Spotted: Everything Is Illuminated

The only thing I had ever heard about “Everything Is Illuminated” was that it was a “hipster” book.  I never really knew what that meant, but I also never really doubted it, since most of the time I saw it being carted around by someone who could probably fall into that category.  And the obscure title kind of fits the part.  But then again, I really liked “Infinite Jest,” so what the f@ck do I know.

But then I see this pretty young lady reading it (wearing some sweet sweet riding boots that the wife would love), and she doesn’t really fall into that category.  And now that I know the plot line involves a young American trying to piece together what happened to his family during the Nazi liquidation of Jews in the Ukraine, I think I might have to revisit how I see this book.  Or maybe, you know, read it.


Spotted: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

It’s supposed to hit 90 degrees here in SF today, an event which happens between never and two times a year, so my timing of writing about “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” a book I saw some months ago (over the summer, when it probably was cold), is a bit off.  But timing has never been my strong suit.  More of a weak suit, which, in my mind, is probably made from camel hair and has a stubborn stain of questionable provenance around the crotch area.  But, it is normally pretty cold here.  Never really really Michigan, Boston, Canada cold, but pretty chilly, especially during the summer months.  In fact, believing our Native American Summer (can I do this or is the whole idea of an “Indian” summer just racist and insensitive?  Please tell me.) to be effectively over, this past weekend I decided to make a nice hardy stew that required a 350 degree oven on the first day of our nice little heat wave .  So yeah.  Timing.  Not so good.

But what an awesome title for a book.  So visually mysterious.  You instantly conjure up the image of a a person having just walked in through the door from the outside, stomping the snow off of his/her boots, framed by the howling wind behind, and bundled up from head to toe, the person’s identity is obscured.  Not quite sure what to make of him/her.  Friend?  Foe?  It’s like what a spy would have written him/herself.

Oh wait, ONE DID.

John le Carré  is one of those names I’ve of heard on and off over the years, and I think more than once  phonetically confused with Louis L’Amour, an author who, rather confusingly/paradoxically to me, is an author of Western Fiction and NOT Romance novels with Fabio on the cover.

Turns out John le Carré, aka David John Moore Cornwell, was a spy, having worked for both MI5 and MI6 before turning to full-time writing under his nom de plume.  This is one of his better known works.  I’m preparing to pick this one up on a cold day, maybe while I’m eating a salad and some ceviche.  Just because that seems to be what I do.

Spotted: As I Lay Dying

I’ve actually read this one, believe it or not.  Oddly/Appropriately enough, I read it while my father was slowly succumbing to pancreatic cancer.  I don’t think I picked up the book because of that, but maybe the whole ordeal had put me in the mood to really get into Faulkner.

I didn’t read it while I was in his presence.  I only read it when I was in my own room, or maybe upstairs in the living room.  Or when it was my Mom’s turn to drive us to far flung cities to visit specialists while he slept.  I was worried that he would somehow find out that I was reading a book with such an immediate present-tense expression of death as a title.  And this was for the man who had a 20-year subscription to Playboy and left them very accessible, much to his son’s happiness from ages 8-forever.  And here I was worried that he might find out I was reading Faulkner.  Maybe he’d give an approving nod, that frown that isn’t really a frown because it connotes understanding rather than sadness.  But he never liked half of the books I read.  The only book I got him into was “Still Life With Woodpecker.”  He became a huge Tom Robbins fan.  I ended up borrowing “Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates” from my father.

Part of me thought that maybe I should read it in front of him.  I thought maybe it would say “I am so confident you will be ok that I am completely comfortable reading this, what some might say, horribly inappropriately timed choice of novel right here in front of you.”  Maybe my choice of literature would say what I didn’t think I could say with a straight face.

However as I read the book [SMALLISH SPOILER ALERT], I learned that the son is actually building the mom’s coffin while his mom is still alive, and pretty much right in front of her.  The horror of this scene, for all those involved, solidified my clandestine reading of this book.  But I never stopped reading it.  In fact, I think I continued to read it out of spite for the universe.  I mean, putting the book down would be kind of surrendering to a rather baseless sentimental association that this book, published in 1930, had anything to do with my situation, with my father’s situation, given the senselessness that my closest friend was not going to be around much longer.   Screw it.  I was going to read this book about someone dying while I watched someone die.  Take THAT Universe.  Take THAT senseless void.  I can be just as big of an asshole as you.

I tried to pick up “The Sound and the Fury” years later but was never able to get through it.  I still own “As I Lay Dying.”  I doubt I’ll ever read it again, but I also probably won’t get rid of it either.  It played a rather odd role during a particular time in my life.  When I look at the title, I don’t really feel any particular grief.  Or happiness.  I don’t even remember most of the story.  But I guess it’s a part of me now.

P.S.  I was tempted to refrain from imposing Faulkner’s face on this photo because, for once, this actually is a rather good pic of the person.

P.P.S. Sorry that got dark.  It felt pretty good though.  I did see another “Game of Thrones.”  Maybe I should start a “Game of Thrones” tally.

Spotted: Sure of You

I only finished “Tales of the City” about a month ago (I know I know.  I should have my SF residency revoked).   Which was also recently made into a musical.  And it was only three weeks ago that we found out Mr. Maupin and his husband (and Labradoodle) will be relocating to Santa Fe, citing a desire for “a little more space and some nature.”  A sentiment I think us apartment/condo/tiny house dwellers can well understand.

Fear not, Mr. Maupin.  This city will never forget you.  Exhibit A:

Wherein she was reading Exhibit B:

“Sure of You,” and all of Mr. Maupin’s works, can always be found at Green Apple Books.

Spotted: The Bluest Eye

We saw this young lady reading Toni Morrison’s first novel, the Bluest Eye.

Apparently, because the book looks at racism and child molestation, otherwise known as things that really happen, there have been campaigns to ban it from schools.   Morrison is a frequent contributor to the list of most frequently banned and challenged books, so I’m sure she’s used to the attention.


Spotted: The Jumbee(?)

This reader was wearing a Columbia fleece jacket and hat with a logo from some sort of outdoor adventures outfit.  I figured the book would involve a strong male protagonist physically overpowering his obstacle.  Probably outside.  In the woods.  With his bare hands and, like, his resolve.  The only thing I could make out was the word “Jumbee.”  So you can imagine my surprise when I searched online (you’re welcome Google) for “Jumbee” and “book” and found a book called “The Jumbee” with this as its description:

When Esti Legard starts theater school on Cariba, she’s determined to step out of the shadow of her late father, a famous Shakespearean actor. But on an island rife with superstition, Esti can’t escape the darkness. In the black of the theater, an alluring phantom voice-known only as Alan-becomes her brilliant drama tutor, while in the light of day Esti struggles to resist her magnetic attraction to Rafe, the local bad boy. Toppled sets, frightening rumors of jumbee ghosts, and brewing tropical storms culminate in a tantalizingly spooky finale where romance sizzles and truths are unmasked.  Laced with eerie mystery and the lush scenery of the West Indies, this modern Phantom is perfect for readers who like their love stories served with spine-tingling suspense.

Romance?  Theater?  DRAMA TUTOR?  Now that just can’t be right.  Apparently a Jumbee is a “type of mythological spirit or demon” in the folklore of several Caribbean nations, so it’s quite possible he is reading some other, perhaps more difficult-to-find-out-of-print book about some 18th century British colonialist encountering and tangling with the Jumbees summoned by a local Voodoo Witch MD/PhD in Montserrat.  Yeah.  I like the sound of that.

Spotted: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Growing up, I loved reading the tales spun by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  The mystery and intrigue drew me in and was tempered only by my oscillating feelings of whether Holmes was a misunderstood genius or just an asshole with a knack for observation.  When I saw this title on the train the other day, it reminded me of Sherlock Holmes.  Many of Doyle’s short stories have similar titles.

Turns out I was playing right into the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty author Mark Haddon, whose protagonist, an autistic teenager, actually loves the logical Sherlock Holmes and brings to mind he of the The Seven-Per-Cent Solution himself.  So, good title there Mr. Haddon.  With one glance you had me on 221B Baker Street.

Spotted: So long, see you tomorrow

Well, I won’t, because I’m heading out of town for Memorial Day.  Considering the habitual use of the phrase, I was surprised to see this book turn up in the top results when I googled the title.  The description does sound quite interesting though.

In this magically evocative novel, William Maxwell explores the enigmatic gravity of the past, which compels us to keep explaining it even as it makes liars out of us every time we try. On a winter morning in the 1920s, a shot rings out on a farm in rural Illinois. A man named Lloyd Wilson has been killed. And the tenuous friendship between two lonely teenagers—one privileged yet neglected, the other a troubled farm boy—has been shattered.Fifty years later, one of those boys—now a grown man—tries to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder. In doing so, he is inevitably drawn back to his lost friend Cletus, who has the misfortune of being the son of Wilson’s killer and who in the months before witnessed things that Maxwell’s narrator can only guess at. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the destructive passions of their parents, Maxwell creates a luminous American classic of youth and loss.

Good read for a long weekend.  Have a great Memorial Day!

Spotted: World War Z

World War Z? What is this book about?!  Did we have so many World Wars that we had to ditch Roman numerals and go alpha-numeric?  Does Z stand for something, like Zinc or Zelda?  So curious, let’s look it up.

Ah, looks like it signifies “zombies.”  And it’s about to be a motion picture, starring Mr. Pitt himself who, as we all know, sympathizes with the undead to such an extent he married one (I kid, I kid).  From the review:

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Huh.  I’m getting a little tired of zombies, to tell you the truth.  On a scale of overuse, I think they’re approaching stage “Vampire.”  Don’t get me wrong, I like zombies as much as the next guy, and I will have a conversation with you about why slow zombies are better than fast zombies.  But it just seems like you can’t throw a flesh-craving cat by it’s bony tail these days without hitting the living dead.

That all said, the perspective from which this is written, as post-zombie war oral history, is pretty novel.   Reminds me a bit of War of the Worlds.  Though hopefully no one will read this book or see this movie and start chopping off the heads of everyone who just looks kind of tired or ill.

But make sure you don’t buy it from the zombies at Amazon.  Buy it here and help fund the human resistance!  Or something.

Spotted: 1Q84

This is kind of cheating, because it was your author who just turned the last page of this book today during his morning commute.   But maybe you spotted me reading it, ha ha! And I also saw at least two other people over the past few weeks.  And this significant, because as a 900+ page hardback, it is no easy feat to haul this around and pull it out on even a mildly crowded train/bus.   I wouldn’t have dreamed of it at first, but I became so sucked into this story, that I would actually take the (slower) bus, rather than the (sometimes faster) train, just so I could more likely get a seat in the morning and get lost in the year 1Q84 with Murakami and the bizarre worlds he convinces us to believe and care about.   It might be the case that since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my first Murakami book, I will always think that was his best effort, but 1Q84 isn’t too far behind, imho.  Well worth the effort to shove in your bag somehow and read.