Monday, December 31, 2012

Just under the wire.

When I think back to New Year's Eve of 2012, I'm going to remember (fondly?) the hours I spent sitting on my bed, playing Plants Versus Zombies while finishing the audio book version of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Because I'm nothing if not a party animal. Books and my bed? Sounds about right--ring in the new year the way I spent the old one.

But anyway. I finished two more books this week, which makes 36 for 2012. And which, frankly, is the most books I've ever read in my life. That's like 3/4 of a book or something, per week. Or whatever. I don't believe in math. I could figure that shit out but it would take too long and I am not going to deal with that rainbow of crazy right now.


Here's what I read, my two last reads of 2012, completed after the world was supposed to end. Suck it, Mayans.

The Myth of Solid Ground by David Ulin

Short review, because I'm afraid I'll accidentally write something to embarrass myself when discussing a book that was written by a professor in my program (who also happens to be the LA Times' book critic). Luckily, I loved the book, so I don't think I'll say something stupid, but you never know. The night is young.

The Myth of Solid Ground is an examination of what it means to be a Californian, to make our homes on top of the crisscrossing fault lines that run beneath our state. The book is a wonderful mix of science,  history, and reporting. It's about the people who think they can predict earthquakes (yes, including the total quacks) and the experiential part of earthquakes that makes them a bit ineffable and hard to pin down. Ulin uses the term "geopoetry" and it fits well. I really enjoyed this book, especially the passages when he describes his drives around the state to meet with people of all different ilk. Ulin has a wonderful style that moves freely from personal narrative to interview to historical face.

My recommendation: A great read for people from the Golden State. Or anyone else who wants to know why we would be crazy enough to live here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Whoa. This book.

Here's what I'm going to do--this first paragraph won't have any spoilers in it, so if you haven't read it yet and you don't want to know anything, don't read anything after this paragraph. Short version: It's a good book, and it's the book that everyone is and will be talking about. You should read it. It is definitely a page turner. But honestly I didn't really like the characters or the author or the whole idea of it. It made me feel kind of hopeless and angry and frustrated. And I felt like I was deliberately deceived, by the author through her narrator which I am not a fan of. But since I'm 100% sure it will be a movie and it's already a part of the zeitgeist, just read it. And then we can complain about it together. Or perhaps you will think I am nuts, and that's okay too.

There be spoilers ahead. Fair warning.

Okay. I listened to this book on an audio book, and I started it on the ten hour drive from Palm Springs back to Sacramento. I got about a third of the way through it on that drive, and by the end of the first third I felt mad -- already. I don't mind unreliable narrators. I don't mind quirky narrators. But what I don't like is feeling like someone is deliberately obfuscating information so they can pull back the curtain and go LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM, I FOOLED YOU. I think there's a distinct difference between a narrator who is oblivious to something and a narrator who hides information for a big, tricky reveal. The latter feels cheap, and it feels (to me) like the author showing off. So after I got through the first third, I already didn't like Amy's "diary" voice (including the bits of life questions as quizzes made me want to turn it off), I didn't like Nick because he seemed kind of blank and incomplete (I'm sure, now, because information was deliberately left out), and I didn't like the author, Flynn because of her hiding of the affair until she made a big show of revealing it through Nick. I didn't think it needed to be like that--instead, that part just made me angry.

Perhaps I'm not the right reader for this kind of book. That occurred to me. I don't like being tricked the same way I don't like being scared... That's why I don't watch horror movies. Maybe I need to avoid this kind of book in the same way. I am certain there are people who do enjoy both things, and I can see how this wouldn't be an issue for many people.

Anyway. The fact that Nick concealed his affair just seemed like it didn't need to be. Amy as psychopath, Amy as the orchestrator of her own disappearance? That was crazy/interesting/engaging enough. That was enough of a story.

And for the second two thirds of the book, as I said, I wanted to keep reading. I wasn't bored. This story is nuts. It's not like anything else I've ever read, which is one of the top things that gets my spidey sense going about a book. I wanted to read it, and keep reading. But I can't say that I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to read it the same way I want to look at a car accident on the side of the road to see what happened. My human curiosity gets the better of me, but I know it's not something that is good to have in my head.

I don't know... I don't feel like literature has to be instructive. Not at all. Books are not models for living, they echo what is or they imagine what could be. This book manages to capture some very ugly things about our society--about the role of the media in the court system, in particular--very accurately, but I can't say I like thinking about it, or that it left me feeling some kind of satisfaction. This novel very accurately mirrors a kind of moral and economic bankruptcy that our whole nation is experiencing. It is "of the moment"-- but I don't really like this moment.

The most important test I have for a book, my "is it good or bad?" test: Did it make me feel something? If the answer to that question is yes, then I generally would agree that it is "good," by no other standard than my own. So this book passes. It's good. But what did it made me feel? Mostly revulsion.

My recommendation: Go ahead and read it. It's exciting. But as I said, I'd love to talk about it after you're done.

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