WOOL, by Hugh Howey

I found out about WOOL from a Facebook friend, who recommended it highly. And boy am I glad she did! Post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature doesn’t come much better than Hugh Howey’s five novel series(with more to follow, as well as the prequels FIRST/SECOND SHIFT).

From WOOL’s ominous beginning – a recently widowed sheriff volunteers for “cleaning” – to its revealing conclusion, the author fills each page with characters that grow from accepting the status quo to questioning everything they’ve been led to believe about how and why they live the way they do. Even the ‘villain’ of the piece is motivated by what he thinks is right – and a part of me understood why he acted the way he did.

Mr. Howey’s writing is superb; his descriptions of life underground are both real and affecting, and his action scenes gripped me with their authenticity and pace. In WOOL, mankind’s future is as bleak as Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, but the hope Hugh Howey offers at the end makes following Juliette’s journey a sign that maybe, just maybe, we can make amends for our mistakes.

Read WOOL. Please.

David Foster Wallace: The Infinite Jester.

I have just finished reading Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, an author I’ve heard about but never read. I doubt I’m the only one in the latter category. He’s mentioned in the same breath as Dave Eggars, Thomas Pyncheon, Jonathon Franzen and Dom DeLillo. Of these authors, I’ve only read DeLillo’s Point Omega – and that’s only because it’s a short novel. I still didn’t get it – if there was anything in there to “get” that is.

Wallace achieved fame after the publication of his second novel, Infinite Jest. There is a copy of this 1,079 page monster beside me right now, looking at me, daring me to open it up and read it. It’s a scary proposition. All the more so because the author himself felt he couldn’t top it. No matter how hard he worked (and he came up with some great excuses when he couldn’t quite find the inspiration), Wallace’s anxieties and ongoing struggle with depression and addiction – as well as a succession of failed relationships – ripped his undoubted talents as a fiction writer to shreds. His non-fiction, particularly his journalism, kept him alive – but only to a point.

Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. He left behind his wife of four years, and an unfinished manuscript for what would eventually become The Pale King, a novel about boredom and the I.R.S.

So why would I be interested in a writer I’ve never read, especially one I’d probably never read? * Because he (and I’m sorry if this sounds clichéd) suffered for his art. When he faced long bouts of writer’s block, he wrote to DeLillo and Franzen to complain about his lot. Nowadays we writers moan about our lack of creativity on Facebook or Twitter. Both actions are cries for help, but Wallace had a bit more class about him. He was also a deep thinker; there wasn’t a subject he didn’t want to know about. He studied philosophy, mathematics, tax accounting (for The Pale King), and was a clever, funny, but insightful critic on modern-day consumerism and mass entertainment. Infinite Jest is Wallace’s commentary on a society brought up to worship television, a society that has become addicted to addictions, become increasingly disconnected, and mourning for a loss of community. Wallace gives us no answers because that would be the easy way out. We have to find these for ourselves.

And this is why I am drawn to this man. He echoes my thoughts right now. The world he wrote about in 1996 is still very much the world of 2012. We’re still searching for answers, looking for meaning in an ultimately meaningless society. Will we find them? Wallace didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

* (I will clarify my above statement. I have read Wallace: it was an article he wrote about Roger Federer – Wallace played tennis to a high level when he was younger – and it’s an exquisite piece of writing.)

Our latest Choose Or Die chapter is up, written by Matthew C. Plourde.

life, life and everything in between

What does this all mean? What shall I do?

HINT #1: your Monday just went from blah to much better!

HINT #2: go read the latest chapter of the Ecopocalypse adventure by Matt and vote on the next move:

http://chooseordie.blogspot.fi/2012/09/ecopocalypse-ch5-home-sweet-lab.html

-LFJ 😉

View original post

What A Load of Thru’penny Bits!

So there seems to be much weeping and gnashing of teeth about photos that feature yet another hapless royal. Much talk is being made of suits and counter-suits. ‘Angry’ from Manchester is outraged, appalled – and clicking his way through each salacious crumb that can be found on the Internet. Good luck to him/her. I personally don’t care.

Until it costs jobs, that is. Reports are coming in that the Irish Daily Star, a popular tabloid in these here parts, is under threat of closure because one of its investors is outraged, appalled…you get the picture.

In almost ever ‘red top’ newspaper, you will find topless snapshots of the great, good and who=gives-a-fuck. Look, people, if it’s not your mum, your sister, or your aunt, why do you care? Let the unwary fight their own battles. Just leave the little guy out of it, okay?

Leonard Cohen: The Man with the Hat.

A few years back, I started writing a story about a boy with anger management issues. He found himself involved in an adventure that would take him all around Europe, culminating in a big face-off with the bad guys, in Athens. The only things he really cared about was his girlfriend and the music of Leonard Cohen. As part of my research for this still unfinished story I downloaded Cohen’s greatest hits. The only thing I knew about him was his melancholic music, his downbeat lyrics, and a voice that matched both of these attributes. Listening to his songs changed few of my preconceptions; but they stayed with me long after I stopped working on my story.

Tonight I got to see Leonard Cohen perform live for the first time. A friend had seen him on each of the four previous occasions the Canadian visited Ireland. He spoke highly of him, and when a ticket became available he asked me along. Cohen was playing the second of four dates at Dublin’s Kilmainham Hospital, the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It was a cold but dry September evening. 10,000 adoring fans packed themselves into this excellent arena, waiting for The Man himself to appear on stage at exactly 7:15pm. I didn’t know what to expect.

Three and a half hours later, I realised I was in the presence of a beautiful mad man. At 77-years-old, Cohen led from the front, aided by a band of international musicians and singers that have been with him since he began touring again after an extended stay in a Buddhist monastery. (I did say mad, right? But in a good way.) Every song from his greatest hits – if they can be called that – got an airing. Personal favourites like “So Long Marianne”, “Suzanne”, “Tower of Song”, and “Dance Me To The End Of Love” had me in goosebumps. His performance of “Democracy” will go down, for me, as the highlight of the evening.

I can’t continue without mentioning Cohen’s backing singers, Sharon Robinson, co-writer of many of his well-known songs, and the fabulous Webb Sister, Hattie and Charlotte. Each of them got their own moment in the setting September sun, with Robinson’s rendition of “Alexandra Leaving” suitably spine-tingling.

What enamoured me about Cohen was his obvious respect for his musicians. Each time they had a solo to play, he would take off his hat (a Fedora or Trilby, I’m not sure which) and watch them play. He knows he wouldn’t be where he is without them. We know that, too. And we wouldn’t be where we were without Leonard.

I don’t care if he has to wheeled out in a chair the next time he visits – I just want to be there.

Andy Murray and the Value of Persistence.

Last night I had the pleasure of staying up late – again – to watch a sporting event taking place on the other side of the Atlantic.

Anyone who knows me well will know of my love for tennis. It’s not a game I’ve played, mind you, but I have memories of watching classic head-to-heads between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe (when he wasn’t having his own head-to-heads with match officials), Borg and Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, et al. These gladiatorial combats struck a chord with me. On the court, they were masters of their own destinies. It was just them and the other guy. The winner took the glory; the loser dusted themselves off and tried all the harder next time around.

Andy Murray defeated Novak Djokovic in last night’s US Open Men’s Singles Championship. It was a tense, five set affair. But there was more than just the title (and the sizable cheque) at stake. For Murray it was about persistence. Had he lost to the five-time Grand Slam and defending US Open champion, Murray would have held a record no one in their right mind. He would have been the only player to lose their first five Grand Slam finals. I know, right?

From two sets to love up, the match went to a fifth and deciding set. And it was here that the Scot stepped up the plate/baseline and claimed victory from the jaws of what would have been, last year, an inevitable victory. You see, Murray learned from his defeats. (I won’t call them failures, because to rise to No. 4 in the world, and to reach the number of finals he had, is not the mark of failure.) From not winning a single set in each of his first three finals, he eventually took one off the current No.1 and Wimbledon champion, the legend that is Roger Federer (my idol, my sporting hero). He lost the 2012 Wimbledon final, but he learned from that bitter defeat. Enough to beat the same man a month later, in the Gold Medal match at London 2012.

Murray never gave up hope, even when the rest of us might have written him off as another Tim Henman (sorry, Tim) or golf’s Colin Montgomery (sorry, Colin). The best player never to have won a Major. In Murray’s eyes, this was never going to be an option. The tears he cried last night, winning one of the biggest prizes the sport has to offer, are in marked contrast to those he cried at Wimbledon that fateful Sunday in July. For to be a true champion, to really understand what it is like to win, you must know what it feels like to lose. You have to learn from your defeats. Well done, Andy.

I need to locate a decent copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’.

thethingaboutflying

Mark Twain famously said that a classic is a book everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read. As an English teacher, I’ve been given sort of a front row seat to Mr. Twain’s assessment being played out in real life. Most of my students (and, come to that, most people I know) want to be “well-read,” whatever it is, exactly, that means. They cannot, however, seem to put down their copies of The Hunger Games long enough to manage the task. And listen, I’m not cruel; I want people to have fun with what they read (even if it’s assigned reading), but there’s no way to get from point A to point B on the well-read road map without, you know, actually reading a wide range of books, including a fair share of so-called classics. So how to accomplish the daunting task of tackling a representative sampling…

View original post 1,535 more words