Thursday, November 26, 2015

Book Report: A Confederacy of Dunces

Very much a Don Quixote for the modern era. Ignatius, the obese, racist, homophobic and entitled moron, also shares a lot with Ash from Army of Darkness. There is nothing to like about the character, but he's irresistible because of his unwarranted audacity. He is a self-parody living in a parody of New Orleans, which itself is a parody of civilization. John Kennedy Toole ratchets up the absurdity and keeps the comedy flowing constantly, to create his one great masterwork before he took his own life. As he might have morbidly assumed, he didn't receive a lick of notoriety until his mom forced his ratty manuscript on a literary professor.

This is one of the funniest books I've read, with humor that's bittersweet not only because of the circumstances of its creation but because of the futility of Ignatius's grandiose plans to conquer the world with his never-finished manuscript and find true love in a stripper he sees on an advertisement and fashions to be a trapped intellectual like himself. Ignatius is an insane moron, but lovably so, and to gaze into his soul is to glimpse uncomfortably at your own incompetence. This is a beautiful book that is also an overworn joke beaten to death and resurrected, only to be killed again chapter after chapter.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Report: The Snow Queen

I'm surprised crack cocaine didn't exist in the days of Hans Christian Andersen, because he seems to have partaken while he was writing this. I have read some freaky old-time children's tales, so it's tough to shake me. But this one managed to do it by getting really weird and disturbing from the outset, then slamming hard on the gas and careening off the bridge and tumbling into a fireball of oblivion.

We're talking magic mirror shards that get lodged in your skin to give you superpowers, talking dolls and -- not joking -- the recurring sidekick character Baby Jesus. This story is said to be the basis of Frozen, but very little of this grease fire besides the snowy setting made it into the movie. That is for the best.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Report: Emma

This is one of the most fascinating, and sickening, character studies I have come across. There are two sides to Emma -- something deep and nasty that doesn't come across in the movie adaptation or the loose, modernized version, Clueless.

On one side, Emma is a conniving sociopath obsessed with manipulating everyone around her to fulfill her whims, as well as the scared child who does everything she can to suspend her childhood and avoid starting her adult life. Much of the latter persona comes from the cruel, needy influence of her dad, who pulls the same manipulative tricks on her that she does on her friends and suitors. Emma's dad maneuvers to imprison her as some sort of nonsexual pseudo-wife/servant, just as she dominates Harriet, possibly in an expression of a repressed longing to capture her as a wife/servant for herself.

While Harriet slowly manages to break free of Emma's grip, Emma wrestles against the unspoken tyranny exerted by her dad, and the high-stakes chess game plays out in a vicious satire that leaves everyone hurting for most of the time. I loved it all except for the ending, which is exuberant and fulfilling in a romantic comedy way, but feels like a cheap cop-out that dismisses some of the harrowing truths Jane Austen was building toward.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Report: The Count of Monte Cristo

It's amazing how filmmakers have been able to magic the drudgery of Alexandre Dumas into really good stories, whether it be The Three Musketeers or this. Dumas is a terrible storyteller because he is incapable of weeding out unnecessary details to move things along. He's the man who invented oversharing. This book, just like the others I've had the misery of reading, was painful to get through, burdened with laborious and pointless exposition and description that bogs down the already limping plot.

His characters all speak as though they're the same, constipated and dull old man who runs around and puts on different costumes, playing every part of the neverending play. At least Dumas makes you feel what it's like to be the main character, unfairly imprisoned and deprived of sensory stimulation, with an obsessive revenge festering inside your soul day by day.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Report: Fight Club

It's a narrative of pure poetry in the manner of Dante, Homer or Milton. Oozing with existentialist angst, it shields its eyes and blindly spelunks the dark, directionless fears of a lost generation in the way Kerouac and Fitzgerald did. I want to learn entire chapters and be able to recite them on demand at parties. Every phrase is a war cry that stings and leaves resounding echoes that bounce around in your head.

The only knock I have on the book is it's not as good as the movie based on it. It's one of the best books I've read, but these are still just the dusty bones into which David Fincher breathed bitter.