Monday, July 09, 2007

Reader's Diary #265- Paul Glennon: The Dodecahedron (Finished)

I'm an mp3 junkie, I admit it. It's one of the few areas of organization that I'm anal about. Soon as I get a new one, it's immediately filed away and categorized by release year, decade, and genre. It's that last one that causes the most stress.

I appreciate as much as anyone when artists don't restrict themselves to one genre, medium, etc. I love that art often defies categorization...except when I have to enter it into my Musicmatch Jukebox. Rather than having 100 genres, I've managed so far by broadening my groups. Therefore, I have a "Country/Bluegrass" group, a "RnB/Soul/Motown" group and a few other such combos. Lately I've run into a snag. You see, originally I had a simple "Reggae" group. Before long of course, it became "Reggae/Ska". Eventually, that became "Dub/Reggae/Ska" and then I had to decide whether or not "Reggaeton" should join them or perhaps it belonged in my "Mexican/Latin" music. It's a bit much, but I went with the former, and I made my peace with the rather lengthy title, "Dub/Reggae/Ska/Reggaeton". Now I've just discovered "Dubstep." Cripes.

What's all this to do with The Dodecahedron? Well, one of the features that it promised, and which drew me in, was having twelve genres. And while it did have more than one, twelve might be a stretch. It did have twelve chapters, but some just seemed like chapters from different novels. Perhaps this is a matter of me simply not knowing the finer details that differentiate between two genres (like reggae versus ska, or social science fiction versus dystopian fiction). Or perhaps the publishers simply got carried away with the whole "12" fixation. I do think it's rather telling that even on the publisher's page, it tells us only what 4 of these are supposed to be;
The Dodecahedron is a bravura performance, in which a range of well-known genres-- investigative journalism, academic articles, children's stories, adventurer's diaries, and more -- are folded together in a feat of literary origami.
But fortunately, like my music dilemma, it's all irrelevant when you get into it. As long as the book is a great read, as long as the music rocks, the classifications don't really matter.

It might seem like hyperbole to say so, but The Dodecahedron is probably the first book that I've felt I had a relationship with. Usually, I either get swept away and lost in the pages, or else I don't connect at all. This time, I felt like the book and I were playing a game. Glennon has created one heck of a reading experience.

It's odd that I'm full of complements at this point. At times throughout, I was convinced Glennon was a con-artist. I've often suspected that some artists throw in vague references to God, to give the illusion of profundity, when really they have no point or question at all. Glennon wields the mystique of geometry in much the same way. But did he have anything to say?

Certainly he did make some great points about stories: they repeat one another, fiction intertwines with reality, and so forth. Bibliophiles will love picking up on all the references to literature: Robert Louis Stevenson and Homer even find themselves in the company of Dan Brown. (Not surprisingly, taste as a measure of quality is also questioned.) But are commonalities within different books the result of some cosmic mathematical formula? Is fiction false? Is reality true? These are the carrots that Glennon tease us with.

The twelve stories intertwine with one another that is usually mesmerizing. Plots of earlier stories are discounted or slightly revised, peripheral characters take the lead, and so on. Ever heard of TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi's play 52 Pick Up? Like that work, Glennon's chapters could be read in random order, and I doubt any of the effect would be lost. And if that alone wasn't enough to make you suspect that something more is going on, Glennon taunts us with occasional remarks that the truth is right in front of us.

It's remarkable that this book works. With wild conspiracy theories, it could have been as cheesy as Angels & Demons. With allusions to alternate realities, it could have been the new-agey sludge of The Alchemist. But where (I think) those books failed, Glennon somehow pulls it off. Could it be that he is just holding an empty box, telling me he has something magical inside? Maybe. But when I really think about it, what author isn't?


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Wow. No wonder your brain aches. I can see this book being simultaneously mesmerizing and frustrating. I guess in the end, they just have to battle it out for domination.

Sounds awfully intriguing.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Well, I hope I made it sound intriguing enough to inspire you to pick it up. It's one of those books that I need to hear other opinions on- maybe to help me decide how I feel about it!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I will add it to my post-Labour day reading list! Right now Blindness and Trainspotting are fighting over my attention.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: For those two books, I'll gladly wait patiently.

Anonymous said...

Oaky, I've added the book to my TBR list and will now having something to read next time I want my brain to hurt. The brain hurting thing is, as you know, not necessarily a bad thing.

John Mutford said...

Stefanie: Not a bad thing at all. That's why I'm looking forward to the migraine that the Hofstadter book (see bottom of the page) is sure to bring me.

Dewey said...

This book sounds fascinating. I'll go add it to my wishlist right away!

Anonymous said...

I have got to quit reading blogs. Argh. One more into the stack.

OTOH, it hits one of my pet peeves, the classification. Why does everything have to be distilled into one sound bite/word? We think we're going to end racism. We can't even stop judging a book by its cover. (although there's a lot of marketing & research into being able to do just that.)

Kelly said...

Sounds pretty heavy. I may have to pick it up and give it a go.

John Mutford said...

Dewey, Carrie, and MyUtopia: I hope that you'll write your thoughts if you do!

Carrie: Do you think classifications are a necessary evil sometimes?

Carrie K said...

Okay, yes, actually I do concede that classifications are necessary & useful and not always evil - the periodic table, binomial nomenclature, medical diagnostics, etc.

It's possible I'm just cranky from lack of sleep and having half the house in the garage while painters and carpenters run amuck.

But that said, it really has astonished me how much classification we do as a matter of course. I think it's hardwired.

Isabella K said...

I loved this book. I have a really hard time articulating why -- something I find to be true of those books I connect with the most. Some great themes and ideas tossed around. I found myself at the end trying to map the stories, which edges touched each other.

John Mutford said...

Isabella: I find that about my favourites too. I was almost left incoherent after reading Blindness.

Btw, I almost didn't respond to your comment. Yours was the twelfth comment and it just seemed cosmically significant or something to leave it at that. But I'm just excited to hear from someone else who actually read the book, and enjoyed it.