Thursday, February 28, 2013

The 6th Canadian Book Challenge- February Round Up (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link: 
1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. This brings me up to 1/13)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reader's Diary #955- Madeline Sonik: No Kind of Man

In the bio at the end of her story "No Kind of Man," Madeline Sonik is said to write fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Once you have read through "No Kind of Man" the poetry bit will probably not come as that much of a shock.

"No Kind of Man" is weird. That sounds harsh and judgmental... if you don't know me. I happen to think weird can be a good thing. I'm not a fan of weird for the sake of weird, but weird can serve a creative purpose. I'm fickle on the weird.

The weird in "No Kind of Man" is poetic in a rich surrealistic imagery sort of way— it would make a great comic or cartoon actually. But the possibility is left open so that it might be a head injury, and I like those escape holes. Also, it's not just random weirdness; there's also a quickly unfolding plot and so many revelations about the characters that I couldn't help but keep reading. Like a highly detailed painting that doesn't make sense until you stare at it for a while.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reader's Diary #954- Jamie Bastedo: Nighthawk!

While reading Jamie Bastedo's Nighthawk! I was also in the process of reading of reading Richard Adams's Watership Down to my daughter and the similarities between the two were readily apparent. Both deal with animal societies, with anthropomorphised animals on heroic adventures. However, whereas Watership Down is epic in nature, Nighthawk! is more of a coming-of-age story.

Nighthawk! is the story of a bird named Wisp, who in human terms, comes across as a a rather typical teenager. He has insecurities (he cannot read stars to navigate as most nighthawks can), but nonetheless challenges authority and wants to set out on his own. And set out he does; Wisp aims to fly all the way from the Amazon to the Arctic. Though he's not on his own for long.

Wisp is a highly engaging character, flawed but likeable, walking... or flying, I guess... those fine lines between between persistence and stubbornness, independence and mistrust. But he's certainly not the only interesting character. Another, a raven named Gonzo, provides some comic relief, though I will admit cringing a little when he first appeared, wondering if he wasn't portrayed as a racist stereotype. I had once heard similar charges over the crows in Disney's Dumbo cartoon and perhaps that planted the question about Gonzo in my head. Wisp and his sister Willo first meet Gonzo in Panama. He has a very thick accent ("What do you know about deesgusting food, cheeken-face?") and he's a bit on the crazy side. Whether or not someone from Panama would take offense to Gonzo, he did grow on me and turned out to have a lot of good qualities in the end.

A beef about the title: the exclamation point is annoying. It tries too hard, especially when the word nighthawk is dramatic enough on its own, as are each of the stem words that make up the compound word. Ordinarily I'd say this is but a small beef with editing (as was my earlier Tweeted beef about using Columbia to refer to the country instead of the correct Colombia), but I found it hard to ignore that shouting mark right there on the front of the book, needing attention every time I picked it up.

Luckily, Nighthawk! is a rollicking adventure and despite small issues, I quite enjoyed it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reader's Diary #953- Scott Chantler: Tower of Treasure

I enjoyed Scott Chantler's Northwest Passage quite a lot, and to a lesser extent Two Generals, so when I came across his Tower of Treasure— a book I'd not heard of— at a local library this week, I was curious enough to pick it up. An hour later I was done. Ah, the wonderful thing about graphic novels: you can read a whole book in the same time it'd take you to just read a chapter in a regular novel.

Clearly I enjoyed it. It's an adventure tale, aimed at 9-12 year olds according to the Kids Can Press, but the characters were interesting enough and the plot was developed enough that I was hooked nonetheless.

The artwork feels a little more rushed than the aforementioned Chantler graphic novels. Occasionally there are glimpses into his talent (like a full shot of a magnificent castle), but too often the backgrounds are simplistic; a plain blue sky or brick castle wall. Still, the story was engaging enough that for the most part I didn't even notice the first time through.

Tower of Treasure is the first in Chantler's Three Thieves series. Here we are introduced to a 14 year old orphan girl named Dessa who has become an acrobat in a traveling circus. She is not exactly a happy teenager and as we get more glimpses into her past, it becomes even more understandable. She hopes to one day find her twin brother who was stolen from her home the night her mother was murdered. Dessa is usually accompanied by a small blue creature called a norker and a giant creature called an ettin. (Both are apparently types of creatures in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, which I only discovered while researching for this post.) The norker, named Topper, is a thief (a little too reminiscent of Phoney Bone of Jeff Smith's Bone series) while the ettin, named Fisk, is more friendly, though a little on the dense side. The plot of this book revolves around the three (the three thieves) attempting to steal an evil queen's treasure, but it's the underlying plot of Dessa searching for her long lost brother that will maintain through the series.

It's short and fun and should I come across the next book, I'll definitely pick it up.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reader's Diary #952- Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Not having read a lot of mysteries, I don't have a lot to compare to Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Which probably explains why it reminded me of Scooby-Doo cartoons.

I don't mean that as an insult per se— it wasn't the quality or lack thereof that reminded me of the gang from the Mystery Machine. It was the blend of mystery and supernatural.

The Hound of the Baskervilles recounts a family curse. Years earlier, a man named Hugo Baskerville supposedly made a pact with the devil that— as deals with the devil are wont to do— backfired. Hugo was said to have been killed by a hellhound, a hellhound that should have gone down in history as a myth, as family folklore, except that tragedy has befallen every Baskerville man since. The scene is set in the Hound of the Baskervilles, with a report that the latest Baskerville has been found dead and giant hound footprints were found nearby his body. Holmes agrees to get involved to help protect the heir to the family estate, Charles, who has just returned to London from Canada.

Only having read a few Sherlock Holmes stories over the years, and watching the last couple of Robert Downey Jr. flicks, I was surprised at the importance of Dr. Watson. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that this is a Watson book, not a Holmes book. Holmes swoops in at the end to fit the pieces together with a long explanation at the end, but it's Watson that runs most of the investigation for the first three quarters of the book. Still Watson never seems to begrudge Holmes. He's loyal to a fault.

Speaking of Holmes' end scene play by play, was this a Doyle convention? Of the few mysteries that I've read, there's always been a long drawn out, somewhat awkward reveal at the end. Normally I find this cheesy, partly because it sticks out as unrealistically convenient dialogue, but also because it's so overdone. However, I have to wonder if it was overdone in Doyle's time. Any readers of classic mysteries want to field that question?

In any case, despite the ending and a plot that was just a wee over the top, it was an entertaining book with amusing characters. I thought the theme of superstitions, greed and fear were compelling enough, even if I kept expecting someone to say, "And I'd have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!"

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reader's Diary #951- Stephenie Meyer: Twilight

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight had a few things working in its favour:

1. The negative reviews- I was surprised to find that Twilight wasn't written, in fact, in crayon. I'm not suggesting that Twilight should have gotten a Pulitzer, but Meyer does have her B.A. in English; she is capable of stringing sentences together. True, sometimes Meyer seems to try too hard to show her education, trying to make Bella bookish, into the classics, but when Meyer isn't trying too hard to turn Twilight into something it's not (a literary masterpiece), she has written an entertaining book.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey- I haven't read enough fan fiction yet to make a sweeping generalization, but I'm starting to suspect that if you want to appreciate an original book, you should read the fan fiction first. I recently read someone knock Twilight's Bella for being too swoony over Edward. Fair enough, but good lord, at least she's not Anastasia Steele. Not to knock all teenage girls, but Bella is a teenager after all. Teenagers swoon. And unlike Christian Grey, Edward is a vampire and as such, he practically excretes pheromones— that's one of the things supposed to make vampires such perfectly irresistible predators.

So, perhaps the secret to enjoying Twilight is to not go into it with high expectations. I won't be reading the following up books, but for a diversion, it wasn't half bad.

As a side note, I seemed to surprise a lot of my reader's last week when I "reviewed" Fifty Shades of Grey. This, despite the fact, that I had it listed in the sidebar for some time as a book I planned to read. Last year I made a list of popular novels that had escaped me or that I've managed to avoid. But I'm not a complete snob and I don't intentionally shun bestsellers. I've always felt that I can't judge an author's work unless I've read at least something by them, even if the respected critics warn me to stay away. Plus I like being well rounded. The popular books nicely balance out my Obscure Challenge blog. Anyway, here's the list of the books that the general populace has read, but I haven't. Actually, since completing the list last year, I have managed to cross off a few:

GLARING OMISSIONS! (Populist edition)  
1. Twilight- Stephenie Meyer   
2. Fifty Shades of Grey- E.L. James
3. Confessions of a Shopaholic- Sophie Kinsella
4. the Sisters Brothers- Patrick deWitt
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- Stiegg Larsson  
6. The Gargoyle- Andrew Davidson
7. Outlander- Gil Adamson
8. Flashforward- Robert J. Sawyer
9. Fear the Worst- Linwood Barclay  
10. No One Here Gets Out Alive- Jerry Hopkins
11. A Fatal Grace- Louise Penny
12. Room- Emma Donoghue
13. Bitten- Kelley Armstrong
14. The Book of Awesome- Neil Pasricha
15. Outliers- Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Lightning Thief- Rick Riordan  
17. Freakonomics- Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
18. Water For Elephants- Sara Gruen
19. Book Thief- Markus Zusak
20. The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini

Which of these have you read?

Reader's Diary #950- John Wyndham: Meteor

I guess I don't need a long preamble as to why I picked this week's story.

"Meteor" begins with something mysterious that crashes to Earth with a lot of noise and shaking. At first, not knowing what to expect, the locals guess they are being attacked. They soon decide it's a meteor. Wrong on both accounts.

There are a few unexpected twists that keep the story amusing, though it's hard not to pick up on the serious message underneath it all. It's also hard to talk about the story without giving too much away. I will say that what the meteor actually turns out to be is something that I've considered before. It was nice to see that someone else had a similar imagination.

Anyway, let's hope the things that fell in Russia last week were actually meteors. Though I'm sure there are plenty of other theories already picking up steam on the internet. Where imagination meets crazy.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reader's Diary #949- The New King James Version Bible: The Book of Micah

I haven't been too active on the blogging front lately. Somewhat preoccupied with work and Canada Reads rights now. I actually finished this one a week or so ago, but it's taken me until now to realize I'd not yet blogged about it.

Speaking of Canada Reads, I thought the discussion of Indian Horse today was interesting. While no one used the words preachy, it was implied that the heavy handed message got in the way of the story. (I would agree, by the way.)

I'm reminded of that now when I think of the Book of Micah. Of course, I'm not suggesting that the intent of any of these Biblical books was to entertain, but Micah is mostly a message book and thus, not perhaps as compelling as books about whales, floods, or pits of lions. But I'm not a complete five year old. I did appreciate the messages about social justice and greed. If it was a novel, I'd be looking for more character development of Micah the man, but I can't fault the book for what it isn't or was never meant to be.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reader's Diary #948- Fearless Frederick Lepine: Mabel's Story

Since I was in Hay River for my son's hockey tournament this past weekend, I thought I'd try to find a short story by a Hay River author. It was a difficult search (the town only has a population of 3648 after all), but I finally happened upon "Fearless" Frederick Lepine's "Mabel's Story."

I wasn't entirely optimistic, though and because it was the grand prize winner in a 1996 Northwest Territories Writing Contest sponsored by NWT Literacy. Sure it won a prize, but I suspected it won because it was a heavy handed message about literacy, not because it was well written.

I'm pleased to say that it wasn't heavy handed at all. It's about an young man's encounter with an aboriginal woman named Mabel, who recounts her history as he helps her up from a fall and return back to her home. One part of history happens to be that she decided to learn how to read at age 66. It's a fact that can almost blend in with the others in the story but there are some subtle messages there if you look close.

Klik luncheon meat. Libby's brown beans. Cheezies. Boxes of Lipton chicken soup. Pilot biscuits, Kraft Dinner, Coke. These are the groceries that spill from Mabel's bags as she slips on the ice. Could be seen as mere cataloging of items for the sake of detail, but I think there are negative connotation of this grocery list; that this is the list of someone who is poorer and not refined. I say this, even as I sometimes buy some of these items. Not to say that Mabel should be judged by such items, or that some people don't genuinely enjoy such foods, but taken as a whole, I think there's an underlying message. Could Lepine be making a statement about public perceptions regarding lower class people and illiteracy?

Despite these perceptions, Lepine also manages to slip in that Mabel has learned to speak several languages. And, as I mentioned, she's aboriginal, she's 66, and she's learning to read and write. Any racists, ageists, classists, or just plain pessimists who would doubt that such a woman couldn't learn how to read should respect that such people are possibly just as bright and capable as the next. Such people possibly have a lot to offer. "Mabel's Story" is as much about dignity as it is about literacy.

It's not a preachy story, despite of all this, and I quite enjoyed it.

(Did you write a story for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Canada Reads 2013- Predicting the Winner...

Since Canada Reads first began, I've tried on a few occasions to predict the winner. Once, just once, did I  get it right with Terry Fallis' The Best Laid Plans a couple of years back. So, I have a bad track record, but it won't stop me from trying my hand at it again. If I get it wrong again, I may just have to buy me an octopus.

Actually, this is one of the few years that I'll predict that the book I want to win will actually win. Here's what I think'll happen.

1st. Two Solitudes will be the first to go. Not that anyone will say it's tedious and boring (though at least 2 people on that panel will be thinking it). I wrote my review last week and most of my commentators agreed with my less than thrilled response. However, we do need to keep in mind that it made it into the top 5 picks for Quebec based on public votes, so it does have its share of fans, besides panelist Jay Baruchel. I think the public reason they'll give for getting rid of it first is the safety of doing so. Given Hugh MacLennan's status as a literary Canadian icon and that Two Solitudes won a Governor General award back in the day, the case will be made that it's already had its accolades and it's time to share the wealth. Call this the socialist vote if you like. In any case, it's why Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, and Douglas Coupland have not been successful contenders.

2. Indian Horse will be next. This will be partly strategic. I think it has the most public support to win and that'll be the reason the other panelists will want to get rid of it early.

3. Here's where I lose my confidence in my prediction. I think David Bergen's The Age of Hope will go next. On the one hand, I think strategically Trent McLellan (representing February) and Charlotte Gray (representing Away) will want it to stick around. It's my 2nd favourite of this year's contenders, but I think it's perceived as the weakest. Again, like Two Solitudes, it should be noted that it made it to the top five of the Prairies and the North picks by public vote. If I'm wrong here, it'll be Away on the chopping block. But here's the first time the panelist will really matter. A lot of people are saying that Ron MacLean will be a strong advocate, basing it on being able to hold his own against Don Cherry all these years. I'm not so sure. Maybe he's a great debater, but if we're being honest he plays the straight man to Don Cherry. I don't think we can tell how he'll do. As for Charlotte Gray, she somehow managed to convince HarperCollins to publish a wholly overdone and unnecessary book about the Klondike gold rush, so I think she's got some serious debate skills.

4. Next Jane Urquhart's Away will... go away. It's the most unique of the 5 picks and deserves some recognition for that, but keep in mind that that'll also be its downfall. The other four panelist chose books more steeped in reality, so clearly that's the majority preference on the panel.

5. February. It'll be praised for it's beautiful writing and astute observations. (Just as I did.) But McLellan will need to have something prepared to defend against Charlotte Gray who'll undoubtably go after the character of Helen's son John, whose story is somewhat weak and unnecessary. Fortunately for McLellan, any other of the common beefs reviewers seem to have against February can also be said about the other contenders.

What do you think? Who do you think will win? And who would you like to win?

Tune in to the show on starting next Monday on CBC radio.

Reader's Diary #946- David Bergen: The Age of Hope

Finally, I've finished all of this year's Canada Reads contenders. And, if I had to make just one complaint, it's that all the books are on the boring side. Plots are thin, if existent at all, there's nary a joke to be found, and good luck finding any pulse pounding drama or romantic scenes. I'm not suggesting that Canada Reads needs to go all genre fiction, but in past years we had the acerbic satire of Mordecai Richler and the frightening dystopia of Margaret Atwood. We had a drug addicted teenage prostitute and a man in a boat with a tiger. We had poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and a graphic novel. This year we get CanLit. The CanLit that causes people to groan— the same groan they groan for reduced sodium chips and lite beer.

Interestingly, it hasn't stopped people from sorting through them and picking their favourites. From all the discussions I've seen, February and Indian Horse come up the most, closely followed by Away. The Age of Hope and Two Solitudes definitely seem to be the underdogs. Oddly, The Age of Hope seems to be the one most singled out for having the problems I spoke of above, as if it's the best representative of why this year's contenders are so dull.

Odder still, I kind of enjoyed it. It started off very slow. A woman from Manitoba named Hope marries young after a cliched and almost unbelievably innocent (even for the time, the 1940s) courtship. The marriage is light on romance, heavy on practicality. Then of course, as is the same story that's been told time and time again this past decade, she soon finds that there's something unfulfilling about her existence. She was simultaneously bored yet feeling the pressure to be and think a certain way.

I read one reviewer remark that there wasn't enough character development. It's true that Hope lives inside her head for the most part. She over thinks, over analyzes, yet somehow doesn't change nor seem to learn a great deal about herself (I can relate to this). She's a very static character. But the stereotype began to wear off. There was a near affair. There was an abortion. Yet nothing rises to level of plot, just mere episodes. It wasn't all Norman Rockwell but it wasn't quite Far From Heaven either. I can get why some people might find this to be a boring book. Hell, it was a boring book. But compared to the other boring books in this year's Canada Reads, I didn't mind it. It felt honest, almost like people watching, only more personal. The writing wasn't as beautiful or as rich in observation as February, but it was probably my second favourite book. Of the five.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the title. I got my back up when I realized the main character was Hope. Overly convenient character names was one of the reasons I hated Ami McKay's Birth House so much, so I was skeptical. But I have known people in real life named Hope and the wordplay in the title is really not beaten to death through the course of the book, and I was easily able to overlook it.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Reader's Diary #945- Ukamaka Olisakwe: Running

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I have a thing for 2nd person perspective stories. Because they're so rare, however, it always has to become such a thing when I find one. I reviewed a short story last week. Did I tell you it was told in the third person? No, of course not. It's the default, the norm, followed closely by the first person, which often also goes without mentioning in many reviews. What is it that seems so off putting about 2nd person? I know it's not for everyone, but I think if enough authors wrote in this way, it wouldn't seem so jarring and unusual when you come upon such a story.

But for now, it still jumps out, even for enthusiasts like me. I find myself rereading paragraphs, "translating" 2nd person pronouns into the 3rd, to see if it still works, to see if 2nd person was necessary, something I've never done in reverse. And usually, as with Ukamaka Olisakwe's "Running," I'm convinced that yes, 2nd person was the right choice.

"Running" is about you, as a young girl, suffering physical and emotional abuse from your mother. Eventually you find solace in singing, but the need for your mother's praise, any kind words really, occupies almost all of your thoughts.

The 2nd person perspective makes you empathetic towards that longing all the more. With the conclusion at the end, there is the sense that the outcome had been a daydream, a fantasy, almost a plan versus a memory. Once again, the 2nd perspective compliments this angle as well.

Great story.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below. Also, if you are a writer and have written a short story in the 2nd person perspective, I'm looking to put together an anthology of such stories. Send your contributions my way!)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Reader's Diary #944- Hugh MacLennan: Two Solitudes

Do you read more than one book at a time? I do, but I usually get gasps of either disbelief or disdain if that comes up in conversation. Most people seem to practice monogamy with their books, but then I don't hang out with any other book bloggers. Do the same people who only read one novel at a time also just watch one TV series at a time? If you can watch Modern Family and Parks and Recreation each week and not mix up the cast or plots, I'm sure you can separate the characters of Two Solitudes and Indian Horse.

I bring this up because, as I've already stated, I've been concurrently reading this year's Canada Reads contenders. For the most part it's worked out great and I can easily pick my favourites and compare them thoroughly, simply based on enjoyment and eagerness to switch to the next book. However it's not foolproof, and Two Solitudes may have suffered from my system. Basically I chose different times of the day or week for each book: February was my morning coffee book, Indian Horse and The Age of Hope were my weekend books, Away was my (ahem) bathroom book, and Two Solitudes was my bedtime book.

To be fair to Two Solitudes, maybe it was as boring or confusing as I thought, maybe I was just tired. But I will say that I've read plenty of books at bedtime before and many of them were compelling enough to keep me awake. Two Solitudes did not.

I found Two Solitudes to be too serious and too gloomy. Dealing with the whole French-English divide thing for over 500 pages was just about more than I could bear. I understand that for some people, especially in certain parts of the country, it was and remains a real issue, but it's never been a big factor in my life (and my kids are in French immersion, by the way). The way MacLennan presents it is as if it's all Canadians ever think about, as if Canada only has two cultures and those two cultures are in a constant struggle with one another.

It doesn't help that MacLennan seems to flounder about looking for a central character. It begins with Athanase Tallard, a Quebecois who marries an Irish woman and increasingly, through his business plans, disagreements with the Catholic church, and his politics, finds himself alienated in a community where he and his family before him, had been like royalty. This in and of itself could have made a strong point, but with still half a book to go, MacLennan kills off Athanase and toys briefly with making his oldest son Marius (from his first, now deceased wife) the star of the book. Unlike Athanase who learned a lesson about being two eager to adopt the ways of the "other side," through Marius we're to learn a lesson about being too resistant to the other side. There, another good point to end on. Nope. We also have to see this thing through with Paul, Athanase's second son, of mixed French and English heritage. He, of course, goes through the internal struggle, blah, blah, blah and I think he comes to the conclusion, or we're supposed to, that like Canada, his two sides are just going to have to appreciate that they live side by side, will never fully mix, but strengthen each other with their co-existence, just as the title promised us all along. Well, la-dee-da.

Lighten up already.

Reader's Diary #943- William Shakespeare: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Pericles was the last of Shakespeare's play for me to read, leaving me with just his sonnets and other poems to go.

One of his more obscure plays, possibly co-written with another, it was still an enjoyable play to end on. It starts off dark enough, though. Pericles tries to win the hand of Anthioch's daughter by answering the king's riddle, even though getting it wrong would mean death. When Pericles hints that he has solved it— that Antioch is having an incestuous relationship with his own daughter— Pericles is unsure of how to answer. He'd also surely be killed for revealing the truth. Being left with no other option, he flees the country.

It is on this journey that he meets Dionyza who offers what is now one of my favourite Shakespeare lines:
For who digs hills because they do aspire
Throws down one mountain to cast up a higher.
I love this cynical image.

It's about this time that Pericles is set up with a new bride and daughter, only it's all short-lived. His wife appears to die during labour aboard a ship during a storm. Her body is placed in a coffin and cast into the ocean, and later Pericles decides to hand his motherless daughter Marina over to his friends Dionyza and her husband Cleon to raise. However, Dionyza has a daughter of her own and because she is jealous, assuming that Marina'll steal all her daughters' potential suitors away, she sells her into a brothel.

But then the story takes a strange turn in terms of tone. What was first a depressing epic, takes a turn for the... better? It's wanders into soap opera territory, with Pericles finding his daughter again (and even with her "virtue" still in tact) and then even his presumed dead wife, who had been revived by a physician shortly after she had washed up on shore. It's one of Shakespeare's more "they lived happily ever after" moments.

It's a departure from a man who often wrote the opposite; have a couple fall in love, then have a violent bloodbath. With Pericles, it was like Shakespeare got halfway and decided, "yes, yes, life can suck, but you know what? A play doesn't need to be about the reality of all that crap, it can be over the top happy if I want to make it over the top happy." Sometimes we need that or we'd all be out of hope forever.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Reader's Diary #942- Joseph Heller: Catch-22

There's a hilarious Simpsons bit in which Ned Flander's beatnik parents have taken him, then a child hellion, to a psychiatrist. "You gotta help us, Doc." His mother begs, "We've tried nothin' and we're all out of ideas." I didn't realize it at the time, as I hadn't read the book, but it's a very Hellerian sort of phrase. Only— and fortunately— this is only one type of joke in Simpsons cartoons. In Catch-22, it seems to be the only kind of humour, and similar jokes are told ad nauseum. In other words, the humour overstays its welcome, going from tiresome to downright grating.

The joke, also the point of the entire novel, seems to be that there's a snafu in the system. Which system? Definitely military bureaucracy, but arguably Heller extends his point to society at large. It should be a decent theme to build a novel around, but egad, it's an annoying book. The plot revolves mostly around Captain Yossarian who desperately wants to get out of the war and go home. It seems like every time he comes close to flying the required number of missions, they keep upping the number of missions. (I read the book on my Kobo and could relate to the feeling. Every I felt like I was getting close to the end, it seemed like Heller and my Kobo conspired to raise the number of pages left to go.) Unable to reach the required total, Yossarian tries to leave on grounds of insanity. The catch, or Catch-22 as Heller coined the term, was that anyone who feigns insanity in order not to fly a dangerous mission, clearly understands the peril and is therefore sane. Again, sounds like a delightful bit of satire when you hear the joke once. Try having it rammed down your throat for 500 pages.

There's also so many overblown characters that it's next to impossible to keep track. The chronology is equally confusing. So when the misogyny reared its ugly head (and suddenly there was a lot of it) I pretty much decided that I'd be finishing the book for the sake of finishing it, nothing more.