Friday, May 20, 2005

“These people are our food, not our allies.”

The Movie: Blade, 1998 (David S. Goyer, screenwriter; Stephen Norrington, dir.)
Who says it: Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost, a vampire
The context: Frost discusses strategy with the Vampire Elder Dragonetti (Udo Kier).
How to use it: When you’re not interested in making friends.

Vampires and kung-fu... it's like chocolate-covered pretzels, an unlikely but unbeatable combination. At least, in Blade it is.

I read many things for many different reasons, and sometimes -- if I'm doing a lot of editing on other people's work -- that impairs my ability to read for pleasure.

As a rule, I'm very forgiving of the books I read and the movies I see for fun. If the plot, or a character, or the setting entertains me, I just focus on the bright shiny stuff and let clunkers slide by. This explains, among other things, my affection for the novels of Maeve Binchy (who writes almost entirely in sentence fragments) and the films of Ridley Scott (who sometimes, believe it or not, sacrifices historical accuracy and believable characters for action).

But if I'm picking apart a manuscript or a screenplay for an author, I can't always turn that machine off in my head. So this week I've picked up and set aside three books I might otherwise like, just because something about the language, the premise or the research put me off in the first chapter. Chances are good that I'll be able to go back to them in a week or two, when I'm writing testimony or compiling survey information for one of my financial services clients.

In the meantime, though, these are the only books I read this week.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. Kathy H., a 31-year-old "carer" nearing the end of her brief career, reminisces about her school days with her best friends, Ruth and Tommy. The nature of those days, and of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy themselves, unfolds over the course of this amazing, terrifying, heartbreaking book. I couldn't put it down; I'd have read it while I walked the dog, if it hadn't been raining. Among other achievements, this book shows us the absurdity of genre classifications. It is a mystery, a romance, science fiction, and ultimately an epic horror novel, told in the simplest, most intimate terms. It's also one of the saddest stories I've ever read.

Kemp Powers, The Shooting: A Memoir. Because I didn't feel bad enough after I finished Never Let Me Go, I read this. Kemp Powers is a successful journalist and comic book artist, now in his early 30s. When he was 14, he killed his best friend, Henry, with an accidental gunshot to the face. The police didn't charge him; Henry's parents didn't blame him; Kemp's mother blamed only herself, and the family didn't talk about it for more than a decade. It wasn't until Powers was a father himself that he finally had to acknowledge that the ways he'd found to live with this didn't work, and never had. I wished this book had been a little better organized, but Powers writes so vividly, and with such raw pain and honesty, that you hang with him every step of the way.

Georgette Heyer, Charity Girl. After those two books, all I could handle was a Regency romance. Georgette Heyer novels are like Pringles potato chips: you know what you're getting, and they probably aren't good for you, but man oh man are they good while they last. Language violations I would never tolerate in other writers -- impenetrable slang, elegant variations, adverbs all over the place -- are just part of the fun of a Georgette Heyer novel. In this one, Viscount Desford comes to the aid of Charity Steane when she runs away from her cruel aunt, and must help sort out her difficulties before he can declare himself to the woman he really loves. Ah... better than a bubble bath.

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