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Archive for the ‘Novels’ Category

Written by Philip K. Dick

I still remember the first time I watched “Blade Runner” when I was around nine years old. I didn’t much understand it, the story or the subtext, but I felt like I could almost smell the dirt on the streets and feel the condensation from the fog. Watching the film fifteen years later, I still experience these sensations. And being fifteen years older, I’m able to actually grasp the complexities of the plot and the concepts both political and metaphysical that fester right below the surface. “Blade Runner” still stands up as one of the best Sci-fi films ever produced, and it all started with this book.

I’ve been meaning to read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” for quite some time now. But like most of my intentions when it comes to novels, the start date kept getting pushed further and further back while I engorged myself on every movie that caught my fancy. Finally, last week, I got around to reading it. The first thing that struck me was how vastly different it was from “Blade Runner”. Sure, most of the characters and settings were still there, but everything that happened was completely different. As dense of a movie that Ridley was able to fashion, the book, written by Philip K. Dick, is deeper still. Unlike the film, which spent most of its running time above the surface, focusing on the actions of its characters, the novel almost solely focuses on their inner desires and beliefs. Of course, this is largely due to the limitations and strengths of the differing art forms, but it still lends itself towards creating an interesting dichotomy. By watching the film and reading the novel, a more complete experience of the two is achieved. Though their individual stories are quite different, each one still manages to inform upon the other. If “Blade Runner” is a feast for the senses, than “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a feast for the mind. And more than anything, this separates the two from each other. I found myself emotionally moved by the novel, but I was wowed by the film. If you’ve only seen the film, read the novel. And if you’ve only read the novel, see the film. If you have still yet to do either, what the hell are you sitting here reading this for? Go out and find them!

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Written by Ben Mezrich

“The Accidental Billionaires” is about the founding of Facebook. When you stop and actually think about what Facebook does, and how many people use it, it can get pretty overwhelming. But the thing is, I don’t think most of us do that. I know that before I read this book, I didn’t. Facebook was just another thing that I used, sure I used it everyday, but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t spend that much time on it. Maybe ten minutes a day when all is said and done. But I know that I’m in the minority in this scenario. A lot of people I know are on Facebook for hours a day. And hundreds of millions of people are using the thing. Do the math on that and it’s pretty damn astounding. Hell, once I’m finished what I’m writing here, wordpress takes this article and posts it on Facebook. Long story short, Facebook has become as much a part of everyone’s every day life as actual human communication.

The main reason that I read “The Accidental Billionaires” is because David Fincher is making a movie out of it. “The Social Network” (which is a far better title for this work in my opinion) will be coming out at the end of this year, and I figured I’d acquaint my self with the material so I’d have some idea of what to expect. The subtitle for the novel reads: A tale of sex, money, genius, and betrayal. Rest assured, this story certainly does include all of these things. (Though it is a little light on the sex, but considering Facebook was more or less created so that a couple of guys could get laid, sex is still a pretty strong undercurrent.) Despite how important Facebook has become to so many people, the program itself is kind of boring in its (intentional) simplicity. It’s sleek (though it use to be much sleeker before all of the crazy add ons that have popped up over the past couple years) but not crazy flashy. You wouldn’t think that there was much of a story to tell about its creation. But you’d be wrong. While no where near a Oedipal drama, the story of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin is complicated and dramatic. Ben Mezrich does a fantastic job zoning in on the important parts of their partnership and taking a story that could have easily been much more boring and energizing it with his prose and sense of humor. If I had one criticism for the book it would be the same one that I have for most non-fictional stories… there isn’t much of a resolution. Despite spending a lot of the time inside the mind of the people who want to sue Mark for his creation, there isn’t any moment of catharsis. Eduardo is the individual you follow around for most of the book and I suppose the only moment of closure one can gleam from the text is in his realization that his friendship with Mark has been terminated.

I ended up enjoying this book much more than I thought I would. It’s quick, fun, and dramatic, and it offers up an interesting portrait of the new type of business tycoon that has been popping up in our world over the past two decades. Many of these men don’t see themselves as businessmen, they see themselves as artists. And they have a pretty good argument to make. I’m not sure Fincher’s film will be better than this, but I will say that he has his work cut out for him. Though if anyone can do it, it’s David Fincher.

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Rant

Written by Chuck Palahniuk

I’m not gonna lie. I first picked up this novel because the cover made me think of the old school Robin costume. I thought it might have something to do with that. (It’s not by the way, it’s a  messed up heart.) Upon opening the book and reading a few words on the dust jacket, it presented itself as an oral biography of “the world’s most notorious (fictional) serial killer.” With a price tag of only 6 dollars (I heart you BMV in downtown Toronto) I was sold on that phrase alone. Couple that with the fact that it was written by the author of “Fight Club”, and I didn’t even give it a second thought (let a lone a first one really). Sure it might not have been about Robin (a boy can dream can’t he?) but a serial killer is almost as good. When I finally got home and read the entirety of the dust jacket, my heart sunk a little. This wasn’t a book about a “serial killer”, at least not in the definition that I have come to know for a serial killer. It was a book about a man who went around giving people rabies. At least, that’s what the dust jacket said. (But I thought I read that thing the first time, and I still got it wrong… and I’d be wrong again.) So with the money already spent I had nothing left to do but sit down and read the thing out. Oh. My. God.

This is without a doubt, the craziest book I have ever read. And I’ve read some crazy ones. The Oral Biography device is a very effective one. It kept me intrigued on each new page, even if I didn’t really like where the story was heading. I’ve never read a book written in such a fashion but it certainly allows for some very intriguing structural choices and interesting reveals. “Rant” starts off simply enough. A man named Buster Casey has just died, and through a series of interviews we learn that the man was somewhat of a martyr/celebrity. A man with a thousand different stories and somebody that everybody wants to claim they at some point met. He also had rabies. A shit load of rabies. And he liked to infect people. From this point on the novel progresses through stories about Rant’s childhood up until his “death.” I guarantee you that these stories make for some of the most twisted, deranged and insane things you have ever read. And then just when you think it can’t get any weirder, disturbing, or more disgusting, a twist in the final third of the novel pops up and almost (almost) elevates the entire thing to a case of high art.

Often times when reading “Rant” I found myself, disturbed, angry, and bored all at once. The beginning works for what it is, and as long as you can make some kind of connection with Rant, you’ll get through the entire thing okay. But the middle section of the book I found to be particularly hard to get through. And it retrospect it’s the most tame part of the book. Perhaps it’s because I became inoculated to the disgusting antics of Rants childhood  that I found his forray into “Big City Life”, in particular a “Mad Max” like car game, to be extremely boring. But as I said, near the end of the novel, Palahniuk throws in a twist that not only redeems the middle section of the book, but paints it as absolutely necessary.

I can’t help but think Chuck Palahniuk sat through a marathon viewing of David Cronenberg’s “Crash”, “The Matrix”, “Huckleberry Finn”, “Mad Max”, and his own “Fight Club” and then thought to himself, “I can write a novel that includes aspects of all of these things!” And while he was writing it, he also happened to read “Slaughterhouse Five” and at that point all bets were off. “Rant” is a strange, beautiful, and awful novel. Often all at the same time. But in my opinion that only helps in making it a better piece of art.

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Mere Anarchy

Written by Woody Allen

If there is one artist in this world of ours that I have always found myself most relating to, it’s Mr. Woody Allen. I’m not quite as idiosyncratic as he is, and I sure as hell am no where near as intelligent, but something in the man speaks to me from beyond the ether. In my opinion he is the single greatest filmmaker of any generation, and yes, that’s because I grade his films on somewhat of a curve. True, his more recent works have not been up to the par set by his earlier efforts, but most of them are so damn good that to have even one of them in a career would make any other artist green with envy. (It sure makes me.) Woody Allen has been making fantastic films year in and year out for well over thirty years now. In case you didn’t hear that last part, I said year in and year out. That’s one film a year. Most directors are lucky if they make a film every three years. Woody is nearly Eighty years-old and he’s still doing it! And not only does he make a movie every year, he’s directed plays, acted in other films, formed his own jazz band, and written short story compilations. All this and he still has time for psychoanalysis. And people wonder why this man is my hero. (Did I mention that he’s also married to a woman 35 years his junior? Oh I didn’t? Well there’s a reason for that, which I’m not going to get into now, but regardless of how weird that situation is – and it is – I still come down on the side of support for Woody.) “Mere Anarchy” is his most recent work of short stories (written in 2007) and is classic Woody Allen is every sense of the long, elaborate, and overly complicated word.

I make mention to Woody’s wording only because he is a master behind a keyboard or a typewriter. He writes in a style, and with a voice, that I can only one day dream of cultivating. But as defined of a sense of style as he has, it is a very long ways away from anything modern, which will probably throw a lot of people off. Like with most of his film work, Allen doesn’t like change. He knows what works and he sticks with it. (Yes, to the point of banality at times, but give the man credit for his perseverance.) The thing is, despite not being capable of writing in a “modern voice” (I should probably use the phrasing “despite not wanting to,” or “not caring to” instead of “capable of”) for anyone with a love affair of the written word, Allen’s talent shines through brightly. And not only that, he’s one of the few writers that actually challenges your education. I mentioned before that I don’t believe myself to be anywhere near as smart or well read than Mr. Allen, and this is certainly true, but I do believe that I’m above average in those two areas. Still, I was running to my dictionary (on my iphone nonetheless, I’m sure Woody could write an entire short story on that concept alone) every other paragraph just to simply find out the meaning of one of his many archaic and “intellectual” words. This is something that I didn’t have to do that once while reading the 900 page behemoth that is “The Brothers Karazamov”. I probably had to do it about two dozen times while reading this 100 page collection of short stories.

My love affair with Mr. Allen began about five years ago now and though I may not watch a film of his every month, there is seldom a time during my own artistic endeavors when I do not sit and ask myself “What Would Woody Do?” It’s my own personal mantra and it’s worked out alright for me so far. As far as “Mere Anarchy” goes (which I believe is probably in reverence to one of my favourite poems of all time “The Second Coming” by Yeats) it’s a fantastic read for anyone who is looking for something short, sweet, funny, and challenging. After all, where else are you going to read about Nietzsche’s tips on dieting? Or the destruction of a wealthy Russian family living in New York City simply because they cannot get their three-year old into a prestigious day care? Or The String Theory being used as an excuse for an affair?

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The Brothers Karamazov

Written by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Ahh classical Russian literature… what an enigma you are to me. I love you and your lofty ideas, your pages that literally drip with existential crisis of all sorts (okay maybe  not literally, that is unless you happened to find a copy of a Dostoevsky novel at your local adult book store). And yet, you can be nothing short of a chore to get through at times, spending pages and pages (and yes, even more pages!) on introducing and developing characters that only stick around for short intervals of time in the grand scheme of things. Or better yet, spend pages stating, rewording, imagining, re-imagining and finally, restating the same thoughts and beliefs by characters, one after another (after, yes, yet another!) But I believe that somewhere along that line lies the point. Russian literature is as powerful, moving, and important as it is, because of the very reasons that cause me both to love and abhor it. (Which is example number one on how Russian literature is similar to women.)

I think it took me about four months to get through this novel. For me, that’s a very God damn long time. To be fair, it’s nearly 800 pages long and is packed (make that jam-packed) with words. Tiny print too. Tiny print with big, big words. I should also note that at some point, I stopped reading it for about two months. I was just too frustrated at how slowly it was moving (example number two, hey, hey!) and how slowly I was reading it. But I came back to it because God damn it, it’s Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”! As far as I’m concerned everyone should have to read four novels in classical Russian literature before they die, those novels being: Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brother’s Karamazov” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”. I’ve got Dostoevsky’s novels down now, Tolstoy is up next… at some point.

Anyway, I’m sorry, I got off on a tangent of sorts there. Back to “The Brother’s Karamazov”. I’m glad I finished reading it, not only so I could knock an item off of my Must Read List, but also because the book is damn good once you finally relent and let is wash over you (and that’s example three of how Russian literature is like a woman, I swear these are just coming to me). I think that the reason why I like Russian literature so much is because of all the philosophising and grandiose ideas that the novels deal with. And it’s not like these grand theories and ideas are sugar-coated as they are in most modern-day literature. Quite contrarily, they are in your face and laid out in painstaking detail. It’s like reading a book by Nietzsche, but with the pretense that what you are about to read is a fantastical and intriguing story, not simply just a work of theory. That’s probably why I choose to read Russian literature over Philosophical writings, because I like my ideas presented to me as a story. One with a clear beginning, middle and end, with characters that I can care about. It’s ironic because most works written by accredited philosophers are much shorter than novels by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but at the end of the day the Ruskies found a way to make their stories immensely more enjoyable while the other writings often come across as nothing more than words.

Something I feel like I must note however, reading Russian literature is a heavy, heavy ordeal. It’s not all rainbows and puppy dog tails. (In fact, the only dog in “BK” is tricked into eating a piece of bread with a nail in it.) It can be a chore to get through not only due to its length, but because at some point you start to eerily relate to the dramatic and tragic suffering that nearly all classical Russian literature characters seem to go through. The good news is, you almost always come out the other side having learned something new about your self. So next fall/winter (for some reason I find reading Russian literature with snow outside your window and maybe a fire brewing in a fireplace next to you as the optimum way to experience the event – Russian literature/Women similarity number four!!) find yourself a work by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy and enjoy a very long but engaging piece of work.

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Written by Craig Ferguson

I’ve never much been one for biographies, whether written by the actual person who lived the life or not. I’ve just always been too concerned with creating a life for myself that the idea of reading about other peoples actual lives never really interested me. To me, biographies, at best, provide a vaguely entertaining yarn, and at worst, offer up a life that suggests I make the same mistakes (I’m easily influenced) or completely jealous. (Let’s face it, as sad and troubled as most autobiographies can be at times, they often end on a positive note, i.e. the writer becomes famous and someone who everyone else would be willing to shell out 40 bucks for to read the life story of. In other words, for a while they live the lives of the rest of us, but then something extraordinary happens that makes them different and the rest of us go on reading and dreaming about their exploits.) Wow, just reading that last part back now is making me realize how cynical I’ve become lately. I should probably do something about that… maybe.

“American on Purpose” is the autobiography of the Craig Ferguson. For anyone who knows me or even gives this page a three-second scan, you know that he’s a man who I adore very much. There’s something about Craig that separates him not only from the other late night talk show hosts, but celebrities in general. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure exactly what that is, but it’s there. Perhaps it’s that he is the only celebrity that I have ever seen that seems truly and completely humble. Just watch his show once, and even through all the crankiness and curtness, you can tell that he genuinely loves being able to do what he does and realizes how lucky he is to be there. After reading “American on Purpose” you’ll realize just how true that last statement is. Craig Ferguson is lucky he didn’t die at the age of 23 from kidney failure. He’s lucky of not only that, but many, many other things. And he’d be the first to admit it to you.

The book is an extremely interesting look into the mind of an extremely self-destructive man, that despite it all, just wanted to make people entertained be it through music or comedy. And as low as he sinks (and it gets pretty low) as a reader you never stop rooting for him due in large part to that intangible factor I spoke of earlier: Craig Ferguson is Craig Ferguson and there is no one else quite like him. And if you love him and his work it’s because he somehow finds a way to create an intimate relationship with his audience despite never actually meeting 90% of them. He doesn’t placate you, he tells you how it is. He’s more ready to insult you than he is anything else, but he does it in such a playful, mischievous and (God forbid!) intelligent manner that you not only forgive him, you laugh right along with him.

Ferguson started off as a musician but eventually found his way into stand-up comedy, which I believe is a very important point worth noting. The reason for that is this: I have been convinced for quite a few years now that for a little over the past century, society has seen a very interesting shift in two areas: poetry and philosophy. As late as the end of the nineteenth century, both of these practices were very much alive and well. But over the past 150 years we have seen a rather abrupt end to these things. No doubt they are still around, but their popularity is no where near what it once was… that is, as they originally were. I believe that Poetry has transformed into Popular Music and that Philosophy has transformed into Stand Up Comedy. One needs look no further than the lyric booklet for any CD to understand the poetry/music connection. Without a doubt, 90% of most lyrics in popular music don’t hold a candle to the works of men like Elliot, Yeats, or Shakespeare, but the rhythms, melodies, and intentions are all there, clear as day. Music is as popular today as poetry once was, and has gradually taken over as such. Comedy as Philosophy might be a little harder to buy into, but I believe that it’s  stand up comics that view the world as different from everyone else just so that they can point out the inconsistencies, irregularities and absurdities, and make us laugh at the same time. They analyze life in every shape and form to find a new way of looking at things, and they stand up in front of us and tell us of their findings. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae that many of these observations are also hilarious.

So you see, Craig Ferguson is a combination of both of these worlds and in that, is somewhat of an irregularity. Read his book “Between the Bridge and the River” and it will quickly become apparent to you that he has the soul of a poet and the intelligence of a philosopher. He’s one in a million and “American on Purpose” is a very entertaining read on how he got there.

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Written by Craig Ferguson

If I didn’t already love Craig Ferguson an inordinate amount before I read this novel, I sure as hell would have after. Listen, I knew Ferguson was a talented and funny man, I found that out last summer when he was probably the best thing that got me through a very tough break-up, but I didn’t know that he had this in him.

This is quite nearly a masterpiece.

Sure, it starts off a little slow and juvenile, like what I imagine a relationship of any sort with Ferguson would begin like, but it quickly evolves into so much more. The potty humour and foul language give way to true poetry and insight of the human soul. One page of this book would have me laughing out loud, and two paragraphs later I’d be close to weeping at the tragedy of it all. This book has it all. Humour, drama, parables, Carl Jung, satire, Virgil, sex, time travel, heaven, hell, and god damn genius. Something can be taken out of every page. Craig Ferguson is one talented and intelligent man and the world is a better place with him being in it.

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