Saturday, June 24, 2006


I realized last weekend that I couldn't remember the last novel I read. I'd been doing a lot of reading, but when I wasn't reading for school (case studies in neuropsychology - and I had a lot of catch-up reading to do to feel I could understand the class), I was reading for my thesis, all non-fiction books somehow pertaining to combat. And I was enjoying both, but I realized I missed being in someone else's imagination.

So at an airport in Canada (long story), I killed time in one of the identical news/book/candy/cheap souvenir stores and let myself find a novel that caught my eye.

I read The Accidental, by Ali Smith. I'd never heard of it, nor had I heard of the author. The book was published in England, and I don't even know if it's available in the US.

I recommend it. A family of four - a mother, step-father, 16-year-old son, and 12-year-old daughter - spends the summer in a run-down house in Norfolk while the mother tries to get inspired to write her next book. Along comes, for lack of a better term, the "plot device." A woman named Amber shows up and kind of moves in and takes over the emotional life of the family. The parents both assume she's a guest of the other. The kids are just glad to have a distraction from their boredom and suicidal guilt. The concept of Amber, and her character and motivations, is not quite explained to my satisfaction. I'd hate to have to write a paper on this book to come up with a solid idea behind her existance. Though the character may seem contrived, she really isn't. And the character development she inspires in the family is remarkable. The book rotates between limited third-person perspective of each of the family. Every character's voice is unmistakable and honest.

There are things that can't be said because it is hard to have to know them. There are things you can't get away from after you know them. It is ver complicated to know anything. It is a bit like his mother being obsessed by all the foul things that have happened to people; all those books about the Holocaust she'd got piled up in her study at home. Because how can you ever be all right again? Can you ever not know again?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Forced Hiatus from Writing (not blogging) 

I'm moving in a month. That presents a problem in the world of freelance writing. I don't have many places I write for regularly, which means I send out lots of blind query letters, which magazines take months to return. Sometimes. Sometimes they return queries within a week. So I feel like I can't write query letters knowing that I'm changing addresses so soon.

I've resorted to submitting complete works, essays generally, and to submitting to online sites. The turn-around time is better, though the pay is less. Often much less. And I'm lining up queries to send a day or two before I move.

Sigh. Life.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


So I'm a loser. I just saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time a few weeks ago. I've seen it more than a dozen times since. I need to track down the book. I need answers.

I know the nature of the monolith(s) is intended to be unknown. I know that we;re not supposed to really understand what happened to Dave at the end. What I want to know is Hal's motivations, and I'm hoping the book will reveal that a bit more. I've having trouble going from the directive "Lie to the crew about the monolith" to "I better kill everyone."

There's a character in 2010, Dr. Chandra, who is a computer psychologist. The idea that artificial intelligence could get that advanced, to the point where a psychologist is needed or even has enough "psyche" to work with is mind blowing.

I want to know how Hal thinks. I want to know his motivations for what he did. I want to know if he feels emotions: he claimed to be afraid, he claimed to experience enjoyment. He can act without mercy, but maybe there's a greater good he believes he's serving.

The computer psychology fascinates me more than the mystery of the monoliths or what the heck happened at the end.

School without books 

An excellent post on why schools avoid books, using excerts of books contained in anthologies instead, and how that turns kids off to reading.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Men versus women 

From a reason.com story:

The Univeristy of London surveyed 500 men and women to find their favorite fiction books. Surprising to none, men like angst, women like relationship stories. Men's number one is The Outsider (published in America as The Stranger), and women's number one is Jane Eyre. Camus versus Bronte. I'm not a big fan of Camus, but I've read several of his books, while I've never been able to get past the second or third page of a Bronte sister's book.

Is it a bad thing that I've read twice as many books from the men's top twenty and the women's? (Though there is some overlap - Catch 22, The Heart of Darkness, and To Kill a Mockingbird).

Reason tries to figure out why we read fiction. It's a complex topic for a simple article, but they do cite some interesting sounding books.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Eichmann in Jerusalem 

He's normal. Way too normal.
"More normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him."

And this is the most disturbing book I've read in a long, long time. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Hannah Arendt) is just that. Eichmann wasn't brilliant. He wasn't devious. His only goal was career advancement. His only original thought was to suggest deporting the Jews to Madagascar, and he was grumpy when that idea was rejected. He felt sick on the rare occasions that he had to see people die. Blood made him faint; he confessed he could never be a doctor. But he could devote himself to career advancement and end up in charge of Jewish transportation. He never saw anything wrong with what he was doing because he didn't have the imagination to see the end result of what he was doing. The Reich needed trains? He got trains. He didn't think about where they were going. He remembered the dates of his promotions but not the dates of the invasion of Poland. He had his own world. He shares the responsibility for the deaths of 6 million Jews (he had little to do with the deaths of the other 4 million people killed).

This book documents his trial in Jerusalem after Israel kidnapped him from his refuge in Argentina. It isn't violent, or at least the violence is rarely described in detail, and rarely in numbers small enough for the human mind to comprehend.

The writing is brilliant. The analysis holds up even after 60 years. The differences between Eichmann's trial and the Nuremburg trials are significant - not least because Eichmann was tried by Jews in a Jewish state, not by the international community. The judges speeches are damning:
"And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations - as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world - we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the world with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang."

Somehow beaurocracies are capable of more evil than individuals. The individuals are just the necessary cogs in the machine. And millions die as the individual focuses on their career advancement and tries to avoid visiting the camps that made him sick to his stomach to witness.

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