Monday, December 21, 2009

Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, The Big Over Easy, and The Fourth Bear

a review i wrote some years back about ffords other series'

So I will continue with the thread of reviewing lit on lit. Except this time it’s not a review of a critique, but delving into the world of literary characters becoming real life individuals in the stories by Jasper Fforde. He has two major series, both of which center on the respective heroes, Thurday Next and Jack Spratt.

The Thursday Next series begins with The Eyre Affair, in which a maniacal villain alters the plotlines of major literary works, e.g. Jane Eyre, for evil and world ending intentions. Now I had not read Jane Eyre beforehand (an abomination I know, but the Bronte sisters have never been my favorite writing team, I’m more of a Coen brothers fan if we are talking sibling writing duos.) Anyway, I think it would behoove someone to read Jane Eyre first, because the twists and alterations of the plot would be better appreciated if the reader knew what they were supposed to be in the first place. However, I don’t think it really took anything away for me (and I would still rather not wade through
scores of pages of chance meetings and romantic misunderstandings.) The Eyre Affair itself was fantastic, merging an ever so real and obvious disgust with pointless wars *clearing of the throat* with a detective escapade that weaves in and out of literary history. The character Detective Thursday Next is quite the heroine, strong and capable, but not without her own set of emotional issues, which only make her more charming. When the book wrapped up, I went right to the nearest bookstore to pick up the next in the series (there are 5 more books, the most recent due out July 2007. However, as luck would have it Lost in a Good Book was sold out, so I began The Big Over Easy, which is Fford’s move from literary manipulations to Nursery Crime (play of words on nursery rhyme for those a little slow on the uptake).

A different feel to this series, although the main character Jack Spratt is the lovable and honest underdog, I didn’t get the same connection as with Thursday Next. However, I still enjoyed the book immensely, and the ideas behind it still slightly genius. In Spratt’s world, he heads up the Nursery Crime Division (NCD), which deals mainly with the protection or capture of PDR’s, Persons of Dubious Reality. The Big Over Easy deals with the murder of Humpty Dumpty, a booze swilling depressed letch. It’s a good introduction to the characters and the plot methods, but I feel like the real magic doesn’t come out until the second book of the series, The Fourth Bear. By the time the reader reaches this point, they have already become familiar with the characters and more attention can be paid to the story. Both books of this series have criminal elements that are at some times predictable but then become so convoluted that it’s difficult to remember who is who. More than once I had to flip back a few chapters to remind myself which corrupt corporation was being discussed, or which seemingly innocent character now may be the evil mastermind. Then as if by magic Detective Jack Spratt suddenly knows exactly who the bad guy is and how to catch them and save the world. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, a story laced with nursery rhyme characters would be expected to be wrapped up in a neat little bow by the conclusion of the book. And a nice little addition to the second book is the internal struggle that Detective Spratt has with his own questionable reality. The bottom line is that while reading all of Fforde’s books there where multiple times that I found myself literally slapping the book against my leg, so moved by the wit that was just so perfect, intelligent yet completely unguarded. The characters make fun of themselves on more than one occasion, and the best jokes are totally simple. When Detective Spratt asks the character Vinnie (who happens to be a bear) if he can get him past a pretty intimidating line of police officers, Vinnie smiles and replies, “Do I shit in the woods?” Infantile maybe, but if you don’t crap up (I mean crack up, I swear that was a real typo) than I’ll eat my…well… not that… but how bout my book…

shades of grey

as most of you well know (since i have been bragging about it for days), i found a copy of the yet-to-be-released jasper fforde novel, shades of grey. i'm not sure why its available here, and i especially dont understand why its available in paperback, something that may be years away in western markets. (actually, now that i think about it, i dont remember seeing any hardcovers in the store. i'll have to check this next time) anyway, at 400 odd pages it took me about 2.5 days to read, pretty average for a fictional page-turner for me.

the first thing that jumped out at me was how similar in style, story, and feel it was to the 1884 satyrical novel flatland by edwin abbott abbott. similar daffy yet likeable protagonist, similar social hierarchy, in flatland based on shape, and in shades of grey on color perception. sofg actually seemed a bit more like the flatland film than the movie, but im a little sketchy on seperating the two, so i could be mistaken. anyhow, the sofg had a very familiar feel about it, so much so that i went online, while careful to read no spoilers, tried to find out if fforde referenced abbotts work as an inspiration/influence for his own. he did not. hm.

okay, on to the characters. i said before that the protagonist was likeable, but i really mean he is not unlikeable. i myself didnt particularly like him. and i ususally LOVE the protagonists from ffords novels. the brash and hot-headed thursday next, or the always downtrodden yet dependable jack spratt. both of these characters have their flaws, but are strong and true, and will usually make the selfless decision. they are more than characterizations, they are rich and complex, you care about their reputations, their futures, and it sounds hokey, but their lives. those are two of my favorite characters in british lit, because i feel they earn it, you go through all the trials with them, feeling their frustrations, reveling in their success. in ffords first two series where these characters are featured (fforde is a serial writer), i love the protagonists, villans, friends, even the side characters. reading his books are like a little view into how i hope i would carry myself in hilariously dangerous situations (i am going to be posting an old review of ffordes work now that i've gone on so much about it). now, the protagonist from sofg. hm, what to say. he's a slightly bumbling though mosty good-natured sap that lets himself get taken advantage of over and over again. he can (and does) prove himself to be, if not a hero, than hero lite. he's got a strong woman to back him up (all of ffords novels feature strong, outspoken women), but even she falls a little flat. one of the reasons it is harder to identify is that athough ffordes first two series take place in odd worlds (one jumping in and out of literature, the other in a world of nursery rhyme characters), the same basic set of world-views apply. people can still be kind or murderous, forthright or devious, and they are always aware of the world around them. but the world built in sofg is something that we cant really relate to, a dystopia that follows such bizarre rules, it is unknowable, unreachable. and this is okay if the piece is a commentary on social hierarchy, as flatland is. i didnt identify with the character in flatland, but i wasnt really meant to. i mean, he was a two dimensional square. as much as i can, i dont REALLY know what it would feel like to be 2D. And even closing my eyes, imagining his world, i still wouldnt know his feelings, or care all that much actually. its much the same for the main character here, eddie. he is gullible, naive, and a bit of a whinger (i love the word whinger btw, i cant stop using it instead of whiner after listening to gervais' podcasts). i never really cared what decisions he made, because he just annoyed me to much. and the transformation that his love interest jane goes through is much too abrupt, it seemed dishonest to her character, and to the reader.

as far as the story goes, its okay enough, but i dont want to spoil it. just know that its an entertaining enough read, but dont expect the magic and fantastic wordplay that jasper fforde gave us in his previous series. ill probably read the next in line when it comes out, but i'll borrow it from the library or something. and for me to not NEED to own the book, like a need that makes me sweat and pant in the bookstore, thats saying something. but it still better than 80% of the tosh out there, so you might want to give it a try.


what is it about some people that makes them totally loyal to their word? the kind of person that as soon as the words leave their lips, they become something more, something of truth, fact, honesty. i love that in people. it is so rare, but so incalculably valuable. of course, there are very few people like that in this world. the bulk of people say things they dont mean, or things they think they mean at the time, or things they want to mean but know that they will never truly come to pass. the reality of just how many people are not more careful about how their words relate to their actions, about how their chain of actions defines who they are as a person. i have traveled a lot, more than the average person. and while i have met an amazing number of fantastic, enthralling amazing people (more than i deserve im sure), few of those people are actually devoted to being honest to themselves and others. dont get me wrong, those people are out there, and i owe my health and happiness to a few of them. but those types of people are far to few in number than should really be the case.

when i talk about honesty and truth, it ranges all the way from going out on an appointed date to living up to the morality we all build for ourselves. if you, as a human, have set certain rules, codes, goals to live by, stay true to them. this doesnt mean that a person cant change their mind or find a different path., but when others are dependent on the scaffolding that you build to hold your life in place, if it come tumbling down, its not just you who goes down with it.

i consider myself a person that hold very true to their mission. although i wish it were, it is not for the altruistic reason that other people are depending on me, or that feel a drive to stick to my guns for the sake of others. its for much more selfish reasons. i like a challenge, i dont like to lose or look the fool. i like trials of endurance or fighting through severe restrictions. but i do like knowing that what i say can be trusted. that if i make a decision to devote myself to something, those involved know that i will do whatever it takes to get it done. part of this is because of my lifestyle. because i dont have many people very close to me, i can focus on one goal, one plan at a time. finishing my masters in hawaii; once done, that goal, those people, i dont feel as connected to (i was going to say obligated, but that seems harsh, i dont look at my relationships as "obligations"). went to japan, met great people, finished that. now working to help NK refugees. i can devote myself to it fully, because there is nothing else absorbing the limited amount of resources that every human being has. so i know it may be easier for me than some, because of the way i have chosen to live my life. but it doesnt negate that EVERY person should be held to their word, and they should WANT to be held to it, to prove themselves as forthright and honorable individuals.

i know that every person is at times deceitful, a coward, weak, scared, hurt. we all are, we all make bad or selfish decisions, we all sometimes feel like the world is out to get us or that maybe no one is watching out for us. but it should not keep us from trying with every ounce of ourselves to be the anti-hypocrite. if when people are asked what is the first thing they think of when they think of me, if it is something along the lines of sincere, or genuine, or just plain dependable, i will consider myself successful. and not just to the one person that is maybe most important to me, but to every person in my life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

oh the shopping

every time i move to a new place (or return to an old one, for that matter), i am convinced that i have found the epicenter of materialism. the shopping obsession seems almost rabid as soon an one gets within 10 miles of a strip mall, emporium, outlet, whatever. when i lived in japan i always joked that shopping was the national pastime. i was sure there was no where on earth that could rival their love for spending. but now i'm not so sure...
backtracking a bit, i'm not saying that all shopping is a gross perversion of a stable economy, for there are a lot of positives as well. i mean, one of the most amazing experiences of my life was finding my way through the markets in egypt. the smells were so rich, a mix of the literal barrels of spices on display with the street food like sweet potatoes or grilled corn. and the markets stay open into the early hours of the morning as to avoid the stifling heat of the day. (and on a side note, being the only caucasain, and more importantly the only female, in an egyptian market at 2am leads to some interesting encounters. seriously.) but the markets were obviously the hub of social interaction, people more often chatting about their kids than whipping out a credit card. but this is hardly the norm. and im not trying to romanticize the mysterious "other" or anything, but its pretty hard to see anything but money pass between people at the average us or japanese mall.

(laptop sleeve/bag)

now i'm not trying to claim that i am somehow above all of this, because in truth this post is about some amazing articles that i have purchased here. i'm trying to say that before you bust out your wallet, try to think about what you are buying, if you really need it, and most importantly, where it came from. because where i am living now, i am drowning in knock off bags and generic fashion. its like a forever 21 factory exploded over the whole city. in general, i am so tired of seeing 100 of the same shirt that lacks any kind of individuality or expression. truth be told, before i moved to japan i thought fashion
was bunk, but i really started to see the self-expression that was allowed fashion in a society that sometimes tries to squelch individuality. but come on people, try buying from artists, small businesses, people who still put love into their designs. after wading through all of the crap here, i have found a few designers that i cant help but want to buy their goods, share them with my friends, and have back-ups for when those wear out. i know it sounds silly, and maybe there really isnt a difference between buying off the rack and searching out unique creations, but i
want to believe there is.
so here are a few pictures of bags i picked up from an awesome designer (wish i could post the name, but i'm not allowed). i love everything about them. the prints are beautiful and original, and the materials are all pvc (yay vegan!) and are constructed incredibly well. i've already been to the wholesale shop, and most of you can expect one for any upcoming holiday :P

but all of this being said, even though i feel all holier than thou because they are unique items from a local business, is it really all that different than trolling the aisles at wal-mart? probably not so much. and yes, i do get carried away sometimes, i mean, i could live very easily on 2 pairs of pants, a few t's, and maybe one suit. (although remember, i'm pretty close to that. all i own in the world fits on 8 boxes, 6 of which are all books). anyway, when i feel the urge to own some random article that i really dont need, i pick up thoreau's walden and read a couple of lines.

"perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old..."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

mmm, back to writing. possibly the only thing that connects me to the places i've lived. everything else i leave behind, the friends, the language, the society. okay, that sounds a bit dramatic, obviously i still talk to some of the people i've built relationships with along the way. i can still bust out a little pidgin or japanese on occasion. and i can't act like i haven't absorbed the parts of the societies that i have lived in as part of my own personality; the laid-back island life or ordered and isolated politeness of japan. oh, and of course the outdoorsy childhood i had that makes me more comfortable with sleeping in a field than in a hotel. okay, so maybe writing isnt the only thing that connects me, but its the only time i feel like i'm the same person no matter what chair i'm sitting in. whatever it is that i see outside of my window, when the self-analysis kicks in and i make my feeble attempts at arranging my life in some orderly fashion, i'm brought back to the core of who i am. both the good and bad about myself, all of the things that make me me are laid bare. i think that's what writing does to a person, because if you're not being honest, it not only feels superficial to yourself, it soon becomes apparent to others that you are holding something back or giving a bit too much *wink to james frey*.

so here i am, sitting in a generic chair looking out of an ordinary window, back at my computer after a bit of an absence. but my location and purpose here are a bit less ordinary. i see tropical plants pretty similar to what i have seen in the past, hear the same squawking birds. but the language floating up from the street is new to me, the phonetics so bizarre to my untutored ears. i had forgotten how difficult the first few months in a new country are, when you can't even return greetings, or give pleasantries like please and thank you. and the friendliness of the people actually makes it a bit more difficult. if the general populace keeps to themselves, there aren't many people greeting you on the street, testing your linguistic abilities. but here where your foreign-ness is a curiosity in the neighborhood, people are constantly questioning your nationality, reason for being here, if you are having "fun" here (a question i was never asked in japan in 2 years), but i'm at the point where i cant differentiate one question from the next, or if i am supposed to give a response at all. yet again i am reduced to a smile accompanied by a polite nod, or a wave with a quizzical look. being a somewhat seclusionary (yes, totally made up word, but it fits) person myself, this more involved behavior may take some getting used to. especially because of the nature of my work here. the balance of public and private life must be hammered out to the acceptance of both the neighbors, myself, and most importantly the people i'm working with. right now the lack of language ability may play in my favor, just being the ignorant yet well meaning foreigner. but soon the novelty of that will wear off, and i had better be able to converse a bit for sanity's sake, as well as getting along well with those i come into contact with on a daily basis. and then there is the small matter of my studying korean as well. sigh, well, if i can get out of this boasting some conversational skills in 4 languages, it will sound quite impressive. as long as there are no native speakers present, cause then i wont sound impressive so much as speaking on a 6 year olds level. :)

so my first week here has been basically learning the transportation system. a complex ballet of leaping from bus to subway to cab to motorcycle to get to the places i need to go. and boy are there a lot of places. this job requires a pretty decent knowledge of very local places, from administration buildings to where to get the cheapest vegetables. and i have been very fortunate the the person training me has been so patient. and although i appreciate to no end the amount of work she is putting in, i know i wont really get the hang of it until i start making my own ridiculous mistakes. i know at some point i am going to end up on the wrong side of town with little idea of how i got there, and even worse, how to get back. but seeing the openness of the people here, i know that i'll be able to laugh it off and get the assistance i need. my dad always jokes that i was born under a lucky star, because i have always been able to find help along the way, whether it be with a life-altering issue, or just how to get to the nearest bus station. maybe the reason i have been able to step outside the box a bit more than others is not because of an independence in my own personality, but because of my awareness that there is rarely a time when there wont be someone, somewhere that can help me over whatever obstacle i am facing. well, okay, maybe its a little of both. but those working together have led me to some of the most amazing, inspiring people on this planet. and i am thankful every day for them. in fact, im thinking its time to remind them how wonderful they are. so i'll sign off for now, and go write a couple of overdue emails of thanks. till next time...

"Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you."