Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Earth & Ashes and; The Patience Stone

Earth & Ashes
by Atiq Rahimi
translated by Erdağ Göknar

In the hyperbole and YA pomp-and-circumstance surrounding the release of Suzanne Collins' third volume in the Hunger Games trilogy, it would be easy to overlook the release of a slight volume of prose, translated from the French, of a story crafted from the mind of an Afghan expatriate and; while understandable, it would also be equally unforgivable. Atiq Rahimi's works are not so much as slight as they are distilled quintessences of stories, carefully crafted scenes of both physical and transcendent landscapes. Rahimi's stories strip out the superfluous in both language and meaning, providing the reader with true abstracts of the time-and-place and the characters.
In Earth & Ashes, the story of an older man who must travel with his grandson to the mines where his son (the boy’s father) works, in order to deliver tragic news, the political language that one might expect to inform the whole of the story’s context, the Russians invading Afghanistan, is supplanted by the realty that Dastaguir (the older man) understands: the immediacy of having his village bombed, his having to witness the destruction and survive it and, to try to make sense of what is only tritely explainable. Dastaguir’s world is reduced to a landscape that has been rendered unto rubble, colored by the dust of the road and the soot of the mining camp, a world he must still literally and figuratively negotiate to reach his son, Murad. Along the way, through his dreams, his recollections, through the power of storytelling itself (the story of the guard, the story of the Book of Kings… ) Dastaguir tells us the story of himself, which is not the story of a doddering old man given to distraction as would seem, but the narrative of a man facing the daunting prospect of having to re-write his future history, his future identity, by aggregating his grief:
“You don’t hear the rest of the shopkeeper’s word. Your thoughts pull you inward, to where your own misery lies. Which has your sorrow become? Tears? No, otherwise you’d cry. A sword? No, you haven’t wounded anyone yet. A bomb? You’re still living. You can’t describe your sorrow; it hasn’t taken shape yet. It hasn’t had a chance to show itself. If only it wouldn’t take shape at all. If only it would fall silent, be forgotten… It will be so, of course it will… As soon as you see Murad, your son… Where are you Murad?”

The Patience Stone
by Atiq Rahimi
translated by Polly McLean
narrated by Carolyn Seymour
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
03.30 recorded hours

Last month, while I was on vacation in Maine I was able to receive a twitter feed even though my cell and internet signals were being sucked into some sort of AT&T Black Hole. One of the tweets was from @otherpress, promising advance copies of Earth & Ashes to twitterers who replied. I was extremely eager to take advantage of this offer because I had already read The Patience Stone in print and craved more of the elegant prose of Atiq Rahimi. There is a theatrically and poeticism to The Patience Stone that’s mesmerizing. However, when I read it last February, I had read it too fast! I wanted to re-read it again when I was alone and things were quiet so I could let the novel’s own rhythm set the pace; But I’m a wife and mother with a full time job and finding that alone/quiet time was proving to be rather difficult. So for the “re-read,” I opted to listen to the audiobook. This time there would be no skimming words! I borrowed a copy from Blackstone Audio, Inc. and listened to it prior to reading Earth & Ashes.

The Patience Stone (which is actually Atiq Rahimi’s second novel; but the first to be published in the U.S.) shares stylistic qualities with Earth & Ashes: the “word reduction” process (like wine reduction) that leaves the full flavor of the setting and the characters without the impurities; the limited venues that showcase the main actions (both external and transcendent;) the importance of storytelling and; the pathos of the main characters which, while by definition evoke pity or sadness, provides the core of the character’s transformation and should not be misconstrued as a weakness.

The Patience Stone is about a woman who is caring for her husband, who appears to be in a vegetative state. In the beginning of the novel, she repeats prayers pro-forma in the hope of aiding in her husband’s recovery. Eventually, as no change in his condition registers, she abandons the prayers and starts confiding, and later confessing, … things. The name of the novel comes from the practice of telling one’s secrets and worries to a black stone (the Kaaba or a miniature version.) When the stone can take no more, it explodes. In practice, the woman’s husband becomes a patience stone.

The setting, as identified in the epigram, “Somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” speaks to the theatricality and the universality of the novel, a level of abstraction flavored with the Middle-East. The action takes place in one room in a home; the woman sometimes goes off-stage; the woman’s off-stage and, interior lives are revealed through a series of monologues (ostensibly dialogues as she is speaking to her husband;) but by refusing to fix any of the place(s) or people with names, the author invites the reader to think outside of the (black-) box (theater) that he has constructed and focus on the woman’s drama as she reveals the complexity of her life that happens to belie who we think she is as a Middle-Eastern woman. Once again, as in Earth & Ashes, the story of the main character is told through their dreams, recollections and other stories and; once again, the character must re-write their story using their pathos as the building material.

I was somewhat conflicted about listening to the audio. Carolyn Seymour has a wonderfully rich and expressive, but decidedly British voice. There was a part of me that wondered if removing the Middle-Eastern sensibility from the voice was going too far in the abstraction process or; whether it added to the commitment of making the novel more universal. I also got a different sense of timing from the audio reading than I did from the print. I didn’t hear the rhythm of the breathing, the telling of the beads or; sense the time as measured by the mullahs calls to prayers as much as I imagined I did when I read it the first time. Carolyn Seymour’s pace was faster, though I didn’t miss any of the details. Whether in print or in audio, and regardless of the translator, Atiq Rahimi’s writing is beautiful and thought-provoking. Great things do come in small packages.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Crush It!

Crush It!: Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion
Written and narrated by Gary Vaynerchuk
Harper Audio
3.70 RH

Gary Vaynerchuk spoke at APAC/BEA in NYC (in May) and my boss, Josh Stanton, attended the packed/SRO event. I'm not exactly sure what Gary said in his speech, but Josh came back charged with enthusiasm for social media. Upon his return to Ashland, OR, Josh approached me with a vague proposal about me handling social media for the company I work for (Blackstone Audio, Inc.) and encouraged me to read Gary Vaynerchuk's book, CRUSH IT! I actually dnloaded the book from audible (it's not an audio that our company carries - and no, the irony does not escape me there) and I have to tell you that I'm pretty sure Josh would not have recommended this book if he had actually read it himself! This is not a handbook for corporate types seeking to get rich quick using Facebook and Twitter. It is, however, a guide encouraging individuals to consider using the many social media platforms at their disposal to recreate their identities in the business world by hewing closer to their own passions.

Crush It! is, in equal parts, autobiographical, informational and motivational. The audiobook chronicles the success of Gary Vaynerchuk's endeavor to promote wine via social media tools (check out and the correlative success of his family's discount liquor store. Success stories such as Mr. Vaynerchuk’s are essential to the promotion of the book’s premise to prove that he isn’t blowing smoke up your chimney. He is the living proof that the approach works.

The information that should be gleaned from Crush It! is not about the specific social media platforms that Gary Vaynerchuk used in his success story (“do what speaks to your DNA!” and, moreover the specific platforms that he used may be passé by the time you get around to launching your own social media campaign,) but the overall business strategy of using social media to sculpt your identity in the business world. Gary Vaynerchuk inspires the listener to abandon traditional (and soon to be obsolete) business models and practices, to work on branding yourself, to monetize your passion and to go on to live a happier and enriched life. Listen to the audiobook, but don't get too caught up in taking notes. There is an Appendix A near the end of the book that you can transcribe if you need to.

Gary Vaynerchuk often goes off-script ("that's how he rolls") and the result is a much more personable presentation than what the print edition has to offer. I like that; but that said, Gary Vaynerchuk comes across has not merely impassioned, but a bit hyper. His evangelistic zeal is an acquired taste, though I can definitely see how a live presentation would get an audience all fired up (After listening to the audio, I was ready to roll!)

Friday, August 6, 2010

The New Adventures of Mickey's Spillane's Mike Hammer

The Sounds Like a Mystery (SLAM)Yahoo! group has issued a mini-challenge:

"Keeping with our geographic theme, pick 4 books to read between now and the end of the year all set in New York."

I'm in! The first of four titles:

The New Adventure of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer
by M.J. Elliot & Cerney (sp?) two of the writers from the TV show;
Performed by a full cast, starring Stacy Keach, who starred in the TV show in the 1980s
Blackstone Audio
2.7 hours

I picked this title in the SLAM State Challenge (NY) because 1) it is a mystery;2) it is set in NY (locations include but are not limited to: Wall St.,Fulton Street subway station, Brooklyn Heights and Long Island)and;3) Every once in while I go for something different than straight forward narration and grab a full cast production.

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MICKEY SPILLANE'S MIKE HAMMER features two stories: "Oil and Water" and "Dangerous Days." "Oil and Water" is about the reunion of Mickey Spillane with a former flame, an investigative reporter working on a story about an oil company and a vanished tanker. "Dangerous Days" is about a young woman's connection to a young Middle Eastern man identified by the government as a terrorist threat. The plot lines are basic linear narratives which rely on sound f/x for mood and setting. Anyone familiar with noir mysteries knows immediately who the villain is, so the "whodunit" component is a no-brainer. Without that (the "whodunit" challenge) though, the stories are reduced to little more than a showcase for Stacy Keach. Now, Stacy Keach IS Mike Hammer and he delivers Mike Hammer BUT: The writers of this production attempt to make Mike Hammer relevant by setting the stories in the 21st century. However the language is awkward and forced (e.g. "google" is colloquially used as a verb, not a noun; i.e. you google something, you don't look something up on google.) The sound f/x are sometimes anachronistic (e.g. Mike Hammer pulls into a self serve gas station and the "ding-ding" bell that alerted gas station attendants to hustle out to the customers rings.) [Now I live in a state that has no self-serve gas stations and even I haven't heard that bell in decades!:] But that could be overlooked and/or forgiven except for other production issues which include odd and protracted pauses ("Dangerous Days") and a double take. Also, the engineer who filled out the metadata filled out the fields incorrectly AND mis-spelled "Spillane." It's that inattention to detail that is irksome. That said, the overall production values were better than most full cast "radio-style" dramas being currently produced. Unfortunately that's not enough to bring in any new fans to the Mike Hammer franchise; or appeal to long time fans either. There is a THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MICKEY SPILLANE'S MIKE HAMMER, vol. 2 and THE GOLIATH BONE available, but I think I'll pass.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Skinny Bitch,The Complete Bitch

Skinny Bitch
A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!
by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

I do not recall how or when I first heard about Skinny Bitch, but I decided I wanted to check it out last year. I ordered a copy from Amazon's Marketplace and within ten days I was settled down on my couch, ready to take notes. I was more than a little dismayed. The "screeliciousness" tone of the book was so off-putting that I was asking myself whether or not I wouldn't rather be happy being fat than a "skinny bitch." I only made it to Chapter 3 ("Sugar is Evil") when I decided I had had enough. Big DNF.

The Complete Bitch
Skinny Bitch: A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!
Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls who want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)
by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
narrated by Renee Raudman

Okay, so now flash-forward to this year and a couple of weight-loss campaigns later. When The Book Lady (from tweeted about the Game On! Diet, I was interested. As I mentioned in the preview of The Game On! Diet, I was reminded of Skinny Bitch as there were some similar common sense tenets in both approaches. I wanted to compare the two books, but was disinclined to purchase another copy of Skinny Bitch. So Yay! for Laura Colebank, co-founder of Tantor Audio! She delivered and MP3-CD of The Complete Bitch!

Now the contents of Skinny Bitch, whether audio or print are the same, but Renee Raudman's delivery made all the difference. Instead of feeling like I was reading the rantings of unhappy, albeit skinny, bitches, the scree factor was toned way down and I felt like I was listening to a girlfriend tell me what she had just found out about the crap most of us call "food." That said, if you are put off by vulgar, crass and downright rude words and phrases, this is probably not the book for you. There are a lot of "asses," "fucks," "craps" etc. peppering the book and, since I have a 7-year-old running around the house, I listened to this on headphones.

Skinny Bitch, like the Game On! Diet, is an approach book rather than a traditional diet book. Traditional diet books tend to be fully articulated eating regimes whereas approach books are about overall health and lifestyle choices that help you become leaner and fitter. In Skinny Bitch, the approach is that much of what people in the US eat is not only not good for you; but is really, really bad for you. The arguments supporting this supposition are informed primarily through internet sources and other popularly noted books and; oftentimes the supporting arguments seem slanted and the logic strained. For instance, in their stance against eating meat, Ms Freedman and Ms Barnouin argue against the idea that proteins helped inhuman evolution by countering that we, as modern humans don't have sharp teeth like a lion. Um, huh?

What Skinny Bitch and The Game On! Diet have in common are the emphases placed on the ideas that :
  • smoking, alcohol, soda and caffeine are bad for you;
  • you should make healthier choices in what you eat (organic over conventional, genetically modified or processed);
  • refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are bad for you;
  • fruits and vegetable are good for you and;
  • the mind-body connection are is not to be underestimated.
Where Skinny Bitch differs in premise is that it stresses a vegan diet and; that you cannot trust the USDA, FDA or EPA to not screw up your food supplies. Skinny Bitch briefly mentions exercise (vs The Game On! Diet which counts it as an important component) and also passing comments about beauty products.

There is an interactive CD-ROM to The Complete Bitch called Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. This contains a 17-minute audio section (also narrated by Renee Raudman) that simply summarizes Skinny Bitch and; a pdf of recipes. Accessing Skinny Bitch in the Kitch involves the installation of a Microsoft program called Cross Over, which is included on the CD-ROM. I was hoping to find recipes that would supplement the Game On! Diet plan, but Skinny Bitch is a bit too hard-core vegan for my tastes. That said, I have decided to make a switch up from drinking cow's milk to soy milk. I'm convinced it's healthier for me.