhumanist notions of escaping our own biology; the novel is set in two times, the present, occupied by a highly successful European intellectual comedian named Daniel, and the distant future, as narrated by a sequence of Daniel's clones. Houellebecq is a cocky trickster-spirit, and the novel is rife with existential lament, sexual deviance, cultural recriminations, a doomsday cult, needless provocation, and then more sex. This novel doesn't easily fit anywhere. I really loved it, but, as I have learned, not everyone is down with Houellebecq.
World War Z by Max Brooks. The story of the oncoming zombie apocalypse, as recounted orally by a score of survivors from around the world. This was a supremely entertaining, and occasionally quite frightening, book from the author of The Zombie Survival Guide. Brooks has the keen ability to write convincingly in myriad voices, all of whom relate the terrifying cries of the undead. This book is full of compelling narrative, and if any of the foregoing sounds like something you'd enjoy, you should pick it up. It's a quick and satisfying read.
The Dying Animal by Philip Roth. A slim volume about longing, heartbreak, the fear of dying - typical Roth stuff, from what I've heard, though this was the first I'd read of him. I wasn't quite taken with the language or the story, but there are innumerable gems of specific knowledge and poetic suffering in the book, good stuff to quote to any undergrad lit students you may be trying to seduce. Apparently the movie Elegy is based on the book, but I didn't pick up on that fact when I saw the trailer for the flick.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. A new favorite. A sprawling, askew journey that begins with a lost cat, treks through some of the 20th century's forgotten horrors, and ends somewhere near a psychic assault, this is a many-splendored tale of loss, passivity, and connection. All I can do is tell you to read it before you die.
Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee. I believe this is the most recent of Coetzee's fiction, though the majority of it consists of occasionally-interesting academic essays framed within a fiction narrative. It was less than impressive, especially when compared with Disgrace, which is a mighty and solemn novel that will punch you squarely in the soul. This is basically Coetzee fretting about becoming old and lusting after a younger woman, which seems to be a fairly typical kind of novel by aging literary superstars. It does contain an impressive chapter about national shame.
White Noise by Don DeLillo. I'm still not quite sure what to make of this book. Yes, I did like it, though it also felt inconclusive, and not in the pleasing way certain left-uncertain tales do. This book was my first encounter with DeLillo, and the influence it wields is definitely apparent; I can't imagine authors like Ellis and Palahniuk writing without White Noise in the background. It's chic and cool. A product-hyperconscious story of (post)modern family love, vengeance, and academic bullpocky, it is totally worth reading (so maybe you could talk to me about it). As I suspected while reading it, the chapter entitled "The Airborne Toxic Event" has already been co-opted as a pithy band name.
Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. Feeling let down by Diary of a Bad Year, I picked up this short novel hoping to find a bit of the old gut-kicking that Coetzee passed around in spades with Disgrace, and was not disappointed. This is an unsettling work, a parable of colonialism and localism that is clearly directed at the present, but could also have been written a century ago. A conscientious civil servant in a small colonial outpost is punished for his mild, sloppy, good-hearted demonstration of humanity toward a captured "barbarian" girl, and learns that the nature of civil order is highly uncivil.
Platform by Michel Houellebecq. The bastard child of the French literary establishment, Houellebecq is a confirmed provocateur (he recently stood trial for defaming Islam in this very novel). In it, Houellebecq reasons that sex tourism is the logical extension of the ongoing sortie of advanced capitalism into the realm of human intimacy, and plays out the founding of Club Med-like sex resorts in third world countries by the protagonist and his sexy professional girlfriend. Sounds intriguing? The novel abruptly ends in a sad, dissatisfying sequence of violence and loss (along with pussy and cock and endless balls, violence and loss are Houellebecq's primary fixations). I didn't like this novel much, and certainly not enough to recommend it to anyone over Houellebecq(that's pronounced well-beck; Coetzee, it turns out, is pronounced cut-zie-uh)'s other books, or any number of thousands of other books existing.
The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing. This is a remarkable and bare novel, Lessing's first. It was initially assigned to me in an anthropology class, obtained but unread. After the chauvinistic grandstanding of Platform, I thought I'd go for a feminine perspective on the horrible shit of life, and was quite satisfied by this one. It is a disturbing, sensitive, ambiguous novel about an ill-matched marriage in mid-20th century colonial Africa, which, as you may guess, also involves heaps of racial politics. There are yet no riots, no protests, no second chimurenga, and resistance comes subtle and incredibly personal. Characters that begin sweet and sympathetic become detestable and vile, which I am sure was very much Ms. Lessing's point. I recommend it strongly, though do not read it in conjunction with Disgrace unless you hate your life.
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. Another funky genre-bending journey by a passive protagonist, this time traveling into the snow country of Hokkaido in search of a unique, mystical sheep that penetrates the souls of men and uses them as tools of its terrible will. How fucking awesome is that? A thoroughly enjoyable book by a thoroughly enjoyable author, it is the second installment of the loose "trilogy of the rat," the third of which, "Dance Dance Dance," I am reading at present. If you like meandering metaphysical journeys through dreamlike simulacra of ordinary reality, and I suspect you do, then pick this up one day.
This concludes "fiction read, September 2007 through September 2008." Stop by next year for brief comments on House of Leaves, Dance Dance Dance, and others.