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Monday, October 29, 2012

Desert Island Discs picks

I've been irregularly listening to Desert Island Discs since about 2008 (weirdly enough it's my grandfather that put me on to it. Guess he used to talk to the Brits about BBC Radio back in the day). I always thought it was a cool concept (format outlined below) and I was supposed to (try to) determine my picks. So here goes:


Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and to choose eight pieces of music, originally gramophone records, to take with them; discussion of their choices permits a review of their life. Excerpts from their choices are played or, in the case of short pieces, the whole work. At the end of the programme they choose the one piece they regard most highly. They are then asked which book they would take with them; they are automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work.
Guests also choose one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside. 

^ From Wikipedia, obviously.

Book: In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du Temps Perdu) by Marcel Proust ( translation by C.K. Scott Moncrief). I'm going to be greedy and get the English and French versions (if  the presenter allows it) so I can kill time by seeing how well the translation is.

Luxury: Endless supply of footballs

Religious Text: Ramayana (Usually they give the Bhagavad Gita but I lean toward the narrative epic more than the discourse/ dialogue, though I suppose if I took the Mahabharata I'd get both forms of writing). English and Hindi/Tamil/Sanskrit version needed obviously since my knowledge of Indian languages is poor and reading ability non-existent.

Record Choices:

  1. John Coltrane - Equinox  ( from the album Coltrane's Sound (1964) )
  2. Bruce Springsteen - Racing in the Street ( from the album Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) )
  3. Journey - Don't Stop Believing ( from the album Escape (1981) )
  4. Bob Marley & The Wailers - No Woman, No Cry ( from the album Live! (1975) , originally on Natty Dread (1974) )
  5. Coldplay - The Scientist ( from the album A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002) )
  6. Sergio Mendes - Mas que Nada ( from the album  Herp Albert Presents (1966) )
  7. Oasis - Stop Crying Your Heart Out ( from the album Heathen Chemistry (2002) )
  8. Between the Buried and Me - Selkies: The Endless Obsession ( from the album Alaska (2005) )

Monday, October 15, 2012

My favorite writers who aren't dead - part 2

These are inclined to change order depending on the day, so there's no ranking system. It might not even be these same writers all the time. But that's who it is today. Pretty easy list to make, I just have to look at the bookshelf. Novelists only since I don't read enough non-fiction or poetry these days, unfortunately.

5. Orhan Pamuk - Turkish

Reference Novels: Snow; The Museum of Innocence; Istanbul: Memories and the City

Why: I have always been of the opinion that love stories cannot be serious literature (in modern times, anyway) unless it's unrequited love. Snow disproved that for me, despite its complex politics and heavy symbolism it's essentially a tragic love story. The Museum of Innocence ( a book I found accidentally in Shakespeare&Co) I also love because of the emphasis on obsessive love and the importance of things (garbage, really) in fueling obsession.

4. Ian McEwan - English

Reference Novels: Atonement; On Chesil Beach; The Comfort of Stranger

Why: It's most difficult to explain why I like McEwan. His books (to me) are all different except in terms of the themes of ordinary people adapting to the change in situations brought about by one moment. The moments are all different though, in every novel. I think I love the writing most. McEwan crafts the type of story that can get very dull before the 'changer' if someone with tremendous ability isn't at work. Luckily, he's got lots of ability.

3. J.M. Coetzee - South African/ Australian

Reference Novels: Disgrace, Youth: Scenes from a Provincial Life II; Waiting for the Barbarians

Why: If Naipaul dies, Coetzee is the writer with most complete mastery of the English language. Coetzee can write in one paragraph what other writers would take pages to do. And his level of comprehension of literature is immense too, as can be seen in his essays. His novels are that of supreme technical as well as literary ability. One or the other would equate to a dull novel, but both equals only good stuff.

2. Haruki Murakami - Japanese

Reference Novels: Kafka on the Shore; 1Q84; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Why:  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is also on my desk right now (I don't use it so much for composition reference as for pacing of mundane events).  Murakami gives me that dose of surrealism I need with that representation of loneliness and alienation that make it relevant. Murakami's books are both very real and very fantastic and there's seamless flow between the two (not like Magical Realism) and it's strangely entertaining. Perhaps a bit because it shouldn't work so well but does.

1. Margaret Atwood - Canadian

Reference Novels: Cat's Eye; The Year of the Flood; The Blind Assassin 

Why: I don't just love her cause she's also an Ontario native, but it doesn't hurt. I like her sci-fi stuff least (mostly because of my sci-fi issues) but they're still very good. Her characters are amazingly developed as are her analysis of emotions and situations. I feel as if I could quote from every page of Cat's Eye.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My favorite writers who aren't dead - part 1

These are inclined to change order depending on the day, so there's no ranking system. It might not even be these same writers all the time. But that's who it is today. Pretty easy list to make, I just have to look at the bookshelf. Novelists only since I don't read enough non-fiction or poetry these days, unfortunately.

11. Phillip Roth - American

Reference Novels: Portnoy's Complaint; Nemesis; American Pastoral

Why: Been good since the sixties and still at it (Nemesis was released in 2010), I loved Portnoy's Complaint (yes, I'm a perv) and how it sounded like a long novel of standup comedy. First time I'd ever seen that done. He's got character-driven prose down too, American Pastoral is as cerebral a novel as they come.

10. Salman Rushdie - British/Indian

Reference Novels: Midnight's Children; Shalimar the Clown; Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Why: Sadly most famous for the fatwa due to The Satanic Verses which isn't one of his best works. The epic novel spanning generations and locales is his specialty and nowhere is it more magnificent than Midnight's Children; a novel which has influenced every Indian writer in English since 1982 (no matter what they say).

9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Colombian

Reference Novels: One Hundred Years of Solitude; Love in the Time of Cholera; Strange Pilgrims

Why: Strange Pilgrims is on my desk right now (I use it for referencing both during editing and crafting). I've read  Love in the Time of Cholera more than fifty times and despite how damaging that must be for my psyche I'll probably read it another five times next year too. One Hundred Years of Solitude is the most influential novel to every Latin American writer post-1968 and for a lot of Caribbean writers. Maybe for the whole world.

8. V.S. Naipaul - Trinidadian/British/ (world?)

Reference Novels: A House for Mr. Biswas; A Bend in the River; An Area of Darkness

Why: Fiction or Travel writing, he's undoubtedly the master of both. No one has a command of English like Naipaul. Either no one sees what he sees or no one is willing to commit it to paper. Love him or hate him (in the Caribbean it's usually hate) he is among the elite of writers today, probably ever.

7. Kazuo Ishiguro - British/ Japanese

Reference Novels: The Remains of the Day; Never Let Me Go; The Unconsoled

Why: The Remains of the Day was one of the first novels I'd read in a long time and immediately re-read it once I finished.  Never Let Me Go was the most clever novel I'd read in a long time and gave me a taste for science fiction (that taste was fleeting, unfortunately). I like The Unconsoled most because it reminds me of works by one of my favorite writers of all time, Kafka. It's has no clear start and no clear resolution, with issues of the past haunting but never defined. So, it's just like real life.

6. Milan Kundera - Czech/ French 

Reference Novels: The Unbearable Lightness of Being; The Book of Laughter and Forgetting; The Art of The Novel

Why: Mostly essays these days but Kundera's novels are like no one else's. Regularly breaking the fourth wall to address the reader directly, multiple lead characters and always that setting that defines everything but never becomes intrusive. It's a mix that's very accessible without ever being anything less than excellent

Best Anime (short series. post 2000)

I don't watch very much anime. Don't have the attention span for long series. I blame fillers for that. So I'm picking my favorite short series (less than 52 episodes) that have been released since 2000. I count series add-ons as separate ( so Hellsing Ultimate is a distinct series from Hellsing). Won't include ongoing series, obviously. So Hellsing Ultimate just got cut.

10. Gurren Lagann (2007) - 27 episodes

Why watch it: I like mecha anime. And this series is exciting and unpredictable. With giant robots. And if you don't care for robots the comedy,drama and great characters are enough of a draw. It's the kind of show that gives the message 'you can do anything' but you won't roll your eyes on hearing it.

9. Bunny Drop (2011) - 11 episodes

Why watch it: Every now and then a good reality-based, slice of life anime catches my attention. Fun to watch for a change (and a little like a travel documentary into Japan life). This one about a thirty year old who becomes the guardian of a six year old. It is deceptively simple in its dealing with complex issues but with beauty derived from such simplicity.

8.Texhnolyze (2003) - 22 episodes

Why Watch it: Initially very confusing and always dark and gloomy. It's like an anime version of film noir. And I love film noir.

7. Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG (2004)- 26 episodes

Why watch it: Not as good as the first series, I think. Perhaps because it's more on characters and investigation than action. Doesn't mean it isn't excellent, just that the first series was elite. This one gets you thinking a lot about ethics and philosophy. And that's always good.

6. Baccano! (2007)- 16 episodes

Why watch it: Complex plots and what feels like hundreds of characters, it seems a bit intimidating. But it's clever and fun. Especially if you like mafia films (who doesn't?). This one might be one of those anime that's a starting point for a new style.

5.  Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) - 26 episodes

Why watch it: Every episode is excellent. Every moment of every episode, every character; is there to drive the plot forward. It's clear this is an intensely thought out series and supremely crafted. The artwork is also exceptional.

4. Rainbow: Nisha Rokubo no Shichinin (2010) -26 episodes

Why Watch it: Historical anime set at a reform school in 1950's Japan and the experiences there of the six characters. The characters are very likeable and you get caught up in seeing all the tough times that they have to face. It's a series that's hard to not connect with.

3. Death Note (2006) - 37 episodes

Why watch it: The first 25 episodes are what make the series great. It could have ended there. This series is very much a psychological thriller. The viewers are introduced to two of the most complex anime characters ever created in L and Light and get to see exactly what their motives are and get to see some brilliant deductions too.

2. Samurai Champloo (2004) - 26 episodes

Why watch it: Brilliant series and a worthy follow-up to Cowboy Bebop by  Watanabe. I loved the use of hip-hop culture in the samurai-era Japan setting. Some of the later episodes were a bit unnecessary but throughout the relationship between the contrasting main characters are what drives the show. And the great action scenes.

1. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) - 51 episodes

Why watch it: A little bit sentimental and intentionally-emotional to get a response but this anime is like serious literature- intensely character driven. It could be your classic novel about an odyssey toward redemption, not just in storyline but quality.