Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I like Adventure books; my wife, not so much. She doesn't like them at all, to be exact. I can never understand this bit of literary preference. By Adventure Books I mean those true accounts of extremely courageous men and women who defy all odds and the various curses of the gods to perform a dangerous and ultimately inefficacious deed. These books are quite amazing if written properly, and contain facts and enterprises that at first glimpse seem quite embellished and untrue. Yet, they are very much factual.You have to Remember that sometimes things that actually happened were so bizarre as to seem contrived or unbelievable. I believe it is this fact that attracts me to these books. My wife doesn't read them, as I say, but she hears all about them from me as I follow her around the house retelling each chapter as I'm reading. I thinks she enjoys that, but I've noticed she never stays in one place too long as I'm telling the story. I take that as excitement, and not being able to just sit and listen. Sometimes she actually goes outside. Sometimes I shout out the window to her, especially if there's a very exciting scene that I figure she should hear about. So we both enjoy this book, in a way.

My latest Adventure Book(I just finished reading it) is THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann. This book is a national bestseller that just came out in Trade Paperback. It's the true story of the legendary explorer Percy Fawcett, who spent almost all his life exploring the Amazon in the early part of the 20th Century. His last exploration, when he was in his late fifties(accompanied by his son), he completely disappeared. On this trip he was looking for the lost city of Z which purported to be hidden somewhere within the dense jungle of Amazonia. Z was actually Fawcett's code name for El Dorado. El Dorado is that legendary, illusive, metaphorical place where practically everything is made of gold, and riches pour down like honey on all who find it. It doesn't exist---at least it hasn't been found to date. It's like Shangri-la, the Fountain of Youth, Eden, and so on. These places reside only in our imaginations and desires rather then in reality.

However, Percy Fawcett, driven by his great desire for fame and fortune and probably bitten too many times by Amazon mosquitoes, believed in El Dorado firmly, and was determined to find it somewhere in the Amazon jungle before he died. It was madness. But the tragedy really is that Fawcett took his oldest son and his son's best friend along with him. They all perished. Fawcett had his son so brainwashed and so excited about this Lost City that it actually borders on abuse---I think, anyway. You may have your crazy delusions, but keep them to yourself, I say.

This is an excellent book for other Adventure Book lovers like me---and my wife. It's an unbelievable story of bravery, endurance, and unspeakable dangers lurking in the dense Amazon jungle. It's also a book covering the disturbing and unsettling topic of obsession. One thinks of Captain Ahab and the White Whale. If your into this kind of literature, pick up this book, you won't be disappointed.(That sounds like a blurb).

These are other books I would recommend for adventure lovers: INTO THIN AIR by Jon Krakauer. This book about the disastrous Mount Everest climb in 1996 is actually a story you cannot wholly believe, and a book you cannot put down. Excellent. INTO THE WILD by the same author was made into a successful movie. It's the sad story about a rather disturbed young man who went off to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness with fatal results. Others are: GODFORSAKEN SEA by Derek Lundy. This is a true account of the 1996-1997 Vendee Globe yacht race that went terribly wrong and claimed many lives. There are many other adventure books available. It only depends on your interests.

I will be picking up Ian McEwan's new novel SOLAR which is out now. I really like McEwan and have read nearly all novels by him. But I must say the last two novels SATURDAY and ON CHESIL BEACH I really didn't enjoy. Still I'm anxious to start this new one, they say it's one of his best.

I just finished THE LOST CITY OF Z, WHICH I mentioned before, but my wife is not home just now, so I am unable to fill her in as the conclusion of this great Adventure Book. She will be home soon, and I'm sure she's anxious to hear what exactly happened to Fawcett and his troop in the Amazon. I imagine her excitement is palpable; we'll see.

Next: Sci-Fi books

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


My wife and I went to the movies last weekend. We saw ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a Tim Burton production in 3D starring Johnny Depp and various odd creatures. I especially wanted to see it because of my affinity for this excellent children's novel by Lewis Carrol(I wrote about this in an earlier post). I set myself---and my wife---up for a major disappointment. I should have known better. The whole movie experience went this way:

We sat in the upper middle row of the theater, 3D glasses in hand, and mostly surrounded by noisy children supervised by inattentive guardians. My wife was munching on rancid(I'm sure) popcorn from which she would later receive an annoying stomach ache. I usually don't eat at the movies.
As the lights began to fade signaling the start of the movie but not before there are never ending reels of movie promos, public service announcements, and ads for award-winning Toyota SUV's, an older couple arrives and sits two seats away on my right. The female of this couple, whose girth made it challenging for her to wedge into the seat, was carrying a huge carpet bag bulging at the seams with something. I soon found out that this bag was filled with a variety of food stuffs and drink.
The main feature began(finally!) and we were prompted to don our big glasses. I found the 3D effect in this movie not as engrossing as in AVATAR.
From the opening reel, I realized that this rendition of ALICE IN WONDERLAND is not going to be, in any shape or form, loyal to the book. Actually, this was NOT Alice In Wonderland! I don't know what this was, or why Burton would call it thus. I settled down to be entertained, nevertheless.
At some point during the early part of this movie I could hear a lot of rustling, tearing open of bags, munching, and crackling. I looked over at the rather big couple next to me and noticed the carpet bag was now wide open revealing many carefully wrapped food articles of which our happy couple were now partaking with relish(They had that too, I think). As I watched them I could hear heavy breathing to the point of a snore. I checked my wife sitting on my left, and, although I couldn't see her eyes because of the glasses, I knew she had nodded off---not an uncommon occurrence. I would have let her catch up on her sleep, but the noise she was making was beginning to drown out the ripping at plastic and munching sounds coming from the ravenous couple on my right. I spoke gently into my wife's ear informing her of the disquieting situation. She---I presume---opened her eyes and said OK.
The movie sets and cinematography in this film were quite amazing, but went by so quickly you couldn't really get a good look at them. The dialogue was awful, the story was becoming predictable. I was mostly bored. I checked on the insatiable couple on my right; they were now opening Tetra-packs of juice, inserting straws, and making audible sucking sounds, and I think my wife has gone back to sleep again. I let her sleep this time. What's the use?
I watched the movie with a determination to see it through, but noticed my eyes were beginning to droop. I closed them for a minute---I thought. There was a huge "BOOM" which opened my eyes immediately. The sound was the music for the last Great-Battle scene, but I jumped wide awake saying "WHAT THE!" as I tried to grasp what was happening. The couple on my right with food particles on their face looked over at me annoyed at my disruption, and I could hear my wife chuckling to herself.

The movie ended---finally.

We got up the go, and my wife asked if we keep the 3D glasses? I said, "Sure. We can put them on outside and see the world in 3D! Oh wait, We DO see the world in 3D". We had to go out on the left side because that couple still had their glasses on watching the credits on the screen and still eating. The carpet bag was about three quarters gone. A day at the movies.

By the way, Alice in this movie was a woman in her twenties. Not portraying Alice as a child is a travesty. It underlines the great disregard and disrespect for this important children's novel.

Next: My orders to get rid of "old" books.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Predictability, the knack of figuring out what will come next, is a human trait that helps us "understand" the world and aids us in our social constructions. But predictability is not always reliable, and not always good.
In music, predictability seems to be very important; it's why we keep enjoying the same songs over and over again despite hearing it numerous times. While listening to a song, we wait for that great chorus, or guitar riff, or piano solo, and are quite satisfied with the experience when it's over. We may even play it again---and again.
In movies---I find, anyway--- knowing how things will turn out, and knowing that the movie is progressing firmly in a linear direction, bores the hell out of me. It's an age-old formula where the action and plot follow in a linear direction, and people seem to prefer that everything adhere to this discipline. I would think this acceptance of a predictable linear story line is why so many people watch all the CSI's on TV, and enjoy them, even though one episode is actually indistinguishable from the other.
It's the same with novels. One of the reasons I don't read Mysteries is that, despite the many twists and surprises inherent in the story, the plot does follow the same well-trodden path: victim found, murder case, detectives on it, twists and surprises, solved. Authors will in many novels strain to keep their characters on a linear path---this is contrivance, and it's quite noticeable. I usually see it coming. These novels are good if you only want a neat, nice story---with a happy ending.
It's interesting to note that when an author strays from the linear, and predictable telling of a story a lot of people have a problem with it. Some will discard the book entirely, others will pick it apart while seeming to be lost in their reading. The Canada Reads book by Douglas Copland GENERATION X is written like this, and is getting a lot of flak lately, and I'm noticing that reviewers really don't know what to say about it. It's written as a kind of mind set for a generation, and seems to resonate for that particular generation only. They seem to understand the characters and the actions, and care little for the non-linear style.
I enjoy novels that are character based and do not follow a set predictable outline.
I really don't think life in general is linear, even though we try so hard to make it so. I also think that our belief that life has a determined path(Determinism), and our endless struggles to keep it on this path, leads to unhappiness and anxiety. In that great novel ZORBA THE GREEK by Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba tried so hard to build the water conduit. He put so much money, labour, time and sweat in the building of it, only to see it fall to pieces on its first run. What did Zorba do? He danced. He laughed and danced---and drank wine.

Hey, let's hear it for HURT LOCKER. It is an excellent movie. Oh, there you have another example of a non-linear story. Many people were complaining that this movie doesn't make sense because it doesn't do anything---there's no satisfying climax. But this movie is amazing on so many levels, you have to give up your expectations, lower your predictability bar, and watch it for what it is. It's much more enjoyable that way.