Two Types Of Cheese

My brother lent me the movie 28 Days Later. I it watched last night and thought it was pretty good. It definitely belongs to the horror/zombie genre but I didn’t figure that out till about half way through. I was thinking it was going to be more of an apocalyptic/morality flick. I did enjoy it though. Despite the fact that I’m usually not too keen on horror movies. Fortunately this one lacked the one liners that seem to always ruin a good scary movie for me. I was warned the ending was terrible and had maybe thus given it the benefit of the doubt. I thought it was the only ending possible. The three alternate endings on the DVD basically sucked and the director and writer both admitted to it. Ain’t nothing wrong with a horror flick and a giant plate of homemade nachos for dinner.

An Underachiever’s Diary

“…I am, in all things, an underachiever, bound by nature to wrestle with the dull unanswerable and then give up, to the benefit of no one…”

A plain white cover with simply the Authors name, Benjamin Anastas, and the words An Underachiever’s Diary on it were so appealing, I bought the book without knowing anything about it. Benjamin Anastasi novella is not an awe-inspiring work of fictional literature, but it is an (deceptively) light, short, enjoyable read – particularly after having just read this behemoth. In fact there are times when the writing is excellent and the story bounces along hitting off of other literary works and social commentaries made by those such as Freud, Dostoevsky (particularly Notes From The Underground), and Thoreau. Anastasi ability to put both humor and humanity into most the sullen of characters can be attributed to his sound writing ability.

William, a self-proclaimed underachiever, gives the first person narration. William’s tale starts at his birth, which is significant because he was born seven minutes before his twin brother Clive, the last time he will ever be first at anything. Clive, is William’s antagonist and opposite. Clive is successful, charming, social skilled and an overachiever. The story continues through William’s childhood where he is slow to learn how to walk, talk, and get potty trained. Through his adolescence he is constantly in poor health with a long series of illnesses and injuries. His Jr. high years bring social awkwardness and the trials of sexual discovery both of which he is a miserable failure, but at this point in his life his begins to accept his calling as an underachiever. He puts himself into boarding school and soon finds himself at a “third rate” college in the Northeast. He spends five years lost in keg beer and failed relationships but he develops a philosophy along with a pride in being an underachiever. He soon relishes his ability to be unsuccessful and actually put himself in situations in order to fail. Eventually William comes to terms with his station in life and learns to cull faith and understanding from his flaws, a characteristic his “perfect” brother was never able to do. He acquires an ability to appreciate the broken and defective nature of humankind. The remainder of the novella that involves his adult life (failing at numerous jobs and eventually joining a cult) I found rather dull and a bit contrived. In addition the book ends somewhat flatly.

Anastas does a great job of describing Williams feelings. So much so that even the most successful will relate to him in some way. And as a thirty-year old myself (Williams age in the novella), I can help but look back on my life on occasion and wonder if I have achieved my potential. Anastas seems to be asking us to evaluate, or reevaluate what it means to be successful in life. All of us have a little underachiever in us somewhere. And I find myself a lot closer to William than Clive these days. Which is better, paltry happiness or sublime suffering?
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Midnight’s Children

I’m a bit of a slow reader to begin with. When I read I take my time and try to engage every page and every word. I don’t skim and will reread sections when I feel like I didn’t understand them. This led to trouble while reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Damn this book took me a long time to finish. First it is fairly lengthy at 500 plus pages. And then there is Rushdie’s writing style. His method of writing doesn’t lend to casual reading. He uses a combination of Indian and English termed “Babu English” that takes a fair amount concentration. Not mention his atypical use of grammar and often distended and laborious sentences. This book is complex. Make no mistake about it. It is a sturdy tangle of thick, and often, obscure words.

Despite its density, the novel was pretty good. It was well written, it was original, interesting and unpredictable and I enjoyed reading it. The setting and characters were exciting well-developed and interesting. The multilayered novel consists mostly of the life story Saleem Sinai. A boy born during the first hour of India’s independence, along with 1,001 other children of India, all of whom were blessed with magical abilities. The trial and tribulations of Saleem closely follow with the actual history of India, from Nehru’s India toward Indira’s India, as well as that of Pakistan and Bangladesh (some of the novel takes place pre-partition). The political reality of the book would be much more rewarding if you have an interest in, or knowledge of, Middle Eastern history and religion.

Rushdie’s story telling ability is definitely notable and his telling tales-within-tales is very enjoyable but also very much like Garcia Marquez, whom in my opinion is more a pleasurable and worthwhile read. The magical realism allows for a surreal and distorted sense of the novel’s people and places. Much of the novel is larger than life and many of the events seem more important than they really are or should be. Adding to Rushdie’s literary complexity are many twists and turns regarding the relationships between the characters. In addition, there are name changes, sub-plots, nick-names, false-starts, tons of symbolism (much of it I didn’t even pick up on) u-turns, and plot twists.

I paid the price of patience with this novel but felt I wasn’t truly rewarded and that’s always a bit of a bummer. The novel just didn’t do it for me. It is by no means a life-changing novel or even near my top 10 best books I’ve ever read. And although a second read would undoubtedly open this story up, that probably won’t be happening for me.
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Out Of The Girls Room And Into The Night

I just finished Out Of The Girls Room And Into The Night. Thisbe Nissen’s collection of short stories had me from the very beginning. After reading the first story, I set the book down on the bed and thought to myself, “I’m really gonna enjoy this book”. And I did, right through to the last page.

The novel consists of each character recounting love’s triumphs, failures, deceptions, delicacy, destruction, unpredictability, and enormity. Most of these stories concerned themselves with situations in which the heart is acting and the head is watching, thinking to itself, “I hope you know what you’re doing heart.” Although mostly young women, the characters span all types of demographics from dead-heads to anorexics to lesbians to college students to upper-class boarding school girls to a couple on their 25th anniversary. Most of the stories hang in those moments when we are feeling uncomfortable in our own skin, or are realizing that the skin we thought we had on is not what we had thought it was originally.

The majority of the stories that the author offers in this collection are easily consumed and have underdeveloped or uncomplicated plot lines. But it was their ability to engage me emotionally and my ability to relate to them that has made the novel so successful with me. I found myself only reading a couple of stories at a time because a wanted them to sink in and marinate them for a while before they were discarded for the next set of stories. I would have given it five stars if the characters and plot lines were a little more developed. However, I highly recommend this collection.
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Island

Aldous Huxley is a genius. I first read Huxley my freshman year in college. The book was called The Doors Of Perception, from which The Doors got their name. I read this back when I had a solid interest in psychedelics. Then I read Brave New World (complete text) which to this day remains one of my all time favorites. I also read Chrome Yellow (complete text and .mp3).

Last night I finished reading Island. Huxley can often get a little too philosophical for me, such was the case with Island. In addition, much of the book centers around eastern philosophy and spirituality which lost me. As a result, the book took much longer to finish than it should have. Some parts of the novel I had to force myself through. That being said, the novel overall is pretty good and worth reading once. It has the typical of good writing and ideas expected of Huxley, but it’s not one of my favorites. The plot is weak (simply a vehicle for Huxley to explain his ideas on society at large) and the ending is abrupt. But as a social satire, the novel is very effective.

Most of the novel concerns itself with how people in an ideal society would interact with each other and their environment. The novel presents us with a society that conducts itself, in the eyes of Huxley, in the best possible way that humans can, given their physical and spiritual flaws and restrictions. Huxley has always been great at turning the word “idealist” back into a positive by describing with pragmatic knowledge what in our present world is not working, and more importantly, proposed solutions; this novel does a great job of this.
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A Night At Jerusalem

I went out to dinner with my pops last night and will be doing so again tonight. We ate at a little (only 10 or so tables, and some additional seating outside that was not an option because it was snowing) place called Jerusalem Restaurant over in the Denver University area. The Jerusalem restaurant is owned by the Wahdan family and has been in operation since 1978. Dinner was really relaxed and it was an enjoyable evening.

How To Be Good

Last night I just finished up reading Nick Horby’s most recent novel “How To Be Good”. Nick Hornby, author of both “About A Boy” and “High Fidelity” (which is one of my favorite movies) has taken a different approach on his most recent novel. I can’t see this book being made into a movie, the book deals with issues and ideas that wouldn’t be easily transferred into the film media. Generally the novel concerns itself with what it means to lead a good life, how can we go about doing it, and how good does a person have to be in order to be happy?
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