A former colleague of mine tried to steer me away me from reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I cannot quite recall the exact wording, but he could not get into it all. But, as a) it is on my list of 40 books to read before I turn 40, and b) I can be quite stubborn if I really want to, I dove in anyway.
Now, upon having finished and pondered on the book, I do get his point: the first half does and awful lot of setting up, and the second half has precious little paying off.
The story boils down to Yossarian (our hero, a bombardier in the US Army) trying to survive the madness of war. He does this by trying to prove he is insane, in order to not having to fly more combat missions, which might get him killed. In fact, he’s sure that everybody is out to kill him, which might actually be true, as he is in a war, where everyone is trying to kill everyone else. He could get out on his insanity plea, but:
This circular logic permeates all of Catch-22, and it’s often worse than that. It might be viewed as one of the great anti-war novels of our time, but I found it to be a lot of effort for a few chuckles.
The Missus and I can’t split up anymore, and it’s all Joe Hill’s fault. At a book signing in an excellent bookstore in London, he asked us if we were really sure he should put both our names in this copy of NOS4R2, and we said we were. He was a bit hesitant, because at a previous signing there was this this couple where he said “Both” and she was all, like, “Well, actually, …” and now he was a bit worried who would get the book in case of a break up. We assured Mr. Hill we had no intention of splitting up whatsoever, we laughed, books got signed, and good times were had by all.
NOS4R2 is the ‘proper’ English edition of his latest novel NOS4A2, and it’s about two hoots and half. There’s a bad guy, and a good girl (well, mostly, anyway) with some special powers, and she has to stop him from hurting her kid.
In my yearly recap I called it the best Stephen King novel not written by Stephen King. A door-stopper of a book, containing an sprawling, epic horror story littered with references to King’s work, written by his son, earns such a qualifier easily. In the afterword, Hill states that he doesn’t regret cruising his father’s back roads. Nor should he. While he has said that he was just fooling around and didn’t mean to ties his work into some over-arching King/Hill-shared meta-universe — I wouldn’t mind if he did. Those tiny links (as well as those to Hill’s own earlier novels) provide a much richer backstory, and made NOS4R2 all the more awesome.
Joe Hill — NOS4R2
Nurse Thornton dropped into the long-term-care ward a little before eight with a hot bag of blood for Charlie Manx
The year two thousand fifteen was, first and foremost, the year that they cut me open to replace the piece of my aorta resembling a boa constrictor that swallowed a goat with something that may or may not be a garden hose. For roughly two-thirds of the year almost everything seemed to circle back to that, which was a total pain in the butt. Still, I made it through, and apart from now having the physical fitness of an old man and my emotional stability being a unstable mess, it could have been a lot worse.
Twenty-fifteen was also the year I changed jobs. I started at wehkamp.nl almost six years ago, but after going back to work, I found that it was time to move on. I got into the whole web development scene with the ambition of making the internet better, one website at the time, and I can not help but think that after managing to wrestle the messy monolith into a somewhat responsive website and going the mobile-first webapp route all new platform, I was kinda done there. Around the same time, several companies approached me asking if I would be interested in discussing possibilities. With BCC I felt a click, and so far, I am having lots of fun.
While 27 books is by no means a bad score, it is nowhere near what it could have been, with being hospitalized and recovering at home and all. So, apparently, 2015 was the year of short story collections and Harry Potter. Top three short story collections: Trigger Warning, Magic for Beginners, and, uhm, UFO1. Favorite Potter: Goblet of Fire. Best non-fiction: Ik zal kijken wat ik voor je kan doen…. (Easy choice: that was the only non-fiction I read.) Best Stephen King novel: Revival. Best Stephen King novel not written by Stephen King: NOS4R2. Favorite of the bunch in all other categories: The Last Unicorn.
At the moment, I am still re-reading Maarten ‘t Hart’s De Schrift betwist. For next year, I might need to take a crack at the heftier volumes of my list. You know, Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quichote, that sort of stuff.
Neil Gaiman’s latest volume of collected short fictions and disturbances, Trigger Warning (table of contents), is a hoot. For this post, I was going to dump a load of links to you, but as I could mostly find links to readings of the work, I won’t. Take, for example, “Click-Clack the Rattlebag”, which is an excellent little story. A reading by Neil himself has been around for quite some time, and I’ve made several attempts to listen to it, but the things is: I can’t keep my focus on the story for ten minutes. So, if I’m not going to take the time to process all the things I’m sharing, why would I expect you to do it?
As always, with collections like this, you might come across things you’ve encountered before. In my case, that was “Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” which I read for the third time (but still awesome), and “A Calendar of Tales,” which was an online social media thing, and contains some quite good stuff. The new-for-me-stuff that I really liked included “Nothing O’Clock” (a Doctor Who story, that still works for Doctor Who-noobs like me), “The Sleeper and the Spindle” (a mash-up of Snow-White and Cinderella), “The Thing About Cassandra” (in which a fictional girlfriend gets a little less fictional), “Jerusalem” (inspired by William Blake, pondering what would happen if you build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land), and, finally, “Black Dog” (a glorious American Gods story, which makes me want to revisit that book).
As a bonus, I read “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” a Neverwhere story, that is published in Europe as a tiny little book. It’s quite nice as well.
Neil Gaiman — Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Jacob Willem Katadreuffe, the hero of F. Bordewijk’s literary classic Karakter, is—excuse the pun—a bit of a character. Just like his mother, he is stubborn and not willing or able to accept charity, favors, or a helping hand. And you can blame his father as well. That man definitely is a piece of work. He is a bailiff, a loan shark and a slumlord, all rolled up into one. Okay, so he wanted to do ‘the right thing’ and marry miss Katadreuffe after he knocked her up, but, as I said, she does not take well to favors. So she turned him down, and raised the kid on her own, making sure he would earn his place in the world on his own.
And that, that is just about what the novel is all about: a young man having to figure it out all by himself. He has to overcome his upbringing in near impoverishment, several attempts to bankrupt him, and the role his father plays in his life. Despite not being a particularly easy read—written and set in the interbellum, Karakter is most definitely a product of its time—I had a pretty good time and sped through it in about a week.