I’ve put off reading this classic for many years; my past bookmark was on page 20, a Southwest Airlines napkin celebrating their 30th anniversary (2001). The book is obviously about plumbing the depths of identity; who am I, who am I in relation to my race and other races and other individuals. The narrator remains nameless throughout the book, and yet takes on an alternate, unnamed name and identity during his proselytizing period of the Brotherhood.
The narrator fully embraces his love of baked yams, a clearly Southern taste that he has been ashamed of and bemoans, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do? What a waste, what a senseless waste!”
From there he goes on to give a speech riling up the neighborhood to protect the elderly couple that is being evicted into the snow; amidst their scattered belongings on the street he finds Free Papers letting the man’s ancestors out of slavery.
The transition of a young man from serious student in the South to attempting to find work in NYC (duped by letters from the college president that warn the recipient not to give him a job), working in a paint factory for a day making Ultra White paint and getting injured when a valve explodes (the injury makes him forget his name), convalescing at Mary’s house, running up debts he gets Brotherhood money to pay back, his stint as a big shot speaker, then back to the slums and streets of Harlem.
Readable bio piece on the creators of Doom, John Carmack and John Romero, the unstoppable Two Johns whose working styles complemented each others’ strengths. Carmack was the force behind the technical engine that drove the games, Romero visualized the possibilities that the new technology could exploit. Eventually they fall out, Carmack wanting to just focus on making good programs, Romero wanting to build an empire. Video games pushing the envelope for computing, driving innovation forward because of the consumer appetite for paying for the latest tech to play these whizbang games on.
Hilarious to stumble on a PF Chang reference in the book, the location Romero’s team took him to break the news that one of his teams was about to walk out the next day. Cannot see PF Chang without reading as “PDF”.
Fun fact, Doom named after a line in The Color of Money, before Tom Cruise was evil.
Easy read, somewhat eye-rolling writing (“the egos at id software”)
Reco’d by Mr. M. Murray
Charles Bovary is a doofus coerced by his mother into being a doctor. He has no aspirations of his own, struggles through medical school by sheer force of will, muddles his way into a position as a country doctor, takes an older wife. One lucky night he is called to treat the broken leg of a local farmer, discovers the farmer’s daughter Emma with her deep dark eyes that beguile everyone. The older wife dies (hmm, convenient. no whiff of murder though), and after an acceptable period, Charles marries Emma, taking her back to his provincial home where she begins to spend money to fill the gap in her soul she thought love would blossom in post-wedding.
She begins to loathe Charles, his muddy boots, his slurping of soup, his dull conversation, and finds solace in romance novels, plays. She badgers him to move to a bigger town, which they do, and she meets Leon, who proceeds to silently woo her and falls deeply for her but moves away before anything happens. After moving to the new town, she has a baby girl. She then meets the wealthy Rodolphe, who openly woos her and decides to take her as a mistress. Succumbing to this, she begins the first of her two adulteries. She also begins to borrow money to cover extravagant purchases, including a travel trunk and cloak which she plans to use on her journey toward freedom with Rodolphe. On the eve of their departure, R dismisses her, leaves her in the lurch.
The debts mount, Leon returns into her life, eventually things spiral out of control with an 8000 franc debt (nearly insurmountable) that she begs everyone for money to pay. Emma sneaks into the druggist’s shop, shovels handfuls of poison into her mouth, sits back and awaits death. Charles is beside himself, cannot prevent the inevitable. She dies, he mourns, the daughter is in rags. Charles discovers the letters to Rodolphe, dies sitting in a chair in the garden. The daughter is reduced to poverty and living with Charles’ mother.
Emma is a strong character, bemoaning the lot of women’s role in life, dreaming and yearning for riches and romance. However, this is not the work of “perfect fiction” that Henry James claims.
Translated by Eleanor Marx-Aveling (daughter of Karl Marx)
This was a re-read, my interest in Mann rekindled by Magic Mountain’s eerily wrapping itself around my brain. Short chapters work really well for me, but I did have to push a bit to consume this tale of a wealthy German family deteriorating into poverty and death. From the first chapter, we dine on descriptions of each family member’s laugh, “a high pinched giggle,” “giggled exactly like her husband,” “laughed the Kroger laugh which began with a splutter as her chin was pressed against the chest.”
The respectable old merchant has just settled his family into an enormous house at the beginning, and by the end, the estate is sold off, the last heir dies of typhoid fever, the widow moves back to Amsterdam, and Tony lives on, bemoaning her fate of divorce, abandonment, widowhood. In the early sections of the book, Tony grapples with not wanting to marry the merchant, falls in love with the seashore student of medicine, but is whisked back to town to marry Grunlich after all. The whole story I kept waiting for the doctor to reappear to sweep Tony off her feet, but she is doomed to have a few more awful marriages.
Much preferred Magic Mountain to this, but glad to have it behind me.
Story guidelines tweeted from Pixar artist. My favs below.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?