“Crash” (Post 1/2)

Crash 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2 [October 24]


 

J.G. Ballad’s controversial 1973 novel. I read a Picador paperback borrowed from a friend (Thanks, man – I almost spent $15 on this one). 

1 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: Yes. In fact, I own the movie. It works much better than the book.

The Plot:

James Ballard, a forty-year-old television commercial producer, becomes obsessed with car crashes after killing a man (and nearly losing his own life) in an accident.

I debated whether it was worth making a post for this one and not just slapping Crash on my 10 Worst Read this year and calling it a day. As I said with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (review), there’s no point writing a review if nothing constructive can come of it. Let’s see what we can get out of Crash.

I’ll start with the compliments: Ballard knows how to write. He knows exactly what he’s doing and is in complete control. Some early passages read like poetry; an incredible mix of organic elements described clinically and inorganic elements infused with life. Until around page 30, I was blown away by what was being presented and ready for the story to get rolling. But by page 30 you have all you’ll get for the next 200 pages. Ballard beats you with a thesis and never switches to plot. He wants to watch your reaction as he rubs your face in biological fluids: semen, vomit, urine, faeces, bile, pus, mucosa, blood (I kept waiting for menstrual blood but he incredibly missed that one).

We’re told on the first page that Vaughan will die in a crash. Everything that comes after simply leads back to that point without any surprises on the way. Unless homosexual sex during an LSD trip is your definition of mind-blowing, Crash can’t be enjoyed for its literal plot. It’s simply worthless. It’s ready-made for ambitious literary types to dissect and reconstruct – applying the merging of sexuality and technology and the ability for humans to fetishize anything to our modern age. Vehicles are the physically largest and most powerful device that most humans get the opportunity to control. Most of us never imagine using them for anything other than their intended purpose. All that power that people never explore. We’re fascinated by wrecks – the speed and brutality, the ability for a single vehicle to change and end the lives of others. And everyone who travels on the road – as driver or passenger – is playing the largest game of Russian Roulette every moment. I get it. I get the symbol of the car. I get that you can push many buttons by forcing people to get down close and look at wounds and scars and distorted sexuality. But I also expect the relationship between author and reader to have some respect at its core.

Crash is like a guest slapping you in the face in your living room until they decide they’re finished. Some people might be all right with that. They may even find it an interesting experience. I turn against authors who can only communicate through abuse. Continue reading

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“The Last Picture Show” (Post 2/2)

Last Picture Show 02[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


[27]

Sonny quit arguing – he really didn’t know how to argue against a whole crowd. He never had even wanted to before.

(p.87)

[28] Reference:

He soon left her and went back to Bossier City, Louisiana, where he came from.

(p.87)

Bossier City is a suburb of Shreveport, Louisiana. As of the 2010 census, Bossier City had a population of 61,315.

[29]

She was silent a moment. “Do you know what it means to be heartbroken?” she said. “It means your heart isn’t whole, so you can’t really do anything wholeheartedly.”

(p.97)

Continue reading

“The Last Picture Show” (Post 1/2)

Last Picture Show 01[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Larry McMurtry’s 1966 novel, the last of his Thalia trilogy. I read a Penguin Contemporary American Fiction edition.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1 

Seen the Movie: Not yet. It’s been on my watchlist for years – I need to get to it.

The Plot:

Teens don’t have much to do in small-town Thalia, Texas. They can visit the pool hall or picture show or bring dates to the lake (and see how far they can go).

Adults of Thalia can regret decisions they made as teens.

This was my first Larry McMurtry book. I have no idea how it took me this long to read his work. I need to read more. The Last Picture Show was fantastic; solid prose, honest and touching without beating the reader over the head with sentimentality. The story takes place in 1951 Texas but some small-town truths are universal and timeless. My upbringing in 1990s Vermont was enough for me to relate to these characters.

My biggest complaint? Sonny’s first girlfriend (Charlene) drops off the face of the earth after he breaks up with her. In a town as small as Thalia with so few social groups, I don’t see how they could have gone on without running into each other. And if McMurtry was just using Charlene as a pawn to get Sonny to make his next decisions, I don’t know why she was given so much personality and screen time in the opening chapters.

But that’s it. Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything else about this book. Continue reading

“Player Piano” (Post 2/2)

Player Piano 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


[21]

“I want to be sure you understand that men really do worry about what there is for their sons to live for; and some sons do hang themselves.”

“And this is as old as life itself,” said Paul.

“Well?” said Lasher.

“Well, it’s too bad. I’m certainly not overjoyed about it.”

(p.83)

[22]

The kitchen was, in a manner of speaking, what Anita had given of herself to the world. In planning it, she had experienced all the anguish and hellfire of creativity – tortured by doubts, cursing her limitations, at once hungry for and fearful of the opinions of others. Now it was done and admired, and the verdict of the community was: Anita was artistic.

(p.95)

This is clearly sarcasm. Paul (and Vonnegut) look down on Anita for caring and toiling over home design. But listen: Anita is doing this right. She understands exactly what reality she’s living in and how to find worth. She doesn’t sit around moping about how bored and empty and worthless her life is, she’s doing something and I applaud her even if Vonnegut wants to be snooty.

Continue reading

“Player Piano” (Post 1/2)

Player Piano 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

 Post 2


Kurt Vonnegut’s debut novel, published in 1952. I read a battered and burned Dell Laurel Paperback.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

The Plot:

In the years since The Last War, America has entered an age of perfect mechanization and human comfort. Doctor Paul Proteus, son of a legendary engineer, rejects his role as plant manager, wanting something more than subservience to machines.

Player Piano is Kurt Vonnegut’s vision of the near-future from a 1950s perspective. Not every author can be H.G. Wells or Arthur C. Clarke. Vonnegut gets most of it wrong; even by the 1960s, he would have seen how wrong. He assumes computers will remain cumbersome, hulking things used for production and work. There’s no place for technology as entertainment in Player Piano (beyond television) and this is where he really bungles things up.

In Player Piano, regular men – the ones without the high IQs required for engineering jobs – sit around all day with every comfort in the world but nothing to do and therefore no way to justify their existence. Women (except for one female secretary), have nothing to do but watch television; their housework and chores have been taken away, you see. What else is there to do?

Oh, I don’t know: be artistic, read, write, go for walks, play sports – people can find fulfillment and worth in almost any situation. Sit a man in a dark room for long enough and he’ll create a fantasy world to nurture. Boredom is 99% self-imposed. These people simply have no motivation. It has nothing to do with the machines.

So, on a base level, I can’t sympathize with the complaints of Player Piano. But I’ve grown up with technology. I’m quite happy to put my laundry in a machine and read a book while the machine’s hard at work. I’m guessing most people my age (and under) feel the same way. Player Piano will cease working as a narrative at all (if it even works now) in the next couple of decades. If this book is remembered, it will be for two reasons: 1) It was Vonnegut’s first and 2) Its predictions are wrong enough to be an amusing oddity.

Continue reading

“The Salmon of Doubt”

Salmon of Doubt

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

A posthumous collection of essays, interviews, speeches, short and unfinished fiction by Douglas Adams, released in 2002. I read a Dell Rey paperback edition.

4 out of 5 stars.

The longest piece – and focus – of this collection is the unfinished Dirk Gently project “The Salmon of Doubt.” Ultimately, that’s the least interesting thing here – and that’s not a knock against the story. Reading Douglas Adams charmingly muse about his nose, manta rays, atheism, and technology is the real treat, reminiscent of Richard Feynman’s memoirs (some of the most delightful books I’ve ever read).

Most of what I quote will not have the essay/story name attached. Many of the segments in The Salmon of Doubt don’t have proper titles and it’s not essential to know where the quote comes from to understand the worth of it (or my questions). Continue reading

Stephen King Top 10 Novels

Top 10 g

[Explanation of Ratings]

Stephen King Week Introduction


 

11.22.63

10. 11/22/63 (2011)

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Mini-Series: No.

The Plot:

Jake Epping has the chance to go back in time and stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Problem is, he has to start at 1958 and live out the five years leading up to it.

11/22/63 is the only book in my Top 10 that I’ve only read once. I don’t feel a pressing need to go back but I was impressed on my first readthrough. The concept alone is intriguing enough to draw me in (time traveling that is limited to one point in time) but I also spent years studying the Kennedy assassination and wanted to see how King handled the events. He does an excellent job combining historical elements and his fictional characters and I admire him for sticking with the Oswald-acted-alone narrative. Continue reading