Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Sex God

by Rob Bell.

This is another good example of my challenge this summer: to only read authors who I've not read before. Rob Bell is a preacher chap who I'm familiar with from his DVD'd Christian-monologue thought pieces... and clearly, this is not a book I would buy myself.

But it got a hell of a good review in a bookswap between friends, so here I am.

To save you reading right through to the end, here's the verdict: he makes two very good points, but he doesn't make enough of them.

The two points are these:

1. Humans are not angelic or apish, fundamentally. They're human. Trying to fit ourselves completely into either category is not going to end well. And so sex isn't ignored, nor is it idolised. Sex is.

Sex has a strong and wider-than-we-perhaps-realise influence over us, but it is not everything. This is not a prescription of how things should be, but a description of how things are. Accept that first, try and work with it -- sometimes around it -- rather than change it. You're not gonna change it.

2. Connection. Community. Etc. Bell actually reminded me of Vonnegut (!) once or twice with his emphasis (well... more on that word later) here. So much of human experience, but particularly what we want and need and desire and chase, come from the problem of being social beings living asocially.

Okay, those are obviously my words and not his. And yes, he talked about God more. But connecting with other people is Absolutely Exactly Everything.

I hope you'll agreee those are two good points. The problem with Sex God is that I could easily have missed them. Not because Bell doesn't emphasise them, but because he emphasises everything. Else. As. Well.

Just like that

every word of the sentence,

is it's own sentence.

Shatner, anyone?

Sometimes each clause of a sentence is it's own paragraph, too. We've seen the DVDs, we know that's how he talks. But the DVDs were 5 minutes, this is a whole book of it. Aside from being really annoying, it's really damaging as well. You can't do it every page, man. You. Just. Can't.

The thing about emphasis is it makes certain bits stand out. If you emphasise every point that you make? You're not really emphasising anything.

And this book needs some emphasising. Because everything he says comes back to those two points I mentioned -- humans being human, and connection being key. But Rob Bell doesn't seem to realise that. These points are at the heart of everything he says, but because every point, every anecdote, every sidetrack, and every minor detail is emphasised, it's hidden. I'm genuinely not sure if the author realises how coherent his arguments are.

They come across as a series of vaguely connected points about different aspects of sexuality, but it's smarter than that. If only he knew.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Uncommon Reader

by Alan Bennett.

I have another book, that I read before this, that I will blog soon (Sex God, by Rob Bell. Not my usual, to say the least) and I'm currently reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (flipping awesome so far.)  The Uncommon Reader has both snuck in and queue-jumped.

My glasses broke a couple of days ago (bear with me), and so I ordered some replacement pairs. They were due to arrive today, and as I'm off to Latitude this afternoon, I was hoping they would. Packages being too big for our letter box, I thought it best to wait around for the Postie.

Posties arrive early, right? That's what I always thought. It's a morning job, I've been brought up to believe, and I've never had much reason to question that.

However, after giving my new tent a trial run in the front garden (prime Postie-viewing spot, too) and reading 20-odd pages of Cloud Atlas, and coughing ridiculously for unreasonable lengths of time, Postie still had yet to come. It was about 10.30 by this point.

A lesser man (you) would have given up at this point. Not I. I knew Postie would be along within the next few minutes, so I perused my Dad's bookshelves for a joke book or something -- there wasn't enough time to bother recommitting to Cloud Atlas -- that would distract me for a minute or two. Instead of a joke book, I spotted this Bennett novella, which I've been intended to read since it first emerged. 'Sod it,' I thought. 'I'll read the first couple of pages.'

124 pages later, Postie knocked. I finished off the last sentence and tried on my new glasses. For some reason, one of the pairs has a red frame.

So that's how I ended up reading this book, at this point. An interesting story, no doubt. And I think I casn justify it under my Summer Of Strangers, because I've never read Bennett's fiction before, only memoirs.

While this blog isn't really a reviewy place, I should probably mention what I thought of the book...

I loved it. Funny and smart and so easy to read. It's sort of a fable, sort of a fairy tale, but exceptionally down to earth and without any fairies (well... No.)

The eye-twinklingly smart Queen is a charming lead, with a well-tuned bullshit detector that matches her absolute need for one.

I hope it doesn't make me lazy or shallow that one of my favourite things about The Uncommon Reader is it's lack of length. And I hope it doesn't make me illiterate or word-clumsy that I can't write anything that conveys how good this book is as completely as the fact I read it in one impromptu sitting.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Last Days Of The Lacuna Cabal

by Sean Dixon.

My my my, I haven't blogged for a while. Which is partly because I haven't read for a while. Which is partly because I've been doing other awesome fun stuff, which I may talk about on here in a separate post.

I have read a couple of books recently, though, and it's high time I caught up with myself and blogged about them.

I've set myself the personal challenge of only reading authors I've not read before this summer, and I'm sure I gave it some mildly irritating acronym -- SOS, I think, which could only stand for Summer Of Strangers.

The Last Days Of The Lacuna Cabal is a perfect example of what this challenge should involve. We got it in our bookshop over a year ago, and I loved the cover enough to read all the blurb, but not enough to buy it. But nobody else bought it either, and it ended up in one of our sales a couple of months ago, and I picked it up.

I'm glad I did, though I'm still not completely sure what I think of this novel. It's an interesting, whimsical yet heartfelt story, though it's not clear what the real story is until too close to the end. The Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club re-enact the books they read, and a dying cripple tricks them into reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, and so they end up in Iraq. Where there is a war on. Oh, and that's because one of the members die, and her younger brother switches re-enactment stories, and they have an amazing robot tracker from the future.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on here, and I can't help thinking that these ingredients should add up to something I'm more won over by. I think it's what I've already mentioned in passing -- the actual story, that should be driving it along from the start, only kicks in at the end. I liked the last section a lot.

A mitigating point, though: I read this book over the course of a fortnight (a looong time, for me) because I was busy with other stuff. So any disjointment or lack of focus in the story may have had something to do with the way I read it.

Reading it in bits and bobs didn't stop me enjoying it, though. Each part of the story -- every time I picked it up -- is told in a new and intriguing way. Like any book, it is a series of events that are only brought to life by the perspective and interpretation of their presentation; but in Lacuna Cabal, presentation keeps changing.

The two narrators don't change -- though they are characters at one point, then just narrators, then godly flies -- but it's like with every scene they wrote, they asked themselves, 'how can we make this different?'

The author almost says as much in the end notes. It doesn't surprise me that the book was originally going to be a play. Bits of it still are, in fact. And it doesn't surprise me that it's gone through a whole world of revisions, interpretations and workshops. That multiplicity is clearly evident in the final thing, and while that is part of it's charm, I can't help thinking that's what holds it back as well.

A joke, unrelated to the book, or this blog post, or anything: 'I hate Russian Dolls. They're so full of themselves.'