The move has finally started. Although the closing won’t officially “record” until tomorrow, we’ve been moving some things from our old house to the new one. It’s very exciting, but after living here for almost eight years, we’ve collected a lot of stuff. Planning and installing a dog yard at the new house is the other big task. I’ve set up a wiki so that we can keep track of all the things we need to do, and our best guess of when they’ll get done. It’s turning out to be a really good way of planning it all out, and for forcing us to get particular tasks done when we need them done. I wish I’d started it a month ago when we first knew we were likely to be moving.
The photo on the right shows the second load we took over. We’re borrowing a trailer from a friend and it’s turning out to be really helpful. It’s amazing how much stuff it can hold.
I doubt if I’ll be finishing any more books this month, and I haven’t really had much time to seriously consider the Bach Violin Concertos CD. Hopefully we will have settled down in our new house in a couple weeks and things will start returning to normal.
P.S., Anybody want to buy a house?
The Tanana Valley State Fair (Faster than a speeding pullet is this year’s pun) started Friday night and we went on Saturday. For me, the Fair is actually more of an “event,” than something I really enjoy. It marks the beginning of our descent into winter and usually also coincides with the rainy season (August) in Fairbanks. I do like the food (grilled corn on the cob, deep fried halibut are my favorites), it’s fun to wander around and see what our community looks like, and sometimes I discover something new like the hardwood charcoal supplier operating out of his garage in North Pole. The reason I don’t entirely enjoy the Fair is that I don’t like crowds. I’m nervous in groups larger than a few people, and at the Fair I really have to concentrate to keep from being overwhelmed by all the people and what they’re all doing. When we got home on Saturday night, I was exhausted.
What does this have to do with Marc Haddon’s debut novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? The main character is autistic, and in addition to several strange quirks like refusing to eat yellow or brown foods, he is easily overwhelmed by people because he can’t comprehend their emotions or perspective. At one point in the book he’s in a train station, and is unable to read any of the signs because he’s so overwhelmed. It’s a strange, and compelling, voice to narrate a story, and it was easy for me to sympathize with him because of my own introversion.
The book is narrated in his voice, with language like this (from page 56):
Then Ivor did a poo and Mrs. Alexander picked it up with her hand inside a little plastic bag and then she turned the plastic bag inside out and tied a knot int the top so the poo was all sealed up and she didn’t touch the poo with her hands.
There are cool mathematical digressions showing how his deeper understanding of mathematics helps him navigate the minefield of the world he is largely closed off from. (I’m still trying to wrap my head around the solution to the Monty Hall Problem.)
It’s a very effective book that shows a little of what it might be like to see the world in a completely different way, as well as how difficult it is to be a parent to a child like that. The first amazon customer review is written by an autistic: “As an autistic, I have a special interest in reading works that feature autistic main characters, partly to see how neurotypical people thing our brains work, but partly just for the joy I feel when someone ‘gets it right.’ Mark Haddon absolutely ‘got it right’ in this book.” It would be hard to give the book higher praise than that.
Absurdistan is the story of grossly overweight Misha Vainberg, aka “Snack Daddy,” the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia. It’s basically a love story: Misha is trying to emigrate to the United States to be with his New York girlfriend, which he met while attending Accidental College in the U.S., but because his father killed an American in Russia, the State Department won’t give Misha a visa. Stuck in St. Leninsburg, he travels to Absurdistan, a small oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea where he hopes to get a Belgian visa that will allow him to escape Russia. Unfortunately, soon after he arrives, civil war erupts between the Sevo and Svanï ethnic groups (whose main dispute is over the slant of Christ’s footrest on the cross) as Absurdistan tries to stay on the global media’s radar long enough for the U.S. and it’s military contractors to show up. If you can’t tell from that description, the book is a hilarious satire of world politics and the excesses of American capitalism (and it’s grotesque relationship with the American government).
It’s been a very busy month, and even though I really enjoyed this book, it took a long time to finish it. Jamestown is a reworking of the story of the Jamestown Colony, told primarily from the perspectives of Johnny Rolfe and Pocahontas (who married in real life, back in 1614), but at some point in the post-apocalyptic future when Virginia represents the wild unknown and the boroughs of New York City are at war. Instead of European colonists travelling by ship to Jamestown in 1607, it’s colonists from the Manhattan Company travelling by bus. The “natives” they encounter aren’t really Native Americans, but are the warring clans of people left in the area after the cataclysm struck, including the Powhatan tribe.
The first and last sections of the book alternate between the voice of Pocahontas, a very horny 19–year girl, and Johnny Rolfe, who as we know from history, will fall in love with her. The middle part also includes chapters told by many of the other major and minor players in this, and the historical story. This is fiction, so Sharpe doesn’t stick too close to the facts, but the broad strokes seem to follow what I know of the actual events.
In addition to being a surprisingly touching love story, the book is extremely funny and deadly serious at the same time. Because of the humor, the undercurrent of violence, struggle, and loss seems underplayed until you realize how much of it there really was. I can only imagine what the Michael Bay or Mel Gibson version of the book would look like. I think that one of the points Sharpe is making here is that even as safe and secure our world seems right now, the distance between the world of 2007 and 1607 is much, much smaller than 400 years would suggest. Here’s Jack Smith, returning to the colony after a month, with a bunch of corn from Powhatan’s tribe. Pages 177-178:
By the way, that’s the core of what they have that we want: untainted food, real food that comes from things that walk on two or four legs or swim in the sea or fly or grow from the ground, real fucking food, it’s genius, worth killing and dying for, the staff of life, make a note of it, you peacenik dimwits.
Or Johnny Rolfe, from page 59:
To consider the imagination it took to invent the automatic assault rifle is not a happy or controllable activity. I wish I hadn’t started to think or talk about it or its user or its maker or its effects. I wish I hadn’t seen its effects, or known of its existence, or been born into a world in which people use, make, think, or are shot by automatic assault rifles.
Later in the book Johhny Rolfe IMs Pocahontas (the intersection of certain bits of modern technology in the book with the effectual return to the fifteenth century is brilliant) the following explanation for human survival. Page 207:
A guy observes a lot of the ideas his fellow humans come up with and act on and he despairs; he wonders how the human race survives; evidently not by the frequency of consistency of its good ideas. I believe survival is predicated on unrelenting will plus aggression plus, of course, how very pleasurable God made fucking…
There’s a lot more to think about and enjoy in the book, so head over to Soft Skull Press and pick it up. It’s also been chosen as the Summer 2007 Read This! pick on the litblog co-op. It should be a good discussion.