One of my favorite writers in recent years has been David Mitchell, who can seemingly do anything or go anywhere. In some of his novels, epics like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, he can use many voices, cover different time periods, and make each seem authentic. Not only is he able to do this, but he is able to connect all of those voices to form a compelling overreaching narrative. Meanwhile, in something like Black Swan Green, he is able to use a much smaller canvas, in this case a British school kid in the 80’s, and make it just as compelling. One of the true originals of our time. The link is a short piece accompanied by a longer video interview.
Whenever I travel, especially when there is a lot of actual travel time involved, I try to set the goal of reading a book or two in that time. I try to not let the time being stuck in vans, airports, or trains go to waste. On this trip I brought Frankenstein and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. As well as being beneficial from any kind of learning standpoint, it helps the time go faster. A ten hour van ride feels half as long. It is also good for relaxing. Forgetting yourself for part of the time helps you be less stressed when you miss that layover, there is a traffic jam, etc. Trust me, I can definitely use all the help I can get in that department! I almost had a meltdown today trying to get to the van on time as there was an accident on the highway this morning!
One other thing I find is that if you combine a trip with a couple good books it helps to make the trip itself more meaningful and interesting. Scenes from a book fuse with the new places you are seeing in your imagination, and the world expands in front of you.
In one of my earlier blogs today I briefly mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. It is one of my favorite books. I thought about writing a review of it, but truth be told it is a complicated book and I read it several years ago. I searched the internet and found a pretty comprehensive overview of it. What is really great about the above overview is that at the bottom it provides links to even more information about the book. There are some spoilers in this overview, but a book this original, where so much of the magic comes from the world that the author creates, I don’t believe spoilers apply in the way they do to most books.
The book is a complex and fascinating read. It is partially set in Moscow in the 30’s when many people were “disappearing”. It is part fantasy, part political satire, full of dark humor, and at times creates scenes of chilling horror. Any book that features Satan and a talking cat as two of the main characters is not going to be your typical novel. If you love the power of language, poetry, and how words can impart strong images on the imagination, than this is a book that you will love. And although the two authors are very different, I think anyone that likes the dark humor and haunted language of someone like Flannery O’Connor will also love this book. There is really no way that I can do this book justice. It is one of those reads that simply must be experienced in full. A truly unique and captivating read, and an absolute masterpiece of literature.
I was just reading some of the Kilgore Trout stories from Kurt Vonnegut’s books. (Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers.) Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer that reappears in several of Vonnegut’s books. Trout is an under-appreciated writer, but other than that the details about him are often slightly different in each book. Vonnegut often uses Trout to tell short far out science fiction stories that also usually highlight a a truth that Vonnegut wants to convey. Here is one as an example:
It was The Gospel from Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout. It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being of the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh, boy — they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And then that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.
So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.
And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!
If you want to read more of these stories you can find some of them at the website oocities.org, which is where I found them. Here is a link: