THEY'RE REAL DICKENS

Enjoy. It's dreadful, but quite short.

The Exorcist, by William Blatty

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(If you do not know how The Exorcist ends, you may want to avoid the spoilers contained herein.)

I have never been content with the end of The Exorcist film adaptation. I’ve seen the movie a handful of times, and I always come away feeling like the bad guys win, at least a little bit. Perhaps I was distracted by the projectile pea soup or Regan’s neck-swiveling trickery, but it’s been hard to tell what the movie is really about.

Not so with the original source material, which is, above all, a novel about faith and doubt. Understood in that way, its ending is triumphant, and it is much stronger thematically than the iconic film.

In the novel, we inhabit the character’s heads and thus get to experience their wavering between belief and doubt instead of just observing from the outside. The reader is with Chris as she watches her daughter transform into something monstrous and seemingly other . And, more importantly, the reader is with Father Karras, the titular exorcist, as he attempts to discern the role of faith in a world that science has seemingly come to dominate. The novel’s main strength lies in following Karras’ struggle with doubt from the inside, with the frustrating slowness that attends any journey from skepticism to faith. He acts as the reader’s surrogate, testing the spirits for us when we can’t and holding to the standard that reason and skepticism demand.

The novel does have its flaws, and they tend to appear when the story departs from Regan and Karras. Too much time is spent on the subplot involving the investigation of Burke Denning’s death. There is no reason for the story to dwell so long with the detective or the family’s handyman, and the movie is an improvement in that it relegates them to minor roles.

I was surprised by the purple prose, which was the last thing I expected in The Exorcist, of all books. It’s downright painful at times, and there are some truly regrettable similes in here. It almost seems like Blatty was trying to convince readers that this book is respectable, even though it features lots of demonic sexual nastiness and “shocking” graphic content. And I have never seen a writer so misuse and abuse the semicolon — did they not have editors in the seventies?

Basically, it comes down to this:  I didn’t particularly like this book. I was impatient for the first half. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece or anything. However, reading this changed my whole perspective on the Exorcist story, book or movie, and my understanding of Karras’ journey and its culmination in his implicit declaration of faith and subsequent death at the end. I think the novel asks important questions about good and evil, belief and doubt, and says good things about the process of coming to faith.

And I think even its use of repulsive imagery and description was in service of its message, something that was lost in the movie. I was disturbed and disgusted by the things the novel described, and I didn’t want to be reading it (in fact, I very nearly abandoned it). But in the end, I realized this content isn’t gratuitous. It’s central to one of the main questions the book is asking, which is:  if evil/the devil exist — and it’s hard to deny their existence given all the evidence — does it mean that God and good also must exist?

End of Event Meme

  1. Hour 23 was probably the hardest for me.
  2. I would recommend 84, Charing Cross Road for future readers. It’s quite short, being a book of letters, and it’s totally charming.
  3. I guess it’s more up to the people hosting the mini-challenges, but I’d rather winners be chosen based on the quality of their submissions, rather than it being random.
  4. I think it all went just fine.
  5. I finished two books I had already begun and read four other whole books. Roughly 800 pages total!
  6. Books I read:  The Book of Lost Things (Connolly), 84 Charing Cross Road (Hanff), Selected Stories (Dubus), Hiroshima (Hersey), The Return of the Soldier (West), and The Time Machine (Wells)
  7. I enjoyed 84 Charing Cross Road the most. I love reading books about books!
  8. I didn’t much care for The Book of Lost Things. It was well-meaning but sort of incoherent.
  9. I wasn’t a cheerleader this year.
  10. If I remember, I’ll probably participate again. Definitely as a reader. Maybe I’ll host a mini-challenge next time, too.

Book Sentence Challenge!

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“In defense of women, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest at the back of the North Wind — a handful of dust of mice and men (to say nothing of the dog, our mutual friend, for whom the bell tolls in cold blood, pale fire) — where I’m calling from.”

Bit of a run-on, perhaps… 🙂  (I like to think of it as experimental literature.)

Mid-Event Survey

1) Doing pretty well. Don’t feel sleepy at all right now. I’m guessing 11pm or thereabouts will hit pretty hard, though.

2) I finished The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly) and 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff). I’m about 40 pages away from finishing the Selected Stories of Andre Dubus.

3) Favorite read has definitely been 84CCR. Short and sweet and sad.

4) I haven’t really been snacking, unless tea counts.

5) Not yet. Haven’t stopped to look around much. I’ll save that for when I’m getting sleepy and need a change.

Hour 8 Daybreak Mini-Challenge

Possibly one of the kindest mini-challenges, which gave me an excuse to get out and dance around the backyard in the rain. Some pictures:

One of the last flowers remaining from summer:

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Backyard Shots:

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And one of my constant reading companion, looking a bit resentful of my waking him up early this morning:

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Alright, back to reading. I’m nearly done with The Book of Lost Things!

2012 Dewey ReadaThon…It Begins

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My grandfather clock just chimed six, so the readathon has officially begun!  Here is my introductory questionnaire:

1) I’m reading from Colorado!
2) I’m most looking forward to 84, Charing Cross Road, a non-fiction book of letters sent between an American bibliophile, Helen, and a curmudgeonly English bookshop owner, beginning in 1949.
3) I didn’t prepare any special snacks…so I guess I’m looking forward to whatever I can find in the fridge.
4) Fun fact about myself:  My family owns yak.
5) I’ve participated in two readathons before, but I’ve never woken up early enough to actually begin at the official beginning. So this is a first! And I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited, so I’m starting this thing on about three hours of weak slumber. We’ll see how it goes. 

Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-A-Thon 2012

The date for the autumn read-a-thon has been announced — 13 October — and so it’s time to build an overly-ambitious to-read stack, which will probably end up untouched. My participation has been spotty in the past; in fact, I think I have only participated twice since my first in October 2009. And both of those years saw relatively pathetic attempts to read for the full 24 hours, not to mention even sadder attempts to blog about it.

But this year, I am wiser and have this book blog (which has actual updates in it!) to encourage fuller participation. I am more determined to complete it and plan to stock up on my favorite brand of liquid energy. And I have a better strategy for choosing books.

See, if I choose short, trashy books, I may get through several, but I will consider it wasted time. If I choose longer books — trash or otherwise — it makes it all the more difficult to keep up interest and momentum. So this year, I plan to read books that are both classics and relatively short. These are books that I already own, intend to read, and consider worth reading.

So far, I’m thinking these:

  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell – Read it 14 years ago, in 8th grade. Time to revisit.
  • The Pearl, by John Steinbeck – Same story, except it was 9th grade.
  • Hiroshima, by John Hersey
  • Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
  • The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  • A Man For All Seasons, by Robert Bolt
  • Dubliners, by James Joyce
  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  • The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
  • The Tenants, by Bernard Malamud
  • Mouchette, by Georges Bernanos
  • Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley
  • The Return of the Soldier, by Rebecca West

I doubt I’ll get through all of them — and I will likely deviate from the list — but I think it’s a good start.

The Bird Saviors, by William J. Cobb

The Bird Saviors

Book Description

When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, a heartbreaking decision faces Ruby Cole, a girl who counts birds. She must either abandon her baby or give in to her father, whom she nicknames Lord God, and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. She chooses to run, which sets in motion an interlocking series of actions and reactions, upending the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist who is studying the decline of bird populations.  All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder as events spin out of control in a world in which the social fabric and economic structures seem on the verge of falling apart.

Set in a time of economic turmoil, virus fears, climate change, fundamentalist cults and illegal immigrant hardship, The Bird Saviors is a visionary story of defiance, anger, compassion and unexpected love, in which a young woman ultimately struggles to free herself from her domineering father, to raise her daughter in the chaos of the New West, and to seize an opportunity to become something greater herself. In this brilliant new novel, William Cobb offers an elemental and timely vision of resilience and personal survival, but—most of all—of honest hope.

Book Review

This is, perhaps, the vaguest book I have ever read. Set in ambiguous circumstances and populated by indistinct, archetypal characters who seem to have no existence outside of the novel, The Bird Saviors is a pretty murky affair. Still, it is not without its charms.

For me, the novel’s greatest strength is its dialogue, which manages to be both realistic and compelling. When characters were speaking, I was never bored. The descriptive prose is more hit-or-miss for me. It is beautiful and interesting in places, but it also felt tedious at times. There are too many similes, and even though some of them work well, some of them are patently ridiculous (“Her virtue is prickly as cactus but her nipples are like velvet sombreros.” As a reader, what is my response to that sentence supposed to be, other than a sort of horrified incredulity at the fact that someone actually wrote it?).

Most of the characters seem to be stereotypes instead of individuals (over-bearing father; sleazy pawn shop owner; “enlightened” academic; free-spirited teenage girl; big, reticent American Indian who makes cave art). This makes them too familiar and too distant at the same time. Though they have the signs of individual histories, there’s no sense that these characters are people with things that happened to them outside of the events in The Bird Saviors. This made it difficult, though not impossible, for me to empathize with them. I do think Cobb did a good job of introducing a character (Lord God) as an antagonist but then revealing him to be more complex and sympathetic as the book continued.

I think the weakest aspect of this novel is its setting. Not the fact that it’s Pueblo, CO (I’m from Colorado, and of course this would be set in Pueblo), but that it’s also supposed to be somewhat dystopian. The strength of dystopian fiction is the world-building and the circumstances that could only arise in these worlds. With this novel, there is nothing in it that requires the novel to be set in the future (even the near future), and the exact circumstances of the novel are so ill-defined that its supposed setting was a distracting element instead of an asset. Is Cobb just trying to take advantage of the current dystopian trend in fiction? If so, this is a weak attempt. (And since everyone’s already over the whole global warming hysteria, incorporating that doesn’t help either.)

Anyway, this book reminds me of the work of Cormac McCarthy, though The Bird Saviors is not as sharp, not as finely-tuned. Like I said, it has its problems, but it is not without charm. If you like your fiction with spare prose and plenty of ambiguity, this might be your cuppa.

Disclaimer:  I was given a review copy by the publisher.

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man, by Nick Dybek

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man

Book Description
Every fall, the men of Loyalty Island head north from the Olympic Peninsula to spend the winter catching king crab on the Bering Sea. Their dangerous occupation keeps food on the table but constantly threatens to leave empty seats around it.

Cal is too young to go, but he is old enough to feel the tension between his parents over whether he will eventually follow in his father’s wake, and to wonder about his mother’s relationship with John Gaunt, owner of the fleet. Then Gaunt dies suddenly, leaving the business in the hands of his son, who seems intent on selling away the fishermen’s livelihood. As winter comes on, Cal stumbles onto evidence that his father may have gone to extremes to salvage their way of life. His suspicions deepening and his moral compass shattered, he is forced to make a terrible choice.

Book Review

There is a scene in this book where the main protagonists, two fourteen-year-old boys, go see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at the theater in 1984. Afterward, pretending to be Roger Ebert, one boy asks his friend “Thumbs up or thumbs down?” The other boy replies, “The racism here was just too much to overcome. This film strikes me as an apologist’s take on imperialism.” The first boy agrees.

This scene made me realize what felt so off about this book, even when I wanted to like it. And the problem is that the author is far too present. You hear the words coming out of Nick Dybek’s mouth, instead of the mouths of his characters. I mean, this scene is a perfect example: I cannot imagine that response from a fourteen-year-old boy in 1984. It reeks of current political correctness and crit theory speak. (For fun, I looked up Ebert’s original review of Temple of Doom, and there was zero mention of racism or imperialism. He loved the movie without equivocation.)

And that, ultimately, is why this book doesn’t really work. It feels calculated. It feels written and unnatural, the characters indistinct and forced. The author is a product of MFA programs, and When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man is clearly the product of workshops. It makes me sad, really, because I do love the title, the setting, and the premise. But the way it’s written, I felt nothing. Not a thing. Except maybe annoyance at the name-dropping of old records and foreign movies (many of which I actually like).

The dilemma at the heart of the novel is compelling, as is the setting, but the characterization completely sucked the urgency out of all of it. I didn’t feel the protagonists actually wrestling with any of it, and all of the characters speak and act with the same sort of sly quirkiness that in no way resembles any human behavior I’ve ever actually encountered. The only people who felt real to me were those absent for most of the book. And let’s be honest here — nothing much happens until the last 35 pages or so.

There is some nice prose here, and I have a bit of a knee-jerk love for anything having to do with the cold sea. But, for me, the novel doesn’t live up to its fantastic title or cover design, and I just couldn’t get excited about it.

Disclaimer: The publisher gave me a free copy of this book to review.

Hollywood Hypocrites, by Jason Mattera

Hollywood Hypocrites

Book Description

Are you sick of self-important celebrities preaching against “global warming,” yet flying private planes to their countless homes? Fed up with lectures about charity and philanthropy from miserly rockers who will do anything for a tax break? Disgusted by leftist stars decrying the evils of the Second Amendment as their personal bodyguards pack more heat than a Chuck Norris kick to the face?

The same Hollywood loons who got Barack Hussein Obama elected in 2008 will do so again in 2012. That is, unless we muzzle them. Four years ago, Republicans sat back like wimps and let Obama’s celebrity-fueled cool machine steamroll them into electoral smithereens. This time, we must do the steamrolling.

New York Times bestselling author of Obama Zombies and gonzo journalist Jason Mattera takes the first stand with Hollywood Hypocrites, as he slays the Left’s sacred celebrity cows and teaches Obama’s Tinseltown foot soldiers their most important lesson yet: No longer can they attempt to deny Americans the very liberties they use to catapult themselves to prosperity and stardom. In his trademark eye-opening, no-holds-barred, and hilarious style, Mattera puts scores of A-list celebrities, including Sting, Madonna, Bono, Al Gore, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Cameron Diaz, Bruce Springsteen, and many, many more under the microscope to analyze whether they live by the same environmental, health, anti-violence, civil rights, and other policy prescriptions they seek to inflict on Americans. What he uncovers will shock you.

Hollywood’s megaphone is powerful, and the mainstream media’s love affair with the president will roar back with a vengeance when their guy is against the wall. Anyone who thinks Barack Obama’s abysmal first term will be enough to demoralize the Liberal Left Coast from flexing its mediated political muscle is a fool.

It’s time to recognize the marketing and fund-raising power the Hollywood Progressives wield. It’s time to dig into the data and set the record straight. It’s time to turn the media spotlight back on the image makers and prevent the Hollywood elite from hoodwinking American voters once again.

Book Review

I’m having a hard time writing about this book. Yes, it’s a great overview of the gross liberal hypocrisy of Hollywood. Yeah, it’s extremely galling, and I think even liberals would find it interesting, since it documents how these people espouse their same ideals in public and snub them in private. And yes, it’s important to recognize their hypocrisy because, like it or not, these celebrity blowhards do hold political sway (remember, 66% of voters 18-29 went for Obama — you think that would have happened without high profile and popular celebs shilling for him?).

But it seems to me that there’s a more basic truth to gain from the facts in this book. Why is there so much hypocrisy in liberal causes? Do they not really believe in “going green” or the validity of welfare programs or affirmative action? I can’t think of any conservative principle that high-profile conservatives vehemently claim to support but regularly flout. And maybe that’s because, according to Peter Schweizer as quoted in Hollywood Hypocrites, “conservatives who abandon their principles and engage in hypocrisy usually end up harming themselves and their families…liberals who do the same usually benefit.” Maybe this says something about the principles themselves.

Jason Mattera does a great job of emphasizing that he doesn’t blame these Hollywood hypocrites for trying to be “tax efficient” (read: pay less) or for making violent movies or for engaging in capitalism or owning guns or for flying private jets everywhere. What Mattera, and hopefully any reasonable reader, objects to is the fact that these celebs simultaneously demand that other people stop doing such things. These people want you to put YOUR money where THEIR mouth is, even though they have unreasonably big mouths and even bigger wallets. They want to restrict your freedom, knowing they have enough influence and/or dough to sidestep the restrictions.

The only thing I don’t totally appreciate about Jason Mattera is his name-calling. His other book, Obama Zombies, was the same way. Now, it’s obviously used for comedic effect, and it’s NOT hateful or vulgar (like, say, Bill Maher), but I do think it gives detractors something to focus in on so they can ignore the book’s facts and argument.