Book catch up #1, Hemingway, Hawingway

I’ve been reading a lot of books and not posting about them! So here’s the first of some ‘what I’ve been reading’ catch up posts:

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway: I read For Whom the Bell Tolls a while back, and was underwhelmed, though parts of it did make me feel, and the end did stick with me. So many people love Hemingway so much, I thought I’d give him a second shot. I picked ‘TSAR’ because I heard it mentioned a couple times as Hemingway’s best.

Well, again I was underwhelmed, and mostly bored until the end. I think perhaps I just don’t get the appeal of Hemingway. The stories are so simply told, and the prose so simple and basic, and ‘surface level’. For me, I get a lot of my enjoyment of reading from the prose, so even if there are not exciting things happening, I can enjoy the words for themselves. Perhaps I’m missing subtexts or something, but Hemingway’s writing just doesn’t appeal to me in that way. So when his stories are moving slowly or simply forward, it’s much easier for me to get bored and stop paying attention than if I were reading a different writer who writes beautifully even when nothing is ‘happening’.

I think, he’s just not for me.

 

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Sharp Objects blunted by twist ending

This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen HBO’s Sharp Objects, you’re in for a treat, go watch it. Then come back and read.

 

Sharp Objects is a show you have to pay attention to. It’s smart, and subtle, and you can miss entire plot points if you look away for even a few seconds. What I loved so much about Sharp Objects wasn’t the story as much as how it was told. That is, the story was shown, rather than told. You pick up clues, make inferences, put together implications and build for yourself the picture of what’s going on. It is supremely satisfying to be treated like an intelligent, observant, perceptive viewer.

And that’s why the ‘twist’ ending was such a shock to me. Not because the the actual revelation that Amma was a killer was a shock, there was enough hints and cues and clues throughout this very thoughtful and subtle show to put it together–if we’d been given the chance. The shock was that a show this subtle and evocative felt the need for something as trite as a twist ending at all. I expected a show like Sharp objects to leave me thinking, puzzling, wondering, with as many questions as answers.

Instead Sharp Objects ended like a teen slasher movie with the best buddy who you think has been helping the whole time suddenly baring fangs or pulling out a knife. Oh no, what a twist. Amma may as well have stepped into frame covered in blood and holding a handful of teeth.

At the very least if they’d cut it with Camille finding the tooth in the dollhouse (which had the nice out of focus shot of the doll sitting limp in the window to remind you of the original murder scene), you’d have a moment to think about it for yourself. You might think: ‘why would Amma have teeth… did she take them from her mother… or…’ then your mind rolls back over the show, you make connections, you get that ‘oh, god…’ moment. It’s satisfying to be shown instead of told the answer.

But we get it rubbed in our face by Amma showing up like a ghost who lost their jump scare violins ‘Don’t tell mama!’ And if that wasn’t enough, we have the post-credit scene to really hammer it home for any dummies in the audience who didn’t catch on. It left a disappointing taste in my mouth after such a monumentally impressive show.

All this leaves aside the question of why we need twist endings anyway. I know Sharp Objects was based on a novel, so to leave out the twist would have been a disservice to the author and fans. But why does a good show or movie need a twist at all? Why do so many authors and directors feel obligated to include one? Wasn’t it surprising enough that Camille’s own mother was the killer without having to flip everything on its head in the last seconds of the entire show?

Sharp Objects was about so much more than just who killed those girls. In fact, while watching it I was hardly ever concerned with that question. I wanted to know about Camille’s history, her family, her past and future. And I got to learn all that and more. That is what got me excited while watching Sharp Objects. Ending on a goofy twist that puts all the focus on the ‘who dunnit’ aspect seems like a major disservice.

Anyone who stuck with this show to the end is not going to be afraid of subtlety and ambiguity. Those aspects were the hallmarks of this exceedingly sharp show. It’s a shame it had to end in such a blunt way.

What I want to read…

I’ve been reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent with a book club I just started with some friends. It’s much more enjoyable to read a book when you have people to discuss it with, but how can anyone ever get their friends to read the same books… if you’re even fortunate enough to have friends who read at all!

So we each submitted some choices, and voted on those choices (can’t vote for your own submissions!) and ended up with a book that everyone at least kind of wanted to read. Success! It wasn’t my top choice, but I was interested!

The novel is based on the true story of an Icelandic woman sentenced to death for murder in 1829, and her last days living on a farm with a family, who are tasked with watching over her while she waits her execution.

This sounded appealing to me, because I always am curious about the mind states of people in extreme situations. What would it be like, knowing you are doomed to die, awaiting the inevitable end day by day… Because it is like a magnified version of all our lives, all will end, all will end definitely, but we pretend they won’t. I find myself curious of what it would be like when you can’t pretend anymore.

I’m about 40% done with it now, and while it is an intriguing read, it’s not what I’d hoped it would be. The story seems to focus more on the family’s perception of her, and her interactions with a priest, and doesn’t delve much into her internal feelings on death. Not so far anyway. It seems to be more about perceptions, and how we decide a person is one way, just because of what others say of them, or judge their entire life and being all based on a single action, a single mistake.

An interesting read so far!

 

The Plague, by Albert Camus

I finished it, and though parts of it made me think and feel and were interesting, overall I was mostly bored and impatient with it.

I enjoyed the close-view narration style of The Stranger a lot more, and maybe if I’d gone into it more expecting a sort of dry historical style account for most of it, I’d have liked it more. The last third of the book did have a lot of good stuff to it though.

On to new things!

Out, by Christine Brooke-Rose

What did I just read? I’m not quite sure.

At the end it became slightly intelligible that the POV character was of some higher or lower form of consciousness, and had a brain procedure performed on him. So that sheds a bit of light on the bizarre and confusing way this story was told.

One way to describe it is as a stream of consciousness of someone who is mentally unstable.

Some of the descriptions and ideas are quite beautiful and thoughtful, but they take a bit of work and thinking to figure out what the heck is being described sometimes.

Definitely not a book you can read without some effort, but I found the trouble to be worth it in the end.

uh oh, the French are at it again

I’ve started reading The Plague, by Albert Camus since I liked The Stranger so much, and …. sigh. It’s the same problem I had with Madame Bovary and to a lesser extent, Swan’s Way. There are no characters, and just descriptions of things happening in a very passive, drawn back way. I don’t know if this is a different translator than The Stranger, or what, but it’s a completely different style and not engaging at all.

It’s a fairly short novel, so I’m going to stick with it, but I’m getting all kinds of ‘what not to do’ ideas for my own writing while reading this…

I’m about 20% through it, so it still has time to get better. I keep waiting for it to ‘zoom in’ and start the story, but it might not ever do this. We’ll see…

Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

This one was a bit of a trial. It took me several months to read because it got so bogged down in historical details that I don’t care about.

In this story, a group of editors decide to create their own conspiracy theory about the Templars in order to sell books. They go about it methodically, with lots of research, making connections between topics and events throughout history, all to support their idea. The problem is the author spends way too much effort detailing all these  historical events and facts and connections. Far beyond what it would take to convince the average reader that ‘yes, these editors are coming up with a believable theory.’

There is so much in the middle section of the book that I started skimming until I found anything actually happening to the characters, or any character thoughts. I ended up skimming probably 30-40% of this 600+ page book, that’s just how much historical babble there is.

That being said, the character stuff is really good and engaging and thoughtful and beautifully written, and the last 20% or so of the book pulled this back up from a two star, to a three star for me.

Highly recommended to historical nerds, or people interested in the Templars, or other secret societies of the occult. But otherwise, it might really tire you out.