It began with Stephen King's 10 O'Clock people. This is a long walk for a little giggle - but enjoyable. It's about the unique chemical imbalance that occurs, and the insights into who people really are, if you happen to be a person desperately trying to quit smoking. If you're stuck on just the right amount of nicotine you become one of the Ten O'clock people and can see into the souls of the demon capatilists. I felt the tortured mind of a writer trying to give up cigarettes in this one - been there, met those demons.
Then I picked up Catcher in the Rye to see if Holden had come to terms with life any better some twenty odd years since I first met him. He hasn't. I came away this time with an intense feeling of the have's and have not's in Holden. This time I saw a young man with every advantage and every opportunity and still unable to grasp that he has any of it. Still great, still deceptively simple and captures the flight from youth to maturity without ever really making the leap. Yes, the world is a deceitful, dishonest, hypocritical place - still. Here's my book review - Holden Caulfield - Whiny, spoiled, bitch.
Next I moved to Slaughterhouse 5 - this was my first Kurt Vonnegut experience and I can't say how impressed I was. So impressed I immediately picked up Sirens of Titan - but more on that later.
Slaughterhouse 5 is just my sort of book. It's up there with other favourites that comment on life and mankind and where we fit in, who we are, what makes us tick on social and personal levels.
I'm not even sure how to explain Slaughterhouse without giving away an essential element that are the experience of the Tralfamadorian understanding of time as a non sequential element. This is an arthouse novel that works. It's all that I love about theatre in a book. It's deceptively simple and deals with the very largest aspects of life neatly and makes you rage and cower at the same time. It is summed up that in the days after the bombing of Dresden, where more civilians were killed than at Hiroshima, poor Edgar Derby will be executed by firing squad for looting a teapot. He's a school teacher you see - and not connected to anyone important. And so it goes.
Slaughterhouse 5 is why I love storytelling and why I keep banging on about treating the story as the first element and then let that story and it's telling guide everything else - Slaughterhouse 5 shouldn't work. The structure winds around itself - it reminded me very much of Tarantino's structuring of Pulp Fiction - but set from WWII until the sixties - a time where everyone dealt with life and death on a daily basis - not just the fringes of society, as is the case with Pulp Fiction.
From Slaughterhouse I picked up Sirens of Titan - Oh Lordy, Lord. This is why I have so much difficulty answering the question about who is/are my favourite author/s. I think Slaughterhouse 5 is as good a book as I've read. I wish someone had edited his - "And so it goes" - it sort of works throughout the book to round off every mention of a person dying or death being brought, but for me it got a little tiresome and 'tricky'.
But Sirens - that's an awful lot of time and fanciful, repetitive writing to make the point that lives lived, big and small, have very little meaning in the greater, bigger picture of existence. It's still a good book and Vonnegut can write and has a wild imagination - but I found Sirens testing. And the gag, made far more directly by Douglas Adams in 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy', that all of mankind, our history, our planet - everything we are - exists as a minor function of a greater being - in Siren's case - to deliver a small replacement part to get a spaceship running again. It's the science fiction version of the story killing last sentence that reads - "And then they woke up."
Next, I read Bill O'Reilly's 'Killing Lincoln' - no really, I did. Maybe I read it to get the Vonnegut out of my mouth. Like a flavourless sorbet between courses. Killing Lincoln is written as a thriller and is historically accurate - I have read complaints about the factual aspects being quoted incorrectly in the book - but they are so minor, it feels more like Bill bashing than anything else. "In one instance, the book claims Ford's Theatre was burned down in 1863 when it was actually destroyed in the end of 1862." Who cares?
It's a good romp through history and O'Reilly does remind you quite quickly, stripped of his ultra conservatism nonsense, he's a good journalist and through that, a good storyteller. I found myself growing a little frustrated with the details added for the sake of the thriller, detail that no one has any way of knowing.
When Booth or Lincoln or anyone else involved are alone, can anyone really know what they were thinking? And all too often O'Reilly decides they were thinking prophetic thoughts that help build tension to what's coming. Artistic licence taken and run with - but did we need it to be a marathon?
And then I finally got around to reading Animal Farm - how could I have not read it before? I guess it's one of those classics described by Twain as "Something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read." And these days with movies, transcripts and it being a story that is so well encapsulated in so few words, it was a story I knew well enough that I could always bluff my way through having read.
So I can now tick it off my list. I guess that's a good thing. For me - as important as the story is - it's a one trick pony - which goes back to how and why you can get by with never having read it. Don't get me wrong, it's great, ground breaking for its time, but once the idea is in place to examine the different systems of 20th century rule through animals on a farm, it's pretty much just a matter of rolling that idea out. Orwell does that superbly - no denying - his examination of propaganda to keep the masses in line is masterful - but everything is where you'd expect it to be from revolution to unchallenged dictator's empire. And the ghastly truth - nothing really changes. There's always going to be a 1% with all the power and all the money - no matter what system is employed. Sad, but true.
And that brings me to Flowers for Algernon. Here's a book I'd heard of, but knew very little about. It is deeply disturbing for anyone who likes to think about life, their place in it and what it means to be an intelligent being, trying to make sense of the world we live in.
I recently asked the following to my closest friend - "I wonder if I wouldn't be better off if I was the sort of person who could be completely happy and fulfilled with my life because my team won on the weekend."
Then I picked up Flowers for Algernon - and here was that very debate. (And so many more of life's important debates). This has been a controversial book from the first publication. I can understand why it causes so many protestations. And yet, as much as it must enrage certain groups within the community who care for and fight for the rights of the mentally disabled, it's as important a story as any I've read. Is the feeble minded Algernon better off than his genius self who tries, fails and then discovers he can't master or control the life he's leading and the world he's living in?
And what of Algernon? Does he really become self aware? Does he discover and understand through his new intellect that he's a mouse? Would that be the same sort of realisation as waking with a fully functioning mind and discovering an accident had left your body totally inert? Is that why Algernon takes to throwing himself wildly against his cage? Who knows. Algernon certainly has no way of telling us.
It's left to the reader to decide why Algernon behaves like he does - but the idea flowers will be left on his grave seemed perfectly fitting for the first mouse I have truly grieved for.
This is an extraordinary book - or maybe just a book that found me at the right time. Sometimes books have a way of doing that - but I'd list this one in the group of those books that seem to try and explore who we are in a very direct way.
I guess with Slaughterhouse I can add two to that growing list - of course, understanding who we are and where we all fit in is a wonderful quest - being happy with those discoveries is something entirely different.
One last thing - Go Saints!
Scott Norton Taylor - Inner City - Ebook for Kindle, Epub Sony, Palm or online!
Reviews: From Amazon
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