First Lines: Catch-22

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:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka replied.

Catch-22 as described by Joseph Heller in Catch-22

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.

One thing, I’ll give it, though—it’s very quotable:

“Just for once I’d like to see all these things sort of straightened out, with each person getting exactly what he deserves. It might give me some confidence in this universe.”

“It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even good grammar. What the hell does it mean when they disappear somebody?”
Book read
Joseph Heller — Catch-22

First line

It was love at first sight.

First Lines: NOS4R2

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.

Book read
Joe Hill — NOS4R2
First line
Nurse Thornton dropped into the long-term-care ward a little before eight with a hot bag of blood for Charlie Manx

2015 In List (Mostly, Anyway…)

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 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.

Anyway, the lists.

The List of Books I’ve Finished This Year

  1. Joe Hill — NOS4R2 (2015-12-21—2015-12-31)
  2. Neil Gaiman — How the Marquis Got His Coat Back (2015-12-19)
  3. Neil Gaiman — Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (2015-12-11–2015-12-19)
  4. F. Bordewijk – Karakter (2015-11-29–2015-12-09)
  5. Unidentified Funny Objects 2 (edited by Alex Shvartsman) (2015-11-02–2015-11-25)
  6. Unidentified Funny Objects (edited by Alex Shvartsman) (2015-10-05–2015-11-02)
  7. Clive Barker – The Damnation Game (2015-08-10–2015-11-29)
  8. Kelly Link – Stranger Things Happen (2015-08-03–2015-10-05)
  9. Gerard Ekdom – Ik zal kijken wat ik voor je kan doen… (2015-07-26–2015-08-10)
  10. Peter S. Beagle – The Last Unicorn (2015-07-23–2015-08-03)
  11. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird (2015-07-02–2015-07-23)
  12. Stephen King – Finders Keepers (2015-06-30–2015-07-03)
  13. Nick Hornby – About a Boy (2015-06-23–2015-06-30)
  14. Fish (Edited by Carrie Cuinn & K.V. Taylor) (2015-05-11–2015-06-22)
  15. Stephen King – Revival (2015-05-10–2015-05-15)
  16. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter (first week of March–2015-05-10)
    • ~ and the Philosopher’s Stone
    • ~ and the Chamber of Secrets
    • ~ and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    • ~ and the Goblet of Fire
    • ~ and the Order of the Phoenix
    • ~ and the Halfblood Prince
    • ~ and the Deathly Hallows
  17. Haruki Murakami – The Strange Library (first week of March)
  18. Kelly Link – Magic for Beginners (2015-01-29—2015-02-23)
  19. Holly Black – The Poison Eaters and Other Stories (2015-01-22—2015-01-29)
  20. Bradley P. Beaulieu — Upon the Point of a Knife (short story) (2015-01-02—2015-01-07)
  21. Bradley P. Beaulieu — Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories (2014-08-29—2015-01-02)

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.

The List of Performances I’ve Seen This Year

  1. Mister & Mississippi + Postcards from Mars, FLUOR, Amersfoort

Just the one. Great show, though. Hopefully, I will be able to catch a few more shows next year.

The List of Movies I’ve Seen in Cinemas

  1. — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (JT Amersfoort)
  2. — Minions (3D, JT Amersfoort)
  3. — The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (HFR 3D, Pathé Amersfoort)
  4. — Asterix en Obelix: De Romeinse Lusthof (3D, Pathé Amersfoort)

What I’ve Done from My List of 100 Things

  1. #47: Live to tell the tale.
  2. #80: Spend a week without touching a computer.
  3. #65: Read All Harry Potter Novels Back To Back.
  4. #67: Read books from my list of 40 books to read before my 40th birthday before my 40th birthday:
    1. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
    2. Ferdinand Bordewijk — Karakter

I did not get around to re-evaluating the list, but do not be surprised when eventually that happens.

The List of Places Where I’ve Spent the Night This Year

  1. Amersfoort*
  2. Noorden*
  3. Nieuwegein
  4. Kaatsheuvel
  5. Maastricht
  6. London, UK

* Multiple, non-consecutive stays.

The List of Museums and Other Attractions I’ve Visited This Year

  1. Rijksmuseum Twenthe (Gevaar & Schoonheid – Turner en de traditie van het sublieme), Enschede
  2. Van Gogh Museum (Munch : Van Gogh), Amsterdam
  3. Mauritshuis, Den Haag
  4. 200 Jaar Staten-Generaal, rondleiding “Meer dan de plenaire zaal”, Tweede Kamer, Den Haag ()
  5. Museum De Fundatie (Gevaar & schoonheid. Turner en de traditie van het sublieme), Zwolle
  6. British Museum, London, UK
  7. Tower of London, London, UK
  8. Natural History Museum, London, UK
  9. Madame Tussauds, London, UK
  10. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter, Watford, UK
  11. The British Library Treasure Room, London, UK
  12. London Eye, London, UK
  13. Kunsthal Kade, Amersfoort
  14. Safaripark Beekse Bergen, Hilvarenbeek
  15. De Efteling, Kaatsheuvel

After a slow start — and I guess you know why — I managed to see some interesting sights. The Harry Potter Studio Tour was ace, both Turner exhibits were excellent, and being able to visit the Handelingenkamer in our houses of parliament (which features on many of those prettiest libraries in the world lists) was quite nice as well.

Since the road to hell is paved with good intentions, let me just add that I plan to do some website overhauling and, hopefully, produce more words than this year.

Be safe, and see you on the other side.

First Lines: Trigger Warning

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.

Book read
Neil Gaiman — Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
First line
Today I intended to begin to write (from “Making a Chair”)
Book read
Neil Gaiman — How the Marquis Got His Coat Back
First line
It was beautiful.

First Lines: Karakter

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.

You can peruse Karakter at the digitale bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse letteren.

Book read
F. Bordewijk — Karakter
First line
In het zwartst van den tijd, omtrent Kerstmis, werd op de Rotterdamsche kraamzaal het kind Jacob Willem Katadreuffe 1) met de sectio caesarea ter wereld geholpen.

1) Deze naam op zijn Nederlandsch uit te spreken.