Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I hate this book. Let me preface this by saying that I'm clearly not the audience for it. I've never read a romance novel (but they can't all be this bad), and I'm not a girl and I prefer to read books that leave me feeling overwhelmed by the sheer level of detail in them and reminded of the infinite possibilities in life.

But I read all the Harry Potter books and mostly enjoyed them (the last 2 were pretty weak). I love The Hunger Games. Obviously, not being the target audience does not preclude me from enjoying something.

Most of the problems in Twilight stem from its protagonist. Bella just doesn't have anything going for her. She sees herself as a perfectly average, uninteresting person (which she is). So it remains a mystery to us why everybody she meets seems to fall in love with her. Strangers go out of their way to befriend her. Boys start fighting over her BEFORE she even starts hanging out with the vampires. Of course, all this attention does nothing but embarrass her, because she is a hateful person and probably incapable of relating to anyone else. The only person she shows any interest in is the one guy in school who openly acts hostile toward her. But then, oops, turns out that guy is just another lovestruck suitor who was immediately smitten with her all along. Why? We'll never know. Oh yeah, her blood smells good and he can't read her thoughts.

This last reason actually makes sense. If he could read Bella's thoughts, he'd realize that she's never had a remotely interesting thought in her entire life. Unfortunately, we as readers are not so lucky. The first-person narrative choice does nothing but underline how little happens in the story. Bella doesn't even find out that Edward is a vampire until roughly 100 pages in, after he's saved her life twice (TWICE). They both fall in love with each other on the spot, so there's no push-pull or romantic tension or anything. The only conflict seems to be that Bella wants to become a vampire right away and Edward basically gives no reason for why she can't except "Oh, silly Bella." Basically all their conversations are like this:

EDWARD: I can't be with you because it makes me want to bite you and drink all your blood.

BELLA: Maybe you should bite me, then I'll get to be with you and this story will mercifully be over.

EDWARD: But I won't be able to stop until you're dead, stupid.

BELLA: Fine then, don't be with me! I'll just be standing over there in case you ever get the urge to bite something.

Ugh. She's so passive-aggressive and lacking in personality that I'm just dying for the viewpoint to switch to somebody else for a spell. When she's not complaining about everything that happens to her, she's fawning over Edward, whether it's his perfect looks, his voice, or his his mannerisms, every one of which sends her into a tizzy. This isn't so bad, really (I like any confirmation that women are just as shallow as men when it comes to looks), but I wish Stephenie Meyer were better at writing descriptions. Pretty much all she does pile on the adjectives and cliches. I can only read about how "beautiful" and "perfect" someone is and how they resemble a "Greek God" or an "angel" so much until I start mentally skipping over those sections. When I know what you're going to write before I read it, there is no reason to continue.

I want to complain about another thing here: Bella spends way too much time narrating her dreams here. Why should we care about them? They're dreams, and unless it's revealed in later installments that her dreams can predict the future, there's no reason to include them because they have no bearing on anything that happens anywhere in the story. This is Creative Writing 101 stuff that Meyer sees fit to just blatantly violate over and over again. Oh, but it's consistent with the protagonist she's created, whose depths of self-absorption inspire her to narrate the mundane details of her banal daily routine, right down to what she cooked for dinner and what CD she is listening to. Isn't this book supposed to be about vampires? Why all the minutia about the boring life of a boring person?

Anyway, about 380-odd pages into the book, some semblance of conflict finally introduces itself in the form of an evil vampire coven that wants to hunt humans. Edward and the other Cullens scramble to protect Bella, but she's so dumb she falls for the old "I have your mother but I don't have to prove she's actually here" trick and basically walks right into the hunter's trap. It's not satisfactorily explained how she gets rescued anyway, or maybe it is, I don't remember. There's also the Blacks, Jacob and his family that we all know are werewolves but none of that stuff happens in this book. There's barely a hint of the love triangle that supposedly dominates this series. I've heard people complain that Gale gets the short shrift in THG, but here Jacob has literally no other personality traits than "yet another guy who is attracted to Bella, except this one somehow doesn't repulse her completely despite not being the embodiment of physical perfection". Maybe his character develops a little more in the next book, but right now it's looking like Team Jacob never stood a chance.

There's other problems with the book, but to enumerate them all would take far longer than to just say that Ms. Meyer badly needed an editor. The prose is easy to read (in the same way that a little girl's diary would be) but difficult to avoid rolling your eyes at, the concept of a family of vampires hopping from place to place every few years had potential, even the idea of them hunting animals so they don't have to bite humans wasn't a bad one. This book was fixable. But since we see the story unfold through the eyes of an unbelievably boring person who damn near doesn't do anything that's not "swooning at everything Edward does", it's doomed from the word go.

Anyway I'm reading New Moon now. Downward is the only way forward.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The 3 significant books

If you're lucky, you will read one book that will change your life. I have read three. They all occurred to me, not coincidentally, at important turning points in my life. Here are the 3 books, the stage of life I was at when I read them, and what I learned from them.
  • 1. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
  • Age at which I read it: Middle school  
  • What it taught me: That we are all slaves to history. Huck behaves the way he does because of his specific time and place, nothing more. Twain's great insight into American life is that it is actually a hotbed of lockstep conformity, not the birthplace of independent thought we flatter ourselves into thinking it is. Nowhere in this book is this point made more eloquently than in the speech that breaks up a lynch mob -- that was Twain grabbing the mic and letting us have it, right there. Also, it taught me that a flawed protagonist is always the best kind. And that Tom Sawyer really was an a-hole. 
  •  2. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger  
  • Age at which I read it: 15  
  • What it taught me: If you're young, better hold on to something tight -- it only gets bumpier from here. Salinger perfectly captured that moment that occurs in every thinking person's life, where you arrive at the cusp of being a grown-up and all you think is "Wait, that can't be all there is to it." More specifically, he nailed the feeling that a certain type of person can have where the foreseeable future becomes all too clear, and it does nothing but fill you with dread. To be young is to be afraid, and this thing is the Rosetta stone for anybody may have (rightfully) forgotten. 
  •  3. The Trial by Franz Kafka  
  • Age at which I read it: 25  
  • What it taught me: Please. The meaning of Kafka's fiction has been puzzled over by literary scholars ever since Max Brod ignored his dead friend's wishes and published his three unfinished novels, of which this is the most complete and therefore the best. Most commonly, his work is interpreted as a critique of totalitarian government, or even an indictment of human society in general. I believe he was going for something far more basic, more primal. The true target of Kafka's satirical barbs was nothing less than the nature of life itself. When something cruel happens to us, there is no sufficient explanation we can come up with for it than "It was just my turn." This has been called "the logic of nightmares," but what's terrifying is that it's actually the logic of everyday life. Like Josef K. penetrating ever deeper into the implacable recesses of the Law, we all try to find meaning out of what is fundamentally chaos, if only because it seems absurd that there couldn't be any. Thus, the human mind is hopelessly ill-equipped to grapple with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Not only is the game fixed, but it's fixed in a way we couldn't begin to understand -- we're simply not built to. And even if we did somehow happen upon an explanation, all it would do is open an endless number of deeper questions, until at a certain point it's time to accept and embrace our fate. 
  •  Sorry for writing so much there, but it's not for nothing this guy is my favorite writer. I know I make him sound bleak, but his stuff is delivered with enough weirdness and ambiguity that it goes down like a cookie full of arsenic. His writing is full of incident that is ridiculous on its face, until you start reading parable into it. And he is no George Orwell, rubber-stamping a message into your brain until there can be no doubt what he's trying to communicate. His writing is strange and fanciful and even sometimes amusing. But it does lend itself to endless interpretation. And there you go. What are yours?

Monday, May 14, 2012

What would your entrance music be?

The entrance theme has been a long tradition in pro wrestling. Sometimes a wrestler uses pre-existing music (like "Macho Man" Randy Savage's use of "Pomp And Circumstance"), more often they will have a song written specifically for them (the best known is probably Hulk Hogan's "Real American"). Meant not only to introduce the wrestler (witness the crowd reaction as soon as the first strains of The Rock's song begins) but to embody their personality and send a message (usually, "A wrestling match is about to begin!), the entrance theme also works to get the audience fired up and strike fear into the heart of the opponent. So what would you use? Not just if you were a wrestler, but for any challenge in life that might require that extra boost of power? I have always been partial to "Bound For The Floor" by Local H as an entrance theme myself. Simple songs work the best, and if I had to pick one that represented me and my attitude, this would be it. What's yours?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Four Charlie Brown Movies

The first of the four full-length animated feature films based on the "Peanuts" comic strip was A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969). This thing was more padded than a 7th-grader's bra. Its paper-thin story concerns Charlie Brown's unlikely quest to win the national spelling bee, but the plot takes a bunch of detours with psychedelic musical tangents, sequences lifted verbatim from the comic strip, and an overlong episode where Linus and Snoopy go searching New York City for Linus's missing blanket (while a psychotic minor-key variation of "Linus And Lucy" plays on the soundtrack). The movie is probably the purest "Peanuts" adaptation of the four films, balancing humor and melancholy in its best moments just as effectively as the strip. However, it suffers from a lack of storytelling coherency and the songs (written by Rod McKuen) only serve to slow the pace down even more. Snoopy Come Home (1972) is the most depressing of the four. All you need to know about it is in the title (which, incidentally, is the only title for a Peanuts animated feature not to include Charlie Brown's name). This time the songs were written by Richard and Robert (recently deceased) Sherman of "Mary Poppins" fame, and the best-known number is probably "NO DOGS ALOWWWWWWWWWED." The main knock against this movie is that it's too maudlin. If it were anybody but Schulz, I'd be inclined to agree. The theme of the movie is coming to terms with losing a friend, and at times it reaches to make things more emotional than a children's cartoon has any right to be. Growing up, my favorite Peanuts cartoon was 1977's Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. This is the one where they go to summer camp and compete in a river-rafting race. The script is riddled with plot holes and the cast is a bit overstuffed this time around (as it's the first movie to feature Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie). And there's almost no emotional resonance to the whole thing. But it's got that old "Peanuts" charm to it just the same. There's a funny recurring bit about the girl characters constantly having to vote on everything that could be read as a critique of democracy. The best gag is the part where Snoopy gets stuck on Peppermint Patty's waterbed (still funny as an adult): The Peanuts gang goes international in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!) (1980). The plot concerns C.B., Linus, P.P. and Marcie traveling to France to live as foreign exchange students. It's pretty much the weirdest one, and that's saying something. There's a sequence where they're all trapped in a burning building, a scene of Snoopy playing tennis at Wimbledon, and a really funny gag were Charlie Brown keeps failing at buying a loaf of bread. It has its flaws (Lucy is barely in it), but like all the previous "Peanuts" movies it's warm, subtle, imaginative, strange, and hilarious. There have not been any "Peanuts" movies since 1980, which was 32 years ago. The latter two of these movies have never received an official DVD release, which is a travesty and a tragedy. Seek them out if you can. They are all worth your time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My favorite Beastie Boys song

Adam Yauch AKA MCA died of cancer at the age of 47 yesterday. So this group is most likely done. Which gives me an excuse to post my favorite song by them as a tribute: MCA wasn't as showy as the other guys, but he is responsible for my favorite set of lines from the song (skip to 1:17):
A puppet on a string, I'm paid to sing or rhyme Or do my thing, I'm -- in -- a -- lava lamp!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Male singers

My favorites are Marvin Gaye, Nick Cave, Paul McCartney, and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd).

I'll be the first to admit that I don't necessarily listen to a singer's voice for their ability to sing. I also like a lot of bad singers.

Marvin Gaye had impeccable control over his voice -- never for one moment did it ever not sound exactly how he wanted it to. Nick Cave doesn't sing so much as he intones. He phrases his words with the conviction and gravitas of a preacher running through Sinners in the hands of an angry god. McCartney is a chameleon. "Martha My Dear", "Helter Skelter" and "Back In The U.S.S.R." have no business being sung by the same person, let alone residing on the same album. Gilmour just has the most beautiful male voice I've ever heard. I don't normally care for that style of singing, but his voice has a richness and fulness to it that I just have to respect.

Those are mine, what are yours?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pessimistic lines

I have always been saddled with the belief that negativity is smarter than positivity. Not just smarter, but truer and more mature. Anyone being honest with themselves about this life would have to concur with the "nasty, brutish and short" description.

But really, I don't care about smart, or truth, or maturity. What I do care about is fear. I fear looking stupid more than I enjoy appearing smart. I hate being wrong more than I like being right. Every decision I make seems to be a "lesser of two evils" situation. It's not that it's bad to begin with, but that's just the way I look at things -- in terms of which thing will hurt less rather than which thing will help more.

I'm not oblivious -- this is a huge problem for me and I need to figure out how to overcome it. Reverting back to my "glass half empty" philosophy every time something doesn't go my way is an act of cowardice and laziness. It takes courage to hope for things, and for me, it takes effort. Even if I turn out to be wrong, it's still important that I believe that I could have been right. I need to get so good at optimism that it becomes my default.

I don't know how to do this. But I'm gonna start by exercising gratitude. Everything that happens to me, I will be thankful for, no matter how little I understand it. It's something I need to practice so I can get good at. I don't need to get any better at complaining.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Something I don't want to share

I'm going to share a fact about myself that I don't want to share and that I don't want anybody to know. Here it is:

Not counting my parents, three different people have held me in their embrace while I was crying. All three of them were women.

Only one of them is someone that I still keep in regular contact with.