The Obvious

tweeting my reading

Posted in books by theobvious on July 12, 2011

As readers go, I am rather naive. I’ve been trained in reading critically, analytically, but when it comes to reading for pleasure, my reactions are purely emotional and border on childlike. A single tweet would be enough to convey them. Like these recent reads:

“Montag just burned Beatty and I’m scared.” — Fahrenheit 451

“Intriguing. Disturbing. Intriguing. Very disturbing! Long.” — The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore

“Make Adrian live, make him live, oh no!” — Overqualified

“Jessica Wakefield is a bitch and needs to be slapped.” — Double Love (Sweet Valley High)

“There is no hope for anyone anywhere and everyone will die.” — The Fixer

“Unfair unfair unfair UNFAAAAIR!” — Vernon God Little

“Unfair unfair unfair UNFAIR RACISTS!” — Arthur and George

“Seriously? In these conditions, you found it possible to invite yourself to their house?” — The Bookseller of Kabul

“How can the author bear them not finding out?” — The Bastard of Istanbul

And so on. In a way these can be said to be the purest and most honest recommendations I can provide for these books, sharing not the product of my intellectual processing, but the actual impact they have on wherever feelings come from — my gut, probably — and can be expected to have on others.

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the giving tree and the taking wretch

Posted in books, thoughts by theobvious on June 7, 2011

Shel Silverstein was, of course, one of my favourites growing up. Today I read Brainpicking say this about The Giving Tree:

The duality of its interpretations – one seeing it as the poetic story of unconditional love between a boy and his tree, and the other as the darkly faithless portrait of a selfish boy who keeps on taking from a tree that keeps on giving – illustrates some of the longest-running debates of moral philosophy: Is there such a thing as true altruism, and are human beings innately kind and selfless or innately unscrupulous and selfish? (We choose to side – and live – with the former.)

What do you think? I’m afraid I have to subscribe to the latter notion—not of humanity in general, but of this story—, although I generally believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt (and often chide A. for being prone to jumping to a pessimistic conclusion). But in this case I really cannot make a case for the boy. This kind of “user mentality” is repugnant. There is no way for me to see past the boy driving the tree further and further down with his passive-aggressive demands.

The greatest danger of reading this book as the story of a selfless tree which rejoices in giving, therefore, is that with this idea comes a justification of the boy’s behaviour, interpreting it, I guess, as gratitude and acceptance of the tree’s benevolence. This is too much of a price to pay for teaching a child that giving is necessary and enjoyable, which message is, in my view, of lesser priority than that of not abusing kindness and practising gratitude and humility.

If ever I have a child, I believe I will read this book with him, and the character I will emphasize shall not be the mono-dimensional, unequivocally good if overly submissive tree. It will be that of the manipulative ingrate who learns at an early age to emotionally bully kinder people into giving him whatever he wants at great cost to themselves. My message will be both Do Not Be That Boy and Do Not Be That Tree—never let anyone do you such an injustice.

will grayson will grayson

Posted in books by theobvious on April 22, 2011

I’m just through reading Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. This was my first Levithan and my last Green (nothing else is available until September). It wasn’t as great as Green’s Paper Towns, but it’s hard to match what I think is his magnum opus to date. This one, however, was brilliant as well. Firstly, because the co-authors’ styles merge well (due, probably, in part to some magic editing). And secondly, because it’s a good story.

Sometimes I start a new book, and for the first few pages I just read the words, like gliding on the surface without a connection. And then all at once the surface seems to dip into a cliff, and my mind pans with it like a camera, following it into the sudden depth. I get tunnel vision, focused entirely on my reading. Lifting my eyes, I’m surprised it’s daytime, because it feels as though all light has been dimmed except for whatever is enabling me to hoover the letters off the page. Reality has little to do with me, because the story has me in a grip so strong it’s difficult to shake until the book ends.

I was reading Will Grayson Will Grayson at a very busy coffee shop today, sitting in an armchair in a corner. At some point, a group of teenagers came in, chattering noisily. They piled into my corner and took the other armchair, the sofa, the table, and even the floor next to me. All this did distract me, but only for a second. The magnetism of the story pulled me right back so powerfully, that with the girls laughing and screaming over each other and over my head, I was not even there to get annoyed or protective of my personal space.

The story of the two Will Graysons and of Tiny Cooper (who incidentally annoys the hell out of most readers, but I can’t help but like Green’s every character because they’re just too human, not perfectly good or impeccably bad) was not the best story I’ve ever read. Nor did it have the best ending. But it was one of the most gripping stories I’ve encountered lately, and though it’s true that I’m easily gripped, this is still saying something.

read all about it—or just a page or two

Posted in books, link by theobvious on December 14, 2010

A while ago, the New Yorker published Q&A’s with the writers who were featured in their “20 under 40” issue (basically the same names everyone else is bandying around, Shteyngart, Krauss, Foer, Russel, Li, etc.). They asked each young writer who their favourite authors over 40 were. To a reading person, this kind of thing is a goldmine: if you like the author, chances are you will like what they read as well. If you’ve never heard of the author before, chances are you’ll still love some of the books that inspired them to become, if not your favourite author, then at least America’s.

There were some really great recommendations on those lists. Some names that were entirely new to me. Of course, more enlightened people might find the lists stale, but to me, they were full of literary discoveries. Wonderful novelists whose Amazon pages would make anyone drool and start compiling wish-lists, and quite a number of lovely short story authors. In fact, it was like a short story feast, a paradise for the short story lover. If you were to purchase all of the collections penned by these authors, you’d be hooked up for life with high-quality, superbly written, engaging reading material. All the worse for me, because I don’t like short stories.

Being a voracious reader—incidentally, what’s up with the word voracious, it is disgusting, reminds me of the Lithuanian word for spider and the Russian word for thief at the same time, and yet it somehow evokes the exact image of that greedy way this kind of reader gobbles down a book—I can’t afford to read short fiction. Even getting out of a thousand-page novel, I feel as though something has been taken from me entirely too soon. What am I supposed to do with something that only lasts ten minutes? It’s just a tease.

Exceptions to this rule are quite rare and usually have to do with stories which are not focused on the plot, but curious or very well-written (like this one by J. S. Foer*), or when they are sort of continuing the same narrative, almost like chapters or entries on a blog, which is often the case with semi-autobiographical stories (like most of the stuff by David Sedaris), or when they are just so funny, clever, and/or touching that it outweighs their being regrettably length challenged: both Foer and Sedaris, or Etgar Keret or, say, Čapek or Jerome Jerome or all those Russians of Zoschenko’s kith—

Actually, I’m realizing now there are a number of authors whom I can appreciate in short form. Still, when choosing a new book to read, I’ll hardly ever pick a collection of short stories. They tend to make me feel cheated. But if you feel otherwise, you might benefit from looking at that list in the New Yorker. See why the short story is not for me? All these words, just to recommend a link.

*I remember the night I first read that, in someone else’s house, on their guest bed built on boxes of books, during some pre-party commotion, out of someone else’s little (yellow?) book. This is one good thing about a short story. You can associate it with a particular moment in your life. Novels I tend to associate more with periods: I read that when the summer was so hot, I was hiding in coffeeshops with A/C; I read that when I was limping from the fall; I started that on the plane to Z., and finished it on the way back; that spent the winter on my desk, it felt like a spring novel; and so on.

joanne harris

Posted in books, nablopomo by theobvious on November 3, 2009

Someone just told me that Joanne Harris will be doing a promo tour of Lithuania in February. My first reaction was to squeal with joy, but come to think about it, I’m not sure I know what to do when one meets a favourite author. Perhaps something like today’s Questionable Content. Or maybe just come for the first fifteen minutes and then sneak out, like it happened for me with Tomas Venclova this spring.

Lately, every book I pick up just seems to drag; I’ve been reading the same pocket-sized paperback since September. Maybe, as the world shudders at the threat of swine flu and excess dustiness, this is just no time for leisurely escapes into the world of letters, or maybe it is my thesis-in-(lack of)-progress that has killed the last philological spark in me for the rest of the year. Either way, Harris’ website says she is about to release a new novel (due April), and that love of reading better come back till then.

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daily illustrated

Posted in a., books, life, photos by theobvious on April 14, 2008

The words – I have none of them! Let’s try pictures.

chestnut

It is decidedly spring. There are green leaves on every bush, and most trees are sprouting buds as well. This particular tree is a chestnut. With their enormous buds and beautiful candle-like blooms, they have been a joyful sign of spring for as long as I can remember.

pita

While the trees are bringing forth their new clothes, others are shedding theirs. With a fluffy cat and a furry dog in the house, this is tiresome business. Don’t take this to mean I don’t love our pets. I just don’t love them enough to eat and breathe their hair. I still get to.

reading

We have gotten the hang of teaching. As the group finally forms, our purpose grows clearer and ipso facto so does our message. It is rewarding to see seven people, four of whom have taught me in some way, listening attentively and trying the new skills we show them.

a.

This is A. He is mine and I love him.

extremely loud & incredibly close

Posted in books, emotions, thoughts, valuable lesson by theobvious on March 19, 2008

I finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by J. S. Foer on Saturday. It’s an amazing book. Among other things, it taps into the issue of boundaries when it comes to tragedy. There is a sense of (property? level of belonging?) about every kind of event, sad ones perhaps most of all.

Let me explain: it is possible to grade the connection one has with something like 9/11. There are the people who lost family members and friends, there are the ones that fought to save lives, then the ones who were close by, but the damage they suffered was limited to psychological trauma, the ones who live in a city whose changed skyline reminds them every day of the tragedy, the ones who lost the sense of safety in their country, the ones who were dumbstruck with fear and compassion, but were physically far away – and so on.

And when you think of it in terms of art (specifically literature) the question arises of the moral position in which one stands when one writes about something – and then reads what the other has written. It is difficult, I imagine, to write about something like 9/11 and not be scrutinized by the people whose pain level is higher than yours, whose sense of (property? again that word) may be offended by your interpretation, however good or poor, just because you are not as close as they are, so how can you understand and what right do you have to? It’s a huge responsibility, and Safran Foer handles it remarkably well, I think.

From yet another point of view, once you’ve faced the challenge of writing about something from a certain level of connection (is this still making sense?), you have then created a bridge for people from other levels to connect through. See, I, the reader, have not experienced 9/11 from as close as the author did, and he, in his book, describes an even more intimate experience than his own. This way I get a look at what it was like through the filter of my own memories and his.

What I’m trying (and failing miserably) to say is that a sensitive topic such as this has a sort of field of conditions around it which are incredibly hard to match; reading the work of someone who has managed to do that leaves a deep effect on someone who, prior to this, had no possibility nor moral grounds to experience that effect.

I am thankful for the fact that this book left me devastated for a day, because that brought me nearer to understanding the devastation that people closer to the tragedy felt for a much longer time – and are possibly still feeling.

NB! Please understand that I am not aiming to offend anyone – anything that you find hurtful is probably just clumsy wording on my part. Please let me know so I can try and rephrase it. I do not in any way imply to pass any kind of judgment in this post, all I’m doing is reflecting on my own feelings determined by a set of assumptions which may or may not be correct.

moscow – petushki

Posted in books by theobvious on March 17, 2008

I was intending to post something entirely different today, but this is what it is going to be.

Author’s notice

The first edition of “Moscow – Petushki” was sold out remarkably quickly due to having been published in one copy. Since then I have received many reproachful comments on the chapter “Serp i Molot – Karacharovo”, which is quite unfair. In the introduction to the first edition I had warned all the ladies that this chapter was to be omitted unread, since the phrase “and in haste did I drink” was followed by a page-and-a-half full of perfect cussing, that indeed there was not one proper word in this chapter but for the phrase “and in haste did I drink”. The effect of this honest notice was that all the readers, especially the ladies, jumped right ahead to the chapter “Serp i molot – Karacharovo” without even reading the previous chapters, not even the phrase “and in haste did I drink”. It is for this reason that I’ve deemed it necessary to remove all the cussing from the chapter “Serp i molot – Karacharovo” in the second edition. This is for the best as, first of all, I shall be read consistently, and secondly, the readers will not be insulted.

This is the introduction to the (epic?) poem by Venedikt Erofeev, of which I couldn’t find a full translation, not online in any case, but here are some illustrated excerpts.

The notice I translated myself, a while ago, when I was possessed with the idea of translating the whole thing into English. I now realize this isn’t the most direct path to fame for me to take. So it is just the author’s notice for now.

bookish

Posted in books by theobvious on March 1, 2008

Did you know there was such a thing as ‘Best of the Booker’? Apparently, this year is the fortieth anniversary of the prize, and they’ve established a best-of-the-best award, just like they did for the twenty-fifth. Salman Rushdie won it last time with Midnight Children, but this time there are some more worthy contenders.

This might just be lazy Saturday news for you, but it shocked me: there are bets being placed on the outcome of the award! One of the leading bookie (what an appropriate word) agencies of the world is currently taking 4 to 1 bets on Rushdie, while another is offering the same odds on Yann Martel with his Life of Pi.

Book gambling just doesn’t seem right to me. Can you picture guys in suits with tiny black cellphones saying things like ‘Four big ‘uns on that Martel, Johnny, he’s a banker’ or ‘Rushdie’s the jolly, no money in that’? It’s strange thinking about books as something financially powerful, though of course it’s all a big business.

I do hope Yann Martel is a banker, Life of Pi is a wonderful book. We found it in a second-hand book store in Jerusalem, and never traded it back in, it was just a must to keep and treasure as a part of our library.

little red leather whip

Posted in books, random, weird by theobvious on February 2, 2008

When people ask me to ‘say something’, I don’t like to answer ‘something, haha’. Instead I usually say ‘there was a girl named Little Red Riding Hood’.

Now this suddenly struck me as odd: a riding hood is a weird name for a little girl’s head garment, no? I mean, it’s not like she was a little girl jockey! I don’t believe the story ever mentions her riding at all! Not even in a figurative sense.

That’s not what Google will have you believe, however. For a search on ‘riding hood’, I got close to 3 million results. Most of them seem to be Little Something Riding Hood. Not just red. Suffice it to say, half the image results are PG-18.

You know what? Ew. Good thing that in Russian she’s just Red Cap.

përshëndetje (hello in albanian)

Posted in books, link, photos, random, the thrilling goings-on by theobvious on February 1, 2008

So, the hits on this blog seem to peak whenever I update and plummet the day after. Truly perplexing. Will need to investigate.

Meanwhile, I have exciting plans for the weekend (featuring an interior design exhibition, some gift shopping, a classical music concert, and a jazz concert, not to mention a class we teach with A. at the community), but I also seem to have contracted a mild, yet very unpleasant infection of the, umm, burning type. So unless I magically get better by tomorrow, it will be pills and the hot water bear for me this weekend.

With regard to this exciting news, I will just post an assortment of unrelated items today in the hopes of keeping you folks moderately entertained until I have something more fun to say.

Do you know what will happen if you type in ‘find Chuck Norris’ on Google and hit ‘I’m feeling lucky’? No? Well, go try it. I believe it’s all to do with that scandalous Chuck Norris fact-book he is apparently trying to get recalled through court.

I’m absolutely loving the new version of the Flickr client, which has a very handy pre-editing area, so that by the time the photos end up online, they are already tagged and put in sets. Especially good for when it’s just several images.

Yes, that means I have finally taken some new pictures today. I am also ending my ‘all new music in the walkman’ experiment by stuffing it with old favourites such as Herman’s Hermits, Les Fatals Picards, Goodbooks, and Brazzaville. Down with depression!

Now the exams are over, I have time to read real books, so I’ve finally enjoyed Coastliners by Joanne Harris, a writer I cannot recommend enough. And now I’m reading Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, it’s full of factual errors, but quite entertaining.

Come to think of it, most of these could have been separate elaborate posts. This sickness is making me waste thoughts! Better get off the blogging horse and get to real work, seeing as I can’t sleep anyway. Good night, frères.

new year, new start

Posted in books, good, studies by theobvious on January 3, 2008

Hi! Guess what I’ve been doing! Ahem. Reading. To illustrate, here’s a photo of part of the books I need to have read and studied thoroughly by the 9th:

On top there you can see part of my notes, and on the left – my calendar, which is filled exclusively with studying until the 22nd. And you can’t really tell, but I’ve marked every exam date with a little skull and crossed bones. Just as a symbol of my enthusiasm, see.

So anyway, our New Year’s Eve was kind of nice. In fact, it was better than the last couple of times. We paid a short visit to my great aunt, brought her a cake and all that, and then, inspired by our own goodness, we returned home to exchange gifts with the family.

New Year’s Eve is the local Jewish version of Christmas morning. So there’s presents. And boy, was there a lot of them! I got so much cool stuff, including a fluffy teddy bear / hot water bottle, which – in sickness and in health till death do us part, indeed.

Also, I’m sure you’ll all be excited to know that I’ve been showing marvels of restraint, reading a >500 page book daily, spending hardly any time at the computer, even did my good old Turbo Jam workout today! And, um, showered. For the first time in almost a week.

It feels good to be bragging here, instead of calling myself names and whining. No more pseudo-depression and comfort food. Well, maybe a little comfort food. But definitely more showering! And I have another, less self-centered post planned, so stay tuned.

recommendations

Posted in books, good, important, link, vilnius, websites by theobvious on December 18, 2007

I was happy today. Because of little things, like peeling a tangerine at the bus stop and having a woman smile at me, but mainly because I got a new copy of ‘Up the Down Staircase’ and laughed out loud in the street reading my favourite passage, translated perfectly into Lithuanian (I think I should start translating my favourite books pronto, before they are all translated better than I ever could).

I believe every educator should read, and preferably own, this book. No, screw that. I believe every sane person should read and preferably own this book. This is why I’ve made most everyone I know read it, and now I’m giving it to a friend for Christmas. What? He’s a teacher. Have you read this book? You ought to. I hear there’s also a movie, but don’t watch that instead of reading! It’s not the Odyssey after all.

And now that I’m already bossing you around (don’t I have a talent for segues), let me direct you to several websites you might find nice, especially around this time of year, which is all about being charitable and giving others what you have enough of and they haven’t got any. Like food. I can only use some of them for want of a credit card, but at least I can spread the word.

1. FreeRice – a very nice campaign. It’s a word game that lets you expand your vocabulary while giving rice to the poor. Best part – it’s free both for you and the people at the receiving end. It’s also educational, yay!

2. Kiva – this lets you support an entrepreneur of your choice in a developing country. It’s basically a loan program with a smart follow-up system, so you can help someone out of poverty and then watch their progress.

3. Donors Choose – a totally awesome website where teachers submit their educational projects and you can choose which of them to fund with your donation. You will then receive feedback from the students.

4. Of course, there’s always the Red Cross. They are doing an amazing job and need all the help they can get. You get to choose whether to donate to their poverty fund, their disaster relief fund, or plenty other funds.

There’s a nice, albeit less dramatic, project on the web called Streetclash. It’s a street fashion competition. Vilnius is one of the last two finalists, and I encourage you to vote if you like it. There’s a different photo daily.

And then, if you just want to be doing good things for the world, you can give me a paid Flickr account. Just kidding. Instead, always recycle, choose handmade, organic, and fair-trade products, smile to people, and pass these links along.