Deal Me In, Week 33 ~ “Person to Person”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Person to Person” by Richard Matheson

Card picked: King of Diamonds
From: I Am Legend, and other tales by Richard Matheson

Thoughts: The phone starts ringing at 3am. When Millman tries to answer it, he finds that he cannot. The ringing is in his head. His doctor suspects tinnitus and recommends chiropractic adjustment even though Millman doesn’t hear the ringing all the time. It usually stops around 6am. The treatment doesn’t help.

Millman’s therapist suggests that he do what one usually does to a ringing phone: answer it. Millman does, but who is on the other end? A CIA agent recruiting Millman to be a spy? A inventor of brain-to-brain communication? Millman’s dead father speaking to him from beyond the grave? His mother *was* psychic after all. Or is it, as his therapist believes, Millman’s own ill subconscious mind? But maybe…

church_lady_could_it_be_satan-1

I sometimes feel all my blogging comes down to how often I can use this gif.

This is definitely one of Matheson’s more meandering tales. I haven’t quite figured out the ending.

Fun Fact: I have tinnitus. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember and never realized that I experience “silence” differently than most people until I was in my 30s. It doesn’t bother me most of the time, but I do prefer to live somewhere with lots of background noise. The high pitched static is only really “loud” when I’m overly tired or not feeling well.

Review ~ The Great God Pan

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

Cover via Goodreads

The Great God Pan is a novella written by Arthur Machen. On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. Machen’s story was only one of many at the time to focus on Pan as a useful symbol for the power of nature and paganism. (via Goodreads)

I was surprised to find that this story begins with brain surgery. The 1890s were an interesting time for science as it started to truly butt heads with ideas supernatural in nature. In the first section, Dr. Raymond takes the concept of opening a mind rather literally. The surgery is performed on an unfortunate women, Mary. Her mind *is* opened—to the possession of the Great God Pan. Mary later gives birth and the child, Helen, is taken to the country. Time passes…

The next several sections of the book are a collection of second hand reports. A woman is corrupting men. Things are being done in bedrooms. The sexy details are all implied.  The men are ruined, frightened to death or influenced to commit suicide. Our two secondary narrators, Villiers and Clarke, piece together information and realize that this women is Helen, Mary’s daughter. They finally catch up with her and convince *her* to commit suicide. In her death throes, she transforms from human to animal, to something more primordial.

The Great God Pan was a scandalous book.  In a post-Fifty Shades of Greythe-internet-is-for-porn world, a reader might be left wondering what acts of debauchery are being perpetrated. Still, there is an element that may be radical to a modern reader: it’s Helen who has the power after her mother Mary has suffered at the hands of Dr. Raymond and Pan. Female sexuality is also given a predatory, feral sheen. Women are obviously very dangerous. This was a selection from the Obscure Literary Monsters list. I find it odd that the monster is supposedly Pan and not Helen.

Publishing info, my copy: 1894
Acquired: Project Gutenberg
Genre: horror

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “The Singing Bell”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Singing Bell” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Ace of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts: This being the first story in an anthology that I’ve owned for a few years, I might have read “The Singing Bell” before. I know I’ve read several of the subsequent Davenport/Dr. Urth stories and Asimov’s style doesn’t vary that much. If anything, the tone of this story was certainly familiar.

“The Singing Bell” starts with the crime from the perpetrator’s point of view. We see all the preparations taken by Louis Peyton. Peyton is sure that he’ll get away with the theft of singing bells from the Moon and the murder of his partner because he has the perfect alibi. Or rather non-alibi. Peyton spends every August sealed away in his bungalow in Colorado. Unless Det. Davenport can prove he was on the Moon, he’s good as gold. (Apparently, travel to the Moon is regulated on par with popping to the QT on a Friday night for snacks.) Furthermore, while law enforcement has an uber lie-detector, the psychoprobe, it legally can only be used to confirm near certain suspicions.

All of this leads Davenport to seek the advice of preeminent extraterrestrialist Wendell Urth to find a way to confirm that Peyton was off Earth. Which Urth, of course, does. Any guesses how one might deduce that a man has been off-world for at least a week?

Is This Your Card?

Review ~ The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Cover via Goodreads

When a frontier baron known as the Commodore orders Charlie and Eli Sisters, his hired gunslingers, to track down and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm, the brothers journey from Oregon to San Francisco, and eventually to Warm’s claim in the Sierra foothills, running into a witch, a bear, a dead Indian, a parlor of drunken floozies, and a gang of murderous fur trappers. Eli’s deadpan narration is at times strangely funny (as when he discovers dental hygiene, thanks to a frontier dentist dispensing free samples of “tooth powder that produced a minty foam”) but maintains the power to stir heartbreak, as with Eli’s infatuation with a consumptive hotel bookkeeper. As more of the brothers’ story is teased out, Charlie and Eli explore the human implications of many of the clichés of the old west and come off looking less and less like killers and more like traumatized young men. (via Goodreads)

I.

I’m going to start off by saying that I didn’t like The Sisters Brothers very much. This came as a surprise to me.

It’s a well-regarded book; in general, but also by reviewers I follow.  I like westerns, though I haven’t read that many of them. I like dark comedy. I didn’t think that my expectations were overly-high. I was definitely looking forward to some quirkiness. So, what’s the deal? I’ve spent a couple days trying to figure that out.

II.

I *did* like the voice. Eli Sisters’ narration evokes the time and the place. The first half of the book is part picaresque and part travelogue. It was Eli’s storytelling that kept me reading despite my reservations.

I did realize that I’m not much of a fan of picaresque novels. Actually, I haven’t read many of them. I don’t have anything against lower-class or below-the-law characters, but there is sort of an aggressive grayness to the characters and situations. For example, in the above blurb, seeing Eli and Charlie as traumatized young men is important to the narrative, but I’ve never found that lacking in the supposedly white-hat/black-hat westerns I’ve read.

III.

Eric and I have had some long talks about what makes good plot. If readers want to be surprised by a book, why do formulaic books work? How can you reread a book and still enjoy it? I think there’s a line that needs to be walked between being predictable and offering up the unexpected.

Honestly, at most points in The Sisters Brothers, I had no idea what was going to happen next. That’s not a bad thing. But even at the end, I didn’t know what was going to happen next. No. Clue. And that didn’t work for me. There was very little payoff for most of the quirky elements. I half expected an ending similar in style to The Departed, but no. Also, almost every event held the same weight. Crazy prospector with a chicken? Bead-stringing witch? Tooth powder? All are of seemingly equal importance to the narrative.

So, there it is. Now, on the plus side, I did finish this book and it’s given me a lot to chew on. That is worth something.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, HarperCollins (Ecco), 2011
Acquired: Dec. 21, 2014, Amazon
Genre: literary western

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish” by Joyce Carol Oates

Card picked: Jack of Hearts
From: Wild Nights! Stories about the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway

Thoughts: Did you know that in his later life Samuel Clemens had a club of honorary granddaughters? They were all girls between 10 and 16 years-old. It was called the Aquarium Club and the girls were “angelfish.” Supposedly, this was all very innocent and well chaperoned; an old man without grandchildren, who liked children, was giving these smart youngsters the opportunity to have a good time. But for us as an audience, it’s maybe a little odd.

Not surprisingly, this is the situation that Joyce Carol Oates uses for this story. Nothing technically improper happens between Clemens and his latest angelfish, but through the use of letters written between aging Clemens and, well, aging Maddy Avery, we’re shown how destructive this situation can be. You see, the Samuel Clemens of this story abruptly severs contact with the girls when they reach age 16.

Lots of themes of aging, obviously. From Clemens’ POV, he is in the twilight of his life and career. He’s having a hard time writing and he’s outlived his wife and his one of his daughters. The angelfish make him feel young. From Maddy’s side, she realizes that she’s more valuable as a girl than as a woman. Maybe only to Grandpa Clemens, but maybe to the wide world as well. As is usual for JCO, this is not a comfortable story at all.

 

Review ~ Presto!

This book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette

Cover via Goodreads

An unconventional weight loss tale from an unconventional personality—Penn Jillette tells how he lost 100 pounds with his trademark outrageous sense of humor and biting social commentary that makes this success story anything but ordinary.

Legendary magician Penn Jillette was approaching his sixtieth birthday. Topping 330 pounds and saddled with a systolic blood pressure reading over 200, he knew he was at a dangerous crossroads: if he wanted to see his small children grow up, he needed to change. And then came Crazy Ray. A former NASA scientist and an unconventional, passionate innovator, Ray Cronise saved Penn Jillette’s life with his wild “potato diet.”

In Presto, Jillette takes us along on his journey from skepticism to the inspiring, life-changing momentum that transformed the magician’s body and mind. He describes the process in hilarious detail, as he performs his Las Vegas show, takes meetings with Hollywood executives, hangs out with his celebrity friends and fellow eccentric performers, all while remaining a dedicated husband and father. Throughout, he weaves in his views on sex, religion, and pop culture, making his story a refreshing, genre-busting account. Outspoken, frank, and bitingly clever, Presto is an incisive, rollicking read. (via Goodreads)

I.

Presto!: How I Made 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales is not a diet book. Indeed, in the “Disclaimer” section, Penn Jillette makes it clear: don’t take medical advice from a juggler. Instead, this is a food narrative.

We all have a food narrative: what we eat, when we eat, why we eat,  and how we eat. For some, the narrative is short and simple. For others, once health and social conventions get mixed in, it’s a bit more complicated. It’s impossible to read Presto! and not think about my own food narrative.

II.

When I was kid, I bought (or was given) a planner that had a fill-in-the-blank section at the beginning. One of the questions was: “When my family gets together, we _________ .” And I filled in “eat.” Which is a true thing. While my grandparents only lived down the street, any get-together usually involved some sort of food. Fourth of July? Burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, chips. Birthdays? Dinner out, cake and ice cream. Christmas? Cookies, cheese & crackers, other assorted nibblies. Random Friday night? Random dessert, or maybe a trip to Taco Bell. Food remains a social thing for me. If I want to spend time with a friend, it’s over lunch or dinner.

I was a skinny kid. That changed when I hit puberty. I stopped running around outside and started spending more time sitting and reading like a good student and a proper adult. My hormones weren’t particularly kind to me either. My family are all big people; I figured that it was fairly inevitable that I would be too. I ate what I thought was a healthy diet (a friend of mine in college boggled at how I seemed to innately balance my meals) and didn’t shirk walking, but my weight gradually increased. It didn’t really bother me, but it also really did.

III.

One of the things that struck me inPresto! is that at his heaviest, Penn Jillette didn’t really feel that he was particularly unhealthy. He was on several blood pressure medications. He was suffering from sleep apnea. He didn’t feel particularly good, but it wasn’t an unlivable state. He had accepted that he was a big guy (he uses a more alliterative blunt term) and that he was playing the hand that genetics had dealt him. That is, until he suffered a serious health crisis. Penn, never one to do things in halfway, decided to take a pretty extreme measure: a diet that included a two week potato fast to jump start his weight loss and reset his sense of taste.

Presto! is written in cable-TV-Penn style, which means it’s solidly NSFW. If you’ve watched Penn & Teller: Bullshit! or ever listened to the Penn’s Sunday School podcast, you know  what I mean. Presto! is full of sex, no drugs, rock & roll, and occasionally magic as well as Penn’s crazy diet journey. Some of the stories felt repetitive to me, probably because I do listen to Penn’s Sunday School, which is the only place Penn’s really mentioned his weight loss prior to this book. And, as much as I generally like him, Penn’s bombastic tone wears on me occasionally. I might have put this book down a couple of times, but then I’d come on a chapter where Penn talks about being alive for his kids or how insanely better he feels instead of only existing in a “livable” state. It was those smaller/bigger notions that made Presto! work for me.

IV.

The way I remember it, there was no particular reason why decided to lose weight aside from I had weight to lose. During my last summer in college, I was working full time on my feet and lost about 10lbs. The next semester I took a physiology class and met Eric. In a sort of parallel to Penn and Ray Cronise, Eric wondered, based on what we’d learned in class about metabolism, if I could lose weight by eating a high-protein low-carb diet. This was about five years before the Atkins diet became popular. I lost another 45, down to about 120lbs. My weight loss numbers here are approximate because, like Penn and like so many others, I didn’t really weigh myself at my heaviest. Also let me say here: Eric never asked me to lose weight, never pressured me. It was mostly, to my recollection, an experiment.

Seventeen years later, I don’t eat the same high protein diet and I’ve, of course, gained some of the weight back. Right now, I’m about 133±2 depending on how active I am. I don’t think there’s one right way to change your food narrative or sustain your narrative if health or looks or whatnot gets in the way. I know that I like running around and playing ultimate frisbee. I can’t imagine that would be as fun if I were carrying around an extra 40lbs. I know I also like donuts and beer and having dinner with family and friends. My narrative, like all of our narratives, continues on.

Publishing info, my copy: eARC, Simon & Schuster, Aug. 2, 2016
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: memoir

Magic Monday ~ Review: The Amazing Harry Kellar

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow

Cover via Goodreads

Presenting the amazing Harry Kellar! The first magician to receive international fame! The most well-known illusionist at the turn of the twentieth century! The model for the Wizard of Oz! Author Gail Jarrow follows Kellar from a magician’s assistant traveling and performing across the United States during the Civil War to an international superstar with a show of his own, entertaining emperors, kings, and presidents. Jarrow uses Kellar’s own words and images—his amazing four-color promotional posters—to tell his riveting story in this first Kellar biography for young readers. And she reveals the science behind Kellar’s illusions and explores nineteenth-century entertainment and transportation as well as the history of magic, spiritualism, and séances. (via Goodreads)

For a while now I’ve wished that there existed a good, in-depth biography of Harry Kellar. Jim Steinmeyer touches on Kellar in his book on Howard Thurston, but Kellar seems to me to be interesting enough guy to deserve his own biography. Gail Jarrow’s The Amazing Harry Kellar isn’t that biography. It is an over-sized hardback aimed at 8-10 year-olds (according to Amazon). It is a really nicely made book, full-color with a fair amount text and lots of posters. Kellar had great posters. Which I’m assuming might be part of the reason why Jarrow decided to make a kid’s book about a magician that is generally less well known that some of his peers. *cough*Houdini*cough* The information and the writing are good though. Really, it was a joy to read because there was obviously care involved in this books existence.

Kell

Publishing info: hardback, Published June 2012 by Calkins Creek
Read: 7/26/16, at Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

The Sisters Brothers Northanger Abbey Summerlong

Still reading The Sisters Brothers, which I think I’ve been calling The Sister Brothers. The S on Sisters is killing me. It’s such an odd book. It sort of meanders, but the chapters are bite-sized so you don’t notice.

Next up: Either Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (which I keep wanting to call Northgranger Abbey) or Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle. Summerlong is an ARC with a pub date a ways in the future, but I’m not sure I can resist much longer.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!