Thursday, October 30, 2014

Memory is an ocean

I consistently enjoy reading Gaiman but holy hell is he capable of throwing me into an existential crisis.

I'll admit that that's probably what he's trying to do with the stories he writes so I guess that means he's just really successful and well versed in his craft.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a lovely little book. It makes you feel removed from yourself and at one with the world it occupies.

There's a lot that I want to say about the book but I'm not sure how much I can tell you without spoiling it, so I guess I'll just say that the language is rich, the pacing is perfect, and as soon as I was done with it I wanted to read it again in a tree by myself, in a warm bed on a stormy morning, in a gently rocking boat on a cold lake, and in all the other places where memory lives and imagination thrives.

If you're a Gaiman fan you'll recognize several elements of the story as touchstones of his writing - little motifs that follow you through his body of work and peek out of the corners, winking at you before moving along.

That may be a part of why I like Gaiman so much, actually; his books make a home for you and the more you read the more you belong.

As a side note, Gaiman has been promoting All Hallows Read on his Tumblr and other social media and I want to pass on and share the idea - let's turn Halloween into a holiday where you share what scares you with others in your life by giving the gift of a book. I didn't do enough planning to really participate this year (but I will happily LOAN scary books out this year), but maybe I'll post a scary story for free to get into the spirit of the thing.

     - Alli

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Harper Collins. New York: New York. 2013.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TV editing bad, chicken good.

I will never not love The Fifth Element but Esquire TV sure made it hard on me yesterday.

If you haven't seen the movie, please do. It's delightful and funny and stupid and sweet and cute and grungy. If you have seen the movie and don't like it, I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do for you. If you, as all good people should, have seen the movie and think it's awesome don't watch it edited for TV.

I didn't realize how well I knew the movie until I was watching it on Esquire yesterday and I kept feeling like something was missing. Then I figured out that a lot was missing, most of it sexual innuendo, and the movie was worse for it.

There was, however, one very interesting side effect of TV censorship - it made me realize what a good director Luc Besson is. Admittedly, I should have known that just from watching Leon, but it was a mangled version of The Fifth Element that really hammered this home to me.

In the movie there are several scenes that are cut up and shuffled together in parallel sequences. The one that comes immediately to mind is LeeLoo kicking major ass while the Diva is singing opera onstage - LeeLoo's action parallels and compliments the Diva's music and dancing.

The scene that was cut up and mangled worst of all was the spaceport - Zerg's minion is totally missing, as is the other imposter Corben Dallas, so that's one bit all shot to hell, but the really cool part of the whole thing involves Ruby Rod seducing a stewardess while Cornelius is sneaking into the ventilation system ALSO while the ship's crew is recharging the atomic power of the ship and cleaning parasites off the landing gear, ALSO while the ship is taking off. There giddy juxtapositions and silly visual metaphors and just a lot of really cool stuff that happens in that sequence and pretty much all of it was snipped out of this poorly edited version.

Fuck all that shit.

The really stupid thing about it is that the movie was rated PG-13 and the chopped up version was TV-14 so it wasn't edited for content, it was edited for time. Hey Esquire channel, I'm pretty sure that 1-3pm on Sunday is the least important advertising block that you have, especially since you're a shitty bundled channel in the triple digits. All that you have accomplished is making sure that I saw ONE THING on your station and it wasn't something that you produced and now I know better than to watch your programming again. The Fifth Element has a nearly 90% positive rating from audiences on - if you're going to make a hash of something do it with a flick like The Expendables 2, or Last Action Hero, or some other not-really-great popcorn movie that doesn't have an apparently rabid fanbase.

Anyway, go watch The Fifth Element. It's fun.

     - Alli

Monday, October 27, 2014

Can we just set rom-coms on fire?

Ugh, you guys, this week I regret watching TV.

I made the terrible mistake of watching My Best Friend's Wedding today. I knew I didn't like this movie but I hadn't seen the whole thing all at once since it came out almost 20 years ago so I wanted to refresh my memory and I regret it.

Let me start by saying that there are two things that I do like about this move. First off, it's atypical for the genre in that it doesn't force feminine stereotypes and it is certainly not a happily-ever-after ending - kudos to Hollywood for messing with the genre. The second thing I like is a short scene between Julia Roberts and a young and unknown Paul Giamatti. Roberts' character is confronting her own misdeeds and the exchange that she has with Giamatti's young bellman is stark and pathetic and precisely the kind of thing that an actress like Julia Roberts never does in a movie like My Best Friend's Wedding and it's awesome. I love the reflection of that scene, an I love that a character in a rom-com is seriously blaming herself and her actions for the miserable situation she's created. It doesn't get foisted off on anyone else, she owns it, and I really admire that.

But seriously this movie is so fucking annoying. Dermont Mulroney is in it playing what I assume is basically himself because I've never seen Dermont Mulroney play anything but a smug, self-satisfied asshole who doesn't realize he's an asshole and is good-looking enough to come off as charming. Unless he's specifically in a role where he's supposed to be an unsympathetic dick I can't take it seriously and want to stab him with a fork. Cameron Diaz is Mulroney's shrill and overly conciliatory fiancee who's willing to drop out of college and follow him along for his objectively shitty job (yes being a print journalist can be fun, but if you were a 28 year old staff writer on a print paper with an uneducated wife in 1997 you would be 45 now and I'd be curious to see what your retirement plan looks like because you probably lost your job some time in 2007 - oh, wait, your uneducated wife is the daughter of a baseball team owner, so you married into your retirement plan and I kind of hate you). There's a musical number in a lobster restaurant that makes zero sense and turns the movie into a fantasy - but whoever is doing the fantasizing must hate themself and that's kind of sad.

Anyway, long story short, the movie is cute and simpering and does actually have a decent message (you make your own bed, you've got to lie in it) but is so sickeningly adorable that it is hard to care about the message when all you care about is getting away from the syrup pouring out of the screen. I don't think I'll be watching this again.

     - Alli

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A broken thing to fix broken people

I was a weirdo little punk/goth/hippie kid in high school, which means that I kept my copy of The Crow on the same shelf that I kept my Ramones CDs and my Yellow Submarine DVD. I love The Crow. I love the movie, I love the comic, I love the story, I love how sad it makes me and how broken it seems.

In 2010 James O'Barr released a special edition of The Crow that included a new introduction and several sequences that had been cut from the original book because of space constraints. I was hesitant to pick it up and read it because of how I feel about the original publication, but I'm overall pretty damned happy with the results.

I think people make up their own sacred texts. Everyone goes through some phase or another where they find a piece of art that feels like it defines them - someone reads On the Road and it changes their life, or listens to The Shins (if they're Natalie Portman in Garden State) and finds direction, or watches Garden State and finds hope for their future and a template for the unattainable manic pixie dream girl they'll try to date in Natalie Portman. And when you find something like that, a book or a movie or a painting or a song, something that changes who you are, you don't want to look back at that thing ten years down the line and realize it's a piece of shit.

I'm pretty lucky that I realized I could be an unbelievable idiot at a young age. I think I was 10 when I first reflected back on some of the stupid, stupid shit I'd done two or three years before and resolved to be less stupid. At 15 I thought about how dumb I was as a 13-year-old and decided I could do better. At 20 I looked back at 15. At 25 I looked back at 20. So I'm an idiot! I realize that now and just try to do better in general. The nice thing is that it means I can look at the stuff that I loved as a younger person and appreciate it while still being critical.

That whole rant is, unfortunately, pretty good background for The Crow. The story is SOLID, straight-up gold, and it's hard to get in the way of that, so I can still value the tale of undead revenge. The art is, um, iffy at best. Some pages and panels are stunningly beautiful and well crafted, but from panel to panel James O'Barr had a lot of trouble figuring out what his characters looked like (with some exceptions like T-Bird and Funboy; but Shelly seems to look different in every single panel she's in) - but it was O'Barr's first book and he was young; comparing the art added in for the re-done sections to the original pages it's clear that he was a much less experienced artist and the art is a really impressive achievement for a first book. But then you get to the dialogue.

Don't get me wrong, there are some FANTASTIC lines in The Crow. My favorite is probably "Oh you sewer rats are so faithful, you cause me to blush to my bones ... you never stop dying for me!" or "Pain and hate, but never, ever fear. Fear is for the enemy. Fear and bullets." or "Jesus Christ ... Jesus Christ walks into a hotel, hands the innkeeper three nails and asks 'Can you put me up for the night?'" but there is a LOT of really shitty dialogue and an over-reliance on dropping articles in dialect that makes the gang members in the story seem more childish and pitiable than O'Barr probably wanted them too. I double-checked and my original edition of the book appears to be missing the most egregiously painful spoken line: "The hour for prayers if past, fool! Now it's nap time! Every bullet has a bed ... it just needs to be tucked in." The reason that line hurts me so much is that you could just have it be "Every bullet has a bed" and it would be pretty damned good, but it's poisoned by the words around it, which seems to be pretty par for the course with the written words of the story here. The overall story, the graphic story, these things hang together, but the dialogue and narration are an unsettled jumble of really excellent writing and snippets of poetry commingled with stilted phrasing and an honest but clumsy attempt to express pain.

There are still things that I love about The Crow, but looking at it with a more mature eye I can see that there are certain things I'm more drawn to than I used to be. And the new edition has a lot that I find very attractive and appealing and willing to admit into my interpretation of this text as a part of myself. The book is flawed, but then again so is everyone who will ever read it, and it's not so broken that it can't help to make you whole if you need it.

     - Alli

O'Barr, James. The Crow Special Edition. Gallery Books. New York: New York. 2011. (1981)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fly away


My buddy Ren is the first person who introduced me to Flight with Volume One - it seems like it must have been a million years ago but it was realistically more like five years. Flight isn't really supposed to be a themed compilation but it always ends up being mostly about, well, flight. It's full of wonderful interpretations of what flight means to many of the artists and is always made up of really spectacular art. Now that it's over I feel like I need to go out and get all of the volumes because every volume I've seen has been well worth the money.

“Encore” by Kostas Kiriakakis - this piece is done in an absolutely gorgeous painted style and has a touching, tear-jerking, uplifting story. A perfect way to start out the volume.

“Kenneth Shuri & the Wrong Kill” by JP Ahonen - a really adorable story about a ninja who got the wrong end of the stick and should probably consider a new career.

“Riddle” by Kyla Vanderklugt - The real riddle is to ask who the real monster is. This story is very, very cute and made me want to hug pretty much everyone in it.

“The Clockmaker's Daughter” by Corey Godbey - Oh, man, this is a really cool story about how people perpetuate their own problems. It's beautifully illustrated and sweet and sad and wonderful.

“Echoes” by Jason Caffoe - A letter home to Mom is illustrated and tells you much more about the narrator's life than his words do. There's a wistfulness here that is haunting.

“The Hollow Men” by Nicholas Kole - DUUUUUUUUDE. This is AMAZING. It's a fantastic snippet of the mythologies of this foreign world, brimming with magic and horror and acceptance and love.

“The Gift” by Kazu Kibuishi - The art in this one is fairly simple and the story is kind of extremely creepy and I'm sort of freaked out by it and may have nightmares.

“The Black Fountain” by Tony Cliff - This is a delightfully creepy little fairytale about jealousy and redemption.

“The Collector” by Leland Myrick - I love the simple lineart and color here, and this is another story that makes me want to hug everyone (except the totally spoopy ghost). A simple story about morality and family.

“New Year's Day” by Sonny Liew - A nice little robot has to make his way home through a big and terrifying city after his owner accidentally leaves him at a New Year's Party.

“Buttons and Jim in What's Stopping the Gravy Train?” by Katie and Steven Shanahan - I'm not familiar with Buttons and Jim but the characters seem well established and interesting. The little universe that they end up exploring is adorable and also really funny in places.

“Jellaby: Who Needs Friends?” by Kean Soo -Very simple and effective art compliment the almost-too-cute (but still touching) story about friendship.

“Igloo Head and Tree Head in Accomplishments” by Scott Campbell - This was a bizarre and surprisingly long watercolor comic made up of strange characters in a strange land. The story is clear and occasionally very funny but the distracting art was just a bit confusing.

“Rematch!” by Dermot Walshe - a beautifully illustrated story about a rematch between the tortoise and the hare.

“Checkers” by Jake Parker - Awwwwwwww. Awwwwwwww. AAAAaaaaawwwwwwww. So damn cute! A little girl just wants to play checkers and finally finds someone to share a game with.

“Migration” by Der-shing Helmer - I'm a little surprised by how sad this story was; it's about the migration of the dinosaurs before the comet and the theme of home and homeland is touchingly explored here.

“Winged” by Grimaldi and Bannister - The real reason that we don't have hoverboards or flying Delorians is looked at here; it's because people are idiots and the world is unpredictable.

“Periwinkle in Try, Try Again” by Matthew S. Armstrong - I'm a sucker for penguins trying to fly and this short comic touches on all the sweet, silly, funny points that it needs to in order to be a perfect closer for this collection.

     - Alli

Kibushi, Kazu ed. Flight. Volume Eight. Villard. New York: New York. 2011.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can I get there by candlelight?

I'm somewhat surprised that when I went on my Gaiman mini-binge earlier this year I skipped reading and writing about Stardust because Stardust is one of my favorite books.

I know that I've harped on Gaiman for being kind of a one-trick pony but I still feel like that doesn't matter because it's a REALLY good trick and Stardust is probably the best book in Gaiman's whole collection of "how did I get to this magical place?" stories.

My favorite thing about the book is that it feels like it's cobbled together out of the bits and pieces of fairytales that break off in your brain and start to blend together when you're a grownup.

How many people reading this remember Mother Goose rhymes, or know all the nursery rhymes they learned growing up? None of us, I'm sure. They fade away but leave little touches of memory, like an image of a slide that a teacher showed, or a warm voice reciting from the TV on Saturday morning, or chanting in time with a jump-rope and all your friends. You don't remember they rhymes themselves, or who all the characters in all the stories were, but you remember how they made you feel and you recognize them when you see them. That's what Stardust is to me, that's how it feels to read it.

It's not written out of a real, historical mythology; it's not Faerie or the forest of the Grimms or Atlantis as any scholar would have it, it's Faerie or the forest or Atlantis as it is imagined by people who were once told that such a place was real.

I'm probably not communicating this as well as I want to but I hope you get the gist of what I'm saying, and if you don't it's enough to say that reading Stardust feels like coming home to childhood, and all the magic that I used to live in.

You should read it. You should read as much Gaiman as you can get your hands on because that's basically all he does - he hollers you home to the you you used to be.

     - Alli

Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. Harper Collins. New York: New York.2001. (1999)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good for Halloween

Over the weekend I judged a book by its cover and was delighted with the results. I was in the bookstore with my cousin and sister when I passed an endcap that had a picture of Daniel Radcliffe growing horns. I shot a look at my sister and said "is that?" and she confirmed - our little Harry is all grown up and starring in an indie flick about a guy with horns. Honestly (and sadly) that was enough for me. If the thesis of your book is "let's explore what happens when a guy grows horns" putting a picture of a guy growing horns on the cover is a great way to communicate that.

Anyway, I picked up the book and it's awesome and I guess I have to start reading Joe Hill now.

Ig and Lee are fun and fiddly characters to read, and sharing space in their heads will leave you excited but wanting a shower. The odd little world of the story and delightfully awful people Hill has filled it with are vastly entertaining to spend time with.

The book is a lovely little adventure with magic and misery and a delightful discussion of how full of life and expectations and dreams even the most prosaic of hairdressers or little old nuns may be.

The story is not particularly layered but the way it's broken up into chunks and rearranged gives it a comfortable depth that requires you to rethink and relive some parts of the book and the history of the characters. There is an interesting and ongoing exploration of theology throughout the story that I found fascinating and well-reasoned but would probably be off-putting to, say, C.S. Lewis but appealing to Rolling Stones fans.

I know that I'm picky as hell about finding and reading new authors. I've had a streak of bad luck with books that I gave a chance and was infuriated by, but it's the books like this that give me hope. Here's a book that I came into completely cold and enjoyed enormously, which has opened up a whole new author to me. The excitement about being excited about a book was almost more appealing and satisfying to me than finding out what would happen each time I turned a page - almost, but not quite. Horns was a quick and charmingly devious read. "The Devil on the Stairs," a short story included at the end of my edition (which tricked me into thinking I had another twenty pages of the novel, damnit) was delightful and an unexpected bonus that provided a contrasting view of everyday devils.

EDIT - Um, I can't believe that I forgot to mention this but the book is charming and entertaining and fun but is ALSO about an unsolved rape and murder. So. You know. Trigger warnings and yeah there's lots of violence that some people probably won't want to read. And if you are opposed to sympathetic demon characters you probably won't want to read it either. Now you know.

     - Alli

Hill, Joe. Horns. William Morrow. New York: New York. 2010.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bone is the best

I had an odd collection of magazine subscriptions as a child. Reader's Digest and Cat Fancy are the two that I remember coming in the mail and that I would read cover to cover, though for the life of me I can't remember why. Mad Magazine, Nickelodeon Kids, and Disney Kids magazines were the ones that I picked up (along with Archie Comics and Betty and Veronica Digest) at the newsstand. Upon reflection I should have immediately cancelled my subscriptions and saved my parents the money so that I could read more newsstand magazines and comics because the stuff that I love as an adult came out of those silly kids magazines much more than the grownup magazines that I was reading as a kid.

Bone is a fantastic example of this. I didn't get to see Bone as a serialized comic book because I hadn't started going to comic book stores by then, instead I got to see an issue at a time of the first book published once a month in a reduced-size format in the back of Disney Kids. Eventually the magazine stopped publishing the issues and I stopped reading Disney Kids right at about the same time I dropped everything but Mad. Looking back I regret that I know so much about purebred cats but probably missed out on a lot of good art and stories on the newsstands at the grocery and drug stores down the street from my parents' house.

Eventually, even though I hadn't seen it in years and this was before it became common for me to search odd word combinations on Google to try to re-discover missing pieces of my youth, I stumbled across the one-volume edition of Bone at a bookstore and frowned at the cover a bit. It looked familiar. So I opened it up and looked inside and freaked right out. It was the exact same comic with the exact same horrifying monsters that I'd lost track of all those years ago.

Unfortunately it wasn't until 2010 that I was able to afford a copy of the one-volume edition and at that point I might as well have waited for the full-color version released in 2011 but I'm happy with my purchase nonetheless: up to now I've told you about my history with this book - now you need to hear about how completely amazing and kick ass it was and how it managed to hold my interest across three decades.

Imagine a valley founded by dragons, peopled by warriors and mystics, and threatened by seven-foot-tall toothbeasts called Rat Creatures. Fill the borders of that world with talking bugs, a robust mythology, and a beautiful landscape. Now drop in three bizarre little cartoon characters called Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone from a town across the desert called Boneville and see what happens to that mix.

Bone is a wonderful combination of an epic adventure and Marx Brothers film. It has lost princesses and brave fighters and people scared of a menace to their way of life all interspersed with sight-gags, silly puns, in-jokes, and one-liners.

I know, I know, a lot of people look at any kind of illustrated book and immediately disregard it as stupid kid's stuff, dumb comics, and nothing more. BULLSHIT on those people. Fuck them. Bone is rife with allusions to literature, a robust in-world mythology, and complex characters driven by diverse but totally understandable motives. It's drawn in black and white but full of shades of gray that make it a joy to read and worthwhile to consider as serious literature.

Right on the cover it's described as one of the best graphic novels of our time, but I don't like that qualifier. It's a damn good novel whether or not it happens to be illustrated, and more people should read it.

     - Alli

Smith, Jeff. Bone. Cartoon Books. Columbus: Ohio. 2004.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Who makes these things?

I have no problem wasting an entire day watching the terrible films that I loved in my youth, except for the vague, greasy feeling of guilt that clings to me for spending two hours on terrible films when I should have been playing with my puppy.

Luckily I avoided that feeling last weekend - the puppy sat on the couch with me and happily chewed on my hands while I spent a twelfth of my day wondering who was behind the idea of Die Hard With Kids and how I could give them money to make more of these wretched movies.

1997's Masterminds is the specific particular specimen of this crap genre that I watched on Saturday morning, but I know that Corey Haim and Sean Astin were in two separate kid-fights-terrorists-who-have-taken-over-the-school movies, and Sky High is basically the same movie with capes. Someone please make lots more of these movies or never make one again because I have an obsession with them that is bordering on creepy. Or at least it seems that way since I'm an adult; when I was a little girl I'm sure I was supposed to swoon over Vincent Kartheiser's bad-boy antics (and I did) but now I just want to yell at him for being a shitty hacker (as in he "hacks" badly, not as in all hacking is bad). I first saw this idiotic flick over the summer with my daycare group and at 10 I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but I was exactly the audience the filmmakers were aiming at. Grownups will get something altogether different out of the experience: the kind of pure comedy that can only be felt by people who lived through the nineties and remember how objectively ludicrous they were.

Probably the most hilarious part of the whole silly mess is Patrick Stewart not giving one single shit as the suave, mustachioed bad guy who takes down a private school while posing as a security expert. He's over-the-top and hammy and clearly just in it for the paycheck - his performance is nearly unwatchable but is saved by the fact that you can tell he's having fun with it. Bradley Whitford is in the movie too and tries to play it straight all while wearing some poor costume designer's idea of a hip millionaire's suit, which translates to lapel-less and beige with a tee shirt underneath (the nineties where so silly you guys, just ridiculous).

Masterminds is a stupid film made for a stupid audience. But for all of that it's still fun - there are plenty of explosions and idiotic one-liners, an ATV chase in some sewer tunnels, and a nonsensical plot that you can safely ignore. I'll probably be happy to watch it again in about ten years but there's no need to revisit it with any frequency.

     - Alli

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rocks yes, Awesome no

Attention to any elementary school students who may be reading this: you shouldn't be reading my blog it's full of cursewords; but also you should know that the children of your teachers TOTALLY read your book order books.

I'm sorry, kids. I couldn't help myself. I've got a problem with rocks. When I cleaned up my childhood bedroom recently I found approximately four pounds of pebbles in there. I pick up river rocks and pretty rocks and put them in jars and never do anything with them. I used to set big smooth rocks next to the burners on the stove and sometimes they'd get dirty so my mom would put them in the dishwasher and then my sister would find them and decide that my mom and I were both crazy.

This book about (and including) rocks has been sitting at my parents' house for the last two weeks and taunting me so last night I broke down and read the damn thing. It was disappointing. There were some good basic facts about rock types and properties, and it did in fact include rocks, but it also had the cheapest, shittiest magnifying glass I've ever seen, a totally superfluous pipette, and one of the rocks wasn't in the book (they talked about the properties of and tricks you can do with talc but included a sample of graphite instead). The printing was also really reprehensible, so smudged and offset in some places that the words were difficult to read.

So boo on you, Scholastic. Someone here made some bad choices. And stop trying to make books like this hip and in-tune with kids these days. Clearly your cool-kid-ese dictionary was printed in the 70's and no one has bothered to make a new once since, which I know because I remember the same cringe-inducing, over-excited language in my own book fair books.

And to the kid who ordered this book: some of the safety measures in this book are good (don't go exploring around mines and try to stay away from poisons) but some of them are bad and I feel like I, as a responsible adult, need to tell you that you do not need an adult to help you bang two chunks of quartz together in a dark room.

     - Alli

Merrill, Robin. Big Box of Awesome Rocks. Scholastic. New York: New York. 2011.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Okay but not great

I was usually pretty good about reading books for school and as time passed I actually got better about it instead of worse. I read more of the assigned reading at the community college than I did in high school, more at the university than I did in the community college, and if I was in grad school I get the feeling that I would read every work by every author we discussed in a class because, holy shit seriously, books are so awesome you guys.

But there are periodical exceptions. I can't hang with Faulkner or Wolfe and so whenever I was assigned one of those books I'd make a token effort then give up in exasperation about fifty pages in. I was, however really surprised when the same thing happened with The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Calvino was the only author we really examined in my senior symposium and I adored If on a Winter's Night a Traveler and some of the other books we'd gone through, so it was a bit of a shock when Crossed Destinies didn't really grab me.

Now that I've finally worked my way completely through the book (three years after I was in the class) I can sort of see why it didn't call out to be read. Crossed Destinies is playful and very, very funny, but it's also contrived and pretty damn boring. Calvino himself said that it was a book he only wrote to be rid of it - the idea of making a tarot deck into a story generator had fascinated him for years before Crossed Destinies was published so he wrote the book in order to stop fixating on it. If the book was tormenting the author before it even went to print I can understand why it might be frustrating to readers as well.

The problem with the book (is it a novel? two novellas? a collection of short stories) is that Calvino's writing is brilliant but the device of using tarots is almost too twee to tolerate. The concept of a mashup between Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth is AMAZING but when it's set to a tarot deck instead of its own damn story it's really irritating instead of really awesome.

I kind of get why Calvino wanted to do this - it's so freaking tempting. Tarots are made up of recognizable archetypes and filled in with lovely little details that seem like the perfect plot outline for a story. But they only seem right for an outline - they're incomplete (which Calvino is quick to note over and over and over in the book) and unsatisfying.

The best piece in the book is "I also try to tell my tale," which is written from the perspective of a writer, or Calvino, or a King or someone who creates. It doesn't really matter who, and the details don't really matter either; what does matter is its examination of what writing is, which is the entire point of the story, the book, and the contrivance behind the whole thing.

So should you read it? Bits and pieces. When I first read it for school I think I got as far as the Vampire Kingdom and after that I lost interest. The first book of the two books (Castle as opposed to Tavern) has the more interesting and coherent stories while the second book (Tavern as opposed to Castle) is made up of more murky literary introspection. In the end all of it is worth reading, but some of the book is more fun to read than all of the book. If, however, this is your first time reading Calvino put the book down, back away and go get a copy of Mr. Palomar or The Cloven Viscount.

     - Alli

Calvino, Italo. The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Harcourt Brace & Company.
     San Diego: California. 1979.