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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

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Title: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Author:  Haruki Murakami
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Publication Date: 1991
Format: e-book
Pages: 343
Genre: Fiction
Count for Year: 2

How I discovered

That’s a long story how I discovered this. Technically, I discovered Murakami years ago at a public library near where I grew up. I took out his A Wild Sheep Chase because it looked intriguing and I wasn’t disappointed. Since then, I’ve wanted to read more Murakami, but only have read Kafka’s Shore until now. A friend of mine, Joe, always mentioned this book and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as two other Murakamis that I should read, so when last month, I saw that tanabata of the blog In Spring It Is The Dawn was sponsoring a Huraki Murakami Reading Challenge, I thought I’d join. And here I am.

The setup

Japan’s most popular fiction writer hurtles into the consciousness of the West. Murakami draws readers into a narrative particle accelerator in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his undemure granddaughter, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide in dazzling effect.

– from the publisher

Review

For last week’s Midweek Review, I wrote about “brain-tingling” authors and listed Murakami as one of them, because, and I quote from my post last week: “You never know quite where Murakami is going and you get the feeling that somehow he doesn’t either.” That was based on where I was at the time in the book. As I progressed further into the book, I began to get a clearer picture of what the book was about than I thought I would.

At first, though, as I wrote last week all I knew was that one of the main protagonist was involved in a futuristic world with something called shuffling and laundering. It had to do with arranging numbers in your brain, but beyond that, I’m not sure I understood it. A parallel story, which is told in alternating chapters, dealt with a man in an ancient land who is reading the dreams from skulls of unicorns. The two stories began to collide when the first man found a skull of what possibly could be a unicorn:

Great, I thought just great. Why were all these bizarre things happening to me? What had I ever done to deserve this? I was just your practical-minded, lone-wolf Calcutec. I wasn’t overly ambitious, wasn’t greedy. Didn’t have family, friends, or lovers. When I retired, I was planning to settle down and learn the cello or Greek. How on earth did I get mixed up in this?

Meanwhile, the other man also is questioning himself, and why he is in this strange world which is called the End of the World:

Why did I cast off my past to come here to the End of the World? What possible event or meaning or purpose could there have been? Why can I not remember?

Something has summoned me here. Something intractable. And for this, I have forfeited my shadow and my memory.

The answers to both of their questions will be answered by the end, but not before the one must try to find a way out of this world for his shadow, from which he has been separated, and the other must navigate through a subterranean world inhabited by creatures called INKlings. How will the two men survive? Will they survive?

I could tell you but that then would ruin the end of the book for you. Needless to say, it is a journey well worth undertaking, because Murakami, as well as his translator, is a master of language. After awhile, you begin to get a feeling of where he is going, but then you’re not quite sure and even if you are, you want to see how he gets there. At least, I did…and for that reason, I give this book a 4 out of 5.

My rating system:

5- Classic, must read
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop

Mercury Falls: Rereleased in new Amazon edition, is it still worth it?

Author’s Note: I’m reposting this review of Robert Kroese’s book Mercury Falls, which I read last year and which just has been released in a new Amazon edition at the end of October. The only things I changed were the prices, which are about the same as they were previously.

Title: Mercury Falls
Author: Robert Kroese
Publication Year: 2009
Pages: 337
Genre: Fiction

How I discovered

It’s a wee bit complicated, but the short version is that I know Robert Kroese through a now defunct site called Humor-Blogs where my now defunct blog Unfinished Rambler was listed. Rob, also known as “Diesel” to most people who know him, has his own humor blog, Mattress Police. Using material from that blog, he published his first book, Antisocial Commentary: From the Secret Files of the Mattress Police in 2007. Based on the overwhelming (positive or negative? I make no value judgments here) response he received there, he actually thought that he was qualified to write a novel, and, lo and behold, two years later, he has shown the world he can write a novel.

But the question is this: Is the new edition put out by Amazon Encore worth the $7.19 on Amazon Kindle and $10.17 in paperback on Amazon? Damned if I know, since (note to Federal Trade Commission: disclosure notice) I got a free copy when it first was released last year as a once financial supporter of Humor-Blogs…however, you may be wondering for yourself, and by the end of this review, I may give you an answer to that very question whether it’s worth actually purchasing and worth me keeping on my shelf for future re-reading. As is my nature, though, I may just ramble on and on and on and not get to an answer at all. Stick around and see, though. It still might be a fun ride.

The setup

The world is ending. Again.

Years of covering the antics of End Times cults for a religious news magazine have left Christine Temeri not only jaded but seriously questioning her career choice.

That is until she meets Mercury, an anti-establishment angel who’s frittering his time away whipping up batches of Rice Krispy Treats and perfecting this ping-pong backhand instead of doing his job: helping to orchestrate Armageddon. With the end near and angels and demons debating the finer political points of the Apocalypse, Christine and Mercury accidentally foil an attempt to assassinate one Karl Grissom, a thirty-seven-year-old film school dropout about to make his big break as the Antichrist.

Now to save the world, she must negotiate the byzantine bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell and convince the apathetic Mercury to take a stand, all the while putting up with the obnoxious mouth-breathing Antichrist.

– from the back of the book

The novel begins twenty miles outside of Elko, Nevada on a plateau with Temeri covering the story of the Reverend Jonas Bitters, First Prophet of the Church of the Bridegroom, and a small group of his followers who believe that the Second Coming of Christ will occur April 29 shortly before dawn. Not surprisingly, Christ doesn’t return, with the blame falling on Ten Virgins who aren’t…well, all they seem to be. For Christine, it is just another story of a religious crackpot who thinks he knows the future but doesn’t, the same kind of story she’s done for years.

And now her publisher, Harry, wants her to interview the next crackpot, Galileo Mercury until she says that she can’t take much more of covering the “Apocalypse circuit.” Then Harry gives her the ultimate interview, with General David Isaakson of the Israeli Army, also known as “the Architect of the Apocalypse” in the middle of a conflict between Israel and Syria (and as Harry says: “Maybe the Iranians too.”). Even though ostensibly it’s about the Apocalypse, it also is the chance to get her name known on the international front. So she goes…

…and ends up coming back to Mercury in a roundabout way — and then to Grissom, the Antichrist selected in a contest by an author promoting the last book of her series about a boy named Charlie Nix, which seems more than vaguely reminiscent of another famous series by another famous author. But could he be the real Antichrist? And what does a metallic attache case that Isaakson gave to her to take to Mercury have to do with anything?

I’m not telling you. You’ll have to read it. However, I can tell you that it is a fun ride with Christine along the way as she crosses paths with fallen angels and archangels alike and travels through portals to the basements of Heaven and the attics of Hells trying to answer those very questions. How much fun? Let me give you a few samples, starting with a footnote (yes, there are footnotes) about the Antichrist:

The identity of the Antichrist is, of course, less important than the fact that there is an Antichrist. No one cares much what the Antichrist says or does, but they feel better knowing he’s around. In this way, he is much like the Pope or the United Nations.

It is probably not entirely coincidental that both the Pope and the United Nations have often been accused of being the Antichrist. Other individuals and organizations have also made the short list, of course. Nero was an early favorite, and dictators like Napoleon and Hitler were strong contenders. Even the affable U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan — who had the distinction of having six letters in each of his three names– was named a potential Antichrist. Later, the name of vaunted Israeli General David Isaakson also tended to crop up among people who discussed such things.

Yet, on some level, most people seemed to sense that someone like Hitler was too obvious a choice. Once you make it clear that your intention is global conquest, the mystery is gone and people start to look for someone with less pedestrian aims. Start talking about a Brotherhood of Man or a New World Order, though, and ears perk up.

People also seem to intuitively understand that Antichrist is really more of a figurehead position. They expect the Antichrist to make ominous pronouncements that can be disassembled and slotted into a prefabricated eschatological framework, not impose martial law or orchestrate mass killings. It is safe to say, however, that nobody expected the Antichrist to look quite like Karl Grissom.

Then this:

There were thirty-eight Charlie’s Grills on I-5 in between Yreka, California and Los Angeles, spaced so that on a road trip from one end of the state to the other one could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner– not to mention brunch, linner and several other meals to be named later– from a completely standarized menu of entrees that ranged in quality from passable to mediocre.

This proliferation of family restaurants was not, despite the protestations of anti-sprawl advocates and concerned cardiologists, part of any kind of diabolical plan. This isn’t to say that there was no plan, or that there weren’t demonic entities involved in its inception, but the actual marketing strategy and franchise agreements were more intrinsically Satanic than was the norm for the hospitality industry. Charlie’s Grill was only evil to the extent that it concealed the unremarkable character of its food with a facade constructed of faux brick walls and artificially weathered signs promoting no-longer-existent brands of soda and/or motor oil with slogans like “The smoothest yet!” That is to say, it was about as evil as Applebee’s.

Charlie’s Grill was, pure and simple, a money-making operation for Lucifer, who had long ago come to terms with the fact that while spreading depravity and ruination was his true calling, it didn’t always pay the bills. Lucifer was a true believer in the adage that no one ever went broke overestimating the numbers of time that Americans can pull over for cheeseburgers. It wasn’t an exciting or particularly sinister way of making money, but it did make possible all sorts of other costly but worthwhile diabolical schemes, so Lucifer expanded the operation at every opportunity.

And finally this:

The Apocalypse Accord is a long and mind-numbingly detailed document, hashed out by seraphic lawyers over the course of several thousand years to cover every conceivable aspect of the Apocalypse. Regarding the Antichrist it reads, in part:

The Antichrist is to be the official representative of Lucifer on earth. The Antichrist must be a human being of Semitic descent (at least one sixteenth on the father’s side), and is to be selected by Lucifer (or his designated representatives) a minimum of forty days prior to the commencement of Phase One of the Apocalypse. Once selected, the Antichrist’s name must be submitted to the Senate, the Antichrist comes under legal protection of the Senate’s Committee on Persons of Apocalyptic Interest, and may not be physically harmed or coerced in any way by any parties to this agreement (See “When Are Agents of Heaven Permitted to Attempt to Kill the Antichrist?” in Appendix L). The Senate then has seven days to ratify or veto the selection. If the candidate is vetoed, the Senate must also provide a written rationale for their veto (For a detailed list of Antichrist qualifications, see Appendix F: “So You Think You’ve Got a Candidate for the Position of Antichrist?”). If the Senate does not veto or ratify the candidate’s selection within seven days, the candidate’s selection is assumed to be ratified by default. Once a candidate is ratified, the Side of Heaven has forty days to publicly denounce the candidate as the Antichrist and an agent of Lucifer. Failure to adequately denounce the candidate within forty days of his or her ratification will cause the Hosts of Heaven to be held in Breach of this Accord, and to be ascribed penalties as detailed in Appendix H (“Denunciation: Why It Matters.”). Once the candidate is denounced, he or shall be considered to be Antichrist and will be accorded various Powers and Principalities (see “Legal and Tax Ramifications of Being Classified as the Antichrist” in Appendix P).

So final answer to the question: Is it worth buying on Amazon in either form? And is it worth it for me to keep on my shelf for future re-reading? Yes. After all that rambling, most of it as you might note not done by myself but Mr. Kroese, not only might it be a fun ride, but also it is a fun ride.

My final rating: a 4.5 out of 5 with the 1/2 point for my getting a free copy and also because it’s not 25 years old and therefore, really can’t be a classic — yet.

My rating system:

5- Classic, must read
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop

Addendum: I would like to add that I would have posted this earlier, but for the most part, I eschew anything related to Amazon. However, since this morning I did purchase a case for my new iPod Shuffle from Amazon and I did download for free the Amazon Kindle for PC when I was given a copy of Ron Cooper’s Hume’s Fork last month, I can’t claim the high moral ground completely here. However, I still encourage you as much as possible to buy from your local independent booksellers, because they need the money more than the corporate behemoth Amazon does. For better or worse, I guess, this is part of the MF’ing Blog Tour. ;) Cheers, Rob.

Purple Jesus by Ron Cooper

To learn how to order the book from Bancroft Book, click on the cover.


Title: Purple Jesus
Author: Ron Cooper
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 214
Count for Year: 47

How I discovered

I was invited to read this one by J.C. Montgomery of The Biblio Blogazine for a GoodReads discussion group and read-along, so I thought “Why not?” For Federal Trade Commission disclosure, I did receive a copy from the publisher for this review.

Synopsis

Purvis Driggers is a backwoods, South Carolina loser with little sense and less hope for a promising future. When he tries to rob an old man rumored to have money stashed in the walls of his house, Purvis finds no money and, worse, finds the old man dead. On his way home through the woods he falls for Martha whom he sees being baptized in a creek. Purvis spends the novel trying to impress Martha in increasingly bizarre ways, all the while worried that the FBI will pin the murder on him. Martha is trapped in her own desperation and plans to manipulate the gullible Purvis into helping her escape her sorry life.

Meanwhile, Brother Andrew, a silent monk from the small monastery by the creek, wanders the swamp to watch birds, practice archery, and meditate. He also sees and is attracted to Martha, which aggravates his restlessness and religious doubts.

Told from the characters’ alternating points of view, the story winds through dark humor, murder, dismemberment, a twisted love triangle, and a monster known as the Hairy Man. Is Purvis demented or just crazy with love? Does Martha care for Purvis, or will she simply, coldly exploit him? Is Purvis capable, as he claims, of doing anything for her? Can Andrew forsake his religious calling for a woman he has only admired from afar? Who killed the old man, and what about the money supposedly hidden in the walls of his house?

This tragi-comic story of perversion, betrayal, and mystery hurtles toward a shocking ending the reader will not soon forget.

The first time I heard the term “Purple Jesus” was a couple of years ago in reference to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. However, perhaps not surprisingly for an author “born and raised in the South Carolina Low Country,” Peterson was not the subject of this novel. The “Purple Jesus” to which Cooper refers actually is two different Jesuses: one, a carved cypress tree that looks like Jesus, and two, a mixed drink, as one of the main characters, Purvis, describes:

Grape juice and Kool-Aid and oranges and sugar and grain alcohol mixed up in a big barrel. Drink enough and it resurrects.

Just as there are two different Jesuses, there are two different sides to this story: one tragic and one comical. The tragedy begins with Purvis discovering a dead man in a house Purvis hoped to find a stash of money. The comedy comes in, at least for me, when Martha, the dead man’s niece (although we don’t know until later), is baptized. Just before she’s baptized, she sees the line of cars behind her, full of people driving to the baptism:

Suckers, she thought. All of them thinking a dip in a muddy creek will solve their problems. It might, if they stayed under and drowned.

I couldn’t help but laugh at that last sentence, but also be a little repulsed by my own laughter. It was the moment I knew I would love this book, and did. Cooper walks a fine line between tragedy and comedy and often the lines blur, especially with the dialogue delivered in a South Carolina Low Country dialect. You can’t help but laugh, but then think, “Should I have laughed, because that’s really downright sad when you think about it?”

The weakest parts of the book to me are the ones with Brother Andrew, who seems to be spying on the story of Purvis and Martha until the end. However, the strongest parts of the book, the storylines with Purvis and Martha, are so strong that as a reader, you can’t help but be carried along with it all, wondering what is going to happen to this trio, well, at least the duo of Purvis and Martha anyway.

Also strong in the book are the philosophical references, which shouldn’t be a surprise for an author whose resume includes being past president of the Florida Philosophical Association and having published philosophical essays. The one to which Cooper refers several times is Ockham’s razor, which is described by Purvis as follows:

He said cut the extra stuff, because the simplest answer is the best one.

While I’m not sure I was satisfied with the ending, the journey toward that ending was more than enjoyable with the way Cooper wove the story, mixing in philosophical references from time to time with the dialect with which he is so familiar.  For that reason, I give this one a 4 out of 5.

My rating system:

5- Classic, must read
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop

I read this book in mid-September, but didn’t get around to the review until today. That’s fortuitous for Cooper, because the book is released tomorrow.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie CollectionTitle: And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians and Ten Little Niggers)
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication Year: 1939
Genre: Mystery
Count for Year: 34

How I discovered

I have joined Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise with her Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and this is part of that.

Synopsis

Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide. The tension escalates as the survivors realise the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again… and again…

– from Fantastic Fiction

Review

When one thinks of the essential Agatha Christie mysteries, one cannot help but think of this one. Myself, I think what makes it classic and why I rate it (cutting to the chase here) 5 stars is the poem at the center of the piece:

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

and how Christie and the murderer craft the murders of the nine people on the island based around the poem.

When I gave the 5-star rating to the book on Goodreads, one of my friends, Kara from the blog Not Just For Kids, said:

5 stars? Seriously?

And I said, “Yes, seriously,” and then asked her why she hated it, to which she responded:

I didn’t hate it, but I just found that it stretched credibility to a ridiculous extent. When I think of some of her other books, which require more gray cells than suspension of belief–it’s just too sensational for my taste, I guess.

I agree with her that it did stretch credibility and maybe even “to a ridiculous extent,” but I thought the way in which Dame Christie put it all together was masterful anyway, and that is why I rated it 5 stars.

If you’d like to judge for yourself, I encourage you to do so. It’s less than 200 pages and can be read in one sitting. Personally, I believe it will be worth your time.

5- Classic, must read, worth not only owning, but buying extra copies for friends
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop

Other reviews

If you have reviewed And Then Were None and would like your review to be listed here, add your link in the comments and I will add here as well.

FTC Disclosure: I didn’t receive a copy of this book from the publisher, but took it out from my local library.

I’ll Mature When I’m Dead by Dave Barry (TSS)

Title: I’ll Mature When I’m Dead: Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood
Author: Dave Barry
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 254
Count for Year: 30

How I Discovered

I work at a library. It was on the new bookshelf. I picked it up.

Synopsis

Really? It’s Dave Barry. Okay, well, briefly, it’s 18 pieces, one of which was published previously and the other 17 brand new, from topics ranging from fatherhood, the health-care crisis, newspapers, Miami and colonoscopies.

Review

The Sunday Salon.com I’m going to cut right to the chase on this one and give you my rating first: 5 out of 5, at least for men, because it’s laugh-out-loud funny in many sections. It’s an instant classic as most Dave Barry books are, for passages like this:

…It was 1980, and I, a brand-new father, was at some friends’ house during a New Year’s Eve party. The party was going on downstairs; I was upstairs with my two-month-old son, Robert, who was lying in the exact corner of our hosts’ bed, taking one of his two hundred daily naps. I was watching him, in case he woke up crying, or suddenly figured out how to play with matches.

From downstairs, I could hear the roar of the party. It was a major kind of party. It was a major party, the kind of party where some of the guests could very well wake up naked in a foreign country. A little before midnight I took a quick peek downstairs, and I saw that the party had reached Gator Stage. This is the point a party reaches when certain guys, having consumed perhaps eight or nine more shots of tequila than they really need, find that two things are true:

1. They wish to dance.

2. They cannot stand up.

The solution is for these guys to dance in a style known as “the gator,” which is when you lie on the dance floor and writhe around to the music in what you believe to be a rhythmical manner. You run the risk that the vertical dancers will step on you, but if you’re truly in gator mode, you wouldn’t notice if a UPS truck parked on your head.

So there I was, peeking down at my friends having crazy fun– fun that, the previous New Year’s Eve, I had been part of. I went back and sat on the bed with Robert, and it hit me: Not only was I not going to be gatoring this New Year’s Eve, but I was never going to gator again. Dad’s don’t gator. Oh, you might attend a party where gatoring has commenced, and you might even consider joining in. But as you start to get down on the floor, some part of your brain– the Dad Lobe– will kick in and remind you that you need to relieve the babysitter. And you will step over your friends (or on them; it doesn’t matter) and head for the door.

and this:

OK. You turned fifty. You know you’re supposed to get a colonoscopy. But you haven’t. Here are your reasons:

1. You’ve been busy.

2. You don’t have a history of cancer in your family.

3. You haven’t noticed any problems.

4. You don’t want a doctor to stick a tube seventeen thousand feet up your butt.

Let’s examine these reasons one at a time. No, wait, let’s not. Because you and I both know that the only reason is No. 4. This is natural. The idea of having another human, even a medical human, becoming deeply involved in what is technically known as your “behindular zone” gives you the creeping willies.

For women, though, I’m guessing it’s a 4 out of 5, or in my rating system, worth owning, because it will tell women what men really think of them: boobies. For example, in this essay entitled “If You Will Just Shut Up, I Can Explain: A Man Answers A Woman’s Question,”

Q: So you’re saying that when men change channels, they’re looking for prey?

A: No, breasts.

After which, Barry goes on to explain why men are so obsessed with breasts, making a comparison with peacock’s tail feathers.

Q: Are you suggesting that women should go around displaying their breasts to males?

A: I was talking about peacocks. But hey, sure.

Other reviews

If you’ve read and reviewed this book, leave a link to the post in the comments and I’ll add it here.

So what’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud while you were reading? And/or what are you reading today?