Monday, August 18, 2008

a habit, a nostalgia, a dream

This is Monterey, California:

Pretty awesome, huh?

Near the end of my internship in the Bay Area last spring I took a trip with my roommates to Monterey. When we got there I was immediately disappointed that there wouldn't time for a second trip before I left California. The reason for our voyage was a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which could've been more enjoyable had we not gone on a crowded Saturday. The aquarium is located at the north end of Cannery Row, a waterfront street named for the sardine canneries that occupied the avenue until the 1950s. Last week I finally got around to reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, which, as you can guess, is set in and inspired by the street I just mentioned.

The book is a quick read -- only 118 pages -- more of a novella than a novel. But even in a small amount of pages Steinbeck manages to develop characters that are consistent, deep, and memorable. The plot is simple: Mack and the boys, a handful of Cannery Row's resident bums, decide to do something nice for their friend Doc, a marine biologist who owns Western Biological Laboratory. Cannery Row has quite a dynamic feel, from humorous to somber, from cynical to upbeat.

The chaptering of the book is somewhat unique: odd chapters move the story along while the even chapters are short contextual vignettes that describe Cannery Row and Monterey in general.

The theme of the book revolves around Mack and the boys and the ease with which they find contentment in their simple lives as bums. While referring to Mack and the boys, Doc notes:

|| Doc said, "Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think," he went on, "that Mack and the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world and possibly everything that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them something else." ||

Earlier in the book Steinbeck mentions:

|| In the world ruled by tigers with ulcers, rutted by strictured bulls, scavenged by blind jackals, Mack and the boys dine delicately with tigers, fondle the frantic heifers, and wrap up the crumbs to feed the sea gulls of Cannery Row. What profit a man to gain the whole world and to come to his property with a gastric ulcer, a blown prostate, and bifocals? Mack and the boys avoid the trap, walk around the poison, step over the noose while a generation of trapped, poisoned, and trussed-up men scream at them and call them no-goods, come-to-bad-ends, blots-on-the-town, thieves, rascals, bums. Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for the no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. ||

And finally, back to Doc:

|| "It has always seemed strange to me," said Doc. "The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." ||

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I quit

About two months ago my sister was reading a book that caught my attention. The cover was distinctly reminiscent of the artwork of the Twilight series. Which makes sense because she was reading The Host by Stephanie Meyer, author of said Twilight series. For some time now, I've been toying with idea of reading Twilight. Not because it's so popular (although mostly among teenage girls) but because two of my friends whose literary opinions I trust (Afton and Fat Cat) have read Twilight and enjoyed doing so. So, I asked my sister what she thought of The Host (she also being a Twilight fan). She said that it was different but also awesome. Afton gave a similar opinion as did my mother. "Alright, I'm gonna do this," I told myself. "If I enjoy The Host, I'll read Twilight."

I returned to AZ from school three and a half weeks ago with nothing to read. I wandered into my sister's bedroom and happened upon The Host. I remembered my decision to read it, and I was desperate for a new book, so I started that night.

Fast forward three weeks. I'm only three hundred pages into The Host. Now, I'm by no means a fast reader. But c'mon, I can do much better than a hundred pages a week. I start to wonder. Have I lost my love for reading? What's happened to me in the recent weeks or months that has killed the joy of a good book? I decide to try an experiment. I stop reading The Host and pick up Cannery Row by John Steinbeck instead (loved it -- a blogging forthcoming). I finished that in mere days (granted it's only 118 pages, but I was traveling at the same time, and I don't read much on the road). Last night I started Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card and I got that "can't put it down" feeling in the first chapter. These books brought me to a great realization: I hadn't lost my love for reading, I had simply been reading a bad book!

OK, let's be fair, The Host isn't a bad book; I certainly have no right to say so since I have yet to finish it. But if we're gonna be fair, let's be honest too: I really didn't enjoy reading it. The Host is very character based, and I never ended up really caring for any of the characters. In fact, some of them bugged the crap out of me. First, let's take Melanie (the one doing the hosting). "Oh my gosh, it's Jared, Jared's here, Jared, Jared's alive, Jared! JARED! Barf!" Just lame and annoying. Then there's Jared himself. I can't say why he bugged me. You know how sometimes people just rub you the wrong way and you can't say why? That's what Jared does to me. I didn't like Jamie either. He just wasn't convincing. At times, Wanda would be pretty cool, but most of the time I could care less what happened to her.

And I never really cared about the story. I was rarely excited to find out "what happens next" and was sometimes disappointed when I did. I'm honestly not one to quit a book, especially one as superficial as The Host, but I just didn't feel like going on. Yeah, I'll probably finish the book at a later date, if only to say that I gave it a chance and not so much because I care.

Maybe Stephanie Meyer just isn't for me. She's not a bad author, her characters and stories just aren't that appealing. In the meantime, the rest of my summer reading will be in the hands of Orson Scott Card, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, authors who have never let me down, who I doubt ever will.