First Lines: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was a selection of The Missus’s book-club she didn’t get to. I had previously read Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, and since that was a nice, quaint, strange, weird, but enjoyable little book, I dove in.

Well, these books were little alike. This one took hard work to get through.

There are two narrative threads, presented in alternating chapters: in “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” is a cyber-techno-punk sci-fy crime story, in which we follow a nameless human data-crusher, sent to do some calculations for a nameless scientist hidden away in a subterranean lair. From there, it gets complicated. “The End of the World” is a more surreal, fantasy affair. There we follow a nameless man arriving in a nameless Town surrounded by an impenetrable wall. He tries to find his place there, while doing his designated work as a ‘dream reader’. This involves skulls, but as staying there means having to lose your shadow and your mind, it, too, gets complicated.

“Hard-Boiled Wonderland” suffers from unlikable, uninteresting, flat characters, incredibly dull stretches of data-dumping and the scientist’s chubby pink-clad granddaughter. As a character, she’s pretty useless, and, well, our nameless protagonist is kind of a jerk about it. I liked the “The End of the World” chapters much better. But to make sense of those, you need the dull parts in between. Because those dull parts explore all the whole metaphorical, (sub)consciousness issues that you’re are probably supposed to make sense of. I know this is not going to make much sense, but I did like how it gradually all the metaphorical stuff made both stories come together. But by then, the damage was done.

Lets just suppose that this sort of modern fiction is probably wasted on me, and that reading this while commuting was probably not the smartest choice.

Book read
Haruki Murakami — Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (translated and adapted by Alfred Birnbaum with the participation of the author)
First line
The elevator continued with its impossibly slow ascent.
Notable quotes
“I say I understand when I do, and I say I don’t when I don’t. I try not to mince words. It seems to me a lot of trouble on this world has its origins in vague speech. Most people, when they go around not speaking clearly, somewhere in their unconscious they’re asking for trouble.” (🙊)
“Still, getting a penis to erect itself is not the sole purpose of life.” (🍆)
“I ordered a second draft, when I was hit by the long overdue urge to relieve myself. And piss I did. […] Afterwards I could have sworn I’d been reborn.” (😌)

First Lines: Hansel & Gretel

In the case of Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s Hansel & Gretel, the pictures came first. They were created in 2007 for an exhibition to celebrate the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of the opera of the same name. Later, Gaiman was shown Mattotti’s stark, black ink art, and asked to retell the story.

And that is it, I guess. Unlike Gaiman’s adaptations of Snow White (“Snow, Glass, Apples”) and Sleeping Beauty (“The Sleeper and the Spindle”), this is a straight-forward retelling of the Grimm version. It’s done very well, with some humorous passages like how the kids got their names (The child was named Margaret, which they shortened to Greta, and then to Gretel. Two years later the woodcutter’s wife gave birth to a boy, and they called him Hans, which, because they could make it no shorter, they made longer and changed to Hansel.), but it’s the story you know about two kids lost in the woods and an evil old woman in a gingerbread house.

Book read
Neil Gaiman & Lorenzo Mattotti — Hansel & Gretel
First line
This all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother’s time, or in her grandfather’s.

Seen Live: Symfonieorkest Koninklijk Conservatorium & Codarts

Every friday, there is a classical lunch concert in TivoliVredenburg. For free. So when I had a week off and I saw a potentially interesting program consisting of three early works by Prokofiev, I made a point of attending.

I know very little about classical music. I couldn’t tell you anything useful about exactly what style of ‘classical’ music Prokofiev composed. As long as it’s orchestral, I’m usually fine with it.

This program, played by students from two conservatories from Rotterdam and The Hague, worked very well for me. It started with Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34bis, which sounded familiar enough, with its Fiddler on the Roof themes. Next, the Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 with soloist Karen Su, who has just graduated Summa Cum Laude at Codarts. As you can hear and see below, that was quite impressive.

Symfonieorkest Koninklijk Conservatorium & Codarts, conducted by Thomas Goff featuring Karen Su — Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19

The final piece, Scythian Suite, Op. 20 was also quite impressive. It alternates between quiet movements, and all-out, orchestral bombast. I liked that a lot.

I really should make a point of doing this stuff more often.

Seen live
Symfonieorkest Koninklijk Conservatorium & Codarts, conducted by Thomas Goff & Ivan Hut, with Karen Su (violin), on September 21, 2018 at TivoliVredenburg (Grote Zaal), Utrecht
Set list
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34bis
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Scythian Suite, Op. 20

First Lines: Good Omens

The upcoming television series of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens caused a lot of excitement on Twitter, which in turn caused me to re-read the book.

The plot is about a demon having misplaced the Antichrist, who is now needed on account of Armageddon being scheduled for next Saturday, just after tea. The catch being that the demon has grown rather fond of life on earth, and doesn’t really want it to end. So he pals up with an old pal, an angel who’s not too sure this end of all things is quite necessary. And then there are witches, witch-finders, hell-hounds and what have you. It’s right up my alley.

Despite Good Omens being a very funny, truly excellent book, even-though it has oodles of Good Bits (I was particularly fond of

“It’s like the man said in the history books. A plaque on both your houses.”
This met with silence.
“One of those blue ones,” said Brian, eventually, “Saying ‘Adam Young Lived Here’ or somethin’?”

myself), I didn’t quite catch the same level of excitement as I saw on Twitter. Oh, well.

Book read
Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman — Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
First line
It was a nice day.

First Lines: The Great John Green Re-Read Project 2018, Part 2

As I noted in part one of this series, in the last couple of years a lot of things have changed for me. And with that, the way I looked at John Green’s first three novels changed as well. Which makes sense, as they’re all boy-meets-girl-and-dealing-with-all-that-while-dealing-with-life-as-well-is-complicated stories, and I was not in that place anymore.

Now, that does not mean that Green’s last three novels are not of the boy-meets-girl, dealing-with-life and it-is-all-kinda-complicated type. They all are. But they are about so much more as well.

With the Magical Powers of Hindsight, it seemed to me that Will Grayson, Will Grayson (written with David Levithan) is the bridge between Green’s first three novels, and what came after. Maybe that’s because it was the first time it really covered minority issues. Katherines has a character who is muslim, but that didn’t bring up any issues. In WGWG, titular straight nerdy Will Grayson’s gay best friend Tiny Cooper falls in love with other titular gloomy closeted-gay Will Grayson. Which, in this day and age, makes it kinda complicated. Other than that, sure, it still a pretty straight-forward story. But a good and smart one.

The Fault in Our Stars is something else entirely, with the bit where all the cancer makes it all just a bit more complicated. When I first read it back in 2012, it hit me like a hammer. And then all my medical stuff happened, so all the existentialism and the worries and the medical stuff, well, you can imagine why TFiOS hit just a bit harder this time. If you want to check out something by John Green, this is a great place to start.

And finally, probably my favorite, Turtles All the Way Down. I first read it less than a year ago, so while it didn’t really open itself in new ways, it struck me again how great it is at being a fairly typical John Green novel, while being completely its own thing. Our hero Aza struggles with OCD and anxiety, and to her that sometimes feels like being sucked in a tightening spiral that just does not end, and not having control over any of it. It’s turtles all the way down. Now, I can not entirely relate, but to be honest, I know that feeling. And “whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant” is still a pretty good life motto.

Book read
John Green & David Levithan — Will Grayson, Will Grayson
First line
When I was little, my dad used to tell me, Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends nose.
Book read
John Green — The Fault in Our Stars
First line
Late in the winter of my 17th year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time thinking about death.
Book read
John Green — Turtles All the Way Down
First Line
At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time — between 12:37 P.M. and 1:14 P.M. — by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.