Lots of Books

24 November 2002

I felt like crud all day yesterday. I already feel better today than I did yesterday, and I've been up maybe five minutes. So that's good.

I do not feel great about the Mercury News giving us a comic-less Sunday paper for the third time this month, even if it is only for the second Sunday this month. (When I called last time, they gave us another comic-less paper. Hurrah.) So I'll be on the phone with them again.

Anyway, so, since I didn't feel good yesterday, I read. I tried doing a couple of other things just to vary the routine, but trust me that you don't want to know what the results were to simple things like dancing around to a couple of songs. Angry, angry body. I went back to reading, and I picked a little at writing the books.

So I got to read a lot. I finished Dragonwings, and it was still pretty didactic -- in fact, it seemed like a textbook example of how not to introduce your reader to a foreign culture. I may be biased because 1905 Chinese immigrant culture is not that foreign to me in an intellectual sense, but I don't think that's all of it. I think mostly this was just the stuff I was talking about before, with Yep trying to use Moon Shadow ("Moon shadow, moon shadow, leapin' and hoppin' on a--" sorry, sorry) for too many educational purposes.

And I finished The Political History of Finland, and it was fairly dry for as interesting as I find the subject matter. Also definitely from a different era of history books. I find that what I would really like is a social history: what became popular when, who were the public figures everyone knew in Helsinki and Turku, all of it, including some of the politics. You couldn't talk about American society in 1961 without talking about the Presidency. Or now, for that matter. The politics would creep in sideways. But that wasn't what this author was writing, so it wasn't what I read.

So then I read Something Fishy at Macdonald Hall, which was not as good as Beware the Fish!, but it was a near thing. I understand that when you have a formula series rather than a larger plot arc series, sometimes it's good to change the formula up a bit, but this is one reason why I'm going to try very hard not to have a formula series. Because in this case, Bruno and Boots are best at the formula. They amuse me most when they're making outrageous schemes. In this book, they were mostly trying to catch up with or react to someone else's outrageous schemes. Not nearly so much fun.

Then I read sections of Modern China, which made me feel worse than the dancing, almost: it was in encyclopedic format with lots of entries that were of no use to me, and very small print. Handled a few things for the immigration book, though, so that's good. Virtuous and all. It needed doing eventually.

And Mark returned home with "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," which is one of my parents' favorite movies, but I'd never seen it, so we put it on the list. Hmmm. My take on this movie is that if I have the mad urge to watch Paul Newman and Robert Redford -- even if I have the mad urge to watch them take other people's money -- I know where they shelve "The Sting," and the soundtrack is better. There are some funny lines, but I kept looking at Mark and saying, "Mom did that one better." Lord, Lord, did that movie scream out "Seventies!" The mustache, the entire look of the woman who played Etta, the themes they brought up and then dropped like hot potatoes, the way they did the stretches without dialog...Seventies. Totally. It may be a generational thing, like "The Big Chill," but again with the worse soundtrack, and also lacking in the Jeff Goldblum department. And some people are just as happy with movies that are lacking in the Jeff Goldblum department, but I'm not really one of them. ("Grosse Pointe Blank" seems to be a generational thing as well, but in the other direction: my folks and my older godfather couldn't really see why we liked it, but my younger godfather and we thought it was great fun.)

But my evening was saved by High Fidelity. We all know that I liked the movie, and I wanted to see how the book could be anything like the movie at all. And it was, it really was...except that it wasn't, because on page 4 (which was really page 2), I learned that it was set in London. London. As in, England. Now, I should have known this. I read About A Boy, and I knew that Hornby is British, and I should have known that he's not the sort of writer to gratuitously set a story in Chicago when London will do. But I couldn't see that London would do at all. It was such a rainy Chicago movie that I was expecting a rainy Chicago book. I was looking forward to a rainy Chicago book. And it was not that book at all, and I spent the entire book off-balance and fascinated. Marveling at the translation they'd done for the movie, in part, and trying to re-translate. Because Barry in the book was clearly not Jack Black. He was some British guy very much like the character played by Jack Black, and poking at the translation kept me going until I was done with it.

(Cusack's character was indeed more personable than the guy in the book, Columbine, you're right, but having experienced them in the order that I did, I tended to give the guy in the book credit for Cusack's mannerisms, albeit in a twisted British sense. So that was nice, in a way. I do prefer the movie for that and a few other reasons, but some of the charm rubbed off on the book for me.)

I know what it was like: it was like when I was riding home from college with the Sass brothers. Christopher started telling a story, and it was not a story his younger brother Philip knew. And Phil stopped him, anxiously, saying, "Chris, you've lost me here, I don't know where you're going with this." Because they're brothers, and Phil just figured he was supposed to know. It was alarming to him when he didn't just know. Not necessarily a bad story, just a jolted moment, a poleaxed moment. Like when I was talking about wartime reparations on Friday and segued into the Finnish toilet paper joke, Daniel got the same look on his face: I was not leading him where he expected to go. It was like that when the Hornby man wrote that it was set in London. I thought I was oriented, and it turned out I was not.

Hmm. So. I'm already feeling brighter-eyed than yesterday, as I said, although I would be happier if my replacement Sunday comics had arrived already. I'm all dressed and ready to go hear the Palestrina mass, although I do have to pick something to read on the train, since I went through five books yesterday. I only have one "virtuous" library book left, and the rest are all for fun. Hmm. Fun is much harder to choose than virtue. It's usually apparent to me what I will benefit by reading next in terms of working on a textbook. What I'll enjoy most is a different choice entirely, and a harder one.

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