What I’m looking forward to this morning

I hope you enjoy your new year’s parties. I’m off to Berkeley this morning. I won’t be posting any updates until I return on the 9th.

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’m looking forward to on my short trip this morning. Here are a few:

I bought Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections,” along with David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” and I hope to read either one or both of these novels on the trip. There’s going to be lots of dead travel time on buses and trains and an hour on the plane. I decided that I should finally buy some books, and so I did, starting with “Never Let Me Go.” I’ll be doing a lot of reading this week.

I get to see my friends and engage in lots of random activities.

I’m going back to Berkeley to not only see friends, but to hopefully see a professor of mine who greatly supported and inspired me in my writing during my time at Cal. I owe him lunch and I think I owe it to him to tell him what has happened to my writing during the last six months. That should be an interesting story.

I get to leave Los Angeles for more than three days, which is an enormous pleasure for me. I hope to leave here permanently by the end of 2010.

I get to meet a new person. Thanks N, I look forward to meeting another writer.

I’m also going back to a cafe I used to frequent, where I spent time reading and writing. It’s one of my favorite places.

I suppose that’s a good list for now. When I get back, more interesting stories will be told. I should mention that I’m slightly nervous about flying and the associated dread it brings with regard to identification and security. Hopefully nothing will happen. I do have the advantage of being a white male whom no one considers dangerous or suspicious.

Indecision

I can’t decide whether I should get a haircut before I head out tomorrow. Part of me wishes to keep growing out my hair, and part of me wants it gone. I’m never comfortable making decisions, not even non-threatening ones like this.

On another note, a rant against hipsters: you are annoying. Stop with the fake whimsical polaroids. What the hell are you whimsical for? You weren’t even born when the golden days you’re emulating were around. You and your primary colors. Damn, I’m sick of your bandanas and sweater vests. That’s the one thing I really hate about Berkeley: rich kids who think they’re artistic or bohemian and not from some southern californian suburb.

Film

For some reason, I’ve been on a huge Matt Damon streak lately. I watched “Good Will Hunting,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and am now considering watching “Saving Private Ryan.”

I don’t know why I’m in such a nineties mood, or why I want to watch films with Damon. I feel like he’s done good work in the last ten years, but the nineties were really good for him. Really, he’s only made three good noncommercial films in the last ten years: “The Departed,” “The Good Shepherd,” and possibly “Invictus.” I’m not discounting the Bourne series, because that’s actually one of the better adaptations I’ve seen, and I enjoyed it for the action. Sadly, I don’t really see Damon doing too many serious roles, which is disappointing because he’s a fantastic actor. Watch “The Talented Mr. Ripley” again and tell me that’s not a great film. He’s so damn good in that and it’s creepy as hell.

Also, “Good Will Hunting” kind of kills me with the “It’s not your fault” scene.

Travel

I’m heading out to Berkeley in a couple of days to celebrate the new year with my friends. I’m happy to be back there for the new year, more than I thought I would be. Berkeley feels like home. I might post pictures when I get back.

Hemingway

I’ve been reading Hemingway again, the short stories in particular. When I was a kid, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was one of my favorite novels. I must have read it three or four times before I finally moved on. I’m not sure why I stopped reading Hemingway. I read “A Farewell to Arms” but wasn’t as taken with it as I was with “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and that ended my interest. In high school, I read some sort of writing book in which he was cited. His advice was to cut down the sentence to nothing. I kind of wish I knew which textbook it was that we read. I distinctly remember it being in an AP Language and Literature class during my junior year, but I could be mistaken.

For some reason, his advice stayed with me. I suppose this was mostly because I had loved “For Whom the Bell Tolls” so much, and revered him for a time.

The story that stays with me now is “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” as well as “Hills Like White Elephants,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” In each of these stories, there’s a wonderful sense of tension that is not necessarily resolved. I think Hemingway’s talent is letting the story end without making it end. So many modern stories have an ending instead of being open ended, which takes something away. You can’t often really say what Hemingway’s stories are about, which is what makes him so great to read.

Happy holidays.

Kazuo Ishiguro – “Never Let Me Go”


“She said they revealed your soul.”
“Did someone think we didn’t have souls?”
“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end, it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how I think it is with us. […] But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.

I’m at a loss as to why Kazuo Ishiguro is not being read in English classes, at least not in any classes I’ve ever taken. He won the Booker Prize in 1989 for “The Remains of the Day,” which was later adapted into a film starring Anthony Hopkins. Three of his other novels, including “Never Let Me Go,” have been shortlisted for the Booker. It might be that he has a Japanese name (though he has actually lived in Britain since the age of 5) and, like Murakami, is deemed inaccessible or irrelevant by many American readers. Someone recently had this to say about an article featuring Ishiguro (the article was about how to write novels):

“Kazuo Ishiguro was interviewed. I want to start reading him. No, not because reading Murakami is becoming passé! Stupidtrendbookwhores. Anyways, he writes his first draft by hand. Bad ass.”

It is sad that people are comparing Ishiguro and Murakami by virtue of their being Japanese. That’s like saying you should read Atwood instead of reading Munro (you know, since they’re both Canadian). Anyway, Ishiguro and Murakami have entirely different subject matters and styles, so there’s no comparison. For me, Ishiguro is the better writer, mostly because of the subtle ways in which he translates meaning and develops plot, kind of like Atwood.

“Never Let Me Go” is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It nearly beats out “Disgrace” as one of my favorites this year. Strangely enough, “Never Let Me Go” is on TIME Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, but “Disgrace” isn’t. I can’t quite understand that, but oh well.

What is “Never Let Me Go” about? I can’t tell you. The premise is so tied to the plot that the back cover, which attempts to disguise the novel, literally gives you the barest of threads:

“From Booker Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss.

As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules – and teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them so special – and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.”

Does that really tell you anything? No.

The novel is set in late 1990s England, though through flashbacks, Ishiguro moves the narration anywhere between the 60s and present time. The story is a coming of age saga revolving around three different kids: Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy (the narrator). Kathy is a thirty one year old carer who takes care of donors. Don’t ask me to explain that one. She and Ruth and Tommy grew up at Hailsham, and the novel is separated into three parts: part one deals with their early years at Hailsham, part two moves us closer to the present, with their departure into the real world, and part three brings us to the present time, where all three are reunited for a brief moment.

To be absolutely blunt, “Never Let Me Go” is a dystopian novel, firmly balanced on the shoulders of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Orwell’s “1984.” At its heart, the novel questions what it means to be human and how we should live our lives. It is also a love story and a mystery with no ultimate revelation. If I were to give a major spoiler, I would say it is most like one of Jodi Picoult’s novels, but for the literary, intelligent reader.

Ishiguro’s talent is letting the reader know what his narrator and the rest of the characters don’t. We are simultaneously told and not told, just like the students, what is going on. Before we are halfway through the novel, before one of the minor characters reveals the nature of the students’ special nature, the reader already knows. The only question, then, is how will the characters find out, and what happens afterwards? Ishiguro is a master of subtlety, and it shows clearly at the end, when all the small clues illuminate the larger picture of what it means to be alive and to create and to love and to really live.

I think part one and part three are superb. Part two becomes tiring due to Ishiguro’s use of flashback and having the narrator announce that something is important and then explaining it. You have to read through this part in order to get to the heartbreaking and agonizing conclusion. And what a conclusion it is, what an absolutely despairing outlook on the reality of what we choose to do for other people.

A measure of a good writer is the title he or she chooses for the work. In this respect, Ishiguro, much like Atwood, has struck gold. The title plays to all aspects of the novel: the love story, the dystopia, the mystery.

If you also look at the cover, you’ll see a spoiler (sort of). The cover was designed by Jamie Keenan, who’s done some great work.

This is one of the few novels that has made me cry. These characters try to live their lives and ultimately do live them, but to what purpose? Theirs are not the kinds of lives you would wish to live.

Final note: I could spoil this novel with one word, but I won’t. Don’t read Amazon reviews for this novel, because you will lose a major part of what it is about, the fear and tension of not knowing what happens next.

Adjectives I would use to describe this novel: devastating, elegiac, hopeful, heartbreaking

And after

I’ve been very successful at limiting the amount of information available about me on Google. It’s interesting to know just how easy it is to find facts about people, given specific things.

Once I realized that Google caches everything, I became concerned about privacy issues. This is old news to many people, but your identity is not as secure as you think. It only takes a few minutes to find things about you that you might not want people to know.

My friend X recently told me about how she, after meeting someone online and getting his name, Googled him and found out everything about the guy. Her level of obsessiveness was amazing. She read his blog, his friends’ blogs, found out where his parents live and what they do, and basically knew most everything about him before the first or second date. I consider that creepy. It’s enough for me to do a cursory search on someone. I don’t usually go in depth.

Props to you if you found me just by my first name.

Boyle Heights

Looking back over the 1st street bridge to the Los Angeles skyline across the intersection, the road sloping down to the west, she takes an inadvertent picture of a car crossing the frame. The city rises over the flats, all glitter and promise.

“The sun is stupid,” I say as we cross 1st.
“Yeah, the sun is stupid, right. The sun is stupid because it warms us and gives life and causes plants to grow through photo, photosynthesis.”

I don’t reply. The heat comes off my body in waves. December is supposed to be a cold month but the sun is out and my cold weather clothing is out of place in the seventy degree weather. When we left the subway station, ascending the stairs two at a time, I noticed people staring.

As we walk down 1st, she takes pictures of old murals on stucco walls and of a bas-relief she names “God of salads” for the seeming explosion of lettuce leaves from a man’s aged face. We enter a Mexican supermarket so that she can look at toys. A man sleeps in a straight backed chair by the doorway. The aisles are crowded with hastily placed goods, plastic racecars and butane canisters I laugh at.

“You just need ten of these to make a bomb.”
And seeing a six pack, “Hey, there you go.”
“Once I nearly burned down my dorm room with one of those,” she says.

On our walk east we pass under a freeway bridge. Crossing the street and doubling back, we encounter a pet store with brightly colored canaries who chirp as I approach their cage. She points out small silver fish with the word “LOVE” written onto their bodies. I wonder aloud if someone wrote on them with markers. She says that yes, someone must have.

We spend an hour in a hamburger joint, arguing about consumerism. She doesn’t take any pictures and throws away her burrito before finishing it. I drink the large cup of water she can’t finish, as well as my own. We take the subway to the next stop and disembark into a bird-themed station colored a pleasant blue.

Passing a cemetery, she asks, “So, do you know what kind of grave you want?”