Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Report

Before I begin, a couple of more spam email subjects:
"re: size your meat!" Uh, should that be "resize your meat"? And if it should be, does it really mean what I wish to god it didn't mean?
"But that language hasn't always served the comm". No, I guess it hasn't. Or whatever.

I like coming up with my own back-cover blurbs for books I dislike. I read some Patricia Cornwell because my mom had some and I was over at her house and borrowed them. I found the main character, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, repulsive. She is touchy and vain and alcoholic and takes stupid risks and has bad taste in men. I guess all the allegedly great Italian food she fictionally cooks is supposed to make me like her, but I don't. In fact, after reading a few (I like to give an author a fair shot, generally) I told my mom that the series had "The least likeable protaganist since Mein Kampf." (Just so you know, I don't generally lightly toss around Hitler references, except in jest. I am not one of those people who refers to others with the slightest tendency to be nasty as "Nazis." One time, on instant messaging, my boyfriend called me a "grammar Nazi." And I said, "Oh, yeah. Because I have burned six million Jews in my grammar oven." Please.)

When I actively dislike books that other people (a LOT of other people) seem to think are great, I feel like an outcast. I think I used to feel superior in that I preferred to read Middlemarch by George Eliot instead of Craptastic Crapula by Stephen King. Oh, hell, I still feel superior about that. But, lately, I have read two series for "young adults" that were well-reviewed and popular, and have found them to be right down there with Craptastic Crapula in terms of their plots, their writing, their characterization, their, well, just about everything. And I don't feel superior; rather, I am mystified as to why other people like these things. It makes me feel like a freak who belongs to a species other than human.

So, the two series are the (yet-to-be-finished) trilogy by Christopher Paolini (if you haven't seen some "young adult" carrying one of his two books around you either a) don't know any young adults, b) live underwater, or c) are blind, and are thus experiencing this blarg via some sort of your-computer-reads-aloud-to-you technology) and the His Dark Materials trilogy of Philip Pullman.

The first series is written by some home-schooled kid from Montana, and is the most ridiculous amalgamation of The Lord of the Rings, Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea trilogy+one, and Anne McCaffrey's perennially-worsening Dragonrider series. Ridiculous because both extant books combine the worst of Tolkien's epic verbosity (Hey! Numbskulls! This is in EPIC! An EPIC, I TELL YOU!) and McCaffrey's poor continuity, and at the same time lack Tolkien's erudition, McCaffrey's inventiveness (in the first books; the later ones appear to be contributions to the Craptastic Crapula series at which so many authors have tried their hand), and LeGuin's character development, moral center, and general awesomeness.

"But, he's just a kid!" you might say. Yes, he's just a kid, and he therefore DESERVES AN EDITOR WHO WILL TELL HIM THAT THE NEXT TIME A "SINGLE TEAR" TRICKLES DOWN SOMEONE'S CHEEK HE OR SHE (THE EDITOR) WILL SET FIRE TO THE TYPESCRIPT. I am not joking; in the second book a single tear trickled down someone's cheek at least six times. I lost count after that. The editor should also get a bullhorn, stand behind our friend Christopher as he works, and shout through it "STEP AWAY FROM THE THESAURUS" at regular intervals. Either Knopf Books sucks, or their editors all died in some kind of plague (maybe hantavirus?). So, they should either be ashamed of themselves, or I should send them a sympathy card and a wreath (how would such a card go? "Dear Knopf, I am sorry to hear about the massive hantavirus-induced editor die-off at your company. It is sad for the families, and for all of your readers who believe that when people cry, they generally cry more than one tear. If it's only worth one tear, then it's not worth crying over; similarly, if a person is so strong as to only let one tear fall, surely that person has the willpower to make NO TEARS FALL AT ALL. Respectfully, A Friend). I fear for the next book. And I wonder how much the upcoming movie version of the first book will make strong and right-thinking men and women want to shed single tears.

Pullman's series is less egregious, in that he actually seems to know both the denotations and connotations of the words he uses, and in that his plot is more nearly original. However, his two main characters are annoying; much as I might have wanted to like them, I was thwarted by the fact that they were conniving, murderous, wise beyond their years (in the worst made-for-TV-movie style), and motivated by mysterious forces. Not mysterious forces in the world of the book, which they are also motivated by, but by ACTUALLY mysterious forces. Like, I have no idea why the hell these kids do more than half of the things they do.

Also, the book is totally anti-Christian. You would think that, since I'm an atheist, I would be all over that like a cheap suit or a bad toupee. But I prefer my anti-Christian literature to have more reason, and less pre-teen sex. Oh, yes, you heard me. The main characters, who are twelve at the end of the trilogy, are referred to as "lovers." And, evidently, their "love" SAVES THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Now THAT is hot. My love can't even save a used stick of gum. Maybe I'm just jealous. Or, maybe, I think that if you are going to have three books that are all about, in the end, killing God, you should have something more believable than the idea that pre-teen sex saves the universe. Hell, maybe pre-teen sex regularly saves the universe, and I just don't know it, because I'm ignorant like that.

Anyway, these books won a lot of prizes. And I read all three, because I like to finish what I start (no, I don't. I just didn't have anything else out from the library that I wanted to read instead. And the mysterious forces were sort of soothing, in a way), and I thought they were interesting in some ways, but overall heavy-handed. Like when you are re-reading along in the Narnia series, as a adult, and you can just about swallow the whole Aslan-as-Jesus stuff in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but you really, really don't want to read The Last Battle again, and not because Narnia gets destroyed, but because since Armageddon is already a metaphor, you don't see the point in having a kid's book make a metaphor of it. Heavy-handed.

Even though they go on and on about how bad it is to teach kids an anti-Christian message, and they call the books "blasphemy", I think that the Catholic Culture website actually has some good points to make about some of the problems with the books, not least of which "The first two volumes of the trilogy--despite their designation as young-adult fare--should also be considered strictly adult fiction, given their high quotient of torture and violence." I should like these books: they bash the Church, they elevate science, God dies, whatever. But the anti-Christian message is both crude and incomplete. There is still a whole bunch of spiritual mumbo-jumbo about the soul and the spirit. Also "dark matter" is the same thing as "angels" but is also (somehow) the same thing that causes consciousness, which allegedly distinguishes "people" (some of the conscious creatures in some of the worlds in Pullman's trilogy aren't human) from animals. I really don't see how spiritualism is somehow all that much better than organized religion. I mentioned I'm an atheist, right? I guess I'm what you would call a Complete and Total Atheist, not a New Age Believe in Oneness or Some Other Mystical Crap but Not in God Per Se Atheist. Therefore, for me, Pullman's replacement of God with some other spiritual stuff is scarcely helpful.

Okay, now I have slipped into a tirade (you may have thought that it happened earlier, but you were wrong. I know my tirades when I see them. The rest was just, like, opinions, man). So, I guess I'm done. I wished I could have liked these books. But they seemed so, so eager to get across a "message" that I really found them tiresome. Especially since I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, which actually does get across a message, but is subtle and well-written and just really really great.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Excellence in Titling

I'm interested in urban exploration, though I am too law-abiding to actually do much of the trespassing-on-abandoned-sites-and-taking-groovy-pictures type of exploration, as seen on the Dark Passage or Ars Subterranea sites. You see, I, like Socrates, would rather die than break the law of my land. That's not true. Actually, I'm generally just too chickenshit to do things like train-hop and trespass.

Today I found the best-named urban exploration site ever: Friends of Vast Industrial Concrete Kafkaesque Structures. This cannot be topped, I don't care what anybody else says.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Oh, I guess I should put titles on these post things

I tend to be fairly in love with the varying trends of email spam subject lines. For a long time it was aaaallllll aaabbouuuuuut exxtraaaa letteeeerrs, lord knows why (actual example, because I actually saved some subject lines from that era: "Thiis is whaaaaaaat the poooorn staaaaaaars use". Iiiiiit iiiiis? Whoooo kneeeeeew?). Lately, there has been a trend of "It's me, (name of person that they hope is somehow familiar so that you will open the spam, but that is usually something like "Chrysogen" or "Axella" because the random name generators seem to be either from the 19th century or an alternate-reality England)."

Today I got:
"Re: christmas schistos"
Okay, so, it's getting on towards Christmas. It makes sense to try and fool me with a holiday reference. But SCHISTOS? You know, like Schistosoma mansoni, the parasite that comes from human poop and grows in snails and causes bilharzia and makes it so you can't walk barefoot anywhere near the shore of Lake Victoria in Kenya. Yeah, I think I really want to read THAT email. And I love the "Re:", as though I sent mail with that subject and they are just replying to it. Happy Christmas Schistos, from My Family to Yours!

I also got:
"logos Root"
This one was really funny to me, but only because I have read too much Neal Stephenson. Or, maybe, not enough Neal Stephenson. Which reminds me, I am obviously really behind the times but I just learned from the interweb this week that the "cool" name for one genre of literature I enjoy is "steampunk."

This one is a thing of beauty:
"Burroughs truly feared a word virus, an idea he"
I think the thing I like best about it is that the sentence is incomplete. Guess the word virus got it!

"nitrogen fixer" (I guess I do need some compost. How did they know?)
"Re: incompatibl" (Another "Re:", but this one suggesting I can't spell.)

And, finally:
"Be strong,"
Oh, I'll try. Believe me; I'll try.