Monday, April 25, 2011

A Gripe

Well, I finished The Last Block in Harlem and I really didn't like the ending.  In fact from about halfway in it got a bit bizarre actually and I don't like that when I'm reading.  Keep it real from start to end, or if you want to throw in the magic realism or surrealism you have to do it from the start.  I'm not a fan of changing the rules halfway through.

I stuck with it though as the way it was written was okay, and I did want to keep going to see where it's was going to end up; but (for me) the ending was way off the mark.  In fact as I was reading it I was thinking, hang on, this is Odd Thomas, what's going on?  I gave it a three star review mainly because there was more to this book than just reading it, and it was fun being part of it.  However, I'm really pleased I didn't do it as a book club read, as I think my members would not have liked it at all. 

There were a few editing errors in it, though not as many as in Opposing Energies, and I wonder why, when you go to the trouble to get something published and it is proof read and edited and all the rest of it, how does the finished product still contain so many errors?  I paid for both OE and LBH and as such I want to be receiving the polished product; Opposing Energies has so many errors that I can only bear to read a few pages at a sitting.  I think now, after giving independent authors a go, that I will stick to my reading lists and the tried and true.  OK, even they may contain the odd error, but they're definitely worth reading too.  I'm not rubbishing the two novels above at all, Opposing Energies just isn't to my taste and personally I think that it would work better as a graphic novel and I do feel that there is some value to reading The Last Block in Harlem just in the way that it has got me thinking about myself and about how and where I live.

My next read will be Plague by Albert Camus and my next audio will be Diary by Chuck Palahniuk.  Both should satisfy my horror or blood lust. Talking of horrors, I can't believe the junk I've been renting on DVD this week in the name of horror.  What is going on?  The cover to The Last Exorcism didn't even relate to anything in the movie, and again this is an example of something losing its way halfway through.  It was dumb, but the thing is most of the viewers aren't.  Give us something decent, if you call it horror - then horrify us.  Is it that hard?  Actually the most frightening thing I've seen all week was an armpit on Embarrassing Bodies that had me screaming, gagging and covering my eyes.  So it can be done!  I also rented Monsters and whilst it wasn't terribly scary, the acting wasn't bad, and the sets were really good.  The monsters were even cute in their own way, so I guess I kind of liked it.  Devil wasn't bad, I was wanting a nasty little ending, but it had a very moralistic ending but still, it worked.  Tonight I'm going to try Let Me In.  They reckon it's the best American Horror Movie in 20 Years - you'll be hearing from me if I disagree!!  In fact the most horrifying thing about my DVD rentals this week was the little surprise I found behind one of the cases:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thoughts on The Last Block in Harlem

I'm now halfway through this book, (it's not very long but I'm reading a few other novels too so I'm just slotting it in for fifteen minutes in bed before I put the light out).  It's been a sort of 'pick me up' after Suzuki's Spiral which was really dreadful!  LBH in comparison is a very pleasant read.

The premise is certainly original, so full marks there.  The only problem I'm finding with it is that I'm used to reading long rambling novels where you really get into a characters head.  I'm feeling disappointed that the characters I'm meeting here are fleeting.  They're certainly individual and interesting, but I want to know more about what makes them 'tick'.  It's all too condensed, though this is the author's intention, he say's "...the characters move in and out like a New York subway ride".  

Everybody has a story to tell and it's actually got me thinking about  my own neighbourhood.  Living in a leafy suburb in Queensland, surrounded by wildlife, I barely even see my neighbours let alone getting to know them.  I wonder what their stories are?  I can't begin to imagine the high density living described in LBH, you wouldn't have much in the way of privacy.  I don't think I could live like that, or if I did I would soon be known as a recluse or 'the crazy cat lady'!  However, the message I'm getting as I'm reading is that it doesn't matter where you live, it's the sense of belonging and the pride that you take in your neighbourhood that is important.

So, summarising what I have read so far, it doesn't rank up there with great literature, but it is very real in it's message and it's got me thinking a lot about myself and the people around me, which is a really good thing.

Herz is a very approachable author, and has made the reading of his novel fun with the way that he has gone about its marketing and promotion.  You feel part of a community that is reading The Last Block in Harlem. He is also the creator of the wonderful Sunday Morning Story  It is visual and poetic and reminds us just how special being alive is and how we should not waste time worrying about the small stuff.  We need to get some of the 'powers that be' to take the time to realise this too.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Ultimate Horror Novel

Actually, I haven't read it yet but I'm ever hopeful I will find it.  It seems the more I try to read horror the more disappointed I become with this genre.

I feel even more despondent after picking up Spiral by Koji Suzuki, NOTHING has happened yet to even give me a shiver and I'm halfway through it.  Supposedly he is Japan's Stephen King.......... but based on this novel I'm not so sure.  I've just read a few chapters of Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami and the story that a hotel receptionist tells the narrator about what happened to her on the 16th floor gave me more shivers than Spiral! 

Horror of course is subjective, and I guess you need to find a novel that plays on your fears, but mainly I find that the covers give me the creeps more than the contents lately.  I want to read a book that can really cause a prickling of the hair on my arms and the back of my neck, and the last one to do that was The Exorcist where Regan licks her mother's heels - now that was pretty nasty.  I got chills in Dracula, and Prey by Graham Masterton did make me feel nervous, probably because I had a possum or some sort of creature in my roof at the time and could relate to the story somewhat there! 

Some of the older novels are really worth reading and HP Lovecraft probably was the master (not forgetting also Robert Aickman) but surely there must be a really good modern horror novel out there.  PLEASE someone tell me what it is,  I want to feel the need to sleep with the lights on! 

Just an aside, I've been following!/1000Novels.  I've enjoyed going through the list selected by The Guardians review team.  It's so different from the 1001 list that I'm following that I'm worried that I'm missing out some really great reads.........., 

PS This article brought out a few goosebumps for me check it out:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why do All Good Things Come to an End?

Have you ever read a book and didn't want it to end?  Well, I'm in that situation now; I've nearly finished A Prayer for Owen Meany but I don't want to finish it, I  just want to stay with these characters.

Owen is a great creation, his sarcastic and harsh observations are so full of truth that they really make you think. John Wheelwright, Owen's best friend and our narrator, has related a fantastic story of friendship, injustice and love, all bound up in a scathing commentary on The Vietnam War and (in our narrator's present) the Reagan Administration.  

It really is a pleasure to read something of this caliber especially after just finishing the brilliant Kafka on the Shore.  It is going to be hard to surpass these two novels in my next planned batch of reading.  This also compounds another problem that I have, the book that I am reading in tandem Spiral by Koji Suzuki reads like a piece of junk in comparison to Owen Meany and is very hard to enjoy.  I'm about half way through it and so far not much has happened at all.  I'm waiting for the horror and it's more about code breaking.  If I wanted to read about that I would have picked up Cryptonomicon again.

I've just started reading The Last Block on Harlem by Christopher Herz on my Kindle.  It appears this is a bit of a cult novel gaining recognition due to the hard work put in by Herz in trying to promote and sell it on the streets (and on Twitter which is how I came to know about it).  I've only read a few pages and it is a bit nerve racking trying something by someone very new after reading some really good classics and must reads lately.  I'm not too sure about a couple of character names at the moment, they need to grow on me, but I do like the writing style and I will write more about this novel in my post next week.

So! Here's to more reading, and have a great weekend every one.

PS:  I must mention too, the arrival of my new grandson Taj, who was born on Sunday.  His arrival didn't quite go to plan, but all's well that ends well and I can't wait until May when I go to Western Australia to cuddle him (and his mum, and his proud little brother Jayden) J

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Capturing The Essence of Childhood

One of the things I loved about reading Stephen King’s early work (especially It and The Body) was the way that he was able to capture the essence of childhood.  There is something special about the friends that you make in your pre-teen years, you become kindred spirits, you are not yet tainted by prejudices, and growing up together the only important thing is that you are ‘Best Friends’ and ‘Best Friends’ stand by one another through thick and thin.  In It that friendship is called upon years later to help defeat an evil that had plagued a group of adults childhood.  When King described the times that they spent playing down in The Barrens I really wanted to be a part of it, it was special.  No other author, that I have read, has managed to capture this – until now.   

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, published in 1989, has totally taken me by surprise.  Owen is a rather small boy, with large translucent ears and an embarrassing and unusually high nasally voice (note: Oskar Matzerath from The Tin Drum, who stopped growing when he was three and who had that awful high pitched scream).

Owen is John Wheelwright’s best friend and though John is aware of Owen’s peculiarities he owns that he likes him.  Owen’s own family life is not so crash hot so he spends much of his time and many night’s at 80 Front Street, Gravesend; the home of John, his mother and his formidable grandmother and their many antiques.  A favourite game of theirs is hiding John’s stuffed armadillo (a gift from his future step-father) in a large closet in the attic.  Coming across the armadillo in the dark often elicits an ear piercing scream from Owen which would set John’s Grandmother’s nerves on edge.  This armadillo will become a poignant symbol of their friendship

When Owen expresses a desire to meet John’s three cousins – Noah, Simon and Hester (the molester), John is understandably very concerned that these wild cousins would be too much , or even dangerous, for Owen. Plus, John is a bit worried about what his cousins would actually think of his best friend.  But, kids are accepting and Owen is so forthcoming that friendships form very quickly.

I’m about a third of the way through this novel now, the childhood escapades have had me laughing out loud, and Owen’s opinions on every subject are just brilliant. What I love about Owen is the fact that he acknowledges his peculiarities and he tries to put others at ease about them.  He’s also a very deep and understanding child and these are the abilities that John admires so much, and the reason for his religious beliefs, for Owen is the instrument of John’s mother’s death. Owen believes it is because he disturbed the angel of death one night in her room, and as God couldn’t have her then, he used Owen to take her later.

Narrated by the adult John Wheelwright, his reminisces are full of symbolism, poignancy and much love for Owen.  I’ve only read a third of this novel but already I want to tell everyone that you HAVE TO READ THIS!!  

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Plot Thickens!

I really wanted to write a regular blog as I read Kafka on the Shore but work and planning my Christmas holiday has intervened and now I’ve nearly finished it without writing much at all J

This has been a wonderful read, and I can thoroughly recommend it.  There is not one character in the novel that I don’t like, and the two parallel stories are, whilst riveting, totally different from one another.

I love Mr Nagata’s storyline, he is just wonderful, and his quest is so mysterious that even he doesn’t really know what it is until he’s in the right spot or the right thing happens.  Along the way he becomes friends with Hishino, a young truck driver, and due to Nagata’s rememblance to Hoshino’s grandfather he decides to help him. There is a lot of subtle humour between these two characters which really brings a smile to your face.  Hoshino is a really nice laid back young man, and Mr Nagata has had quite a profound life changing effect on him.

Kafka’s storyline is different; he’s not so much on a quest as running from a prophecy (or curse).  Kafka’s father said that Kafka would murder him, and ‘be’ with his mother and sister, this is the same as the Oedipus curse in the Greek legend.  Kafka did not want to fulfill this prophecy and ran away from home, but it seems to be playing out against his will anyway.  This part of the storyline is beautifully written, it’s mystical and poetic and I love the way the narration occasionally shifts perspective. 

So, now the unthinkable has happened to Mr Nagata, which came as quite a shock to me, and Kafka may be leaving our reality.  Things are moving at quite a pace and I can’t wait to see where the storylines will converge.

Staying with the Japanese theme, I will be pick up Spiral by Koji Suzuki from the library tomorrow.  Suzuki has been described as the Japanese ‘Stephen King’ and wrote the successful Ring series so I’m really looking forward to giving him a go.

I've also download what I hope will be very a very interesting audio book by John Irving call A Prayer for Owen Meany which was written as a tribute to The Tin Drum  by Gunter Grass (which I read last year).  It's a biggie so may take a couple of weeks for me to listen to it but it's on the 1001 list and it sounds pretty interesting.

Happy reading everyone!