Archive for April, 2011

Cannonball #21: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first went to check this book out of the library, I was surprised to find it in the Teen section. I’d seen the movie, and I though that some of the subject matter was a little mature for teens.

But after reading it, I can kind of understand why it was in the Teen section of my library. Some of the scenes are, in my opinion, not appropriate for teens, but the writing had an oddly YA vibe to it.

If you don’t know the premise of the book itself, then maybe you ought to put the book down and watch TV for an hour a day to get caught up on the world of pop culture. A nameless insomniac meets a mysterious guy named Tyler Durden, and they start a secret club in which men beat each other within an inch of their lives in order to vent their daily frustrations. Through his friendship with Tyler, his life gets a lot more exciting: he participates in fights, and starts getting the respect he’s always wanted from his association with Tyler. But hanging with Tyler has a price, and, after a while, the protagonist begins to wonder if Tyler isn’t taking things too far.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton as The Narrator in the film version of the book. If you didn't recognize the image immediately, go get yourself an infusion of pop culture, STAT.

The premise of the book is certainly intriguing. The writing, to me anyway, had a definite YA flavor to it, but it was an engaging read, and the characters were all fascinating. The major plot twist was certainly groundbreaking in its time, and the book is well-paced and well-conceived.

But I do feel the need to close by saying that Chuck Palahniuk is a total arrogant tool. In the edition of the book I got from the library, there was an afterword from the author. The entire afterword could basically be summarized as follows:

“People claim that I stole this idea, but I totally didn’t because I am an original genius and anyone who disagrees is in denial. My ideas are so fresh and original, and I can’t believe how influential I am! I am so relevant, and my ideas are shaping our culture. I am important, people, so don’t you dare imply that I am anything but a literary genius that deserves your awe. Bow before me, peasants.”

So, I liked the book, but I totally hate the author after that ridiculous, self-important afterword.

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Cannonball 20: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Batman: Year OneBatman: Year One by Frank Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After my initial foray into the world of Batman graphic novels, I was just hooked. Batman has always been my favorite superhero; mostly because the “super” he possesses — wits, drive, physical agility and strength — seem so much more relatable to me than superhuman strength or the ability to shoot webs out of my wrists.

I also enjoy the dark, gritty edge to the Batman franchise. Gotham City is a den of corruption, crime, and mayhem, and that, in my opinion, is a much more accurate picture of the world we live in than some happy, prosperous Pleasantville-type city.

That’s why I especially enjoyed Frank Miller’s treatment of Batman’s early years. He shows the Dark Knight learning the ropes, making mistakes, getting gravely injured. It’s gritty, real, and gripping. The artwork in this novel is also edgy without being ugly; stark without being plain. He does a great job of looking back at Batman’s origins and showing a prologue of how the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns came to be.

He also explains and sets up a lot of future characters and relationships in the Batman universe, such as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, ADA Harvey Dent, and especially Detective Jim Gordon. It’s a fun “when they were young” look at these characters, and it really humanizes them. It’s especially sad to see how Harvey Dent and Batman had such a promising beginning to their relationship. But that’s life in Gotham City.

Batman: Year One is definitely a must-read for fans of Batman and of Frank Miller.

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Cannonball 19: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw (A Norton Critical Edition)The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession: My sister and I attend a monthly “Opera Talk” at our local library. This talk is mostly peopled with white-haired old ladies, so when my sister and I first walked in, they loved us immediately; we’re young, Asian, and immediately made them feel culturally relevant and diverse.

At first “Opera Talk” we ever attended, a dude from the Opera League of Los Angeles gave a talk about Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of The Turn of the Screw. I didn’t think I’d like it because I hadn’t thought much of the book when I read it in my freshman year of college, and the opera was twentieth century and English. But as the dude (not to be confused with The Dude) explained Britten’s use of themes and twelve-tone row, I was surprised to find myself genuinely interested in the opera.

There are some truly creepy songs in this opera. We watched clips of the opera in a darkened room, and my skin was absolutely crawling during some of the songs. We learned that Britten used the celesta to signal the presence of one of the ghosts, and as he played the clip, I realized where I’d heard a celesta before.

The “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme song will never be the same for me after this.

After this little lecture on Britten’s Turn, I went home and immediately pulled out my old copy of Henry James’ novella.

The story concerns a nameless governess who picks up a gig caring for two children in the English countryside, eight-year-old Miles and six-year-old Flora. Both children are sweet and adorable, and the governess feels an instant connection with precocious, young Miles.

Miles is supposed to be at boarding school, but he’s expelled for some mysterious reason. The governess can’t understand what a boy as angelic as Miles could possibly have done to get expelled so suddenly and irrevocably, but soon decides to let the matter drop.

innocent

As she watches the children one day, she notices a man watching them from afar. He frightens her for some reason, and she discovers from the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, that this specter matches the description of the master’s old valet, Peter Quint. The governess soon begins to see another ghost: Miss Jessel, her predecessor. The governess discovers that Quint and Miss Jessel had an affair, and that both died mysteriously. She also learns that the two may have had an inappropriate relationship with the children.

She begins to suspect that the children can see the ghosts, too, and that the ghosts are out to corrupt the children somehow. But she can’t catch the children communicating with the ghosts. She vows to save them from these spectral predators from beyond the grave.

The version of the book I read also came with a lot of reviews and analysis of the story. There has been a fierce debate over the years about whether the ghosts are real or the governess is losing her mind. But the theory that most intrigued me was the one that posited that the true villain of the story might be Mrs. Grose. It’s possible that Mrs. Grose, disgruntled at losing her place as the children’s primary caretaker with the arrival of the governess, slowly drives the governess to madness by planting creepy ideas in her head.

As far as the story itself is concerned, I think it doesn’t have quite the same shock value it probably had when it was first written, but it’s still pretty creepy. If you like ghost stories, this one’s a classic that you can’t miss.

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