Thursday, July 10, 2008
Your Reading Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It
Reading is a railroad in the game Monopoly, as well as a city in both Pennsylvania and England. Reading is also fundamental, like being able to dribble in basketball or being able to execute a perfect block in football that reduces your opponent to a pathetic pile of impotent mashed taters. Reading is also something dorks like me do for fun. Today we will take a look at three different piles of paper, glue, and binding that we will refer to from now on as books. These "books" have managed to provide me with a source of entertainment from time to time and I dare hope that they can do so for you as well. Unless you would rather watch TV like a mindless zombie while your brain melts into a useless jumble of neurons and synapses, which, of course, is totally cool.
The first selection we will lift onto the lofty pedestal of literary greatness is a piece of non-fiction. Those with a mindless hatred of history should move on to the next paragraph and miss one of the greatest stories ever told. Now that we have gotten rid of those d-bags, let's get our read on. "In the Heart of the Sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick is the amazing story of the whaleship Essex and its unlucky , but edible, crew. The tale of the Essex is credited by the author Herman Melville as the inspiration for his famous novel "Moby Dick", which, surprisingly, is not a porno. The lady pictured above is holding whale vomit, which I found totally pertinent to this review.
While on an expedition deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the tables are turned on the whale hunters, as they are attacked by any angry sperm whale (blue whale balls?). The ship is destroyed and the thirty man crew is left stranded with three small boats and thousands of miles of open ocean between them and landfall. They may not have enough food and water to sustain them across the distance, but it turns out that manflesh is quite a delicacy when you are stuck in the Pacific without other hope of sustenance (check out my article on zombies for manflesh recipes by Emeril Lagasse). Philbrick's prose flows like a raging river, telling a gripping tale that at times resembles "The Odyssey" in terms of its perils, except there is no scary one-eyed monster. The book is well researched and brings characters from a bygone era vividly to life. Very rarely is history told in such a readable and entertaining fashion.
We move from history to sports with our second choice, "The Blind Side," by Michael Lewis. Lewis is best known for his book, "Moneyball," which details how a small market baseball team, the Oakland A's, is able to survive and thrive in a game dominated by franchises with huge payrolls, like the Yankees and Red Sox, who are both owned and operated by demon spawn. The author's more recent effort "The Blind Side," is, although on its surface also a story about sports, a very different tale. Here Lewis relates the narrative of an individual who overcomes enormous odds to succeed - maybe. Michael Oher, the book's protagonist, is a giant of man, even at the young age of 16, standing over six and a half feet tall and weighing easily over three hundred pounds. He is the prototypical NFL offensive lineman, but there is a problem. Oher is nearly illiterate, living in terrible poverty, and on the fast track to a career as a gang leader's bodyguard. The young man's life takes a turn for the better when he is discovered by Sean Tuohy, a wealthy businessman and former Ole Miss basketball star who, along with his wife, sees the amazing potential Oher has. "The Blind Side" is a true story, but Lewis does a tremendous job of hiding the twists and turns so that the tension consumes you like a great white shark inhaling its helpless prey. The book also underlines the inherent unfairness of the American educational system as well as demonstrating that our environment, and the various advantages and disadvantages that environment provides, plays a huge role in the likelihood of our eventual success or failure. You can take the boy out of the ghetto, but can you take the ghetto out of the boy? "The Blind Side" is much more than a sports story. I wave two thumbs up in the air, as if I just didn't care, for Lewis's effort (interesting side note: Lewis is married to Tabitha Soren, formerly of MTV fame).
Finally, we will enter the world of fiction, that delightful land of all things imaginary, like fairies and elves, or the Cubs winning the World Series with an eight year old as their star pitcher (or frankly even making the World Series with anybody on the team). The creative, yet demented mind of Chuck Pahliniuk (spelling may be incorrect because I do not speak Eskimo) is the source of the final work I will discuss in these pages. Master P is best known for his novel, "Fight Club," which deals with how suburban middle class folks upset with their mundane existence find that beating the ever-living shit out of each other makes them feel all warm and cuddly on the inside (not to mention bloody and pulpy on the outside). Everyone has probably seen the movie with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt and I feel like talking about "Lullaby," the Pahlikchinook novel I just read, so let's move on from that fighting snoozefest and get on with a happier tale.
"Lullaby" is the story of a man and a woman who are brought together by a common past - they both accidentally read a lullaby from a children's book, thus causing the death of their respective infants. It so happens that they have come across a culling song, which when spoken or even thought out in its entirety, leads directly to the death of the person being thought about at that time. The two realize the danger of the culling song and set about to destroy all the books in which the verse is printed. From there follows a darkly comic story that explores the use of great power and the unintended consequences that inevitably follow (see Bush, George W.). Pahliniuk writes in a style that moves like a freight train while managing not to run over the readers with convoluted plot changes. There is in his writing a staccato machine gun-like rhythm of quick, concise prose that explains everything that is going on while also amusing the reader with bits of humor twisted like a perverted pretzel on Praxis. If you haven't yet visited the bizarre world of Pahliniuk get off your ass before I threaten to do something to you that I have not bothered to think of yet.
P.S.: Just to let you know, I do not give glowing reviews to everything I read. The books I have been discussing are my three favorites from the last year out of thirty or forty that I managed to complete. This makes me seem like a real nerd, but I finished most of those novels on the interminable flight back from Prague, which took 17,000 hours.