By the fire (Anthology: “Places where I enjoy reading”)

By the fire (Anthology: “Places where I enjoy reading”)

Thought it would be a one-off, didn’t you? You’d just write that silly post about the toilet and then forget all about it. Face it. These type of posts are way more difficult than your usual book reviews, aren’t they? These posts are somewhat personal. Well! I’m giving it another shot! Here is part deux of my anthology aptly titled “Places where I enjoy reading”. To kickoff this entry let’s begin with the following description:

It is winter and there is a house by the mountain side. The house is empty and the summer days when it was filled with people are long gone. Now it is only visited during the weekends if rain or cold allow it. In that house there is a fireplace. It is surrounded by a rocking chair, a two-seat couch, an armchair and a table with four radios, two of which do not work. On the ground there is a woven basket filled with old logs of pine and evergreen trees at the bottom and thinner branches on top that are used to feed the fire once the kindling takes a spark.

The fire starts. Smoke  appears. Wood begins crackling. The room is still unbearably cold when one moves away from the hearth. A blanket and a cup of tea help to ward off the cold. 

(Editorial note: you actually stopped and made a cup of earl grey tea after you wrote this. I sincerely hope that you are not as much a procrastinator as I am future-me)

One of the four radios is on. It is an old SANYO, 2 Band receiver RP 6160 A, and it is currently set to FM. The National Classical Music Station is somewhere around the 100 Mhz mark as indicated by an orange bar that is operated by a small wheel on the side of the radio.

My grandmother used to listened to it every night. 

The thinner branches are already in the fireplace and I’ve placed a big log on top that I hope lasts the rest of the night. I sit back. The announcer on the radio let’s me know that the piece of music that I’ve been listening to for the past few minutes is Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

My eyes begin to close. Will there be embers in the morning hidden in the ash?

*

Outside of an exercise in describing one of my favorite places to sit down and read, I hope I’ve achieved an additional thing that explains why I love reading by the fireplace: it’s all about the mood.

Unlike the worryingly specific criteria that I have for a toilet book, the following are just a small -but excellent- selection of books to help me illustrate this “mood” theory and that go extremely well with a dark cold room, a small reading light and a roaring fire.

H.P. Lovecraft – Necronomicon & Eldritch Tales

51cthyKhT6L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_51WNdCWK6pL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

These are the only two books that I’ve read exclusively by the fireplace. They are both compilations of H.P. Lovecraft’s work and, whilst they do not contain all of his work, the beautiful illustrations and the care that has gone into this editions is still palpable (Unfortunately, I still found some typos).

Lovecraft’s gothic prose is far more effective if you are sitting next to a fire on a cold winter night. The horror and nightmarish landscapes of his stories soon became a bit more ominous and outside, where the sky is dark and the wind is howling, those terrors appear to be growing and lurking. If you are new to Lovecraft and you want to test if what I say is true, I suggest you get your hands on (or click on) any of the following: The Colour From Out of Space, The Music of Erich Zann, Dagon or The Tomb; and if you are thinking about purchasing one of these two books I suggest you go for the Necronomicon first (both are great, but his best stories are in there),  either way stay close to the fire. I assure you that it is the only thing that will keep you sane.

Random Trivia: and if you really want to OD on mood put on some Electric Wizard inspired by Lovecraft. WARNING: the following song is B-A-D-A-S-S.

The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe

120826
I own this beautiful Wordsworth Edition.

How could I not include Poe in this list? You can’t talk about horror in books without mentioning Edgar Allan Poe! He was the first one to shape the genre. Without him there is nothing: no Stephen King, no Lovecraft, no Neil Gaiman, no Alan Moore. Nothing.

Additionally, Edgar Allan Poe deserves special mention because he is a fantastic wordsmith -one of the bests in my humble opinion-. Almost everything he has written reads beautifully and, even if you don’t enjoy horror but love words, you might appreciate how he weaves each sentence with seamless perfection.

His stories are capable of creating a very real, palpable and confusing horror (The Pit and the Pendulum), a schizophrenic madness (The Tell-Tale Heart) or a doomed melancholic atmosphere (The Fall of the House of Usher), and if none of that is for you I still invite you to check out the brilliant adaptation that The Simpsons did of his most famous poem, The Raven.  It is narrated by James Earl Jones and has a huge fireplace! How can you possibly resist?

J.R.R Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings

9780261103252It is one of the few books that I’ve gone back to on several occasions and to be fair I do not need to have a fire to enjoy it, but the last time I read it I noticed that I was only feeling like delving into Middle-earth during the coldest months of the year, and the moment that there was no fire my desire to resume the quest to destroy the one ring vanished. It took me all the weekends of two winters and two autumns to finish it back in 2010 and 2011.(Editorial note: I’ve got to check the date when I finished reading it. I bet now that it must have been winter. Second editorial note:  It was the 29th of December of 2011. Well done me!)

I remember that during those two years I avoided the Peter Jackson movies because I wanted to detach the film’s visuals from the words of Tolkien and see if I could imagine Middle-earth just like I did when I was a kid. I’m happy to report that I was succesful in my attempt and that it was all thanks to the fireplace, the tea, the blanket and the book itself. All these elements managed to create the feeling that I was in my little hobbit hole where I could ponder and dream about these far away adventures.

So what is it about these four books and why are their stories enhanced by the companionship of a good fireplace? Well, as I mentioned throughout the post there is a question of mood and atmosphere, but the truth is that the particular fireplace that I’m talking about is located in a place that also helps me shut out the world and let my imagination soar. In this place the hearth becomes a vortex to another world where magic, fantasy, horrors and all that is unreal becomes a little bit more tangible; acting as a bridge between my imagination and my reality. The authors of these books are capable of conjuring entire worlds and their stories can transport you to amazing places, so it makes perfect sense that all the magic locked in those tales reacts well to the fire because, like Calvin said at the beginning, there is something magical about having a fire.

IMG_20170506_212244
A memento for you future-me. Those were really happy days, make sure you get more of them!

Last editorial note (I swear): the first drafts of this post were  a real bitch very complicated and frustrating to write. It took me quite a shitload few attempts to go from completely abstract thoughts on a preference that only made sense to me and that did not necessarily seem logical to a somewhat coherent post. I’m quite proud of it.

P.S: Beginning-of-the-post-me is so depressing. He needs to relax!

P.S.S: A P.S does not count as another editorial note. So suck it!

A Country Doctor’s Notebook: Bulgakov & Rural Russia in 1916.

A Country Doctor’s Notebook: Bulgakov & Rural Russia in 1916.

*grabs a fictional pipe, lights it up and looks moodily towards the horizon*

It really is an odd story how I got to this book. It all begun with Mad Men. It was the end of season four of one of my favorite TV shows. Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) and his team were producing one great episode after the other and, like all great shows, the writing was always elevated by the excellent performance of the cast and the main character Don Draper, expertly played by Jon Hamm. It was this acting masterclass that led me to his IMDB page to learn more about his work. Mind you, it is important to point out that between seasons four and five of Mad Men there was a two-year gap when the show was halted, and that it was during those years that IMDB kindly informed me of a new TV show that Jon Hamm was doing in the UK with Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter kid). Finding nothing of interest in his filmography and curious to see if Don Draper was the only character that he could play, I stayed alert for the first season’s release of A Young Doctor’s Notebook in Christmas 2012.

40

The premise of the show is as follows: a young doctor fresh out of the Imperial Moscow University of Medicine & Dentistry receives his first assignment in a small one-doctor hospital found in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as rural Russia in the nineteen tens. It ran for two seasons, the first one taking all of the materials from the book of the same name and adapting it in very creative ways – more of that later – and the second one continuing the story arch set in season one but taking inspiration on other Bulgakov works– the white guard is featured in season two quite heavily so it is not too much of a stretch assuming that some elements may be taken from the novel The White Guard –. Once season two finished there was a small Making of episode where Daniel Radcliffe mentioned that one of the reasons he agreed to do the show is because one of his favorite books is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and that he had become obsessed with it since he first read it. This led me to learn about the book’s cult-classic status and the premise -the devil’s visit to 1930’s Moscow and the mischief he causes on the Russian elite- intrigued me. So, I bought The Master and Margarita instead of A Young Doctor’s Notebook.

But wait a second! If you loved the show so much, why on earth didn’t you buy the book? Well… *puffs again on the fictional pipe* Pay attention because here is where the story gets really stupid juicy:

There is one additional factor I skipped. I wanted to read A Young Doctor’s Notebook and not The Master and Margarita, but apparently they only released the book with that title to make use of the shows popularity (this unfortunately backfired because it came and went and nobody mentioned a word about it). So much to my surprise, when I went to purchase a book that was decades old I found it priced like a brand new release and, because I am indeed a very cheap man and back then I did not spend so much time looking into the details of books, I ultimately decided for the more affordable and cultish The Master and Margarita. The real stupid funny part is that a few months ago I remembered reading that the book had been retitled to use the show’s popularity and that previously it was simply named A Country Doctor’s Notebook. So, guess what happened when I searched abebooks under that name? Prices lower than three pounds! (Oh, sweet cheapness how I embrace thee)

But hold up! The real stupidity punchline is that Bulgakov originally wanted to release it as The Notes of a Young Doctor, thus making the two titles chosen for the English translations quite poor and, to add another yet another twist in this already-too-long story, I found out thanks to a dear friend of mine that the Spanish release is titled Morphine after one of the stories in the book. I wonder if there is a worldwide conspiracy to avoid naming the book like Bulgakov wanted? It seems like it.

Now that I’ve mesmerized you with the absurdly long way to explain how I came to get my hands on the book best purchasing story ever, let’s get to the novel.

897363
The Harvill Press edition additionally contains the story “The Murderer”

The book is divided in chapters each one narrating the events of the young doctor: from his arrival to the hospital and his very first amputation on a little girl who damaged her legs with a brake used to process flax (I actually found the ending of the chapter rather sweet despite the horrible scenario) to a visit in the midst of a blizzard to a woman with a fractured skull or the use of a steel windpipe on a little girl’s closed throat. All these events are based on Bulgakov’s own experience as a young doctor -a position that he eventually left to dedicate himself to journalism and, after finding success, a fulltime writer and playwright- and it is very interesting to see how he analyzes and reflects on past experiences.

I have to give a special mention to Michael Glenny’s excellent translation of the original Russian text. I didn’t feel anything unusual about the flow of the text and, whilst I don’t speak Russian, I didn’t notice anything estrange about the expressions or dialogue of the characters which are usual telltale signs of a poor translation. He also provides a very good introduction to Bulgakov, his experience as a doctor and the nature of the stories (I didn’t know they were serialized upon publication in two monthly magazines).

Has my opinion changed on the TV show having read the book?

Yes. For the better.

The TV show is oddly faithful to the book all throughout season one and it is very clear that the writers did their job to make sure that they stayed true to Bulgakov’s story. However there are a few deviations worth noticing:

– The show is told from the perspective of an older doctor reading the journal he began writing when he first arrived to the rural setting where the story unfolds. The older doctor begins interacting with the younger doctor as events unfold which is a very smart way to turn the observations taking place in the book to a dialogue exchange between characters.

– There is also very twisted humor. The event of the amputation I previously mentioned is played rather comically on the show and the same approach is taken with the steel wind pipe story. Both stay true to the book despite the fact that it is not written as if it is meant to be funny. It is almost as if someone with a very weird humor read the book and decided that the events narrated must have been hilarious. To be fair Bulgakov does poke fun at himself in the novel but it is done subtlety whereas the TV show is very at ease with dark humor.

– The biggest deviation in the TV show is caused by the adaptation of the chapter titled Morphine. In the book, Morphine is a transcript of the notes taken by the replacement of the young doctor in his previous practice. His replacement begins to fill sick and makes the mistake of using morphine, thus becoming an addict. He then proceeds to keep a log of his addiction and, in an ultimate act of despair, shoots himself the day after sending a letter begging for help. The TV show makes this the main driver of the narrative. The old doctor is being investigated for the forgery of prescriptions to maintain his supply of morphine and it is through the investigation that the story unravels. It is his reflection upon the events that first got him hooked on morphine all those years ago that eventually leads to his incarceration in the present(an event that was created exclusively for the show). I think merging this story with the others works very well to move the plot forward, but I can understand purist disliking this change. Thankfully, I’m not a purist so I’m OK with it.

I don’t recall any events of season two being taken from the book except maybe a very loose adaptation of the story “The Murderer” in one of the subplots. To be fair, the title at the beginning of each episode was changed to “A Young Doctor’s Notebook & Other Stories” in season two and I was just happy to get more episodes; and -as previously mentioned- since some of the other subplots may be taken from the first Bulgakov novel, The White Guard, I think it may be worth keeping that book in mind if I ever want to read more from Mikhail Bulgakov.

I finished reading A Country Doctor’s Notebook on the 1st of May 2017.

Additional notes of interest:

About the book: The new edition released with the title of the TV show A Young Doctor’s Notebook does not include the story “The Murderer” which you can find in the version titled A Country Doctor’s Notebook. So, Michael Glenny’s introduction aside, not only you’ll be getting the book cheaper but also you will get one additional short story. If you’ve missed the footnote below the bookcover this new story is in the edition published by Harvill Press. (Random Trivia: and because I have too much free time I’ve corrected the Wikipedia English entry which did not include this piece of information.)

About the show’s DVD: I’ve only found both seasons being sold together in the Spanish version of amazon (direct link). Fear not, it has the English language option.

Red Dragon & The Silence of the Lambs: A trail of limbs by Thomas Harris

Red Dragon & The Silence of the Lambs: A trail of limbs by Thomas Harris

I think that this could be my longest post yet. I’m writing this beforehand so maybe I’ll delete this paragraph in later drafts, but if all my thoughts do end up in the final post it’s going to be a doozy.

So, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, if his name does not appear in every single top ten list of evil fictional characters ingrained in popular culture that, my friends, renders it automatically invalid (look at me stating my opinion as fact on the Internet. So avant-garde). From the lesser known interpretation of Brian Cox in Manhunter -where the character was named Lecktor for reasons yet unknown to me-, to the iconic incarnation of Sir Anthony Hopkins , and most recently to Mads Mikkelsen’s fascinating take on the Hannibal TV show there is no denying that there is something about this character that has captured and fascinated people ever since it was conceived by author Thomas Harris.

I suppose a bit of context is necessary for this post, because I presume that my seven followers will be anxious to know all the details that keep them glued to the screen anxious to read every single word (imagine my ego trip when I reach ten subscribers). There are two reasons why I’ve read Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs:

The first one and simplest to explain before I go on my tirade to discuss the trip from book, to movie(s) to TV show is because of David Foster Wallace, which as you may know from my previous post became an author that popped in my radar primarily thanks to films like Liberal Arts, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and the excellent The End of the Tour. In my desire to learn more about him and the craft of writing, I came upon this article that contained a list of books that were mandatory reading for the students of his English class (back in 1994) to “provide competence in critical reading, knowledge of formal characteristics of novels and short stories, including their development as genres”. In that list, at numbers four and five, there are two novels of Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs is number five you lazy bastard, click the link for some seriously fascinating stuff). I also found through www.openculture.com another list of his top ten favorite books for the compilation “The Top Ten: Writer’s Pick Their Favorite Books” by  J. Peder Zane, and because I sometimes indulge your laziness to click links and others I find it repulsive (but I still love you faithful reader), allow me to post it below and indicate which ones I’ve read for sheer self-indulgence (this is also for you, future-me, make sure you read them and don’t be judgemental when you re-read the blog of your thirty year old version, you old fuck):

1. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis GOT IT, Loved it!

2. The Stand, by Stephen King GOT IT, Meh!

3. Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris GOT IT, Loved it!

4. The Thin Red Line, by James Jones

5. Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong

6. The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris GOT IT, Loved it!

7. Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein GOT IT, …. need I say more?

8. Fuzz, by Ed McBain

9. Alligator, by Shelley Katz

10. The Sum of All Fears, by Tom Clancy

This concludes reason number one.

INTERMISSION

(time to go to the toilet and grab a beverage to refill the pee tank…. preferably not from the same place)

Reason number two is *get ready to have your mind vaguely blown* not because of the movie The Silence of the Lambs, which I throughly enjoyed, but that ultimately did not have the huge impact to spark my desire to know more on the subject. My interest grew out of the TV show Hannibal.

Hannibal
Nothing against Hopkins but I just love Mads take on the character.

It ran for three seasons in NBC and was unfortunately cancelled due to lack of viewers despite having great reviews. It stars Hugh Dancy as Will Graham (the main character in Red Dragon) and as previously mentioned Mads Mikkelsen as the titular character, and it was developed for television by Brian Fuller (creator of the criminally underrated cult-classic Pushing Daisies).

Author Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less than Zero) mentioned in his podcast (I wish I could remember which one because I hate misquoting but I think this will sum it up quite well) the decline of quality in movies and how much he enjoys the whole cinematic experience; he also mentioned that today’s culture of Netflix, HBO and other paid TV has shifted quality writing from movies to TV shows but  that despite that fact one of his problems with most TV shows is how, with few exceptions, “TVesque” and how un-cinematic most of them are. One of this exceptions is Hannibal which has both excellent writing and beautiful cinematography.

Hannibal (the TV Show) is aesthetically different and that makes it unique in many different ways: from the recreation of a crime scene in the very first episode, to the Wendigo imagery throughout all seasons, the cooking segments (Random Trivia: I honestly can’t believe there is a Hannibal cook book), the display of the victims and pretty much all season three; all this elements make it beautifully grotesque. But the ultimate reason that I did not list and that truly makes Hannibal great is that it is based on excellent books and that it borrows and expands on small elements of these novels and builds on them to enhance the story. To be clear, I’ve only read two of the four Hannibal novels (more of that later), but it truly is worth higlighting the level of detail that Brian Fuller and his team of writers took to turn these books (especially if you consider that they did not have the rights to The Silence of the Lambs) into a TV show.

Both novels, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, are thrillers that are close to perfection and it is all due to the skills of author Thomas Harris. There are three characteristics of his writing that I really want to highlight: style, pacing and research.

The first two can be quickly seen if you pick up any of the books and read the first chapters. Thomas Harris has a really effective writing style. He is a master chosing descriptions that do not overdo it and also effectively tell you everything you need to know about a scene or a character. In the book “On Writing” by Stephen King (which technically should be reason three, it did not come to me until I got to this point of the post) he exemplified the power of an effective description with a sentence from the first page of The Silence of the Lambs. If I recall correctly the sentence is on the first page of the book: “She knew she could look alright without primping” and it is used to describe the main protagonist Clarice Starling. It is explained much better in his book (which I highly recommend as it is both insightful and entertaining), but ultimately he argues that precise word choices that don’t overdo descriptions are key to good writing. Not only do I agree with this but after reading both novels I can confirm that Thomas Harris nails this aspect.

9780091901349-uk
Simple yet effective cover design

My copy is a 2001 edition published by Cresset Editions (Random Trivia: bought on the 16th of August 2016 in Abebooks.uk for 2 £, along with A Confederacy of Dunces for a total expenditure of 5.6 £ -that includes shipping cost and a voucher with a 10% discount-). Red Dragon has 355 pages and 54 chapter and The Silence of the Lambs has 352 pages and 61 chapters. That makes 6.1 pages per chapter and is a good mathematical indicator of the effective and quick writing style and also, as I mentioned above, his pacing. Thomas Harris rarely lingers, he keeps the momentum going and going, grabbing the reader by his/her metaphorical balls and not letting go until he is through (if you are mildly aroused with the last sentence I can assure you that you are not alone).

And finally we are down to his research (click on it if you truly want to read more on this subject). Thomas Harris’s time spent at Quantico (a location of the FBI training facilities) must have been a key element in the shaping and development of the scenarios, processes, procedures and most importantly the characters in his stories  (after all, one is a collaborator/consultant with the FBI and the other a student training to be an FBI agent) but his most iconic character has always remained a bit of a mystery.

It is fairly well-known that Ed Gein (who also inspired Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface and Psycho’s Norman Bates) and Ted Bundy were some of the inspirations for the Buffalo Bill character, but Hannibal Lecter did not have a clear reference to draw from and the lore of his inception remained a mystery until the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Silence of The Lambs. In this edition, the author explained that Lecter was inspired by a Mexican Doctor who murdered a young woman and fit her body parts in a very small box. Later investigations have identified the man as Doctor Alfredo Ballí Treviño, and it is clear after reading more about him that Lecter may draw inspiration from this particular doctor, but he truly is a unique creation from the mind of Thomas Harris.

Like I said before there are more elements that make these books a fantastic read (yet another example that “bestseller” does not automatically equal shit you prejudiced ape) and both of them have been absolute page turners – on reviewing my post I remember a Jimmy Carr joke about books being “page turners” and his punch line was “aren’t they all page turners? That’s how they work”, still you get the idea-, however I suppose I should not end this post without addressing the elephant in the room. What about Hannibal and Hannibal Rising? The third and fourth novels.

Well, I’ve seen the movies and wasn’t too impressed. I’m also vaguely familiar with the books (I loved how they used some of the elements in them for the TV show-) and a quick search will let you know that they have not been received with the same praise as Red Dragon or The Silence of the Lambs; in fact one of the reasons why Jodie Foster did not reprise her role as Clarice Sterling in the sequel Hannibal is  due to the turn that the character takes in the book (it is different from the movie but I won’t spoil it for you), and yet I’m still curious about them. I won’t be rushing to the store for either one of them and I think I’ll give Hannibal a rest for a while, but if I’m ever low on suggestions and they are not too pricey (a.k.a cheap ) I think I’d be up for another dish served by the good doctor.

I finished reading Red Dragon the 5th of November 2016 and I finished reading The Silence of the Lambs the 15th of April 2017 (in between I read A Confederacy of Dunces, What Dreams May Come, Instrumental and Starship Troopers). It was a good idea to space them out so at least I learned that lesson after the Philip K. Dick omnibus.

Editorial note: It turns out that this is my longest post. You guessed correctly past-me!

P.S: if you still hunger for more (get it?) on the cinematic universe I truly recommend this Old VS New comparison of Manhunter and Red Dragon by The Nostalgia Critic:

 

Starship Troopers & Robert Heinlein

Starship Troopers & Robert Heinlein

I don’t get Robert A. Heinlein. I’ve tried to get him, but I just don’t. This does not mean that I dislike his books, it is just that his mind frame severely differs from mine and because of that I can’t find any common aspects that make his books relatable. To be honest most of the times, what I get from Heinlein is total and complete what-the-fuckness  (can I swear in my own blog? I hope so) . I guess you could say that I don’t grok him. 😉

So why bother reading him? Well, there are a few good reasons. One: he has a huge reputation and is considered one of the greatest science-fiction writers in history. He is up there with Asimov and Clarke in a sci-fi Holy Trinity (which I don’t think he deserves but this is just my opinion). Two: just because I don’t get where he comes from it doesn’t mean that I don’t find it interesting. Three: he is a good writer. Four (and last): whether good or bad he is, along with Philip K. Dick, one of the few science-fiction writers that I’ve read whose personality completely imbues and even transcends his writing. Heinlein writes science-fiction novels, but he is also putting a piece of his mind in there, and like him or not that is something that is bound to create some interesting output.

Starship Troopers is the third book of his that I’ve read. The other two are The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land which, according to my understanding, means that with this last one I’ve tackled his greatest hits. Out of the three I think that this is his most accessible book and, whilst this post is about it, I do feel a bit of context about the other two novels I’ve mentioned is necessary to explain my feelings on the book and the author.

I really enjoyed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The dynamic between the Earth ruling over the Moon like a colony, the “moon-speak” and “moon-writing” (difficult at times but granting the text a uniquely characteristic style), the family dynamics with male-female ratio disproportion, the idea of farming tunnels and the sentient supercomputerthe-moon-is-a-harsh-mistress-book-cover are the top things that I’d highlight from the novel. Overall a really good science-fiction story with some very interesting elements and ideas.

On the other hand, we have Stranger in a Strange Land which was the first Heinlein novel I ever read. I got the 1991 uncut version that has the original manuscript, as opposed to the version published in 1961 that edited out nearly a quarter of the book. I chose SIASL first because it was his most popular novel (apparently the open sexuality in the book struck a chord with the hippie movement back in the sixties) and is considered by many one of the great science-fiction novels. I also wanted to know if that popularity was deserved and if the book was any good. Random Trivia:  Do yourself a favour and listen to the fantastic Iron Maiden song titled after the book – and read the lyrics damn it -.

I don’t know about the 1961 edited version, but the 1991 unabridged version has some serious pacing issues and was a chore to finish. A very engaging first chapter lead to a slug of characters going over tedious conversations and themes of identity and society again and again (which is fine when you don’t write about it more than fifty times). I don’t think I could cover all the themes of that novel in a single post, and mind you I’m always cautious about quoting single phrases without context, BUT to explain why I don’t get Heinlein I want to quote a phrase from this novel: “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault”. Now this phrase was told by a character that enjoys stripping –stranger_in_a_strange_land_cover if memory serves me well – in front of people so that may imply a certain twisted view in regards to sexuality and political correctness, and I also understand that some books are products of their times and maybe the world back then was more sexist and this novel is just the result of that (unless Mad Men is lying to us). However the book is plagued by these type of comments and this particular phrase was so blunt that I just made me think about what the author (not the novel) was trying to communicate to me as a reader.

Coincidentally, I experienced a similar issue with Starship Troopers. Like SIASL, it starts with a great first chapter and then it is just turns out to be the story of a young man enlisting in the military, his career – with some aliens way in the background posing as a threat – and plenty of text explaining the importance,virtues and challenges of said military life. Now, I want to be very clear: I actually respect a lot the decision to join the military and I have zero problems with that ( I am specially grateful on those occasions where their actions are in line to protect me). I do however have a problem with military propaganda, and I don’t know if I’m the only one that got that feeling reading the book but I could not shake it off. Much like SIAS, Heinlein does not have a problem to hammer his point again and again. In this case being: Military life will make a man out of you and it is the greatest thing since porn (I may be simplifying but you get the idea). It is exactly how Heinlein insists on this message again and again what brings me to the movie adaptation of Starship Troopers.

031d615348ca24eb305e2c418ecc246f.jpg
My book cover is so meh  that I’d rather show the movie poster – and it is not great either -. 

This movie fits my definition of a guilty pleasure: the acting is really bad and over the top and the cheesiness factors are dialed-up to eleven. But what can I say? I can clearly see the flaws but I still love it. I first saw this as a kid and it just blew my mind. The special effects still hold up, and it is yet another great film by a director that knows how to use gore effectively and is also a great science-fiction adapter mister Paul Verhoven. Starship Troopers is his second adaptation of a science-fiction writer after Total Recall, which is based on the short story by Philip K. Dick “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, and his third science fiction movie (his first was Robocop and his fourth and last was Hollow Man).

Having read the book many years later, I have to say that it has helped to increase my respect for the movie. In the movie, all the military worship of the book is turned upside down and delivered with a spot on parody of a militarized society. The movie is smart enough to laugh at absurdly obvious military propaganda. It is actually kind of brilliant seeing what Vernhoven did (I recall reading that he discarded the book entirely after growing tired with the first few pages) and the direction he decided to take with the film. It is like a bizarre version of Heinlein’s novel in all the right ways, and I can only imagine that if he’d ever watch it he’d despise it. Doing a bit of digging I found this video of Michel Ironside talking about the film,its message, Vernhoven, the book and the direction they took. I’d highly recommend it as it echoes some of the impressions I’ve described here.

So taking into account all of the above you might imagine that I disliked the book, but surprisingly enough I did not. I didn’t love it either and it took me a while to read it, but I’m glad I got to it precisely because of what I said at the beginning. Heinlein’s ideas differ a lot from mine and as crazy (military propaganda) or wrong (the rape quote) as those ideas may seem, I actually enjoy the fact that I’m exposed to them if only for the sheer fact that I can think about why I don’t share them and the reasons behind that line of thinking. I don’t always want to read things that please me or that I agree with. It is actually a great thing reading things that you disagree with, specially if reading them helps you to discover, reaffirm or question your convictions, because ultimately it is up to you to decide how those ideas affect you and to make up your own mind about it.

I finished reading this book the 16th of March 2017, but it took me a while to write all this down a mix of laziness, work and also because I felt there was something important for me to think about after reading it. Last, a message from my sponsor:

The Toilet (Anthology: “Places where I enjoy reading”)

The Toilet (Anthology: “Places where I enjoy reading”)

This post is my first on a topic that is mostly irrelevant but nonetheless entertaining (I need to emphasize that it is entertaining to me) to think about: the places where I like to read. The weeks that follow (or months based on my productivity) I shall explain why those places are ideal to grab a book –again, ideal to me –and, because I’m feeling generous, I will also let you know my reading recommendations for those particular places.

Without further ado, place number one: The Toilet

(Warning to the tasteful reader: This entry will be filled with lots toilet humour, both literally and figuratively.)

I wanted to start with the one place where all potential readers have been at least once in their life, and if you are not in that demographic please accept my sincere apology and feel free to let me know how you have access to a computer/phone and not a toilet – I’m seriously fascinated by that scenario and open to unusual friendships –. I am not sure what is it about the toilet that makes me want to read. The first reason that popped in my head was because it is relaxing, and yes when I read I relax but mostly mentally and very marginally physically. The second reason was because it is distracting. It is a nasty business taking place down there might as well shift your focus somewhere else. A third reason could be a question of killing time, but this last one does not apply to me. Why? Two words: Like clockwork (I’ve got to admit I chuckled loudly at a joke that was far more explicit and that I ultimately editorialized).

Out of the three reasons mentioned, the second (distraction) is the one that seemed the most logical to me if forced to choose one, but thinking a bit more on the subject (I really need to find a hobby) I believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I reached this conclusion based on the kind of things that I like to read when I’m taking care of my business. To explain why I’d like to  bring up the two contenders that are perfect toilet book:

Simpsons_GTL
This book is the shit!

– Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life: I want to start with the strongest contender for the perfect toilet read. I’ve had this book since the sweet age of ten and has been a loyal companion in my trips to the loo (no need to be unsophisticated when talking about these matters). You can flip to any page and find entertaining things to read about and creative images from a time long ago when The Simpsons ruled the earth (until season 8). I’d highly recommend it for those of you that fall under the “drop&go” category (didn’t take long to go back unsophisticated). It works equally well if you want to take your time but I’d imagine that it’d loose it’s freshness if it the only book that you have for the toilet.

51+H4rWsH7L
My number two!

Woody Allen’s Complete Prose: So you are thinking “I’m smart and funny”, why am I reading this post? I have no clue why you are reading this, but I think this will be right up your alley. This omnibus contains Mr. Allen’s first three books Getting Even, Without Feathers (my favourite) and Side Effects and it is filled with his brand of humour and style. A few excerpts:

  • Idea for a story: A man awakens to find his parrot has been made Secretary of Agriculture
  • What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.
  • What if nothing exists and we’re all in somebody’s dream? Or what’s worse, what if only that fat guy in the third row exists?
  • Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable, with the possible exception of a moose singing “Embraceable You” in spats.

When I thought about these two book I discovered that they cover all three factors and they are very entertaining. I can go back to them over and over again and that’s why I enjoy reading them in the toilet and not any other books.

Now four things I want to make very clear before I finish this post:

– Even I’m not really sure what is the point of this post.

Not all books are good toilet books…… especially if they are heavy and you need to take a load off! (XD). Ok, I’m calm now. Back on topic. Not all books are good toilet books: Yes, you can take any book to a toilet but there may be missing key elements (for me the above mentioned, for you the reader, something completely different).

–  Just because I consider them ideal reading for the toilet it does not mean that they are bad books. If anything the re-read value is higher than the average. So don’t be a dick and say no to toilet book hate #nototoiletbookhate.

Last and most important: order of actions when taking a book to the toilet: grab book, drop pants, sit down, get business done, place book safely away from you, wipe, pull up pants, wash your hands, grab the book again and leave it in the bookshelf. Otherwise the degree of poop particles in your adored book may qualify it as a health hazard.

Remember: #nototoiletbookhate.

P.S: I’m fully aware that this may be the dumbest post in the history of the Internet.

P.S.S: I really struggled not to make this post my place number two for obvious comedic reasons.

P.S.S.S: Happy Birthday Miss A!

 

Instrumental – James Rhodes

Instrumental by James Rhodes is an odd reading choice for me. It is in fact one which I had not planned to make – but that is the thing with Christmas gifts -. Oddly enough, despite the fact that it was not a purchase I made (I always  do a bit of research to avoid something that will not be my cup of tea), my boss had previously recommended it with a warning on some of the subject matter in it.  I did point out on my “A Confederacy of Dunces” review how unusual it is for me to read something that has not been adapted to another form, well,  let me assure you that reading a book that is on the shelves of most decent sized bookshops is equally unusual – if not more -. I was also trying to think of any other autobiographies that I’ve read but I think that this is the first one.

9788416290437
Cover of the Spanish Edition


A quick summary for those that do not know who James Rhodes is. He is a pianist trying to make classical music more accessible for younger generations by moving away  from the elitism associated with it. He was raped for many years since age five and this caused him tremendous damage both psychologically and physically, issues with drugs, alcoholism, suicide, self-inflicted cuts. Thankfully with loving friends, family, a lot of luck and classical music he managed to deal with most of these issues.

This book is about his life. Every chapter is titled with the name of a musical piece by different famous composers (begins and ends with Bach’s Goldberg variations). All the chapters have a  one page intro on that particular piece, why he chose it, the history behind it, and they are followed by the events that shaped him. The author does mention that, in his concerts, he enjoys talking about the different choices he makes before playing them and how the feedback from the attendants is always very positive and even welcomed. I’m glad that he adapted this routine to a book format  – just instead of playing, writing about his life – and I look forward to listening to some of his recommendations.

At the end of the book he discusses the difficulties trying to get it published. I can clearly see why. He doesn’t shy away from the details and the impact all those horrible things had on him, his family, friends and his son.  It truly felt like someone trying to deal with really difficult issues with as much honesty as possible, and I’m glad that it never feels exploitative or gimmicky or like he is trying to play an angle. This reads like an exorcism. A man dealing with his demons and telling his story.

For a few seconds I’ve hesitated about giving my personal thoughts on him, but quite frankly even if this is my blog, I don’t think I should pass judgment. I’m so far from the experiences that James Rhodes has been through that giving a personal opinion on the man itself would feel tacky and wrong.

I’m glad that there are stories about the power of music and love and how they can save your life. I finished reading this book the 30th of January 2017.

What Dreams May Come

Thank you 2017! A book that sucked me in like few have done since… well technically since summer 2016 (On Writing by Stephen King glued me like a sucker despite having a rough time). What Dreams May Come is the 10th novel by Richard Matheson whom I knew for:

  • I Am Legend: a fantastic book about a man living in a world full of vampires, which was later on magnificently adapted in The Last Man On Earth (1964) with Vincent Price on the lead role, and later on in the Omega Man (1971)  with glorious seventies cheese and Charlton Heston doing a great Charlton Heston performance, and finally I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith rocking two-thirds of the movie – despite horrendous CGI – and falling, nay, collapsing on the third act.
  • The Box: a Richard Kelly film (Donnie Darko) based on the short story Button, Button.
  • Stephen King’s praise on the author.
  • …. and yes. The movie “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams (1998).

Now to be fair, I don’t remember much about the movie. Only that it looked beautiful and that Robin Williams dies in it, goes to heaven and, SPOILER, his wife commits suicide, goes to hell and he decides to save her. That is all I remember.

61bcjxhfwql
The cover artwork is by Brad Holland.

I guess I’ve hinted it but never fully addressed it, but the movies and images that shocked me as a little boy are stuck there and won’t leave. This movie scared me in some parts with its imagery  but it was beautiful to look at, magical at such young age, and the impact it had lingered. Taking all of the above into account and having it in my to-buy list for some time, I finally purchased it this last Christmas  and chose it as my first book of 2017. To my delight I got the version with the cover that I wanted. Nothing against paperbacks with the picture of the movie but I like to disassociate both things – I’m looking at you both George Clooney and Will Smith. I will not buy Solaris or I am Robot with your mugs all over the cover -.

The book’s title and beginning is taken from Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1)

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

must give us pause”

This is not the only thing taken from this quote as the book is divided in four sections: “Sleep of Death“, “Summerland”, “This Mortal Coil” and “What Dreams may Come” (I just noticed that writing my review, clever me).

There are two things from the beginning that I want to highlight. First: the preface and in particular a quote regarding the book stating that “With few exceptions, every other detail is derived from research”. Second: the book is dedicated to his wife: “with grateful love, to my wife for adding the sweet measure of her soul to my existence”. Keep those in mind for later on.

The book itself is great. The author conveys vivid images with ease and is beautifully written without falling in the trap of being overtly verbose (Fun fact: I only had to look up tuft and acromegaly whilst reading it. Go on you lazy bastard look it up yourself!). Much like I Am Legend his writing is so good that I’ll definitely check other books from him (Somewhere in Time perhaps, and no, it is not because of the Christopher Reeves movie … it’s because of the Iron Maiden album).

The level of detail of the afterlife and death is astounding and very imaginative. It honestly made me want to believe in it and brings me to my first point. At the end of the novel there is a list of all the books that the author researched and from a little bit of digging it appears that Richard Matheson was way into metaphysics. His statement that the details are derived from research puzzled me. My first thought was that it was a gimmick, and coming from an author of such imagination just increased that feeling, and yet the list of books used for his research is extensive and included in the book itself. This leaves me wondering if there is real truth in what the novel represents of the afterlife. I will say this. If what happens after death is similar to what is in the book, it will be beautiful.

what-dreams-may-come-film-2
Still from the movie: Heaven. No wonder it won the Oscar for best visual effects.

The last chapter of the second part of the book (This Mortal Coil) is called “hell be our heaven”. Now, I have never been married, and I don’t think I’ve yet met a soul mate so my experience loving someone outside of my family has been “small” to put it tenderly, but this chapter is by far how I wish I could love somebody and how I’d like to show my appreciation for that person. I don’t know about the author’s relation with his wife, but with the dedication at the beginning, the relationship described throughout the book between the protagonist and his wife and what is written in this chapter I honestly feel that Richard Matheson truly loved and appreciated her. It is a chapter that I will most definitely go back to reading frequently.

This book was wonderful. It was just the book that I needed to read. It is why I read books. It is why I want to write books. I’ve checked out a couple of clips from the movie to prepare for this review and I think that for the time being I’ll not be re-watching it. I want to keep the sensations of the book a bit longer. I would still recommend watching it. I don’t know how it has aged. I don’t know if it will live up to the book, but without it I would’ve never found this great novel.

I finished reading this book the 15th of January. The review took me a while because I wanted to gather my thoughts on it. I can think of no better way of ending than this:

rehost%2f2016%2f9%2f13%2f6607ce2c-1c21-4ee8-b192-ea55397a5725
R.I.P Robin. Thanks for making me smile.