Saturday, March 12, 2011

No, I would NOT like fries with this book... (The Rum Punch Review of "The Infinities" By John Banville.)

Oh, my God this book was terrible.

And, frankly, I hold it against all of you, and by "you" I mean "people who read the same books I read so that when I look at a book that I read I get a little blurb that says People who read this also liked..." or some such, which is how I found The Infinities, by John Banville.

In part.

I also found it because critics reviewed it and generally gave it a good review -- EW gave it a B -- and that's generally a bad sign, because it doesn't take much to impress critics, as I've noted before. But I was thrown off by you, because enough of you read enough of the books I've read and then went on to read The Infinities that it was suggested as something I, too, would like, and therein lies the flaw with that system:

The I did this then did that recommendation system that many companies use -- a system they don't present as a favor to you but because it raises their revenues in a sort of high-tech "Would you like fries with that" way as well as clearing their shelves of old stuff ("Would you like old, leftover fries with that?") doesn't work perfectly, as shown by the fact that I was duped into reading The Infinities (and then goaded into finishing it by Sweetie) by just such a system, which had no way of reporting back to me something like

"People who read the book you just read also bought The Infinities but most of them didn't like it and many of them didn't finish it. One, in fact, was so disappointed that he took his copy of the book and threw it at a raccoon in his yard, which was kind of dumb in that he was reading it on a Kindle and now a raccoon has a Kindle, which with their opposable thumbs they might actually be able to use, so now your book recommendations are in part being shaped by that raccoon, which is how Snooki's book became a best seller. Would you like fries with this?"

Now, granted, I could have probably also read reviews by readers online, or other reviews, but I don't necessarily trust those reviews, either -- since top reviewers on Amazon and other places are rewarded for reviewing, so I can't trust them to be honest, since everybody knows that if you make money doing something you're incredibly biased and can't possibly be trusted.

In short, I'm not taking the blame for having decided to read The Infinities, a decision I made after finishing up Room and waiting a decent period of time to allow Room, which still kind of haunts me, to settle in.

The idea of The Infinities appealed to me -- the reviews I'd read and the synopsis of it online mentioned Greek gods, a slightly-different alternate universe, a dying patriarch who'd done something or other with mathematics -- part of the infinities of the title, he's discovered that there are an infinite number of alternate universes, a discovery that (a) was there for the taking from anyone who's ever read a comic book and (b) plays absolutely no role in the story. None at all. Not a single thing. It might as well not be mentioned.

In fact, much of the novel might as well not be mentioned, and Chekhov is probably rolling over in his grave, if he's dead, which I'm pretty sure he is, perturbed about the many, many guns that Banville brings on stage only to never ever use. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, you can find out more about Chekhov's gun and how it relates to Cylons, here).

In fact-er, much of the novel might as well not have been written, and certainly shouldn't have been read, and shouldn't have been so long, and frankly, I'm not sure why The Infinities even exists, unless Banville's publisher owed him a favor or he was playing a practical joke on readers who expect something like plots and events and reasons for things to exist and the like in a book.

You won't find that here. You won't find much of anything to like about The Infinities, unless what you like is a lot of pointless blather with side notes that exist for no particular reason. In fact, I'll start ending this part of the review by listing, off the top of my head, all the things I can remember from this book that Banville makes a point to mention, at length, only to then completely drop, not explain, not ever make a reference to again, or otherwise reveal to be a more-pointless-than-usual red herring:

The train that stops.
The holy well.
Fusion powered cars.
The death of the main character's first wife.
The Greek Gods
The history of the house.
Roddy's career.
The "infinities" discovered by the main character.

Oh, and the dog that sometimes can think critically and sometimes can't and who sometimes we see the story from his point of view a la Patricia Cornwell, and it's really pointless to say, again, that presenting a story from an animal's point of view is a remarkably irritating and juvenile thing to do, isn't it? Or maybe it's just bad writers, like Banville and Cornwell, who can't do that, since you can have a magical talking goldfish that grants wishes in a story and it can be beautiful and amazing, like in the short story "What Of This Goldfish Would You Wish" by Etgar Keret, which you can also hear read on this episode of This American Life, and I'd go do that if I were you.

Oh, and the kimono at the end.
And the wedding ring and the play that one character is in.
And the entire illness that spurs the story.

And, most irritatingly of all, Benny Grace.

Benny Grace, the character, briefly got me to want to go on reading the book, and by the time I realized I'd been duped by him, too, it was too late and I had to finish it.

But I would like to throw Benny Grace to a raccoon, and maybe John Banville, too, for wasting my time with this book. More on that in part two of this review, which you can read by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Greatest Thing In The World, EVER! (1)

What's this about? Click here.

Last week, one of the law clerks at my office was talking with me, and we ended up -- as you'd expect, when a lawyer is talking with a law student in a law office during business hours -- talking about blogs that we liked, and the Law Clerk (who I'll call The Law Clerk even though she's one of a group of them) mentioned that she'd been reading a blog called Hyperbole and A Half.

She described it as being funny, with weird pictures, and mentioned that the author of the blog had invented a creature called the "alot" because the author hates it when people say alot as one word, and also referenced, in rapid succession, a story in which little girls bit a boy and something to do with Kenny Loggins and Jesus wrecking Christmas.

That was enough to pique my interest -- it takes very little to distract me from actual work, anyway-- and I went and checked out Hyperbole and a Half, reading the post The Scariest Story.

That, in turn, was enough to hook me: I read about five other posts, then went home and made Sweetie read The Scariest Story, then read a few more entries on my phone late that night, and read some more on Saturday, and then even read some on my phone while sitting in a hotel room in Eau Claire on Sunday night, which is a different story altogether and one that involves Mr F sleeping in the niche between the bed and the wall, and I'd have kept reading the entries but for two things:

1. I do have to work occasionally, and
2. I didn't want to run out of posts, so now I have to ration them the way I ration all things in my life that are phenomenally good but also are limited (BBQ Fritos, trips to Sonic, episodes of Better Off Ted, etc. )

So you should definitely check it out, and should then use your time to request that the author, who is "probably not" a robot, to write more and write quickly because I do not have a great deal of willpower, as evidenced by the fact that I finished off a large chocolate shake in the time it took for the guy to bring our food to our car at the drive-in in Eau Claire Sunday night, which is another another story altogether and involves my panicking at the drive-thru yet again,

and since I'm no longer sure where I was in this post, I'll end it.

But Hyperbole And A Half's author FAQ says I can use artwork from her blog if I prominently link to it, and the picture on this post if from her blog, so:

The Greatest Thing In The World EVER!

The Greatest Thing In The World EVER! is a new category here on Thinking The Lions, one that'll celebrate those things I stumble across or am told about in my never-ending quest to never ever do anything even remotely productive again. These things -- The Greatest Things In The World EVER! -- will be those things that once you learn about them, you can't stop wanting to take part in them -- read them, send them to people via email links, tattoo homages to them on your body so that you can regret them when you're 70, and so on.

These are not just ordinary things. These are way beyond thatLink. Do you know of something that's The Greatest Thing In The World, EVER! ? Share it with me.

Below is a list of all the things that have been The Greatest Things In The World EVER!

Fastest Possible Drawings of Everything

Missy, by The Airborne Toxic Event.

Hyperbole and a Half, the blog.

Stephen Colbert's version of Friday.

A Softer World.

Jonathan Coulter