domingo, 1 de febrero de 2015

A Season in Hell - Arthur Rimbaud


I'm an organized person. Psychotically organized. Except when it comes to books. I try to plan my readings, I try to finish one book in order to begin a new one, but it's all in vain. I read what I want to read, whenever I have the need of reading it. So, with four books on my currently-reading shelf, today I felt like reading something different. First, some weird stuff by Tim Burton, then, A Season in Hell caught my attention and here we are.

A Season in Hell
Anyway, this is one of those books I should read while being drunk. Unfortunately, I don't drink. So, it was kind of difficult to understand what the hell I was reading. This prose work, written by Rimbaud at age 18, is divided in nine parts. And that's the most accurate observation I can give. The rest is pure symbolism hard to get if you haven't read something about his life and his troubled affair with Verlaine (quite a profound inspiration here). These are words written by a young and tormented soul, desperate to put everything out there, to purge himself. Words written with exquisite sensibility, describing beautiful, dark, intense images. I saw that, in all its glory, in the first part, Introduction.

The second part, Bad Blood, it's a collection of the consequences of his ancestors, his blood, and other weird reflections that made me think I probably wouldn't like what he was smoking at that time.

The third part was... well, I don't want to say that I enjoyed reading it, because it's about the narrator's death and his arrival to hell (nothing really nice to read right before going to bed, honestly), but it's beautifully written. Again, this young man makes you feel what was going through his mind and soul with unsettling details.

The forth part is Ravings I, Foolish Virgin, The Infernal Spouse. I'm guessing you can imagine to whom he's referring in this one.
I shouldn't keep spoiling this, right?. So, during all this strange journey from existence on earth to condemnation in hell, it remains only one question to be asked: can he be saved? Even though he's already in hell, can he find any sort of mitigation, salvation even?

Yeah... I'm not answering that. I had a good, weird, dark, sad, freaky, confusing, unsettling, challenging, disturbing read. Your turn.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories - Tim Burton


I am a fan of Burton's movies. So, I was kind of interested in his writings. It wasn't a big surprise to find out that the level of awesome weirdness was the same. The characteristic Burton mixture of darkness and uncomfortable tenderness.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories
I mean, he wrote some really freaky poems (technically, not that great, and that is a charming plus) but with such sweetness and sensibility that you feel touched. Well, most of the times, just sad. It is written in a way that seems to be funny, and for some people, this is a book that includes some weird poems that made them laugh and that's it. But after a while, its melancholic humor kicks in, and you just feel bad for most of the characters. And related (I know I did). I wanted to help them, to adopt them and bring them home and have picnics everyday and dance under a rainbow and clean the house while a couple of birds make their beds. However, this is a Burton universe. And from a certain point of view, it's not that different from our real world.

Besides the poems, Burton also drew some lovely cartoons (still, not appropriate for children...). If you're going to read about a boy with nails in his eyes, it is nice to see a detailed picture of that, right?
Same thing with a girl with many eyes.
Imagine the flood she'd cause if you ever make her cry.

There are poems like The Girl Who Turned into a Bed, Sue and Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy that made me smile with a feeling of "what a piece of rare work this guy is". And others like The Melancholy death of Oyster Boy that almost made me cry. Voodoo girl, funny with a heartbreaking ending line. Anchor baby, simply tragic. Oh, Melonhead! You have to read this good advice.

There once was a morose melonhead,
who sat there all day
and wished he were dead.

But you should be careful
about the things that you wish.
Because the last thing he heard
was a deafening squish.

Nice, huh.

Rare, isolated creatures, kids that doesn't fit normal standards and are rejected by their parents and laughed at by their neighbors, strange people with odd problems. This book is about all the weirdos that are far more interesting than any other regular, normal people around. Like, a girl with only two eyes, for instance. Pff, boring.
I loved it. Like any other book that seems simply written but contains complex ideas, forgotten values and familiar feelings.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.
Picture from The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir - Jenny Lawson


Okay. I don't know what the deal is with this Sedaris guy (one book and I don't think I'll ever read another one, unless it's highly recommended), but I haven't found a funny book since I read Allie Brosh's hilarious graphic novel, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. I've been looking and looking and found this book by Jenny Lawson and let me tell you, I haven't laughed like this since the Allie experience (and that was a couple of months ago). I was laughing since the introduction. Fresh air, at last.

This is not a book that everybody will love. And she gave us a warning about that right in the beginning of the book:
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True MemoirDid you notice how, like, half of this introduction was a rambling parenthetical? That shit is going to happen all the time. I apologize in advance for that, and also for offending you, because you’re going to get halfway through this book and giggle at non sequiturs about Hitler and abortions and poverty, and you’ll feel superior to all the uptight, easily offended people who need to learn how to take a fucking joke, but then somewhere in here you’ll read one random thing that you’re sensitive about, and everyone else will think it’s hysterical, but you’ll think, “Oh, that is way over the line.” I apologize for that one thing. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking.

So, I don't usually swear like that. I don't have the need of constantly writing "the f word" (I don't mind reading it but I can't write it? Such a wuss.) Whatever. What can I say? Reading this book feels like being in Lawson's brain. Have a drink and light a candle because it's like being lost in the woods of The Blair Witch Project movie during a cloudy night. I mean, I'm sure there's hard work in here but it seems like no editing has been done. Like she took every sentence that was dwelling in her weird head and put them all together in this book, and she didn't even check what the hell she was writing about. And I love that. I love her endless babbling. And I don't love it because I tend to do the same thing sometimes, but because her babbling is funny, entertaining and unique. The first chapter is hilarious (Ishmael, gynecologist, American Express? All that in a couple of lines). Two paragraphs and I was already laughing and Charlie Brown was staring at me like he usually does when I'm reading a funny book and he wants to sleep. (I should clarify that Charlie is my cat; I don't see a comic character sitting right next to me. Not yet, at least.)
I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a childhood that was not like mine. I have no real frame of reference, but when I question strangers I’ve found that their childhood generally had much less blood in it, and also that strangers seem uncomfortable when you question them about their childhood. But really, what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems like the natural choice, since it’s the reason why most us are in line there to begin with.

Unsettling and still funny.
This "mostly true" memoir has a lot of short chapters and many footnotes that she uses to state whether what she just wrote is true or not, and other humorous gibberish. In one of those notes I found this: "...I always find it’s nice to have short chapters that you can finish quickly so you can feel better about yourself." And for that, I say thank you.
I don't enjoy reading really long books with even longer chapters that make the "Great Wall of China" look like the sidewalk of one ridiculously small block. With the years, I've accepted that I have the attention span of a goldfish. I can be a whole year with a really long book. Amazing writing can make me finish it, at some point. However, if the book is somewhat long but with short chapters, I feel like home. And I feel great after finishing it, like I've accomplished something extraordinary. There's no electronic device in the world that can predict how long it's going to take me to read In Search of Lost Time.

Yet, something is off. And I know Lawson warned me. However, I found a couple of things that left me with an odd aftertaste; a combination of surprise and confusion. I felt so guilty after a shy smile appeared while reading certain passages. It's not a critique, it just felt awkward. Puppets made out of dead animals (daddy was fond of animals, or hunting them), a bit of blood; mental illness, here; drugs, there; etc. So yes, there are controversial themes in here that are still treated with humor and wit, but people can feel offended anyways. And I get that. I wasn't; I just felt weird. For instance, I can't imagine being a kid with someone making a puppet show with a dead animal. No socks in the house? With such a strange childhood she could have founded a new Charles Manson kind of group as a grown-up; instead—and fortunately for the rest of humanity—she wrote a book.
Another thing I wasn't thrilled about: the conversation with her editor through little notes; a tad annoying. And, I know that everybody should embrace their weirdness; it's healthy. But when you repeat that concept over and over, the whole look-I'm-so-crazy-and-awesome-and-went-through-some-crazy-and-disturbing-situations-and-can't-stop-with-the-long-sentence-thing thing; again, a little annoying. But these are tiny details. I still love this book. The parts that made me laugh, really, literally, made me laugh out loud.

Her odd, dark, twisted sense of humor made me laugh, think and question her own stability (everything was simply hilarious, sometimes; too odd and slightly disturbing, other times).
Anyway, she became one of those writers I'd love to have a cup of coffee with. Maybe, tea.

In conclusion, if you recently read about the imperfection of the world and its defective creatures that are doomed to suffer, and you don't exude susceptibility and you don't mind reading a lot of swearing, then read some Lawson and have a cupcake.

Yes. I feel whole again.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.