Thursday, March 23, 2006

Christopher Moore redux

The big Mooron himself on Talk of the Nation. After he is done with his current project, a sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, he mentioned he's thinking it is time to take on Shakespeare. I am having a near-post-orgasm shiver just thinking of that pairing. That would be bloody marvelous!

A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore

I have been in love with Christopher Moore since I read Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. I am ashamed to say that while I have read nearly every book he has written, I own zero. He is a writer you can read, relish and release. Kinda like fishing the eco-friendly way. What is interesting is that I read his books, including his latest, without ever really reading anything about him. I didn't go online and read interviews or even check out his website. I just loved to read him, laugh a lot, and wallow in the disturbingly quirky humor his books embody. But I didn't truly want to know anything about him. I wanted to be a fan of the books, not of the author. But since he is coming to my store and I have to interact with the man as a part of my job, I wanted to learn a little more about the actual author. I found this in an online interview which explained so much:

With a desire to do for the horror novel what the brilliantly belated Douglas Adams had done for sci-fi with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I love Douglas Adams. Have loved him for over a decade. Easily. And I also love Chuck Pahlaniuk, of the literary horror genre. Combine the two and you get Christopher Moore's writing. Slightly perverse, a little cynical, but honest and very, very funny. I don't want to say that he is highbrow writing, because he's really not, but you do have to have a certain perversity to "get" his humor, just like you have to be pretty dry to "get" Douglas Adams. Other things Moore finds funny? Mil Millington, My Name is Earl, Billy Collins and The Daily Show. None of which are surprising.

So in the latest Moore book, we have some repeat characters (like the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs) and we have new ones fashioned in the usual vein of bumbling, slightly neurotic, totally genuine men and strong, sassy, sexy women. Our "hero" Charlie Asher is a man utterly devoted to his wife and while anxious about the birth of his first child, is eager to be a daddy. When his wife dies and a strange black man dressed in mint green (Minty Fresh) appears in the hospital room with his deceased wife, Asher realizes things are about to get really weird. Weirder than he could have ever imagined, even with his overactive, paranoid imagination. And on this journey we meet Death Merchants, hellhounds, the Morrigan, glowing red secondhand store items, ballroom-gowned squirrels (sort of), and try to save San Francisco (and ultimately the world) from the rising Forces of Darkness.

Typically Moore, typically paced so that you truly do not want to put the book down until you know what happens even with the sense that in Moore's books everything turns out well in the end (or at least, things turn out as they should) and typically laugh-out-loud funny to the point of wanting to read certain blurbs to random strangers even though you know that out-of-context it just isn't nearly as hilarious: like trying to explain an inside joke. And ultimately that's what Moore feels like: one big inside joke that you wish the whole world could "get."

Eat, Pray, Love redux

Elizabeth Gilbert on NPR about this delightful read.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

Join Elizabeth on her post-divorce soul-searching journey through Italy, India and Indonesia. Honest and intimate: this part travel literature, part spiritual guide is packed with humor and in-the-moment emotional discoveries. Elizabeth doesn't skimp on baring her every thought and feeling as she traverses the geography of foreign lands...and of her own self. Though written by a woman, it’s all about universal, genderless places of the heart.

The Attack, Yasmina Khadra

Being translated into English and published in May, Khadra's latest novel has been nominated for the prestigious French award: the Prix Goncourt; and has even been optioned by Focus Features for film rights. Which is not surprising in the least. The plot alone is film-worthy these days. And Focus is the best film company to approach the movie. However, trying to remain as non-judgmental politcally and religiously as the writer will likely be difficult for a movie version.

The main character, Dr. Amin Jaafari, sees his wife off to visit family. The day she is due to return there is a suicide bombing at a restaurant and it appears his wife was the martyr. While the writing is simplistic with the occasional "big word" thrown in for good measure, the doctor's desire to unearth why his wife would do such a thing when there were no hints or signs that he saw, is a desire that is felt strongly by the reader. I'm not sure if the writing is a result of the translation alone or if Khadra is simply a simple writer. Either way, it is almost incongruous to have such easy reading mixed up with such a complex story and situation. Yet Khadra manages to give a clear account of what appears to the West as an unimaginable atrocity and to what the Middle East faces as a near-daily occurrence. While the reader doesn't find empathy for the "terrorists", the author paints a pitcure of them that puts one more in touch with the realities of these choices. You are given a clearer idea of why someone might make such a seemingly far-fetched decision. And this clarity comes through the eyes of a character who also struggles with the "why" of it all.

While not overly-impressed by this book, I loved that it was easy to get through, easy to access the greater questions of why there is such conflict and turmoil; to illustrate how complicated the Middle East conflicts really are. Westerners will never truly grasp the emotional urgency that drives the people we term "terrorists", people who live lives and dream dreams and aspire to being greater than themselves: concepts that are not unclear to Americans, regardless of religious or cultural background. And this is the hardest part of all to accept. That those who are encouraging and participating in terrible acts that destroy the lives of innocent people...they are not that dissimilar to ourselves.

The Attack asks the question: "But does that make it right?" Read and answer the question for yourself.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Last Chance in Texas, John Hubner

What happens when you take a state like Texas with one of the most brutal sentencing judicial systems in the country and match it up with the most progressive treatment programs for the most serious of teenage offenders? What happens when you take kids who have done horrendous things, the sorts of thing that people are never forgiven for (rape, torture, murder), and give them a true second chance? When you do these things you have arrived at the Giddings State School: the punitive holding place for the worst of the worst of Texas juvenile offenders. You combine kids from all types of vicious gangs and abusive backgrounds and give them such intense discipline that most of them understand quite clearly that if they don't obey and try to improve on themselves within these helpful, encouraging yet tough walls, they will go to prison for the entirety of their sentences. As adults. Which means they are more ruined for a future than they already were.

And so we have it. The author spends some intense time at Giddings, following along with a male and female group of kids going through the school's "Capitol Offenders Program" which takes the worst of the worst of the worst at Giddings and puts them through progressive yet very intensive therapy that involves going through their painful lives and confronting their terrible crimes. They have to learn tom come face-to-face with made them who they are today, learn how to fix their thinking, forgive themselves, understand their role as victim in their lives but then to face their crime, to feel the pain they inflicted upon others and come to grips with the fact that they have no excuses for what they did, they must take full responsbility for their actions, no matter how vicitmized they were as children.

The book is tragic and educational. It is disappointing and so hopeful. Even when you reach the epilogue and you learn where all these kids are today and you see that most of them will never end up where they hope to be; the point is that they are trying. They are making conscious efforts and decisions to avoid falling into old ways of thinking and behaving. And that is where the hope comes in.

The recidivism rates at Giddings are ridiculously low. Crazy low. So low that it makes us wonder why other juvy systems in the country aren't following their example. Part of the problem is cost. It is expensive to offer these types of programs with the sorts of trained and understanding, yet tough, individuals that run them. The other part of the problem is that it's always easier to put these kids away, labelling them as hopelessly criminal without a chance to truly change. It's easier to give in to fear than it is to think they might have a way of mending themselves and, in turn, mending our society.

So readable, so accessible, Hubner writes in a manner that makes you feel like you are with him behind the one-way mirror watching and listening as these kids go through the biggest struggle of their lives: confronting their real selves. I have a few complaints about the structure of the book: what went where and why -- and also the too-brief time spent with the girls' group. But even more important is that we need to read this book and champion ways of bringing this light and hope to as many of these hopeless juvy cases as we possibly can. Otherwise, what hope is there that things will continue to get better?