Friday, October 28, 2011

The Song is You

Posted by Kurt

This fascinating hipster love story isn't quite as charming as (500) Days of Summer, but I was enchanted by it anyway. The main protagonist (Julian) is a director with a self-consciously astounding collection of music on his iPod, and the novel is generally about his love for Cait, a young Irish rock star on the rise. Their courtship is truly unique, as he gives her hard advice to make her a better artist, and she begins writing the next steps of the relationship into her songs. As the love story develops, though, the book gets more complicated in unexpected but strangely inevitable ways. He follows her around like a man in love, and Phillips is a strong author who is able to subtly shift perspectives and introduce enough doubt to make the reader uncomfortably confront the idea that he may also be following her around like an unwanted stalker. What if, for example, an anonymous message was from some other admirer? What if he is creating his love's reciprocal feelings from inside his own head? It is occasionally nauseating and often creepy and kind of exactly how I think hipster love goes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Run For Your Lives! (3 of 3)

Posted by Kurt

He is tall, with very short hair and a generally thoughtful expression.  He wears a tattered suit covered with blood.  She has a beautiful dress, like a glass of champagne, that would be more presentable if not for the occasional bloody stab wound.  Her hair is an enormous frizzy white wig, and it looks like the only part of her costume untouched by blood.  They are ready for prom, and very much in love.  When humans appear, they stand next to each other as they lurch after stragglers, but in their down times, he stands with a hand casually resting on her hip.  In the morning chill, his shredded jacket offers little warmth, but it’s on her shoulders when they don't have to perform.  When her wild hair begins to bother her, he tears a strip of “caution” tape from the end of a barrier so that she can tie it back, and when she wants it to go wild again for a later wave of humans, she ties the tape around her ribs.  In the warmth of the early afternoon sun, they curl up together on the grass, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.  When a young human woman dashes shrieking through the zombie horde in an.. impractical costume.. the zombie prom date turns to her boyfriend and mutters an observation about the runner’s motivations for her wardrobe choice, then gives him a grin that is made just a bit more charming by the shine of fake blood that covers her jaw, neck, and chest, like she has just aggressively imbibed spiked punch directly from the bowl.  From time to time between waves of runners, the zombies making small talk will glance at the prom couple and confirm to each other that we are all completely in love with them.

Run For Your Lives! (Part 2 of 3)

Posted by Kurt

A young man waits in the staging area before he begins his run.  Jay wears a torn white dress shirt and plaid pants, all stained with fake blood.  He has rubbed mud in his hair and fixed a false laceration along his cheekbone.  As a zombie volunteer in the morning, he perfected a curious pretzel-shaped crouch, with his arms at unnatural and unsettling angles that just happened to be perfect for suddenly snatching at an inattentive runner’s flag, but now his shift is over, and he is ready to experience the other side of the event.  He is an accomplished runner, with experience completing masochistic ultra-marathons and pushing himself for 24 hour races, but this is his first time to dodge zombies on his way through an obstacle course.

Run For Your Lives! (Part 1 of 3)

Posted by Kurt

A strikingly beautiful young woman stands in an open field, with her boots drenched in dew and her arm thrust into the air.  She holds an orange strip of plastic like a macabre trophy for all to see.  She has big pale eyes and bright white teeth, which look even brighter when contrasted with the thick layers of dirt and sticky fake blood all over her face.  She wears an outfit that is the kind of thing a pretty girl wears when she dresses down - boots, but they’re cute Uggs; a jacket and some flannel stained from copious amounts of fake blood, but they fit her very well.  The look, whether she intends it or not, is “sorority girl goes on a wholesome family camping trip and gets infected by the zombie plague,” with the thick bloodstains around her mouth suggesting the fates of her family members.  When she’s in character, stumbling around and groaning, she’s a very scary zombie, hitting you right in the “this could happen to anyone” place in your gut.  Out of character, though, she makes funny jokes about “Lindsey Lohan on a good day” being her favorite zombie, and she drifts through the field of off-duty zombies with a cute friend from home, meeting people and enjoying the excitement of the morning.  
At this moment, though, she has just withstood her first wave of potential human victims, and she has claimed her trophy.  The orange plastic quivers a bit from her excitement, subtly evoking images of a ghoulish Statue of Liberty, and she shouts, “I’m not even a chaser, but that bitch was slow!”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Buddha in the Attic

Posted by Kurt

This lyrical, elegant, potent book is a completely worthy follow-up to Otsuka’s first book, When the Emperor Was Divine, and may be even more emotionally powerful.  It is not exactly a novel in the traditional sense, as there is no plot, simply a montage of images and simple observations about the experience of Japanese women who came to California before World War II as brides for men they had never met  The images flow like a dream that gets quietly more nightmarish until the horrifying and inevitable end at the time of the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942.  The chapters are loosely bound by topic (the journey by sea, shared experiences of childbirth, details from the day that the Japanese Americans leave their homes, etc.) and mostly told in the first person plural.  This narrative decision is beautiful, churning up history out of a collective experience, presenting contradictions without apology (something like, “We came from X background, and it made us like this.  We came from Y background, and it made us like this,” creates delicate tensions that make the story both communal and individual, and I love it).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Posted by Kurt

I have recently had a hunger for the genre of "smart people writing about stupid things," and this book is my new favorite example.  While Klosterman may not deserve to be considered a subversive genius, he is a very smart person writing very good analysis of very shallow things, and I love it.  This collection of essays includes a comparison of Pamela Anderson and Marilyn Monroe to examine the way our cultural attitudes toward sex have changed (nothing groundbreaking, but the essay is earnest and respectful, even as it touches on the pornographic), a reflection on the way The Real World has altered how young people see their real-life social groupings, a story of the author's time coaching Little League that made me laugh out loud to the point where I had to stop reading for a while, and more.  There is a traditionally journalistic portrait of a Guns 'N Roses cover band, which delves into what the cover band phenomenon says about music and our society, and one of the only respectable analyses of Saved By The Bell that I have ever read (it doesn't pretend that the show was good, or entertaining, or coherent - it just looks at the various pieces and how they fit together in a way that considered what fans wanted/needed).  There is also a haunting little essay about the cultural impact of serial killers, filled with impressive interviews and some soul-baring on the part of Klosterman.  I even liked the essays about sports, although my eyes glazed over while I skimmed through the sections with way too much detail about a topic I loathe.

Songs for Fall 2011

Posted by Matt

The radio in my area has been really disappointing, overplaying autotuned assaults between aggressive commercial breaks, so for the past few months I have gotten my recommendations for new music from podcasts, the iTunes free songs of the week, recommendations of friends, and SoundHounding in public.  In case you're in the same boat, here are some of my top songs for Fall 2011 (all available on iTunes):

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Shot Through Velvet

Posted by Matt

This is the seventh book in a series by Elaine Byerrum where the mysteries get solved based on clues the astute Washington DC fashion reporter picks up. The series has been generally fun, with entertaining supporting characters and cute fashion articles between chapters. But the books have usually dropped in quality when the authors devotes more time to the sleuth's social life than to the mystery, and this book demonstrates that. It starts where Lacey is writing an article about how the economic downturn means that American fabrics like velvet are no longer being produced, and Byerrum builds an intriguing mystery around this dying little factory town, but around a hundred pages in, Lacey goes home to DC to spend a couple hundred pages killing time with her girlfriends, and by the time we get back to the mystery, I had forgotten the suspects and motivations. Overall, I did enjoy this entry, but I hope the writer will focus future books a little better.

Smokin' Seventeen

Posted by Matt

Janet Evanovich's series about a Jersey bounty hunter flourishes best when she focuses on the kooky support staff and the steamy romantic triangle, and with this eighteenth edition, Evanovich proves she knows what she's doing with that balance. The mystery at the heart of the book involves finding a few bodies and wondering if Stephanie Plum is a target or just a trouble magnet. Most of the book, however, has her spending quality time with her hot cop boyfriend and her hot mercenary temptation, justified by saying that her boyfriend's grandmother cursed her with hyperactive libido to try to punish her. It's cute, it's funny, and it's one of my favorites in the series so far.

Last Night at Chateau Marmont

Posted by Matt

I loved Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, hated the follow-up, Everyone Worth Knowing, enjoyed the third book, Chasing Harry Winston, and came to this fourth attempt with some trepidation. Turns out I was right to be on my guard - it wasn't as awful as Everyone Worth Knowing's vapid spoiled popular girl fantasy, but it was close. The book starts with Brooke whining for a hundred pages about having to work two jobs to support her talented but undiscovered musician husband. Then, when he gets discovered, we spend a hundred pages of her calling in sick and being generally unprofessional as she decides to join him for everything despite being unable to contribute anything of value at any of his events. Then, we read about how outraged she gets when her husband dares to suggest that she quit one or two of her jobs and allow him to take his turn as breadwinner. She whines about not being allowed to have it all, like all the rest of us never have to make choices in life about how we spend a finite number of minutes we get each day. Did no one tell her that marrying a person who is not yourself means that you have to choose some things sometimes? The end does manage to redeem some of the whining, but the lead character is rarely less than insufferable. You have sixty minutes each hour - spend them on something better, and stop whining that you can't also use those same minutes to read crap like this.