Tuesday, March 23, 2010

 I've been reading a lot lately probably because I was tired of reading HP fanfiction. I go in and out with that stuff.  Sometimes I can handle the poor grammar and fluffy story lines just so that I can read some new HP, but after a while I just can't take it anymore.  Like a normal person, I've gone back to reading novels.  As you know, I've been reading for book club, but I've also been reading in between those books.  The weekend before last I plowed through Push by Sapphire.  You've probably heard about this book because of the award winning movie Precious.  What I find odd is that they've re-released Push as Precious in bookstores.  I'm pretty sure it's the exact same thing, but with a different cover and title.  Personally, I like the title Push better as it pertains to the actual content of the novel.  Even though the movie won a ton of awards, I will not be viewing it.  It would be way too difficult for me to watch.  The whole story revolves around how Precious is repeatedly molested by both her father and mother, how under educated she is, and her desire to become something more than her dilapidated parents.  It seems that these topics are common themes in Women's African American literature.  It's very much like Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which is actually referenced more than a few times in Sapphire's novel.  At 190 pages this book was nothing short of shocking with a very artistic flare to it.  Sapphire's poetic quality brings real spunk to the novel.  I would consider it a very modern work as it is a hybrid of the classic novel and poetry.  If you have the will to stomach the very serious plot I would highly suggest this book.  I can see why the movie won so many awards, I just don't think that I can handle watching it.  The mental pictures are enough for me.

The next book I read was much lighter, though had be crying like a baby.  The Art of Racing in the Rain (Racing) by Garth Stein was light hearted in a go-through-the-lifespan-of-a-dog way.  It's what I imagine the book Marley and Me by John Grogan to be like.  I haven't read that one because I know that it's really sad, which is why I refuse to watch it even though my mom bought the movie.  Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I dove head first into Stein's book.  I thought it was really cute in the beginning and was even reading it aloud to Emmy.  (Yes, I read to Emmy.  She is a very well read dog.  She's probably "read" more classic plays than any other.)  A few pages in it started getting a little sad.  By the end of the first chapter I had stopped reading to Emmy completely and was balling.  Racing is one of those books that starts the beginning with the ending, where you know what will inevitably happen but you read through his life as if you don't know what will happen to him anyway.  Besides the parts that made me sad, the rest of the story was very well done.  Stein cleverly paralleled race car driving with the ups and downs of life.  Since the whole work was written in Enzo The Dog's point of view you get to see people for what they are.  Stein's work is perceptive and smart.

I've come to realize that I don't retain information like I used to when I was a kid.  After analyzing why this is I discovered that it's because I tend to interrupt people while they're telling a story with a similar, but usually not related, story of my own.  I had vowed to myself a couple of months ago to try to stop this, but with little success.  Then I read Racing.  Stein addressed this very matter as a fault in humans.  Dogs are much better listeners.  Let me preface this excerpt with the fact that Enzo wants to become a human in a next life.

Here’s why I will be a good person.  Because I listen.  I cannot speak, so I listen very well.  I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own.  People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one’s conversations constantly.  It’s like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street.  For instance, if we met at a party and I wanted to tell you a story about the time I needed to get a soccer ball in my neighbor’s yard but his dog chased me and I had to jump into a swimming pool to escape, and I began telling the story, you, hearing the words “soccer” and “neighbor” in the same sentence, might interrupt and mention that your childhood neighbor was Pelé, the famous soccer player, and I might be courteous and say, Didn’t he play for the Cosmos in New York?  Did you grow up in New York?  And you might reply that, no, you grew up in Brazil on the streets of Três Corações with Pelé, and I might say, I thought you were from Tennessee, and you might say not originally, and then go on to outline your genealogy at length.  So my initial conversational gambit—that I had a funny story about being chased by my neighbor’s dog—would be lost, and only because you had to tell me about Pelé.  Learn to listen!  I beg of you.  Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.  (101-102)

When I read this I couldn't help but think, Yes!  This is exactly my problem!  Leave it to a dog, albeit fictional, to point this out to the world.  And so it was done.  I am now trying to listen better because it's not just an idea in my head anymore, it's written down in published print.

Stein made a lot of very perceptive observations in this novel that had me surprised.  However, though there was plenty about human nature, social etiquette, and car racing, there were some dog-inspired passages that were nothing short of delightful. For instance, Enzo's owner, Denny, just found out something that would change his life and he can't take Enzo with him so a coworker/friend offered to watch him for a few days.

Mike took me to our house to get my things.  I was humiliated when he said, "Where's your dog?"  I didn't want to admit that I still slept with a stuffed animal.  But I did.  I loved that dog, and Denny was right, I did hide it during the day because I didn't want Zoe to assimilate it into her collection and also because when people saw it they wanted to play tug and I didn't like tugging with my dog...
Mike's wife picked up my dog that I had dropped on the floor.

"We have to take this, too?" he asked.
"Listen," Mike sighed, "everyone needs a security blanket.  What's wrong with that?"
"It stinks," Mike's wife said.  "I'll wash it."
And he put it in the washing machine!  My dog!  He took the first toy that Denny ever gave me and stuck it in to the washing machine...with soap!  I couldn't believe it.  I was stunned.  No one had ever handled my dog in such a way!...

When Tony handed me my dog, I took it in my mouth out of respect.  I took it to my bed because that's what Denny would have wanted me to do.  And I curled up with it.
And the irony?  I liked it. (104-106)

Oh how I was grinning while reading this. Stein also makes great use of phrases and images that he constantly brings up with out them getting tiresome, some of which are in this passage.  The technique can get really boring and overdone, but he managed to get them in the right places.  I wonder how many places editors made him cut?  Although I do have to admit that sometimes the racing stuff made my eyes glaze over, the connections that Stein made with life, something that I could understand, held me in there.  All in all I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. 

Works Cited
Stein, Garth.  The Art of Racing in the Rain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008

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