toiletRecently, I experienced a questionable situation that shook me to the very core of my being.  I’m a reader, folks.  I like to read.   I think that my Summer Reading List Project proved that. Anyway, one of the things that comes with actually loving to read books is that you become very well equipped at finding other readers, among your friends, at the office, wherever.  It’s the intellectually version of Gaydar.  So you end up chatting away about your favorite titles, authors, etc.  And eventually it leads to moment when the other person recommends a writer that you’ve been interested in reading, but just haven’t gotten around to yet.  “Go ahead and borrow my copy,” they’ll say and you do.

And this is where things get complicated.  Everyone treats books differently.  Some handle them with kid gloves, other like abused housewives.  I’m more like the latter.   Most of the books I own are battered—food stains obscuring text on tattered and dog-eared pages held together by broken spines.  Honestly: I should be the worst person to loan books to, but I’m actually pretty good about that which I’ve borrowed from others to read.  I catch myself just as I’m about to mark my place by folding down page corners or placing it facedown on my nightstand.  But then I discovered a new dilemma when reading a borrowed book.

A friend who happens to be a huge Chuck Klosterman fan was recently raving about his latest book.  “You know, I’ve never read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” I said to him.   To which he responded: “You should, it’s good.”   If you’re unfamiliar with Klosterman’s second book, which is considered his seminal work, it’s a collection of essays that humorously riff on a variety of pop culture themes with an intellectually critical eye.  While I appreciate Klosterman’s writing (I’ve read his stuff in the variety of publications he appears in), I’ve just always stayed away because he was a little too popular for my taste and I never really wanted to actually spend money on his book.  “Eh,” I said to my friend, “can I borrow yours?”

It was while reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs that I experienced my quandary.  I was at work and like most workdays, I needed to use the bathroom for an extended period of time just after lunch  (I’m trying to hint at what I was doing without being too graphic).  So I grabbed the book and strolled up to the eighth floor men’s room, to the stall I like in my office building.  And as I was sitting there, it hit me.  I was reading my friend’s book on the toilet and that was just not right.  I know people who get disgusted if you even call them on your cell from the toilet (okay, I may be referring to myself).  And there are many who think reading another’s book while going to the bathroom is a violation of personally hygiene.  Barnes and Noble won’t let you take any of its books into their store bathrooms.  Seinfeld did an episode about it. But did I do something that was really that terrible?  If I didn’t tell my friend, he’d never know. Still, it would gross me out if I’d found out someone I’d loaned a book to was reading on the john.

Racked with guilt, I confessed to my buddy.  Oddly, he didn’t seem that shocked.  “Doesn’t bother me at all,” he told me.  “In fact, I am delighted. I fully endorse reading in the bathroom, and if one of my books happens to be included in the process of someone enjoying a page or fifty (depending on the severity of the visit) then so be it. Read on my friend!”  He then added a little while later: “Just, you know, keep it clean.”

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Hey Guys,

I’m posting yet again over at Bookish Us.  This one’s about the most important debate topic of our generation: is the book always better than the movie?  Check it out.  Thanks.

-The Wordy Ninja.


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I just posted over at Bookish.Us about why I love Barnes & Noble over Independent bookstores.  Check it out.

-The Wordy Ninja.

sirens of titanIn case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd.  How big a nerd? Well, remember those summer reading lists from when you were a kid? I’ve assigned myself one and it’s a doozy.  I want to be able to say by the end of August that I’ve read all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  I subtracted the few that I’d already read and am crossing the rest off one by one.  I’ll post reviews as I go and you can track my overall progress here.

My second entry, The Sirens of Titan, was also the author’s second novel to be published. It’s classic Vonnegut through and through, or at least what I think is classic Vonnegut: futuristic science fiction with a humorous slant, some anti-social moralizing, and a decent helping of sex.  Set in the 22nd century, the plot follows Malachi Constant, the richest man in America, who is billed as the luckiest person in the world (because it was purely by chance that he was born so damn rich) as he bounces around the solar system—going from Earth to Mars, Mercury, Earth again, Saturn’s moon Titan, and once more back to Earth.  Along the way he becomes entangled in a war between Mars and Earth, is recognized as a major figure in a new religion, and learns the truth behind the driving forced behind all of human history.

The main tension of the book comes from Constant’s interaction with Winston Niles Rumford and his wife, Beatrice.  Rumford had been wealthy adventurer whose run in with a space phenomenon known as the “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” has left him (and his dog) in wave form and thus periodically materializing at various spots throughout galaxy as well as aware of the past and future.  There’s also the appearance of a Tralfamadorian, which you may remember is the alien race in Slaugterhouse Five (No? Trust me).  In regards to the titular Sirens of Titan, without giving much away I can tell you that like most Sirens, they’re total teases.

While Mother Night deals with the identity that we give ourselves and present to the world, Sirens of Titan explores the identity that the world gives us.  The major plot points of the book are given in a sort of prophecy in the first chapter and most of the characters follow the direction that is destined or fated for them.  Scenes featuring large crowds depict humanity, in general, as stupid and excitable (you’ll notice I offer nothing as a counter-argument to this) with most accepting whatever lot in life they are given.  And the question arises: why is it only a few of use can move past our intended providence and make our own destiny?  And if we don’t create our own fortune and simply reside in the designated path that the universe give us, does that make us any less human? Even if we can find happiness there?

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Mother Night1As you may or may not be aware, I’ve recently decided to give myself a summer reading list.  My goal is simple: I want to be able to say by the end of August that I’ve read all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  True, I could still say it without doing any of the actually reading, but my court appointed psychiatrist says I need to have at least one thing to brag about that is true.  On a side note: I was not a writer on the television show “Arrested Development,” nor do I own an invisibility cloak, or have a court appointed psychiatrist.  Essentially, I crossed out the names of the few novels I’d already read from a Vonnegut bibliography and set out to read what remained.  See.

First up is Mother Night.  As I wrote in my initial post about this project, I found a copy left out in the foyer of my apartment building while I was between books and it was the inspiration for my summer reading endeavor.  The hero (if you’d call him that) of the novel is Howard Campbell Jr. (Vonnegut’s bit of a self-deprecating nod, since he’s technically Kurt Vonnegut Jr.).  Campbell narrates the novel as a memoir he’s writing while awaiting to be tried as a Nazi war criminal in an Israeli prison.  Born in America, Campbell grows up in pre-war Germany, where he becomes a somewhat prominent playwright and marries a beautiful German actress (who stars in his romantic plays).  Campbell rises to notoriety (or is it infamy) by spending World War II on the German side as a part of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine.  He hosted a short wave radio program aimed at convincing Americans to side with the Nazis.  Campbell claims that he was actually an American agent recruited before the war and acting on behalf of the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, but is unable to prove it. The story jumps from Campbell in prison, to before and just after the war, and early 60’s America—where he does his best to escape capture by Nazis hunters and recognition by White Supremacists.

I think I always wanted to read Mother Night not so much because of the film adaptation staring Nick Nolte, but because of the trailer, which I saw as a kid.  I never got around to seeing the movie, which I hear is God-awful, but the plot always intrigued me.  The book itself is actually pretty good.  The most striking aspect is that doesn’t seem like a typical Vonnegut novel.  There are no sci-fi elements or a lot of comedic moments (though it is probably the most lighthearted novel about Nazis I’ve ever read).  Timing wise, I started the book on the commute to work on Monday and finished it on the way home that Thursday.  I really enjoyed reading this and feel it’s a good start to the project.

It’s pretty obvious that this is novel about identity.  Vonnegut, who addresses the reader at the beginning of the book as an “editor” of Campbell’s memoir, states that the moral of the story is “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”  The reader spends the entire story wondering if Campbell really was a spy working for the Allies or if he’s lying. And if it really matters.  Do the lies we tell reveal (on some level) who we really are? Throw in the moral quagmire of helping evil in order to gain a position inside to help covertly fight it and you have a book that forces you to examine your own ethical character.  Maybe that’s the whole point.

Note: I was also able to polish off Sirens of Titan over the holiday weekend.  So expect a post reviewing it in the next couple days.

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reading460The summer reading list is a rite of passage (and annoyance) for the majority of high schoolers.  Most see it as “homework for the summer break” and they toss the books somewhere under a mess of clothes in their bedrooms-eventually digging them out in late August to rush through the readings.  I actually loved doing my summer readings.  It gave my aimless search for something to read structure and purpose.  As I get older, I feel that even though I’m pretty well read, there is still so much out there that I have left to checkout.  I just don’t know where to start.  I wish I still had summer reading lists.

One of my great personal literary shames is that I hadn’t read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s work.  Somehow, in the 26-years I have spent on this planet, I’ve only read three novels (Player Piano, Cat’s Cradle, and Slaughterhouse-Five) and a couple short story collections.  It’s more than most, but not that great for someone who has Vonnegut’s New York Times full page obituary taped to his wall.  I’d been contemplating a “Vonnegut Marathon” since his death in 2007, but just never got around to it.  Then, on Sunday night, I finished reading David Cullen’s Columbine (an emotionally tough read, but I felt it was important to know the full story) and was left to try and figure out what to read next.

Finding a book to read is a strange process.  Sometimes it’s a clear straight path to a title, something new that’s getting rave reviews or recommended by a friend.  Sometimes it takes a little bit of wandering through a bookstore, waiting for a cover or title to just jump out at you.  But every once in a while, not often, it’s fate that brings you to a book.  As I left for work on Monday morning, a couple back issue New Yorkers in my bag, I noticed that another tenant in my building had left some used paperbacks on a table in the hallway.  If you’ve don’t live in an apartment building with people who leave out books they no longer want for their neighbors, it’s a glorious thing and I suggest you move.  There, midway into the stack, was not only a Vonnegut title I never read, but one that I’ve always wanted to, Mother Night.  “Hell yeah!” I said, and snatched it.  It was just the push I needed.  I’m going to assign myself a summer reading list: every Vonnegut novel I’ve never read.

After a quick check on Wikipedia, I count that Kurt Vonnegut wrote 14 novels.  That leaves me with 11 books to read before I can say “I’ve read all of Vonnegut’s novels,” by September 1st.  This should be fun.

Update: I’ve decided to post my progress.  Check out my Summer Reading page with a full list of the books.  I’ll cross them out and post reviews as I go.

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