Category Archives: Books & Reading

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part Two

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part OnePart Three

Pages 98 – 198, this section really picks up steam and gets to the heart of the story.

Earlier in the book, when Hanck’s mother dies, her last words are “He will be a chef!”  She utters this before Hanck even met Toby’s mother.

Toby is described as sensitive and builds imaginary worlds, happily playing alone.  As he grows, he begins to show talent in the kitchen and takes over the cooking duties.  As he approaches adulthood, his skills become honed enough that he begins to work as a chef in higher end restaurants, from which he brings left over food and wine to share with his father.

Once a year, The Clan holds an enormous dinner party on one of the islands of the archipelago.  Toby leaves home and begins working at the inn which hosts this party and becomes a chef of great acclaim.

Hanck is again visited by two men dressed in lavender.  These communicators tell him that his son has died, at the age of 20.  As he progresses through the stages of grieving, Hanck wanders the pleasure district in search of something to dull his ache.

Finally, Hanck decides to confront the people who killed his son, and gets a ticket on the ferry which takes him to the inn on the farthest island in the archipelago.

One of the nine sisters who manage the inn arranges to meet Hanck in the library and tells him the story of Toby’s (known as Fimafeng to those he worked with) death.  Bora tells Hanck that Loki killed Toby because he sneezed.  That Toby didn’t have the sense to cover his face, or excuse himself after he sneezed.  He stood with a beatific grin on his face and Loki took offense and killed Toby.

Remember Toby’s mother was from the sect called The Sneezers, which explains the beatific look.  As Bora continues the tale, it becomes clear Loki was spoiling for a fight, his ego couldn’t handle all the other gods heaping praise on Fimafeng.

Now comes the retelling of the Norse story of Lokasenna.  The Clan is the clan of Norse gods who meet once a year for an all out bacchanalia (to mix mythic metaphors).  In the tale of Lokasenna, Loki is banned from the banquet by the gods after having killed Fimafeng.  But he returns and begins insulting everyone present.  Many respond in kind, and tensions escalate.  Odin strains to keep the peace as Loki tells tales of outlandish sexual situations, stories that should have remained unspoken.

Hanck has checked in for some unimaginable excitement as he learns of how Toby died, and the political wrangling going on between the members of The Clan.  Infuriated grief-stricken father, meet narcissistic trickster god who has angered all the other gods of The Clan.

 

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part One

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part TwoPart Three

After reading Margaret Atwood’s wonderful retelling of the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, The Penelopiad, I discovered there’s an entire series planned by Canongate, featuring global writers retelling myths.

The Hurricane Party, written by Klas Östergren is part of the Myths series.

In pages 1 through 98, 1984 has reared its ugly head in Sweden.  The cities are bleak, the administrative bureaucracy is being run by a fearsome organization called The Clan.

The book opens with a description of listening to organ music on the radio.  It took a while to understand it’s just the notes.  A note could be broadcast for days or weeks with no change.  An entire cottage industry has grown around gambling on when the note will change and to what.

Hanck Örn used to work for an insurance company run by The Clan.  His job was to investigate claims made to this company, a flimsy cover for The Clan’s protection racket.

In these first pages, the reader learns that Hanck was fired from his job and, returning to the scene of his last investigation, invests his money in typewriters.  Setting up a workshop in his apartment, Hanck teaches himself to repair and customize them, having found a market which sells obsolete technology to collectors.

On one of his visits, Hanck meets a young woman who tracks him down in his city apartment and spends the night.  Here we learn about the many splintered factions of Christian sects, especially The Sneezers who believe that God can be found in the space of the sneeze where the least amount of control and the largest void intersect.

Months after this encounter, men dressed in lavender arrive to take Hanck to an undisclosed location, which turns out to be a hospital.  His son, three-day old Toby, had been dumped with Hanck’s business card pinned to his swaddling clothes.  On the back of the card is the note, “Mother dead.”  Hanck was taken to the hospital to be informed of his son’s existence, and to decide Toby’s fate.

Perhaps needless to say, Hanck instantly falls in love with Toby and prepares his home for this new entry in his life.

This is a bleak book so far and the writing feels stilted.  I’m willing to admit this could be a cultural miscue on my part.  The translator for this book, Tiina Nunnally, has won awards for her work, so it probably isn’t.  Be that as it may, The Hurricane Party doesn’t read as well as George Orwell.

A little research reveals the myth being retold makes itself obvious later in the book and has to do with Loki as related in the Prose Edda of Norse mythology.

 

Book Review: Reviving Ophelia

But most important, we can change our culture.  We can work together to build a culture that is less complicated and more nurturing, less violent and sexualized and more growth-producing.  Our daughters [children] deserve a society in which all their gifts can be developed and appreciated. (p. 13)

In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability.  Attractiveness is both a necessary and sufficient condition for girls’ success.  This is an old, old problem.  Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker.  Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.  (p. 40)

Girls are trained to be less than who they really are.  They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become. (p. 44)

I first read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph. D. when it came out in 1994.  Even then I was searching for me.  I was very confused about being female and looking for answers that would make me worthy in the eyes of society.  I missed what Dr. Pipher was saying.  Society is not the place to turn to for answers, it will only confuse you and set standards which are impossible to meet.  I wasn’t ready to hear that I was good enough on my own, and screw society.

Twenty years later, I returned to this book in search of answers on how to be a good auntie to the children in my life who have been raised in a society which is more pornified and sexualized than when Reviving Ophelia was first published.

I didn’t find those answers either.  Not because Pipher doesn’t offer a good explanation of what happens when puberty hits and many of the ways parenting and society can stack the deck against young women without meaning to.

I have to take it on intellectual faith that the maelstrom that is puberty and adolescence really is as described.  There was so much other dysfunction going on in my family that I truly cannot relate on an emotional level and do not have physical memories of what it was like to be a teenaged girl.

Hormones rampaging?  Didn’t notice.  Black and white thinking?  Don’t remember.  It’s hard for me because my memories involve a father who came into my bedroom at night and a mother who undermined my development at every turn.

Watching my six nieces grow has been quite the education for me.  I can see the things Pipher describes happening in them and I have learned it’s okay because it’s normal.  I’ve watched them go through these stages and come out the other end to be strong women who can face society on their own terms.  In no small part due to the parenting they received, from family prepared to teach them the pitfalls of living in a pornified society filled with highly sexualized standards for girls and women.

Reviving Ophelia is well-written and easy to read.   Dr. Pipher’s case studies are still relevant, as are her explanations about what goes on when a girl hits puberty.  That I didn’t get what I wanted from it is not Dr. Pipher’s fault, I was looking for a book she didn’t write.

 

 

Bookish Lists

I love lists.  Making them, marking things off, adopting others’ lists.  When it comes to reading, I don’t go by a list, I go by what’s at the top of the stack.  There’s a folder on my desk filled with book lists which I occasionally cross-check with my own reading.  It’s interesting to me what books people think are important and how that intersects with what I read.

Mostly, what I’ve learned is that my reading is eclectic and doesn’t fit anyone’s norm but my own.  I have a tendency to ignore what’s popping up on popular lists, even those which come highly regarded by people whose taste in books I trust and respect.  This does not just apply to books either.  Music, tv, movies; I take a step back and wait for the dust to settle.  I find I’m not missing out on a whole lot anyway.

But back to the lists.  Today I came across a link for Bill Gates’ book blog.  Interesting, mostly because there are people in the public’s gaze whom I don’t think of as readers, if I think of them as other than their public front at all.  Bill Gates is someone I have mixed feelings about, but they’re shallow feelings because I don’t pay that much attention.

Gates’ blog is interesting because there’s not a lot of crossover from his list to mine.  Not that this is surprising, Gates built and ran a very successful software company, so his taste in books runs more toward the technical/business end of life.  Mostly non-fiction on weighty topics like the global economy, biographies/memoirs by people like Timothy Geithner.  It’s an interesting insight to Gates, and there are very few books on his list I’d be interested in reading.

Then there’s David Bowie’s Top 100 Books list, of which I’ve read 8 and have one queued up to read before the end of the year.  It’s probably obvious why I would find more to like on Bowie’s list than on Gates’.

And, if there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that Marilyn Monroe was more than a sexy actress, there’s this list of 430 books in her library, compiled by an online fan club.  From scanning the list, it seems Monroe’s reading was fed by what feeds mine; books I think I should have already read (which includes many classics like Dante and Milton) and books about subjects or people who fascinate me.

Monroe did her best to surround herself with smart people, especially men, so it’s not surprising there’s a number of books written by them (Clifford Odets, Henry Miller).  And it would be a surprise to me if a lot of books on this list weren’t recommended by those men as a foundation to a good library.

All these lists beg the question, “What is the foundation of a good library?”  Is it the Western Canon1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die?  (Full disclosure, I do have this list and use it to mark the intersection of my own reading and what other people think “should” be read.  Again, a concept I’m not big on.)

Since I grew up in a family which loved to read, I was exposed to lots of authors and topics.  Mom loved mysteries (Sherlock Holmes) and science fiction (Isaac Asimov).  Dad’s reading was more eclectic and very often inappropriate for young readers.  I read not only what was assigned in school, but what looked interesting in the library.  When I reached college, there was more of what was required in class.  Aside from that, my reading is probably 85% “oooh shiny” directed by what catches my eye at the moment.

Being unemployed and having little disposable income makes it easier to concentrate on what’s in my personal library.  All 42+ boxes of it.  Which is like opening gifts to myself all the time.  It’s also like an archeological dig, as I sift through the layers of my life remembering when, and why, I picked these books.  I know the deeper I go, the more diverse topics I’m going to find.  The Hollywood/film student period.  The John Grisham period (when I get to that box, they all go outta da house).  The folklore period,  etc. etc.

One thing’s for sure, as long as I have books, I’ll never be bored.

On This Date: Allen Ginsberg

6 Poets at 6 Gallery
6 Poets at 6 Gallery

Jack Kerouac is the gateway drug to The Beats.  It seems like everyone comes to them through On the Road.  I loved it, and I bought works by these men who sought to change a generation with their new style of writing.

James Franco’s portrayal of Allen Ginsberg and his reading of “Howl,” in the movie turned me on to Ginsberg.  And I fell in love.  Now I read Howl and Other Poems (the first collection of Ginsberg poems ever published) at least once a year.  This little book never leaves my desk.  It never gets tossed in with the other books in my collection.

It’s difficult to explain how much Ginsberg means to me.  He’s the first poet whose work I connected with.  After years of struggling with what schools had told me were great poems and poets, here was this free-flow of words which hit me right in the gut.  “This … this is what I’ve been looking for!”  Now I can say I dig poetry.  🙂

The more I read about Allen Ginsberg, the more I wish I had known him.  Yes, he was as screwed up as any of them (well, except for William S. Burroughs who was his very own special kind of screwed up).  But it seems to me that Ginsberg sought to make himself better, to make those around him better, and was always trying new ways to expand his consciousness.

One biography I read stated in the Introduction that no matter what people felt about Ginsberg, they all universally thought of him and kind and gracious.

About a year ago, I had a dream where I was walking through a crowd of people and came across Ginsberg.  He looked at me kindly, and I bowed with my hands together, “Namaste Mr. Ginsberg.  I am proud to have met you.”  He nodded and I moved on.

So today is one worth noting, not only for the introduction of Ginsberg’s poetry to the public, but for the profound changes he wrought on society through his views on civil rights and the obscenity trial in San Francisco over “Howl,” which changed the very definition of obscenity and censorship.

At the Beat Museum
With Ginsberg at The Beat Museum, North Beach, San Francisco