Americana by Don DeLillo

Most books fit into some basic genres (mystery, historical fiction, self-help (privileged white women eating Indian food and claiming inner peace), etc.). Americana was a tough one for me to classify. Most simply, I could stick it into two genres. The first half is a Henry Miller-esque rant against corporate America and the second half is, somehow, a road trip story evoking Kerouac. I won’t claim that really makes sense, but bear with me and listen up: this book is worth a read.

Narrated by our hero David Bell, the novel kicks off in New York City where Bell works as an executive at a television network. Think “Mad Men,” but for wacky TV shows instead of ad campaigns. Bell is quite similar to Don Draper in fact (sorry to the 3 people that still haven’t watched “Mad Men”). Divorced, absurdly handsome, respected at work for oddly creative and intuitive ideas, but all the while haunted by rotating girlfriends, flings with his ex-wife, and the ever-present gnawing discomfort hovering somewhere deep in his noggin. Bell is a bit crazy to be sure—one of my favorite moments occurs as he leaves a frustrating party early in the book. Just before departing, he secretly pulls the ice cube tray from the freezer, spits on each cube, and replaces it carefully. Thanking the host, he waltzes out, carefree.

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CannonBall Read #5

I often find myself reading a pop-culture site called Pajiba. While much of it is pretty silly, it’s very funny and keeps me informed of important things (like when Arrested Development is back on the air and how stunningly awful movies released in January tend to be). One thing they sponsor is an event called the CannonBall Read. It’s basically a group that tries to read 52 books in a year (or 26 or 13 if you want be a bit more mellow). For each book read, you must post a review on their blog (or link to it on your own site). For each person that finishes 52, the site makes a nice donation to the college fund of a young child whose mother passed away from cancer midway thru the first CannonBall Read. So if you read a lot, or want to read more (and be sort of held to it), sign on up. January is already a few days old, so get cracking. I’ll post my reviews here, and link to them off the main CBR site. Good luck!

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BenML’s #CBR5 Review #01: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Image Pick up this book—it weighs little. At under 200 pages, I suppose novella would be an apt description, but crammed into its pages are endless glowing descriptions, painful moments, and tidbits of perfect clarity. The Sense of an Ending is riveting, meandering, and pretty damn good.

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Boat Posts

Obviously, I’ve been lacking on the blog lately. Summer is busy. At the moment I’m sailing a boat to Florida. Check out a tumblr I made for the trip:

The Bon Voyage Chronicles

One of these days I’ll get some more writing going here, stay tuned, but don’t get over eager. I should return home by the holidays.

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In the Morning

I’m most selfish in the morning. When the rim of the bright burning ball first breaches from the waves like a smooth, gray whale aflame, I go mum and stare until my eyes ache with bloody reds and warm glowing oranges that ride the clouds across the sea as the waves below reflect it all back and it seems there are two sunrises in one; I’m gobbled up by the harshness of the first—it’s rays get harder and harder and the deep red turns to orange and yellow and gold, suddenly free of the clouds and the horizon and just swallowing the gray mist rising off the beach; the second is constantly broken into tiny crystals that stretch back across the undulating sea and over the tan sand towards my window. The blind is cracked an inch and my eyes are pressing towards the gap, unblinking, watery, alone—no one else in the house budges, no matter the cawing of the gull or the slap slap slap of the waves below the porch—this morning every bed is full and the kids are hanging off the edges of cots on the screen porch,  sheets askew, sand everywhere, salt rimmed shorts scattered across wicker furniture, towels wet with dew getting crisp with dried salt. I never wake them, wake anyone; somehow I think this moment is mine…my uncle is here, he very nearly preached the sunrise to me when I was young, but he doesn’t stir these mornings either, somehow…I don’t know how they sleep, but I steal this moment each morning and burn its rays back deep in my memory and know that maybe I’ll speak of them later, but that later won’t be for years and years and years.

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The Cabin (Part VI/The End)

(Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V)

Darkness. I’m not so much worried as sick. My stomach is boiling into a storm of helplessness and my heart is pounding harder and faster than I should let it. I try to stay focused, but as I turn back to the woods, the hospital room where my wife died floods into my mind. It wasn’t cold there. It was hot and stale and the lights flickered sometimes when one of the machines keeping her conscious clicked on every few minutes. It wasn’t cold, but her face turned a dull blue at the end and the smile that wasn’t hers anymore froze me to my core.

“Paul!” Lucy shouts through my daze of sickening nostalgia. I want to remember the good times, but all I can do is picture that room, white and sterile and empty but for me, the machines, and what was left of her. We’re already out of sight of the cabin again and I don’t even know which direction I walked to get here. Lucy points toward another set of tracks—no luck. A stump, days old dust scattered across the snow.

What can we do now? The search seems futile. The grove is huge and dark—how many trees has Sarah cut? How many sets of tracks curving between trunks black and still in the night? I zigzag past trees, Lucy on my heels, screaming Sarah’s name into bitter darkness. Step after step, stump after stump. My sense of direction must be tired after years of wandering. Suddenly we’re in the far corner of the tract and I can see my house out across the lea. The lights are still on at home.

Off to the left I see piles of fresh sawdust and a newly falled tree. Sarah couldn’t have been cutting here today; I would have heard the whine of the saw from my desk. But the sap is raw and running still in this deep cold and I plunge through an icy drift to get to the stump. It’s a jagged mess—the notch is obvious, but where it should have hinged gently, it cracked violently. In the dark, with my weak light, the snow is deep red. Where the tree kicked back and drove itself into the snow, I can see Sarah’s leg, buried by wood. Pinned down, blue in cheek and lips, Sarah is still. The saw is in the snow beside her. I can see the spot where the exhaust spit fumes and melted ice until the fuel tank ran dry. Without gas, I can’t cut the log away and free her—the log is too big to roll. Besides, it’s too cold and I’m already sobbing into the red snow and Lucy is standing stock still beside, her face empty and bone white. All around us the trees creak and crack in the cold and the wind whips. The snow is too icy to blow around, but a cloud of sawdust spins through the night air.

Two days later Lucy leaves. She takes everything from the cabin and stuffs it into that little car. The next night a new storm comes in cold and fierce and I burn the cabin to the ground. The smoke and heat pouring forth melt and blast the white flakes heavenward. I can see the glow on the snow as I slip back into the grove, my pockets stuffed with the little items Lucy forgot—a tin of tea, an old paperback, a bastard file that brings out a fine edge on any axe. The snow covers my tracks.

In the morning I return on my snowshoes, plodding through the fresh, light snow in the grove. When the limbs above me shake, little puffs of white drift lazily down and wedge themselves between my coat collar and my neck, chilling me steadily. There is little left to see, but thirty or so people stand around the black crater in the snow. In the middle, among piles of still smoldering scraps of wood and melted tin pots, are the woodstove and half its stovepipe. The chimney is pointing straight up at the now sunny sky.

No one ever knew who set the fire—how could they. An old tinderbox like that could go anytime, especially with a woodstove inside. All I did was walk through the open front door and pile some newspaper in front of the woodstove. One swing of the iron door, a quick raking of the ever-present coals, a puff of breath, and the house is warm. Warmer than it should be, but still not as warm as it felt during those few nights I spent there, sipping tea and speaking of the wood and the world.

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The Cabin (Part V)

(Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV)

Sarah and Lucy had just returned from town. They, unlike I, had walked back and forth, and had also stopped to buy a few groceries. The timing was almost perfect. As I pulled in, they were stepping up onto the porch. From their vantage point, the saw was easily visible. Sarah leaped back down from the porch, plunging into the snow bank between her and the truck.

“Paul!” she gasped. “Is that for us?”

I nodded at her, hoping again for the twinkle. She laughed at my smile and reached into the bed, feeling the heft of the saw under her gloved hands.

“So this is what you were bringing me…I had no idea what it was going to be! This is so great, now I can cut fast before we borrow the horses.”

“I know you like the axe,” I mumbled, embarrassed. My face was red, but not from the cold. “But yes, you can cut quicker with this. You can get a whole bunch of trees down and limbed before Friday.”

Sarah already had the saw on the porch, admiring the oiled teeth and worn grip.

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