Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The kids I babysat last night behaved less like hyperactive monkeys than usual, so I had time to finish The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler. In this one, Philip Marlowe gets involved in the world of Hollywood when he tries to find the brother of the titular character. There was such a sense of weariness with Los Angeles, and Hollywood in particular, in this book. "Real cities have something else, some individual bony structure under the muck. Los Angeles has Hollywood - and hates it. It ought to consider itself damn lucky. Without Hollywood it would be a mail-order city. Everything in the catalogue you could get better somewhere else." The city is as much a character in this book as Marlowe himself and they become inseparable in the reader's mind. When Marlowe reminisces about the simpler, earlier Los Angeles, he is also mourning his own loss of innocence.

Anyway. I discovered that the beginning of James Crumley's The Wrong Case is nearly identical to this book's. I'm assuming it was an homage, although if I'd read this one first, it probably would've pissed me off.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I finished up King Dork by Frank Portman this weekend. It took me a while to finish it because I had other things going last week, but I really enjoyed it. It's about Tom (who dubs himself the King Dork) and his friend Sam, who have a band (or would if only they could find a drummer) and are outcasts at their high school. Tom discovers his father's books in the basement and starts using them to try and figure out why his father died. Along the way he has to endure the trials of high school: bullying jocks, burnt out teachers, being ignored by all girls, etc. The mystery was more of a MacGuffin, but I loved the main characters Tom and Sam and their determination to start a band, although I'm glad my high school experience wasn't as brutal as theirs. Or as mind-numbing, thank goodness. (I never had to read Catcher And The Rye once for a class.) And I must be seriously out of touch with teenage girls if they all go around dispensing sexual favors like sticks of gum. On the other hand, that could be why I wasn't that popular...


Monday, April 17, 2006

I've got about three pages of notes that I took while reading Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture by Ariel Levy. If it had been my own copy I read, it would be full of underlining and comments in the margins and big old exclamation marks everywhere. Basically Levy argues that the current rise of raunch culture and mainstreaming of porn is left over from unresolved conflicts between the feminist movement and the sexual revolution. She traces how those two cultural changes started out hand in hand, but parted ways over the issue of pornography. In one section she compares contemporary female chauvinist pigs to "Uncle Tom's, " which she defines as those "...who deliberately [uphold] the stereotypes assigned to his or her marginalized group in the interest of getting ahead with the dominant group." For contrast I wish she'd spent some time on those who have subverted the stereotypes or played with them to highlight their absurdity, which I think could have provided an interesting tangent. There's a brief anecdote she shares about interviewing Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla (then of The Man Show) about the kind of women they hang out with that was very telling:

"'What kind of women do you hang out with?' I asked them.
Kimmel looked at me like I was insane. 'For the most part,' he said, 'women don't even want to hang out with their friends.'
And there it is. The reason that being Robin Quivers or Jen Heftler or me, for that moment when I got it, is an ego boost but not a solution. It can be fun to feel exceptional - to be the loophole woman, to have a whole power thing, to be an honorary man. But if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven't made any progress."

I've been that "loophole woman" way too many times. She also discusses the way sex is used as currency, something "you accumulate to increase your status" and how young women especially have little or no idea about the physical mechanisms of desire and attraction because sex is so tied to power and status. Another statement she made that I found interesting seems to imply that there is a lack of cultural maturity that contributes to the situation:

"We are still so uneasy with the vicissitudes of sex we need to surround ourselves with caricatures of female hotness to safely conjure up the concept 'sexy.' When you think about it it's kind of pathetic. Sex is one of the most interesting things we as humans have to play with, and we've reduced it to polyester underpants and implants. We are selling ourselves unbelievably short."

There is also a section on bois and gender play in the lesbian community that I didn't feel was as successful as the other sections, but that could be because I'm not as involved in that scene and the other things she discusses are unavoidably mainstream. Anyway. Coincidentally, while I was reading this Pink was all over the talk shows performing and discussing "Stupid Girls," which essentially encapsulates the message of this book into an extremely catchy song.

After all that I needed a break, so I read Haunted by Meg Cabot. It's the latest in a series, I believe, but I didn't really have a problem following the action, although I might have had a stronger negative reaction to Paul if I had encountered him in previous books. It's about a "mediator" who can interact with the dead and help them move on. Think "Ghost Whisperer" but in high school. It was okay, but I definitely prefer Avalon High.


Monday, April 10, 2006

V: I didn't do much this weekend.
Me: Yeah, me either.
V: I just picked out a paint color for the baby's room and did a load of laundry.
Me: I only managed two loads of laundry. My big accomplishment was putting out clean towels. And I saw a movie. Oh, and I read four books.
V: (laughs hysterically) Four books. Yeah, that's nothing.

Friday I finished up A History Of The African-American People [proposed] by Strom Thurmond: a novel "as told to" Percival Everett and James Kincaid, a collection of letters and memos sent back and forth between Strom Thurmond; Barton Wilkes, one of Thurmond's aides; an editor and his assistant at Simon & Schuster; Everett and Kincaid; and various other coworkers and relatives that get sucked in. It's just as funny as the title would suggest and avoids being a one-note satire due to the truly bizarre character of Thurmond's aide.

Saturday I read Big Picture by Percival Everett, a small collection of his short stories. I have a rather ambivalent relationship to short stories, especially when I am a fan of the particular author's novels and this collection does nothing to help me resolve that. I enjoyed them, sure, but not nearly as much as I have Everett's novels.

And then yesterday I read The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, both by Raymond Chandler. Man, these were awesome. I admit to being surprised at the endings, which delighted me. Of the two, I think I prefer FML, because of its seaside locales and colorful characters, but only slightly. Both were fantastic and I'm rushing downstairs to grab his others right now.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Last night I finished up Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss which everyone already read two years ago. That's just how cutting edge I am. It was cute and all, but fairly lightweight.

Anyway. I had the opportunity to participate in a litblogger panel interview thing (here) conducted by Dan Wickett, so if you've stumbled over here from there: welcome! Stick around, suggest a book, etc.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Yesterday evening I barely left the couch, I was so riveted by Intuition by Allegra Goodman. It's the story of a group of researchers in Boston in 1985, working on a cure for cancer. One of them makes a significant breakthrough, which brings the team fame and well-needed funding. However, another one of the scientists begins to suspect that there were some improprieties in the data and tries to make her reservations known. Her efforts have drastic results on the team and on her personally and professionally. It's a tightly focused plot, exciting and smart without being too technical. The characters were entirely believable and the writing was beautiful without being obtrusive. It's definitely one of the best I've read this year.

Friday I finished up Bear V. Shark by Chris Bachelder, a novel set in the indeterminate near future where televisions have no off switch and the biggest event in the country is the fight between a bear and a shark. From the beginning of the book I was struck by the similarities to both Infinite Jest and Feed. Unfortunately BVS didn't ever make me forget either of those titles and suffered in comparison as a result. Even the meta references to DFW didn't help - they just made it apparent that the author was also aware of the similarities. Nice try. I'm not giving up on him entirely, though. I have his next book sitting at home and it sounds more promising, so we'll see how that one goes.


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