Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Women by Charles Bukowski

In relative terms, I'm just getting started with this whole literature thing.

In the year-and-a-half since I've become an avid reader of fiction, I've discovered a slew of fantastic authors (though I know I've barely scratched the surface of all the great novelists out there). My goal, I guess, is to sample as many different writers/books as possible, but, admittedly, I have to restrain myself in order to meet that goal.

There was a time where I planned on reading everything I could find by some of my favorite authors like John Updike and Don DeLillo, but, again, I wouldn't be able to sample much else if I only focused on the catalog of a few select authors.

Perhaps the author I'm most tempted to immerse myself with is none other than Charles Bukowski, which would be an overwhelming task because of how much material he's published in the literary world. His first novel, Post Office, ranks in my All-Time Top Five Books list, and, though my mind was telling me this one can wait, you have all these other books by other authors you haven't read yet...I couldn't resist picking up Bukowski's third novel, Women, a few weeks ago.

How I Found It: Bukowski was, as far as I can remember, the very first author my dad recommended to me when I hopped on the fiction train last year. I had Women on loan from him, and I plan on borrowing more Bukowski books from my dad in the future.

Total Reading Time: Two weeks.

Overview: It seems like every bookstore I've visited a special shelf for Charles Bukowski and a few other select authors (Kerouac and occasionally Vonnegut). You won't find him on the regular fiction/poetry sections, and I still can't decide whether I love or hate that. I guess it makes sense, considering that I'm guessing authors like Bukowski are in high demand at used bookstores, but, then again, it seems like a bit of a sales ploy.

No matter, because, as I've said, my dad has an expansive Bukowski library, which means that I have access to a large number of his works. Bukowski has one of the most distinctive writing styles I've ever come across, and I knew from Page 1 that Women was going to be another gem.

The novel, by and large, centers around Bukowski's famous alter ego, Henry Chinaski, a man who has found relative success as a writer. As the title suggests (a perfect title for this book in its simplicity, I might add), he embarks on an eye-opening amount of, er, "research" involving a large amount of eager young women that present themselves throughout the novel.

One of my favorite aspects of this book (and many of Bukowski's works in general) is his hit-and-run chapter structure. Women contains over 100 chapters, and, I wouldn't think a book would realistically be able off so many shifts in scene, setting, etc., but this one does. I have read novels where the chapters are long and meandering, leaving no place for the reader to find a reasonable spot to stop his or her reading for the night. This book is the opposite of that. I don't remember any of the chapters running longer than five or six pages (if that), and, despite their brevity, each one definitively stands alone. There aren't 100 chapters for the sake of having 100 chapters. Each, to me, give the reader glimpses into various points and events in Chinaski's life, ones that serve the overall progress of the novel. (It also serves Chinaski's initial "hit-and-run" attitude with women as well.)

When picking up Bukowski, you should expect some vulgarity. Women is chock full of it. But, like the chapter structure, it isn't vulgarity for sheer vulgarity's sake. The fact of the matter is that you're not supposed to see Chinaski as this holy character. You're supposed to be appalled by what he does at various points in the novel. Not every character has to be likable in order to be enjoyable, and I think some people forget that while reading fiction.

And, hey, by the time all is said and done, Chinaski does good. I wouldn't rank Women above Post Office in my lists, but I do think I enjoyed the ending of the former a bit more than the latter. All in all, Women is yet another home run in the catalog of Charles Bukowski.

Final Grade: A

(And I'll just leave this here for now.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Once I got off school for break back in May, I set a simple goal for myself.

Read five books over the summer.

Seems easy, but, for a notoriously slow reader like myself, it presented quite a challenge. A challenge, as I'm happy to report, that I've already completed. I'm currently on my seventh book of the summer, and, although the size of John Kennedy Toole's nearly 400-page novel A Confederacy of Dunces gave me pause at first (most of the others I've been reading are in the 200-to-300-page range), I ended up bolting through it at a surprisingly quick pace.

Like most things in life, novels are about quality, not quantity...but that doesn't change the daunting crate of unread books in my room right now.

A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the few works that's made its way into my "read" pile.

How I Found It: Recommended by my dad at this year's Lit Fest. He sold me on it after about two sentences, and Toole's novel shot right up my "to be read" list before I started it a few weeks ago.

Total Reading Time: About two weeks.

Overview: Part of the reason I was able to finish A Confederacy of Dunces fairly quickly (for me) was the fact that I was taking a two-week summer course at the time, and I had an ample amount of time to read the novel on the bus to and from class each day. The course was in creative writing, which is fitting because, as became obvious to me about ten pages in, Toole's novel is a blueprint of fiction writing at its finest.

Tragic as it is, the backstory of A Confederacy of Dunces is worth knowing upon starting the book. John Kennedy Toole, the author, completed the novel in the mid-1960s and was a professor at the time. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1969, a decision which may have been influenced by Toole's inability to get Dunces published. It was only the work of his mother ten years after the fact (who had found a manuscript of Toole's book in her attic) that eventually triggered the novel's publication and ultimate success, culminating with a Pulitzer Prize award in 1981.

Now, for most other novels, I'd provide a basic (and perhaps meandering) bit of plot detail, but, in the case of Dunces, I have no idea where to start. In its most simple form, the book follows one Ignatius Reilly and his various travels around the city of New Orleans. He makes enemies (many of them), finds (and loses) jobs, and is pestered by letters from a former sexually-open girlfriend from his past. Because of the wide range of characters and scenes in the book, the plot detail describing this book could be as long as the book itself, so I'll just leave it at that for now.

If you haven't figured it out by now I really, really enjoyed Dunces. The sheer authorship of it is masterful, for one. Most books need time to warm up until hitting the ultimate climax somewhere near the middle before falling back down. Not this one. I might argue that the climax in Dunces comes somewhere around Page 5 or Page 10, because the entire novel is basically a fallout from the first two scenes featuring Ignatius getting kicked out of a shopping center, and, immediately afterwards, a shady local bar. The entire cast of characters (around a dozen or so) materialize from the events of first twenty pages or so. And, despite my initial worries that the book was biting off more than it could chew, Toole does indeed tie each and every one of said characters together with a brilliant scene near the end of the novel, a scene that most definitely ranks as one of the best I've ever read in the world of fiction.

But, just as importantly as anything else, this novel is flat-out funny, too, and it had me laughing out loud at many points. Perhaps the best was Ignatius's failed "revolt" at his office job at Levy Pants, and, for some reason, simply picturing image from this particular passage had me in stitches...

         "Attack! Attack!" Ignatius cried again, even more furiously. His blue and yellow eyes protruded and flashed.
         Someone halfheartedly whizzed a bicycle chain over the top of the file cabinets and knocked the bean plants to the floor.
         "Now look what you've done," Ignatius said. "Who told you to knock those plants over?"
         "You say, 'Attagg,'" the owner of the bicycle chain answered.

I'm a man of lists, and I thought it'd be a long time before my All-Time Top Five Books list saw any changes. But, against all odds, I think A Confederacy of Dunces managed to do it. It is, by all accounts, one of the finest works of fiction I've ever had the pleasure of consuming. Welcome to the Top Five, Ignatius.

Final Grade: A+

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover

I apologize for the long, long delay between posts here.

I'll try to maintain at least a semi-regular schedule on this blog from now on. I don't plan on making this thing exclusively book reviews, but I do need to catch up on a few novels I've read over the past month or so.

Tonight, I'll be combing through Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., a novel that combines my recent romance with literature and my lifelong romance with baseball.

How I Discovered It: This is not to brag, but a baseball-themed story I wrote was published by my school's literary journal in the Spring. The piece later won the yearly Creative Non-Fiction award at my university, and, as a result, I found myself known as "the baseball guy" amongst my peers. One of my classmates found out about it and recommended this book to me due to the baseball-centric subject matter. I ordered a copy of Coover's novel for myself about a week later and dug into it not long after that. It's the first book I can think of that I bought/read on a recommendation by someone other than my dad.

Total Reading Time: A week.

Overview: I'll say right off the bat that this novel is built around one of those ideas that, as a writer, I wish I'd had. 

The basis revolves around an accountant (J. Henry Waugh) who becomes deeply immersed in a baseball dice game born entirely out of his own creation. Specifically, when the reader meets him in Chapter One, Henry is completely enthralled with a star rookie pitcher named Damon Rutherford (son of Brock Rutherford, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the UBA -- Universal Baseball Association). Damon tosses a perfect game, and Henry celebrates as if it was, on a personal level, a major accomplishment. The climax of the novel, however, comes when Damon is tragically killed by an errant hit by pitch, a dire end that comes about as a result of a three straight triple-1 dice rolls by Henry. The rest of the novel, more or less, features the downfall of Damon's passing though Henry's eyes. Henry loses his motivation, his job, and, as the reader can infer, his mind.

I went into this novel with high hopes and wasn't quite sure what to think by the time I flipped the last page. It may have been the most night-and-day narrative of any book I've ever read. I'd put the first two chapters up against some of my most treasured pieces of literature. Coover blends a perfect mix of comedy, fantasy, celebration, anticipation, and, ultimately, tragedy into the first 50-75 pages of this novel. The opening chapters almost make you forget that this is a dice game. You celebrate right along with Henry after Damon's perfect game, and you feel beaten and empty after the pitcher's death. I breezed through the first two chapters and couldn't wait for more.

But, to be completely honest, the final three chapters of this novel were somewhat of a slog. The third chapter features a long, meandering bar scene featuring a countless number of Henry's mystical, fantasy ballplayers, whooping it up in celebration of the "good ol' days" of the UBA. Henry himself, meanwhile, is vacant from the third chapter. I got what the section was trying to do, trying to highlight Henry's seemingly paradoxical attempt to escape the tragedy of the current UBA by immersing himself in the old UBA, each of which are fantasies within themselves. I understood this after about five pages, but the chapter goes on for about five times that and doesn't advance the novel a whole lot. The fourth chapter was a bit of a rebound, in that Henry seeks some sort of "retaliation" for the pitcher (Jock Casey) who threw the pitch that caused Damon's death. The fifth and final chapter is somewhat of a variation of the third, and left me lukewarm about the ultimate end of the novel.

Though I doubt it's through any fault of Coover's, I was also unhappy about the descriptions on the book jacket itself. The very first sentence of the brief description on the back of the novel gives away the ultimate "shocker" of the plot, Damon's death. This, as a result, made me read the first two chapters in a way that had me waiting for the climax, rather than it catching me off-guard. Part of the beauty of reading a good book is that feeling of WHAT?!?!?! when something unexpected happens. This novel definitely had that, but the publisher (or whoever writes the those back descriptions) gave it away within about three seconds of me picking this book up.

In the end, I did enjoy this book, even if I felt that it was a little lacking in execution. If nothing else, the novel got me to pick up an old baseball dice game I used to play as a preteen/adolescent. I've been playing it daily ever since I finished this book. Unlike video games, dice games place the entire burden of creation upon us, the players. Dice games allow us to create the setting within our own imaginations, which, for some of us, is precisely the fix we need. Maybe I'm not that different from J. Henry Waugh after all.

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: Please Step Back by Ben Greenman

My latest finished novel tackles a topic that has always been near and dear to my heart.


I've tended to gravitate towards books that revolve around music, and I've made it an unofficial quest to pick up as many as I can find. Back in high school, Blake Nelson's Rock Star, Superstar started my fascination with music in novel form, and it's stayed with me to this day with books such as Don DeLillo's Great Jones Street, which I just completed last month.

For these reasons, I was eager to dig into Ben Greenman's Please Step Back.

How I Discovered It: Purely accidental. The flashy color of the spine grabbed my attention on a random shelf at a bookstore in Wrigleyville and, after flipping through a few pages and reading the back cover, it went straight into my purchase pile. Those kinds of unexpected finds are often the best.

How Long It Took To Read: About two weeks.

Overview: Greenman's Please Step Back follows the travels of soul/funk/rock star Rock Foxx (real name Robert Franklin) and his (fictional) band, The Foxxes. Set in the psychedelic, booming, and drug-infused music world of The Sixties, the novel offers a view of the ebbs and flows of a world-famous rock icon. As the Foxxes begin to hit it big, Foxx eventually courts his eventual wife, Betty, after she ambles backstage after a show one night. The novel very much reads like an album, and the idea that "every record has two sides" is represented in the shifting (and distancing) accounts from Foxx and Betty's respective perspectives throughout much of the narrative. Being a rock star isn't nearly as easy or as glamorous as it seems, and, when you get right down to it, Rock Foxx serves as the epitome of this very idea.

Review: I had high hopes for Please Step Back, and it shot up my reading list like a cannon as I thought more and more about it. I guess part of the reason for that is the fact that I'm currently in the (slow) process of writing a music-centric book, and I want to soak up as much material on the subject as possible. In all honesty, however, I don't feel that I gained much after reading this novel.

The story itself was as tight as a Ramones song. The narrative flowed well, for the most part; I never had to read and reread sentences to make them stick in my brain. Trouble is, I didn't have that burning desire to pick the book up night in and night out. It often went untouched for days at a time, kind of that middling book that isn't much of a page-turner, but one that I enjoyed just enough to want to finish.

Ultimately, I think the reason for my semi-apathetic view of Please Step Back was the fact that I didn't feel attached to any of the characters. The up-and-coming Rock Foxx was a pleasure to read (the first fifty pages are this novel's best), but I became more and more disenchanted with him as it wen't on. I flat-out didn't care by the time I trudged to the third section (of four total) of the novel. The back-and-forth structure between Rock Foxx and Betty in the second part was enjoyable (Betty's nostalgic passages were moving and well-written), but I'm not so sure a predictable in-love, out-of-love romance was what this novel needed. On top of that, the novel lacked a stable supporting cast.  Some members of the Foxxes are only given a few sentences in the novel all together, and most of the other people around Rock Foxx felt like forced caricatures. The sex-crazed drummer, the guitar player who wants the pretty lead singer, the hip record executive. Even the best characters in the world of fiction need a bit of support.

In the end, Please Step Back hits its stride when it focuses on the music. Almost all of the artists, albums, and songs mentioned are real. Greenman's vast expansive musical tastes become apparent while flipping through the first few pages. As it stands, I think the novel shines when it blends the perspectives of musical fiction and reality. Foxx idolizes Ray Charles and engages in a running competition with James Brown. The Foxxes repeatedly hit the Top 10 on the Billboard charts. Perhaps my favorite scene of the novel was when Rock meets Mick Jagger and Keith Richards while opening for the Stones. Fictional words given to real rock stars in a fictional novel still somehow feel real, and those select scenes rang true more than virtually anything else in this book.

Flipping to the last page of a novel is usually a cause for celebration, a moment of joy and a time for reflection. I felt little of that by the time I finished this novel. I was proud of myself for finishing it, but the expected end-of-book emotion bank was nearly vacant. Please Step Back is a relatively easy read, and one privy to spurts of greatness. Overall, however, it doesn't lend itself to that deep, indescribable attachment readers feel to the books they love.

Grade: C+

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A day at Lit Fest

This past weekend marked the gathering of Chicago's annual Lit Fest.

My dad and I had originally intended on attending on Sunday, but we ended up pushing our plans up to Saturday because of the possibility of grim weather (which did, in fact, arrive this morning despite Chicago's schizophrenic forecasts). All in all, I'm glad we made Saturday the day, because you couldn't have asked for a more pleasant afternoon for book browsing.

This was my second Lit Fest experience, though I classify it as my first real one. I was in attendance last year, but, admittedly, I'm not sure I was fully immersed in literature yet at that point. I didn't even buy a book, which seems like a sin at something as large and as substantial as Lit Fest. (I did, however, come away with a fantastic Marx Brothers Horse Feathers movie poster, so it wasn't a total loss.)

This time, I made darn certain that I came away with some books.

I find it unbelievably odd that I haven't yet read George Orwell's Animal Farm.

It seems to me that every English program in the history of high schools has assigned this book at one point or another. Every high school, that is, except mine, apparently. Orwell's 1984 was part of the curriculum from my 20th Century Fiction class last semester, and, since I enjoyed the dystopian novel so much, I made a mental note to myself to get going on Animal Farm. I found this nifty little pocketbook copy in a dusty box for a mere two dollars.

It seems almost counterintuitive to say, but the so-called "classics" often seem to be the cheapest books out there.

Some books are just in the right place at the right time.

Last week, I finally watched Penelope Spheeris's infamous Decline of Western Civilization film after years of it sitting on my "must watch" list. The movie depicts a unflinchingly first-hand glimpse into the early '80s west-coast hardcore scene, with a focus on Black Flag, The Germs, and X. (The arguably superior sequel of DOWC, which I also viewed last week, is centered around the late '80s heavy metal movement.)

As fate would have it, a copy of Thorn Kief Hillsberry's What We Do Is Secret (which takes its name from the title of the first and only Germs album) stared back at me from a bookshelf on Saturday. The novel, as far as I can tell, is set around a group of young L.A. punks in the time directly following the suicide of Germs singer Darby Crash (who, coincidentally, died on the same night John Lennon was assassinated).

Admittedly, I'm more a fan of early '70s punk (Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc.), and, save for a small handful of bands/songs, I've never been big on hardcore. Even so, the west-coast scene itself absolutely fascinates me.

I'm hoping it translates well into novel form.

This was one of those unplanned, last-minute pickups that collectors of any sort know all too well.

My dad and I were actually leaving for the day when I spotted several copies of Kevin Kaduk's Wrigleyworld sitting on a passing bookshelf. I picked it up, flipped through a few pages, and knew I had to leave with it.

Baseball is a huge part of my life, and the Cubs are by far my favorite team in all of sports. Purchasing this was basically a reflex. Wrigley Field, in many ways, lends itself to books because so many of the fans, for better or worse, read like characters in a fictional novel. Heck, the stadium itself is probably the main character.

I found Lonnie Wheeler's Bleachers: A Summer in Wrigley Field in a thrift store bin for a buck a couple months ago, and I'm sure Wrigleyworld will make for a nice accompanying read.

A good chunk of the books I've read (or are planning to read) are due to rave reviews from my dad.

You can add John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces to that list. My dad says it's one of the best books he's ever flipped through, which meant that it instantly catapulted to the top of my "want to read" list.

This is one of those novels that I'd heard rumblings about, but never really investigated. Turns out Toole committed suicide eleven years before the work was even published, and ACOD likely wouldn't have been published at all had Toole's mother not found a manuscript of the novel lying in the bowels of her house.

There's a certain amount of risk in a lot of the books I buy, knowing full well that they might not turn out to be as good as I'd expected. But, on the other side of the coin, some books have that kind of understated certainty to them, ones that I'll know I'll like before I even start them.

A Confederacy of Dunces has that certain kind of certain feel.

On a larger level, Lit Fest makes it very clear to me that books are still alive and well in today's society. Saturday's gathering was almost too crowded, in fact, as I seemed to be bumping into innocent bystanders with every step I took.

As somewhat of a cynic by trade, I sometimes think that actual books themselves are on their way out with people my age, the nervous, early-to-mid twenties, just-about-to-graduate college students. Nope. I couldn't be more wrong. Books are alive and well, people.

If you don't believe me, do yourself a favor and attend Lit Fest this time next year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: The Floating Opera by John Barth

I've never had much of an aptitude for writing review of any kind, but I'm going to try and give it a shot with this blog.

In time, I hope to talk about a variety of works I've read over the past couple years, but, for now, I thought I'd start with John Barth's The Floating Opera, a novel I completed this past weekend. Here goes nothing.

How I Discovered It: Barth's The End of the Road (as well as his short story, "Lost in the Funhouse") was one of the assigned works in the fantastic 20th Century Fiction course I took last semester. Because the two novels share common threads in terms of characters and subject matter, EOTR and The Floating Opera were paired together in the edition in stock at my school's bookstore. (Note to college students: Try to avoid buying books from your school's bookstore.)

In a curriculum filled with better-known "classics" such as Invisible Man and 1984, Barth's EOTR surprisingly took its place as one of the semester's more satisfying reads (and one of my overall favorites) from the fiction class. We completed the novel in February, and I've been itching to dig into The Floating Opera ever since. It sat near the top of my summer reading list, and I finally got around to it a couple weeks ago.

How Long It Took To Read: About ten days.

Overview: The Floating Opera, John Barth's first novel, is simultaneously narrated in two voices of the same man, one Todd Andrews. We meet Todd in 1954 as he rehashes the tale of the day he decided to commit suicide on either June 21st or 22nd in 1937 (he can't remember which). The novel tracks that fateful day in which he resolved to, as he puts it, "destroy himself." Todd is a lawyer, and, like the characters in EOTR, he is enmeshed in a love triangle (in 1937) with his college friend Harrison Mack and his wife, Jane. Along the way, we also meet Capt. Osborn Jones and Mr. Haecker, neighbors at the hotel where Todd lives.

The novel culminates by bringing many of its characters back together aboard the "floating opera," that is, a literal opera performance that takes place on a boat as it floats along the shore. Todd and Capt. Osborn are in attendance together as the particularly captivating final scene unwinds aboard the showboat.

Review: I've noticed that many of my favorite movies are those that take place within a single day. Think Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Dazed and Confused. Not long ago, before I knew anything about the plot of The Floating Opera, I wondered whether a book had ever been written in the same fashion. Coincidentally, along came John Barth and this wonderful novel just a short while later. Much of pop culture today revolves around not knowing the ending of a given work until, well...the end. What I found most fascinating about The Floating Opera is the fact that we, as readers, know the ending from Page 1. Todd tells the tale of the day in 1937 when he decided to kill himself, yet we know full well that he did not do so since he is recounting the story seventeen years later.

While other works may strongly suffer from such a SPOILER ALERT, The Floating Opera does not. Conversely, the fact that we know the ending serves as one of the overarching points of the novel. As Todd describes, the metaphor of the floating opera itself is a mirror to life. Those viewing the performance from the shore may catch certain pieces of the opera (including, perhaps, the ending), but miss others when the boat sails away, out of sight. The viewers are left to fill in the gaps, to create the full picture from what they have seen. Similarly, Todd does not map things out for the reader, presenting a variety of seemingly unrelated incidents from his life (including a painfully humorous scene in which he visits a brothel that employs a former lover of his) while leaving the reader to piece it together. You may miss a point here and there, but, according to Todd, that's fine. That's expected. It's virtually impossible to catch the entirety of anything, just as you'll never catch the full performance of the floating opera.

As a reader who is constantly afraid of "missing something" in a novel, The Floating Opera was a particularly refreshing read. While other novels may place muted emphasis on the color of a character's eyes, Todd (narrating in 1954) often forgets to describe his acquaintances all together, asking the reader something along the lines of "Have I described him yet? No? Well, he looks like this." Todd does not particularly seem to care about the craft or perfection of his writing...or much of anything, for that matter. The line between entertainment and annoyance with narcissistic characters in fiction is thin, but, both with this novel and EOTR, Barth manages to toe that line perfectly. There isn't much of a plot to The Floating Opera, yet it manages to remain a highly captivating read. The prose seems to meander and trail off in odd points at time (even for Todd). However, as Barth notes in the preface to the novel, it "remains the very first novel of a very young man," written in a three-month span when he was twenty-four years old.

It's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that a 24-year-old could write something as splendid and complex as this novel. And, as a 23-year-old writer myself, I'd be lying if I didn't say The Floating Opera made me feel a little inferior.

Overall Grade: A-

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The plan

I fully realize that I started this blog without really knowing what I wanted to do with it.

I've been blogging elsewhere for over three years now, and, in most basic terms, I can sum up my other blog's content in two words. Baseball cards.

Things are a little different here. Yes, literature. Literature. Literature. Literature. But what exactly about literature? Reading, writing, reviewing, analyzing, what?

For now, I'll do my best to suss out exactly what I'm trying to do with this little blog. I cannot guarantee all of this will make sense, mind you.

1) Discussing books and the general appreciation for reading.

Reading was my first love in literature. I've stuck my nose in a book for about 360 of the past 365 days in the last year, but that's just a rough estimate. I've always been somewhat of a reader, but most of what I dabbled in during my high school and early college years were non-fiction works about music or baseball. I discovered a ton of great material during that time (as well as my ability to spout off random baseball facts at will), but I virtually ignored the seemingly infinite amount of fiction out there. While I know it's a hopeless task, I've decided to devote my life to catching up on what I missed, and I'm not looking back.

I am, however, a fairly slow-paced reader by nature, so don't be alarmed if you see the same book on the "What I'm Reading Now" tab for a long period of time. Unfortunately, that doesn't bode well for the crate full of unread books sitting next to me right now.

2) Reviewing books/short stories I've read/am reading.

Between the ions it takes me to finish the books I'm currently reading, I guess part of what I hope to do here is discuss some of the works I've already thumbed through. Since I'm relatively new to this whole literature thing, I apologize if some of the novels I bring up have already been analyzed to death. Hey, part of the fun of this whole business is talking about what we read, right? That's why I started this blog, after all.

3) The writing process.

Reading may have been my first love, but writing has won my heart over the past year. I've penned a few short stories and even tried my hand at starting the process of writing a novel. Writing and reading go hand in hand for me these days, and I look forward to discussing the general successes and failures I've had as a writer.

4) Lists.

High Fidelity remains one of my all-time favorite books/movies. While I can list off a number of different reasons for that, I'll keep it kind of basic by saying that I can relate to Rob Gordon (movie)/Fleming (book) for the sheer fact that he, well...makes a lot of lists. He attaches himself to his Top Five countdowns. I'm a big list advocate, and you'll probably be seeing a lot of them on this blog.

Heck, this entire post was one big list, now that I look at it.

That didn't take long. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It began as a mistake

I used to say that music and baseball were my two true passions in life.

It's true. Music and baseball have been a part of me for...well, forever, it seems. Music has been ingrained in me since the beginning, and my other blog should tell you everything you need to know about the respect and love I have for our National Pastime.

I always thought I'd go on forever with those two passions, and I didn't see any problem with that. As long as I had my music and my baseball, I'd be set.

That is, until I enrolled in an English course two years ago, almost completely by accident.

I had a different major at the time and was looking to fill a gap in my schedule. I was at nine credit hours at the time, poring through the class listings to boost it up to twelve. I needed twelve credit hours to be a full-time student and only full-time students received free CTA passes and I needed that pass because who has money for a car these days?

By sheer luck, I happened upon a class that fit perfectly within my schedule. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 12:00-12:50 PM. 

It was called The World of Fiction.

I figured it'd be easy enough. Read some stories, write a few papers, easy A. Simple. No threat to what I thought were my "real" classes at the time. Perfect.

A few things became painfully obvious during the first couple weeks of that course. 1) It wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be. These papers were hard. 2) Despite what I'd learned in high school, not everything can be reduced to a "theme."

3) I was actually enjoying myself.

Sure, it was fun. Innocent fun. I was satisfied with the fifty-minute window of class time every other weekday. Never in those first few weeks did I think this class would be anything more than that.

I still remember the exact moment it became more than that. We were sent home one day with a new assignment, as usual. Read a story called "A&P." The author's name sounded vaguely familiar. 

John Updike.

I read it and instantly wondered what I'd been doing with the past two months of the semester. And first three years of college. And the first twenty-one, virtually not-fiction-reading years of my life.

It's still hard for me to describe exactly why that particular story resonated so much, but I know that the chain of events that have occurred in my life over the last two years all started with John Updike. (This blog takes its name from a line in the story.)

I know it may sound corny or overly dramatic, but I think most literature fanatics do honestly have that one particular piece that changed them. The work that started them on the path to piles of unread books in their home, the piles of books that seem never-ending. The hopeless love affair with literature. 

For me, that was "A&P."

"A&P" convinced me that there was plenty of room for a third passion in my life.

"A&P" inspired me to become an English major.

"A&P" set me on the path to all this.

Trying to wrap my head around the this is what I'm hoping to do with this blog. 

Looking back, I guess I have that bus pass to thank for this.