Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This book is better than my half-assed review of it. You'll just have to trust me on that.

I finished The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters last weekend. I enjoyed it enough to mark it with a "~" on my Books page, but here is where I prove myself unworthy of my English degree (much less my occasional fantasy of a career as a book or movie critic) because now that I'm sitting down to try to convey why I liked it, I'm pretty much coming up blank.

The book is a series of letters*, and I'm sort of fascinated by that form, by how Robinson managed to tell a cohesive story (or rather, set of stories) through a series of one-sided letters to a handful of people. For me, it got a little tedious by the end, but I'll admit that likely had more to do with my slow pace in reading it than with any flaw in the book itself.

I marked the passages I liked as I read, but I quickly realized that most of those passages have little impact out of context. Here's a brief sampling, though, anyway.

My mother actually thinks she's an authority on parenting. Can you believe that? Look at me! Look at Jim! ... Maybe we're all born with a protective mental coating like a pomegranate seed has, an invisible placenta that prevents reality from piercing our tender brains, that allows us to fool ourselves until our last breath, that lets us actually believe that one day we'll be discovered and one day we'll be rich, one day the world will see our hidden genius, that lets me believe that somewhere in the recesses of your sweet heart and hard head you still care for me.

I was arguing with my mother about false hope the other day. I said hope is neither false nor true but a kind of happiness in itself, a fuel that carries us toward our dreams. You feel better when you're knee-deep in hope for something, whether it's for the love of someone, for a promotion, for a baby, for a clean bill of health...

I'd include more, but to set up the quote with the explanation of why I appreciated it would take more energy than my tired head is feeling able to muster at the moment. If you you want to know more about this one (and you can ignore the rampant misuse of "it's" vs. "its" and the occasional comment from a lunatic nitpicking against small offenses of artistic license and the like), then the reviews at Amazon might be immeasurably more helpful than I.

Two more thoughts, though, before I quit my babbling and just call it a night. First, if you have any intention of reading this book and you haven't read Don Quixote, you might want to do that first. No, I take that back. I haven't actually read Don Quixote myself, and as it's one of those books deemed among the "most important works of influential literature," it may actually be painful and tediously boring.** Instead then, you might want to read the Wikipedia recap of Don Quixote. It didn't occur to me to seek this out until I was nearly finished with The Hunt Sisters, and I really think I could have glossed over a little less of the "shop talk" if I had. (Throughout the novel, the narrator is trying to get a film production of Quixote made, and all the discussions of script re-writes and plot revisions would have made a lot more sense to me had I actually been familiar with that story in any way.)

I said there were two thoughts, didn't I? Oh yeah. Here's the second. I'd like to thank -R- for the additional subtext inadvertently contributed to the story as I read pages 67-69***, during which the narrator gets serenaded by an actor and his banjo as a precursor to... she knows not what. I read that, and, thanks to a story -R- told a few months back, all I could think was "Banjo Sex!" So thanks, -R-, for that. No really; thanks a lot. Incidentally, can you believe you are not the #1 Google hit for the search term "banjo sex"? That's gotta be disappointing, I have to say. I wonder how many times I would have to type that to make myself the #1 hit instead...

Banjo sex. Banjo sex. Banjo sex.

That oughta do it, don't you think?

* Which those of you smarter (and more worthy of your English degrees) than I might know is called an epistolary novel. (I'll admit I just learned that word myself shortly after starting this example of the form.)

** I've already admitted twice in one post that I might need to surrender my English degree. Might as well go one further by claiming that not everything in the canon is in any way actually enjoyable to read.

*** Of the hard-bound first edition; my apologies if page numbers don't correlate in other versions.


Noelle said...

I'm also a former English major, and I would have never remembered the term "epistolary novel" in a million years before I read it here. Also, I'm a big fan of comic books these days, and that's something I never thought I'd be reading while sitting in my comp lit class.

Good luck with the banjo sex!

NancyPearlWannabe said...

It's way more fun to imagine banjo sex than to actually read the link to your friend's blog entry on it. Oh hell, I'll read it anyway.

-R- said...

So what was the #1 hit for banjo sex??

I have never cared for the epistolary novel. Maybe this book would be less annoying because all the letters are by the same person. I am allowed to dismiss an entire genre of books because I was a business major.

guinness girl said...

Banjo sex . Hmm.

I think it's strange that I read this book and have NO recollection of it, other than that I didn't particularly enjoy reading it.

lizgwiz said...

Now I can't remember if I ever actually read Don Quixote. I thought I had, but now I'm wondering if I'm just convincing myself that seeing "Man of La Mancha" a couple of times, and the ballet version (starring my favorite Russian dancer, ahem) is the same as having actually read it.

The Other Girl said...

I was an English major (actually, an English and Philosophy major, which is exponentially worse), but even as an undergrad you tend to specialize and therefore not read a lot of stuff that people may expect you to have read. Really, I think of my English degree as a degree in American Lit, 1850-1900. All of which is to say that I haven't read Don Quixote either, although I intend to. Someday. Probably not.

And I wholeheartedly agree that not everything in the canon is in any way enjoyable. I've tried and failed twice to read Moby Dick. As soon as I get to that long-assed chapter about whaling tools and the august history of flensing, I lapse into a coma. The only Melville I managed to complete was Typee, which was short, yet still boring.

stefanie said...

Noelle--You say "good luck with the banjo sex" as though I'm hoping for some myself. Um, not that there'd be anything wrong with that...

NPW--True. "Banjo sex" could mean anything. Well, not anything, but a number of unsettling things, anyway. By repeating "Banjo sex" in the comments three more times, am I helping my Google rankings for the phrase? I sure hope so.

R--It was a myspace page, shockingly enough. And I'm all for making up rules willy-nilly as they suit your purpose. I'd like to make up a few more myself.

GG--I went sort of hot and cold with this one myself, though overall I'd still say I liked it more than I didn't.

Liz--Sure, that counts. You know, just like seeing "Clueless" counts as having read "Emma." ;-) Actually, I have no idea what I'm talking about. I've neither read Quixote nor seen Man of La Mancha, so I have no idea how similar they are. And your Russian dancer... hee.

TOG--Wow; another English major. We're everywhere! All I've read of Moby Dick was the excerpt they included in my 10th grade American Literature textbook. Even my teacher for that class confessed she'd never read the whole thing, as she thought it was wildly overrated. Part of me still thinks I should read it; the rest of me thinks "life's too short."

metalia said...

Another lit major here,and no, I cannot for the life of me remember ever learning about the concept of epistolary novel. Screwed me once again, EDUCATION.

And just to help you reach your goal...


stefanie said...

Thanks, Metalia. I just checked and I am currently number 4 now... right behind -R-, who's still in third position. Clearly Google doesn't quite think I'm serious yet.

Banjo sex. Banjo sex. Banjo sex.

(By the way, why I think this is amusing I have no idea...)

3carnations said...

I saw "bad grammar is a deal breaker" on your list of recent searches...Did you seek that person out? They may either be your soul mate or your new best friend. :)

stefanie said...

3Cs--No, I didn't try to track him/her down. Oddly, though, that was one of THREE searches I saw this week that in some way combined both grammar and dating. Clearly I am not alone!