Monday, October 12, 2009

Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk

Welcome to Palahniuk as the first duplicated author on the blog! The first post, about Choke, dealt largely with sex. And, well... there's really no way around having the same focus again this time.

In short, Snuff is the tale of three dudes and a talent wrangler backstage at the set of the biggest gang-bang porn shoot of all time. And a lot of what you get is just about what you might expect from such a plot. Actually, the single most scathing book review I have ever read was about this novel. I'm going to try not to repeat what Ellman says, and only partly because of her extreme distaste of the book.

But I can't avoid it completely, because I had settled on my topic before rereading the review. Ellman makes a point, which she words more eloquently than I would, that the issue with Snuff is not the subject matter -- I actually think that for those not morally against pornography the premise of this book has a good deal of promise, and is certainly uncharted literary territory -- but the way in which Palahniuk handles the topic. The premise could have opened the book to all kinds of questions or examinations of modern sexuality, the role of porn in society, positions (no pun intended*) of men and women, gender studies, interactions between 600 horny men in a single room, humans as animals. It could have... but it didn't.

At least, if it did, Palahniuk buries these examinations beneath crassness and trivia to where no one would want to dig them out. My opinion: his big mistake was writing from the perspective of the three male characters during the film shoot. Mark Twain's flourish of dialect this was not -- and, although I haven't ready Ulysses, from what I gather about it the writing style of Snuff wasn't exactly on a par with James Joyce's stream of consciousness. In-time thoughts from characters can read like a character's mind, and that's ok. But they shouldn't read like they came from the author's mind, and he wrote them down and never edited them again. The almost amateur feel to the prose, and the mental capacities of his three "actors," prohibit any of the good stuff (literarily, not pornographically) from coming forth -- if, in fact, any of the good stuff was conceived** of in the first place.

All that said, apparently I still enjoyed the book enough to finish reading it. And it's certainly an interesting read -- although believe me, it wouldn't be in the top 10,000 books on Amazon had it been a debut novel.

Or by any other author.
*Ok, I lied. It was intended.
**Totally intended.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ireland: A Short History, by Joseph Coohill

I consider myself a fairly well-educated person. And I recognize that in the island of Ireland, there is the Republic of Ireland and there is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. So when I met a group of Irish people -- that is, from the Republic -- about this time last year, and I wanted to find out where exactly they were from, I thought it reasonable to ask whether their hometown was in north Ireland or south Ireland.

Apparently that's the wrong question to ask a group of Irish people.

I caught the blunt end of a diatribe about the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and how the Republic is certainly NOT to be distinguished as "south Ireland," and so on. In vain I attempted to explain that I simply wondered where, geographically, on the island they were from, and that my cardinal directions were in no way political differentiations.

Eventually I patched things over, but I learned how -- or at least how not -- to ask that one question of a person from the island of Ireland.

I have my reasons for choosing this book to read right now; same goes for many of the likely upcoming books. If those reasons develop into anything, I'll certainly mention something here. But even without said reasons, this book was a good introduction to the major themes of Irish history -- which, as with most good history, granted insight into the psyche of the Irish and Northern Ireland people as a whole. More than many western countries in the last two centuries, Ireland has had to deal not only with war, colonization, religious conflict, and terrorism, but with its very identity. Being Irish does not simply mean being born in Ireland -- true, granted, of any nationality. But the question of Irish identity carries with it heavy questions of religion, of opinions about the English crown, of how one reads the history of this small island.

Many Americans, in my experience, relate to the Irish; whether because of immigrant backgrounds or whether because of Saint Patrick's Day, I can't say. But in general, our level of ignorance about our closest European neighbors (does Iceland really count?) and their incredibly relevant social and political history is fairly shocking, considering how much their history since the founding of the United States has actually affected America. Even just getting an idea of the themes of Irish history would help prevent people like me from loading an innocent-enough question and shooting it off to the wrong Irishman.