Here are some passages for the commonplace book:
From Before the Fall (Noah Hawley; 2016. Fiction.):
The machine he believed himself to be broke down. and Gus found himself immersed in an experience he had witnessed for years in his job with the NTSB, but never truly understood. Grief. Death was not an intellectual conceit. It was an existential black hole, an animal riddle, both problem and solution, and the grief it inspired could not be fixed or bypassed like a faulty relay, but only endured.
Convergence. It’s one of those things that feels meaningful, but isn’t. At least he doesn’t think it is. How could it be? A batter in Boston fouling pitches into the stands while a small plan struggles through low coastal fog. How many millions of other activities begin and end at the same time? How many other “facts” converge in just the right way, creating symbolic connectivity?
He breaks off, thinking, aware that he is not giving them what they wanted, but concerned that their questions are too important to answer in the moment, to define in passing, simply to meet some kind of arbitrary deadline. What was the experience like? Why did it happen? What does it mean going forward? These are the subjects for books. They are questions you meditate for years — to find the right words, to identify all the critical factors, both subjective and objective.
It’s unsurprising that the flow of this “thumping good read” reminds me of great television; Hawley is a television writer and producer.
From The Last One (Alexandra Oliva; 2016. Fiction.):
This adventure I asked for, it’s not what I was expecting, not what I wanted. I thought I would feel empowered, but I’m only exhausted.
For all her love of animals, for all her work with animals, she feels little remorse. She is comfortable in her knowledge that humans are omnivores and that securing reliable sources of protein is what allowed the species to evolve its current intelligence. She will not kill to kill, but she will kill to eat, and she sees little difference between the eyes of a dead fish and a live one.
Some reviews mentioned that the book erred in revealing its “twist” in the opening pages. They miss the point. Completely. A central conceit of a “reality” survival show is that the audience has information the participants do not. Here, the reader has knowledge the protagonist does not, so The Last One delivers its gut-punch not in a twist but rather in Mae’s eventual comprehension that what she had thought was the fakery of television is actual her new reality.
From The Hard Problem (Tom Stoppard; 2015. Drama.):
From Scene Five:
Hilary (roused) Being wrong about human behaviour half the time is our guiding star, Leo! It’s what’s telling us the study of the mind is not a science. We’re dealing in mind stuff that doesn’t show up in a scan — accountability, duty freewill, language, all the stuff that makes behaviour unpredictable.
We saw Stoppard’s latest play at the Court Theatre this past weekend. If you’re in the area, both it and TimeLine Theatre’s A Disappearing Number are must-see theater. Both run through April 9.
In other reading…
Election Day (April 4) was a long slog made bearable by Lucinda Rosenfeld’s Class, a book light enough that I could regularly look away but meaty enough that I didn’t feel like I had consumed the mental equivalent of Yodels.
Brian Wood’s The Massive is a pretty terrific post-apocalyptic tale. My daughters, both artists and readers of graphic fiction, say that I should remark on the art when I talk about graphic fiction. It’s generally all about the story for me, but in these volumes, I realized that I do know when a different artist takes over. In a medium dependent on image, why would one change artists partway through the story? Different styles change the narrative in subtle ways. Is that the point? Or is it simpler than that? Is one artist available when one issue or arc is being prepared for publication but unavailable for another? Well, in any event, Danijel Zezelj’s work in the “Sahara” arc was particularly powerful.
For my “Shakespeare in a Year” project, I have read through Sonnet 45 and Line 936 of Venus and Adonis, the latter of which I find the more satisfying endeavor. (No pun, Shakespearean or otherwise, intended.) Don Paterson’s commentary, however, quite nearly makes slogging through the sonnets worth it. Irreverent and insightful and highly recommended.
Since my last bookish post, I’ve also (re)read Richard II, a favorite of mine…
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills….
… and Romeo and Juliet. Is it old(er) age that makes me increasingly immune to this story’s appeal? I must have muttered, “Overwrought,” two dozen or more times while reading and listening. Mercutio, though. What an invention! I think it was Bloom who posited that the Mercutio passages presage the verbal antics of Hamlet. I can believe it.
In advance of seeing the CST’s Tug of War: Foreign Fire last year, I read Edward III, which occurs in the reading plan between Richard III and The Comedy of Errors. I simply have not been able to bring myself to reread it. Since this admission does not appear to have gotten me booted from the group, I plan to move on to A Midsummer Night’s Dream this coming weekend.
A related aside: Over spring break I shared with my daughters my proposal for the CST’s 2017-18 season: Richard II with Scott Parkinson as the deposed king, Coriolanus with Timothy Edward Kane as the (to my mind) underappreciated noble, and Titus Andronicus with Larry Yando in the lead. You heard it here first, folks.
“I realized that I do know when a different artist takes over. In a medium dependent on image, why would one change artists partway through the story? Different styles change the narrative in subtle ways. Is that the point?”
I wondered if I was the only one who was miffed by that practice. In one series I was reading (the title escapes me at the moment), I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the art in the first volume.They changed artists in the second volume and the change was so drastic it became a distraction and I lost all desire to read the rest of the series.
The differences in style were akin to jumping directly from the technical mastery and realism of Vermeer to the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock.
Okay, that’s a bit drastic and I am expecting too much from graphic fiction, but still…it FEELS that jarring.
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