Every Sunday, I will go over what books/film I have read/watched this week (Tuesday is writing about doormanning day, Thursday is dispatches from the “living deliberately” experiment). A few sentences on each book: what themes I found interesting and whether or not I found the book worthwhile, or worth vouching for. Only two kinds of books: books worth reading and books not worth reading.
Lolita-Vladimir Nabokov. So much has already said and been debated about this book that its almost passe to have an opinion about it and claim it as original. There seems to be some intellectual obligation to read it, and that is not a bad thing. What is most interesting about Lolita is how well he humanizes his perfectly perverse pedophile, Humboldt Humboldt. While it is a book of obsession, Nabokov does create a full, human character who is not just pure evil in biological form: needs (however immoral), wants (however taboo), character flaws, character strengths, self awareness, and humor. In terms of our political and social landscape, it would be worthwhile taking this to heart. Perhaps if we as a society decided to recognize pedophiles as human beings (however dangerous) and not just unadulterated malignancy deserving only to be locked away, castrated, or killed, we would do a little bit better finding therapy, corrective behavior, and a navigable and positive path for pedophiles. Of course, saying that is in itself a bit taboo and controversial.
Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close–Jonathan Safran Foer. Admittedly I found the type of humor (repeated sentences and put upon naivete) of his other book, Everything is Illuminated to be a bit distracting. Here he weilds his jokes more cautiously, and therefore, with greater effect. He narrates from the perspective of a precocious 9-year-old struggling with the death of his father in the twin towers two years on. His quest to find the lock to a mysterious key he finds in his father’s closet, and his larger struggle to understand his father’s death, dovetails with his grandparent’s experience of the bombing of Dresden. The inclusion of photos and drawings is an (overly) clever comment on the infiltration of the information age and how much 9/11 as a national tragedy was shaped by the internet and cable news. Take it or leave it. It is a quick read, funny and occasionally truly painful. Safran Foer creates another novel that occasionally feels like a vehicle for heralding his own intelligence and sensitivity, but for most, his wit and ability to articulate sadness and loss make up for it.
East is East-T.C. Boyle. This is the second Boyle novel I’ve read, Drop City being the other. Similar themes exist: hippies, communes, the outsider, the writer, female characters who fluctuate between being victims and masters of their sexuality, always one-dimensional. This book is about a half Japanese 20-year-old who jumps ship and ends up in Georgia, being seduced and exploited by mediocre writers, attacked and hunted by locals, misunderstood in the media, and constantly fighting the swamps, the heat. It is supposed to be a comment on racism, distrust of miscegenation and xenophobia. The thing about race jokes is that they have to be good, same goes with novels about stereotypes and xenophobia. The novel fails at being good in this sense. All the characters are utterly defined by their gender, ethnicity, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no characters who are not flat. You can take that as a comment itself on race and racism, but frankly I think Boyle just lacked the sensitivity and subtlety and came across as someone who thought racism was bad, but was blinded to the complexities of how privilege and ethnic differences function, and how he is involuntarily a part of that.
Also read: Causing a Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places by Charlie Todd and Alex Scordelis. It’s by the folks of the no pants! subway ride and the Grand Central Station freeze. Easy to read breakdown and narration of their pranks which is informative, but really, just go to improveverywhere.com or check them out on youtube: