Current Distractions, November 2015 Edition

As is usually the case, I've put off this post, and I'm scrambling to get it finished, and I don't feel like writing much of anything.

November has been an ok month. For some reason, whether it be El Nino, climate change, or just the luck of the draw, it doesn't seem to want to get really cold out, which is bizarre but not something I'm going to complain about too much. The current temperatures hovering a little below zero are basically my idea of perfect winter weather. We just need a bit more snow.

I haven't been terribly productive, though. My attempt at NaNoWriMo fizzled over the past week, meaning I've lost for the fourth year in a row. I got a lot further than I have in a long time, though, so that's good.

I've been watching Jessica Jones, How to Get Away with Murder, Daredevil, and probably a few other things, not in that order. I watched The Expanse pilot episode, which I mostly enjoyed with the sound mixing being the biggest problem that I had with it.

On the 28th, I picked up three books from the library, one of which is the next selection for my book club, and the other two of which are comics. I suspect that I'll get to the comics before my Xmas reading marathon, but I have this huge chunky novel and some more books coming from the library to read over my two weeks off from work, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

65. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Year Published: 1962
Pages: 141
First Sentence: 'What's it going to be then, eh?'
Rating: 3/3 (read it!)

It turns out that I’d forgotten more than I remembered about A Clockwork Orange and what happens in it, and what it’s like to read.

I can tell you for sure that I was 16 the first time I read this book.  It was the summer before my last year of high school, and I was prepared for the nadsat slang, but not for what a miserable experience I’d have going to summer camp for the first time in my life at that advanced age.  I had no patience for the bizarre intensity of camp friendships and love affairs, or the silly group games.  I affected a habit of wearing a row of safety pins on my polo shirts, and painting my pinky fingernails black.  I read A Clockwork Orange.  It was a week long camp and the book is a short one, but if I read anything else that week, I’ve long since forgotten it.

The edition that I read then made a big production of the fact that it included the final chapter, a chapter that didn’t appear in the original American edition of the book (but had always been in the UK one) and also doesn’t show up in the movie by Stanley Kubrick.  I’ll probably have to get into some spoilers about this, so look out.  Anyway, I was paying pretty close attention to the ending.  I was also a naive idiot without taste (now I’m just a naive idiot with a little bit of taste and an extreme wariness of other people’s), so I took a camp counsellor’s word for it when she said that the movie was hilarious.

I have a lot of regrets about watching that movie, but none about reading and loving this book.

In case you’re neither an Anthony Burgess nor a Kubrick fan and have missed the greater cultural impact of their respective works titled A Clockwork Orange, it is the story of a 15 year old boy named Alex, who is pretty much a juvenile delinquent.  Well, not “pretty much,” that’s exactly what he is.  He’s the embodiment of the violent youth so feared for so long by so many people.  He’s committed all kinds of assault, stolen money, vandalized property, done all sorts of drugs, and he loves classical music like whoa.  By some miracle, he is just a little bit charming, which is I think the only thing that keeps this book afloat.  He gets arrested for the not-so-accidental murder of an old woman amidst a bunch of cats, is betrayed by his friends, and ends up in jail.  The jail is overcrowded, and after two years of good behaviour, Alex murders one of his cellmates, sort of in self-defense but not really.  This leads to him becoming a candidate for the Ludovico technique/method/thingy, a sort of aversion therapy involving the administration of drugs while being strapped down and forced to watch violent acts, leaving the person being treated physically incapable of committing violence.  It works, to the point that Alex decides to kill himself.  That doesn’t work, although in being treated for his wounds, he goes right back to the way he was.

Which is where the book ends as of its first American publications.

Where it really ends, though, is much more thought-provoking.  Months later, Alex has accumulated a new gang of friends but he’s not really feeling the urge for ultra-violence like he used to.  He’s almost eighteen and against all odds, it seems that he really will grow up and leave all this behind him.

This is the first book that I can ever remember pondering the meaning of.  It’s set in the not-too-distant future of the past, i.e. Burgess’s present.  My thoughts at the time were that it extrapolates from the youth of today to the youth of tomorrow as being ever more violent, more heedless, etc. but that growing up will forever be a civilizing force.  Having read it again, I think that’s probably overly simplistic.  The violence that Alex and his friends engage in is senseless and opportunistic, though, not necessarily motivated by their socioeconomic status (although in this future communism seems to be a much more dominant force, and also the State is rather more explicitly controlling), so I think what’s suggested here is that boys will be boys will be ever wilder boys* in the face of ever increasing efforts at control.

Anyway, even if that central thing doesn’t quite sit right, there are a lot of solid concepts that are touched on that somewhat make up for it: police corruption and brutality, prison crowding, free will.  Also, the nadsat slang by itself is an impressive achievement.  Burgess invented a slang that heavily uses Russian words and then throws in some rhyming slang and other things, in order to avoid dating the book too quickly.  Alas, the Russian usage does still date it somewhat, but the fact that it can be read without the inclusion of a glossary is just amazing.  Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time will know that I have almost no patience for complicated language, and so the fact that I love this is worthy of note.

I must say, though, that while I don’t regret having loved this book for so many years, I’m not sure that I can keep it among my favourites anymore.  I suppose I forgot the extent of Alex’s violence, or it didn’t quite hit me (hur hur) full force when I read the book the first time, but this time around I wasn’t so willing to let him off the hook for growing out of his violent impulses.  I’m sorry, dude, but just because you’re not in the mood for raping women and beating up old men for no reason anymore, doesn’t mean that I want you to be able to meet someone, fall in love, and have a child.

So.  Read this for the medium but maybe not the message.

*One criticism I do need to make of Burgess and this book in particular are that women aren’t really portrayed with much agency or, like, anything.  Alex’s mom is spineless, his friend’s wife is a ditz, the two young girls that he takes home and sexually assaults (if not outright rapes) are dumb too, and the woman that he gang rapes with his original friends ends up curling up and dying.  Burgess wasn’t a particular fan of feminists, based on at least one essay in But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?, and yet somehow he wrote One Hand Clapping, a woman’s story in first person and one of the best examples of a distinct character voice that I can think of, in which you hear her voice in your head instead of your own while you read the book.  If anyone knows of a scholarly article out there quantitatively comparing Burgess’s and Hemingway’s bad attitudes toward women, please contact me immediately.  Tl;dr it’s never clear what the girl nadsats are up to.

Five Years Ago This Month: November 2010

Five years ago this month...

...I speculated about women's clothing and the male gaze, specifically at work. My thoughts on this have evolved somewhat in the intervening years, or at least there are some parts of that post that I would approach differently if I were to write it today.

...I chose a category for the "category romance novel" (romnov) that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2010. Harlequin NASCAR appears to have fizzled out since 2010, but there are still a lot hilariously specific categories, e.g. Cowboys and Babies.

...I planned and outlined my romnov. I didn't get into any specifics at the time, and I won't now, but I can say that it took place on a cruise ship.

...I wrote about romnov character archetypes. I linked to a couple of other Modern Library reading blogs, both of which now appear to be defunct, so that's something to be proud of, I suppose!

...I wrote about sex scenes in romnovs. Probably my most TMI post ever, even though it's more allusion that anything else.

...I decried happy endings. Who needs 'em?

...I was distracted. By the thing that I'd been blogging about all month.

...I decided not to try to publish the romnov I slaved over all month.

Season of Favourites: Before

Ugh, favourite books. I'm not much for choosing favourites. It seems like that's pretty common, especially when you're quite familiar with a thing. Like, I'm not sure how many chefs have favourite foods, or how many musicians have favourite songs. It's always a case of "one of my favourites," rather than absolutes.

Still, for a long time I've stuck to one list of four favourite books, and when I noticed that two of them fell beside one another on the list, I thought that would be a great opportunity to read all four of them in a row, for the first time ever. Hence my season of favourites, because I'm such an infrequent poster that it will take an entire season to post about all of them.

I read all of these books for the first time before I finished high school (and I'll tell you more about that in the individual reviews), and except for one I haven't read them since. So I'm writing this before revisiting them, with what I hope will be good results. I suspect that I've liked other books more than these, but the fact is that these all had big impacts on me, plus they strike a lot of my particular themes and techniques of choice: strongly voiced first person narration, religion, subversion of religion, fooling around with language, growing up, humour, and so on.

For the past few years, as I've gotten further and further from these books, I've found myself reconsidering calling them favourites. I've enjoyed a lot of books I've read in this past decade, and I've questioned whether this list should be as static as it's been. So I guess I'm about to find out whether any of these should be dethroned. I'm more than a bit nervous about that.

So unfortunately I don't have much time to linger over this. More thoughts to follow in the reviews and when I wrap this up!

Current Distractions, Belated October 2015 Edition

Ugh, if I recall correctly, it's been a while since I last posted my Current Distractions this late, and as usual when I'm posting late, I'm short on time and not sure what to write about.

I just just started listening to I Don't Even Own a Television, and although I am foiled at every turn by Apple's shitty podcast app, I love this podcast already.

I rewatched Battle Royale. Somehow it wasn't quite as brutal as I remembered.

I gave up on Babylon 5.

I'm almost done with Daredevil season 1. It's ok.

And finally, since my heart obviously isn't in this, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this November as usual. Woo!