Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nineteen Minutes

I continue swiftly along on my Jodi Picoult rampage (if one can call cruising through an author's set of books a rampage). Last week I finished Nineteen Minutes, a novel focusing on bullying and school shootings. I really seem to enjoy her stories that center around teenagers in tough situations. Maybe I can relate more to them because I work in a setting concerning teenagers. Anyway, this one really spoke to me (again, maybe it's because I work in a school).

I haven't seen a school shooting book come out yet. It's almost like it's too soon for someone to touch this subject after recent school shootings, but I think Picoult does a good job at understanding WHY shootings could happen. She really goes back into the past to anaylze the years it takes to build up to something this devastating. And normally, like she shows, it's something that builds, and it takes a bunch of people to contribute to the pain that festers inside to make someone commit such a heinous act.

Before I start, why would the first cover posted above be the best choice for a cover for this book? The focus is not about love. This makes it look like a teen romance book. If anything, it's anti-that. It shows bad teenage love. It's more about pain and suffering at the hands of bullying. Why have this one then? I say, BAD CHOICE!

Ninteen Minutes is a clever name for the novel. Nineteen students are killed, which alludes to the title right off the bat. However, I really like how Picoult opens the book. She lists off anything that can potentially happen in nineteen minutes:

"In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn; color your hair; watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five. Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the playoffs. It’s the amount of time it takes to listen to the Yes song 'Close to the Edge.' It’s the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It’s the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, NH. In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk two miles. You can sew a hem. In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world; or you
can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge."

In nineteen minutes, Peter Houghton invades the school and seeks revenge on those who bullied him.

The novel skips back and forth from the present to the past as the reader discovers why this shooting happened and discovers all of the pieces to the puzzle about the shooting itself. Like other Picoult novels, there is a mystery twist at the end (concerning the shooting) that changes EVERYTHING in the book. Honestly, I didn't see this coming in the slightest. She normally has a twist, but this one came from left field. In retrospect, I could've seen it. She was really building up to it. But afterwards, it makes a lot of sense.

Peter was a troubled kid, picked on by boys ever since his first day of kindergarten when his lunch box is tossed off the school bus. Throughout school, he had little support from administration who did not heavily punish the boys who tormented him. He even had an elementary school teacher who encouraged Peter to stand up for himself and did not force the bullies to stop picking on him.

A much better cover:

Peter's mother tried to make Peter fit in, but he just wasn't suited for it. She made him join the soccer team, which led to more embarassment and teasing from teammates, especially since he never played. He was picked on in the showers for being so small. And even worse for Peter was his older brother Joey, the perfect son who Peter could never live up to. He was an athlete, a smart guy, a popular guy--one who even picked on his little brother in school to save his own reputation. Unfortunately, Joey is killed by a drunk driver, making him almost become a saint. Part of this adds to Peter's pressure which leads up to the shooting.

In addition, the past connects Peter with Josie Cormier (daughter of the judge Alex Cormier) as good friends. Peter and Josie were childhood friends until Peter showed Josie his father's rifles (the ones he uses to shoot later on when he is a junior). Alex forbids Josie to play with Peter anymore even though they remain friends until they are in sixth grade. Josie starts to hang out with the popular crowd, and their friendship deteriorates.

Another level is added to the mix because of their dismantled friendship. Peter's mother, Lacy, was Alex's midwife and coached her into having Josie even though she was a single mother and aspiring judge. They became friends through this struggle. This paints the history of Alex's troubled relationship with Josie's father, her law professor, who she eventually beats out to receive the position of judge. Their friendship breaks apart when Peter's and Josie's does, but it sparks up a little bit at the end when Alex starts to smypathize with Peter during the trial.

Before the shooting, Josie was going out with Matt Royston, one of the victims. He severely teased Peter, even pulling his pants down in the cafeteria in front of everyone. On another occasion, his group of friends sent out Peter's love letter to Josie (since he had a crush on her) to the entire school. This made Peter look like a fool. This incident triggered some of the deaths on the day of the school shooting.

Some other percursors were linked to the possibility of him becoming a shooter as well: He created his own violent video games on the computer. They were about going into a school and shooting. He set fire to a dumpster at work and then wrote about it during school (Josie told on him which further severed their relationship--but they do make up in a jammed elevator where she lets him kiss her briefly). His father took him hunting which is where he developed his shooting skills. His father then feels tremendous guilt that he cannot shake for the duration of the novel.

In addition, the novel focuses on Josie's relationship with Matt and trying to fit into the popular crowd. She really sees these people for the shallow teens that they are. She hates how they pick on people, but she doesn't want to turn on them because then they would turn on her. She doesn't want to become a target. Matt is also abusive to her, physically harming her and then taking advantage of her sexually. He has moments where he sort of seems to care about her, but the relationship is really shallow and he is really selfish. He doesn't even care when she becomes pregnant and miscarriages. Josie's actions in the end have a purpose based on this information.

In terms of the shooting, Peter came into the school not really planned and killed students who bullied him and some random students as well. He killed a history teacher who was gay (perhaps to hide the fact that he caught Peter at a gay bar trying to figure out his own sexuality). If Peter WAS gay, which he wasn't, that would add another layer to the teasing and bullying. I think Peter must have been bisexual. Anyway, he sat down in the cafeteria to have a bowl of cereal and then continued to shoot victims. I think he stopped because it was the only time in school where he felt in control and where no one would bother or tease him (even though that sounds sick).

And as for the twist (SPOILER ALERT): Josie admits on the stand to killing Matt Royston. The way that the bullets were found in the locker room at the end of the novel make it impossible for Peter to take the blame for it. Josie is standing face to face with Peter and Matt when a gun slips out of Peter's backpack. Matt yells for Josie to shoot Peter, but she turns and shoots Matt in the chest. Matt is laying there dying, and Josie panicks and asks Peter to do something. Peter shoots him in the head, and they both faint before Peter could kill himself--what he wanted to do originally. It is hinted at the end of the novel that Peter does kill himself in prison. Josie is sentenced to five years in prison and her mother visits her.

Josie's mother Alex, during the novel, engages in a romance with Patrick, the lead police chief on the case. Alex eventually steps off the case, yet the two are still romantically intertwined. Apparently Patrick was a character in another novel of Picoult's, but he finally seeks his closure with Alex as they prepare to have a child at the end of the novel.


I thought the topic was a really good one to discuss with others. Picoult gets inside the mind of a troubled victim to make us see why something like this might occur. It also points a finger at the tormentors who never got in trouble for being extremely cruel. It explains WHY bullies pick on others and the effect it has on those bullied. I found that exploration to be very interesting.

Picoult also focuses on the life of a judge, which I enjoyed. I never thought of the judge's perspective before, and the female judge's perspective was interesting. Alex kept connecting back her role as a mother to that of a judge which made awesome connections throughout.

Picoult does a great job sequencing of time to keep you hooked. We keep switching perspectives of characters to make the plot well-rounded. Then we keep going forward and backward which adds more layers to the characters and their stories. Of all the Picoult novels I've read, this was definitely one of the best. I was hooked on this one and couldn't stop reading it for days on end until I finally finished it.

Teens have so much to deal with. That transition that teens have when they go from childhood to teenage-hood when friends shift around and people become popular is hard. It hurts feelings. It makes people feel inferior. Being bullied is even harder. It's even more pathetic on the end of the bully because they need to make someone feel smaller than them because they have their own issues and insecurities.

I can't stand bullying. I can't stand seeing it in my classroom and I try my best to stop it when I can. But, the sad thing is, there is only so much that administration and teachers can do. Bullies can be smart, and they do it in places where there is little supervision like the locker room, the cafeteria, the halls, or the bus. Those areas are terrible targets for poor victims, and I feel bad that bullying is still a terrible problem. I don't even think it's one that can be stopped. People always want to have a hierarchy, and even if you hold programs on anti-bullying, it will still happen. Bullies don't peg themselves as bullies; they do it for psychological reasons that they may not even recognize. It's a sad cycle that I don't think will stop no matter how much we try.

But, we can at least try to be aware of it. Reading about the topic and dissecting WHY it happens (i.e. reading a book like this) is at least one step. Maybe if there is more discussion generated, more awareness can help more preventing--not to stop it completely. That would be a dream.

So what do you think of Nineteen Minutes?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Downtown Owl

Chuck Klosterman's first (and only to date) piece of fiction, Downtown Owl, was a really interesting read. I've read some of his non-fictional pieces and really enjoyed his commentary, especially on pop culture, his specialty. Thus, I was really interested to see what he could do with a piece of fiction, and I was very impressed, overall.

Downtown Owl takes place in a fictional town of Owl, North Dakota. Klosterman himself is from the midwest and most likely drew from his own experiences growing up in a small town like this one. The novel transfers between three narrators. Mitch is a football player who is depressed for no reason really. Julia is a history teacher who just moved to the town straight out of college. Horace is an older man who hangs out at the local diner and interacts with the town folk. Through their commentaries, a narrative is woven.

Mitch's perspective focuses on how lame high school is. He talks a lot about his loathed football coach and English teacher who sleeps with the students and gets away with it. The town turns a blind eye. It's pretty gross. He already impregnated two girls. Then they move. Then he moves on. Mitch also talks about his sports and hanging out with his friends, which this again revolves around current pop culture.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that this takes place in 1983-1984? Awesome decade to encapsulate. Not much is written about the 80s in retrospect, since it's a bit recent, but I thought Klosterman did an awesome job taking us back to that time period.

Connecting with those years, Mitch's class reads Orwell's 1984, and connections to the novel are quite interesting to read.

Julia's perspectives focuses on teaching in a small town and not knowing anyone. She becomes familiarized with the customs and nicknames of the locals (the nicknames having no importance whatsoever to the character of the person, just a stupid story that was funny at one point). Julia feels like an alien in this town and is bombarded with folk who want to take her out because she's new. She goes to the local bars quite often, especially with her two sidekicks. Julia meets Vance Druid, a local football celebrity, and their interactions are really interesting.

Klosterman's writing style is unique from other writers. In one instance, in a conversation between Vance and Julia, Klosterman alternates between, "What she said" and "What she meant," and then to "What he said" and "What he meant." It analyzes a conversation between two people who are both flirting with the other one but have different intentions. It was fascinating to read, and dead-on.

Horace's perspective deals with talking with locals about other people in the town. Horace talks a lot about his deceased wife, which it seems that he either killed or led to her death somehow. It's a little mysterious. He likes living alone now and talks a lot about the past with his wife and his life alone now.

SPOILER: The end was captivated, and it came from nowhere! I never saw this happening! Since there really wasn't a STRONG central plot, the ending tied all three narratives together. I liked it so much because it came from left field. On the last night, the town is hit with a terrible snowstorm that ends up killing sixteen people. Two of those people are Julia and Mitch, who talk about their final minutes. Those narratives are fascinating. Horace survives the storm and walks us through how he does so.

Very strange way to end it. Why kill off two of those narrators? Why kill THOSE narrators? They were the youngest and had the most to learn/gain. Why let the one who is oldest and wouldn't mind dying, die? Klosterman even foreshadows this event with a news story at the beginning of the novel, but the reader has no idea what this connects to until the end. And, we don't know who dies.

End of spoiler.

Even though the plot isn't 100% solid, it was really interesting to read through. Klosterman's characters engage in thought-provoking and/or humorous discussion that you can't put down. You might even bring up some of their points in discussion in your real life. And, he intersperses musical commentary and 80s references to keep you interested as well.

Overall, if you like Klosterman or are looking for a good piece of fiction to read, Downtown Owl is for you. I really enjoyed it and was disappointed when I finished it. I sat down and read it in the span of one day, but it can be spread out and enjoyed over more time as well.

So what do you think of Downtown Owl?

Friday, April 9, 2010


I couldn't put down Chuck Palahniuk's Diary today. I finished it all in one day. Palahniuk is a writer that fascinates me. He comes up with these insane, twisted, and intellectual stories with plots that no one else could ever come up with, and you become entransed in this insane alternate universe. He creates some bizarre plots, but we should add this one to the list, for sure.

One of the novel's greatest questions is posted subliminally on the cover, and more overtly inside the novel: WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?

Interesting question. Must be an interesting book then...

Diary follows Misty Mae Kleinman (soon Wilmot), an artist in college who is forced to move with her boyfriend, Peter, to his tourist-ridden town after he impregnantes her. Misty slowly deteriorates in the town after her daughter Tabbi is born. She works as as a waitress in the resort's restaurant facility, and she begins drinking heavily. She hasn't painted in years due to the destitute state of her new life.

The novel begins where Peter is discovered in his car, attempting to kill himself. Since he was not successful, he is now in a coma. Before he tried to kill himself, however, Peter went to the homes that he was working on (since he was a contractor) and wrote absolutely obsene messages on the walls. People begin suing Peter left and right, even though he's in a coma. Misty has to deal with this mess as Peter is obviously indesposed.

Misty visits the houses Peter destroyed to read these horrific messages. Misty is met by a friend, Angel, who helps her try to understand the messages as well. He is interested in graphology (the study of handwriting and what it tells about the writer) and they discuss Peter's writing.

Now, here is the twist (so don't read if you want to read the novel): Misty is involved in an age-old superstition/conspiracy that occurs every four generations in Peter's town. The belief is that every four generations, a young man brings back a wonderful artist to the island. The cycle persists that, once brought to the island, the artist reproduces, then the husband is killed, the children die, and the wife goes insane. From this insanity, the woman paints masterpieces that make the town rich. Once the woman has created a gallery's worth, a gallery is opened, and all of the townspeople are brought to see it. When the town is awed by these masterpieces, the gallery lights on fire, killing all of the viwers. The town then collects its insurance claim which will keep the island's financial state alive for four more generations. Then the cycle should repeat itself.

Misty is caught in the middle of this conspiracy. She is told Peter's father was dead, but it turns out that he was alive the whole time. He is the one who tries to murder his son and make it look like a suicide (to fulfill the conspiracy) and fakes Tabbi's death to make Misty go crazy. Angel tries to tell Misty what is going on (while also revealing that he was Peter's lover) and is murdered by Peter's father to silence him. Misty, understanding what's going on, fulfills her part but escapes with her daughter after the burning down of the gallery.

( Here is the interior of the novel: )

The end of the novel is from a little bit of time into the future where Misty writes a fictional letter to Chuck Palahniuk, offering that he write about her horrors to make others aware so that this conspiracy does not happen again, four generations from now. This is a book that could be read again, because then you can go back and piece together all of the clues. Apparently Peter was trying to warn Misty through his writing, so going back will be interesting to see what his cryptic messages were.

End of spoiler. The writing was a little hard to follow, a little disjointed. The narrator would go back and forth from seeing Misty's perspective to accusing and talking about Peter, using second person to assume that the narrator was YOU. That was different from most narrations.

Palaniuk did a solid job on making the reader feel as crazy as Misty felt as she was being manipulated and twisted to be this carbon-copied person. This crazy life led her to become insane, to the point where she counts out her drinks, her pills, and makes comments that make you question her sanity.

The repetition Palahniuk uses is here yet again. It's the single characteristic that I love the most about his writing. It can be found in each of his novels (as I have commented in earlier posts on his novels), and they are all extremely effective. Words/phrases/ideas that are constantly repeated throughout the novel: "You." "Take another drink/pill" following events that occur. Peter's wall writings. Angel's insights on graphology interspersed between plot events. "Everything is a self portrait. Everything is a diary." Connections to Maura Kincaid and Constance Burton.

Not only am I really interested in graphology now, but I want to try out Carl Jung's theory of how one sees the self, as presented in the nove. I want to ask these questions to people to see what they say about themselves. Here is how Palahniuk's narrator describes it: Ask these four questions. After each question, the person needs to give three adjectives that describe the answer they give. Write these three adjectives down each time. These questions stand for the (information placed inside parenthesis next to it).

Name a color (How one sees the self)
Name an animal (How one views others)
Name a body of water (How one views his sexual life/being)
Name an all-white room (How one views death)

Analyze the three adjectives given to see how this personal currently sees himself or herself. Palahniuk is bound to have cool little things like this interspersed through his writing.

I like how Palahniuk explored the tortured/suffering artist. The one who is really insane is really brilliant. He references many artists who were a little nutty who ended up producing some fabulous work. Where does inspiration come from? Do we really only create when we suffer? I hope never to answer this someday.

This was quite a bizarre book, but I really enjoyed it in the end. It took me a little while to get the flow and plot of the book, but once I got it, the book kept flowing until I finished. Palahniuk has yet to let me down with his writing.

And, hopefully this will become a motion picture soon as it was picked up as a potential Sundance film. I'll cross my fingers until then.

So what do you think about Diary?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Billy Corgan

Billy Corgan, rock god?

Rolling Stone recently covered Corgan's current life in an article with the title "Rock God, Interrupted." The last time that Rolling Stone dubbed an artist a rock god, they received backlash from fans. They called Chris Martin of Coldplay a rock god, and a debate ensued about what a rock god is. Chris Martin is talented, but I don't think he has acheieved the status of the title.

Now, Billy Corgan? God status? Not in my mind. When I think of a rock god, I think of a rock artist who will be a legend, an artist who lights up the stage (even in a dark way) and captivates an audience. They create songs that speak to the generation and will be around for a long time. Rock gods are like Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison. They were living legends. They still resonate today even though they're gone.

When you say a rock god's name on the street, people know it. They can picture a face. They don't say, "What band is he in?" "What does he look like?" "What songs does he sing?" With Billy Corgan, I don't feel like we make that same connection.

How does Billy Corgan fit into that mix? Now, don't get me wrong, he does create good music. Smashing Pumpkins is a great band from the 90s that created some awesome songs. Those are some classic songs of the 90s. But, to me, Billy Corgan is just too whiny and soft to be "godlike." He seems too pouty, poor-me, caged up and hiding from the world. And did I say...arrogant?

In any event, the article was astounding to me. Corgan's arrogance caught me way off guard. I couldn't believe some of the stuff he was saying to the writer knowing that he would publish it in a popular rock magazine! Check out what he said:

"Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is yes, I do. I've been too productive for too long, and despite what anybody wants to strip away from me, I am influential. I am. You can hear echoes of my music right now. So all the Pitchforks in the world can try to strip me of every ounce of dignity, but I belong."

Humble much?

I loved the introductory line in the article: "Unless you count what he's done to his career, Billy Corgan has never attempted suicide."

Hilarious. Let's face it: He was HUGE in the 90s. Siamese Dream and Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness were INCREDIBLE albums. He created songs that still are strong and influential today. Then the band dismembered and came back for a random political album, Zeitgeist. I didn't mind that album, but it wasn't up to the caliber it used to be.

The 90s MADE Corgan, and then in the article he says, "I fucking hated the nineties." It's like he's destined to hate and despise and complain and moan about everything positive (and everything negative) in his life. Is there anything he likes or thinks is positive? He seems to be the tortured artist, but the tortured artist, oftentimes, is the most brilliant of all.

I do have to give Corgan credit on his current musical project though: He's releasing 44 songs slowly (about one a week), and every time four songs are put out, he's going to put them on an EP and sell them himself. The 44 song compliation will be called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Awesome idea. He's embracing the new age we're coming into when bands take over their own distribution of music. I think fans would be really into this idea of focusing on one song and then awaiting the next. It's a really creative idea.

Corgan is talented, he has a troubled past, but he just seems too haughty to me after this interview. He feels entitled and angry about what's happened to him. Maybe I'm coming off with a strong opinion without knowing too much of his story (a lot of which was provided in the article), but everything he had to say just turned me off. Yeah, he can be a big deal, but when you say you're a big deal, it takes away that lustre and flare. It's less attractive and appealing. I don't like it much at all.

And, I think his recent alleged affairs really bring down his image. We'll let the Courtney Love relationship slide... It was the 90s... She used to be something different pre-Kurt. We didn't know how low she could stoop. We'll even ignore if they still have contact and that he has been currently working with her on her music with Hole... But his recent relationships with Jessica Simpson and Tila Tequila are just trashy. I mean, come on? Is this the validation he needs now in his later years? Really? This is where we are headed Corgan? To me, this is just another strike against this alleged "rock god."

So what do you think of Billy Corgan or the recent article on him in Rolling Stone?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Marriage Ref

What is Jerry Seinfeld thinking?

Now, don't get me wrong. Jerry Seinfeld is a comedy legend. He's one of my favorite comedians/writers of all time. His humor has changed the way comedy is presented. He focuses on the issues wrong with our daily lives--the mundane--and makes it hilarious. Then, regular people everywhere can connect with him on this stupid (yet brilliant) observations.

But, now Seinfeld has created a new show that is quite questionable. I was hesitant to begin watching it, but because it was Seinfeld's idea, I tuned in.

I think this is The Marriage Ref's biggest problem: It's a better IDEA than an actual, running, successful television show.

I mean, think about it: Married couples always have stupid fights. Maybe the only way to solve them is to have an actual ref to determine a winner. That would work as a funny bit, but it wouldn't work as well as a show, I am seeing.

The Marriage Ref tries to draw in people by throwing out as many celebrity names as possible--especially Seinfeld's. After Jay Leno's ten o'clock flop, they're looking for anything to take its place and survive. But this show isn't going to own up to that challenge. There's no way that America will hook into this show. It's lame, awkward, and it has no flow or direction.

They try to make it seem structured, but the show has awkward pauses. The celebrities seem scripted, as if they have pre-planned their quirky little phrases and ideas. They all laugh for long periods of time and cut each other off. It's very natural, but I still find myself feeling uncomfortable as they try to communicate about a very strange marriage situation (i.e. keeping a deceased dog as a stuffed pet). Then celebrities have to dispel their morals, and it can make us look at these celebrities in a good/bad light (i.e. Eva Longoria-Parker siding with psychotic women and showing her old-fashioned/crazy side). Yikes.

And, the host just isn't funny. He's a weird dude. He tries to make really funny jokes (which he laughs at), but he's just not a spotlight guy. And then HE is the one who is supposed to make the decision? I don't know about this. I don't trust or like this guy. Why would I want to listen to him? If Seinfeld was telling me something, I would listen to his judgment, but it seems like this host was just lifted off the street. Why do I listen to him? I don't care about him. I don't trust him. I don't value his opinion. F this guy.

I'm surprised that Seifeld is even leaning towards the reality TV angle. He's being sucked into what's popular. I'm even more surprised that married couples are more than willing to show America these humiliating fights they have between themselves. Oh, the whole thing is shameless, and that bothers me. It's just an awkward compilation of good ideas gone wrong, and they keep trying to make it work. I don't think it's going to work. But, if NBC is throwing away talent like Conan O'Brien, maybe this is considered, to them, a good, quality television program.

I tried sitting through two episodes, but I turned both off prematurely. I just can't sit through it. It's a struggle for me because I want to watch these awesome, respected celebrities (Larry David, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Kelly Ripa), but they're just doing Seinfeld a favor. It's sad. I want Seinfeld to do something on the air, but this just isn't something that is respectable and/or interesting. He's better than this. He just needs to find his groove again.

And isn't this a flawed concept anyway? Isn't this just going to cause more fights? I don't think that declaring a winner is actually going to solve the fight, I think it's going to give either the husband or the wife the upper hand in the marriage. It's another card to use against the other one. It might even make the "loser" feel useless or worthless. I think the show will cause more therapy than less. I think it's a disaster waiting to happen to marriages. We'll see.

So, Seinfeld is still a great, great comedian, but his newest show is a joke. We'll let him have this flop. I only can hope that something more brilliant than this (which isn't setting the bar that high) can come. He's allowed to screw up; we all are. I just look forward to the next greatest project, but let's ditch this new show. It's short-lived anyway.

What do you think of The Marriage Ref?