Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reviews: Books without Plots; House of Blues

 If someone were to recommend a book to you, and tell you it had no plot, you might look at them a bit strangely.  What is a fiction book without the dynamic plot twists, the beginning, middle, and denouement that we so desire?  And believe me, I've read books like that.  Trying to get through a Don Delillo book was enough to give me a nervous breakdown.  But believe me when I say that some of the best books are those that have no plot, because the plot is simply a vehicle to provide philosophy, or a diatribe that would not otherwise be read.  Sorta like this blog.  Take for instance Neal Stephenson's Anathem, reviewed here, which is much like taking Plato and putting him in a science fiction setting.  A marvelous book, but one which is at its best when the plot takes a back seat.  In fact, the end is only non-satisfying because it has to end with plot resolution.

Other wonderful books without plot:

You must read Michael Nesmith's The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. Yes, he is one of the singers of The Monkees, the best one, in my opinion, and yes, his mother invented liquid paper. So he has time to write books and do whatever he wants to do.  The book is as relaxing as his music, as thoughtful and lyrical...well, until the end when a bad guy shows up (symbolizing the epitome of capitalism gone extremely wrong) and the book abruptly ends.  You can read the first 6 chapters of the book here.

The Island by Gary Paulsen reads very much like Thoreau's Walden, and must have been a work of meditation while working on other books like The Hatchet, as the main character basically gets into his boat and wanders around the lake and sees birds and parts of nature and expounds upon them and life.  Sounds extremely boring for a kid's book, but it's wonderful, for those that want that sort of thing.

Also along that same line is the Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen, which is philosophical and very relaxing, from the mountains of Idaho to the train ride through the plain states to Chicago.  Then the plot takes over and it seemed like the book just wanted to end.  In my opinion, the book was much better when it meandered around endlessly, much like the travels of the narrator.

I say all this to recommend The Elegance of a Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Two apartment dwellers, in upper class Paris, a concierge in her 50's, alone, with a phobia about people discovering that she is extremely intelligent,  and discusses in her journal post-modern French philosophy to Japanese films to still-life art.  Intertwined, of course, with a similarly brilliant 12 year old girl who writes journals about the small things in life, determined to find a reason worth living before she kills herself on her 13th birthday.  Amazing work  in the vignettes in each chapter, looking at life in a new way.  There was a review that I read, said that the reviewer's psychologist  recommended this book over taking Prozac.  Don't know if I'd carry it that far, as the ending comes right out of a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, as if Barbery just needed an ending that tied up the pieces.  It would work better if the journals were carried out longer, with the interactions between the characters longer.  It would work well as an online-blog-story.  So I enjoyed the book very much, but only if the plot stayed far back behind the words.  On a personal note, this was the last book I read while eating lunch in the Borders break room.  Now I have to read using my Kobo or a regular book (of which I have multitudes), but I will have to find a way to do it at home.  Too many electronic distractions....must get around that.

Review: Hugh Laurie's album Let Them Talk

Why do all Actors want to be Singers? (or for that matter, why do all Singers want to be Actors?) Turns out, it's because there are quite a few people that have multiple talents.  Go watch Jimmy Fallon's Late Night on NBC (watch the Linoleum peel while Jay Leno's on, it's about the same amount of entertainment).  He can do anything he wants, from singing to playing instruments to dancing...comedy... amazing stuff.  He's about as close to Johnny Carson as you're gonna get these days.  Or Wayne Brady, on Who's Line he did most anything for a laugh. Or Justin Timberlake , but I've discussed him here.

Turns out, Hugh Laurie fits this mold, too.  Originally a British comedian (yes, I know he's British, but he did a comedy routine in Great Britain), his role of Dr. House on House leaves me in stitches, while being perfectly serious.  An anti-hero in the vein of Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson's books.  But if you watch the TV show, you see him take down a guitar or play at a piano.  Well, that's him, it's not stunt fingers.  Turns out, he's been a fan of Blues music since he was a little tike, forced to take piano lessons.  The only song he liked playing in the instruction booklet was "Suwanee River."  So now that he has all this fame and fortune, he sought out masters of the Blues genre and they accompany him on different tracks.  You can read reviews online, and you'll find them praising his instrumental talent, but not liking his voice.  I disagree with them, since I've been a fan of folk music like Bob Dylan and David Gray, the nasal voice is something I enjoy.  I agree with Shawn Mullins in his album notes from No. 9, that recording blues and folk should be an instantaneous act, with imperfections included, because without that, it's not real.  It's just professionally made crap that everyone else makes.  But to feel like your in one of the bars in New Orleans, or on the streets listening to a musician that hasn't had a day of voice training in his whole life, where the song comes from emotion and grit, from someplace down in his guts.... that's the real stuff.  That's what this album is.  As usual, I'll add a video from youtube, this time an introduction to his music (probably off of the deluxe edition.)

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