36 Books In 2018 #31: God Emperor Of Dune by Frank Herbert

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the all consuming desire to chuck a book I was reading across a room. Maybe since A Clash Of Kings and I thought that Arya had been killed in the aftermath of the Red Wedding.

But God Emperor Of Dune did it. Wow is this book brilliant, weird and goddamned frustrating. 

We’re now several thousand years removed from the ending of Children Of Dune which bummed me out, since I really like Ghani, and this mean she was very dead, and Leto has now been largely consumed by the body of a sandworm. Also he keeps getting Duncan clones, holds the galaxy in thrall as  if he were a god (he is not) and decides to marry a pretty girl, who of course, his current Duncan clone is in  love with.

Look, I admire the way that Herbert plays with the stories of maidens and dragons here, and the rambly philosophical weirdness of Leto’s lonely existence is great, but this one was a tough go, especially after Children, which I totally adored. And I’m gonna finish this series. (Or at least the Frank Herbert books, I’ve heard that Brian Herbert’s further investigation into his father’s work are skippable. Thoughts?)

But wow, I had trouble with this particular entry in the series. Part of it was how alien and different from the rest of the books it felt, the millenia induced time jump was disorienting and the fact that Dune is no longer Dune but the ecologically balanced Arakis envisioned in the first book makes everything weird.

Also, the feminist in me is a little bit frustrated that there’s an “all the ladies wanna bone Duncan Idaho” strain in these books. It’s eye rollingly annoying, even if he’s the Lancelot to Leto’s Arthur here, which is a sort of interesting part for the sword master to play.

The other theme that Herbert plays with here, is the danger of nostalgia which feels really important right now, but that doesn’t emerge until the end which is unfortunate. But still, there’s some good stuff here, and I’ll pick up Heretics soon-ish.

Up next is Infinite Jest which I am about 100 pages into and both deeply admire and kind of hate. So, we’ll see how that goes.

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My Fair Lazy, Culturing Up, and Six Months Of Lovely Accidents

So, a lot of people are writing, “it’s halfway through the year, here’s a check in posts.” I wasn’t planning one, but last night I has a realization that made me very happy.

A few years ago my favorite non fiction writer Jen Lancaster, wrote a book called, My Fair Lazy that was about a year long project to expand her horizons and get a bit more cultured. The project included exploring fine dining, attending theatrical performances and reading “important” books.

Y’all, between The Epics Project and The Best Theatrical Year of My Life, this sort of happened to me by accident, I realized as Aless and I picked up our champagne at the second intermission of ABT’s production of Don Quixote. (Partially, realizing that this wasn’t a terribly unusual outing for us anymore. We’ve come a long way since those $5 margaritas on 34th Street!)

Here are the cultural milestones I’ve had this year:

  • Read: War And Peace, Ulysses, Middlemarch, Don Quixote, Dune, David Copperfield, The Alchemist and Lincoln In The Bardo. As well as several other books that are probably not as culturally important but I have enjoyed quite a bit. That I’m reading a lot again is good. It means I can read things that are important and literary and the crap that I’d been consuming for the past few years. And I’ve got six more of the biggies (and a few smallies I’ve been putting off) before I’m through that project.
  • Watched: I’m still not good at watching things that are good for me. I’ll hit an occasional indie film or documentary, but for the most part, what I’m watching is still junk food. Often very well crafted junk food, like those sundaes from Serendipity or whatever, but still, empty calories
  • Attended: BEST THEATRICAL YEAR OF MY LIFE! It’s amazing how no longer participating in theater has made seeing theater feel essential to me. The Children, Children Of A Lesser God, Once On This Island, My Fair Lady, Angels In America, La Boheme and Don Quixote. I’ve still got a revisit to Hamilton and Springsteen On Broadway coming up and likely a few more.
  • Food: Most of my food exploration has come from cooking rather than eating out and my skills are still basic but improving. I can make Chicken Korma, which is exciting (Though I’m still tweaking my spice mix. It comes out a little too sweet for me every time…)

So that’s my culture year so far. It’s been good.

36 Books In 2018 #30: Rich People Problems By Kevin Kwan

Goodamn do I love this series,  you guys. I hope  the movie makes a trillion dollars so that we get  the sequels.

Set five years after the first book, this time Nick and Rachel have to deal with hid family’s bonkers money issues yet again, this time on the grand scale of everyone being summoned home to Singapore as his grandmother is dying. Meanwhile, Kitty has married Jack Bing, and is on a mission to beat Collette at social climbing (Collette has married into the actual British aristocracy and is you know, a ruthless sociopath, so it’s not easy!) and Astrid and Charlie must navigate their psychotic exes trying to sabotage their chance at happiness together.

There’s family intrigue, ridiculous fashion name dropping, shopping sprees, and hilariously unsubtle conversations about Rachel’s fertility. And it’s all amazing.

Seriously, picking up this series has been such a gift. They’ve been pure joy and escapism and I’m so happy to love them. And last week, when I joked that I hope it ended in a dance party, I grinned as I finished it up yesterday to discover that it does in fact end in a dance party. 

Seriously, I love these books. Everybody read them. And see the movie in about a month so that they make the other two.

Up next is God Emperor Of Dune. I’m also finishing up Battlestar Galactica so I’m just gonna be buried in deep thoughtful sci fi filled with wackadoo religious allegory. HOORAY! (Which I have discovered, is a genre I like quite a bit…)

The Book Thief and The Value Of Light In The Darkness

Guys, I’m not gonna sugar coat it.

Things kind of suck out there right now. Just all over. Shit’s terrible. On a big scary level.

And I was thinking about this yesterday, as a couple of personal setbacks pushed me into a pretty dire state of mind, I had a major, “am I allowed to be happy about something so small as, Incredibles 2 apparently being awesome or the incredible Yankee game that I’m watching?”

And then I remembered The Book Thief and I smiled.

The Book Thief, more so, really embodies the idea that life, in all it’s little joys and weirdness, is worth living, even in the darkest of times.

Seriously, I’m not saying the book is cheery by any means, it’s literally narrated by Death and deals with early days of the Nazis in Germany and the Holocaust in brutal fashion. It’s super dark. But it’s also beautiful. It tells the story of a young orphan girl named Leisel, who is adopted by an older childless couple, (V Anne Of Green Gables) and her new father’s love of reading stories to her. The title comes from her habit of stealing books off the bonfire piles in the town square.

They also happen to be hiding a young Jewish man in their basement.

Anyway, the thing that’s interesting about the book is that it’s about life, and Leisel, and her parents are living their lives in this horror show, but they’re living. There are small triumphs and sunny days, and joyful stories and deep deep love.

It’s a wonderful book and I’m really glad I thought of it while I sat at my desk and tried not cry yesterday. (Seriously, folks it was a shitty day…) Because we should all keep up the good fight, in big and small ways, but it’s also OK to dance while the music is playing and get lost in a fairytale.

And I think I needed to remember that. So, you know, just sending light and love out. Wishing you all the best. Keep fighting, even if all you can do is steal books off bonfires and declare Jesse Owens your hero.

36 Books In 2018 & The Epics Project #6: #29 Ulysses By James Joyce

Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glow-lamps or the growth or adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, Jesuit education, careers, the study of  medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of presabbath, Stephen’s collapse

This quote is as close to talking about what Ulysses by James Joyce is about as I feel qualified to make.

That is to say, that in the past two weeks while I read the book, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of it as a whole, but I learned long ago that understanding the whole is not really how to go about reading Joyce. It’s about absorbing the moments. And about understanding that he’s trying to confuse you, so just live in that confusion.

Joyce’s whole deal is about finding the sublime in the mundane. Elevating the experience of the average person to that of epic tales about gods and heroes.

It’s lofty lofty shit which is why when it goes over my head, I try not to let it frustrate me. I know at the very least, that Ulysses is about Ireland, and anti-semitism, and sex. I got that much. So, you know there’s that.

Reading this book and (War And Peace) was kind of the impetus of this project, so I’m glad that I finally got through it, but oh god, was it rough, and I just need to exhale and be thrilled that this one’s done.

I read Ulysses you guys, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. Maybe someday I’ll read it with guidance and understand more of it. Maybe I’ll never touch it again. I don’t know, for now, I’m going exhale, and been grateful for having read it.

Next up, I get to indulge in Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan, (HOW WILL THIS SAGA END? I hope in a dance party.) And the next epic is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace…I’ve scaled up now. We’ll see how it goes.

The Great Work Begins

Probably the best thing about my 2017 New Year’s resolution of “be me more social” was having a regular routine of seeing a show, or concert or whatever that I’m interested in and checking in with Crystan to see if she wants to go and then the weeks long back and forth about when we’ll be going. (OK, that last one is just for theater!)

So when she texted me on Friday asking if we could finally get our dates for going to see Angels In America set, I gave her a few, only to twenty minutes later be told that she won the lotto and we were going I scrambled a bit but I was very excited.

love Angels In America. I completely adore the play on it’s own, and had seen Part 1 of this production when it was live broadcast as a Fathom Event from England last year. There were a few tweaks for Broadway (staging changes, and the character of Joe was played by Lee Pace rather than Russell Tovie, an upgrade, as far as I’m concerned. Tovie’s an excellent actor but I just don’t see him as Joe, where as Pace is damn near perfect casting for everyone’s favorite tortured hot gay Mormon Republican…)

Angels In America is just an exceptional piece of theatrical art. It’s absurdly long, packed to the gills with inspirational power, full of deep thoughts about the nature of faith, democracy, national character, humanity, and disease, and surprisingly, if you’re unfamiliar with it, riotously funny. To be fair, it’s a dark gallowsy humor, but it’s there, and an aspect that’s played down in the big budget HBO mini series that most people think of first for the work.

This production aside from having a stellar impossible to beat cast,  lead by a transformative and blindingly strong performance by Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, and a career high for Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn, is deeply funny, and dirty and gritty and terrifying in places. Making the Angel herself (theirself?) a monstrous, gritty bird of prey, as diseased and confused as the play’s protagonists (Even though only two characters have AIDS, all are sick.) is a production decision that then shapes everything else. There’s a creeping despair that is only banished when Prior refuses his prophecy, gives back the doom visited upon him and insists, that no, he will live. Millenium Approaches, apocalypse and destruction, we have to stay put, but the world only spins forward so we have to accept Perestroika, the thaw, and live, and thrive.

This play gets me thinking whenever I revisit it. (I’ve read it four or five times, and was actually planning to again before this production showed up, and decided to wait until I could see it.) I find something new in it each time, something grounding and profound. This time, I was happy to see a rejection of cynicism and doom in it. The final act of Angels In America is about hope in the face of darkness. And I’ve been carrying that with me for the past few days.

“The great work begins.”

36 Books In 2018 #28: The Harvesting By Melanie Karsak

It’s a gamble, picking up a book in a genre that you haven’t invested in in a while. It’s a bigger gamble when you do it because you were flirting with a guy running a small press table at a comic con while dressed as a Hogwarts student.

But gamble or not, that’s how I found The Harvesting, and it, as well as it’s sequels, and they’ve stared back at me, hissing, “You may have flushed $35 down the toilet and wasted half a book shelf…” before I realized I wasn’t ready for God Emperor Of Dune yet and I was pretty well through the rest of my TBR.

So, yesterday afternoon I picked up the first book. I haven’t read supernatural adventure stuff in a while. After the zombie boom which followed my brief love affair with all things vampiiric, the thought of diving into a series that promised both, as well as a kick ass female lead who uses some kind of sword…well…uh, it was overwhelming.

Anyway, all this baggage I took into The Harvesting, and I was immediately charmed by our heroine, Layla, and delighted in her zombie fighting adventurers, the plague  hitting as she visits her grandmother in the sleepy upstate New York town where she grew up.

Oh, also her grandma was a medium, and she is too, and there are fairies? There’s a lot going on, but I’m totally hooked. I mean, seriously,  she fights zombies and talks to fairies and this is all for about a hundred and fifty pages before the vampires show up. Plus there’s this whole drama with Layla’s high school boyfriend Ian (now married to a girl he got pregnant while cheating on her.) and his brother Jamie (totally dreamy, single and way more stable than Ian!) which is so right up my alley.

It was also refreshing to read a book of this genre where all of the characters are adults. Most supernatural fiction I’ve read has been of the YA variety and usually with a good deal more smooching. I still love a good eternal teen with a focus on brooding and relationship issues, I mean, I think, it’s been a while. But this was really fun to read.

Anyway, back to The Harvesting, it’s a fun easy read, with a hook I couldn’t resist. (Hereditary psychic fights zombies and vampires? I mean, hello?) And I was happy to support small press! And lady writers!

Up next, it’s time to start in on Ulysses…gulp.