Friday, June 22, 2012

Hey, It Was Free

Pushups in the Prayer RoomPushups in the Prayer Room by Norm Schriever
My rating:  Don't bother

I got this book for free after a Good Reads give-away program (although I didn't win, the author contacted me later and offered me a free book if I would promise to review it.) So, never look a gift horse in the mouth is what I've learned from my father. I've read the book and now I have to keep my end of the bargain.

It would not be good form to trash a free book. So, I will be as kind as I can. Norm Schreiver seems like a fun guy to have a beer or two with. I would stop at two because, according to the book, he can get pretty wasted after more. He has some stories that he could tell about the year he took traveling to various parts of the world. Most of the trip is with a friend and for most of the trip, Schriever and his friend stay in one sleazy hotel after another, get wasted in one sleazy bar after another, try to find a basketball court to shoot some hoops and try to pick up women. Those are the kinds of stories that really go over a little better in a bar than in a book. In a bar, you can kind of tune in and out of the conversation, depending on how loud the music is and what's on the television monitors. As a book, you're pretty much stuck with reading every word, and in this one, an editor would probably have eliminated some of the words. (Depending on the toughness of the editor, maybe some of the chapters.)

The book is not all about partying though. About three-fourths of the way through, Schreiber has an epiphany of sorts when he sees on a train platform a boy in raggedy clothes, whom he assumes is an orphan, eating out of trash containers. The boy touches him to the point that he gives him all of his cash (the $31 he has on him) and some clothes. He also decides that there is a higher purpose to life, mainly saving the world with his writing. So, he finishes the trip, goes back to California, goes into business of some sort involving real estate and law (I would not be at all surprised if he is a lawyer, as they seem to be particularly susceptible to the need to express themselves in writing) makes a lot of money, and then, 10 years later moves to Costa Rica where he writes this book. He has now apparently moved on to Nicaragua where he is working on a sequel.

The book is not a religious book despite the title. According to the preface, the title comes from a time when Schriever was in Thailand and was in a hotel room so small he couldn't do his daily pushups so he went to some kind of meditation/prayer room down the hall and did them. It's a catchy title, and I would have liked to see a little more exposition about the incident, but it is not included in the chapter on Schriever's stay in Thailand, which is a bit odd, I thought.

The book shows the blessing and perils of self-publishing.  The world would never have seen the book if the author had been forced to find a traditional publisher.  You can count that as a blessing or a curse, depending on your personal inclinations.  I got the book for free.  It wasn't a bargain.  If you're going to read it, make sure you don't have to pay for it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Infinite Book

Infinite JestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me six months, but I finally did it. All 1,079 pages, including 388 footnotes, some of which ran 10 to 15 pages and contained footnotes within the footnotes. Despite, following along (more or less) with a readers' guide, I can't say that I began to understand the book. Some of the writing is very clear, with good descriptions and laced with humor. There were many things I found infuriating about the book -- the constant use of initials for names of people, places and things; the use of obscure words after obscure words, which even a heavy reader with years of education could not decipher. The book struck me as being by and for English majors.

Why did I bother? First, I have never started a book I didn't finish. Second, Wallace is from this area and I kind of know some of his immediate family members. Third, it is praised by those in the know as one of the great works of literature of the Twentieth Century and Wallace is considered one of the century's greatest authors. No doubt, Wallace is an extremely smart person, but he is not smart enough to be able to write his thoughts in such a way that a reasonably educated person can understand them. What I would really like to do is read the book again in the Kindle version so that I could get immediate definitions of unknown words by simply pressing on the word. But not yet. First I'm going to cleanse my palate with some Proust.