Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell

How can you make a novel about a magical world tedious?  Well, make it 1000+ pages, check.  Footnotes, that add nothing, check. I resisted this book for years.  Originally published in 2004, at that time I was working at a bookstore and the hype surrounding this first time novel was ape-shit.  That is not always a good thing.  Also, it had a ringing endorsement from a fellow bookseller that has questionable taste. Very questionable taste.  My instincts were right.  It was over-publicized and the taste is still very questionable.

Set in early 1800's England, magic is not a fictional construct but a part of the history of Great Britain.  A gentleman could "study" magic, but no gentlemen "practised" magic anymore.  That is until one rich jackass does, then another rich jackass does.  At first they get along, then they don't.  Also, fairies are the ultimate jackasses, but you knew that already. I know what you are thinking, fairies...then there will be sexy vampires.  No, in this book the closest you get to a vampire is an alcoholic bum that lives under a bush. 

It took Susanna Clarke ten years to write this book.  She wrote it in her spare time. You would think it would have more passion after editing cookbooks all day. It feels more like trying to make a sourdough starter using wild yeast. Yeah, lets let it sit out for a month and hope random floating crap in the air will make it interesting. Also, it has some of the WORST illustrations I have ever seen. Keep in mind, I went to a state university art school. I saw hungover Goth kids draw something 15 minutes before the critique that looked better than these. 

Illustrations aside, this is not a terrible fantasy book, but not worth the hype.  Apparently it is currently in production for a seven episode series on BBC and it could be kick-ass so I'm keeping an open mind. 

As for a drink pairing, this book, if nothing, is a glimpse into the class hierarchies in England in the early 1800's.  So your choice of drink while reading this might say something about your social strata. 

In this time period, high class ladies and gentlemen might drink Claret, which is the British word for a Bordeaux.  If you are lower class, you drink gin.  This is particularly true if you have no major issues about living under the local shrubbery.  I like both.  Screw the hierarchies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Clockwork Orange

Alright I cheated. This is not the cover of the version I read.  This is the German translation, but c'mon, this cover is awesome.

I'm sure you are aware of this dystopian, satirical, thought-provoking novel. Set in the future, under a kind quasi-Stalinistic England, roving gangs of ruffians inflict violence narrating in their own odd slang.

I also think you already know what happens to our sociopathic narrator as the book and movie infiltrated popular culture completely.  Yes, Alex's prison number is quietly referenced in Ready Player One.  Inside nerd joke. That is not a joke about the inside of a nerd, but that sounds like a good start to a joke if you ask me. The punchline involves half-digested Magic the Gathering game cards.

This book is the literary equivalent of a supersaturated solution full of provocative "big questions."  Normally that would tick me off, as I despise any story with ham-fisted manipulation (which sounds delicious).  For example, I despised that movie Crash.  I hated the Kite RunnerClockwork Orange is much more subtle, and raises more questions than answers.  I does lose minor points for difficult-to-read heavy dialect.  You may want a decoder.  Apparently many are available on the interwebs. 

According to said interwebs, the dialect is loosely based on Russian.  An appropriate drink would be a White Russian.  It is also appropriate because the characters drink a lot of "spiked milk."

White Russians are easy to make and even easier to drink.  There are variations, but the ratio is roughly 2 parts vodka, 1 part Kahlua and one part light cream or half and half. Serve over ice.  I highly recommend drinking it in a small glass.  It does not taste like a full-blown cocktail.  IT IS.  Do not under any circumstances drink it out of a full sized tumbler or full mason jar.  Together, we'll promise not to do this (in the future) and we'll call it the Warsaw Pact.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Night Circus

I could recommend this book to you and you may still hate it.  It may shake your faith in my reasoning, discerning taste and my book knowledge. You should know that I read this book at a time in my life when I needed to go to a magic circus world for a little bit.  You may not need to go to magic circus, you may be well adjusted and want some Jonathan Franzen in your life. This is not Franzen, Pynchon or even Chabon.  This is Harry Potter for adults.  Are you ok with that? 

Erin Morgenstern is a visual artist and a young Smith College graduate.  She wanted to write a best selling novel? Why the hell not. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!!!  She admits her first submitted manuscript was a hot mess and they made her rewrite the whole thing.  I still suspect even with the rewrite her editor felt like he or she was bench pressing free-weights on Jupiter. Some think it needed another rewrite. It was obvious the publisher saw the raw material for what it was (Harry Potter for adults--YE$!) 

This is the story of dueling magicians. There is no way to avoid comparisons to The Prestige written by Christopher Priest and made into a movie starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.  A fun game to play is to ask people who is hotter, Jackman or Bale. I was at a table with about six straight guys and the overwhelming answer was Christian Bale.  They were vehement about it.  The answer was definitive and swift.  It was clear they had really thought about it and more than once.  But I digress, this book features a man and a woman who must duel....to the death. The magicians are trained by two sick bastards as a long standing bet.  Those bastards remind me of the Dukes in Trading Places.

Do you remember my snacking theory from my review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter? This book has the most amazing snacks featuring: hot chocolate, warm cider, cinnamon pastries, drizzled popcorn and ten course dinners.  Clearly this was written by someone amidst the throes of PMS. I was ok with it...very ok. 

Morgenstern creates a beautiful setting with her background as an visual artist.  Despite its flaws I liked it.  One trusted friend thought she couldn't quite pull it together. I, however, needed a delicious, beautiful world to live in for 387 pages so I enjoyed it.

If you read this in the fall I would drink some mulled cider.  Any other time, drink with any Bells beer because they are consistently good and no one can argue their talent and craft. Drink a Bells with Christian Bale. Apparently everyone can get on board with that....and I mean everyone.