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23 November 2005 @ 10:00 pm
I just finished Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It took me a little
less than 6 hours to read cover-to-cover and finishing it stirred some
thoughts in the back of my crazy little mind.

Pre-Mejii Japanese Literature, particularly Bhuddist literature, is
constantly themed a concept that is called mujo. This roughly
translates into english, or so I'm told, as impermanence. The basic
premise is that nothing that man does is permanent, so an attachment to
these things will lead to nothing but suffering. American Gods
and equally Douglas Adam's The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul,
and from a different angle Terry Pratchett's Small Gods all
exploit this concept. The question asked by both novels- in their own
round-about ways is: "What happens to gods after we humans no
longer need them?"

These novels posit that humans have the power to create permanent
beings- gods, from their force of belief. However, humans are
inconstant, ever changing. If we have the ability to create gods and
these gods are permanent but who live on faith, what happens when our
minds, like butterflies, flit to the next idea and gods no longer hold
our fascination.

Both American Gods and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
tackle this question using the Norse pantheon as the primary vehicle. In
Tea-Time, Odin is portrayed as an aged broken man who wants nothing more
than a clean bed with crisp linens for him to sleep in... all day. In
Gods, Odin is a much more complicated being, having been brought over to
North America by the Norse in early history. However, once the gods were
brought to America, they were quickly forgotten. Odin is portrayed as a
petty grifter and the other party in this massive con, Loki, is
portrayed as a two-bit criminal. They both work in concert to force a
war amongst the old and new gods. This war is a complex swindle to
irrevocably strengthen both cons. Tea-time's premise is similar except
that instead of a war, Thor is trying to stop Odin from selling Asgard
to some record executives.

All three of the novels that I mentioned describe how gods shrink in
relative power depending on the constancy and true faith of their
believers. In Small Gods Om becomes a turtle... Though he has
a huge church he only has one true believer. In American Gods
and Tea-Time the forgotten gods while away the time in the cracks of
civilization as grifters (Odin), whores (Biliquis), and petty thieves
(Loki). There are select few people who can see these new gods: Kate
Schecter (Tea-time), Shadow (American Gods), Brutha (Small Gods) are
among them. These characters are bridges, paths that allow us to
understand the effect our impermanent minds and lives have on those
we create.

In subtle ways, these books also ask "if we're impermanent; why must we
invent permanent gods?" The question isn't explicitly answered, but
through the actions of the protagonists (even Dirk Gently), we can
discern an answer. What these books want us to believe is that humans
need to believe in something greater than themselves. Thus the
permanence of gods. However, if we look deeper, we notice that it's not
just that we need something to believe. It's also that as humans,
we don't often recognize our own impermanence. The 'Personal
Anthropic Principle' means that we create permanent gods because deep
inside ourselves, the world only matters to us because
we're in it. Thus, we are permanent (as far as it
matters- individually) and so are our gods.

The conflict that develops isn't just God v. God v. Man but subtly,
critically, Humanity v. Humanity's creations. Once the protagonists
began to get a grip in the situation, their actions are dedicated
halting the onslaught, the change that will make everything different
and wrong. In Tea-time, Kate and Dirk aren't successful, Odin's
contract is honored and the gods of Asgard are expelled so that the new
owners can redecorate. In American Gods, Shadow and Laura are
successful in restoring the status quo and no more.

(x-posted in my personal journal)
23 October 2005 @ 11:15 pm
This is less a review than a collection of my impressions upon finishing the book, adapted from my book journal. Probably of more interest to anyone who's already read it, although I've been careful to avoid any blatant spoilers. Overall I enjoyed this book a great deal and would recommend it to anyone who likes novels that explore relationships and the nature of life and, of course, time. This is not science fiction, but some interesting ideas about time travel are presented.

This was the most interesting book. A fascinating premise--a man who can time travel, and the effects of that ability on his life, indeed how that ability shapes his life and that of the woman who becomes his wife. Niffenegger focuses, in particular, on the relationship he, Henry, has with his wife, Clare, whom he meets when she is a girl while time travelling. It is not, however, a book about time travel. Nor is it really about love, even though this is a love story. I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what the book is about, all told. Nothing really emerged as a central point to it all, because even though she sets out certain philosophies or points of view about being and time (and yes, there are oblique and not so oblique references to Heidegger), about destiny and inevitability, about free will and choice, these ideas are not returned to often enough in relevant ways for you to feel any sense of revelation at the end of the book.

This is not a book of science fiction, so the "scientific" aspects of time travel take a back seat to the philosophical questions. It is interesting, however, how she establishes her own rules and conventions for time travel, although sometimes in a very obvious way (reminds me of contemporary vampire novels in that regard, choosing to follow or discard certain literary or folkloric conventions, such as effects of sunlight or religious artifacts, for instance). The disease concept as explanation for the time travel anomaly is interesting, especially the genetic component, but because the story is so focused on the individual, the wider social implications are not explored, such as why a time travel mutation even exists and what purpose it would serve.

Possible spoilers aheadCollapse )
22 August 2005 @ 11:21 pm
True to his form, Chuck Palahniuk (Haunted, Fight Club) offers one hell of a fun ride in Survivor. This novel, told from the point of view of main character Tender Branson, details his life as one of the two hundred and some remaining survivors of the Nebraska-based Creedish death cult.

The first thing the reader notices about the story before even story begins with Chapter 47 on page 289 and counts down from there. Chapter 47 explains that Tender is alone in an airplane he hijacked earlier. The passengers deplaned and the last pilot aboard parachuted out. Then Tender begins telling his story to the flight recorder “black box.”

As the story progresses, he becomes the only survivor after the questionable suicides of all the other remaining survivors. He’s turned into an overnight celebrity of his own “feel good” religious conglomerate (think Anthony Robbins; “a media-made messiah,” as Publishers Weekly puts it) by an agent and the events spiral even more out of control. The one constant in Tender’s life is Fertility Hollis, a woman who can see the future in her dreams.

As I’ve come to expect from Palahniuk, the book is written very, very tightly (every single word is important in some way), with a mix of intricate detail and big picture design. The way that he sprinkles the story with alternating paragraphs that comment on it in very matter-of-fact manner is sheer brilliance:
“Do you know,” Adam says and swallows, “do you know what happens to men in prison? You know what happens. Don’t let that happen to me.”

A magazine nearby says, Backdoor Gang Bang.

I’m not going to deliver him to Heaven.

“Then destroy how I look,” Adam says. “Make me so monstrous no one will ever want me.”

A magazine says, Anal Fixation.
In such a way, Palahniuk is able to interject very short, very biting commentary as if it comes from a different narrator (perhaps even Fate — a recurring but inconspicuous theme throughout this and other Palahniuk books) instead of Tender Branson.

I recommend Survivor to anyone with an intellectual sense of humor. It won’t appeal to those who’d rather watch The Bachelorette than Family Guy, but if satire, sarcasm, and wit are your cup of tea, this book should be at the top of your reading list. It serves as much as a commentary of “celebrated celebrities,” the pharmaceutical age, get-rich-quick schemes, Bill Clinton, and self-help gurus as anything else, and it does it with panache, skill, and wicked entertainment. And, hey, you already know it’s only 289 pages before you even begin!
22 August 2005 @ 10:38 pm

I keep a book journal (and have done since 2000) so that I can keep track of books I've read and record my impressions of the book. These aren't reviews, and rarely include much of a synopsis about what the book's about. But if anyone else has read the book, maybe it could inspire some dialogue. The following is my impression of a book I particularly loved, and will definitely have to reread. Has anyone else read this?

A River Sutra, Gita Mehta  (Read February 2001)

A superbly lovely book! The stories woven through this river tapestry are mesmerizing, compelling, full of emotion and heart. I really like the final message, or rather, the undercurrent, the central aphorism or "sutra" of the river: that is, that true "enlightenment" happens in the world, not out of it. That you don't need to remove yourself from humanity, find solitude or deny yourself community in order to find your "self," or perhaps attain is appropriate, given the Indian philosophy. The "truth" is in relationship, as all of these stories suggest--the power, promise and love of relating to and with other human beings. At the same time, she does not denounce the philosophy or mythology, but celebrates the richness of the culture.


16 August 2005 @ 01:38 pm
There was an article in this last month's Writer's Digest about blogging and copyrights. I felt the need to repost the exact Q & A because I'm sure some of you will find it as interesting as I do.

Writer's Digest, August 2005, Page 23

Blogging away rights?

Q: Does having a story posted on a blog or an online writer's forum mean that first-time electronic media rights can't be sold to a publication? Does it mean that you've already used your first serial rights, too? What should I tell an editor when submitting a piece I've posted on my blog, even if only 50 people have read it? -- Adrian Lankford

A. If you've published something online, whether by blog or online writer's forum, you can't sell your first electronic media rights elsewhere, says WD legal expert Amy Cook. It doesn't matter if 10 million people see it or 50 people see it, it's still been posted on the Web - other publishers don't have a chance to be the first to print your work, online or otherwise.

"Technically, publishing online is having the piece published, so you may not be able to sell first rights at all," Cook says. "Most contracts require you to warrant that the piece hasn't been 'printed or published in any form.'"

As long as you notify an editor, however, you might be able to work something out with a publication.
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
15 August 2005 @ 10:07 pm
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand:

I found The Fountainhead to be a very well written study on the self-sufficient ego versus altruism. I have no profound observations on the book that have not already been made by countless others so I would just like to quote an excerpt and offer a good recommendation. It took me a LONG time to read this book- but I’m a slow reader and it is summer. I’m sure it can be devoured quickly by others more motivated than me.

“Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched. The things which are sacred or precious to us are the things we withdraw from promiscuous sharing. But now we are taught to throw everything within us into public light and common pawing. To seek joy in meeting halls. We haven’t even got a word for the quality I mean-for the self-sufficiency of man’s spirit. It’s difficult to call it selfishness or egotism, the words have been perverted....
...I think the only cardinal evil on earth is that of placing your prime concern with other men. I’ve always demanded a certain quality in the people I liked. I’ve always recognized it at once- and it’s the only quality I respect in men. I chose my friends by that. Now I know what it is. A self-sufficient ego. Nothing else matters.”

There are hundreds of more quotes that are equally as thought provoking and revealing as to the nature of the novel. If you like what you’ve read above- read the book for yourself. It is certainly based around philosophy but the characters are well developed and I found the plot interesting (centered around architecture which was my favorite subject in college). It is beautifully written and I am extremely envious of Rand’s vocabulary.

One parting thought. I told wickedsin earlier today how easily influenced I am by well-written books without even thinking of the cold, hard evidence I had offered up to her through my actions. This book is about the self-sufficient ego. I deleted my public journal today for really no reason at all. I just had a whim, or so I believed. Upon further thought- of course I deleted my public journal. I have been influenced by The Fountainhead. I am striving to reach the glorified, “self-sufficient” ego. Funny. Or is it?
09 August 2005 @ 08:13 am
I finished up a really amazing book last night. It's called My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

So very, very, very good. There's an extremely unexpected twist at the end that had me sobbing. SOBBING! Please go and read. Hurry.

Here's what Amazon.com says:

Kate Fitzgerald has a rare form of leukemia. Her sister, Anna, was conceived to provide a donor match for procedures that become increasingly invasive. At 13, Anna hires a lawyer so that she can sue her parents for the right to make her own decisions about how her body is used when a kidney transplant is planned. Meanwhile, Jesse, the neglected oldest child of the family, is out setting fires, which his firefighter father, Brian, inevitably puts out. Picoult uses multiple viewpoints to reveal each character's intentions and observations. Picoult ably explores a complex subject with bravado and clarity, and comes up with a heart-wrenching, unexpected plot twist at the book's conclusion.

X-posted to recommendit and lithound.
04 August 2005 @ 06:17 pm
Just a quick post to suggest that everyone read "Smashed" by Koren Zailckas.

I picked it up only because she's a Syracuse alum and therefore I heard a lot about the book just before it was released this year, but as it turns out I thought the book was wonderfully written- she's a very insightful, talented girl. I probably related even more because many things she described about SU were familiar, but the book was mainly about her alcohol abuse throughout adolescence, college, and into her post-college years. Anyone who's blacked out, or been hung over, or done something they wish they didn't will relate. Anyone who's ever drank, starved, cut, or any other form of self-destruction in order to function, or be more social, or calm some anxiety within, will relate. And those of us who are attempting to pick up the pieces can relate all the more to her anger by the end of the book, an anger at, in her words, a "world that won't rescue girls until we're long past the point of saving."

I'm reading a couple Jane Austen's next- Sense & Sensibility and Emma, because Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books and I've never read anything else by Austen (though I did just read "The Jane Austen book club" by Karen Joy Fowler, which I'd also recommend).
30 July 2005 @ 01:00 pm
It seems the communtiy is picking up a bit lately, so i would like to take this opportunity to address a issue near and dear to my heart. The misunderstood "Romance novel". Now I am a fan of almost all genres of literature, but I have a particular soft spot for romance novels. Bodice rippers if you will.

Currently I am reading the Skye O'Mally saga by Beatrice Small. I hate the looks I get for reading a BR on the train or from my friends who chuckle. I'm a feminist. I'm a realist as well. I prefer historical romance novels. The O'Mally books take place during Elizabeth's reign in the 16th century. The book gives a fairly accurate picture of life in that era. The politics, the harshness of the peasantry, the oppulance of the nobility and the sex parts ain't bad either! The book takes a lot of time to explain who is ruling what country and why it came to occur. It also "talks" about the religious upheave that was happening to the Catholic Church in that time.

Most women in romance novels are strong role models. They are not simpering ninnys being rescued by a super spy, but intelligent, stubborn and hard working. The information of the era is accurate and the story is well developed and detailed. The sexy parts are a small portion of the story.

So, the next time you see a girl reading a romance novel, don't be so quick to judge. She may know her history better than you due to that book!
01 August 2005 @ 11:16 pm
Hey everyone. I think this is my first post, so *waves*.

I just finished 72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell. It's about a mother's struggle to get help for her bipolar daughter and how difficult it is because her daughter is 18 and therefore can refuse treatment and/or keep her parents from getting any information about her condition. It's about the lengths the mother goes to to save her daughter, and it's about her refusal to really accept her daughter's mental illness and what it means for both of their lives. This is my favorite passage from the book, which I'd recommend to anyone but especially to anyone who has either struggled with or loved someone who struggled with a mental illness or addiction:

After the devastationCollapse )