Saturday, August 30, 2014

Football Counter-Programming #1

As promised on Tumblr this morning I am attempting to provide some type of entertaining diversion during the Fall Saturdays that doesn't involve football. History shows us that this is a fool's errand--both because football has been popular for over a century in this country and because I never fulfill my blog-related promises.

But hey . . . Tide's gotta Roll, Buckeye's gotta Script, and David's gotta blog.

Now, don't assume that I hate football. I don't. I'm just not committed to it. I've never successfully scheduled my weekends around it. And while I keep up just to be conversational, I don't understand it or consider myself to be equipped to converse in it. But, I keep up appearances and do my best, much like an American travelling abroad. I try to exchange meaningless pleasantries in the local language to acknowledge the prevailing culture.


So. . . what to talk about instead? How about books?

I try to keep up with some interesting reading now and then. I usually have a stack of books in various degrees of completion near my bed. And last weekend I finally sat down long enough to finish two of them: a Barnes & Noble combo publication of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys stories and David Foster Wallace's posthumous The Pale King.

Both of these books had been sitting on my bedside table for faaaarrr too long. I'd picked up the Gaiman book on a whim during a trip to B&N (probably when I was buying a Christmas present sketch pad for Sarah last season or even the year before that). Previously, I've always meant to read some stuff by Gaiman--especially his Sandman comics. But I've never gotten around to it. And someone suggested that I try American Gods. When I first tried to read it, it just didn't click. So my attempts faltered. But this next time around I pushed into the story and found that it was pretty interesting.

Probably because I get Gaiman mixed up with Michael Chabon (who wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) I thought American Gods was something about real-life superheroes in America. Rather, AG is literally true to its title. It's about gods in America and how they deal with modernity and technology and increasing secularism. But it's more dramatic and Percy Jackson-esque than that. I enjoyed it, even if it wasn't what I originally thought it might be.

The other half of that book, Anansi Boys, is something like a companion piece to AG. (Sort of how The Jeffersons was related to All in the Family, if you know what I mean. The roots of similar ideas are shared, but Anansi Boys is more down-to-earth and personalized, less grand in scope than the story American Gods tried to tell.) In many ways, I liked Anansi Boys even more.

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King is something else entirely. (I've written about DFW several different times on this blog. Use the search feature to find more random thoughts.) The Pale King was in progress when Wallace committed suicide several years ago. His publisher cobbled together the unfinished manuscripts and notes and scraps and tried to organize the story into something that might be what Wallace intended. All that was certain was that The Pale King was intended to be a story crafted around boredom and the possibility of achieving some sort of enlightenment through tedium.

Reading the book is certainly an exercise in tedium, to be sure. Wallace is always a challenge, even when reading a book he fully wrote, edited, and approved. I admit that I cling to reading Wallace because I want to be smarter. And I think that grappling with his stuff might make me smarter--or at least feel that I am smarter. (It's very hipster of me, for sure.) I've read through Infinite Jest more than twice, trying to piece it all together. I'm still trying to finish The Girl With Curious Hair. I've happily read his essay collections. And I've finally made it through TPK.

Does the finished book achieve some sort of examination of boredom? Maybe? It's just hard to read and some of it is hard to piece together. As usual Wallace ignores linear storytelling and throws multiple threads at you simultaneously. Are they supposed to all link? Maybe they do . . . but I might have missed it because I was only skimming those pages. Or maybe the linkage was in that footnote I chose not to read? I do know that focusing much of the book on the inner workings and bureaucratic struggles of an IRS office in Indiana was a good choice for a meditation on tedium. And Wallace's authorial choice to indulge in many digressions on the legality of tax code changes certainly fit the bill. The most obvious storyline that hit the boredom as enlightenment theme was near the end when two IRS agents were unwinding at an after work bar. One female agent began a very long and rambling discussion of how she met and married her husband when she was a teenager. Her story was told to a socially awkward colleague that presented as a borderline Asbergers candidate. As she force fed her story to him, pausing only to underline parts of her life story that she was sure he would not be able to understand, the Asbergers fellow began to slowly and imperceptibly levitate an inch or so above his bar stool.

Boredom as enlightenment, get it?

As you can see. . . I only got it because it was the most obvious part of the whole book. There's probably a lot more there, if I ever get up the gumption to open it up and try again.

So, now that those two books are off my table, I'm picking up the last in my trio of ignored novels--Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is not an exaggeration that I have been trying to finish this novel for five years. And I'm only slightly more than halfway done. It turns out that a novel about the resurrection of English magic, written as if it was being transcribed by the 19th centurians themselves is NOT Harry Potter 2.0.

There are parts of it that grab your attention and I do intend to finish reading all 782 pages. But it may get sidelined again for the foreseeable future. You see, Sarah's language arts teacher has assigned a parent/pupil project where she has to share the reading of a book of my choosing and then write a report on it.

My choice? It was easy really. Richard Adams Watership Down. Another favorite book of my youth--and one that she hasn't read yet. It has all the best elements of a fiction book--set in England, tells a journey story, provides a mystery, centers around a mysterious population, AND it has a glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back. (Tolkien and Herbert would certainly approve.)

I'll save thoughts on how that reading is going for another Saturday in the future.
Until then, here's hoping that none of your field goals are Wide Right.

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