The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Mike’s review

Jesuits are such a well-adjusted branch of Catholicism. Healthy questioning of the way things are/could be. Inquisitiveness, not Inquisition. Even their self-doubt is plain and matter of fact. They’re so practical. So the search for self I was hoping for here probably won’t manifest.

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I get the point of the future/now sections, but they’re such a slog. I think there’d be just as much suspense, more even, if I didn’t know everyone dies and Emilio’s a prostitute and murderer (boy does this even end up to be a letdown). Also, not a spoiler because it’s revealed pretty early in the book.

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Plot is pretty simple. Jesuits discover a planet with life. They fund a private voyage to the planet. Only one priest makes it back alive. The story is told with alternating chapters set in the past and the now, during something like Emilio’s (the living priest) trial amongst his Jesuit peers.

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“From a culture gone mad with documentation, publicity, broadcast, narrowcast and pointcast, where every act of public and private life seemed to be done for an audience […]” This was written in 1996! I don’t remember that being a concern then. Wasn’t that about O.J. time though, which was arguably the start of that culture. But were people aware of it yet?

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“‘What is a whore but someone whose body is ruined for the pleasure of others? I am God’s whore, and ruined.'”

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I feel a genuine sense of wonder at first contact.

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“‘on the fate of Cleveland in the World Series of 2018′” so close. And may still come true!

“‘Anybody can have a couple of lousy centuries.” re: being a Cubs fan. The Cubs continuing to lose is a small recurring joke through the book that would have been real funny had I read it 2 months earlier than I did. As it was, it was still a little amusing to think about.

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Mike’s review

Plot summary: A Maine teacher is shown a wormhole that takes him back to 11/22/63. The person who shows him the wormhole convinces Jake (the teacher) that the most important thing he could possibly do with the wormhole is prevent the assassination of JFK. But he needs to be sure Lee Harvey Oswald acted (acts?) alone. So he spends a bunch of time track Oswald. He falls in love. The past fights back because it doesn’t want to be changed.

There were a solid handful of logical fallacies/lack of thought-out plans that frustrated me here. A friend gave me a hard-sell on this book and I think I expected more. There seemed to be a lot of waiting around, which seemed silly. And a lot of poor decisions made that were pretty obviously poor just to add tension. And there could have easily been exciting bits just by exploring the past and seeing what the world was like then. Overall, I thought a lot more could have been done in a book which was so large.

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78 pages read in the first day. Which, after not finishing Unaccustomed Earth because I just couldn’t, was a nice change of pace. Not that this is especially good. It didn’t pull me in until the end of the day, but it’s readable and enticing.

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Why would you stay in Derry for two months? Go do something. See the baby-world. Why just hang out in nowhereseville?

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Wouldn’t it be more efficient to go back to present day and ask Harry his father’s name/where they lived as kids?

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I suppose I should point out that there was a bit with the yellow card man that creeped me out pretty hard. I didn’t write it down, but I think it was when his card turned black. Again, though, I think the yellow card man was another thing that could have been mined that was mostly ignored. There was very little about the ethos of time travel and exploring the yellow card man could have easily done that.

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Kinda slow while waiting for Oswald. Surprising because it’s a rollicking presence and didn’t expect this pacing from King, but makes sense given when wormhole drops off. And, ultimately, the stakes are raised by this lull. Harder to go back each time because he’s given up so much of his current life.

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Why not use spare time to learn Russian? At least acknowledge it: “Not a possibility, would raise suspicion that I was a commie sympathizer. And without a past to vet…” It’s probably dumb of me to bring up logical fallacies in this sort of thing, but these brought me out of the story a lot.

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Isn’t it significantly more likely that de Mohreaschildt  (I’m not looking that up to see if I copied the spelling correctly) was an orchestrator than actually having pulled the trigger? And if Oswald’s dead, he’ll just have someone else do it?

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And why not kill Oswald in New Orleans so you have some getaway lead to get to Jodie?

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How could it possibly be a good idea to bring Sadie to the future? Best case: she gets her face fixed but lives in isolation/constant surprise/wonder. Worst case: she dies when going through the wormhole.

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And a few notes about the Hulu series I watched after reading the book, too:

Good decision with Al’s voiceover-guided narration. I was worried about long stretches with no human interaction and this solves that and makes sure we don’t take forever setting up all the rules/guidelines.

Carving the tree is such a simpler way to prove you can change the future in the past. Haha. The convoluted bits that King used were one of the things that were actually super illogical that didn’t pull me out of the story at the time.

I wasn’t super into the series either, but if you feel like you’re only going to pick one, I think I’d choose the series due to it being less of a time commitment. It felt less disappointing, but that might be because I was already disappointed by the book and maybe my expectations were lower. I really wanted to like both of these and I didn’t. They weren’t bad, but I expected greatness and got mediocrity.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

Mike’s review

“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” This is what I strive for. I don’t know that I accomplish it. Can you write sincerely when your characters themselves are insincere? When your characters need distance from their own emotions, can you say that you write with an emotional truth? Or are you a anarchist (in principle, not in style) Brett Easton Ellis?

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It’s a dumb thing to say, but “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” is so smart. And somehow not at all cynical, which is downright impossible to do while writing about TV (and writing about writing about TV).

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Marking out hard to read that DFW detassled corn as a child. We all share a bond. I didn’t find it that hard/grueling as is the common feeling.

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David Lynch pees a lot? I pee a lot!

“Ted Bundy wasn’t particularly Lynchian, but good old Jeffrey Dahmer, with his victim’s various anatomies neatly separated and stored in his fridge alongside his chocolate milk and Shedd Spread, was thoroughly Lynchian.”

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Legit makes me want to watch tennis. Is it because his writing is so good or because his love of the sport is so strong? I can’t think of an essay about any other sport that shows such genuine love/passion. Lots of rage and feelings, sure, but this is like an 1800s declaration of patriotism, it’s so strong.

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Leaving cabin and darting back after 15 minutes to catch cleaning crew is dick-git one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

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The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich

Mike’s review

The plot isn’t the plot and the actual plot would be 100% spoiler. But…Woman comes home to find boyfriend dead, attacked by dogs. Her three rescue dogs covered in blood, she locks herself in bathroom and calls cops on her dogs. In death, more is revealed about the man. He isn’t entirely who he said he is. Every lie reveals more about the tangled life/death of her fiancé.

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I would absolutely put my dog down rather than leaving her in solitary confinement forever.

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The instant placement into scenes is jarring and takes time to figure out where I am, who I’m with (still not sure who Katie is), but I like that it wastes no words. May like it more because I’m being overly verbose in my own writing now. Brevity must be impossible in a collaboration (this was written by two people–Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment–A.J. Rich being their together-pseudonym).

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Hard to allow a reader to see the twist coming and still have the reader say “Fuck you” when it happens.”

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Basically read in a single plane ride, which is one of the most perfect ways to read a book.

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Kind-of spoiler alert for after the next line break.

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Like the day after I read this I fucked a person who said she was going to tell her other lover about it for his pleasure and I freaked the fuck out after just reading about Billie’s power play/trip over Bennett. So, what are the ethics of that? Can you involve Person C verbally in Person B and A’s sex life without Person C’s consent? Is that a form of sexual assault? Why is it that the only time I’ve ever asked a real question in these things, it’s hidden behind a spoiler warning where possibly no one will read it? For the record, I will absolutely let you tell your boyfriend I fucked you.

The Age Of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Mike’s review

I may have mentioned that I’m bad about putting these up in a timely fashion once or twice. This is a good example of why it’s important. Here’s what I remember of the plot: the Earth slows its rotation and continues to slow. Days and nights get longer, tides are fucked, that sort of thing. I believe the book follows a teenage girl while this is happening, how the slowing affects her and her family’s life. And that’s all I got. I’m pretty sure I liked it.

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Jacket is sure to mention, “the normal disasters of everyday life,” like the slowing (mind-boggling that it isn’t capitalized the Great Depression or The Fall) is a background for life, but it’s written the other way around, with life in the background. This is a good thing.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson-any input on the physics of this?

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Feel like a stronger delineation between clock night and world night could be helpful. Like using the words clock and real instead of darkday and brightnight.

Your Real Life in Fiction: Hometown & Family

(on “So Boring I Need Drugs,” a story from Mike Bahl’s Scenic Utah)

“Talk a little bit about how your own high school experience may have informed this piece.”

Like anyone else, I hated growing up. It doesn’t really matter if you grow up in a small town or a city, it’s pretty much the worst while you’re in the thick of it. As I look back, I realize I didn’t have it so bad. Somehow the Dodgeville area is a bit of a hippie mecca for Wisconsin. I don’t know why exactly. I’m going to blame Frank Lloyd Wright.

Yeah, I had hard-headed traditionalist teachers, but I also had people who were half a step away from going to live on the streets of San Francisco purely for the adventure of it.

There are farms and bars and abject poverty and weather-ruined buildings (see a WC Tank film for all of this), but there is also great wealth and yoga and farmer’s markets and wind farms. I don’t know. The whole area is weird. But so is everywhere.

If I had grown up in an actual city, I would be fucking dead by now. But it was hard enough to find weed in Dodgeville, let alone meth or coke or heroin. I have no doubt that if I’d grown up with easier access to any of these, I wouldn’t have made it past “growing up.”

I have plans to better express my feelings about the whole area later.

“Is the annoying brother based on a real sibling?”

My brother was no more annoying than anyone’s brother. Here’s something strange: we almost never talk to each other. I don’t know if I’ve ever called him. Maybe a couple of texts or e-mails. I haven’t lived near him for almost ten years at this point. I completely abandoned him when I moved away and I think this really hurt him and made his life harder than it should have been. I went to Wisconsin a couple of months ago and it was like I’d never gone. I always say that he and I are basically the same person and people think I’m joking, but it’s true. We think almost exactly alike. His coworkers, upon hearing that I was coming to visit, said, “Cool, are you guys close?” His response: “Yes. No. Yes. It’s weird. We don’t talk or anything, but yes, absolutely.” We talked about family stuff while I was there and completely agree about things that people in my life think are outlandish. I know that is vague, but I probably shouldn’t rat him out right here. That seems shitty.

I’m rarely happy where I am and when I daydream about moving back to Wisconsin, living with my brother is somewhere near the beginning of that daydream.

“Do you think kids do drugs because they’re bored in general? These kids?”

I did drugs because I was fucking empty inside. But some kids do them because they’re bored. It seems silly, but it’s probably the healthiest reason to do drugs. Boredom passes; vacancy doesn’t. You can kill time. I tried to kill myself (this isn’t strictly true, but close enough to the truth and too good of a soundbite to not include).

To refresh yourself on this series on craft tied to the book Scenic Utah, start here.

Screen reading vs. Paper reading

The other day I was at the beach with the fam and an old girl walked by our sprawl. She saw my mate & I lying in the sand, both of us with a thick hardcover.  “Good for you. I like to see people reading actual books. No one reads books anymore,” she spoke with a thumbs-up gesture. I made one back.

It was only by chance I had a hardback. I do not bring electronics to sandy beaches. Most of my reading I do online via laptop, or on my Kindle e-reader. Or an iPad. Or an iPhone.

Odd how in the past, artists and photographers fetishized the woman in repose, reading. The image suggested rest, or a lovely respite from the world. Nowadays it’s become  a social faux pas, though, to be seen reading in public, especially on a smartphone, a ubiquitous instrument of alienation.

Anything that gets people reading is fine by me. I take my words in any format possible, including audio. In its extreme, when people shame us for screen staring, they are threatened by information gathering on a certain level, which is an anti-knowledge stance. What people are really mad about is attention being diverted from the present moment, which may or may not mean it’s isolating the hater from the gadget user.

Yes, it’s annoying when your mate checks his text ding right in the middle of a sentence. Yes, the urge to check email every five minutes is a chronic disease for even the non-clinical OCD person. But sometimes people are merely looking things up to supplement a discussion point. Does snapping a pic take you out of the moment, or further solidify it by documenting it? The argument can be made that people are reading more and being more creative than ever before thanks to these gadgets.

Once humans can easily get computer implants to gather info from our own “throbbing brains” and the use of such devices is biologically seamless, it will present a new level of discomfort for luddites, so that people who are out there, reading, can be left alone again.