Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Working Man's Writer

Woodcuts of Women
Author: Dagoberto Gilb
Genre: Fiction, Short Story Collection
Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Ennui's rating: 5 stars

What the book's about: A collection of erotic, sensual, realistic short stories about love, lust and lost.

Thoughts: I met Dagoberto Gilb a few years back at Nueva Onda Poet's Cafe in Edinburg, TX. He was a visiting lecturer for the annual creative writing institute that the University of Texas, Pan American hosts every summer. Taking it the year before when Richard Yañez was the guest, I didn't get to have the full Gilb experience. However my former creative writing professor, Young Adult writer Rene Saldaña, Jr., introduced me as one of Edinburg's up and coming writers, something that left me in a good mood after a night of hectic filming the reading for NOP owner Amado Balderas.

I was there in the audience snapping photos, having set up the camcorder long before Gilb entered. The place was packed. I'm sure had the fire marshal stopped by, a citation surely would've been given out. In the audience were several other writers from UTPA and the local writers as well. Most of them were students in the institute. I am grateful for having such the opportunity to meet one of the greatest Chicano writers that the nation has to offer.

Having only read a few stories from his other collection, The Magic of Blood (an old library copy I purchased off Amazon that Gilb autographed for me), I picked up Woodcuts of Women from school, borrowing from the Sigma Tau Delta cubicle and failing to return it after I graduated. After several horror/sci fi genre literature, Gilb's collection was a gift to the mind.

I'm simply left in awe with his prose, the way he thinks - the construction of his words. Dagoberto Gilb is the working man's writer, being a working man himself. His words become thoughts, become sentences, become paragraphs, eventually leading to the skyscraper of human nature reaching towards the heavens, connecting us with gods of old.

The stories are depressing, mixing with human fantasy and the reality that we live. They're not love stories, but they are stories about love - stories about the urge of wanting, fucking, lust and the outcome of our choices. Stories of men with women, of men settling for what they have no matter what they aspire for and of women who are insecure, animalistic - so much so they are almost like their male counterparts. In short, the collection is a great companion of exactly the way we are and not the romanticized the way we should be.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nick & Norah's Hell of a Night Out

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Authors: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Young Adult
Amazon Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ennui's Rating: 5 stars

What the books about: After seeing his ex-girlfriend at his show, Nick asks a random girl if she would be his 5-minute girlfriend, not knowing this stranger and him are connect through his ex to begin with. And what starts a spur of the moment thing ends up being a heart-wrenching, emotion filled roller coaster of one crazy night between two people who have seemingly stopped believing in the power of love.

When is a night over? Is it the start of sunrise or the end of it? Is it when you finally go to sleep or simply when you realize that you have to? When the club closes or when everyone leaves? Normally, I keep these kinds of questions to myself. But this time I ask Norah. (P. 170)
Thoughts: Thought provoking is possibly the last thing Young Adult literature brings to mind, at least with me. Most of it is just garbage. Enter Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, which reads more like literary fiction that something my 14-year-old niece should be reading. However, even thought word fuck is used like streamers to decorate the book, the content is still very much high school. If this is the future of YA, then I want in on it.

Written in two points of view - would you have it any other way - Rachel Cohn takes on the cynical, rather "frigid" Norah, while her counterpart, David Levithan, voices the Nick chapters. And while I hate to admit it, the movie was my motivation to read the novel, the book is far from disappointing and didn't ruin the movie for me (as so many have in the past). In other words, if you want the hardcore experience that movie, lacked pick up the book.

Anyway, down to my "review" of the book. As previously mentioned, the two authors take turns breathing life into the male & female combo. Nick is introduced first as the straight bass player for a drummerless, queercore punk band, The Fuck Offs, who spots his ex-girlfriend, Tris, in the crowd with another guy. Not wanting to show he hasn't moved on, he asks a random stranger, Norah, if she wouldn't mind being his 5-minute girlfriend.

Switch to: Norah's POV. Rachel Cohn introduces her straight-edge, unorthodox Jewish, private school girl, Norah, who is at first repulsed with the idea of being Nick's 5-minute girlfriend, but nevertheless decides to kiss NoMo anyway.

Both Cohn and Levithan have a knack for writing jokes when most appropriate, how to turn a serious moment into something profound, and, most of all and most importantly, know their shit when it comes to music. This isn't your Perks of Being a Wallflower - this is something far better.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Ballantine (my copy; Harper in the above link)
Genre: Science Fiction
Amazon's rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ennui's rating: 4 stars

What the book's about: A satellite lands in a small town in Arizona; when the government goes retrieve it, a startling discovery is made: Everyone is dead. Soon after, the men sent to retrieve the satellite send one frantic message back to base before they too are subdued to death. An account of five days, the book follows the Wildfire team as they attempt to study and maintain the viral outbreak from consuming the entire nation and world.

Thoughts: Some are led to believe this is a typical work of fiction; I warn you, it is not. From the get go, The Andromeda Strain reads like a commission report that goes into great depths of what happens in the five days in which the story takes place. Many other reviews have noted that Michael Crichton had a plot going steadily and then somehow lost it. He didn't. What they failed to understand that the book wasn't meant to be taken in like a work a fiction; it was meant to be read as a "factual" account of "factual" events. Plain and simple.

As with most of Crichton's books, he provided laymen readers, such as myself, with accurate description and definition of certain scientific terminology and theories, so you're never really left behind contemplating what exactly he was talking about.

It's a fast paced book with several nerve wracking events that leaves readers at the edge of their seat. Crichton provided several foresight passages that increases the adrenaline that the reader experiences as the page is turned.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Philosophy of Watchmen

Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test
Editor: Mark D. White
Series: Blackwell Philosophy And Pop Culture
Series Editor: William Irwin
Genre: Nonfiction/Philosophy, Popular Culture
Amazon's Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ennui's Rating: 4 stars

What the book's about: The highly acclaimed graphic novel, Watchmen, which was selected by Time Magazine to be one of the 100 best pieces of literature of the 20th century was littered with philosophical allusions. Even the fact that a graphic novel appears to the subject of one chapter of the book. The book maps out the intentional philosophical references and those that might have fans returning to the book to evaluate the arguments.

Thoughts: Cheesy, I know; but I'm a sucker of philosophy and an even bigger on when it comes to pop culture. However, the book is a must read for fans of the graphic novel and those who are scratching their heads after watching the film - caveat: the book follows the graphic novel and not the motion picture; if you haven't read the book, it is suggested that you do because, as with all adaptions, the film rearranges time lines and rewrites events.

There is little I can say about the book, however - really, how does one review a book on philosophy of popular culture without trying to muck of the book or explain each chapter one by one? The arguments made are compelling, provoking one to return to the graphic novel and recheck previous assumptions - that is if you're reading the book as literature and not just a graphic novel.

The topics range from what is good and evil, what is virtuous, homosexuality, feminism (which, by the way, was actually my favorite argument), political philosophy and the metaphysics of Dr. Manhattan. However, it would seem the two most popular characters these philosophers wrote about were Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) and Rorschach (the subtitle is, in fact, A Rorschach Test). It's understandable why these two characters are the most famous - if you break down the graphic novel, you'll see the whole thing revolves around the deontology of Rorschach and the utilitarianism of Veidt. Nite Owl is touched upon, being claimed as the most virtuous character in the book. Silk Spectre (the first and second) are really only mentioned as main subjects in one (can you guess the topic?) and only slightly touched on in the other essays, if at all. Dr. Manhattan is another famous character - he gets his own section in the book! - especially when it comes to metaphysics (no surprise there).

It's a great read and I highly recommend it to those who are still trying to grasp and understanding of the graphic novel (or those of you who opted to watch the movie instead and are still scratching your heads about what just happened).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Mistress's Daughter

The Mistress's Daughter
Author: A.M. Homes
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Amazon's rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Ennui's rating: 5 stars

What the book's about: When her biological mother makes first contact with her, A.M. Homes is thrust into a world where two realities now exist. The memoir follows her journey from gaining her biological parents, to losing them all over again, as she strands together the fabric of her personal histories.

Interesting quote:
But here it begins with a phone call: Your package has arrived and is wrapped in pink ribbons. The trusted pediatrician dispatched to the hospital to make an evaluation of the merchandise--think of movies where the drug dealer samples the stuff before turning over the cash. There is something inescapably sordid about the way the story unfolds. I was adopted, purchased, ordered, and picked up like a cake from a bakery. (P. 15)
Thoughts: Who are we and where do we come from? It's a question in all our minds at some point or another, but for a child of adoptive parents it takes on a whole other definition. Most of us take for granted what others may not have - a personal history. We all have the collection of family stories, myths, folklore we grew up and let it fade into our memories.

Normally, I never touch nonfiction books because I don't want to read about facts, but A.M. Homes has a way of writing, that no matter the genre, you know it'll be good just as long as she wrote it. You find yourself connecting with her, even though you don't fully understand her situation. When her tone changes from calm to anxious, your mind response to her. When glee transforms into a let down, you feel the strings of your heart yanked hard.

Following Homes on her road to meeting her biological parents - her mother needy, wanting to be taken care of, to be adopted; her father self-thinking, absent and at times uncomfortable - one may begin to wonder, "what if it were me?"

This book will never fade, as it shouldn't.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It made me want to commit suicide

Suicide Blonde
Author: Darcey Steinke
Publisher: The Atlantic Monthly Press
Amazon Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Ennui's Rating: 2 stars

Plot: Jesse feels the love Bell has for her slipping away so she embarks on a journey to separate herself from him in order to understand what true love really means. In the long hull, she wishes nothing but to return to her rather homosexual boyfriend.

Interesting quote: "Was it the bourbon or the dye fumes that made the pink walls quiver like vaginal lips?" (P. 3)

Thoughts: Probably one of the worse books on my shelf. The story line can be summed up simply: girl loves boy, boy loves boys and is still in love with his ex boyfriend, girl then searches for a girl that a woman named Pig loves, second girl arranges for first girl to be raped by a stranger, girl then reunites second girl and Pig and then embarks on a road trip to find boy's ex boyfriend. In the midst of this, there's also a scene where the boy, named Bell, arranges to have sex with Jesse, while an onlooker watches in the shadows; Jesse is never the wiser.

There were times in the novel that I wanted to put it down - as I had done so in the past, but I spent money on it, so I gave it a chance. There were times in the storyline where I expected something good to happen, or that Jesse would grow a brain and become semi-likable.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover
Author: D.H. Lawrence
Publisher: Signet Classic
Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ennui's rating: 4 stars

Plot: Married to Clifford Chatterley who was injured in war, leaving him crippled and impotent, Constance sexual frustration begins to fester. When the idea of a child being born to her is brought up by her husband, Lady Chatterley finds herself in the arms of the Chatterley gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. What begins as a simple love affair turns into something Constance could only dream of and Clifford's deepest fear.

Interesting quote:
All the while he spoke he exquisitely stroked the rounded tail, till it seemed as if a slippery sort of fired came from it into his hands. And his finger-tips touched the two secret openings to her body, time after time, with a soft little brush of fire.

"An' if tha shits an' if tha pisses, I'm glad. I don't want a woman as couldna shit nor piss." (P. 236)
Thoughts: I did my best to avoid the book because it was one of those novels I had to read as an English major (I avoided doing so during my four years of college). Finally opting to read the novel, I sat down and started. There was a time when I wanted to put it down, but as I continued on, the book just sucked me in. While I was egged on by my girlfriend for reading a love story (or even, a romance novel), I told her this wasn't anything like Harlequin except the cliched premise of lady of money falls for a working class man (but can we really call that a cliche yet?).

The book is well written as D.H. Lawrence knew how to use such colorful words like cunt and fuck in his prose. It ranges from subjects of working class and those in charge - much like The Communist Manifesto - to subjects of love, a woman's place in society, the innocence lost in war and so on.

It's understandable why the book is considered smut by some people, but I assure you it's everything but that.