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Saturday, July 19, 2008

As an added bonus...

I am a member of the website, GoodReads.com, a relatively popular and well-coded online book review site, where you can learn about your peers' taste in literature (mostly that they only read Harry Potter and self-help books) and adjust accordingly. The site is actually really nice, giving you a chance to give opinions on books that you've read, and take suggestions from people who like the same authors and genres as you do on what to read next. Of course, there are a few bad apples who seem to only exist to stomp on every good book ever written, especially the classics, deriding them with a whole laundry list of knee-jerk reactions to the texts and calling it insight. I like to read these reviews every once in a while, just to see who could possibly hate George Suanders and Bret Easton Ellis, but the most recent blowhard that caught my eye turned her hatred in the direction of William Golding, whose Lord of the Flies I literally just finished writing a review of moments ago.

I noticed this woman's review last night, when I changed my "Currently Reading" status on Lord of the Flies to "Read" and started debating what I'd want to say in my review. Inspired by her single-star rating, I couldn't help but click on her review, just to see what could possibly have been her problem with such a great piece of literature. The lack of characterization, no doubt, I assumed. Or the sparse imagery. I admitted in my own review that both aspects of the novel made it suffer at least slightly in the end, and I could see how that would have really damaged someone's reading. But what I found was something completely different. Something that made me so angry that I naturally had to respond. But of course, someone had already beat me to it--and had succeeded in being almost as ridiculous as the first dumb twat herself. My mind was blown and I made a stand, and now, for the sake of your enjoyment, I've decided to include, as an added bonus to my review of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, a complete and unabridged (including, regrettably, my own misspellings) transcript of the exchange. It is quite lengthy, but totally worth a read. I give it at least five stars for sheer entertainment, despite the characterizations being a bit thin.


Karen:
I HATED this book. This is one of the books that gets lumped into a group with other equally bad books that everyone is supposed to read and love because it has some overarching value. This book was trash.

The subject matter was dark and terrible and in my opinion NOT fit for children. If you could overlook how poorly written it is, then you gagged on the Christian symbolism that was pervasive in almost all literature of the time. I did not buy the idea that without God we'd all dissolve into savages that enjoyed killing as I was supposed to. Of course this book was assigned at the same time I was learning about the Crusades and witchhunts. Not exactly the best time to try to send the "God makes you good" message. In fact this book helped tip me over into the atheist/agnostic camp where I remained for many years. I am still decidedly anti-Christian.

I am homeschooling my children and if I have them read this horrible book it will be as a warning to them to steer clear of anyone that espouses Christian ideology as dangerous. Not because of the characters in the book but because of the brainwashing the author tried to pull off using them.

Horrible book. Horrible writing. Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination.

Teresa:
What a poor review you have given Mr. Golding's book! I detest to all that you have stated and I want you to know it.

First, this book is not badly written. It is written in a style that people do not always like because it makes us imagine the feeling and environment. The book is unique because of the style and it adds to the story. Feel free to hate the style of writing but do not call it poorly written.

Second, there is more symbolism in this book than the Christian viewpoint. The main theme is based on the idea of what would become of us of there were no civilization to hold us up. If we only had our peers, could we get by? Outside of this theme there are other direct symbols. Perhaps you should look into these if you are so "anti-Christian".

While I am on this topic, I believe you have misinterpreted the Christian symbolism. Understand that there is never an absence of God. We either chose Him or we don’t, but either way He is always with us. In the book, the boys forget to care for each other. Life goes well at first but things quickly deteriorate. When one forgets to care for others they quickly forget themselves. We see that, in the end, the boys become savages- they have lost themselves. This all represents failure to choose God. When we fail to chose God (and others) we lose ourselves.

This book is not implying that God isn’t present on deserted islands or that without God we would all kill each other. It is saying- Look, you have a choice, you may have God, peace, truth and happiness, or you may have yourself, which from the Christian viewpoint is nothing without God. We cannot win with out God.

I amazed by how venomously you stated your views of this book and I pity your lack of faith. If nothing else could you please call yourself something other than anti-Christian? It is always better to be for something than to be against another thing. May the peace of Christ be with you.

Karen:
Interesting you ascribe venom to my rationally written OPINION of a book that was IN MY OPINION *poorly written* and it is a heavy handed attempt at shoving Christianity down childrens' throats. But then, that's the Christian MO.

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
Mohandas Gandhi" And that pretty much is true for me too, your prosletzing in the form of a review just proves my point about Christians.

Teresa:
I have not protested towards you. I told you once, in fact, that I do like to be against things, but rather, for things. I have explained what I see in the book as a Catholic. I never tried to impress my faith upon you.

It may interest you to know that Golding’s books were never actually directed towards Christians, but rather to all groups of people.

Do not be so critical of Christians though. If you "liked" my Christ you would be not so be anti-Christian.

“...that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963), from Mere Christianity

You may believe Gandhi, but I believe C.S. Lewis.

You are right, however, in correcting me for insisting the book to be well written. I cannot dispute with you over matters of taste.

Me:
Nowhere in the book is the Christian God ever mentioned. It is about the natural fall of man, yes, but not about religion in the slightest. I don't know why I'm even bothering to defend it becuase you will lash back with ignorance even harder, but it needs to be said all the same. The two sides that Ralph and Jack represent are not the godly and the godless, but the rational and the savage. There are other things that can create rationale than God--in Ralph's case, it is wanting to escape the hell of the island and go home. Nothing more. No mention of God is made, not even when the Lord of the Flies talks to Simon. In that whole scene, when it could easily be swung into a Christian light, the Lord of the Flies admits that it isn't a beast or spirit at all, that it is the darkness inside all of them--the id, as Freud put it. In the closing moments of the book, Ralph breaks down and cries for the same reason: "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart." He knows what has happened is no fault of god or demon--it is the beast inside every person that needs to be controlled by sense and rationale. Golding himself said, "the theme is an attempt to trace the defect of society back to the defect of human nature." You can't get much more blatant than that. If anything, this is far closer to a piece on psychoanalysis and philosophy than it is any sort of championing of the Christian belief system.

And really, I feel sorry that you could deprive any child of a classic of literature because you yourself might not agree with the author's social, political or religious leanings. I have a cousin who homeschools her daughter and has made this exact mistake, and thereby has not at all prepared her for the real world where people don't always agree. For the sake of your children, please try to have more of an open mind about other people's beliefs, or curse them to as close-minded an existence as your own.

Karen:
LOL...I always have to laugh when I find people on this site trolling looking for reviews they don't like and then making personal attacks against the reviewer.

YOU are welcome to love this book. Reread it every day if you so choose. I am free to dislike this book. That's the beauty of free-choice.

Enjoy your life.

Teresa:
I'm confused, are you upset with me or Karen here?

Me:
I am disappointed in both of you for projecting ridiculous readings onto a book that doesn't call for them. I'm not attacking anyone, Karen. You attacked Golding, the poor late man who can hardly defend himself here (though he does a pretty good job of it if you read any of his commentary on the book), so you are no better than whatever you think of me. I must say I applaud your rigorous compliance to form though--just as I expected, you rebutted none of what I said and just zinged me with an "LOL." Hot damn. And I wasn't trolling for bad reviews either, I only clicked on your review to see why someone would hate such an important piece of literature and what I found was appalling, so I felt the need to respond. That's what literature endures for, after all, the discussion and dissection of it.

But thank you for that dismissal, that subtle sign that you have no time for me in your busy life. Come on baby, I'm not that stupid. I know what that meant, even if you don't. You've got nothing to say to me--you're ushering me out, making me the smaller man if I continue challenging your opinion. After all, everyone can have their opinions, right? Opinions never harmed anyone. I mean, it was just Hitler's opinion that Jews were the scourge of the earth and that turned out alright, right?

Ouch.

Karen:
Well dear if you reread your post to me you said if I said anything to you I'd be spitting into the wind. If you want to have a discussion about the book that's fine but you went after my opinion, my thoughts, and my parenting. That's not going to win you any brownie points. And CERTAINLY doesn't make it seem as though you wanted a discussion...sounded more like you were spoiling for a fight and that is not something for which I have time in my life.

Friday, July 18, 2008

William Golding - Lord of the Flies ****

The first time I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies, gas was about a dollar a gallon and I thought the Backstreet Boys were never going to go away. My, how times have changed, even in a few short years. A schoolyard standard in American (and I can only assume British) school systems, William Golding's 1954 tour-de-force still endures as one of the most important and comprehensive studies on the human psyche put to paper.

What it may lack in characterization and description, it more than makes up for with meaning, symbolism and scathing social commentary. Really, as great a piece of fiction as the brief novel is, calling it merely a piece of fiction is such a disservice. As a piece of fiction the novel was panned upon its release, looked at as an overly-violent adventure story, a nonsense romp for boys who liked tearing the wings off flies and torturing the neighbors cats. But now, fifty years after its publication, it has been seen for what Golding intended--in his own words, "an attempt to trace the defect of society back to the defect of human nature." Even if you're not a fan of the man's prose, it is a difficult thing to disagree with his delivery on theme.

As for the actual writing of the novel, it is a bit spastic at times. I did not always know who was talking or where they were talking from. Suddenly we are in the foreset, no the beach, wait, we are running from the Beast, or are we just chasing a pig? Between the dozen odd characters that populate the pages, it's hard to put names to personalities when personalities run so thin and names run so close together (Ralph, Roger and Robert all in the same story?). But to put that blame fully on Golding's head would be to ignore the style of the time and the intended audience. As much as Lord of the Flies is so much more than an adventure story, it still was aimed firmly in that direction, and its quick-draw pace, stark prose and painfully common naming is just a by-product of that. However, such minor issues shouldn't dissuade from the novels importance in social commentary--in the greater project at work. Ten years earlier, George Orwell wrote a brutal social study veiled in science fiction and ten years later, Kurt Vonnegut would wrap his series of social studies in some of the most ridiculous costumes that literature has ever seen. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. After reading Lord of the Flies, even the most ignorant of a young reader should feel their moral fiber thicken, even ever so slightly. And those who actually can see the story's purpose should feel all but guilty that we are a species about which such a tale of horror can be spun.

And that's why it's a classic--there is just too much to learn from it for it to be anything less. It's been read and taught for fifty years and it will be read for a thousand more, giving a window into our own selves through its pages. I can only hope that our civilizations will end up better than that of these British schoolboys, or else we've damned ourselves to a fate much worse. They'll be no cruiser to interrupt our game and save us from ourselves. The only chance we'll have to step back and to see just how miserably we acted to one another will be one that is far too late to change anything.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A matter of principle

In late August, my friend Priya and I will be going to New Zealand for three weeks to film a travel series for a show called Roadtrip Nation. I'll probably be keeping up with my adventures on said trip through this blog, but the planning stages for the trip have obviously already begun. While our flights are paid for already and the production company has supplied us a camper van and a grant of about $600, we are still trying to cut costs however we possibly can during the trip--whether it be through Full Cycle Bikes in Auckland, who has generously offered to loan us bikes for the trip, or any other way we might save some dough--so that we are more free to travel further and do more sweet New Zealand-y things. I mean, we are poor college students after all.

So I thought that when I stumbled upon the small, independently-owned petroleum company Gasoline Alley Services (G.A.S.), they might be sympathetic to our plight. They're completely localized--drilling, refining, management--the whole nine yards, and they are proud to advertise themselves as such, untied to huge oil companies, embodying a youthful spirit of adventure. They even have a "My Roadtrip Card" that you can use as a debit card for your roadtrip expenses at any of the many locations all across the country. I had a pretty good feeling about the place, so I gave them a call and actually reached their General Manager, simply by asking to speak to her. Here was a company small enough that the girl answering phones sees the CEO walk out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Jackpot, right? Of course these people would be down for helping us out? I mean, come on, free advertising with the New Zealand Tourist Board and airtime on an American travel series? Sure it's not product placement in the next Steven Spielberg movie, but it's a pretty sweet deal for a little upstart company that is younger than half of my t-shirts.

Fuck no! Of course not! Who were we kidding? This place is BUSINESS and BUSINESS makes MONEY! Fuck well-meaning mission statements and youthful ad campaigns! It ain't goodwill that makes this world go round, it's the ALMIGHTY FUCKING DOLLAR! I should have seen it coming. In fact, I shouldn't have even asked in the first place, but I honestly thought we had found a place that would be totally down with what we were doing and might want to throw in a couple buck toward gas in support of it. Even if they had given us fifty fucking bucks, one fill-up on this tank of a van we're driving around for three weeks, we would have gladly shelled our greenery into their cash registers for the rest of our stay, just because they were so fucking cool to us. But they weren't, and now I refuse to fill up at any of their stations. Big deal, right? For every time we don't fill up there, thirty other cars will, and it'll be no skin off their teeth.

Yeah, you're right. Us not buying their gasoline isn't going to make any effect--hell, they won't even know unless they stumble upon this blog by some strange twist of fate. But it's the principle here. The principle that they so proudly trumpeted on their website and in the conversations I had with them on the phone in the last few weeks. The principle so easily thrown by the wayside when they didn't see enough of an advantage to help some college kids better travel across the country they are so proud to be from. Shouldn't they want to show us how great it is down there? Help us see the beautiful scenery? Meet the wonderful people? HA! COME ON! THAT DOESN'T MAKE MONEY! YOU DUMB FUCKING KIDS!! YOU CAN'T REALLY BE THAT NAIVE, CAN YOU?!

Well you know what, G.A.S.? I'll gladly fill up at some oil conglomerate's re-branded gas stations the whole time I'm in New Zealand. Fuck you. It won't make a difference to you, but I'll have the satisfaction of a nice, honest ass-raping when I stop at the pump. At least when those bastards are ramming their oil-slicked, profit-bloated, throbbing dicks into my prostate, they've got the common courtesy to smack me in the face and tell me who my daddy is. You're trying to sell me hip independence with debit cards featuring artsy pictures of retro Chevys and rad surfboards, but we both know where that surfboard is headed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

T.C. Boyle - Budding Prospects **

For a long time, I've wanted to read a book by T.C. Boyle. He's a pretty respected guy in the world of literature, and his work has even produced the wonderfully clever 1994 film, The Road to Wellville. So when I was in one of my Frenzies last summer, I finally picked up what sounded like the most interesting of his novels, Budding Prospects, advertised on the back cover as something of a slapstick adventure of three friends trying to make a half-million dollars from growing pot in the woods of Northern California. Of course, everything works against them, from torrential downpours to a psychotic cop, and it all spirals out of control, resulting in hilarity.

Hilarity... right. I admit I laughed a few times, smiled a couple times. But hilarity? I'm not so sure. The idea of Budding Prospects is a great one, and in theory, all of the pieces of the puzzle should come together without issue. But somehow, Boyle just can't translate it onto the page. Maybe it's because he seems like he's only half writing from his brain, spending too much time with the thesaurus open on his desk to impress me. I'm sure that's not the case--Boyle has a great command of the English language--but form should fit content. If you're writing about a bunch of doped-up potheads, they should speak like doped-up potheads, not Yale graduates. I can see how this style could work well in a turn-of-the-century tale like The Road to Wellville, but here it is just reaching too far.

Reaching too far, also, is the story itself. With its inconsistent tone, the whole plot begins to unravel. As I slogged through the pages of grey space, I realized that I didn't believe the characters or anything they were going through--especially the "crazy" things that kept being thrown their way. What works for Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry works for them because of how they present it, but when Boyle attempts to present ridiculous, pseudo-deus ex machina situations, they seem far too contrived and way too unbelievable to even be funny. Then, in a final act of indignation, the ending of the novel completely resists enough deus ex machina to be satisfactory and falls flat on its face. I was going to hand Boyle a solid three stars until I came to the last five pages of the novel and just felt as though I had wasted all of my time and emotion. I know it's really cool to end stories anti-climatically because it's so "real," but in the case of a story that has basically been led by the extremely apparent hand of the author, realism is thrown to the wind anyway--so embrace it!

But I won't be completely discouraged. The promise in this book was definitely there, and since it is obviously rather atypical of Boyle's style, I will definitely be trying him out again. This time, though, I think I'll stop by the library first. This buying books on a whim thing totally has to stop.