Friday, August 14, 2009

Coming Soon

Okay, in order not to be misleading, I'll make it clear clear that in Ede talk, "soon" should read "soon-ish" which falls within the range of one to two months.

Now that we've established that, there are several books whose reviews I'm interested in writing. It's just that I'm not sure if people are being fed too much classics and American stuff. Which makes me fret over the diversity of my reading materials (or the lack thereof). The books are:

1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Now, this is the real deal! I mean, this is Steinbeck's "Great Gatsby". If there is any definitive work of the misbegotten, then this would be it. The trouble is, writing too much about Steinbeck mght just get people to be sick of him and I don't want that. He's a wonderful author and I want people to discover just what he has to offer the way I did, by having my interest and curiosity piqued slowly yet surely. So I'm gonna leave this review off until later, I guess.

2. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Here's a little gem that's done everything under the sun to me. It made me laugh like hell in the toilet (my mum got a bit concerned), it made me feel disgusted, it made me think and it made me cry. But most of all, it made me feel, which is no small feat. I come from a pretty stable family and over the course of my childhood I never had to worry about not having food on the table and stuff like that. And sometimes, I forget that not everybody is as lucky as I. This book provides an intimate insight to poverty and social struggle so insidious you'd think twice before whining about how your room's AC sucks.

But here's the catch: This book is so famous already. What's the point of reviewing a book that doesn't need the promotion right? Still, if you wanna know what the book is about and would like my personal feedback, leave a comment and I'll get to it, InsyaAllah.

3. Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

This Nobel-winning work is often overlooked for the more famous Cairo Trilogy. I've read both (well actually I've read all four, since the trilogy has three volumes. Duh!) and I'd recommend both but Midaq Alley was the first of Mahfouz's works that I read, so naturally, I lean slightly towards this book. I don't think the subject of voluntary prostitution has been widely explored in literature. This book takes us along the journey of how a woman gets herself into this ancient profession. What stunned me the most is how convincing it is. Really.

I can't find a catch for this book, so maybe I'll review this first in the future. I like this book. It'll make a good one to review, I think.

So that's it from me this time around. I'm going back to CSI: NY in a couple of minutes. Oh, on a completely different note, why don't people like CSI:NY? I can understand why people are put off by Miami (I mean, Horatio is such a cartoon) but CSI:NY is pretty cool, good stories, cool crimes (I don't mean it like that) and good looking cast. I love it =)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck

You know how A Samad Said is a pretty awesome laureate and all Malaysian students ever think of is that poem of his, “The Dead Crow”? It isn’t his best work. Hell, it isn’t even one of his best. But kids all over Malaysia will be thinking of that obscure little poem and associate that with A Samad Said. And not read his other works, which is a real shame.

People do the same with John Steinbeck’s works. “The Pearl” is a masterful portrayal of human tragedy but it is nowhere near as good as Steinbeck’s other giant novels. And because SPM students get so bored out of their wit reading “The Pearl”, they get the impression that “The Grapes of Wrath”, “East of Eden” and “Of Mice and Men” are the same. Again, a real shame, because “Of Mice and Men” is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s not in my top 5 list only because it made number 6. Seriously.

So forget about the lengthy description of Salina, California that Steinbeck has waiting for the reader at the very beginning of the novel. It’s a pretty tedious task if you don’t dig descriptions of nature in its very detailed way, but once you get through that, you’re in for a real human drama. The novel is about an unlikely friendship between George Milton, a small framed man and Lennie Small, a gentle giant who is a bit of a simpleton. He is probably born that way since Steinbeck made it clear that “he wasn’t kicked in the head by a horse”. But beyond that little piece of information, we’re left with no clue as to what caused Lennie’s stupidity. George has been taking care of Lennie since forever and he’s not always tolerant with Lennie’s forgetfulness. Nonetheless, behind that harsh and strict exterior, the reader can tell that George wants no harm in Lennie’s way.

Gary Sinise as George and John Malkovich as Lennie
in the film version of Mice and Men (1992)

If you strip the humour away from the friendship you got a very depressing situation that ties up two men with no hope of ever finding that light everyone dreams of. But Steinbeck wouldn’t let that happen. On almost every page, there’s bound to be something that cracks the reader up, whether it be George’s awkward way of telling Lennie that he cares despite the seemingly harsh treatment, or Lennie’s constant blundering and funny remarks at every little thing that George does. At this point in the novel you get a feeling that in another world, these two would be happy together because they do love each other. But that is not to be. The reality is a nasty place for simple men. In a world that confuses Lennie, things happen to each of them that makes it impossible for them to continue living without being hurt.

It’s the bond between these two men that makes “Of Mice and Men” a difficult literary work to forget. The kind of selfless acts that George commits to get himself and Lennie out of trouble’s way is just too moving. You’d have to be a cold-hearted person not to be touched by this little tale of friendship at its most endearing. There’s a story that George keeps telling Lennie whenever the latter gets a little too excited, a tale that George would repeat to calm Lennie down,

“ Guys like us that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong to place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake, and the first thing you know, they’re pounding their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.

With us, it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys get in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.

But not us! An’ why? Because... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”

At the end of the novel, you’d cry your eyeballs out as these words play in your head. A really powerful invocation of how far a man is willing to go to take care of another. I dare you to read this without crying at the end. And good luck with that! =)