Fool on the Hill, Matt Ruff

I have said before that I love both Martin Millar and Douglas Coupland quite a lot.  Well, Matt Ruff’s Fool on the Hill is like if Martin Millar and Douglas Coupland had a love child, and Douglas Coupland  raised the kid because Martin Millar lived too far away, but the kid  grew up reading Martin Millar’s books obsessively, and then the kid  went to Cornell for college.  I feel like that sequence of events  could have produced Fool on the Hill.

Fool on the Hill is a story about Cornell University (ever heard of it?), if Cornell University had fairies and sword-fighting rats.  There are oodles of characters, and they are all amusing, and the different sets of characters eventually come together – much like in Lonely Werewolf Girl, so in case you are thinking that I’m only making the Martin Millar comparison because of the  fairies I AM NOT.  There’s Stephen George, a writer; his muse,  Calliope, who comes and goes; the beautiful Aurora Borealis Smith and her revolutionary father; Luther and Blackjack, a dog and cat on a quest to find Heaven; Ragnarok and the Bohemians, with an unimpeachable sense of justice; a wicked fraternity that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize didn’t actually exist; and Cornell fairies prepared to fight a war for Cornell against a foe they all thought to be dead.

I won this book from Nicki at Fyrefly’s Book Blog (thank you!), and she most brilliantly sent me along a map of Cornell to go with it, with relevant locations circled in aquamarine-colored pen.  Possibly the reason I read it so gradually is that I was constantly putting the book down and inspecting the map to orient myself on the campus.  That, and the fact that it was on my bedside table.  For some reason I never fetch books from my bedside table and curl up with them downstairs to finish them. Once they are on my bedside table they are only going to get read for about twenty minutes each night before I fall asleep.

But that is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did.  I was making it last by reading it slowly.  It’s such a lark that it’s fun to make it last: how there’s a “writer” called Mr. Sunshine inventing the whole story as they go, and that makes it possible for Matt Ruff to toss in little remarks about antiheroes and dei ex machinis (oo, useful Latin there).  I loved Jinsei & Ragnarok – because Matt Ruff is right, you need a hero that’s not all sweetness and light sometimes – and the whole thing of Tolkien House and their Lothlorien.  Fun.  Read it!  (But you can’t have my copy.  I’m greedy and I’m keeping it.)

(Maybe the ending is a little rushed.  But it is so much fun that I don’t mind.)

Link me if you reviewed it too!

jPod, Douglas Coupland

So I didn’t really get into All Families Are Psychotic when I tried to read it ages ago – for whatever reason – and I tried jPod instead and had the same issue.  Then recently I was at Bongs & Noodles reading Girlfriend in a Coma and enjoying it mightily, and I wanted to get it out of the library but they didn’t have it; and I decided to do the same thing I am doing with Salman Rushdie, which is read his books in reverse order of how good I think they’re going to be.  This didn’t exactly work with Salman Rushdie, because The Satanic Verses was startlingly better than I thought it would be, but so far it’s working fine with Douglas Coupland.

By which I mean: I didn’t love jPod.  I liked bits of it, and it sometimes reminded me slightly of Martin Millar, whom I completely love and revere.  There are a bunch of computer geeks designing a video game; they all have mild social challenges, which a character notes can be explained by low-grade autism.  The main character, Ethan, has a crazy family, and there are drugs and illegal immigrants and guerrilla video game design.  A really mean version of Douglas Coupland also features, and the story is presented as being files from the main character’s laptop, which Coupland takes from him during the book.  Twice.

I am trying to put my finger on what was lacking in this book.  I think it is that I like a slightly more coherent plot than this – I get that plot incoherence is what he was after, but it’s just not my favorite thing.  Martin Millar’s plots are frenetic and unlikely this way, but in a way that is, for whatever reason, more pleasing for me.  Another possibility is that I will like this better when I have read it a few more times.

Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland

The fact that I stopped reading All Families Are Psychotic and started reading this is just further proof that I think an enormous lot of thoughts in my brain, and many of them are rather irrational.  In this case, my thinking was that if I was going to be disappointed in Douglas Coupland I’d rather be disappointed sooner than later.  So instead of reading All Families are Psychotic, which Nymeth said was pretty good, I read Miss Wyoming, which I’d heard wasn’t very good at all.  And then I shall read JPod because it looks strange, and then I shall read All Families are Psychotic, and we’ll see how it goes.

Miss Wyoming is all about two people – John and Susan – who have both, at different points in their lives, disappeared from their lives for a while.  This is why I liked it, I think.  I’m in love with the idea that it can be possible to extract yourself from where you are living and just, pfft, slip out of your life.  But anyway, John and Susan meet once, and they like each other tremendously, and then Susan vanishes agan and John tracks her down.  Interspersed with this is a lot of backstory about both of them, in varying degrees of interestingness.

I liked it. I loved this thing that one of the characters did about tracking someone down based on the typos they make.  The idea being that people’s typing mistakes tend to remain the same – I myself am constantly typing “foundaiton” for “foundation” – and you can use that to find what computer somebody is using.  What an excellent idea!  So I still like Douglas Coupland.  I am feeling better about my reading diversity now that I have recently discovered two authors who are men that I really, really like; as well as reading Markus Zusak’s other books.  I am not a sexist reader.  Yay.

Eleanor Rigby, Douglas Coupland

Well, wow.

Looking back at my reference page, I apparently read about Eleanor Rigby first over at an adventure in reading, but I don’t remember that.  I actually picked this up at the library as a substitute for Hey Nostradamus!, of which I liked the title and the cover when I saw it in audiobook form at Bongs & Noodles.

I have such a love-hate relationship with new authors.  On one hand, I desperately want them to be my Next Big Discovery; on the other hand, I know that Next Big Discovery people almost always disappoint, generally around the third book you read.  I loved Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet but Fury and Shame I hated; I loved Keturah and Lord Death and The Dollmage but I didn’t care for Heck Finder. Und so weiter und so fort.  It’s a pattern and it’s always a massive letdown.

Eleanor Rigby is about a woman called Liz Dunn who is lonely and sad.

The Liz Dunns of this world tend to get married, and then twenty-three months after their wedding and the birth of their first child they establish sensible, lower-maintenance hairdos that last them forever.  Liz Dunns take classes in croissant baking, and would rather chew on soccer balls than deny their children muesli.  They own one sex toy, plus one cowboy fantasy that accompanies its use.  No, not a cowboy – more like a guy who builds decks – expensive designer decks with built-in multi-faucet spas – a guy who would take hours, if necessary, to help such a Liz find the right colour of grout for the guest-room tile reno.

I am a traitor to my name.

Speaking as someone whose first college roommate was a Liz Dunn, this is most exactly correct.  This Liz Dunn is terribly lonely, and then one day someone contacts her about a kid called Jeremy who’s in the hospital and lists her as his emergency contact.  Turns out, he’s the son she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen.  He has multiple sclerosis and can sing songs backwards, and he comes to live with her.  And everything changes then.

I didn’t expect to like this book at all.  I was attracted to the cover of Hey Nostradamus and at the same time I felt sure I wasn’t going to like Douglas Coupland.  I got out Eleanor Rigby so that I could read it, hate it, and give up on Douglas Coupland forever.  And when I ascertained that Jeremy was her dying son, and that he had visions when he didn’t take his meds, I was dead certain I wasn’t going to like it.  I am not a fan of crazy religious people books, which creep me out; or of alienated narrator books, which irritate me.

(Enderby, Holden Caulfield, Ignatius J. Reilly?  You guys can STUFF IT.)

But I really, really liked Eleanor Rigby.  I liked it as soon as the narrator said she had once read that for every person currently alive on earth, there have only been nineteen dead people who lived before us.  And I didn’t mind the visions any more than I minded them in Angels in America (which is to say, not at all).  This book was excellent and I am tentatively thrilled because it is a) one of several books this man has written; and b) a grown-up book, which is always good because my mum says that one day she just stopped liking children’s books, and I’m terrified that that’s going to happen to me soon and I’ll have nothing left to read because the majority of my books are children’s books; and c) written by a man, which is nice because most of my favorite books are by women and I don’t like feeling like a sexist reader.  I liked this book so much that I feel completely guilty for saying earlier that I only liked it with reservations and it wasn’t going to be one of my favorite books.  I only said that because of the visions thing!  Turns out, I like it without reservations (except maybe the end was a little too tidy – when you think of it – but it didn’t feel too tidy when I was reading it, at all).

My mum and I worked out the other day that reading the first of a number of books by the same person rates quite high on the hedonic calculus – intensity is good (nothing like getting properly lost in a book), duration is good because books go on for a while and if an author has written several they all go on for a while; certainty or uncertainty is a little shaky, particularly for me, but generally good because I am at least certain that other books exist; propinquity is good because you have the book right there with you; fecundity is good because, obviously, liking one will lead to reading another; purity is good during because you’re focused on the book and not on the future; and extent is good if you know other people who trust your book recommendations.  I’m about to bring this one over to my mother, because she nearly always reads what I tell her she should read.

Something to consider: Reading the first book of an author you like is a better all-round pleasure than sex, which fails on extent and is less good on duration (unless it’s an extremely short book or you have lots and lots of stamina).  Don’t blame me, talk to Jeremy Bentham.

I don’t know how to explain the qualities about Eleanor Rigby that I liked.  The more I think of it, the more I like it.  It made me want to go do something – do you ever get that feeling after you read a book?  Like reading the book was a massive cosmic nudge?  And now sitting in your comfy papasan chair and reading some of the other books you have out of the library is no longer an adequate activity?  So I’m off to write some more random bits of my stature story until it turns into something more coherent; and when I’ve done that for a bit, I will bring this book over to my mother to read.  And I will try not to get my hopes up too high about Douglas Coupland.

I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life through the miracles of modern medicine would feel reborn.  Just imagine looking at our world with brand new eyes, everything fresh, covered with dew and charged with beauty – pale skin and yellow daffodils, boiled lobsters and a full moon.  And yet I’ve read books that tell me this isn’t the way newly created vision plays out in real life.  Gifted with sight, previously blind patients become frightened or confused.  They can’t make sense of shape or colour or depth.  Everything shocks, and nothing brings solace…

In the end, those gifted with new eyesight tend to retreat into their own worlds.  Some beg to be made blind again, yet when they consider it further, they hesitate, and realize they’re unable to surrender their sight.  Bad visions are better than no visions.

I wonder if that’s true.