If Beale Street Could Talk

    6 July 2016, early evening

I’m making my way through James Baldwin’s later novels now. I read Tell Me How Long the Trains Been Gone earlier in the year, and just finished If Beale Street Could Talk today. I have to take breaks between reading his books. They make you a little bit angry. Or they should, anyway. His career spanned 30 odd years, and though his stories aren’t all the same, they are. Whether set in 1950 or 1970 not enough changes for Baldwin—or his brethren.

My countrymen impressed me, simply, as being, on the whole, the emptiest and most unattractive people in the world. It seemed a great waste of one’s only lifetime to be condemned to their chattering, vicious, pathetic, hysterically dishonest company. There other things to do, there people to see, there was another way to live! I had seen it, after all, and I knew. But I also knew that what I had seen, I had seen from a distance, a distance determined by my history. I was part of these people, no matter how bitterly I judged them. I would never be able to leave this country. I could leave it briefly, like a growing man coming up for air. I had the choice of perishing with these doomed people, or of fleeing them, denying them, and in that effort perishing. It was a very cunning trap. And a very bitter joke. For these people not change: the very word caused their eyes to unfocused, their lips to loosen or tighten, and sent them scurrying to their various bomb-shelters.

American police murdered another Black man today. Well, at least one.

Now, Fonny knows why he is here – why he is where he is; now, he dares to look around him. He is not here for anything he has done. He has always known that, but now he knows it with a difference. At meals, in the showers, up and down the stairs, in the evening, just before everyone is locked in again, he looks at the others, he listens: what have they done? Not much. To do much is to have the power to place these people where they are, and keep them where they are. These captive men are the hidden price for a hidden lie: the righteous must be able to locate the damned. To do much is to have the power and the necessity to dictate to the damned. But that, thinks Fonny, works both ways. You’re in or you’re out. Okay. I see. Motherfuckers. You won’t hang me.

You should read more James Baldwin.

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Books in 2015

   19 January 2016, late afternoon

I stopped listening to podcasts during my commute and started reading again. I used to read far more often, and had wanted to get back into the habit. My goal was to read 24 books before the year was done, which I almost managed to do. If you count graphic novels—and why shouldn’t you?—I did manage to cross 24, having read the trade paperbacks for: The Manhattan Projects volume 5, Prophet volume 4, Saga volumes 4 & 5, and Hawkeye volume 4. (All of these series are amazing, by the way. Hawkeye just finished it’s run and is the best super hero comic i’ve read in ages.)

  1. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  2. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
  3. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
  4. Dune – Frank Herbert
  5. The Stealer of Souls – Michael Moorcock
  6. Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
  7. Authority – Jeff VanderMeer
  8. Acceptance – Jeff VanderMeer
  9. The Dying Earth – Jack Vance
  10. The Eyes of the Overworld – Jack Vance
  11. Cugel’s Saga – Jack Vance
  12. Rhialto the Marvellous – Jack Vance
  13. The Martian – Andy Weir
  14. Flood of Fire – Amitav Ghosh
  15. The Burried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
  16. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  17. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  18. The Crystal Shard – R.A. Salvatore
  19. A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick
  20. Valis – Philip K. Dick
  21. The Divine Invasion – Philip K. Dick
  22. False Readings – Patrick Stuart

The Little Prince was incredible. I have no idea why I waited 35 years to read it. Truly a superlative book. The writing is so great. The story is so lovely. If you also have managed to live your life without reading it you really should.

Both Cormac McCarthy books were hard reads, and felt like mirrors of each other. The Road is about a father and son travelling through a post-apocalyptic world. Blood Meridian takes place in the wild west, and seems to be a story about the sorts of people the protagonists in The Road are constantly fleeing from. They are dark books. The Road in particular is so bleak—especially if you have children.

I made an effort to read more fantasy this year. Jack Vance is really worth reading if you aren’t that big a fan of your typical fantasy novel. The world his Dying Earth novels take place is in bizarre and fantastic in a way that isn’t elves and dwarves and other trappings of Tolkien. The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel’s Saga are also really funny. His command of the English language is also amazing. The books are so well written.

I enjoyed most everything I read. From the list above the only book I really regret reading was The Crystal Shard, which I clearly should have read when I was 12 years old. It’s cheesy D&D fantasy.

I just finished reading The Grace of Kings. So 2016 is off to a good start.

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My Life as a Weapon

   11 July 2013, late morning

I’ve had absolutely fantastic luck with comics recently. Luck too good not to share. I’ll probably turn this into a short series of posts: to start, Hawkeye!

If you are burnt out on stupid super hero books, but just can’t give up on them, you need to be reading the new Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction and David Aja. It’s been collected into two trade paperbacks at this point: My Life as a Weapon and Little Hits. The comics focus on what Hawkeye gets up to when not being an avenger. It’s barely a superhero book. He goes to BBQs and takes his dog to the vet. Somehow it’s super engaging. And yes, there is some crazy action too. One whole issue pokes fun at all his zany arrows, and its brilliant. One issue is told from the point of view of his dog, and people are going absolutely batshitcrazy about how good it is.

You don’t need to know anything about the Avengers, Hawkeye, the Marvel Universe, etc, to enjoy this comic. I don’t think you even need to be a comic book fan to enjoy this one. It’s so well done.

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Sea of Poppies

   11 January 2013, early morning

I finished reading Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. Shima has declared it one of her favourite books, if not her absolute favourite book. That’s a pretty strong endorsement. It’s been well reviewed as well. As I started reading I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about.

The book begins in a rural village in North India and ends on the high seas of the Indian Ocean. The road between those two points is a little bit slow. We meet character after seemingly unrelated character. Slowly you start to see where they will all end up. By the time you get to the third section of the book the story has really picked up. I am remiss to say much more than that. Suffice it to say its some solid historical fiction with a great cast of characters. Sea of Poppies reminds me of what a well edited Neal Stephenson story might look like. The language and sailor slang much of the book’s dialog is written in can be a bit impenetrable at times, though one can usually figure out the sentiment trying to be conveyed.

Sea of Poppies is the first book of the Ibis trilogy. The book is an exciting well written story. The second book River of Smoke is already available. I plan to start it shortly.

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Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour

   20 July 2010, terribly early in the morning

Krishna took a bus back from Waterloo last night to go to the Beguiling’s midnight launch of the last Scott Pilgrim book, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. He showed up at my place around one in the morning and was gone before I woke up. I’m assuming he is back in Waterloo, ready for class. He left a signed copy of the book for me on my dining room table, which I read on the way to work today. I love this series. It’s all so well done. Like it’s predecessors, it’s all completely over the top while at times managing to be sweet and touching. This book ends the series well. If you haven’t read any of these books before, you really need to.

Now I need a new Toronto based comic book to read.

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Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey

   22 July 2009, terribly early in the morning

Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey

My copy of Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey arrived yesterday. It was leaning against the door to our condo when Shima and I arrived home. I honestly wasn’t completely sure it would make it to me.

Nobuyoshi Araki is one of Japan’s most infamous photographers. I first saw his work in a Phaidon book Martha bought me, which collected together photographs of some of the best photographers in the world. Araki was featured. The photographs Phaidon picked to showcase were the sorts of photos he is most well known for: nudes and Japanese rope bondage. I had mixed feelings about Araki for a long time. In my mind he was little more than a pornographer. Some of his photos were interesting, but many really didn’t seem particularly good, especially outside of the contexts of the books they were made for. I think my opinions of his work changed after I watched Arakimentari, a documentary about the man. In the film, a reasonable amount of time is spent discussing Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey.

The book is split into two sections. The first section features a selection of photographs from a book Araki made on his honeymoon with his wife Yoko, called Sentimental Journey. (This book is incredibly rare. Apparently it was self-published, and only 1000 copies made.) This section is predominently filled with photos of Araki’s wife, clothed and unclothed, before the two have had sex or after. (Ruffled sheets and other elements in a scene hint at what has transpired between two photos.) The next section of the book is quite different. The Winter Journey is about the death of Araki’s wife in 1990 to cancer. The photographs are unlike anything else i’ve seen by Araki. Photographs are all marked with the date, and look like they were shot with some cheap consumer camera. There is a snapshot aesthetic to them all. Many of the photos are of the skyline or his wife’s cat. It’s very repetitive, and gives one the feeling of being on a forced march. We see photos leading up to Yoko’s death, of her death, and Araki’s life after her death. The last photo is both brilliant and simple. What’s impressive about this portion of the book is that the photos aren’t technically good at all, but when taken as a body of work they become something stunning.

I bought this book from Japan Exposure for ¥3,990 plus shipping. The shipping was expensive, but compared to the prices I was seeing for the book in North America it was a steal. (One reason I didn’t expect to get the book was because I thought the price was a mistake.) The book is completely in Japanese, but another reviewer seems to have translated the important captions.

I can’t recommend the book enough. (And i’m not alone here.)

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Kabuki: The Alchemy

   21 May 2009, terribly early in the morning

Kabuki: The Alchemy is probably the most avant garde of all the Kabuki comics. Kabuki is one of the most interesting comic book series I have read. David Mack put out 6 very creative and thoughtful pieces of work prior to releasing this 7th volume. The Kabuki series is set in a dystopian not-so-distant future. The lead protagonist is an assassin called Kabuki, who works with a small group of assassins making sure the criminal underworld of Kyoto doesn’t get out of hand. Well, that’s how things start. The story gets far more interesting from there — well, until you get to volume 7.

I think every writer is entitled to write one rambling stream of consciousness book in the vein of Seymour: An Introduction. This comic is David Macks Seymour: An introduction. The book was a frustrating and pretty disappointing read. The entire premise of the book seems cheesy — a lame attempt at post-modernism. Kabuki as a character seems hollow and totally disconnected from the character one encounters is the previous 6 chapters. Mack has some very experimental books in this series, which I quite enjoyed. The second book, for example, is terse and totally different than the first, but the style and dialog all works to tell a compelling story. This comic doesn’t work. (Well, perhaps that’s not true, judging by all the fan mail he got.) Reading the comic, I constantly felt like I was watching those awkward scenes of faux-philosophy in the Matrix sequels. Seymour: An Introduction, for all its rambling narrative, does have a handful of really amazing scenes that make up for the rest of the text. This book didn’t even have that. It’s all rambling. Here’s hoping Volume 8 is more Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters.

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Scott Pilgrim

   27 March 2009, terribly early in the morning

I finally grabbed a copy of Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe yesterday. This book is the 5th in the series. I cracked it open, started reading, and quickly realized I had forgotten way too much of the story. Who the hell is Wallace? And Julie? Today on the bus I re-read volume 1. It’s still really awesome. Scott Pilgrim is set in Toronto, and is about a 23 year old boy in a lame band who starts dating a mysterious American girl called Ramona. The one catch is that to date her he needs to defeat her 7 evil ex-boyfriends. (And, break up with his highschool-aged girlfriend.) The story seems like a gentle introduction to Manga for people who wouldn’t normally read the stuff. It has that same quirky feel to it. I love that the book is set in Toronto. The characters go to Sneaky Dees and Honest Ed’s. What’s not to like? The art is typical Manga art, and the writing is very funny and at times touching. I think everyones probably read this comic by now, but if not, go buy it now. I’m going to have to read up on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s annotations of the book.

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Anathem

   17 December 2008, terribly early in the morning

I finished reading Anathem yesterday. I think i’m done with that cruel mistress that is Neal Stephensen. Cryptonomicon was so great. I can’t recommend the book enough, it’s so interesting and entertaining. The Baroque Cycle pissed me off to no end, but I feel strangely nostalgic for it now. I think it is one of those series that grows on you after you’ve finished reading it — mostly because you forget a lot of the tedium. Anathem just wasn’t that good.

To start with, all the made-up words get distracting and seem a bit silly. (If you are going to make up words for cars and cell phones, but not for shoes, what’s the point?) Eventually you figure out what everything means, and you can get back to enjoying the book. Or trying to anyway. The world the story takes place in is interesting. You could write a really good book set in this world: Anathem wasn’t that book. There are lots of interesting ideas in the book, but as is often the case with the Baroque Cycle, their presentation borders on tedious. And, I can’t believe i’m typing this, but the ending feels rushed. The book is 1000 pages long! All of this I could forgive if not for the most glaring issue with the book: it reads like teen fiction. Stephensen is writing for the audience he knows he already has in the bag. The book is all nerdy science geek guy gets the hot but also nerdy science girl chick, and is helped by his good at everything friend, his nerdy martial arts friend, his super nerd friend who obviously has Aspenger’s, his hot engineer sister, his nerdy… well you get the idea. If Twilight is Vampire fiction for Emo kids, then Anathem is a science fiction romp for the Slashdot crowd. (Actually, god damn, the book was panned by at least one dude at Slashdot. The comments are a bit of a mixed bag.) If you are looking for something to read this winter, pick up Cryptonomicon.

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The Time Traveler's Wife

   20 May 2008, early evening

The Time Traveler’s Wife was probably not the best book to read while Shima is away in Europe. It’s a story about separation, loneliness, waiting, etc. It’s certainly a lovely book, but it is kind of a downer when you already miss your favourite person. Nevertheless, it’s quite enjoyable. The book was first recommended to me by my cousin Jana, a serious-ass Sci-Fi fan. He explained the time travel, and how it makes for an interesting story. Much later, Shima’s friend Nina recommended it, making passing reference to the number of times she cried while reading it. Nina and Jana both probably have very different tastes in books, so I find the overlap here interesting. It takes serious work to appeal to such disparate demographics. The Time Traveler’s Wife is classic sort of love story. I felt it manages to avoid being overly sappy, and doesn’t veer in to the realm of chick-lit. Though the dialog is at times a bit awkward, on the whole it’s very well written. I think it’s worth checking out. Of course, if you don’t like reading, you can just wait for the movie.

Read an interview with Audrey Niffenegger at Bookslut.

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Sophie's Choice

   23 February 2008, early morning

I just finished reading Sophie’s Choice. It began far funnier than I thought it would be. There was also a lot of sex. Still — my god — how depressing.

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The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

   10 January 2008, early morning

I was at chapters with a gift certificate in my hand informing me that if I spent more than $50 in the store, i’d get 40% off my purchases. Well, that’s a good way to get me to pad out my shopping. I bought The Gum Thief because it had a nice cover and I thought i’d give Douglas Coupland another shot. Also, the book was already 30% off. Oh Hells Yes. The Gum Theif was great. I liked it so much more than JPod, the only other book by Coupland that i’ve read. The story revolves, more or less, around two people, a depressed middle-aged man and a goth girl, both working at Staples. The story is told via letters and diary entries passed between the two protagonists, and other characters as the case may be; mixed into this is a novella being written by one of the characters. Unlike JPod, you feel for the characters, they are interesting and illicit your empathy. It’s a very enjoyable read. Another plus with this book is that the actual book, once you take of the dust jacket, is a beautiful pink. It’s an awesome book to carry around.

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The Culture Struggle

   14 August 2007, terribly early in the morning

I finished reading The Culture Struggle last week. As the title suggests, the book is about the conflicts that arise from, or are rooted in, culture. The book is comprised of 4 sections, each section contains a few short essays. Despite the subject mater, it’s a fairly easy read.

The book begins, more or less, with a discussion on how the dominant class within a nation use culture to reinforce its interests. The book ends with a section on hyper-individualism, which is probably the most America-centric section of the book. The end ties into the start of the book in that the culture of individualism that is so prevalent in the United States is what helps perpetuate much of the inequity that exists in the country. Individualism is the cultural base that helps the dominant moneyed class maintain there position in society. The middle two sections of the book are on imperialism, the subjection of people, and racism. (There are two chapters on violence against women which are insane; I need to look up the source he cites because the facts he spits out sound so unbelievable.) The chapters on racism are quite good, examining how slavery, amongst other things, was made palatable. Parenti also touches on how the dominant class will sometimes try and instigate racial strife so as to redirect anger that would rightly be directed at them. So, for example, you have poor White workers complaining about immigrants stealing their jobs, not about those who control all the money. The middle two chapters of the book were what I found the most interesting.

The topics may sound a bit heavy, but I found it to be a fairly easy read. The essays in the book are all quite short: Parenti makes a few points, and then moves on. The book as a whole is really a series of observations, and interesting topics for further discussion. Any essay in this book could probably be turned into something far more substantial. On the whole it’s a great read; it leaves you with a lot of things to think about.

Comment [4] |  

Nemesis

   13 July 2007, terribly early in the morning

I finished reading Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis last night. It’s a very interesting book on the decline of American democracy and the rise of American imperialism. The book posits that America can keep its empire, or keep its democracy, but it can’t have both. Johnson does a great job of outlining the various things he feels have contributed to the decline of democracy in the US. The main gist of his argument is that increased militarism is incompatible with a health democracy. With respect to this, he discusses the creation of the CIA (essentially the presidents private army), the ever expanding network of US army bases globally, and the militarization of space and the inordinate amount of money spent on weapons research. Nemesis was quite interesting to read. You may want to check it out. I’m on to The Assault on Reason, which thus far looks to be Gore’s attempt to catalog and discuss the reasons why Americans are so dumb now, but apparently turns into a scathing attack on the Bush administration. Nice.

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Necessary Illusion

   16 May 2007, terribly early in the morning

I’m working my way through Necessary Illusion, by Noam Chomsky. It’s one of the Massey Lectures books the CBC has been putting out recently. It’s quite good. It’s also a very frustrating read. I can’t get through 2 paragraphs without having to stop to take a few deep breaths: the book makes me so damn angry. Necessary Illusion is all about thought control and propaganda in a democratic society. Chomsky focuses on how the US media contorts the news to push an agenda that the state approves of. Much of his examples comes from the news coverage in the US of the war in Nicaragua: the US was terrorizing the civilian population there because they were so brazen as to support a communist/socialist party, and not another puppet leader from the US. (I need to read more about South Americas history.) It seems like every single country has been personally fucked by the US.) What the US was getting up to was bad, but the way it all was covered makes it all the worse. I am left wondering if there is any point reading the traditional press for coverage of any news of consequence.

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Out of Existence

    2 April 2007, early morning

The people in Harlem know they are living there because white people do not think they are good enough to live anywhere else. No amount of “improvement” can sweeten this fact. Whatever money is now being earmarked to improve this, or any other ghetto, might as well be burnt. A ghetto can be improved in one way only: out of existence.
— James Baldwin, “Fifth Ave, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem

I’ve been going through James Baldwin’s non-fiction work. I finished Notes of a Native Son last week, which is excellent, and have started on Nobody Knows My Name, which looks to be even better. Both books are collections of essays he did before the civil rights movement really got underway. The quote above comes from an essay Baldwin wrote for Esquire. This essay is excellent. If you can track it down I recommend you read it. James Baldwin is the best writer America has produced yet.

I wonder if Shima and her planner friends are required to read essays by Baldwin and other people who have lived in the ghettos they aim to improve. My guess is no. Shima seemed a bit disappointed in what was going to be done with Regent Park. I also felt it was more of the same, but really, what do I know? I thought of the quote from Baldwin above while reading the following in the Globe:

Flemingdon Park is one of 13 so-called “priority neighbourhoods” identified by the city for targeted funding by the municipal government, social agencies and other groups. Over the next four years, the city plans to add an extra $13-million for these neighbourhoods.
Wall of silence breached in Toronto revenge killing.

After 50-60 years of failed government housing here in Canada and in the US, you would think they might want to try something different.

Previously: Go Tell It On the Mountain, and I’m not a nigger, I’m a man.

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Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

    2 February 2007, terribly early in the morning

I’m almost done Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam. I’ve really liked it so far, and I can’t imagine ending up disappointed with it in the last 20 or so pages. While reading one of the short stories on the SARS outbreak, which I did during the bus ride home from work last night and the bus ride to work this morning, I felt my chest tense up like I was getting bronchitis. It is strange how your body reacts to things.

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Daredevil: Father

   11 January 2007, early morning

Daredevil: Father marked Joe Quesada return to Daredevil. This was also the first time he wrote and illustrated any comic. It’s a good mini-series, which easily holds its own when compared to the recent (and excellent) Alex Maleev and Brian Michael Bendis run of the series. It takes place in the period of time after Daredevil has kicked Kingpin out of Hell’s Kitchen and declared himself the new Kingpin. At this point in time, Daredevil is a bit more of a jerk than he normally is. There is a serial killer on the lose, but Daredevil isn’t interested in catching the him so long has he stays out of Hell’s Kitchen. That’s the main plot, but much of the story is about people with father issues. It all makes for an interesting read. The art is really top-notch. I was very impressed with how much better Quesada has gotten since he first drew for the comic. It’s quite amazing really. I really enjoyed this comic. Daredevil is the only comic I follow now, and so far remains a consistently good series. I haven’t written about any of the trade paperbacks i’ve read here on this site, but I really can’t say enough good things about them.

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Chicken and Plums

    5 January 2007, early morning

Picture from Amazon.

I read Marjane Satrapi’s Sugar and Plums on the ride to and from work yesterday. Set in post-coup Iran, Satrapi tells the story of her great uncle Nassar Ali Khan’s last 8 days of life. He was apparently a well regarded tar player in Iran. The book has a very similar feel to her other comics. The art is simple looking, but manages to convey a lot of feeling and emotion. I like her style a lot; it looks like something you could draw yourself — I’ve tried with limited success. The storytelling is a bit more intricate this time around. There are lots of flashbacks, with sequences of panels alternating between the past and present in some of the more extreme cases. It’s not hard to follow whats going on mind you, as the art gives obvious clues as to when the event is taking place. It’s a very cool book.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

   14 August 2006, early morning

I finally finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It took me a fairly long time to get through; the book is a bit of a tome. Set in 19th century England, the book narrates the story of the two men that would return magic to English soil. It’s a fantasy novel of sorts, but really reads much more like a novel from the period it is set in. It is only a fantasy book insofar as it is a book about magicians. The book is reminiscent of Quicksilver, but without the maddening vocabulary. Like Quicksilver, the pace of the story is also very slow, but it is a bit more focused. The book is split into three parts, and the story really doesn’t start moving till the end of the second part. Once the story gets going however, the book is very engrossing. Beyond the story, the characters themselves are interesting and entertaining. The pages and pages of back story really do contribute to the overall book. It was a good book, worth checking out.

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The Coma

   21 June 2006, early morning

I bought the novel The Coma a few weeks back because it is written by the fellow who wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later, and because it was really cheap. I like buying books that are 80% off at Indigo. You can get it at Indigo for $7—in hardcover no less. I don’t want to tell you much about the novel’s plot, because its twists and turns are probably the best thing about it. I will tell you the book starts with a vicious beating that leaves a man in a coma, and continues from there. It’s quite short, and can be finished quite quickly. I read it on my commute to work over the course of a few days. The book is really quite interesting; it’s very well thought out—at least I thought so. If you are looking for something to read, I recommend you check this out.

I’m reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell now. It’s a very different book, which reminds me a bit of Quicksilver in its pacing. I am enjoying the book so far.

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JPod by Douglas Coupland

    6 June 2006, early morning

I bought my copy of JPod at a reading of the book. I didn’t know much about the book, or Douglas Coupland, beyond the fact he had written a book called Microserfs. This was the first time I had paid pretty much full price for a book in ages. Since JPod was reviewed by the Globe and Mail, it is on sale at Amazon for 40% off. I probably should have bought it there. (Still, I can take heart in knowing that my cousin would have been proud of me supporting Pages, who were selling the books during the reading.) JPod is very different from the books I have been reading recently. It is funny for starters, which Hemmingway and Baldwin rarely are. So in this way it was an enjoyable read. It’s nice to read something that doesn’t leave you depressed. The problem though is the book doesn’t feel like it has any substance to it.

I didn’t feel any sort of attachment to any of the characters in the book. This actually might be a function of the characters themselves; they are all thoroughly apathetic, amoral, twenty-somethings. They really aren’t likable. They are memorable insofar as they are quirky.

That said, the book is very much character driven. The plot for the book is more or less non-existent, and isn’t as important to the story as the characters and their various neuroses are. The story centres around Eathan, a video game programmer. He works at a nondescript game company in Vancouver, in an area known as the JPod (because your last name starts with a J if you are working in that chunk of cubicles). Him and his fellow JPodders are working on a skateboard game that gets repurposed into a skateboard game with a kid-friendly turtle. The working life of these characters is portrayed in all its soul-sucking glory. Beyond the video-game programmers, the reader is introduced to Eathan’s dysfunctional family: a pot growing mom; a people smuggling real-estate agent brother; a ball-room dancing wannabe actor. Coupland himself shows up in the novel. The first few times it is actually funny. (The last couple times, not so much.) The book is very surreal and absurd. There are hints of real life hidden within all the exaggeration and caricature. I suppose it does make for an interesting read.

As I said at the start, I did enjoy reading the book. I’m not sure if it is a classic or any such nonsense, but it is entertaining. The book has a nice cover. It’s probably worth checking out.

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Meetings are Toxic

    2 June 2006, early morning

Meetings are Toxic was one of the chapters in 37signals Getting Real book. It’s a sensible enough idea, which generated a lot of discussion over at Signal vs. Noise. I’m sure all of us in the working world have endured meetings we thought would never end. I find that once you get more then 3 or 4 people in a room your productivity is going to quickly turn to shit. Eathan, the lead character in JPod by Douglas Coupland seems to agree. Midway through the book, we the readers are told meetings are toxic:

Here’s my theory about meetings and life; the three things you can’t fake are erections, competence and creativity. That’s why meetings become toxic—they put uncreative people in a situation in which they have to be something they can never be. And the more effort they put into concealing their inabilities, the more toxic the meeting becomes. One of the most common creativity-faking tactics is when someone puts their hands in prayer position and conceals their mouth while they nod at you and say, “Mmmmmmm. Interesting.” If pressed, they’ll add, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Then they don’t say anything else.

Update: I emailed 37signals about this quote, and they posted it to their website, where it is being discussed.

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Douglas Coupland Reads JPod

   24 May 2006, early morning

Douglas Coupland at his Book Reading

Apparently I am the only person I know from Waterloo who hadn’t heard of Douglas Coupland. He has written several books, one of which is called Microserfs. Microserfs is about Waterloo graduates getting snatched up by Microsoft to toil on their various computer projects. The novel began as a short story published in Wired. It sounds like it would be a whole book about people I know. My cousin brought him up over the weekend; I don’t remember how the conversation turned to Microserf, but it did. Yesterday, Heather emailed me to say she has a spare ticket to see Douglas Coupland read from his latest book, JPod. That was a strange coincidence.

Angela, Heather and I went to the show together. I met them at Townshoes, where Heather was buying shoes for a wedding. The sales lady was trying to up-sell her some sort of satin scotch guard like spray. She was very strange. The show was held in a theatre at U of T, and it was packed. The show has sold out some time ago. The audience was a real mix-bag of people. Coupland came on shortly after 7:00, and told a story about how his agent wanted him to go on this show, MTV Live. It was a funny story. He then read briefly from his book, a passage in which one of the main characters in the novel meets Douglas Coupland. How post-modern. He read three passages in total, and passed the remaining time cracking jokes and telling stories. It was a very entertaining book reading.

Angela stuck around to get her book signed. Neither Heather or I were in the mood to line up. Heather walked South to her home, and I headed North to bloor. I bought a double-cheeseburger at McDonalds; it was awesome.

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A Farewell to Arms

   16 May 2006, early morning

I finished reading A Farewell to Arms on the bus this morning. The rest of the bus ride was depressing. It was raining. I suppose if there is one thing wrong with Hemmingway’s books, it is that you know how they all will end. A Farewell to Arms is no exception to this rule. While the book isn’t as depressing as For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I think is the saddest book ever written, it’s still pretty damn sad. I think as human beings we have a natural revulsion to the sorts of endings Hemmingway writes. Deep down I knew how a A Farewell to Arms would end, once the story got going, but the ending your mind conjures up is so depressing you just can’t accept it as the probable outcome. So you read hoping for something else, a more typical conclusion to the story, and when you come to the end its like being punched in the stomach.

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