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August 22, 2013

Throwback Thursday: A Case of the Thursdays

Posted by emily

Idk what's going on today, but everyone around here seems to be in a downright contemplative mood. Maybe it's the darkened city skies; maybe it's that summer's end is drawing ever closer; maybe we're all just ready for a long Labor Day weekend --- whatever it is, the Book Report Network staff is getting into some deep, dark stuff (although, rest assured, it's nothing like the deep, dark stuff that's growing on my shower floor). We've got blurred lines (the abstract kind AND the Robin Thicke kind), a hovering Cowboys quarterback cardboard cutout, more than anyone's fair share of fantasy (NOT the Robin Thicke kind) and some truly crazed sports fans. It's another TBT: Books Edition™ you don't want to miss...but you may want to sit down for.

It is culturally agreed upon that Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" is the hit jam of the summer. The ultra-sexy song is supplemented by an even hotter NSFW music video (Warning: link is NSFW, I repeat NSFW...and do not watch if your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, godmother or girlfriend is peeping over your shoulder). The pornographic video features Robin Thicke in a slick black suit, the ageless Pharrell who might not have acquired even one wrinkle over the past 15 years, and the physically flawless, barely legal Emily Ratajkowski (whose Instagram might be just as interesting as Oprah's exclusive interview with Lindsay Lohan), among two other disrobed goddesses. I don't want to leave all of you hanging --- (•)(•) --- so as you slowly come back to reality after watching and rewatching and Internet stalking, the point here is that society is obsessed with defining boundaries and labeling things, and Thicke very simply (and bluntly) makes the statement that such contours (cough cough) are hazy. Sometimes we know what we want, sometimes we don't know what we want. Sometimes we are introverts, sometimes we are extroverts. Sometimes you think you could "catch" a man like Michael Fassbender, and sometimes you think that he's so far out of your reach that you might as well settle for the boy your mother's sister's boss' best friend’s wife set you up on a blind date with...daydream: maybe one day it will be Fassbender. Returning to the point here (again) is that magical realism also does this, by blurring the lines between what is real and what is fantasy. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE is the exemplary masterpiece of unclarity. But the beautiful and remarkably intriguing confusion and complexities of time, of characters, of location and so on is what makes it a mesmerizing literary tour de force.

It's almost like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting or a trompe l'oeil. In both, you look and feel like you know exactly what you're looking at, but part of you doesn't believe it's beautiful or even real. The repetition in pattern and the literal "trick of the eye" make you second-guess whether or not you're even seeing what you're seeing; do you believe what you're reading? (Editorial note: art can be ugly, but still visually compelling). Marquez makes his reader do the same. While the story is being told, you must piece together what you can remember and almost recreate your own story, in the way you understand it and appreciate it. The same goes for listening to music, watching movies, viewing art and, of course, reading books --- we take from it what is relevant to us and find the meaning that is important to us. It is the experience that shapes our understanding and appreciation, whether it be the experiences outlined in the story or the experiences you encounter will reading it. We must ask: What does the author make you think? What does the singer/songwriter make you feel? What does the artist make you see? Marquez's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE makes its reader consider all of these questions. We must sift through the blurred lines of the ordinary and the extraordinary to take from it what we can and leave behind what we cannot.

Maybe it’s the stormy weather outside today (or in my heart…jkjkjk), but I’m in a WUTHERING HEIGHTS kind of mood this miserably overcast Throwback Thursday. I must’ve read it for the first time when I was in high school, and --- just so we’re clear --- I did not connect to it at all that first go-around. To be fair, I read it over a week when the walls of my room were being painted and I was relocated to my older brother’s room. He was already away at college, so I had the room to myself --- if you don’t count the life-size cutout of Troy Aikman my brother kept next to his bed (why a proud New York sports fan --- and not even a frontrunner; he was a Mets fan, for chrissake! --- like my brother would root for a Dallas team is one of the great mysteries of my childhood). Anyway, under cardboard Troy’s benign gaze, I read the Emily Brontë classic with less enthusiasm than you might imagine. WUTHERING HEIGHTS is like a staple for members of a certain emo teenage girl subset --- what with those stormy moors, a brutal and darkly romantic hero (/antihero), a love so deep and metaphysically resonant that neither life nor death could contain it --- but alas, I remained unmoved. Maybe I was trying to play it cool for Troy, or maybe the violence of it was just too heavy for me at the time, because I’ve read it since and have been completely wrecked by it (in a good way --- in that way that a really good book can grip you from the inside out so that you’re even dreaming in its peculiar language). But despite its greater impact upon later readings, WUTHERING HEIGHTS will always remind me of Troy Aikman, and the blue-gray walls of my brother’s bedroom, and that completely displaced feeling you get when you sleep in anyone else’s bed in your parents’ house but your own.

Childhood is pretty much defined by fairytales. How else would we learn the truly important lessons in life --- good defeats evil, be honest, share? Most people are probably familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ or Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales, but my favorite lessons comes from DEALING WITH DRAGONS by Patricia C. Wrede --- the first book in theEnchanted Forest series. The book introduced us to Cimorene, a very different kind of princess. In Cimorene’s world, dragons capture princesses and make them do their bidding, but, tired of her etiquette and embroidery lessons, Cimorene willingly begins to work for Kazul, a kind dragon, and in the process gets entangled in a battle between wizards and dragons. Cimorene teaches us that just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you can’t break a few boundaries and stick up for yourself. There was just something so cool about a girl who chose to break the rules. And who doesn’t like a little rebellion sometimes?

Austin: The Redwall series
Every once in a while, I get tired of complex stories. As much as I love me a nice gritty, morally ambiguous yarn, sometimes I want something simple. Something with real heroes. Something with dastardly villains who scheme and rage and twirl their long black mustaches only to get their just desserts in a thoroughly satisfying fashion. In short, something like Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. These excellent YA adventure books (considered fantasy only because of the anthropomorphic, talking animals that inhabit them) took over an entire shelf of my bookcase from when I was about eight to thirteen. I found a copy of REDWALL (book one) at the public library and checked it out because I wanted to know why the mouse on the front cover had a sword. I finished it in about three days and tore through the rest of the series --- with a fervor usually reserved for junkies and televangelists --- until I closed LORD BROCKTREE (book thirteen) about a month later and thought, “Now what?” These books had everything eight-year-old me wanted: the mountain fortress of Salamandastron, with its swaggering hares and mighty badger lords, and the peaceful Redwall Abbey itself, with its bumbling moles, noble otters and honorable mice. There are wicked villains, hordes of savage vermin and hideous monsters. There are puzzling riddles, long-lost treasure and mouthwatering descriptions of food at least every ten pages. Maybe Redwall isn’t the most innovative series out there, but the books did have a sense of adventure and fun that nothing I’ve read since has come close to equaling.

With autumn almost upon us, a young man’s thoughts turn to college football, only a short week away. Be sure to set your alarm for UNC/South Carolina next Thursday, as we wish Jadeveon Clowney a fast start on that Heisman hunt. Not long after moving to New York City five years ago, I read Warren St. John’s RAMMER JAMMER YELLOW HAMMER, in which he spends the 1999 SEC Championship season following the Alabama football fans who travel to games in RVs. He also briefly recounts his college days at Columbia here in New York. I came to greatly appreciate the advancements in technology as he describes listening to the Alabama games on the radio over the phone. Fortunately missing games is not an issue as you can spot me at the 2:42 mark in this ESPN clip watching us hammer Tennessee. As an Alabamian turned New Yorker, he articulated my homesickness well. However, this is not just a book for deranged sports fans or displaced Southerners. St. John’s funny, imaginative and expressive prose puts the reader right in the middle of the scene, and the characters are fully fleshed out for better and worse. It is truly the story of modern day tribalism, better known as fandom. Most of us belong or have belonged to some obsessive subculture at some point whether its sports, music, politics or even literature. Coincidentally, St. John has written a profile of Nick Saban for GQ this month, which you can check out. Roll Tide. (And to my close friend, co-worker and Notre Dame loyalist Eric: 42-14, buddy.)