Category Archives: A Literal Corner

Book 3 (of 52) – Part 2: The Investigation by Phillippe Claudel

The Investigation by Claudel
The Investigation by Claudel

Every once in a while, you read a book because you are trying to read 52 books in a year. You look at the cover and it looks cool. The ideas seem interesting. But it does nothing for you and you end up taking weeks to finish it; you end up keeping it for ten days overdue from the library; and you end you just wishing you never picked it up in the first place. The Investigation by Phillippe Claudel is just that book. It is beautifully written and I think its theme that you shouldn’t define yourself or anyone you know by their role, job, or defining characteristic. There is more to a person than any of that. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t care. I found it annoying.

Claudel was trying to be Kafka. He tried to create a world that didn’t make any sense but was really interesting. It confused you but it painted an absurd image of the world. I am sure that there are lots of people who like this book and like how it is mind-challenging. But I found it tedious and boring. I had no connection to any character, the events, or where it was heading. It isn’t for me. I didn’t find it enchanting. I found it troublesome. I didn’t find it engaging. I found it tedious. It felt like I was being beat over the head with its absurdity and it didn’t go anywhere. I’m sure that was the point. Yeah…I didn’t get it. Either way though…

It was better than my fourth book…

Book 2 (of 52) – Take 2: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

The first books I got addicted to were murder mysteries. I began with the Boxcar children series, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys and made my way to Agatha Christie by fifth grade. Every once in a while, I try to grab one at the library. The cover of the most recent Potzsch book about the Hangman of Schongau looked interesting, so I decided to find the first volume in the series.

The story begins with a young man being found dead in a river with a mark on his shoulder that resembled the symbol of a witch. The town had witch trials years ago, and the hangman’s grandfather was the hangman at the time. The midwife in town was the main suspect as she was seen with witch items and with several orphans, including the boy who died.

Pötzsch paints a wonderful image of life in the dark ages, and by wonderful, I mean dire and desperate and insane. But the characters are very well formed, especially the main three: the hangman, his daughter, and the local doctor’s son. The story was alright though. It had a flow and became easy to read. Most of the twists did not turn too much. In the end, this was more about the characters and the time period than the murder of the young child.

Torture plays a large part in the entire book. The hangman has the duty to get a confession out of the midwife that he believes to be innocent. Through his training and experiences torturing people, he gives the midwife tactics and in some cases, drugs, to make the torture more bearable. Obviously, this theme has ramifications today – but the whole of this story puts town over truth, morality, and justice. All of the major characters seem to be okay with the torture. All of the major characters appear to know why the ending is justified.

A few more books follow these characters and I may pick them up. There is a lot to like about this book. And honestly, a lot more to think about at the end than most thrillers.

Book 1 of 52 (Try #2) – Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber

When I was in sixth grade, I remember someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. And at this point in your childhood, you stop saying you’re going to be a race car driver or a fireman or something outrageous and begin thinking seriously about your career. Kids begin to understand what their parents do. They begin to understand what their friends’s parents do for a living. Lawyers emerge. Doctors blossom. And I said that I wanted to be the Pope.

I never aimed low. I wasn’t going to be happy as a local parish pastor. I wanted to be the Pope. Most likely, if you want to be the Pope, you shouldn’t be the Pope. But I was an altar service and Mass was incredibly important to me. I was coming up to my confirmation and was about to become an adult in the Church, which meant I decided if I wanted to go to Church and how I would grow up as a Catholic.

To put it lightly, this was not something that continued as I got older. I drifted from the Church for multiple reasons. But recently, thanks to a few of my friends, reacquainting myself with Father Larry when he was back in the United States and the fact that John likes to sleep in and I have nowhere to really go on Sunday mornings if he sleeps past nine, I have returned to the Church.

I go just about every Sunday and have rediscovered why I love it so much. But it is hard. I disagree with so many positions that the Church and its representatives have taken. I am incredibly happy with myself and how I live, but I doubt the Church would agree. So, when I was at the library last week to find a few books to read to try again to read a book a week, I saw Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber.

Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber

Mr. Weber works for CatholicTV and does short videos about being a young Catholic – young being 27. The book made me very intrigued by Mr. Weber’s videos. And I really enjoyed his book. He wrote about a lot of events and situations that reminded me of fears that I had growing up Catholic.

Weber seems like a guy I would really enjoy talking to about the Church and life. He has a great perspective on what the Church means and how he describes the universality of it. The stories that stuck out to me involved him going to a Portugeuse mass and realizing that it is still the same thing and that even though he understood nothing of it, it was still powerful and it still showed exactly why the universal Church is so amazing. I also enjoyed his stories of fear. The title of the book points to this, but the Church does make someone who truly wants to live a holy life fearful of so much. All of the mysteries and miracles are frightening. The altar is also a frightening place – you cannot cross it, you must bow in front of it, its reverence. But it is frightening, not like a horror movie, but in its glory. All that it represents makes you feel small and that is scary. Many of the stories that Mr. Weber tells relate to this fear of what the Church represents.

My only dilemma with the book is its subtitle: “Humorously Holy Stories of a Young Catholic’s Search for a Culturally Relevant Faith.” I don’t know if these stories really hit on the search for a culturally relevant faith. The only part of the book that touches on this, in my opinion, relates to how one’s Catholic-ness figures into one’s American-ness. Unfortunately, it is only a few pages. I wanted more of this and hope to find it in Mr. Weber’s videos.

But as a 30 year old who is trying to navigate his way through and back into the Catholic Church, I really enjoyed the stories and how Weber details what the Church and religion means to him.

Book 9 of 52: The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

About a month ago, I read the book The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman. Recently, Klosterman became the ethicist at the New York Times. I devoured this book.

Another great book this year
I have never read anything by Klosterman (outside of the random magazine article) but this was a fun book.

The book reports the personal writing and report of a therapist who has a very interesting client. This did lead me to ask my therapist if she could write a book about me, even if it would be boring. She told me that she really doesn’t take many notes and only writes things down if she is going to bring them up next time. This novel is based on a therapist’s journals.

The main characters are the therapist and her client who has claimed the ability to be invisible. The story revolves around what he claims to do when invisible. Many lines of privacy are crossed, people are hurt, and the client doesn’t appear to be overly concerned, but he is seeing a therapist. The book centers on this concept of snooping and looking at the mundane details of everyone’s lives and how people then judge the individual. If someone doesn’t eat healthy, we judge. If someone is alone, we consider them lonely. And this has only been accelerated by the gluttony of mundane reality shows that showcase the every day “real” lives of individuals. Television has allowed us to look at the lives of people who have jobs, who go home, who have accidents, who have lives that self-destruct, and it has become entertainment. The invisible man has this same thrill. He appears to be a lost individual who has tried to create this ability and once he has it, he uses it to just sit in people’s houses when they aren’t home and wait for them to arrive.

It’s not an uplifting book that makes you see mankind in a positive light, but the story moves very quickly and the details of the man’s days are fascinating. It is a strange feeling to be reading the discussions of a man who is acting in such a creepy manner and to want to know what happens. But I believe that’s the human nature that Klosterman is writing about. Mankind does like to understand why people do things and want to know the end of the story. I believe this is why serialized fiction has made a comeback on television and that these reality shows have such shelf-lives. We want to know what happens next, even if what happens is not good. The Visible Man is that story. Things don’t always end well but we are interested nonetheless. I recommend this book highly.

Here is a book trailer (I didn’t know they had these either):

On a similar note, I watched the movie Griff The Invisble about two weeks after I finished the book. The movie isn’t very good and is more of a bad superhero movie than a look at what invisibility would mean to a person. It starts simiply enough with a character who is trying to do good and bring justice to the world and is obviously not good at it. But it takes a lot of weird turns. It becomes a love story. A fantasy tale where I don’t know if anything is real or imaginary. A very bloody action movie. But none of these stories really add up to a good whole. There are light hearted moments between Griff (Ryan Kwanten) and his brother who does not want him fighting crime and a subplot between Griff and a coworker he doesn’t like, but both of these relationships don’t move past the surface. After reading The Visible Man, I was hoping for more from this story, but it did fill the time.

Book 7 of 52: Revelation by Elaine Pagels

When I was growing up, I spent a decent amount of time at church. From 4th grade to 8th grade, I was an altar server at Saint Raymond’s in Mt. Prospect. I read the Bible on a bet with my friend Louis. We decided to read it from cover to cover and see who could do it fastest. I don’t remember if we came to a decision. I know I finished it after he moved away. Around this time, I seriously considered becoming a priest. And this was true into law school when I walked down to St. Peter’s in the Loop to ask if they would take me and my student loan debt. They didn’t, but I continue to have a thirst for religious texts.

Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels details to story of the possibly writing of the book, how the book got added to the final edition of the New Testament, and its legacy. It was a quick read with some interesting details. The stories of its trek through Egypt in the early days of the Church are fascinating. The story of the book probably is more interesting than the apocalyptic tale that John was weaving. I thought these stories were far more interesting than the anecdotes regarding exactly how people interpret and misinterpret it today.

The story Pagels tells discusses the politics of the Book of Revelation from its inception to today. It is an allegory that lives on due to its very general depictions of governmental power, evil, and the hope of a murderous cleanse. Each generation has taken the book as its own. We have preachers today who are readying their flocks for the coming end of days. Millions of copies of books in the Left Behind series. All of this due to the writings of a man(?) who saw the early days of the Church that were surrounded by death, despair, corruption, power, and uncertainty.

I have never believed in this book. I think it tells a story. It means a lot to certain people, but there is not a reason in the world that I would believe that the end times would read like this. Mainly, I don’t believe in an end times, so the point is moot. But the second coming of Christ cannot (if it truly would happen) consist of such blood lost. This books is counter-intuitive to what I believe the rest of the book to be telling me. But it is a good way to scare people into following along. Revelations by Elaine Pagels didn’t really strengthen my thoughts on this book, but it did give me an idea of what the early Church leaders cared about the the inner political struggles that defined the largest organization to truly exist on this globe.

Book 6 of 52: Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner

I check a lot of books out of the Mount Prospect Public Library. Generally, I also choose a book by its cover. But I also read the inside cover to see if the story will be interesting to me. Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner had a great cover that grabbed my attention. Wes seemed like an interesting kid and I wanted to see what his big day was all about.

One of my favorite books of the last few years was Saturday by Ian McEwan. I loved the format so much that I have tried to ape it in so many short stories that are laying around at my feet as I type this. To tell the story of one single day from a single perspective fascinates me because it is exactly how I think. I focus so much on the same details and interesting moments of every single day. Everything Happens Today plays in this same arena. The story begins with Wes walking home after a high school party with all of the inner monologue of a over-thinking teenage boy. He has imagined a certain life ahead of him in the short term that will lead to long term happiness and in a moment of passion, everything changes.

Wes suffers from the same conundrum of many teenage protagonists: he seems to smart for a teenager. Yes, he has doubts, but he reads of an older kid. He also is the child of a failed writer (another concept that appears in far too many books). He is in Greenwich Village. Yes, I know. All of these things don’t really sell this book outside of a hipster fascination, but Browner’s prose flows so easily off the page and I really fall for Wes.

Below is quote from near the end of the book. It doesn’t spoil the story, but I think this is the fundamental point of the story.

“You know when you’re writing a paper, and you run it through the spell-checker? You’d think, right, that you’d catch every typo? But you don’t, there’s always typos left, because sometimes when you misspell a word it becomes another word, and the spell-checker misses it. A mistake like that is a lot harder to detect. There’s nothing wrong with the new word, except that it’s in the wrong place. It’s out of context. That’s me. There’s nothing wrong with me, at least I don’t think there is, but even so I appear to be some sort of a mistake. I don’t fit in with the rest of the sentence, with the way everyone around me seems to think, or live their lives. Whatever it is that makes me out of place may be a tiny thing, one little letter transposed, but it makes all of the difference. Maybe I’m not even a spelling mistake, just the product of poor punctuation. I’m a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence. From now on, you can tell everybody that my new nickname is ‘Typo.’ Call me Typo.”

This is definitely a feeling that I think every young man feels at some point. I felt it later than 17, but it’s not my story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a comic take on a Saturday. Nothing happens. Yet everything. If you remember how long a lonely Saturday after a mistake can be, this book will make you relive it.

Book 5 of 52: The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick

I began seeing a therapist when I was in college because I was having a hard time dealing with loneliness. I had friends. I ran cross country and track, so I was involved. I did well in class. But I beat myself up on a constant basis. I felt that I wasn’t doing something right and that there was something wrong with me.

After being picked on for more of my primary and secondary education, this seemed rational. I spent my weekends hoping friends would return phone calls and seeing in the basement reading books. These skills led me to work very hard, to understand myself, and to reflect on what I dream to be.

But I was still unhappy. At one point, my therapist recommended a Dr. Phil book that was meant to see myself in a more positive light. It wasn’t helpful and when I reminded her that she recommended it to me, she wasn’t sure what she was thinking at the time and apologized. So, when I picked up The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick, I was not expecting more. I thought it would be funny and that was about it.

Hardwick was the host of Singled Out on MTV back in the 1990s and fell on hard times afterwards. But he decided to change his life around and work towards new goals. He founded The Nerdist website, podcast, and now media empire. Although everyone doesn’t need to do that, there are many tips and strategies that Hardwick discusses that I find useful for myself and that I imagine many others do as well.

However, it turned out to be the self-help book that I needed. It turned self-improvement into a game and all of the things he said he needed to tell himself are the things I need to tell myself. I do not have the same addictive personality when it comes to drinking or video games, but I do have one when it comes to self-doubt and to being alone.

From the opening chapters, I could see this book was going to change how I looked at myself. It was funny and true. And for the first time, one of these books seemed designed for someone who wasn’t just a sad sack moaning about things. It was designed for the person who is just hyper-critical about themselves. Hardwick asks you to use these skills for good. Turn them around and be hyper-critical about your self-improvement.

To start, you create your own character profile, a la Dungeons and Dragons. And you set up goals and point systems to level up and be the best you that you can be. So, each month, I will be setting up goals that I want to achieve. They may be short term goals, like finishing a book, or medium term goals, like building traffic to this blog over the next year, or long term goals, like buying my dream house. And as I go through my days, I will think about things that help me work towards these goals and to not dwell on things I did not accomplish. As we all know, no one achieves all of their goals, but it is important to keep having goals and to keep moving forward.

The other parts of the book touch on physical fitness, which I do want to focus on (it’s a mid-term goal), and the last part is to take all of your skills and put them to best use.

If you are someone who gets down on yourself and sometimes cannot understand why the world is out to get you, this book is for you. It has made me look again at many things that I have done and worked on and made them stronger. It has enhanced my therapy sessions and my life.

 

Highly recommended.

Book 4 of 52: The Pack by Jason Starr

When I grabbed Jason Starr’s The Pack, I thought it would be a mystery thriller. I learned of Starr when he wrote a Vertigo Crime graphic novel, The Chill, and thought I would give this novel a try because I enjoyed the graphic novel. The story jacket notes that the story is about Simon Burns, an advertising executive, who loses his job for no reason. It seems like his bosses didn’t like him and he was a bit of a mope. His wife isn’t fond of him either, but in between couple’s therapy, he becomes a stay-at-home dad. The jacket also noted that he meets three dads and becomes friendly with them as their young boys play together.

This is a story about werewolves. I don’t like fantasy books. I don’t like werewolves or horror stories. But Starr’s prose rises above the usual werewolf story. The hardest part of reading this book is the sexual appetites of the wolves. It never is really explained outside of them being animals and that they are closer to their desires, so I was confused. There were only so many excited men I could deal with.

The best moments of this book were between the father and his son. I really enjoyed him trying to be a better father and to continue to watch and worry about his son when everything else is changing so much. In all of the changes and concerns of murderous rage, his family remains his focus.

The book doesn’t resolve itself and the back jacket note that Starr is working on a sequel. I’m not sure I will be back, because it isn’t exactly the kind of book I like to read. But if I am at a lull for a book, I may grab it. This was an above average book on what I consider to be a below average subject. It rose above its material with interesting characters and situations.

Book 3 of 52: Mister Wonderful by Dan Clowes

The premise of this graphic novel is something I have written many times. A man is waiting for a blind date to arrive. He has a troubled past and doesn’t seem much joy in his future. All of this makes me feel that I write in a Clowes style. However, the Clowes style seems to include some sort of twist or turn that doesn’t fit with my mindset or style.

More to follow…

Book 2 of 52: Five Chiefs by Justice John Paul Stevens

The second book I read in 2012 was a memoir of sorts by Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2010. Stevens genuinely shows how much he loves the institution of the Supreme Court and knows the historical importance of his role on the prestigious body. If you are looking for salacious details of Supreme Court justices or dark secrets of the Court, this is not the books for you. Even with justices he obviously disagreed with, he shows the great courtesy and respect. Th only portion of the book that differs from that is his discussion of the differences between Justice sturgeon Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Stevens shows how little he likes the historical, originality approach used by the current crop of conservative justices. He has noted before that he did not get more liberal, that the court got more conservative. He does not appear to always agree with the current trends in the Court’s decisions, but he also did not appear to like the direction taken by Chief Justice Earl Warren and his court. In both instances, he shows why the different directions taken by the Court matter. In this short book about the Court, he quickly points to particular decisions that exemplify what he believes symbolizes the Chiefs of the last five Courts. He also shows the power of the senior associate justice, a role he played since 1994. As always, this book makes me wish I could be a position just to talk to the justices. Their minds and want to discuss are what drove me to law and the absence of that in law school is what drove me away from the field. Every time I read these books, I get the urge to practice and work in the law. At this point, I doubt that will happen, but it does make me want to read the biography on Louis Brandeis that I bought and look for a biography on Justice Brennan worth reading. And if I cannot, maybe I should be the one to write that biography.