Friday, August 22, 2008

A Wolf at the Table, Pinocchio and Thursday Next

I have fantastic news for everyone: Law school has not sucked from me the desire to read books for pleasure! Whew! What a frickin' relief. I finished all of the following before law school actually started - well, I finished the Thursday Next book during orientation. But, you'll be happy to know that, despite the two hours of long, boring, turgid case law I have to read for every one hour of class, I have started a new book. Look for a blog on it next week, because I feel like it's going to go fast. I'm not going to put up a new survey yet, but after this book I will. Alright, now that business is out of the way, we can move on.

Jasper Fforde is a frickin' genius. He's so witty, clever and a plain old fashioned good writer. The Thursday Next series is impossible to explain unless you've actually read one of the books, but I'll sum it up by saying that the world of Thursday Next (both the alternate England where she has a pet dodo that she built from a home cloning kit, and in Bookworld where she is a Jurisfiction agent who helps police and regulate the making of and maintenance of books) is a fantastic and surprisingly realistic fantasy. You have to give it a shot.

In First Among Sequels, Thursday is older than in her previous adventures. It is now current day, and there is a serious stupidity surplus in the government run by the Common Sense Party. They try to keep thinking of stupid things to do as a government to reduce the surplus, but so far, they have too much common sense. It is abundantly clear that if they don't do something fast, they will be overtaken at the next election by the Prevailing Wind party.

Thursday still visits Bookworld daily and there's something terrible going on there. Sherlock Holmes has been murdered, and the read rate of outlanders is falling steadily. Worst of all, in order to attempt to use up the stupidity surplus, the government has decided to turn books into reality book shows. These television shows will change books entirely without the possibility of getting them back. And they are going to start with Pride and Prejudice. They will call it "The Bennets," and they will make all five sisters perform challenges every week. The sister who loses the challenge will be kicked out and the final sister standing (the "winner") gets to move on to the next Austen book and challenge characters there. Unless Thursday Next can stop it.

I've probably said too much, and it's confused you so much that you won't want to read it, but you absolutely have to give the original Thursday Next book a shot. It's called The Eyre Affair, and if you like literature, books, novels, or just want to be entertained, you should read it and all of its sequels.

I'll end my explanation by telling you my favorite part of this book. The outlander read rates are falling at a rapid rate. People are watching terrible telivision shows like "Kidney Swap," and their attention span is so short that they don't have the stamina to make it through an entire book. This made Thursday realize that reading "was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work - the writer might have died long ago." This articulates why I love reading so much. It's personal. When I read and enjoy a book, it's in my own way, and anyone else who reads it won't have the same experience. I respect writers a lot, and I've always been jealous of their capability of putting feelings, events and ideas into written form. But maybe I've been giving myself too little credit for being more of a consumer than a producer of the written word.
This summer, I went yard-saling with my mother a lot. At one sale, I picked up a hardback edition of the original Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Lorenzini, and I finally got around to reading it. The story is not that different from the Disney version. He still runs away from home, loses his money, becomes a donkey and ends up in the belly of a big fish with Geppetto. The differences are minor, but interesting. There is a cricket, but Pinocchio gets mad at him on the first day and kills him with a hammer. There is a Blue Fairy, but she is really a ghost. It was a fast read, and not that much of an intellecutal exercise, but I'm so glad I read it. Not only have I read the original classic (children's book though it may be), but it prepared me unexpectedly for the Thursday Next book. At one point Thursday jumps to a book that isn't read very often in order to do some training with her new Jurisfiction trainee. They jump to the scene in Pinocchio where his feet burn off while he is sleeping by the fire. The cricket is there in the background waiting for his confrontation with Pinocchio, and his stunt double is there waiting to jump into the action. That fantastic scene wouldn't have been as real to me had I not just read Pinnochio.

Reading memoirs is a funny thing. On one hand they are more compelling because the stories are true. On the other hand it feels a bit like voyeurism. Why do people write memoirs? Is it an easy thing to write because it requires less imagination, or is it a more difficult thing to write because you have to dig up old situations and buried feelings? Is it narcissistic, or is it therapeutic? After reading a memoir, though, I often feel like the person writing is my friend, or at the very least that I want to be friends with him/her. That certainly happened to me with Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. I have read so much of Augusten Burroughs' writing that I feel like I know him, and like we are old pals. It's wierd to think that he knows nothing about me.

Augusten Burroughs is such a good writer. It's true that he has had a truly remarkable life with a lot to write about, but that's not why his books are so enjoyable. His writing is clear, descriptive and flowing. A Wolf At The Table is about the dramatic and turbulent relationship he had with his father. While Running With Scissors was more about his mother (and the most entertaining of his books), it is obvious that Wolf was the most difficult to write - even more painful than admitting to all the terrible things he wrote in Dry. (I learned so much about alcoholism when I read Dry, despite the fact that I lived through my parents' alcoholism / addiction. He helped me to understand why an alcoholic does what he/she does, and how he/she thinks. I'll always be grateful for his honesty and humility.)

There are times in this book, though, that I start to doubt him. Does he actually remember learning to walk, or is that just there for dramatic effect? Some of the bad things his father did have been done by hundreds of fathers in the world (mine included). I did some eye rolling, and I'm not sure that he doesn't just feel a little bit sorry for himself. It even occurred to me that there's not much in his life that he hasn't written about, so he may be trying to milk this one for all it's worth. In the end, though, I really did like the book. I'm sad that he's getting to the bottom of the barrel of personal writing material. I hope that Augusten writes another novel (like with Jane Austen, I'm on a first name basis with him - even if he doesn't know anything about me). I'm sure he's got another Sellevision in him - or perhaps something even better. Keep writing Augusten!!!

I'm sure that my reading will slow down now that school's started, but it won't stop. I'm taking my first trip into the land of science fiction at the recommendation of my very tall brother, and I think I may be hooked. Ender's Game has got to be one of the most immediately gripping books out there. There's no slow build-up here - it's right into the fire! I have to go now, because I've got to go read it some more. Read on, my dear friends. Read on.


  1. that was the longest blog ever. but worth reading, i suppose. i still can't believe pinocchio kills jiminy cricket...what a jerk!
    i'm watching e!'s best and worst beach bods and they're showing mario lopez...your lover...hahaha enjoy saved by the bell tomorrow

  2. I'm so proud of you, reading Ender's game! You'll have to tell me about it soon, I'm sure that by now you've finished it.