books, Wandering Rocks

Wandering Rocks Enters Phase 2.0

Also known as “The Re-Blooming.”

Though we pooh-poohed his free music, we intend to take Eric Bescak up on his invitation to get back on the Ulysses wagon. With Bloomsday just around the corner, Eric has taken Wandering Rocks — the Ulysses online reading group/social media experience — to phase 2.0.

For those of you who were deeply scarred by the first go round, why, you must be asking, would one ever attempt such tomfoolery again?

We don’t have a good answer to that question, other than this: we told Eric over some drinks at Habits that we’d be on board. (Yes, this was several drinks in.)

And so we will.

(Eric also goaded us by asking if we were “seriously … going to raise a child without having read Ulysses,” adding, “That’s embarrassing. Good luck meeting your child’s adoring gaze.”)

For those of you who want to join the ride, Eric has condensed our progress to date into 204 tweets — one per page — with the promise of fifteen more to come before Wednesday. So you can at least read that post and boast to strangers at your next cocktail party that you read two hundred pages of Joyce in under ten minutes.

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books, family, food, friends, Wandering Rocks

2009: The Year In Books

We read fewer books this year than in years past, so we’ve enlisted the woman who kicked off our Friday Recommends guest blogger posts, otherwise known as “sister Ellen,” to help us with this year’s list. Ellen, take it away!

[we hand computer to Ellen]

Despite predictions that my first attempt at blogging would lead to no return-invitations, I have been asked by Voreblog (the Male) to fill in as guest-blogger for their annual review of the best books read in the previous year. So here ‘tis —

Sister Ellen’s Books 2009: a year in review.

Frankly, I don’t remember all the books I’ve read this year. I read a lot of books. (Mr. Grit chimes in here — bad books).  What evs. I liked ‘em, I read ‘em. Even I, however, am just a bit embarrassed when I compare the mountain of literature you see below with last year’s list, compiled by Voreblog. It appears that this year’s list has been composed by a child. But let us judge this year’s feast of literature on quantity, not quality. I read two entire series of novels. Thank you, Jim Butcher. Thank you, Charlaine Harris. I read one-half of an embarrassing novel filled with were-animal sex scenes. Anita Blake, why must you be such a whore? To be fair, I now warn all who venture to my Facebook profile to steer clear of the genre known as paranormal romance.

Books I have devoured in 2009:

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files:

Storm Front
Fool Moon
Grave Peril
Summer Knight
Death Masks
Blood Rites
Dead Beat
Proven Guilty
White Knight
Small Favor
Turn Coat

Summary: Harry Dresden is the sexiest, most complex wizard-hero I have yet to encounter.  I would have a cup of coffee with him.

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Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Novels:

Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead To Worse
Dead and Gone

Summary: S-T-E-A-M-Y. Eric the Vampire/Northman? Yes, please. Bill? Maybe; but it’s a weird name for a vampire. Stories are quick, energetic, entertaining.

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Stieg Larsson’s

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played With Fire

Summary: Great books combining two of my favorite things: journalism and Swedes. There is nothing more awesome than clipping through a book at a furious pace, when suddenly you are made to pause by a passage involving having a cheese sandwich for breakfast. Who does that? Answer: Swedes.

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Suzanne Collins’ “adolescent series”

The Hunger Games
Catching Fire

Summary: Books haven’t made me feel this good since I imagined I was eating blueberries and milk and bread along with the Boxcar Children. Seriously, stories of children surviving in the wilderness get a “thumbs up” from me.

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Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Summary:

Ryan writes of vamps
Never have I laughed at blood
And sucking so much

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The Reason for God:  Belief in the Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller

Summary: I didn’t know I could like a Presbyterian this much.

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The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Summary: This book led me to proclaim: “Holy Shit! I’ve been doing it all wrong.” As well as: “Well, of course it makes sense that everyone needs a full love-tank.”

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Re-Read:

5, 6 and 7 of the Harry Potter series
Book 4 of the Twilight series

I don’t know what to say for myself. Again, I make a plea for judgment based on quantity (27 new books! 31 if you count the re-reads!). In sum, I got lost in books this year and enjoyed the fantastic escape that books can provide.

Thank you, Voreblog, for allowing me to share.

[Ellen hands computer back to us]

Thank you, Ellen!

If there was a throughline to our reading this year, it was food. We began the year on a Michael Pollan kick and ended it with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. In between was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. You may recall that one of our new year’s resolutions was to eat locally and cook more ourselves. (If we had to grade ourselves, Erin would give herself a “B” while Ben would give himself a “D+.”)

So how do those three books compare?

Kingsolver’s book is the most romantic of the three. For a year she and her family ate only what they could grow on their own farm (or buy locally). No bananas. No oranges. No Pringles. No Hostess Ding Dongs. No Dewey’s Pizza. It sounds dreary, but Kingsolver actually makes it seem desirable. She also acknowledges that she’s #73 on Bernard Goldberg’s “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America” list.

Eating Animals, Foer’s first stab at non-fiction, is a mixed bag. The prospect of fatherhood — and his pet dog, George — leads Foer to reconsider his own eating habits and how he wants to raise his son. This leads Foer to break into a factory farm and relay some truly disgusting revelations about chickens. More philosophical than Kingsolver, Foer is also angrier — he has the zeal of the newly converted. You could argue that his disdain for farms (even the more humane family farms) is simply impractical, and it is. That’s Foer’s point. He wants to provoke. We’d pay money to see him and Barbara Kingsolver in a room together. Extra if Wendell Berry came too. (And really big bucks if Robert Pattinson just happened to wander in.)

Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma is still the food book we measure all others against. While he didn’t quite inspire us to hunt our own boar, Pollan offers a coherent view of everything from the Western diet to the food industry, agribusiness, organic food and the basics of better grocery shopping. In Defense of Food, his bite-size follow-up, sacrifices narrative by focusing on the practical. His new book, Food Rules, releases next week.

Now, without further ado: Our top seven books of the year, conveniently arranged into fiction, non-fiction, and young reader.

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KIDS BOOKS

THE BRIXTON BROTHERS: THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, Mac Barnett. No book was funnier to read this year than the first entry in the new young reader detective series, The Brixton Brothers. The real mystery here is not why the “Brothers” is plural (there is only one Brixton, the inimitable Steve) but rather why a super-secret stealth group called The Librarians is out to kill our hero for checking out a book on quilting. Barnett is fearless about confronting other impenetrable mysteries too, notably: How do you read a book and dunk a basketball at the same time? Both a spoof and an homage to the likes of Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys, The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity will amuse a 32-year-old no less than one who’s twelve.

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WHEN YOU REACH ME, Rebecca Stead. If the Newbery Award is worth anything, this book will win it. A brilliant little puzzle of a book, When You Reach Me is also a sly homage to A Wrinkle In Time. A sixth grader named Miranda begins noticing strange little occurrences all around her: first her apartment key is stolen, then a shoe disappears, and suddenly cryptic notes arrive saying things like, “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Whoever is writing the notes knows things about Miranda and the future that nobody should know. Who’s sending them? And why? Around this riddle Stead weaves a story rich with detail and feeling — about growing up, self-discovery, mothers and daughters, and making and losing friends. Plus Dick Clark makes a cameo as a key plot point. Hard to beat that.

(Thank you, Steph Porter and Molly Gillespie, for steering us toward these books.)

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FICTION

MORE OF THIS WORLD OR MAYBE ANOTHER, Barb Johnson. It was not the banner year for short story collections that 2008 was, but 2009 did produce a gem in Barb Johnson’s More of This World or Maybe Another. Johnson’s large-hearted stories trace the lives of New Orleanians trapped in circumstances of abandonment, adultery, heartbreak and desperation; what makes them not just bearable but remarkable (the title story is a wonder to read, and reread) is Johnson’s lean, musical prose, as well as her wit and empathy for all her broken people. They may be unable to escape themselves, but her characters win a sad wisdom just by getting by. What’s not sad is watching Johnson read in person; she’s dry, sharp and witty.

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LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, Colum McCann. “Things happen. Things collide,” Colum McCann writes in Let The Great World Spin, a sprawling narrative where a dozen disparate lives — a priest, a prostitute, a judge, his grieving wife — converge in tragedy and wonder. Using Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers in August 1974 as his inspiration, McCann tries for something almost as virtuosic. It’s no failure on his part if it doesn’t completely cohere — his aim is high and his heart is true. After you’re done reading it, rent Man on Wire for more high-wire hijinks. Then string your own tightrope between your roof and the house next door and amaze the neighbors!

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NON-FICTION

COLUMBINE, Dave Cullen. What could have been a morbid, voyeuristic exercise is, in Dave Cullen’s capable hands, a cathartic release. Recreating the almost minute-by-minute events of April 20, 1999 and weaving in a wide angle perspective both of who Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were and what led them to kill, Columbine is a humane, unflinching book. Cullen gives shape to both the horror of the shooting and a community’s attempt to understand and forgive in the decade since.

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THE BOOK OF BASKETBALL, Bill Simmons. We’ve read no less than three profiles of Bill Simmons and his New York Times-bestseller that all follow the same story line: “Who knew so many people would want to read a 736-page hardcover book about basketball?” Um, how about anyone who has ever read his blog? Simmons combines hoops knowledge with savvy pop culture references to give us, if not exactly the NBA Bible, something we’ll still be quoting chapter and verse for years to come. Yes, some of his references are labored and/or won’t age well (Spencer & Heidi, Tiffany Amber Thiessen, etc.), and he throws John Stockton under the bus (despite ranking him a respectable #25 in the Pyramid of NBA All-Stars), but we’ll forgive him. Perfect bathroom reading. We think Bill would take that as a compliment.

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ZEITOUN, Dave Eggers. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a driven, successful painting contractor, stays behind in New Orleans while his family evacuates prior to Hurricane Katrina. After the levees break, Zeitoun paddles around in a canoe, rescuing trapped residents, checking in on his properties and feeding abandoned dogs. Then, suddenly, he is arrested. What unfolds from there is shocking. No less shocking is that the same Eggers who wrote the showy, exuberant A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius tells Zeitoun’s story with such restraint and understatement, letting the injustices speak for themselves. The result is a riveting, hopeful book of one family’s survival in a time of chaos.

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There’s a lot on our reading list that we didn’t get to this year, notably Mary Karr’s Lit, Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win GloryThe Good Soldiers by David Finkel, and The Flat Belly Diet For Men. More on these when we catch up in the new year.

But wait, you’re saying. Isn’t there an elephant in the room? Wearing James Joyce glasses? Weren’t you part of a certain online literary group that tackled Ulysses? And how did that turn out? Did you put that feather in your cap?

Welllllll … yes and no.

Yes, we tackled Ulysses. We even tackled The Odyssey first. The difference? We finished The Odyssey.

Ulysses? Our bookmark remains on page 167, where it has stayed since mid-September.

So no, we didn’t quite put that feather in our cap.

Will we ever return to the events of June 16, 1904? Maybe. Probably not. If our Virgil pulls us out of the mire, there’s a chance, we suppose. (But that very Virgil has, apparently, quit us for good, instructing us in his last comment (dated October 4) to “enjoy [our] tepid hot dogs.”)

Until then, consider it: Joyce 1, Voreblog 0.

(Sigh.)

Again, thank you to guest blogger Ellen.

Coming soon, maybe even tomorrow: The year in TV! Unless we convince sister Bevin to help us with the music list first!

books, Wandering Rocks

Bloomsday Is Here

…and Wandering Rocks has launched!

For those of you kids with your Twitter, Jerry Grit will begin Twittering page one of Joyce’s masterpiece in just under an hour.

There’s still time to go out and buy your WR-authorized edition of Ulysses and join us for this life-changing experience. (It changed Colum McCann’s life!)

Will you join us? There is only one right answer.*

Happy Bloomsday to each of you, good sirs and madams!

 

* = “yes I said yes I will Yes.”

books, Wandering Rocks

Wandering Rocks: T-Minus 26 Days

You read that correctly. You have 26 days to prepare yourself for the online reading project that is Wandering Rocks.

How are we preparing? Well, we’ve just picked up The Odyssey (Fagles translation) for the first time since college and are rereading that.

We’ve added Red Dawn to our Netflix queue despite remaining baffled as to its inclusion on the Suggested Viewing list. (If it’s got Patrick Swayze, though, we don’t ask questions.)

We’re currently devoting several hours a day to silent meditation, bending our feeble willpower to the monastic levels of singular focus needed to survive what lies ahead.

We’ve also added “Wandering Rocks” to the title index at the top of this page. Plus we wrote our first post, which says nothing about Ulysses but everything you need to know about our leader/moderator, Jerry Grit, and his trustworthiness and fortitude as a Joycean scholar. Rest assured, fellow travelers, he knows the path.

Lost, television, Wandering Rocks

Lost Forum, Part Two: “The Incident”

Now that we’ve had a little time to let last night’s episode sink in; to consult the sharpest minds in the greater Cincinnati area; to read up on analysis from, among others, Doc Jensen and Vozzek69 (who, like Mike Allen, argues that “the best season of LOST had just ended with the best episode ever”); and to spend hours in silent meditation pondering life’s eternal mysteries; we are finally ready to write this, Part Two of “The Incident” forum. Deep breath. Here goes:

The question has been raised, by John Sherck among others, that Jacob is not God but a false idol. Let’s consider the evidence. Why would a benign deity and Christ figure live in the foot of an Egyptian God who, if not Anubis, may be Sobek ( “a morally ambiguous dark god who oversees dark waters and preys on sinful souls in the afterlife,” according to Doc Jensen) or perhaps Set, a shapeshifting Egyptian god (which would account for the ambiguity of the four-toed statue’s appearance) of chaos and evil? What’s more, some of Jacob’s flashback encounters with the island survivors had a sinister undertone to them, especially Kate’s, Sawyer’s and Sayid’s. He pays for Kate’s lunchbox, but his intervention could merely be cheap grace for little Kate, who doesn’t exactly look like she’s learned her lesson. Jacob gives young James Ford the pencil to continue writing his revenge letter to the real Sawyer. Is he stoking Sawyer’s anger? And most unsettling is Sayid’s flashback. Did Jacob rescue Sayid from the oncoming car? Or spare him only to lead a tragic, embittered life bent on murder and vengeance? Furthermore, why these moments? Jacob visits young and old, in moments of joy and celebration (Sun and Jin) as well as tragedy and despair (Sayid, Locke). The only person Jacob has an extended conversation with is Hurley. That also seems to be the crucial flashback, because Jacob needs Hurley to board Ajira 316 but he also needs Hurley to choose to do it. If getting Hurley back to the island is so pivotal, Jacob doesn’t seem to be sweating it. Does he already know what Hurley will do? Or will Jacob find another way even if Hurley chooses not to go?

One thing we didn’t realize last night was that Jacob touched everyone in the flashbacks. Was this a blessing or a curse? Laying on of hands is usually a blessing, and that’s what it appeared to be with Sun and Jin after their wedding, or with Locke after his fall. Or is physical contact just Jacob’s way of downloading emotions and memories, the way Smokey could “read” someone’s mind and then manifest itself as a loved one? We rather like two of Doc Jensen’s theories, the “Quibbling” Jacob theory and, less so from a practical standpoint than an imaginative one, his Jacob/Horcrux theory, wherein Jacob is stashing himself in other people whom he’ll summon together after his death (hence the seeming triumph behind his line to pseudo-John Locke, “They’re coming”). (Both Jensen theories are on this page.)

So, we hope we’ve done some justice to the Jacob-is-Satan-(or-at-least-very-evil) case. That said, we still don’t buy it for three main reasons. 1) Jacob defended free will. The devil can be just as fruitful turning free will to his advantage, but he doesn’t go on and on espousing free will as some sort of virtue. Of course, if Jacob was the devil, he’d be pretty shrewd to play it cool like he did and say, “Hey, free will! Love it! Can’t get enough of a good thing! Do what you need to do, Hurley, because it’s your choice, not mine.” But that’s not the argument we’re trying to build, so let’s proceed directly to 2) Jacob’s “It can only end once” speech. This was on the beach with his adversary, who lamented the ship in the distance, heading toward the island. “They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt,” the adversary says. “It always ends the same.” To which Jacob responds, “It can only end once. Everything before that is progress.” In other words, time is moving toward a fixed point rather than endlessly repeating itself. Time (and progress) is linear, not circular. That’s a very Christian concept. And Jacob embraces that concept with an easy assurance. He also looks at us (humans) and sees hope and potential, rather than the worst we might achieve. Finally, that leaves us with 3) Jacob dies too easily. Rewatch the scene when Ben and bad John Locke enter Jacob’s temple. Jacob knows why they’ve come, and he knows how it will end. He knows Ben has a knife, and he still walks right up to him. You could even make the case Jacob wanted to die. We won’t go that far, but we will say that not being afraid of death suggests to us something closer to holiness than devilishness. This isn’t the end for Jacob; it can’t be the end for Jacob. Either because he can’t die, or because he knows he’s created his own loophole which will save him, Jacob stood fearless before death. That’s not something the devil should pull off.

Let’s step back for a moment and make one final clarification. We said yesterday that “Lost” had officially become a capital letter Religious Allegory. That’s too easy. For us and for the show’s writers. It can’t be that black-and-white, literally. Allegories usually dissolve complexity as characters become types. What we’d argue is that while “Lost” has veered firmly into a cosmic Good vs. Evil direction with a very Christ-like figure and some very spiritual themes of betrayal, redemption and salvation, it’s not going to be that simple. We think (think) that this is the template that the writers will stick to in the final season. They’ll take us off in some unexpected directions and continue to peel back new layers of meaning. But this is about as universal as a story gets, and while we almost expect “Lost” to be smarter than us (and would even be disappointed to fully understand it), we also believe it has to resonate and touch on something concrete in everyone to ultimately matter. We don’t expect a God/Satan or good/evil story to make comprehending the show any easier. We just think “Lost” has ultimately found its voice.

A few other observations/theories/questions:

  • Jacob’s cabin was not Jacob’s cabin, but rather his adversary’s. That’s why Ilana and “the good guys” burned it. The ring of ash was meant to keep Jacob’s nemesis inside, but someone sprung him free. That means that Ben is telling the truth when he says he never met Jacob. Also, the scene in season four’s episode “Cabin Fever” when Ben and Locke enter the cabin was actually their encounter with not-Jacob, whose words to Locke ( “Help me”) now take on a twisted meaning.
  • When Jacob’s nemesis declines the fish on the beach by saying he “just ate,” we think he’s probably referring to a breakfast of human souls. We officially think the Smoke Monster is evil, since it’s probably the only way Mr. Nemesis could transport himself until someone freed him from the cabin. An evil Smoke Monster (and an evil John Locke) would also explain the cruel trick they played on Ben in “Dead is Dead,” pounding submission-to-Locke into him. Plus we were always suspicious about why Locke and the Smoke Monster never appeared at the same time. We may have actually guessed right on that one.
  • Is Latin a dead language? Not for Richard Alpert. Max Fisher saved Latin. What did you ever do?
  • In conclusion, DESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSMOND!
  • In just over a month we’ll be replacing one obsession over a dense, impenetrable work of art with another. If you’ve not already considered taking part in Wandering Rocks, there’s still time. Why, you might ask, would one willfully subject him or herself to the confounding — nay, terrifying — experience of attempting Joyce’s Ulysses? It’s a good question. The best answer we can give you? Benjamin Linus did.

 

librarian_ben_ulysses

books, Wandering Rocks

Wandering Rocks

JamesJoyce

Bloomsday is coming.

 

Devoted readers of this blog’s comment threads will have already heard of an upcoming project known as Wandering Rocks. It is also now featured in our Blogroll.

The brainchild of a man known alternately as Eric Bescak and Jerry Grit, Wandering Rocks (why the name, you ask? Read the first post here) “could be an online reading collective that will take on James Joyce’s Ulysses on June 16th, to commemorate the single day Ulysses depicts, June 16, 1904.” This is from the About page. It continues,

Participation is open to all. Participation may involve posting an entry based on a week’s reading or it just may involve making snarky comments from the sidelines. Hasn’t been determined yet. And I’m not sure how much we’ll read per week. Ulysses’ density varies throughout. We’ll probably fly through “Nausicaa” and “Circe”, but then get slammed by “Oxen in the Sun.” We’ll take it as it goes and make the decisions in the field. 

However, the goal is clear. We will read Ulysses. And we will do it awesomely, by sharing our own insights and befuddlements on the text. We will help each other understand or we will share in confusion. Either way, it will be a blast. As high-minded and esoteric as Ulysses is, it’s all the more profane and hilarious fun.

I strongly suggest familiarizing yourself with Homer’s Odyssey before the 16th, but that’s not necessary.

This is your chance to read, enjoy, and marginally understand what is often considered THE GREATEST BOOK OF ALL TIME. This will be quite a feather in your cap, in a time when cap feathers are so very hard to come by.

Join the team by leaving a comment or something.

 

The prospect of reading Ulysses has long haunted us. Ben, who attended college with the esteemed Mr. Bescak, watched his friend and fellow English major (who devoted his senior thesis to Ulysses) disappear into a Joycean black hole from which he emerged only when garbed in tighty-whities at 11:05 p.m. to make cryptic gestures with his right hand indicating that he perhaps thought the TV volume in the common room a bit too loud. Then he would disappear into his room again and not be heard or seen for weeks at a time, until the next Afghan Whigs concert in Columbus and/or a James Traficant lecture.

Who knows what effect Ulysses may have on us? Aren’t we better off not knowing what we’d find in this confounding masterpiece, to say nothing of what it will find in us?

We have already spent two sleepless nights tossing and turning since hearing of this project. Here were are inflicting it on you, in the off-chance you too have always wondered what it would be like to a) feel like a self-important, critically astute English major, b) simultaneously wonder if you are not the dumbest person in the room, then c) go clinically insane parsing what everyone else says are great works of literature hoping to discover both a Great Truth and anything to justify your moldering self-regard.

In conclusion, ZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACCC! 

 

[photo: http://www.oakham.rutland.sch.uk]