26 June 2009

43. Man In Motion

Man In Motion - Michael Mewshaw

This is one of those male coming of age, trying to find oneself, type of books. It was published in 1971 and written by a guy who was an English teacher at UMass after getting his PhD from UVA. (I felt like using a lot of acronyms) This was his first novel.

The main dude is a 26 year old male. He has graduated from UVA and is thinking of becoming a writer. He wrote a short story that was published in a campus collection of short stories. That was his claim to fame. Other than that the guy has done nothing at all with his life. He still lives with his mother and step-father. He works at Safeway as a cashier. He doesn't pay rent. He set up the attic as his living space and a place for him to write, yet he has written nothing at all.

He is so full of excuses for not doing anything that it is ridiculous. His sister thinks he is a free loading piece of crap. His mother is angry at him. His step-dad is accepting of him as a buddy would be, but still wishes he would do something.

The first 130 pages or so of this book are nothing but this guy, Walker Hawley, talking to people. He talks to his mother. He talks to his sister. He talks to his step-father. He talks to his grand-mother. He talks to his girl-friend. He talks to his brother-in-law. He talks to some guy he met at a friends house. He talks to his mother again. He talks and talks and talks...and always the conversation is centered around one thing. Walker wants to go to California and be inspired. He wants to go where the artists live and get rid of his writer's block. All the conversations, for 130 pages, are about this subject and what the others think and want and blah blah.

Finally, Walker does something. His mother is in the institution for an emotional breakdown. He told his girl-friend he was leaving and "kind of" broke off the relationship. After Thanksgiving dinner his step-father got drunk and fell down the stairs and died...and then Walker just took off. He called the funeral home on the way out of town and told them where the body was. He didn't call anyone else. He just left.

He had taken out an ad in the paper for someone to travel with him. He was driving to California and wanted someone to share expenses. So, Lila Caine answered the ad. She is a student at The University of Maryland, but wants to quit. She wants to go to California and become an actress.

So, they meet and they drive away in his TR3. The first night in the hotel they have sex. For the next 100 pages they drive from one town to the next, get a hotel, have sex, sleep. Do again. And again.

The last eighty pages were my favorite part of the book. When Walker and Lila stop having so much sex and realize that they really don't like each other as much as they originally hoped, then things got interesting.

It is a decent book, but it seems like it took so long to define the relationships in super-depth that it was irritating. Then the sex here there and everywhere saga was getting irritating. If they did something other than drive and bang it might have been more interesting. Yeah yeah yeah, can you please describe Lila's body one more time. Maybe the way the moonlight reflected off a puddle and cast a shadow on her breasts deserves half a page? I exaggerate, but that is how it felt.

Much like Kerouac's "On The Road", "Man In Motion" got interesting when they crossed the Mexican border. I wonder if Mewshaw was attempting to write the next generation's "On The Road". Walker was not as much of a jerk, but he was just as lost and stupid. There are definite similarities between the stories, though I much preferred Mewshaw's writing style and story to Kerouac's. Chosing between the two, I liked this one more in just about every way.

In the end Walker made some better decisions and "found" himself. That was good.

Oh, a funny line... Walker to Lila... "Let's play "Peace and Quiet". You be quiet, and I'll get a piece."

I am wondering why I have picked up so many books that ended up being first novels for different authors.

22 June 2009

42. Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

A young reporter, Camille Preaker, works at a small Chicago paper and is assigned to write about the nasty murders of two children in her home town. A small town in Missouri. There is a strange cluster of people living in this town. Throw in a few neurotic people and numerous psychiatric problems...and you get this book.

Camille is a reformed cutter. She cut words into her skin. The words formed scars in her flesh. The words heat up when events make her feel whatever way the word describes. She can "feel" the words. Oh, and she is an alcoholic. And a slut. And has a problem with authority. And has deep seeded feelings about her mother. And has big problems with her childhood "friends" in her home town of Wind Gap. In other words, Camille is a mess.

The murders of the two young girls are definitely not the ugliest part of this book. The Preaker family is far nastier. The dead sister, died almost 20 years prior, is probably the luckiest one. The 13 year old sister who still lives in Wind Gap is nuts. About as nuts as Camille, but at a far younger age.

I liked the book. It was a fascinating to read the thought process of the woman as she wrestles with her past, and recovery, and a trying to do her job. I found it interesting how she fell right back into old habits with her mother rather than just telling her to bite the big one. I also found it interesting that the little sister was able to exert control over the close to 30 year old Camille. Little Amma, by no means an innocent, was able to talk her adult sister into going for a ride with her friends in the drug dealers Camaro, heading to a party full of teens, taking Extasy during a disgusting version of "spin the bottle", and generally doing all kinds of stupid stuff. Was Camille acting like an adult? Heck no. She was so weak as a person she couldn't even tell a 13 year old no.

I enjoyed the story. I enjoyed the plot. I enjoyed the relationships. I enjoyed the characters and all their problems. I did think the end, the solution to the crime, was rushed. Build, build, build and...wham...that was it. I don't want to say she should have drug it out, but it seemed like it was written to just tie up the loose ends and get the book to the publisher. The end did not flow like the rest of the book. other than that, it was pretty enjoyable. Well, as enjoyable as reading about peoples multiple psychological problems can be.

19 June 2009

41. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

What a funny and quirky book this was. I have never read anything quite like it. I enjoyed it and at the same time thought it was pretty silly to even be reading such a thing. Odd how it could be so stupid and yet so enjoyable.
I need to go get one of those "improbability drives" for my car. It sounds like fun.

What are the odds that i will read more of Adams books? Infinity minus one to two. ;-)

It made me laugh.

16 June 2009

40. A Maiden's Grave

A Maiden's Grave - Jeffery Deaver

Three escaped convicts hijack a bus load of children and chaperones from a girl's school for the deaf. The are chased and end up barricading themselves in an old abandoned slaughterhouse outside a small town in Kansas. The standoff begins.

This book never let up. It was a constant pounding of gut wrenching emotionally charged suspense. There was never a moment when there was not something happening to someone somewhere that could get many people killed, raped, maimed, tortured, etc etc etc.

The characters within the slaughterhouse were outstanding. The uber-violent criminal with a psychologically sadictive streak, his partners, the beautiful young timid deaf teacher who is labeled a freak of nature, the defiant and strong-willed 17 year old deaf girl, the 8-10-12-and early teen girls with personalities of their own. I especially liked the two girls who were totally into the X-Men. :-)

So much happened in this book that I am still looking back and thinking about what and when and why. Some of it was a long stretch. Some of it was dead in line with reality. Either way, the story was a real pisser to read and made it hard to put down.

The compression of time may be one way this book kept up the suspense. The entire story, 400+ pages, takes place in an 18 hour span. There is a LOT that happens in that 18 hours.

The only thing I didn't like was one of the twists at the end. I thought it was really obvious that the twist would be where the story should go. It did not twist. They moved on...and then came back and twisted it just like I had though in the first place. So, the twist was predictable for me, but my timing was off. I would prefer to have been taken by total surprise. Maybe I just got lucky and figured that part out.

If you are looking for a book that would be a page burner this one is perfect.

13 June 2009

39. Visits From The Drowned Girl

Visits From The Drowned Girl - Steven Sherrill

This book is about a guy who works at great heights, cell phone towers, water towers, etc, who witnesses a girl's suicide. The girl happened to video tape the whole thing. Her saw this from 200 feet above while changing a bulb on top of a tower. He goes down to the site and gathers her belongings, including the tape and a backpack full of other tapes she had made. He does not call the police. He does not inform the family. He ends up becoming involved in the lives of the girls family.
1. The father is a hard-core evangelical preacher.
2. The mother is a mousy woman who can barely finish a sentence.
3. The sister is a dwarf.
4. The guy himself, and all his friends, and everyone he knows, are Red-Neck country folks with very crass ways of living.
The book says it is "blunt", "gutsy", and full of "rough humor".
I think the book is more rude than blunt, more obnoxious than gutsy, and full of nasty people doing nasty things and thinking it is normal (rough humor?). I do not think a small person being knocked down and humped by goats while others watch is funny. I don't think taking that same small person and trapping her in a giant jack-o-lantern while she is screaming is funny. I don't think a retarded man at the car wash givng $5 blow-jobs is funny. I don't find the "art" of "beautiful women shitting" is funny. Rough humor just wasn't funny. It was crude and disgusting in many parts.
I liked reading it because the story was interesting. I wanted to find out what was on the video tapes from the suicidal girl. I wanted to know what would happen to the man who found them. When the story ended it ended abruptly. What happened? Not a damned thing really. 241 pages and there is no ending. There is no closure. There is no body. There is no epiphany that causes the man to do the right thing.
In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Maybe calling the dead girl's mother and saying "Your stupid daughter is dead. The dumb bitch drowned herself. She's dead. Gone. Ain't comin' back." is supposed to be some of that "rough humor"? Sorry, I missed the part where I was supposed to chuckle at that.
There were some funny things. There were some interesting characters. The setting was very interesting, since it takes place where I live. I was surprised by that. Crowder's Mountain is about five miles from my house. The surrounding area is where this story takes place. That made the book better for me I guess.
I think this book was OK. I was expecting a bit more humor though. I guess now I know what to expect when they say "rough humor".
(Reading over my post, I realize I enjoyed this book more than the post makes it seem. It was better than what I have written. I picked on the negative aspects a lot. It really was an OK book.)

09 June 2009

38. A Farewell To Arms

A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway
This is supposed to be "The best American novel to emerge out of World War I". My sister-in-law says she loved this book. It is written by Hemingway. This is the same guy who wrote "The Sun Also Rises", "For Whom The Bell Tolls", and "The Old Man and the Sea". (None of which have I read) I had high expectations for this book.
I was let down. Was it because I expected more? Was it because the book just was not that good? I am not really sure, but probably the former.
My observations...Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley are quite irritating when they are together. "Do you love me?" "Yes, I love you." Do you really love me?" "Yes, I really love you." "Are you sure I am not unlovable?" "I love you just like you are." "Are you sure?"..... oh just shut the hell up! This type of interaction drove me crazy.
What I think was really going on is that Frederic and Catherine wanted to be in love so badly that they made themselves believe they were in love, but really had no idea. They secluded themselves and convinced themselves they loved each other, and then acted according to what they thought people in love should act like.
I worked through this book.
I enjoyed the parts where Frederic was "retreating" from the front and then escaping/deserting to get back to Catherine. That was pretty interesting.
The descriptions of the places, the scenery, the mountains, the lakes, the train, etc, were very good. The people on the other hand, not so much for me.
Oh...and these guys (the male characters) and really just a bunch of womanizing drunkards. They were constantly drinking.
Does it really rain that much in Italy?
Read it if you want. It is Hemingway. I will try "The Sun Also Rises", but my expectations will not be as great the next time.
Moving on now.... :-)

04 June 2009

From Frederick Douglass' Narrative

I enjoyed this poem at the end of Mr. Douglass' book

"I conclude these remarks by copying the following portrait of the religion of the south, (which is, by communion and fellowship, the religion of the north,) which I soberly affirm is "true to the life," and without caricature or the slightest exaggeration. It is said to have been drawn, several years before the present anti-slavery agitation began, by a northern Methodist preacher, who, while residing at the south, had an opportunity to see slaveholding morals, manners, and piety, with his own eyes. "Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"


"Come, saints and sinners, hear me tell
How pious priests whip Jack and Nell,
And women buy and children sell,
And preach all sinners down to hell,
And sing of heavenly union.

"They'll bleat and baa, dona like goats,
Gorge down black sheep, and strain at motes,
Array their backs in fine black coats,
Then seize their negroes by their throats,
And choke, for heavenly union.

"They'll church you if you sip a dram,
And damn you if you steal a lamb;
Yet rob old Tony, Doll, and Sam,
Of human rights, and bread and ham;
Kidnapper's heavenly union.

"They'll loudly talk of Christ's reward,
And bind his image with a cord,
And scold, and swing the lash abhorred,
And sell their brother in the Lord
To handcuffed heavenly union.

"They'll read and sing a sacred song,
And make a prayer both loud and long,
And teach the right and do the wrong,
Hailing the brother, sister throng,
With words of heavenly union.

"We wonder how such saints can sing,
Or praise the Lord upon the wing,
Who roar, and scold, and whip, and sting,
And to their slaves and mammon cling,
In guilty conscience union.

"They'll raise tobacco, corn, and rye,
And drive, and thieve, and cheat, and lie,
And lay up treasures in the sky,
By making switch and cowskin fly,
In hope of heavenly union.

"They'll crack old Tony on the skull,
And preach and roar like Bashan bull,
Or braying ass, of mischief full,
Then seize old Jacob by the wool,
And pull for heavenly union.

"A roaring, ranting, sleek man-thief,
Who lived on mutton, veal, and beef,
Yet never would afford relief
To needy, sable sons of grief,
Was big with heavenly union.

"'Love not the world,' the preacher said,
And winked his eye, and shook his head;
He seized on Tom, and Dick, and Ned,
Cut short their meat, and clothes, and bread,
Yet still loved heavenly union.

"Another preacher whining spoke
Of One whose heart for sinners broke:
He tied old Nanny to an oak,
And drew the blood at every stroke,
And prayed for heavenly union.

"Two others oped their iron jaws,
And waved their children-stealing paws;
There sat their children in gewgaws;
By stinting negroes' backs and maws,
They kept up heavenly union.

"All good from Jack another takes,
And entertains their flirts and rakes,
Who dress as sleek as glossy snakes,
And cram their mouths with sweetened cakes;
And this goes down for union."

37. Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave - Frederick Douglass

This is a first hand account, an autobiographical narrative, of Mr. Douglass' life as a slave in Maryland. This was written after his escape to the north.

The story is awe inspiring. His strength and determination are rare. His ability to recognize that knowledge (the ability to read and write) were a path to freedom and then teach himself what he required is absolutely amazing. His literacy is astonishing.

The book is only 126 pages, but it is probably the most powerful condemnation of slavery and reason for true change that I have ever read.

Some of the most memorable parts of this book:

Douglass explained the biblical reasoning the south used to justify keeping slaves. They say the Africans were the descendants of Ham. Ham was cursed by God. He and his people were to be subservient to other men. That is what the southerners used to say they were Christians and still keep slaves. I guess they missed the whole New Testament changing the rules. Actually, they probably didn't miss it. They abused it. It is a shame that is so common.
Douglass went a bit further with this. He explained that his father, though he was never told who the man was, was a white man. This happened quite often. There were many mixed race children on the plantations. Douglass reasoned that because he was half white that he was not only a descendant of Ham, but also from peoples who were not cursed. Eventually there would have been enough mixed race folks that slavery would have died out because the biblical justification could no longer stand up to scrutiny. That was an awesome insight.

Another part that struck me deeply was when his master had died and the property was to be divided between two of his children. They had to do a valuation of the property before division could take place. The executor gathered all the master's property and assigned it a value. This included all the slaves, land, livestock, farm implements, crops, livery, etc. What was interesting was that a male slave was given the same value as a horse. A female slave was equal to a cow. A child slave was equal to a pig. The southerners fully recognized that black people were human beings, yet the value of these human beings was no more than livestock! Disgusting!

This was my favorite quote from this book (Samantha Style).
"In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death."

This book relays vicious acts of barbarity, heartless manipulation of people to keep them subservient and ignorant, and is full of reflections on the disgusting practices utilized that hurt both slave and slave-holders.

READ IT! (BTW...it is also available for free and downloadable on the internet.)

03 June 2009

36. On The Road

On The Road - Jack Kerouac

This book was suggested by a friend who is a bit further on in years than myself. He said it was one of the books that defined a generation and was a tremendous influence on people he knew. I read a few reviews on line and they seemed to back him up in his assessment of the book.

In my opinion this book is not all that great. I did not enjoy reading it, nor did I find the writing particularly good. There is a note at the beginning of the book that is kind of like a short bio of the author. In that note it says that Kerouac called his writing "spontaneous prose". I will agree with that. It did seem that it just flowed out. This happened. Then this happened. Describe some stuff along the way. There was no real plot. There was no real story line. Just a list of places these guys went, who they met there, which club they went to, who they screwed over, and then move on the the next place where the same thing repeats. What I think is that the people themselves and not a string of events were the actual story.

This was just a few people who thought they were cool for being lazy, conning other people, messing with peoples emotions, being shallow and self-indulgent, always thinking about what they wanted and where they would get the next "kick". I found nothing interesting about people acting like that...just screwing everyone else and walking away like it was all just fine in the big scheme of things. Punks!

The only part of the book I did enjoy was pretty close to the end. The road trip to Mexico City was interesting. I think it is because they did not look to screw people over on that trip. They were in awe of the things they saw and the people they encountered. That was how they should have been all along.

To Kerouac's credit, the way he defined his characters in the writing ensured I understood who they were and their motivations. His descriptions were excellent. At the same time, the descriptions of other things were distracting. He spent a lot of time writing allegory and metaphors to describe jazz music and musicians. I could not stand when he did that.
One thing I never did understand is why Sal even liked Dean at all. Everyone else seemed to tolerate Dean and eventually shunned him. Sal didn't. I don't get it. The dude was all about himself, all the time. He stole cars just for fun. He had three wives and four kids spread out all over the country. He would drop his family and friends at any moment just for fun. He was an ass. So, what was it that Sal saw in Dean that made him keep hanging out with this loser rather than some of the other folks that were less dickish?
The "beat generation" language was initially distracting, but I got used to that as I read further into the story. Kerouac used the word "hincty" a number of times. I looked it up. It is a slang word originating around 1920-1925 meaning conceited or snobbish.
I am glad I read it, but I must admit that I wanted to put it aside and move on to something else. I finished this one due to sheer will-power. I would not suggest you read it unless you feel like reading something...something...I don't even know how to describe it. :-)